Portugal, you let me down

My name is Ana, I’m in my mid thirties and I was born in Portugal, a country I love. Life took me to other places – I first left the country in the 90s to go to university in London, in the UK. I returned to Portugal when I graduated and started a successful professional career, which led me to four years between Lisbon, Madrid and Barcelona, in Spain – an adventure I loved.

Along the way, I met and fell madly in love with an Englishman, so after some serious consideration, I moved to England. Again. And it’s been 5 years – I’m happier than ever. I love living in the UK – things work, and you are rewarded based on your capabilities and potential.

Although I love my adopted country, I am a very proud Portuguese. And also somehow an ambassador for Portugal right here on the blog – it is a beautiful part of the world and in Mr. O’s words, a country full of hidden gems: the scenery, the wine, the food. Apparently (or so he says), the women are not bad either.

I’m always praising Portugal – how high-tech it is in some ways (I desperately miss the banking system, electronic tolls and 20 e-passport lanes at Lisbon Airport). Banking in the UK is weird – to pay in a cheque or cash you need to fill in a slip of paper, and it’s only processed the following day. It also feels weird every time I land at Heathrow (one of the busiest airports in Europe), to see only 3 e-passport lanes.

The grass is always greener, they say. The perfect country does not exist, so I’m happy to take the best bits of both and get on with it.

I recently looked at my passport and realised it expires in October this year. Blimey, I have been married for almost 5 years. Went so fast! I glanced at my husband’s passports (notice the plural, he has 2 UK passports, as sometimes one needs visas, and there is no other document that allows UK citizens to leave Blighty), and realised that his passport is valid for 10 years. Do the Portuguese really travel so much that they need a new one every 5 years? No comment.

I decided I would renew my passport (and my Portuguese ID card) sooner rather than later, as some countries require a passport with 6 months on it. And for my life as Mrs. O and for my professional career, well, one can’t live without a passport.

So last week, I called the Portuguese Consulate in London. I honestly expected it to be quite straightforward. It kind of wasn’t. This took place in 2014.

Every time I call the Portuguese Tax Office, I’m often surprised how professional they are, it’s like calling Vodafone or another professional company. Every time I have a question, I call or email and within hours I get a response. They probably like the money we pay every year. Makes sense.

Calling the Portuguese Consulate was like calling the post office/pub/cafe in the countryside. Nothing wrong when you call such establishment, but not appropriate when you call your country.

I asked if I could make an appointment to renew both documents.

‘Only online’ said the gentlemen who answered the phone. Ok, I will have a look, not a problem. I asked roughly how long it would take.
‘A couple of weeks’. Ok, fine, I thought. But decided to ask some questions.
How long does the passport take? ‘A minimum of 10-12 working days’.
Can I keep my current one while you sort the new one? ‘Of course not’.
Is there any way I can get it quicker? ‘No’.
Can I apply for a second passport? My husband has two because of situations like this. ‘We are Portuguese, not British’. I know that, you keep reminding me.
So I have to live without a passport for almost 3 weeks? ‘Yes, why would that be a problem?’ Well, I travel for work, ‘You can use your ID card.’. Hummmm the USA government or the Maldives are not part of the EU.
So if anyone needs a passport and doesn’t have 3 weeks, we need to go to Portugal? ‘That would be the only way’.
Are you serious? ‘Yes’.
Ok, so to renew my ID card is it as easy as the passport? ‘It’s easier. You make another appointment, come here and do it, then we send you the pin code (high-tech, it’s a chip and pin card), and then when you get it, you come here again and collect it. You can even keep the current one with you until you get the new one’.
So I would need to go 3 times to the Consulate to get it done? (I only live 1h away from London, but three trips would cost me £160 minimum on train and public transport. Imagine if I lived anywhere else in the UK) ‘Yes’.
And I can keep my ID card but not my passport. Why? ‘I don’t make up the rules’. God forbid us.

So after this conversation, I went online and called Portugal but in Portugal – there is a phone line that let’s you make appointments for any document needs you have. The lady who answered was über professional and told me that for the following week, in and around Lisbon, I could have an appointment at the registry office in Odivelas (a Lisbon suburb), at 10am the following Thursday. All Lisbon outposts were full, except if I wanted to queue. Not really.

The key thing here is that to get your documents the next day (paying the necessary extra charges of course), you need to get them through before 11am. Not a problem, said the lady, you will be done under the hour. Excellent, I thought.

So I bought I plane ticket (£278), got myself to the airport (£64 parking), and a great hotel deal (£9 for 3 nights at a lovely boutique hotel) and flew to Lisbon. There was an air traffic control strike – just my luck! But BA still got me here with only a 10 min delay.

After I figured how to get to Odivelas (a 15-minute tube ride at under €2, followed by a €3.55 taxi ride), I arrived to the registry office 30 minutes early. I obviously waited until it was 10am, at which time I approached the passport and ID desk.

‘We are running late’. But I made an appointment.
‘There’s nothing I can do’. No comment.
My turn came at 10.45am. I told the lady that I ended the documents in 24h and travelled to Portugal only to get these.
‘Oh, that may be tight’. YOU ARE LATE, not me.
We got the passport sent through at 10.54am. Cost €95.
Shall we do the ID quickly? ‘Oh, we won’t have time.’ I don’t care, call the services, get it done, please. And if we stop talking we will get it done.

‘Oh, I’m getting nervous and don’t work under stress. Let me ask my colleague’.
She came back at 11.01am.

‘There is nothing I can do, it’s past 11am. You need to go to the Consulate and sort it there.’ I paid to come to Portugal and get it done. You named the price, the day and time and I did my part, how do I always get the wrong end of the stick? It’s not fair. Plus two days of lost income, let’s not even think about this for a moment.

‘Life isn’t always fair’. Are you kidding me? At this stage bystanders started to comment and feel very sorry for me. I was feeling very sorry for myself too.

I then explained the extra hassle it would cause me, and the cost of course. And time. ‘I’m sorry’.

I then started to read the price list on the wall. There seemed to be an option that the ID card could be delivered to a foreign address. Why couldn’t I do it? ‘Oh maybe it is an option’.

So I got measured, fingerprinted, changed my address, and the ID card will be sent to my house in England…

…Of course not, it will be sent to the London Consulate and I will need to pick it up. Can’t you courier it? ‘For security reasons we can’t.’ But you send it to Portuguese addresses by regular post…? ‘But not to the UK’. Oh, I see.

So the next day, I went to the same registry office to get my passport. After I had it in my hands (a work of art), I asked for the complaints’ book. The lady looked at me very surprised and said ‘but are you sure? We sorted everything out’. Have we? Well, I came to get 2 documents and only got one. I still have to go to the Portuguese consulate in London, take another day off work, and get there, which will cost another £70. Not to mention that I had to pay extra to have the ID card sent to the UK.

Portugal has let me down. It is shocking the lack of accountability and the lack of respect for a citizen, who is no more than a client. And who pays for all this? I do. My passport is costing me more than £500, excluding lost income. But the disappointment with the system is, in true MasterCard style, priceless.

Also worth noting that only Portuguese debit cards are accepted . I guess that it is lucky as in the Consulate in the UK it’s cash or a bank draft (what is that anyway?).

I have always said that I would never ever give up my Portuguese passport and apply for a UK one. But the UK has welcomed me with open arms (surely my education fees and taxes are very welcome), and having a second one means that this will never happen again. So I’m seriously tempted.

But it breaks my heart… And not just a little bit.
Portugal, you let me down.

Mrs. O

Are you living in a different country and had a similar experience? I would love to hear from you. 

A lux weekend in Madrid, Spain

A_lux_weekend_in_500x100px_HL2

Madrid. Madrid. Madrid. A city that I called home for quite some time and a city that makes me smile every time I hear its name. You see, that is where Mr. O and yours truly fell in love. Paris may be the city of love, but for me, Madrid is it.

I know many people prefer Barcelona (I love it too, don’t get me wrong), but there is something very special about Spain’s capital. It is very pleasant to the eye, the food is amazing, and so are the people – I still have many friends here and I wished I went back more often. So, to break the dry spell, so to speak, we decided that Madrid would be the host city for Mr. O’s birthday, which is 2 days later than my BFF’s husband’s. Any excuse, I know…

My Madrid is different from the one on the tourist guides – it is going down memory lane all the time. So that is what we did on a recent weekend in Madrid. Vamos?

Friday Evening

The fab Hotel Villamagna. Only the best for Mr. O and friends, I must say.

The fab Hotel Villamagna. Only the best for Mr. O and friends, I must say.

We landed late afternoon and headed straight back to our hotel, the stunning Villamagna, which has been recently refurbished and lovely. A hotel I knew very well and, in my opinion, has the perfect Madrid location – on Paseo de la Castellana, bang on the Salamanca district, which is where I lived and worked before.

After unpacking (not much, I have to say, as I came prepared with a carry-on inside a proper sized suitcase), we decided to test the hotel bar – it would be rude not to have a glass of cava and start the weekend in style.

For dinner, we headed to one of my favourite restaurants, a very simple tapas bar called El Rincon de Goya, which is within walking distance and perfect. From iberico, to manchego, croquetas, foie-gras with a glass or three of Rioja, we were going to town. I have been going to this place for over 10 years and never had a bad experience. You stand up, have some tapas and move on to another place, or you get in early (around 8.30pm) if you would like to wait for a table. We did and it was incredible, as always.

One of my favourite places in Madrid - El Rincon de Goya

One of my favourite places in Madrid – El Rincon de Goya

Somehow, before we knew it, it was midnight, and we had a reasonably early start, so we went back to the hotel, had a lovely Gin & Tonic (Spanish style, of course) and had an early night. Because we can be very well-behaved, sometimes.

Saturday

We were told to have a very light breakfast, which was pure torture as the hotel’s spread was one of my favourites ever – but good things awaited. We were to spend the morning with the lovely James from Madrid Food Tour, on the ‘Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour’, which was apparently designed for the hungry foodie!

We got things started at around 11am at Plaza Mayor, where we met James and started a little walk around town. Just a little one, as we were people on a mission…

Getting things started on our food tour - iberico, of course

Getting things started on our food tour – iberico ham, of course

Things started well, very well – at one of Madrid’s oldest taverns where we were to sample the finest iberico (with a little crash course for my non-Spanish friends), olives and vermouth. It was 11am, perfectly acceptable.

I have to say, I have tried Martini (the ‘Coca Cola of vermouths’, said James) a few times and I quite like it, but I never understood the part it played in Madrid’s social scene (possibly within older generations). For me it has always been about the cava, wine and gin (Gin & Tonics taste better in Spain, believe me) – it is good to mix things up a bit, I must say.

This tour makes at least 8 stops around the center of Madrid, sampling around fifteen different foods, and also includes the option of different Spanish wines. I am not going to tell you everywhere we stopped – but I can tell you something, we loved every minute of it.

The Mercado de San Miguel, a must visit

The Mercado de San Miguel, a must visit

I loved visiting the San Miguel market – which combined old and new so so well. I had never been before and was in for a treat. A food lover’s paradise indeed. Mas, por favor.

The tour’s  tasting stops include everything from sweet local pastries to savoury cured meats and cheeses, and the eating stops were broken up with commentary about the most beautiful parts of Old Madrid, by James, a kiwi who married a Spanish, and had a captive audience of 3 fellow natives, 2 Brits and una portuguesa. What an international group, my friends…

This tour added Vermouth to my repertoire. Good thing I had an empty suitcase.

This tour added Vermouth to my repertoire. Good thing I had an empty suitcase.

For almost four hours, we carried on. And we ate, and we drank a little bit and we were so happy, I could not tell you. But our time in Madrid was very limited and there was something we had to do: help the local economy, as much as possible.

Shopping in Madrid is, without a doubt, outstanding – and the Salamanca district is, in my opinion, the best place to do so – it has all the shops I love and even though the rain started after we finished the tour (small mercies) didn’t stop, we were on a mission…

… which was very successful, I must add.

After a little nap (and a significant stop at El Corte Ingles, which has direct access to the hotel – think, a ‘secret passage’), it was almost time to change and head out. I have to say I bought some food to bring back (think ham, cheese etc) and loved that the doormen who really tried to help us carrying our shopping didn’t even bat an eyelid when I asked if we could keep some things in cold. Apparently, I am not the only one that does not resist El Corte Ingles.

Luzi Bombon in Paseo de la Castellana, Madrid

Luzi Bombon in Paseo de la Castellana, Madrid

Dinner this time, was somewhere new for me – nice to mix it up a bit, huh? Luzi Bombon is the first Madrid opening of Barcelona-based restaurant group Tragaluz, whose other restaurants I adore. Notice the plural. I would be rude not to test and enjoy their latest project, and I have to say, we were not disappointed. After a meal here, I can now declare that I quite like anchovies, which I really didn’t before.

But the night was still young, and I really wanted Mr. O and our friends to experience a bit of Madrid’s nighttime movida. So after a short walk (we walked everywhere, love it), we arrived to Fortuny. I cannot believe that after 18 years since my first visit (do not do the maths), it is still going. We arrived early, but left late, and had a brilliant night out.

Spanish Time Gin & Tonic, birthday boy Sir Knight, Mr. O and the 'reserved' sign I had to adapt as well, you can guess why, and me and the girls. We are lovely to our husbands.

Spanish Time Gin & Tonic, birthday boy Sir Knight, Mr. O and the ‘reserved’ sign I had to adapt as well, you can guess why, and me and the girls. We are lovely to our husbands.

Sunday

Getting out of bed in time for breakfast wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but we did it. One last chance to have some lovely queso de burgos, which is a white cheese with almost no calories and a bit of iberico. At breakfast, why not?

We also had a short window before lunch (which was really early for Spanish standards) as our flight was at 5pm, which meant leaving town just after 3pm. That meant we could go back to El Corte Ingles and buy those wonderful gin glasses. They are not wine glasses, for the record (because of the weight of the ice, etc), they are indeed ‘Gin Tonic’ glasses and there are quite a few options in this category. This purchase made us immensely happy.

Sobrinos de Botin, the oldest restaurant in Europe, apparently

Sobrinos de Botin, the oldest restaurant in Europe, apparently

Lunch, well, was amazing. Please stop reading if you are vegetarian. Sobrinos de Botin, not far from Plaza Mayor, is a Madrid classic (potentially a bit on the touristy side, but still with many locals, worry not). Suckling pig? Check. Kid goat? Check. Blackpudding? Mas por favor. And also try the clams as they are delicious, believe me.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to London. And believe me, it won’t be 5 years until I am back.

Hasta luego,

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Hotel Villamagna (doubles from €380 per night) and Madrid Food Tour (private tours from €95 per person) – and all opinions are my own.

On this trip, I flew with British Airways on the outbound flight and made the mistake of flying with Iberia on the return home. It was 10 years since I last did it, and sadly, some things never change. Service standards are really not the same across both airlines, which means that better integration in terms of systems and culture is really needed.

The Luxury Travel Blog Network – January 2014 Edition

LTBN Luxury Travel Blog

Happy New Year – I know it seems like a little joke… I think this was the quickest month ever. The weather hasn’t been fab in many places – I ended last year and started this one in Miami, where I hardly saw the sun… it was warm, but I did not get a tan. Can’t complain though!

And what have the Ladies been up to, I hear you ask? Fab places indeed!

Bubbles and a view...

Bubbles and a view…

Nadine Jolie is literally just back from her exotic honeymoon. And she seemed to adore the Qualia, on Hamilton Island, in Australia. What is not to love? I would also like to take this opportunity to wish her many congratulations on her recent wedding and cheers to married life.

More of this, please!

More of this, please!

Katie, on the other hand, has been living it up – at the one and only Four Seasons in Nevis, as in the Nevis from St. Kitts & Nevis. Yes, you read it right. And I am so desperate for some sun, I cannot even tell you.

Yes, the waters look fab...

Yes, the waters look fab…

Kim-Marie, surprise surprise, also went somewhere warm. Very warm – to Curtin Bluff in Antigua where she spent a whole week playing tennis, as one does. She is really into it (and the British accents that come with it). I am just jealous of the sun and those waters…

I am literally back from Val d’Isere, where I enjoyed some great days in the mountains. But something tells me February will be hot and sunny. Who knows! Wishing you a fab month, wherever you may be.

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: Rosewood London

myhotel

Opened in late October 2013, the Rosewood London promised many things – incredible design, the magic Rosewood touch (it is their first hotel in Europe) and a new London location: Holborn, located between the West End and the City, an area that is now being called midtown. What did I think of this stunning new hotel? I loved it.

Good things come to those who wait

Good things come to those who wait

Pre-Arrival

–          Was there any pre-arrival communication by the hotel with myself via email or social media?

Yes there was. My stay was organised via a mix of email and twitter and I was really looking forward to it.

–          Did I try to engage the hotel via Twitter? Did the hotel interact with me and made me feel welcome/special?

They did indeed – pre stay, during my stay and after I left.

–          Has the hotel tried to gather any personal information (e.g. preferences) prior to my stay?

Not necessarily, but honestly, it wasn’t needed.

Arrival

The stunning Rose Bronze Gallery. Welcome to the Rosewood London.

The stunning Rose Bronze Gallery. Welcome to the Rosewood London.

–          The wow factor! What was the hotel decor style?

The hotel exterior (which sadly I couldn’t capture as it was a wet day and did not do it any justice) is something quite special. The old headquarters of an insurance company, it is like a gift. The more you unwrap it, the more special it gets. From the sexy outside, to the courtyard, you know you are on to something special. I loved the decor throughout the hotel. And the coolest thing? The staff uniforms. Look out for the sexiest doormen in London – and I am not even exaggerating. No top hats and tails, but very sexy tweed outfits. Very cool indeed.

–          How quick and efficient was the hotel check-in?

I had a very quick and efficient check in, and I loved ‘doing it’ sitting down. Makes it more intimate and special.

–          Was I addressed by name once reservation has been located? (it is all about the small details, some others are outstanding with this, and I love it, like I do when I board an airplane)

I was indeed. I was also escorted to my room by my fantastic butler (who I did not disturb throughout my stay of course). But once he found me lost in the corridors and safely delivered me to my room.

–          Did I get an upgrade from my confirmed pre-booked room type?

I did indeed. I had a fab suite. Just wait until you see it.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Yes yes yes. The staff were outstanding throughout my stay. Worth mentioning that I had visited the hotel a week after it opened (the bar) and you could still see some teething problems. You could also tell they were being ironed out.

–          Luggage – how many people did I have to tip before the luggage made it safely to my room? This is cultural, I know

My lovely butler took it for me as he would not take no for an answer. It was only a small overnight bag.

–          Wi-fi – was I told anything about it? Was there a charge?

Wifi is complementary and I did not use it as I was using my own phone.

Room Experience

My stunning suite at the Rosewood London

My stunning suite at the Rosewood London

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

There were quite a few wows I have to say. Besides spacious (very spacious as you can see), the suite was stunning. The whole hotel decor is incredible – I loved the grey and the brown combinations and do not even get me started on the striped carpets. Top marks indeed.

–          Welcome amenity

I had some lovely chocolates when I arrived, and foie gras pate later on. All beautifully displayed and presented. There were a lot of small details which I really appreciated.

–          The bed

It was lovely – comfortable and huge. The pillows were also fab. There was only one downside – the emergency lights are too close to the bed and quite bright.

–          Closet/Wardrobe – proper hangers or those annoying ones where you need a PhD to get them out one by one? This is a personal pet peeve of mine. I can’t stand them.

Loved the folders and the minibar. And other small touches.

Loved the folders and the minibar. And other small touches.

All as it should be. And I have to note the fab chest of drawers and the jewellery box which is something you don’t see so often. It was great to be able to remove earrings, necklace and watch and know it was all in the same place.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

I didn’t find it. The room had a great sound system but no iPhone dock (that I could find).

–          Bathrobes and slippers

They looked lovely and they were there. I used the slippers for once and they were great.

Great details and design

Great details and design

–          Coffee and Tea

Yes, nespresso of course and the whole mini bar is included in the rate.

–          Free bottled water

Of course, plenty of bottles around the room. They were refillable glass bottles which was actually quite chic.

–          Magazine selection – had some nice surprises and doesn’t happen often enough!

Possibly one of the best ever – and appropriate for me personally.

–          Power sockets in useful places – we have more and more devices and we know where we want them! By the bed, by the working area.

Very good indeed. On each side of the bed you could charge your ‘devices’. No need for anything else.

Bathroom

A very stylish bathroom

A very stylish bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom looked simply stunning – mirrors all around and I cannot fault it in any way. The only thing I thought it was slightly weird.. I could not find the loo. I kept thinking it was behind one of the mirrored walls! But it wasn’t – there was another room on the living room (so that visiting guests would not go into the bedroom area). But for me, personally, I thought it was a little bit strange that I had to go into the living room myself.

–          Bath, shower and taps – I am looking for Duravits and Hansgrohes (or other fab brands) around the world. How fab was the shower? And a little pet peeve.. was I able to operate the shower without asking Mr. O for help?

This suite had a shower room. A whole room (think a good 4sqm) with an amazing shower head and a bath on the side. I was looking forward to trying this baby and I was not disappointed.

–          Towels – yes, please! How many and how soft and lovely?

Many and lovely.

–          Toiletries – own brand, super brand, baby ones or proper ones? I shall find out!

Czech & Speake was the brand chosen by Rosewood for the toiletries – and apparently it is the first time ever it is available at a hotel. I only tried the lavender shower gel and it was nice.

More details. And the fab shower.

More details. And the fab shower.

–          Amenity kit – I don’t want more sewing kits thank you very much, but I will need a shower cap.

Possibly one of the best ones I have ever seen – smartly organised in a clear box in the dressing area. I also loved the jewellery box which was handy to store all my bits and pieces.

–          Hairdryer – is it a human one, or just something stuck to a wall that only makes noise?

There was one of course, but I did not use it in this occasion.

Bar

The very smart Scarfes Bar

The very smart Scarfes Bar

I had visited this bar a few times before (and there were some growing pains, all ironed out by this stage). The bar is a great space and has an amazing collection of cocktails (and some interesting bar bites too). Every time I have visited it is always very busy and lively and definitely has an atmosphere.

Restaurant

The Mirror Room

The Mirror Room

I had dinner at the Mirror Room (The Holborn has since opened, adding to the dining options at this hotel) – which was an interesting experience. There is no conventional seating – think low tables, perfect for meeting friends. I was meeting a friend for dinner and the low tables actually worked – the menu was quite eclectic and well priced (I could not resist the chestnut soup and the veal tartare which was delicious).

I loved the dessert selection, which was artfully displayed at one end – it was difficult to say no.

Breakfast

Breakfast takes place at the Mirror Room too, and the buffet is spread where the desserts were at dinner and also at one clever little space which can be hired separately for a private dinner (with a kitchen). I have to say that I was disappointed with the selection available – especially on the continental front. There were all types of cereal, but the cheese and hams were not incredible. The eggs were pre-cooked (i.e. not made to order) and it wasn’t easy to get the staff’s attention (in complete contrast to the evening before).

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It worked very well and free of charge.

–          Did the hotel interact with me via Twitter during my stay?

They did and continue to do so.

–          Location

Located in Holborn, who is trying to position itself as London’s ‘midtown’, I am sure it is perfect for the City and the many people who visit this part of town for professional reasons. I did not have a problem getting there.

–          Cost – rooms starting from…

Deluxe rooms start at £350 and suites at £600.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

I would and she would love it.

–          Would I stay again?

I would indeed. I thought the hotel was stunning and a place where one would go back to.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Rosewood Hotels during this stay, but hopefully you will see that this has not influenced my thoughts about the property. For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.

5 things I hate about travel

It is obvious that there are few things in life that I love more than packing a bag, heading to the airport and hopping on a fab plane to somewhere really nice. But travelling isn’t always so glamorous – mainly because of things that happen along the way. Here are 5 things that I hate about travel.

1. Really loud people

I always associate airplane time with down time, aka, sleep time, reading time, sipping champagne time… you get the idea. But every now and then, you get these really loud people who simply will not shut up. For the whole flight. On a recent red-eye flight from NYC to London, on a premium cabin, this family of 4 really thought they were in their living room at home. They just spoke to each other from one seat to the other and ignored everyone else. I did give them some evil Mrs. O stares, hoping they would get the message. It was when I put my headphones on to watch a film and could *still* hear them, that I could not take it anymore and had to ask them to keep it down – they looked at me as if I was mad. Thankfully, other people joined in.

I always feel really  bad for snorers – most times I am sure they have no idea what is going on. But it isn’t so nice to be on a nice flat-bed and having the background noise. Has this happened to you?

2. Back-seat huggers

The new British Airways World Traveller Plus seat

Use the arm rests, please

Do you know when people get up and hug the back of your seat? And maybe you are asleep? Or even if you are not… All airline seats have arm rests, and I believe one should use them to get up and walk around the cabin. Do not hug the seat in front of you – it really isn’t fun.

3. ‘I don’t do queues’ people

No one wants to be in a queue, but if we need to be in one, we need to be mindful of others. It really gets to me when people try to be sneaky and jump such queues… I was recently at an airline lounge and our flight got cancelled. Everyone obviously headed to the Customer Service desk located inside such lounge to get rebooked on another flight. The queue formed and most people were civilised and waited in turn. Until some people started to jump the queue stating ‘I am a gold cardholder, don’t I get priority?’. This lady got not one, but a good 50 stares. I couldn’t help but smile when the agent said ‘Yes madam, I am sure you are – like everybody else on this queue. Otherwise you would not be at the First lounge’. God, that was embarrassing.

4. Sun lounger thieves

If I moved any further.. where would I be? Not a bad place

If I moved any further.. where would I be? Not a bad place

I love when I get to a pool or beach after breakfast and see half the sun loungers with towels and no people. Why do people keep doing this? I particularly like it when then they do not turn up until 2 or 3pm. I do not know if this is cultural (and some nationalities are more prone to this than others), but I find it selfish and so unnecessary. I like it that some hotels are really trying to do something in this area – on a recent stay, we saw pool attendants moving people’s stuff away after 3o minutes. Are you guilty of this?

5. Renting cars

A lovely welcome to your destination...

If I am not in an urban location (think weekend in Paris or New York), I always hire a car – I don’t like feeling trapped or limited in a destination and love a bit of exploring, even if it is just for dinner. Is it me or are airport rental locations further and further away from airport terminals? We have noticed this over the past year, where we rented cars more than 1o times. The journey from arrivals to the actual car rental place more often than not involves a bus or God forbid, a train – not ideal with 2 suitcases per person, for example. Airports like LAX or Miami really come to mind, as they both offer really difficult rental experiences. Lisbon and Mallorca were surprisingly good. I wonder if there is room for improvement here? I would pay good money to be able to pick up the car at the airport terminal at a short-term car park or something.

I also hate the queues and don’t understand why sometimes it takes so long to process a customer when all the details have been pre-sent. I am a member of a ‘preferred’ program which is really a godsend when it works, which again is only 50% of the time.

What are your travel frustrations? Don’t hold back!

2013: My year in travel – 50 flights, 80k miles and 105 nights away

I cannot believe 2013 is over. O-V-E-R. And what a year it was! I have been through all my statements, calendars and notes and added everything up. In 2013, I took 50 flights, flew 80,000 miles (128,000 km) and stayed away 105 nights in hotels.

I was asked this question earlier this month, and I honestly had no idea how it compared to 2012, the first year of this blog. If we compare like for like, on the previous year I flew 40 times, flown slightly less (75,000 miles) and stayed away 80 nights. It would be fair to say I had more shorter trips than in 2012 (or more connecting flights!). I have also done more trips in the UK, which obviously meant no flying at all, which is nice for a change.

I will take 3 glasses, por favor. Photo by Flytographer.

Around the world? Not really but it was so much fun…

Throughout the year, I visited 13 countries and many of those were repeated over and over again. I visited the United States 5 times throughout 2013 (Houston, Boston, New York, California and Miami – the latter one is where I will end 2013), France came a close second with 4 visits (Paris, Lyon and Val Thorens, Cannes and Alpe d’Huez), followed by Spain, with 3 visits (Mallorca, Andalucia and Madrid). With two visits only I have my beloved Portugal alongside Italy and The Netherlands. Single visits took place to amazing places such as the Maldives, Qatar, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland and Finland. I spent 10 nights away from home in the UK, which was also different – and lovely. It is all a little bit mad.

Shall we go back in time?

January

A room with a view - oh la la Paris!

The eternal cliche, but still so special!

I started the year in the United States, where I had a great time in New Orleans, Louisiana. From there, went on to Paris, where I had an amazing stay with Mr. O. I met my American friends in Switzerland, where we skied in Verbier, followed by a stay in Geneva and Zurich.

Verbier still has some time to get ready for us!

Postcard-pretty Verbier, in Switzerland

February

An aperol spritz with a view, in Milan

An aperol spritz with a view, in Milan

The shortest month of the year was also quite interesting – I went back to Milan, a city that most people don’t like, but I am a great fan. I also returned for the first time in over 7 years to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I liked it so much, I went back again later in the year.

March

Lyon is trés fabulous!

Lyon is trés fabulous!

March was an exciting month – and still keeping the European theme, I went back to Lisbon, Portugal (my hometown) which was lovely, as always. I also visited Berlin which was a lovely surprise (a city that needs a repeat visit!!) and then headed off to France to our annual ski holiday with friends, which this year had an added bonus: we spent a weekend in Lyon at the end of it and absolutely feel in love with this amazing city.

April

No comments necessary. Straight out of our water villa in the Maldives

No comments necessary. Straight out of our water villa in the Maldives

For my birthday month, I really pulled all the stops and only went on one trip, just the one. But oh my God – possibly one of the most special trips ever. I absolutely adored the Maldives, a place I vowed to return sooner rather than later. I also enjoyed our stopover in Doha, Qatar, which was my first taste of the Middle East.

May

Huevos Rotos con patatas y jamon.. and some view at Finca Cortesin

Huevos Rotos con patatas y jamon.. and some view at Finca Cortesin

May was all about Spain, one of the countries that I love the most. It was a delight to go back to Mallorca, a place I know well and had not been in over 10 years. We loved our stay here and decided that it would be part of the annual O’Reilly weekend repertoire. Simply stunning.

And in mainland Spain, I found the beautiful Finca Cortesin, which was my hotel of the year. I cannot find another way to describe it.

June

How much excitement can one have in an afternoon? In Newport, RI you never know!

How much excitement can one have in an afternoon? In Newport, RI you never know!

June was a very girly month. And so much fun – I headed to Newport, in Rhode Island (USA) with my lovely friend Lauren, who also helped me rediscover Boston, a city I had not been to in over 6 years. There is something about this part of the world!

Stunning scenery aboard our cruise. Strangely enough, Los Cabos reminded me of Portugal...

Stunning scenery aboard our cruise in Los Cabos. Strangely enough, Los Cabos reminded me of Portugal…

From there, I headed to Los Cabos, Mexico, which was the first time I enjoyed a trip to this country. I wasn’t very lucky in the past and can report that I was not disappointed, as you can find out right here.

Mrs. O loving Helsinki

Mrs. O loving Helsinki

As this wasn’t enough, I went back home and immediately left for something completely different: I spent a weekend in Helsinki, a city I loved and cannot wait to go back. I spent a weekend with the Quality Hunters team, aiming to improve travelling around the world.

July

I think Henley-on-Thames is so so so pretty

I think Henley-on-Thames is so so so pretty

July 2013 was the hottest ever in the UK and I was delighted to stay home for a change. Or closer to home. I got the girls over for the Henley Regatta, and from there, took them on a little tour around my adopted hometown, Henley on Thames. We had an amazing stay at the Four Seasons in Hampshire – which I will never forget as it was the first time I ever sun bathed in the UK. People would ask where I got my tan from and could not quite believe me…

Not a cloud in the sky...

Not a cloud in the sky…

We even headed further south (west) and the girls had their first taste of Devon. Salcombe was our destination and it was as quirky and lovely as I remembered. And I even got to go to the beach (albeit wearing more clothes than usual).

My first time on an English beach...

My first time on an English beach…

The rest of the month was spent in New York City, where I had to go for work, and a little play of course.

Crossing the line in NYC...

Crossing the line in NYC…

August

The glorious British summer continued, and we just stayed home and enjoyed the weather. That meant barbeques and a fair bit of champagne, ‘just because it was sunny’, and the month could have not been more perfect.

I love these. Photo by Flytographer.

I love Lisbon. Photo by Flytographer.

At the end of the month, we headed back to Portugal to say hello to my family in Lisbon and to sleep our all worries away in the Alentejo, one of Portugal’s leading wine-making regions and a place I would urge you to visit.

Yes, the pool was all mine. And the views...

Yes, the pool was all mine at Herdade do Vau. And the views…

September

We had a family wedding which was incredible and took us to the Brighton area quite a few times during this period. I love this part of England and it is somewhere I would love to explore properly one day.

At the end of the month, we went on our annual trip to California, which as you know by now, it is an annual event. Call it a pilgrimage…

We got things started in San Diego and from there, we headed to Rancho Valencia, where we spent 3 days. I loved this hotel and almost did not leave it as it was truly special.

Southern California at its best. I adored Rancho Valencia.

Southern California at its best. I adored Rancho Valencia.

From there, we disconnected from the world in Palm Springs – we do this every year and I would highly recommend this for health reasons. We love the sun, the peace and quiet, the shopping and, who am I kidding, the food!

Marilyn is wearing white, obviously! In Palm Springs

Marilyn is wearing white, obviously! In Palm Springs

On our recent visit we tried quite a few new restaurants in the Greater Palm Springs area, and let me just say… more reasons to go back to the desert again.

October

One thing I love, is a balcony - makes a huge difference to me. And we had some great views!

One thing I love, is a balcony – makes a huge difference to me. And we had some great views in LA!

We continued our California explorer trip throughout October. I hadn’t been to LA in over 3 years and oh, did I miss it. We had a fantastic stay for over 5 days – and were met by the girls which made it even sweeter. It was a perfect weekend indeed.

November

Lauren, yours truly, Ashley and Mary Anne - the girls in Amsterdam by Flytographer

Lauren, yours truly, Ashley and Mary Anne – the girls in Amsterdam by Flytographer

November was the perfect time for 3 amazing weekends in Europe. I got things started in Amsterdam with the girls – I have to say, Amsterdam has changed so much in recent years. We had an incredible stay – packed with stylish hotels, bars and restaurants. It was my second visit this year alone.

Madrid - shopping, sightseeing and amazing food...

Madrid – shopping, sightseeing and amazing food…

From there, we headed to Madrid to celebrate Mr. O’s birthday – a city I love and called home for 4 years, and I hadn’t been back since 2009. We had an incredible stay at the Hotel Villamagna and are plotting our return.

And to end the month in style, I headed to Rome with my sister Renata, where we had the wettest weekend of the year, but also one of the most fun. It was lovely to spend some sister time and continue our quest for shoes…

Out and about in Rome. Even checking out the local talent. Photos by Flytographer.

Out and about in Rome. Even checking out the local talent. Photos by Flytographer.

December

Hello Cannes, I am back!

This is how one should always arrive in Cannes..

The year was about to come to an end, but not without a bit of lux. I spent the first week of the month in Cannes, France, attending a conference, and also enjoying the views – the sun was out and it was lovely just to see it in between meetings.

Oui, some champagne, s'il-vous plait

Oui, some champagne, s’il-vous plait. When in Cannes…

And with this, came the begining of the ski season, which meant a return to France and a first visit to Alpe d’Huez for a long weekend. A bit of skiing, eating and parapenting were in order – I still cannot believe I did it!

Not a bad view. Loved my weekend in Alpe d'Huez, France

Not a bad view. Loved my weekend in Alpe d’Huez, France

Christmas was spent at home, where both our families and close friends came to for once, this year. It was wonderful and busy – but we loved it.

After that, we decided that we needed some sun, so we headed to Miami for a week of bliss. I am here right now and there is no sun – but we have been catching up on sleep and just relaxing, which is just what we needed.

Happy New Year from Miami, Florida.

Happy New Year from Miami, Florida.

So from Florida, I would like to wish you a fantastic 2014. Thank you for your support and company throughout 2013, a truly fantastic year.

xo

Mrs O

A lux ski weekend in Alpe d’Huez, France

A_lux_weekend_in_500x100px_HL2

There is something about the mountains, and I love it that they keep calling my name. This time around, after great experiences earlier in the year in Val d’Isere (France) and Verbier (Switzerland), it was a pleasure to head to Alpe d’Huez, in the French Alps, where I got the opportunity to begin the season in style.

We headed to Alpe d’Huez, following a quick flight to Lyon, a city I love, but sadly had no time to explore this time. In under two hours, we arrived at our VIP Ski chalet, appropriately named Chateau. It was an omen of the things to come. In true VIP style, we were taken to our rooms and we knew we had to have a quick turnaround – champagne and canapés were waiting, prepared by our lovely executive chef and chalet hosts.

Our cozy and chic chalet

Our cozy and chic chalet

We stayed in that night – how could we not? For me, personally, I love the concept of chalets where you actually don’t have to leave at all – except for skiing or the odd stroll around the town. I love knowing that I can go to bed anytime and the others can carry on the evening without me. Except I am never one of the first ones to go to sleep. But I was on this trip – I think it was the mountain air!

Up early and after a delicious breakfast, it was time go out and about – the mountains looked lovely (especially as we were there just after the resort opened for the season and before the first proper influx of tourists arrived for some pre-Christmas skiing). They were calling my name indeed and my private ESF ski instructor was waiting.

I love skiing, but in my own terms – for me, it is a very very individual activity. Every time I head to the mountains, I always have a teacher with me. I am a quite decent skier, but I do appreciate spending time with people who are qualified to look after me. And I would hate to see Mr. O or any of our friends waste a morning (or an afternoon) waiting for me, as well as the pressure to keep up with everyone. I have been doing this for almost 10 years – I don’t stop anyone from doing whatever they want, and I find my peace and quiet. It is a winner indeed.

More, s'il vous plait.

More, s’il vous plait.

After more than 3 hours skiing, it was time for lunch. And there is nothing like a lunch with a view. For this meal, we visited the newly-reopened Le Signal, which did not disappoint. At all. Stunning views, delicious food with a side of Orangina. What is not to like?

Lunch with a view. And a side of Orangina.

Lunch with a view. And a side of Orangina.

After lunch, the group carried on skiing. I did a bit of skiing – i.e. I skied down to our chalet and I took a nap. I love my post-ski naps – they are epic! I woke up when everyone else arrived and couldn’t resist a bit of cake. And profiteroles. And a cup of tea. I love this little post-ski treat that VIP Ski organises for all of their guests. And calories do not count when up in a mountain.

The profiteroles were yummy, and so was my nap.

The profiteroles were yummy, and so was my nap.

We had an exquisite three-course meal at the chalet (ok, with cheese at the end), and it was time for another early night. Because I really needed a clear head for what I was going to do in the morning…

I don't know how, but I did it...

I don’t know how, but I did it…

I really do not know what led me to say yes to parapenting, I really don’t. But wow, what an experience. There is a video of while ‘I was up there’, and I haven’t got it yet – but surely that won’t be allowed to be broadcast due to the language I was using. It was terrifying, but calming at the same time. You do feel at the top of the world, but oh my. I thought we were going for a quick flight, but only while I was up there I realised it was a 20 minute flight, landing in the valley, and a 30 minute drive back to the resort. Landing on skis on the grass was also quite something. I am glad I did this and life will never be the same again.

After this, I needed champagne to calm my nerves. Or maybe a glass of rose. Either were good news and appropriate, as we were to have lunch at the Folie Douce, which was actually opening that day.

Lunch at La Fruitiere, Folie Douce's restaurant in Alpe d'Huez

Lunch at La Fruitiere, Folie Douce’s restaurant in Alpe d’Huez

Being the first day, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – but it was an experience and a half. We had lunch at La Fruitiere, the gourmet restaurant and I had to have my staple item: the onion soup combo. If you go there, please try it – it is amazing. We enjoyed the ‘entertainment’ – Folie Douce’s own cabaret team and everybody else just getting on the tables and dancing. After a while, we left the restaurant and headed to the VIP area where we danced the afternoon away, watched the champagne spraying and, well, drank a bit of champagne.

Champagne and a view. Always fun at La Folie Douce.

Champagne and a view. Always fun at La Folie Douce.

Before the sun set (and the ski lifts closed), it was time to get back to the chalet, (take a little nap, of course), change and head out for a night on the town. Which was fab.

That and the late wake up call the following morning, and our own plane to get back to London (a disclaimer here: VIP’s first guests were arriving on that day and we took their empty plane back home from Grenoble to Gatwick).

By bye, French Alps. I am so coming back!

By bye, French Alps. I am so coming back!

Au revoir Alpe d’Huez, you were a lot of fun!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer and Fact Box: I was a guest of VIP Ski, who, together with Alpe d’Duez and Folie Douce, put this trip together for Mr. O and myself.

The VIP SKI CLUB Chateau is located at the base of the slopes in Alpe d’Huez within a cluster of VIP SKI chalets. Prices start at £869, based on 2 people sharing. This includes 7 nights accommodation on a chalet board basis, return flights and airport transfers from Gatwick Airport.  For further details and information click here. Upgrade to the VIP SKI Platinum Service and a private chef will prepare a menu of all your favourite foods, while a sommelier provides the very finest wines.  An upgrade also includes a chauffeur to whisk you from the airport to your luxury chalet. A week’s trip to CLUB Chateau with VIP SKI Platinum Service starts from £1169. For more information click here.  

Alpe d’Huez – A 6 day lift pass in Alpe d’Huez is £212 for adults and £170 for concession prices. One week’s equipment hire starts at £85 for skis and £28 for boots. For more information, visit the Alpe d’Huez tourist board website.

La Folie Douce – The lively après bar offers entertainment on the slopes throughout the winter season and features the exquisite restaurant, La Fruitière. For more information, visit its website. 

Le Signal Restaurant – Following a complete refurbishment, Le Signal offers gourmet meals on the slopes with amazing views.  For more information, visit its website. 

The Luxury Travel Blog Network – December 2013 Edition

LTBN Luxury Travel Blog

I am sorry.. where has 2013 gone? I cannot believe that Christmas is upon us. I had a very interesting month, where I went to France not once, but twice! I spent almost a week in Cannes, and I am just back from a fantastic ski weekend in Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps – a good warm up to the new year.

Not a bad view. Loved my weekend in Alpe d'Huez, France

Not a bad view. Loved my weekend in Alpe d’Huez, France

For the first time in many years, Christmas will be spent in the UK, which is a lovely idea – our families are coming to us, which I think is fab. And to end the year in style, we will be heading to Miami, Florida for 8 days where we will take a real break and come back to England re-energised and ready to start 2014.

And where have the other ladies been? Well well well, let’s find out, shall we?

Love love love NYC

Love love love NYC

Katie Goldstein focused on her hometown, the fab New York City, which is one of my favourite places in the world. There is something about that city. So she very kindly compiled a list of the Top 10 places you cannot miss on your next visit.

Cocktails in Vegas? Yes, please

Cocktails in Vegas? Yes, please

Newlywed Nadine Jolie (many congratulations, again!), headed to Vegas for a bit of fun. She stayed at the classic Caesars Palace which had a very nice refurbishment. I haven’t been to Vegas for years and I am kind of in the mood now…

Kim-Marie stops over in London on her way back from Mauritius...

Kim-Marie stops over in London on her way back from Mauritius…

And last, but certainly not the least, the one and only Kim-Marie Evans, aka Luxury Travel Mom, shares with is a fab video of her stay at Le Prince Meurice in Mauritius, where she took one of her lovely children. It is quite interesting to see how this destination is trying to make the shift from honeymooners to a family destination. On her way back from paradise, she stopped over in London for a night, and tried and loved The Apartments at the Sloane Club. They had champagne for her, and Legos for Keaton…

And there you have it! We are all done for the year and I would love to take this opportunity to thank you for keeping me company throughout the past 12 months. Here is to the next 12. Thank you so much, and I wish you and your family a fab Christmas.

xo

Mrs. O

A lux weekend in Rome

I was excited to go back to Rome, very excited. Why? Because my readers decided that it was where I should go and spend the 100,000 Starpoints that American Express and Starwood really wanted me to use over a weekend.

During this weekend in Rome, I was hosted by Starwood, who gave me 100,000 Starpoints to spend in the best way I saw fit. I took advantage of the ability to book any flights (with no blackout dates) and used 60,000 Starpoints for my sister’s flight from Lisbon and mine from London. With the remaining 40,000 Starpoints, I booked 2 nights at the St. Regis Rome.

We will sleep like princesses at the St. Regis Rome...

We slept were looking forward to being treated like princesses at the St. Regis Rome…

Thursday (or a normal person’s Friday)

When I arrived at Fiumicino airport, things were looking good – I left a very wet London earlier that morning – there was actually some sun. I also had butterflies in my stomach as I was to have a very special person with me over these 3 days: my lovely sister Renata, who as she lives in Lisbon, I don’t get to see every day like I used to. Some magic happened and both our flights landed on time and we actually met on the terminal without even calling each other. That was certainly a sign of that was to come.

We hugged and just got into our ‘official taxi’ – it usually is not so difficult to get an official taxi in other European cities, so please beware (and don’t believe a word other people say. €48 flat fee including luggage is the deal). We just said, ‘andiamo a St. Regis Hotel, per favore’. (my Italian is stellar as you will find out).

Half an hour later, we entered this Rome grand dame hotel. We were a bit too early to check in, but our room was ready (we had an email from the St. Regis concierge the day before double checking if we needed anything or help with any bookings). We took the opportunity to unpack and check it out, and I must say, we were not disappointed! Thanks to my Starwood Platinum status, we were upgraded to the best available room at the hotel, which happened to be a lovely suite, as in the one that appears on hotel photographs. It was lovely.

We had a stunning suite at the St. Regis Rome

We had a stunning suite at the St. Regis Rome

No rest for the wicked, and it was time for some lunch with my friend Diana, aka Browsing Rome. She wanted to take us to a real restaurant, something simple, yet delicious – and we loved Colline Emiliane which was located at moments from Piazza Barberini, not far from the hotel. We loved how Italian this place was – and how local everyone else was too. Luckily Diana is fluent and we were able to order – and having all these Emilia Romagna specialties really made me want to explore this region further… perhaps next year!

After lunch, we walked around Piazza Barberini where we saw the Triton Fountain which had just been unveiled after a good clean up. Diana wanted to take me shopping, and she suggested the Prati district, not far from the Vatican – I thought it was a great idea as we would get to have a little walk around and yes, I would not mind looking for some new shoes. Or a coat. Or a handbag.

Yours truly and the lovely Diana at St. Peter's Square in Rome. Always very special to go back to the Vatican every time I visit Rome.

Yours truly and the lovely Diana at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Always very special to go back to the Vatican every time I visit Rome.

We walked and walked and sadly, we did not buy anything. Can you believe it? Whenever we liked something, there was nothing our size… We decided this would not stop us – and we should persevere. So we actually walked from Prati to Via del Corso and explored this lovely part of town. Via Condotti never disappoints and it was fun having a look at some of my favourite Italian brands – such as Max Mara (I wanted a new grey coat and didn’t find any), Tod’s or Gucci.

At this stage, we got to the Spanish steps and it started to rain. And it never stopped again during our time in Rome.

How can one go to Rome and *not* take this photo?

How can one go to Rome and *not* take this photo?

We decided to go back to the hotel and change for dinner. Obviously, this is code for ‘we wanted to be back at 7pm as the hotel sabers a bottle of champagne and gives a glass to everyone sitting at the lobby’. When we got to our suite, we were surprised by our own bottle of prosecco (how did they know I was so thirsty?), and actually never made it downstairs in time… oh well!

That prosecco just arrived at the right moment… thank you, St. Regis

That prosecco just arrived at the right moment… thank you, St. Regis

After changing to a more fitting dining attire, we headed towards Trastevere, a neighbourhood I had heard of, but never been. We were there to meet my friend Maria, aka Heart Rome, who had planned a whole night out for us.

I instantly fell in love with the area – it felt so untouristy (it is quite touristy during the day, apparently, but less so at night), so real. Loved it. We headed to a little bar for a pre-dinner drink, and I know I picked the wrong drink as I was in Lazio, not Veneto, but I had to have an Aperol Spritz. I love this drink (my favourite one was at the Aperol Terrace in Milan earlier this year) and I really try not to have it outside Italy (it is everywhere now, but in my opinion, just not the same!).

Piazza di Santa Maria a Trastevere. Loved it.

Piazza di Santa Maria a Trastevere. Loved it.

To say dinner was amazing, it would be an understatement. We had possibly one of the nicest meals I ever had in Italy (and this should tell you something) at Glass Hostaria, which not only looked stunning… the modern twist on Italian classics was incredible. I loved the foie-gras ravioli and my half chocolate-half Guinness button pasta. The champagne, the lovely Chianti and the moscato at the end certainly made it even more special. It was just the perfect evening.

I adored our dinner at Glass Hostaria with my sister Renata and my friend Maria.

I adored our dinner at Glass Hostaria with my sister Renata and my friend Maria.

And as good girls we were, we went to bed early. It had been a long day (up at 5am for a 7am flight) and by midnight, it was time to say Buona Notte.

Friday (or a normal person’s Saturday)

After breakfast, which was complimentary as usual for all SPG Platinum members, we got a cab to the Villa Borghese, one of Rome’s many landmarks and home to an impressive art collection. A visit to Rome cannot be all about shopping – and while I had no plans to do the reverse, i.e. only sightsee, I thought a bit of culture was due.

Villa Borghese (photo by Browsing Rome)

Villa Borghese (photo by Browsing Rome)

Just before 11am, we met Jeanette, our private Walks of Italy guide, who for two hours, was going to guide us through this amazing place. When we got into the entrance, I was a little bit scared when I saw the queues… but then thought, this is when a private tour really makes a difference. No queues, no time-wasting.

Sadly, no photos could be taken inside the Gallery, but I have to tell you I really enjoyed it – I was a bit worried about being forced to look at stuff for 2 hours, but found myself lost in Jeanette’s tales of Caravaggio. She was an amazing story-teller, and knew the museum really well.

By 1pm, we were starving, starving! And how can one be hungry in Rome? It is just wrong!

Starving in Rome. Yes, it did happen.

Starving in Rome. Yes, it did happen.

As we had a date with our Flytographer photographer for a little photoshoot in Rome, we decided to have lunch nearby. Trastevere was really in my cards for this trip and this is where we spent most of our day. Thanks to Maria, we had a lovely simple lunch at Osteria der Belli, where we enjoyed homemade Sardinian specialties – I loved my gnochetti!

We were hoping that the rain would stop, but of course it did not. Oh well. We met our Flytographer at Piazza Santa Maria and just walked around the neighbourhood, trying to capture real life moments, and boy did we get some!

Out and about in Rome. Even checking out the local talent. Photos by Flytographer.

Out and about in Rome. Even checking out the local talent. Photos by Flytographer.

From Trastevere, we walked towards the Campo di Fiori, but only after a stop for some coffee and cannoli (again, suggested by my friend Maria, who by this time, was able to join us too).

We decided the rain would not stop us (you can see how our hair gets progressively worse, but hey, you only live once). We did a bit of sightseeing and even managed to tick off the Piazza Navona, which is always a nice sight.

The girls about town. With a side of Cannoli. Photos by Flytographer.

The girls about town. With a side of Cannoli. Photos by Flytographer.

From there, we walked to the Pantheon, where we finally stopped for a drink (it was 5pm after all!).

We said goodbye to Maria, and continued our mission: to find shoes. I don’t know what it was, but the shopping Gods were not with us this time. I think it was the first time I ever went anywhere and did not buy anything. But I ate – so that has to count for something.

My sister was keen to go to the Fontana di Trevi, and how could I disappoint her? I can’t tell you how busy it was, but we managed to get our photo taken eventually.

Yes yes, I did it in the pouring rain. So I will come back to Rome for sure!

Yes yes, I did it in the pouring rain. So I will come back to Rome for sure!

We had exciting plans for dinner (more on that later), but with an hour to go, we decided it wasn’t worth going back to the hotel – so we decided to walk. More. In the rain. (it really seemed like a good idea).

To say we were soaked, would be the understatement of the year. I do not remember ever having such wet feet (and the most appalling choice of suede shoes for the day), but eventually, we made it to our destination: a private loft in the Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle II where we were able to cook our own dinner.

Walks of Italy organises some incredible activities in Italy (I loved my walk with them in Milan) and not all involve walking. Some involve making you work in other ways). I loved the idea of an evening with a private chef and actually learning how to make my own pasta.

David, our chef, made us feel at home instantly – it must have been the glass of chilled prosecco waiting for us. I loved the space – it wasn’t actually his house, it is a rooftop floor with an amazing balcony (obviously not to be enjoyed on that evening and a purposely built space for this type of activities).

Want to make your own pasta? Just follow these very simple steps!

Want to make your own pasta? Just follow these very simple steps!

My sister and I were joined by an American couple, and I have to say, we had a fantastic evening. It turned out that we were naturals (we did require a lot of direction, ha) , but at the end, we did it. We cooked some very interesting shaped pasta (pici, just so you know) amatriciana, which is one of Rome’s most famous sauces.

And with this, we went back to the St Regis, where our lovely suite awaited. We were knackered with so much walking! But so happy, I could not tell you!

Saturday (or a normal person’s Sunday)

We had been warned NOT to eat breakfast. But I need to eat shortly after waking up so I only had some eggs. Needless to say, half an hour later I regretted this decision.

Our morning was going to be slightly different from the previous one – we were going on a food tour. For 4 hours. And die after that, of course.

Italian street-style. A risqué photo by Flytographer.

Italian street-style. A risqué photo by Flytographer.

Spending a morning with Eating Italy was one of the nicest memories I will have from this trip. Our tour (in the rain ha ha), was run by Kate, and we were joined by 6 other very hungry visitors to the Eternal City. We were there to explore the neighbourhood of Testaccio (another place I had never been to) and basically eat our way around it.

Ooops, I did eat my way around Rome with Eating Italy. And no regrets.

Ooops, I did eat my way around Rome with Eating Italy. And no regrets.

From wonderful charcuterie and cheese, to pizza, to cannoli, to pasta and gelato – you name it, we had it all. I loved visiting the market and actually having a chance to buy something (well, I hadn’t bought any shoes, I could not turn up at house empty-handed). Chestnuts, cheese, bread and tomatoes – not an usual combination if you are inspired by the local specialties.

We really had an amazing time, and before we knew it, it was time to quickly head back to the St. Regis Hotel, pick up our luggage and head home.

Good things come to an end – and this weekend was incredible (and would be nothing short of perfect if it wasn’t for the never stopping rain).

On this trip, I spent 100,000 Starpoints which covered both our flights and our hotel stay. If you would like to know more about the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card, click here and find out how it can help you go to even more places, always in style. If you apply and are approved for the Preferred Guest Credit Card my lovely sponsors are also giving you 20,000 Starpoints when you spend £2,000 in the first three months of Cardmembership as a bonus  (UK residents only) – that is enough for one night at a St. Regis Hotel (seriously) or two nights at the Sheraton Lisbon (one of my favourites). Click here for Terms and conditions.

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

Representative example: Representative 36.2% APR variable. Based on annual fee of £75 and assumed credit limit of £1200. Interest rate for purchases: 19.9% p.a. variable. Terms and conditions apply. 

 

And I am pretty sure Italy will keep calling my name. I can’t wait to go back.

Ciao!

Xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: this post was sponsored by American Express and Starwood. I was a guest of Walks of Italy, Eating Italy and Flytographer on this trip – and I loved every minute of it.

Applicants must be 18 years old or over. Approval is subject to status and terms and conditions apply. The information relating to the financial information of the Card is the responsibility of American Express Services Europe Limited and SPG accepts no responsibility for inaccuracies. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc, registered in England and Wales is an introducer appointed representative for insurance mediation activities only, of American Express Insurance Services Europe Limited. The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card is offered by American Express Services Europe Limited registered office: Belgrave House, 76 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9AX, United Kingdom registered in England and Wales, Company Number 1833139, and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority under the Payment Services Regulations 2009 (reference number 415532) for the provision of payment services. American Express Services Europe Limited is an appointed representative for insurance mediation activities only, of American Express Insurance Services Europe Limited (reference number 311684) who is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services Register. American Express Services Europe Limited also subscribes to the Lending Code which is monitored and enforced by the Lending Standards Board and is licensed by the Office of Fair Trading for the provision of credit products and related services.

Eating my way around Palm Springs, California

I have said it more than once: I adore Palm Springs in California. Love love love love. Yes, I really do. For the last 8 years, no exception, Mr. O and I head to this beautiful part of the world once a year, every year. No ifs or buts. We just go.

It is one of my favourite places in the world – and we really have a routine, with our favourite places to shop and eat, and things to do. Every year is the same – and we love it.

Looking healthy at the top of the San Jacinto Mountain (accessed by Palm Springs Aerial Tramway)

Looking healthy at the top of the San Jacinto Mountain (accessed by Palm Springs Aerial Tramway)

But this year, the lovely people at the Greater Palm Springs CVB wanted to challenge my taste buds – things do change from year to year and there were some exciting new openings in the wining and dining front. And the shopping. But thankfully, no changes in the ‘sleeping and reading by the pool all day every day’. Small mercies.

So I was ready to eat, and went on an interesting culinary journey around the Palm Springs Desert – starting in Rancho Mirage, moving on to Palm Springs, Palm Desert and La Quinta, four of the nine ‘Desert Cities’ which make up Greater Palm Springs.

Feeling hungry? Here are some of the yummiest places in town (seriously, I did not have a bad meal).

Workshop Bar + Kitchen, Palm Springs

The Workshop Bar + Kitchen was very sexy and the cuisine very interesting.

The Workshop Bar + Kitchen was very sexy and the cuisine very interesting.

I really did not know what to expect and believe me, I was wowed from the moment I walked in. This workshop place was totally up my street and full of surprises. We were surprised to see it completely packed on a Monday, testament to its reputation. I loved the classic cocktails with a very unique twist, but I can’t tell you how much I actually enjoyed the food. I was not expecting to eat brussels sprouts in this part of the world – and the octopus carpaccio really threw me. The lamb chops were also to die for. And the wine selection? Yes please. I stayed faithful to my ‘wine miles’ concept which wasn’t 100% easy as the wine menu features some very very interesting world wines. A place I will go back to, for sure. Visit website.

Figue Mediterranean, La Quinta

Modern but very true to its Mediterranean roots

Modern but very true to its Mediterranean roots

Also a newcomer to the Desert dining scene, Figure Mediterranean was one of the highlights of our stay. Chef Francoise and manager Frederic’s charm offensive started when we walked through the door – and did not end until we could not move. I love mediterranean cuisine (for obvious reasons), but I am also a bit wary of how it is interpreted. Francoise is a real European and cooking is in his and his family’s blood. Figue had one of the sexiest doors I have ever seen (and I won’t share a photo – you will need to get there and have a look yourself). The food was also incredible – I was very partial to the lamb tartare (oh my) and the  kuni kuni pork. The wine selection was also outstanding – and with a lot more American wines. We fell in love with some Oregon and Washington reds (and cheated on California, but at least they were all American wines). And lots of figs everywhere, which I adore. I cannot wait to go back. Visit website.

Pinzimini, Rancho Mirage

Pinzimini at the Westin Mission Hills

Pinzimini at the Westin Mission Hills

Interestingly, we always stay at the Westin Mission Hills – it is a beautiful property and we love the villas. We tried the restaurant many moons ago and were not inspired at all – so it was interesting to go back. The hotel is trying hard to make this a destination restaurant, namely for non hotel guests and a lot of work has been done in the inside – it does look quite smart indeed. We had a good meal – very Italian with an Chef’s tasting platter and an incredible bistecca alla Fiorentina paired with an incredible Amarone, selected by Dan, the manager (I did fail on my wine miles but it was for a good reason).

Sadly, we ate outside (as the weather was so fab) and we lost out. The outside area is quite uninspiring and the lighting does not do it any justice – it did feel like a nondescript hotel restaurant, which was a real shame. The food was good – and I would consider going back if there were some layout and decor changes. It is interesting how it all makes a difference. Visit website.

Las Casuelas Nuevas, Rancho Mirage

Oh Margarita, mi amiga Margarita.

Oh Margarita, mi amiga Margarita.

A very casual Mexican restaurant, hacienda-style of course, which has been around for over 20 years in this part of the world. And we had no idea! After so much eating during the week, it was actually a very nice change of scenery – and I loved to see how many Mexican customers the restaurant had. My love affair with Mexican food is only a couple of years old, but I have to say, it continued. And those mango margaritas.. well… mas, por favor. Visit website.

It was also very interesting to discover that one of our favourite restaurants in town, Cork Tree (with possibly the best wine selection in the area – read about it here) is also owned by the same family. We did not get a chance to visit this time, but surely will when we are next in town.

Because I always go back to the desert – we went once by mistake, and have been going back every year ever since.

xo

Mrs. O

From Palm Springs, I headed to Los Angeles, for a completely different type of weekend. You can read all about it here.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Greater Palm Springs CVB. Opinions, as you know by now, are always my own.