The Luxury Travel Blog Network – May 2013 Edition

I love reading other blogs and have found some extremely talented writers out there. So five of us, decided that every month, we would bring you the best content we have each produced, and make it easy for our lovely readers to find some great travel inspiration.

So without further ado, meet my ladies and their May 2013 reading suggestions…

Nadine Jolie

Nadine Jolie is a beauty and travel writer specializing in luxury spas. A former magazine editor (Lucky, Ladies’ Home Journal, FHM), Nadine was dubbed “the poster child for the blogger generation” by the New York Post and has published two books: Confessions of a Beauty Addict and Beauty Confidential. Nadine’s travels have taken her to spas in places including New Zealand, Austria, South Africa, Montreal, and Scotland. She is a contributing writer for VanityFair.com and Angeleno magazine and regularly writes for FoxNews.com and luxury New York publication Hudson Mod. Fluent in French and conversant/literate in Italian, Spanish and Arabic, Nadine enjoys learning how to say “Where is the nearest Sephora?” in new languages and is currently working on her third book, a novel set in England.

Follow Nadine Jolie on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channel.

The fabulous Nadine Jolie lived the M Life in Las Vegas. Wondering what that is? It’s RIDICULOUS luxury in sin city, I seriously need to check this out.

Katie Goldstein

Katie Goldstein is an avid traveler whose tastes are simple: she enjoys the best. Katie works by day as a lawyer and by night as a successful writer. Katie often lends her travel expertise to prestigious outlets, which include Forbes, Fodor’s, and She Knows. She has also written about varied topics for WE TV and for FoxNews.com. Katie is also the founder of famous luxury travel and lifestyle sites, Travelingpanties and Smartypanties, where she chronicles her adventures around the world to spectacular countries like Thailand, Argentina, Laos, Cambodia, Uruguay, Australia, France and more. When Katie isn’t traveling, she can be found scouring her home base, New York City, for the next hotspot. In her free time, Katie enjoys trying new restaurants, taking advantage of NYC’s fabulous shopping and practicing her photography skills.

Keep up with Katie’s escapades on her Blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Katie  makes the case that Cleveland is more than just a fly over city- check out her 10 Best Things to do in Cleveland list.

Kim-Marie

Kim-Marie Evans is a freelance writer specializing in luxury and family travel. She has traveled the world with her four children to places as glamorous as the south of France and as challenging as Rwanda. Her work has appeared in print and online. You can find her best travel secrets on her award winning blog LuxuryTravelMom.com and at TravelingMom.com. With a background in radio and television, Kim-Marie is as comfortable in front of the video camera as she is behind the keyboard.

Follow Kim-Marie on her blog, Twitter and Facebook

Kim-Marie has a fabulous weekend with her and RedCarpet Kids at the Four Seasons in NYC.

Charu Suri

Charu Suri runs Butterfly Diary, an online magazine, with stories on how travel can transform one’s outlook. Charu left a career in Investment Banking to pursue her passions — travel and writing– several years ago and has not looked back since. A full-time freelance writer and Social Media consultant, she loves to pen her journeys in the following beats: affordable luxury destinations, culture, vegetarian food and the digital community. As a new mom, she’ll be paying a lot more attention to kid-friendly places.

Follow Charu on Twitter, Facebook

Charu Suri has done the hard work of rounding up the best of spa treatments from around the world, you’re welcome.

Wishing you all a great weekend, wherever you may be!

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: The Spa Suite at The Westin Grand, Berlin

When I recently visited Berlin, I was really looking forward to a night at the Westin. Why? Because it is a brand that I love and know very well, as I have stayed in many, especially in the USA. It is a brand that not many people in Europe are familiar with, so it is great to introduce it to a few more people. Everything is heavenly at Westin – or so the brand calls is. The Heavenly bed, the Heavenly shower.. you get the idea! I stayed at this hotel during ITB, which is possibly one of the busiest times of the year in the city. I used my SPG points and was expecting (kept every finger crossed) for an upgrade… and well, it may be fair to say that I did well!

The Westin Grand, Berlin

The Westin Grand, Berlin

Pre-Arrival

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

Yes indeed. We started a little twitter friendship a couple of months before I even booked my room and it was quite interesting to see how responsive the hotel’s social media team where, over time.

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

It got to a stage where I was drooling over the weekly cocktails (which is a fab idea – a twitter cocktail, huh?) and I knew which one would be available on the week of my stay. It is all about the small details. I was impressed.

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

Very discreetly yes. Very nicely played, I thought too!

This is what I call a shower!

This is what I call a shower! You can see where this is going…

Arrival

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

The hotel has a large lobby, which is a nice mix of old and new. I was quite intrigued as wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

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

Absolutely brilliant. I couldn’t help notice the Montblanc mats where you signed your paperwork. Why have I never noticed them before?

–          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)

Yes, Ms O’Reilly this and that, and I noticed that the exact same thing was happening to the gentlemen checking-in next to me. It is such a nice touch and so easy for hotels to do it…

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

I did, I used my SPG points which technically entitle me to an upgrade to junior suites (or suites if I use the new suite nights), and I was delighted to get the “Spa Suite”.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Very much so, everyone (in Berlin, to be honest) was so smiley and friendly – not exactly what I was expecting!

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

I had a carry-on bag only and was “allowed” to take it to my room.

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

As platinum SPG I did get free internet (as do Gold SPGs), but sadly not for all hotel guests.

Room Experience

A spacious suite

A spacious suite

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

It was lovely – really quite modern, in contrast with the rest of the hotel. I loved it. It was spacious and I loved how open it was – you could see through the rooms!

–          Welcome amenity

I had some lovely champagne, strawberries and chocolate. Always a lovely touch.

–          The bed

Heavenly, as they call it. It was huge and all mine that night. And comfy.

–          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.

It was spacious and had individual hangers. Interestingly the clothes faced forward, rather than sideways. Not quite sure what to make of it (I love a good first world problem) – but it was kind of nice to see outfits from a different perspective!

My heavenly bed for the night...

My heavenly bed for the night…

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

I had all my chargers with me for a change, so I just used them and didn’t have a problem with plugs.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Yes and lovely!

–          Coffee and Tea

But of course.

–          Free bottled water

Indeed. All SPGs do get free water in the rooms.

TBC

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

I didn’t see any, but to be honest I didn’t spend as much time in the room as I would have liked!

–          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.

Lots, actually!

Bathroom

 

I loved the Spa Suite bathroom

I loved the Spa Suite bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

There was a definite wow factor – it was huge and really quite something.

–          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?

You can see the bath and if you scroll up, you can the see amazing 1 sqm shower head. I didn’t need to wash my hair that day, but I couldn’t resist!

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

There weren’t the best I ever had, which was quite strange. They were a little bit on the small side and not as soft as I would expect. Some room for improvement there.

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

It was good to see some Korres, which is a Greek brand I quite like. I think the shower gels are always fab (love basil and lemon), but the shampoo is not fab. But quite refreshing to see this!

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

All the standard Westin goodies, as needed.

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

It was quite good and I used it.

Breakfast


It is quite embarrassing but I missed breakfast. I had a very lazy day ahead in Berlin.. and I slept until almost 12pm, which I needed. I went to Galleries Lafayette instead (not just for breakfast!).

Bar

Pretty cocktails (this one was a Coco Fresh) at the Westin Berlin

Pretty cocktails (this one was a Coco Fresh) at the Westin Berlin

The bar was actually really quite nice and had really good service. I love how we now get more and more interesting cocktails in Europe – one of the great things about Globalisation. I had a lovely Coco Fresh pre-dinner, and I continued to have them when I came back to the hotel after dinner.

Something really interesting happened! I tweeted a photo of my fab suite, which was picked up by another guest, who was staying at the “other” suite (and quite disappointed!). We decided to settle it over a drink at the bar, and it was lovely to meet Vanessa and Markus, who run a very interesting fashion and travel blog in Germany. We have been in touch ever since and the hotel has jointed in the banter, which a couple months later, still makes this stay really quite special.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

I used it and was absolutely fine

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

They did indeed and it was great fun. The hotel did this with a lot of guests and I strongly believe this really is the future…

–          Location

Absolutely fantastic, right on Friedrichstraße and its lovely shops…

–          Cost

Rooms start from €125 (room rates are very good in Berlin, I must say) and the suite from €500. I did not see any other rooms, so I cannot comment on them.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Yes, and she’d love it!

–          Would I stay again?

Without a doubt, this Spa suite would be slept in and enjoyed tremendously!

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: Thank you to Starwood and the Westin Berlin for this upgrade during such a busy time.  For more information about the hotel, visit its official website.

My Flight: Qatar Airways business class

Following the success of the “My hOtel” series, and by popular demand, I am delighted to announce a new regular series on mrsoaroundtheworld.com – My Flight. Sadly, no Os (I tried, and couldn’t come up with anything, but if you have any idea, please let me know!).

The purpose of this series is to showcase what different experiences airlines provide in either business or first class – it is all about the service, the little details and how it is an incredibly important part of the whole luxury travel experience.

I have recently flown with Qatar Airways, who is soon joining Oneworld, for the first time, from London Heathrow to Malé, in the Maldives, via Doha. Four flights and a consistent quality experience. As I didn’t book the tickets myself, or check-in online, I will leave these sections out on this review – they will be featured on future series updates.

Here’s how my London Heathrow to Doha business class flight went.

Plenty of space for Mrs. O

Plenty of space for Mrs. O

Check-in

Qatar Airways operates from Heathrow’s Terminal 4, which I hadn’t visited in years. Once we located the check-in area, we joined the business class queue, which took around 5 minutes to clear. If I am honest (which is the whole purpose of this blog!), it wasn’t as sleek as I would have expected – there was a lot of staff around, many phone calls and not once we were addressed by name, which I think is always a nice touch. After a good 10 minutes, we were finally given our business class boarding passes to Doha and were told that we would be met on arrival with the boarding passes to Malé. Our luggage was checked to the final destination.

 

Security

We used the fast-track lane at Heathrow, which wasn’t busy at all, and was very efficient.

 

The Lounge

Really impressive with the attentive service, selection of food and drink and decor of Qatar Airways' lounge at London Heathrow

Really impressive with the attentive service, selection of food and drink and decor of Qatar Airways’ lounge at London Heathrow

We easily located the lounge, and can’t tell you how impressed we were from the moment we walked in. We (and every other passenger) were escorted to our chosen seats and presented with all the options and services we had at our disposal.

The décor of the Heathrow lounge was impeccable – a mix of east and west, beautiful fittings and areas to seat.

I was wondering if this would be a “dry” experience, being a Middle Eastern airline – so was delighted to be directed to the “signature cocktail lounge”, where a barman mixes your favourite or Qatar’s signature cocktails. A good start indeed.

We declined the sit-down fine dining option as we had an evening flight and wanted to eat on the airplane, but did try some of the food options – soup, some tabuleh, prawns and cold meats, which you select with your hostess and is brought to your seat.

Bollinger rosé was the champagne of the day (with a So-Jeanne non alcoholic option, which was a very nice touch), with Lanson being the brut option (quite an interesting selection, as the price points are so clearly different). We had a lovely coconut and pineapple cocktail (to get into Maldives mode, if you see what I mean).

As Qatar Airways operates 3-4 services to Doha a day, only a select number of passengers are at the lounge at any one time – which allows the airline to offer outstanding personalised service. I must confess I was über curious to find out how they would cope in Doha. More on that later!

As the gate was a “little bit far away”, a buggy was organised to take us to the gate, which was an incredibly nice touch.

In-flight experience

–          Welcome – we were welcomed by name once we boarded and taken to our seats. The crew went around the cabin offering drinks to passengers as they sat down. It was very interesting to see how they introduced themselves to each passenger, to ensure we knew their names (and they knew ours). The purser also did the same to every passenger in the business class cabin (6 rows, with 6 seats each with a 2-2-2 combination).

Some of the inflight amenities

Some of the inflight amenities

–          Amenities – as it was an overnight flight, we were given pyjamas and eyemasks. I was delighted to be given a small size and thought the design was very nice. Grey with a nice stripped trim – personally, I loved the collar with some buttons. In terms of toiletries, there was a gender option – all in a stylish Ferragamo washbag, which was very discrete and with serious re-using possibilities. The washbag contained decent sized moisturizer and hand cream, perfume and lip balm. Toothbrushes and razors (in normal sizes) were cleverly located inside the washrooms.

–          Dining experience – this is where things got extremely interesting.

Loved the eclectic menu on board

Loved the eclectic menu on board

Qatar Airways works with 3 top chefs: Michelin-starred London-based Tom Aikens, Ramzi Choueiri (who is quite well-known in the Arab and Mediterranean world) and Vineet Bhatia, who was the first Indian chef to receive a Michelin star (and has since won a second). The menu was very eclectic, and was a great introduction for us to Middle Eastern food – I wasn’t flying to New York, after all!

I went for the classic Arabic mezze, followed by grilled sea bass and ended with a cheese plate (interestingly, of British cheeses only). I skipped desert as I wanted to real give the Kopke Colheita 1974 Port a bit of loving – which I did indeed!

–          Drinks Selection – Great indeed! Cocktails can be mixed on board (I liked this theme, I must say) – from Dry Martinis, Champagne cocktails to Black Russians. There was also a good selection of whiskies and digestifs, which I didn’t try, but couldn’t help notice. What I loved? The incredible tea selection – I had a spicy chai on every Qatar flight!

–          In-flight entertainment – it had a good (and interesting) selection of TV, Films and Games. I was intrigued by the regional options (Bollywood and other Asian blockbusters and quite some European gems). I couldn’t resist and watched the new Catalan movie “Menu de Degustació”, set in Costa Brava, which showcases the Roca Brothers, the brains behind the 2013’s top restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Spain. On the London flights, the system was a little bit old-fashioned (I didn’t realise at the beginning that it wasn’t a touch-screen), but they were more modern on the A320 that took us from Doha to Malé).

–          The seat – The seats were spacious, quite wide and all forward facing. Configured at 2-2-2, every passenger (except those at windows) had aisle access. My only comment is that it didn’t recline 180º, which I am used to on long-haul business flights – it had an angle, which made sleeping quite strange. The pillows and the cover were very nice, as were the noise-cancelling headphones.

The business class seat

The business class seat

On arrival at Doha (a mere 6h30 later), we were met at the plane and transferred to our next flight, via the Doha Premium Terminal, which deserves a lot of praise. Interestingly, there are 3 terminals at the “current” Doha International Airport. If your travels end there, you are taken from the plane to “Doha Arrivals terminal”, where you will get your bags and enter the country officially. We used this terminal when we arrived from the Maldives back to Doha and loved being welcomed by the concierge team, who also collected our bags and took us to the Doha Arrivals lounge, which was compact but heavenly.

If you are transferring to an onward flight and flying economy, you are taken to the normal “transfer” terminal. All business and first class passengers have a dedicated terminal, which I think is a brilliant idea (and will be difficult to replicate elsewhere, and a potential challenge for when Qatar Airways moves its operations into the new Doha airport). Light and airy, it has a huge business class lounge and also a first class lounge, which is slightly different. We used it for about 5 seconds when we landed at Doha and continued to Malé, but were looking forward to experiencing it properly when we flew back to London at the end of our trip.

It is all about the small details..

It is all about the small details..

What is so cool about it? Well, it all starts when you arrive at the terminal by car. You are greeted by a team of hotel-style porters, who take your luggage from your car and take it to the check-in desk – where you sit down (very strange indeed, but a very nice touch). Birds are chirping (which was quite soothing) and flower arrangements were incredible – I did feel like I was arriving back at the Four Seasons Doha, which I had left minutes before.

Then the process is very simple – 2 flying classes, 2 lounges. The business class lounge was huge – being Qatar Airways home airport, and where all the magic takes place. The lounge had 3 eating areas – from fine dining, to a deliciously looking buffet. Great English magazine selection (as at Heathrow), and specially printed copies of international newspapers (which I thought was quite clever). Service was discrete but very attentive and personal.

I had the opportunity to peek into the first class lounge, which looked a little bit the same, but had an incredible Elemis spa (paid treatments), and bedrooms which passengers with connections over 6 hours can use to rest). The shower areas also had Jacuzzis etc, which was a nice touch – and obviously gender specific.

Common to all passengers is access to the nursery and the games room (with every gadget you can think of. Worth noting that there were quite a few adults using the play stations!). There are also various smoking areas in the terminal.

And after a great morning (it is worth arriving 2 hours before your flight, just to experience it), it was time to hop on QR1 and fly back to London Heathrow.

Where should I go next?

Where should I go next?

I was very impressed with Qatar Airways’ service and attention to detail and will surely fly with them again as the airline will join Oneworld soon, which is great news for other miles-conscious flyers. The airline has over 150 new planes on order, and many new routes to interesting places, always connecting in Doha.

Mrs. O approved indeed

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Qatar Airways on this trip – but as you can tell by now, opinions are, as always, my own.

Fact Box: Qatar Airways flies from London Heathrow to Malé (Maldives), via Doha various times a day. Air fares start from £604 for economy and £2199 business class.

Finding paradise in the Maldives

I had seen dozens of photos, or hundreds even. Let’s be honest – thousands! Every time that I saw something that had the word Maldives in it, my heart skipped a little beat. Just a little one. Why? Because I really wanted to go there.

I was pretty sure that most photographs were photoshopped – or instagrammed as it is 2013 – and oh my, I was in for a surprise! So here is a little recap of my trip, lovingly organised by Kuoni!

The adventured started right close to home, at London Heathrow Airport – on this adventure, Mr. O and myself were to travel for the first time ever with award-winning airline Qatar Airways (due to join Oneworld soon). A detailed review can be found here (as part of a new series here on the blog, where I will be reviewing different business and first class airline experiences).

Qatar Airways' lounge at London Heathrow

Qatar Airways’ lounge at London Heathrow

It was my first time flying with a Middle-Eastern airline and a thought entered my mind – would the flight be dry? But as soon as I walked into the stunning lounge at Heathrow and was directed to the “signature cocktail bar”, I knew I didn’t need to worry. Flying with Qatar Airways also gave me the opportunity to stopover in Doha, a place I was curious about… but more about that part of the trip later!

Getting to the Maldives was not a problem – a 6.5h flight to Doha, and a speedy connection (via the Business and First Class terminal) and we quickly boarded our second flight, with a duration of around 4.5h, to Malé, the capital of the Maldives.

At the airport, we were welcomed by Kurumba‘s team (the same applies to any hotels, who have desks at the airport) and after a 10-minute boat ride we had arrived… pretty much to paradise!

Our private stretch of beach just outside our Beach Villa at Kurumba

Our private stretch of beach just outside our Beach Villa at Kurumba

After a warm welcome by the team at Kurumba, we were taken to our beach villa (#158) and where we uttered our first wow. The sea was really what I could only hope it would be – but the best bit? Knowing that that part of the beach was ours – each room has its own sunloungers, so there are no fights ever. I knew we were on to a good thing.

We spent 4 nights at Kurumba, and I can’t speak highly enough of the resort, which was Maldives’ first island resort (40 years ago), and which underwent a complete refurbishment very recently. We loved our room, and absolutely adored our outdoor shower. Needless to say, we were a housekeepers’ dream as we never ever used the indoor one.

Our beach villa at Kurumba

Our beach villa at Kurumba

I can’t tell you how quickly time went – I know it always does when you were having fun! We spent our days eating – the food and service were outstanding, and we were never bored as we had over 6 dining options (a grill, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Lebanese, Chinese and a buffet) to choose from, sleeping, having the odd cocktail and, of course, indulging in the spa.

I liked the spa so much, that after the complimentary treatment the hotel kindly offered us, we just had to go every day – the treatment rooms were fantastic, as was the team. Our favourite? This greeny ginger and lemongrass refreshing drink we were given pre and post massage. Ginger is something that this trip definitely brought into our lives. Treatments started at $100, which is outstanding value for money.

The Spa at Kurumba

The Spa at Kurumba

One thing we didn’t realise before we arrived, was that all prices were in USD. Which was a nice surprise, as cocktails (priced at $10+) were even better value than anywhere in Europe or the USA. And after working my way around the menu, which was incredibly creative, I can declare a winner:

Lychee Caipirinha

Lychee Caipirinha

Not quite why I never had a lychee caipirinha before – but I promise you, it will be added to my Top Cocktails list very shortly! One thing worth mentioning – you are not allowed to bring alcohol into the Maldives. It is illegal and your luggage is checked on arrival – the Maldives is a Muslim country and the only exception to this rule is at island resorts. Its capital, Malé, is completely dry (which is fine by me!).

I am not that transparent anymore, I am delighted to say!

I am not that transparent anymore, I am delighted to say!

Snorkelling was also outstanding and something I am delighted to have had a go at – every day the hotel organises a snorkelling “expedition”, which is great, especially for beginners, as you know you are totally safe. We saw the most incredible fishes and reefs and I can only wish I had a proper camera with me. Which obviously means I *simply* need to go back again.

Reading a book will never be quite the same!

Reading a book will never be quite the same!

And with this, it was time to move resorts – our next and final stop was Kurumba‘s sister property, Velassaru.

After a lovely welcome – we were joined by other guests which we collected at the airport, we were shown our over water villa (#411). Are you ready for this? You have been warned!

A lovely Water Villa room at Velassaru

A lovely Water Villa room at Velassaru

And obviously the best bit… the view!

Complete privacy in our Water Villa deck

Complete privacy in our Water Villa deck

Velassaru was a dream of a hotel – completely rebuilt a few years ago, it was beach chic and understatement at its best. Fab design, coupled with great service. One thing I must add – I loved the idea of switching resorts midweek. It adds a bit of variety, and a change of scenery – I know most people prefer to stay 1 week in one place, but this really worked for us, and I can’t recommend it enough.

You can totally guess what we did for the almost 3 days we were in this island – we swam, read, ate and I twitted a little bit! WiFi is free at both hotels, which is great news.

We also tried and loved the spa – the signature massage was outstanding. But what I loved the most? Hum.. guess!

A jacuzzi with a view - and a smile!

A jacuzzi with a view – and a smile!

One thing I had no intention of doing was to get inside a pool – why would I if the sea looked like that? So perfect.. and warm! I have now forgiven myself as I simply had to try this beautiful pool… would you be able to resist? We weren’t!

A pool with a view at Velassaru

A pool with a view at Velassaru

And I can’t believe how quickly our three nights at Velassaru went. But we weren’t sad to leave. Why? Because we know we will be back for sure, and it won’t take years, I promise you!

PS. Maldives, I miss you already

PS. Maldives, I miss you already

xo.

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Kuoni, who have kindly organised this trip for Mr. O and myself. I would like to thank Kurumba and Velassaru for looking after us so well and also Qatar Airways, who have provided flights in business class for both of us on all 4 segments from London Heathrow to Malé via Doha. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Factbox:

Kuoni offers 7 nights with breakfast at the 5-star Kurumba Maldives in a deluxe room including flights with Qatar Airways from Heathrow and group transfers in resort.  Prices for departures June 2013 are from £1,266 per person, based on two sharing. To book please quote: IO0021

Kuoni offers 7 nights with breakfast at 5-star Velassaru Maldives in a deluxe bungalow including flights with Qatar Airways from Heathrow and group transfers in resort.  Prices for departures  June 2013 are from £1,378 per person, based on two sharing. To book please quote: IO0021

A holiday like mine  which includes 4 nights on all inclusive at 5-star Kurumba Maldives in a deluxe beach bungalow and 3 nights on all inclusive at 5-star Velassaru Maldives in a water villa including flights with Qatar Airways from Heathrow and group transfers in resort, costs from £2,799 per person, based on two sharing, for departures June 2013 in economy class. With flights in business class, from LHR to Malé,  the total cost would be £4399. To book please quote: IO0004.

To book, please contact your nearest Kuoni store or call +44 1306 747008.

 

Flight Safety Awareness with British Airways

An advertisement on British Airways‘ Business Life magazine brought this flight safety awareness course to my attention – aimed at frequent flyers, like myself. In an emergency situation, how would I cope? How would I react?

I honestly hope I never know what it would be like, but I was extremely tempted to find out more about flight safety, even if in a simulated environment.

At Cranebank, where BA's crew and passengers can simulate emergency situations.

At Cranebank, where BA’s crew and passengers can simulate emergency situations.

This course takes place at Cranebank, one of BA‘s training facilities outside London Heathrow, and is aimed in reality for BA‘s staff to train and is now open for members of the public on flight safety awareness courses. Each course can take up to 30-35 participants.

Our afternoon started with a lunch, where we got to know our fellow passengers and our crew – 3 BA flight trainers and a real first officer and a captain, which I personally thought it was a really nice touch. Between themselves (and if my math is correct), the team had over 100 years of flying experience and we knew we were in great hands.

We boarded the plane, and the “crew” started the usual safety demonstration. We all behaved normally – seat belts on, a little chatter as normal, and it just carried on. Some people paid attention to it, others not so much – personally, I am guilty as charged although I very consciously make an effort to listen to the safety announcements on board, especially if they are done by a person (I think it is very rude not to, and promise I do my best). Video.. not so much. Anyway…

Smoke started to fill the cabin

Smoke started to fill the cabin

We supposedly took off, and all of a sudden, there was a bit of smoke coming right from the left of my seat. My first instinct was, obviously, to take a photograph (I was a woman on a mission!). And I do recall mentioning it out loud – something along the lines of “Oh, there is some smoke!”. From there.. well disaster struck – the crew started to “confidently shout” at us: brace, brace, brace, there were some announcements from the captain, the lights went off, smoke filled the cabin and we were told to evacuate.

This sounds quite straightforward and simple – but it wasn’t and this is the point of the whole course. No matter how many times any of us had flown, we didn’t react the same way. Were we able to follow the crew’s instructions? Where were we supposed to go? Which was nearest exit? Plus we couldn’t see…

After this exercise, we went back on the plane to debrief – and it was amazing how we could hardly remember any of the events that had taken place just minutes before. The order of the announcements? What were we told to do? By whom? Lifejacket or no lifejacket? It was absolutely overwhelming.

Let’s talk about the brace position – this is what we were told to do repeatedly, and interesting, not all of us actually knew what we were supposed to do. I adopted my version of the bracing position (which wasn’t bad), and was also aware of what to do when travelling in a rear-facing seat (which is common in BA’s long haul cabins, in Club World). What I didn’t know was why was it so incredibly important.

Correct bracing position

Correct bracing position

The idea of the bracing position is to protect your head in case of an accident and in case the overhead lockers open. But there is a way to do it properly. If you cross your fingers and something falls on you, you break all your fingers and cannot use your hands to unfasten your seatbelt and move. As I am right-handed, that should be the hand I need to protect with my left one. The idea is that the good hand can always then help you work the seatbelt, should you need to evacuate.

Loose seatbelts? A no-no – and ensure that they are nicely on your waste or, in case of emergency, instead of protecting you, they can cut you. I can’t tell you what an eye-opening experience this was.

After some serious talking (I can’t stress how helpful and open the crew were – and assertive, and funny), it was time for some door opening – and that would mean, emergency door opening. We tested this on an old Boeing 737, under the assumption that if we could work that door (not the latest technology!), we can work any door on a flying airplane.

It wasn’t hard (once you master the “doors to manual” and what cross check actually means), but the door was soooooooo heavy. I have video’d my attempt (which wasn’t totally successful), as it may be easier to explain.

From doors, we moved on to emergency doors – when to use them, why are they useful and why. Interestingly (which I never noticed), these only exist on short-haul planes and are designed to be for “self-use for passengers”. I know people like to choose these seats because usually they come with extra leg room – but also with extra responsibility. Opening the emergency exit is surprisingly easy, just a little push, but maneuvering it is not easy at all. At 40lbs (20kgs), you need to be able to move it. Are you?

Mr. O having a go at an emergency exit

Mr. O having a go at an emergency exit

And if you want to see how a girl does it, well here is another little video.

And then the moment we were all waiting for – the slides. They can be great fun (but not in a real scenario) – and you do get an adrenaline rush. I can’t tell you how scary things look from up there and how quickly one needs to make the decision. Luckily we were going down each at a time, and I don’t want to imagine what it would be like to be pushed, which is obviously what would happen.

My pre-jumping outfit.. no comment!

My pre-jumping outfit.. no comment!

Imagine why we were looking up...

Imagine why we were looking up…

It was impossible to take a photograph, as the descent took seconds. And videos were ridiculously short – here is a little teaser…

We talked about more aspects of flight safety – which included the life-jackets (do check if your seat has one, please. It seems that many people actually quite like to steal them as they are great for the summer.. I am not joking), and there are also regional variations (e.g. USA-based airlines which fly mostly inland do not have to carry them, and you can use the bottom part of the seat as a flotation device, for example).

The course ended with a section on hotel safety, which I found most interesting.

The British Airways‘ Flight Safety Awareness course takes 4 hours and a bit, and I can’t tell you how quickly it went nor what an eye-opening experience it was. I am so glad I went on this course, and seriously cannot recommend it enough. If you are in the UK (or planning a visit), and want to find out more about these courses, visit British Airways Flight Training pages.

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of British Airways on this course. Views and opinions are, as always my own. To find out more about this course, which costs £162 per person, visit BA’s website.

My hOtel: Baur au Lac, Zurich

From Verbier, and a quick stopover in Geneva, Lauren and I were really looking forward to spending some time in Zürich. In my personal opinion, what Geneva lacks, Zürich has double – I really like this city. It is postcard pretty, has incredible shops, cuisine and lively bars.

The Baur au Lac is one of Zürich’s most iconic addresses, and I adored our stay there. Here’s how it went!

Me and Lauren in Zurich

Me and Lauren in Zürich

Pre-Arrival

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

No.

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

I did sent a tweet out before arriving, and got a response after my stay.

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

No.

I adored the Baur au Lac

I adored the Baur au Lac

Arrival

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

The Baur au Lac is one of Zürich’s best hotels, if not the best. It is part of the city and its history and welcomed many dignitaries. It is old-fashioned, preserving beautifully its heritage. It recently underwent a refurbishment, which brought it to its former glory. This was what I was expecting and exactly what I got.

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

Outstanding and super friendly.

–          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 staying with my friend Lauren, and we were always addressed by our individual names.

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

We were upgraded to a beautiful suite.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Absolutely and throughout my whole stay. From the doormen, to the concierge and the reception staff. One thing I noticed – every time we walked back to the hotel, our key was immediately given to us, without we having to state our room number. This is worth noting, as shifts changed a few times during our stay and was a lovely touch.

–          Luggage – how many people did I have to tip before the luggage made it safely to my room?

We had some proper luggage and were helped by one team member, who escorted our luggage since we arrived at the hotel.

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

WiFi is complimentary to all guests, yay!

Room Experience

We loved our suite at Baur au Lac

We loved our suite at Baur au Lac

 

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

As I mentioned before, the Baur au Lac preserved its history beautifully, but it has also been recently refurbished. It is worth mentioning that it is incredibly tasteful. The room was beautiful, spacious and with great light.

–          Welcome amenity

Being in Switzerland, we were treated to beautifully handmade chocolates.. and macaroons!

–          The bed

Absolutely fantastic!

–          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.

To be honest, I didn’t unpack as I was only staying one night.

 –          Iphone Charger/Dock

Not in our room.

–          Bathrobes and slippers

Absolutely, and lovely.

–          Coffee and Tea

There was a Nespresso machine.

–          Free bottled water

Yes!

–          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.

We did struggle a bit with this as we had plenty of devices to charge! We also didn’t have enough Swiss plugs (which sometimes are not compatible with Euro plugs), but were promptly helped by the hotel.

Bathroom

A classic bathroom

A classic bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

We had a beautifully design bathroom, as you can see – classic in style but modern and efficient. I loved it.

–          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?

No issues here whatsoever – the shower was amazing and great to see Duravit at its best!

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

Absolutely fantastic and lots!

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

Baur au Lac toiletries are specially commissioned for them, and in generous sizes too.

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

We had everything we needed and more – and yes, a great shower cap!

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

To be honest, I didn’t use it!

Breakfast

It was Baur au Lac's breakfast room that inspired me to start the "My hOtel series"

It was Baur au Lac’s breakfast room that inspired me to start the “My hOtel series”

 

–          Décor of breakfast room

Breakfast takes place at Le Pavillion, which is also Baur au Lac’s fine dining restaurant. To say it is a beautiful room, it would be the understatement of the year. It was this room alone that got me thinking about this “My hOtel” series and to include a section on the decor of the breakfast room.

–          The spread (inc yumminess)

Absolutely delicious – the spread was beautiful, with a wide selection of on order items. I loved the selection of juices and the “seasonal special”, which was purple and went beautifully with the room.

–          Cost

Breakfast is included in room rates.

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

The wi-fi was good and worked without a problem. It is also free.

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

Not during my stay as such, but post stay we had some interaction, which was fun.

–          Location

You can’t beat the location – right in the centre of town, close to the Lake and the shops. Outstanding.

– Cost

Rooms start at 800 CHF per night (approx. €700, USD 900) and suites. For more information, visit the hotel’s website.

– Would I recommend it to my best friend?

Absolutely, it is a beautiful hotel, with impeccable service. My mother would also approve, without a doubt.

– Would I stay again?

Without a problem. In fact, pretty sure it will be my home away from home in Zürich from now on.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Baur au Lac on this stay. I adored this property and my opinions are, as always, my own. For more information about Baur au Lac, click here.

The Luxury Travel Blog Network – April 2013 Edition

I love reading other blogs and have found some extremely talented writers out there. So five of us, decided that every month, we would bring you the best content we have each produced, and make it easy for our lovely readers to find some great travel inspiration.

So without further ado, meet my ladies and their April 2013 reading suggestions…

Nadine Jolie

Nadine Jolie is a beauty and travel writer specializing in luxury spas. A former magazine editor (Lucky, Ladies’ Home Journal, FHM), Nadine was dubbed “the poster child for the blogger generation” by the New York Post and has published two books: Confessions of a Beauty Addict and Beauty Confidential. Nadine’s travels have taken her to spas in places including New Zealand, Austria, South Africa, Montreal, and Scotland. She is a contributing writer for VanityFair.com and Angeleno magazine and regularly writes for FoxNews.com and luxury New York publication Hudson Mod. Fluent in French and conversant/literate in Italian, Spanish and Arabic, Nadine enjoys learning how to say “Where is the nearest Sephora?” in new languages and is currently working on her third book, a novel set in England.

Follow Nadine Jolie on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channel.

Noteworthy post worth checking out: Arizona Spa Weekend – first stop: the Boulders

Katie Goldstein

Katie Goldstein is an avid traveler whose tastes are simple: she enjoys the best. Katie works by day as a lawyer and by night as a successful writer. Katie often lends her travel expertise to prestigious outlets, which include Forbes, Fodor’s, and She Knows. She has also written about varied topics for WE TV and for FoxNews.com. Katie is also the founder of famous luxury travel and lifestyle sites, Travelingpanties and Smartypanties, where she chronicles her adventures around the world to spectacular countries like Thailand, Argentina, Laos, Cambodia, Uruguay, Australia, France and more. When Katie isn’t traveling, she can be found scouring her home base, New York City, for the next hotspot. In her free time, Katie enjoys trying new restaurants, taking advantage of NYC’s fabulous shopping and practicing her photography skills.

Keep up with Katie’s escapades on her Blog, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Noteworthy post worth checking out: Nicknamed the “Venice of the North” for its medieval canals and cobbled streets, Bruges offers the perfect romantic European getaway. Check in with Travelingpanties and find out how to plan the perfect luxury weekend here.

Kim-Marie

Kim-Marie Evans is a freelance writer specializing in luxury and family travel. She has traveled the world with her four children to places as glamorous as the south of France and as challenging as Rwanda. Her work has appeared in print and online. You can find her best travel secrets on her award winning blog LuxuryTravelMom.com and at TravelingMom.com. With a background in radio and television, Kim-Marie is as comfortable in front of the video camera as she is behind the keyboard.

Follow Kim-Marie on her blog, Twitter and Facebook

Noteworthy post worth checking out: Your summer vacation plans have just been upgraded!

Charu Suri

Charu Suri runs Butterfly Diary, an online magazine, with stories on how travel can transform one’s outlook. Charu left a career in Investment Banking to pursue her passions — travel and writing– several years ago and has not looked back since. A full-time freelance writer and Social Media consultant, she loves to pen her journeys in the following beats: affordable luxury destinations, culture, vegetarian food and the digital community. As a new mom, she’ll be paying a lot more attention to kid-friendly places.

Follow Charu on Twitter, Facebook and Linked In.

Noteworthy post worth checking out: Butterflydiary’s love for Aruba knows no bounds, and this is her fourth trip. While she was there, she discovered many a foodie affordable luxury, and some hidden gems

Wishing you all a great weekend, wherever you may be!

xo

Mrs. O

A perfect day in Berlin, Germany

On a recent business trip to Berlin (which was also my first time in Germany in 10 years), I was not expecting to have any free time, but sometimes the travel Gods are with me – and all of a sudden, I found myself with 24 hours to enjoy in Berlin. And boy, was it a good day!

I woke up late – I had the amazing spa suite at the Westin Grand Berlin. So incredible, I didn’t want to leave – so I slept until double digits. This hotel was so amazing, I am doing a special review on it very soon. I shall leave you with a picture as a tease..

The most amazing shower ever at the Westin Grand Berlin

The most amazing shower ever at the Westin Grand Berlin

As I hadn’t planned to be able to see the city, I actually wasn’t quite sure where to start – I wanted to see a little bit, but not everything (Mr. O would never forgive me). So I did what every tourist does, and hopped on a sightseeing tour bus. And what did I see? You tell me!

The Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin (or even Germany’s) most iconic landmarks. And even on a grey day, it was a sight for sore eyes, as was the Victory Column, not far away.

The Victory column

The Victory column

But what excited me the most (bearing in mind it was my very first visit to Berlin), was the possibility to see what was left of the Berlin Wall. And I even managed to get a good photo of it from the bus.

Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall

After an hour or so (and also due to the fact that I didn’t want to see everything on my own), I decided it was time to end the tour at Gendarmenmarkt, one of Berlin’s better known squares, in the Mitte district. This where the Sofitel, where I stayed the previous night was located, and a stone’s throw from Friedrichstraße, one of the best shopping streets in town.

I loved the selection of shops – from well-known international brands, to German’s own, with an interesting sprinkle of shopping galleries and little malls. But what surprised me the most? To see one of France’s most iconic department stores, right there!

Berlin with a side of Paris, why not?

Berlin with a side of Paris, why not?

The Galleries Lafayette, which were über modern, were incredible. My favourite floor? The basement! It had a great selection of food not only to buy, but to eat right there. Crepes, salads, French classics, fish, anything you’d want – there were I think 5 different “restaurants” as well as many other mouth-watering areas where you could just shop normally. I was hungry, so decided that half a dozen of oysters and a glass of Chablis was just what the doctor ordered!

I absolutely adore oysters

I absolutely adore oysters

On a full stomach, I carried on Friedrichstraße until it merged with Unter den Linden, a nice boulevard. And I can’t tell you how surprised I was to find Nivea Haus.

Nivea Haus Berlin

Nivea Haus Berlin

You know good old Nivea? Well, for starters, it is a German brand, which I *kind* of knew, but didn’t really, if you see what I mean. I didn’t expect to see a whole shop selling every product you can think of – but absolutely loved it! They also had a section with the brand progression and old posters and was really nice to see this brand’s history being preserved.

Nivea's brand evolution

Nivea’s brand evolution

What I wasn’t expecting was a spa. Under the brand’s promise, which is about good quality products at affordable prices, I was shocked to see what was a state of the art spa facility (seriously!). I couldn’t say no to a full body scrub, a massage and a pedicure at a bargain €100. The quality of the therapist was also outstanding and if you are in town (or in Hamburg), I would seriously recommend a visit.

NIVEA HAUS, Unter den Linden, Berlin

NIVEA HAUS, Unter den Linden, Berlin

And this is where I spent my afternoon, and was in no rush to leave! But it was time for cocktails, and I loved that the Westin Berlin has weekly specials – and on that week, it was as if it was made just for me.

Pretty cocktails (this one was a Coco Fresh) at the Westin Berlin

Pretty cocktails (this one was a Coco Fresh) at the Westin Berlin

For dinner, I met some friends at nearby Augustiner, a local institution – and indulged in all the German classics, which were quite good. I was gutted that we were ready for apfelstrudel just as the kitchen closed, so I never got to try it in Berlin (nor did I find the Berliner balls).

So I had to drown my sorrows as the locals do..

A good workout!

A good workout!

I am obviously joking – as I don’t drink beer. But I can tell you that the mug weighed 2 kgs. or more.. it was almost hard to hold it!

The next day, it was time to leave Berlin, but with a firm resolution to go back and explore the city properly!

Auf Wiedersehen!

xo

Mrs. O

My hOtel: St. Pancras Renaissance, London

The St. Pancras Renaissance in London, opened a couple of years ago, quickly became one of the city’s grand dame hotels. Why? Located at St. Pancras International train station (where you can board the Eurostar and be on your way to somewhere exciting in Continental Europe), it is a city landmark. I was keen to see how the building had been restored and have good things to report indeed.

The St. Pancras Renaissance in London

The St. Pancras Renaissance in London

Pre-Arrival

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

There was indeed. The St. Pancras Renaissance has a good social media presence and seemed to be very excited I was coming to stay, since the day I got my invite.

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

Absolutely – and as I have been “following” the hotel for a few months, I noticed that they always have something nice to say to guests who interact with them. Post-stay, the hotel, which is part of Marriott (Renaissance brand), also interacted with me once they saw some tweets and photos.

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

Not really, but for a one-night stay, there wasn’t much to find out!

The stylish lobby at the St. Pancras Renaissance

The stylish lobby at the St. Pancras Renaissance

Arrival

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

I loved the hotel from the moment I set foot in its doors. I loved the lobby – it felt so spacious, yet warm and inviting! I also loved to see how busy it was – people were chatting and seemed to be enjoying themselves. There were a few bottles of champagne on the go, so clearly people were having a good time.

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

Was very good indeed. Quick, efficient and professional. I loved that I was escorted to my room (believe me, wouldn’t be easy to find it otherwise, and it is a staple for all guests staying at the Chambers Rooms).

–          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)

Yes indeed. Mrs. O’Reilly was in the house.

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

I am not quite sure as there wasn’t a pre-confirmation. I was given a junior suite at the Chambers part of the hotel, which is the “old” part of the hotel. The “more modern” part, called Barlow House, has mostly standard rooms.

–          Did I feel genuinely welcomed by the hotel staff?

Yes, and this is one thing I noticed throughout my stay. Everyone was really really nice.

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

No one, I took my own carry-on with me to the room.

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

There is a charge for Barlow House guests, but not for Chambers guests – it is included.

Room Experience

The Chambers Junior Suite

The Chambers Junior Suite

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

I loved it! It was warm and inviting! It wasn’t huge but it looked really really nice. I had a small living room, a great bedroom and bathroom and the most amazing view!

–          Welcome amenity

Very thoughtful too – fruit, chocolates and water.

–          The bed

Very nice indeed!

–          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.

Not a problem in sight – also, lovely “shoe” and “laundry” bags.

–          Iphone Charger/Dock

Yes yes yes! It was all there!

–          Bathrobes and slippers

They were there but, as usual, I didn’t use them.

–          Coffee and Tea

There was a Nespresso machine with plenty of pods.

–          Free bottled water

Yes, replenished at night time too, with the turndown service. Displayed in stylish hotel glass bottles (a good idea, I thought!)

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

Very good indeed – plenty of reading material AND great coffee table books.

–          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.

Not a problem here, there were even some by the bed. It is worth noting that this is a quite recent hotel.

A room with a different view

A room with a different view

Bathroom

–          First impressions – décor, size and wow factor

The bathroom wasn’t huge, but was really nice.

–          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?

Absolutely, all there for my enjoyment. And I was even able to use the shower without assistance! We had a bath with a great shower

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

Lots and changed with turndown service.

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

Hum… best toiletries I have seen in a while. They were REN and full size (and for once I took them home, I will admit!). I also thought it was a cool brand association (REN and @RENhotels) – could have been a coincidence.. or not!

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

It was all there!

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

I honestly didn’t use it, but also saw that the hairdryer looked like it was good.

Breakfast

The Chambers Lounge

The Chambers Lounge

–          Décor of breakfast room

This is where it gets interesting! Breakfast  (and any other drinks or meals) take place at the Chambers Lounge, which is complimentary to guests staying at the Chambers Rooms. It is a nicer “Club Lounge” than usual and I really liked this place.

–          The spread (inc yumminess)

It was very nice and had everything that we needed. If I wanted a full cooked breakfast, I could have used the normal breakfast room.

–          Cost (I have seen a hotel charging €75 for breakfast – a tad much, maybe?)

Breakfast at the Chambers is free for Chambers guests.

The breakfast bar at the Chambers Lounge

The breakfast bar at the Chambers Lounge

Bar & Restaurant

The Booking Office restaurant and bar

The Booking Office restaurant and bar

We had pre-dinner drinks (yummy cocktails) and dinner at the Booking Office – which we really enjoyed. It is also worth noting that the bar is open until 3am (an interesting surprise).

General thoughts

–          How good and reliable was the wi-fi?

It worked perfectly well

–          Location

Located at St. Pancras International Station, it is perfect if you are going to or from the Eurostar terminal. I found it an interesting location as I had spent my day in nearby Marylebone, so very easy to access to and from the West End.

–          Cost

Rooms at the Barlow house start at £200 and Chamber Suites from £345.

–          Would I recommend it to my best friend?

I would. In fact, it would be perfect for a nice day in London.. and on the next day maybe we can get on the train somewhere? I didn’t try the spa, which looks lovely. (Trudi, when you read this, it is a hint)

–          Would I stay again?

Just tell me when.

Final thoughts:

I really really enjoyed my stay at the St. Pancras Renaissance in London. I spent a lot of time at the hotel, and felt really comfortable. Service was very good and the building is just out of this world. It was a bit strange to have a room facing a train station, but it also made it unique. I would recommend this hotel without any reservations.

Have you visited this hotel? What were your thoughts?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Renaissance 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.

Tom Chesshyre, a Tourist in the Arab Spring

There are some people in the world that you are just supposed to meet. It needs to happen. In July last year, I attended a travel event in London and randomly met this nice-looking guy named Tom. We were introduced and somehow the conversation turned into books. I mentioned I had (co) written a business book in Portugal (in 2011, which was an incredible and successful experience) and Tom happened to mentioned “he was about to start his 4th book”. I said.. “so what do you write about? Travel, I am assuming?”.

Then Tom mentioned “How Low Can You Go? Round Europe for 1p Return“. I read that book years ago! And I remembered it – so much so, that I have lent the book to over 10 friends. Regardless of the transportation mode (and my personal choices), this book opened my travel aspirations. I read it just before I moved to the UK in 2009 and I vividly remember saying to Mr. O “have you realised that every weekend we can go to a different country?” Being based in the UK was certainly different from Portugal, and its more limited air connections.

Tom Chesshyre by the pyramids at Giza, Egypt

Tom Chesshyre by the pyramids at Giza, Egypt

From this book, I also remember a sentence I must quote every month, which went along the lines of “on average a woman says 21,000 words a day, a man uses only 7,000. In Tampere (Finland), the figure is 3,000 and 2,000 respectively. A place where conversations don’t come naturally”. This was not what Tom wrote exactly, but it is what I remember.

After this, Tom went away for a while and we kept in touch. At the same time, I read his other two books – it was quite interesting to have an email conversation going with the author at the same time. Tom said it was interesting to have real-time feedback. Over the last 9 months, we have developed a nice friendship – we have many things in common, especially our shared appreciation for a glass or three of Sauvignon Blanc.

And during this time, Tom has worked on his incredible fourth book – A Tourist in the Arab Spring. When I first heard about the project, I was completely amazed. Why would a guy want to visit Tunisia, Libya and Egypt so soon after the recent uprises? I would be absolutely scared. But not Tom (although he confesses some times were “slightly uncomfortable”)!

I wanted to know more (and share it with my readers). Here is what Tom had to say!

1.       “A Tourist in the Arab Spring” is quite a unique book and very different from your previous 3 books. What made you decide to do something so different?

I was inspired by what I saw on television, with the revolutions sweeping across North Africa. The idea came to me when Gaddafi fell. I’d always been interested in Libya, and before I knew it I was booking a £69 BA flight to Tunis and beginning the long journey, starting at Sidi Bouzid, where the fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest against unfair treatment at the hands of the authorities.

2.       Had you ever visited Tunisia, Libya and Egypt before? If so, how different was your experience this time around?

I’d been to Egypt but only briefly to Tunisia and not to Libya. Being so soon after the uprisings it was exciting feeling the energy of people. There was an electricity that came from the possibilities that democracy could bring. Many were also worried about extreme Islamists filling the power void. Libya, which was run by local brigades run by young men with guns, was particularly eye-opening. Almost everyone I met, though, shared the positivity of the revolutions.

Roman amphitheatre in El Jem

Roman amphitheatre in El Jem

3.       Did you ever feel unsafe or even scared during the trip? I seriously think you are a very brave man!

Ha ha! I don’t think so: I was very careful. Libya was the trickiest part of the journey and I did get into a little trouble on the outskirts of Benghazi, where my driver was held for not having correct paperwork. I was driven away by a smirking soldier who did not speak English – and for about 20 minutes I thought I might be being abducted.

4.       What were the best surprises of the trip?

The generosity of the people I met. People had much more time to sit and talk and open up. It was not the same as sitting on the Tube in London.

Ruins at Leptis Magna

Ruins at Leptis Magna

5.       If you could pick 5 places to go back to (from those on the trip – you went to some really remote places!!), which ones would you go back to? Or recommend others to?

I enjoyed the intrigue of Kairouan in Tunisia – the fourth most holy city in Islam (stay at the cheap but cool Kasbah Hotel). Houmt Souk on the pretty island of Djerba is a lovely little town (try out its great fresh orange juice cafes). Leptis Magna in Libya is a wonderful Roman ruin. Cyrene in the east of Libya has superb ancient Greek remains on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. And I loved wandering around Cairo’s Old Town for its sheer sense of energy and its tucked away cafes near Tahrir Square.

6.       How long did it take you to write the book? Did it take place in other countries? How different were they?

It took five weeks in all. I popped into Israel and Jordan during the Sinai Peninsula part of the final section in Egypt.

Tom Chesshyre by the grave of Mohammed Bouazizi

Tom Chesshyre by the grave of Mohammed Bouazizi

7.       How different is Tom Chesshyre the book writer and Tom Chesshyre the travel writer?

Ha ha again! I guess I stay in less expensive hotels for the books than I might on a travel assignment for a newspaper. I write a hotel column for the Times – the Cool Hotel Guide – and stay in some pretty nice places. I enjoyed going off the beaten track at little hotels… which were often run by amusing characters.

Tom in Sabratha

Tom in Sabratha

8.       You go to amazing places as part of your job – where have you been recently and loved?

I went on a ski trip to Utah recently, staying at Canyons Resort in Park City. Go skiing at Park City… it’s one of the best places in the world. To the south of Utah there are also fabulous canyons that may not rival the Grand Canyon in scale but certainly do in beauty. Lots of eerie hoodoos (red-stone columns) in Bryce Canyon.

9.       What is next?

Taking it easy for a while. I’ve got a trip to Venice lined up for a piece staying at the amazing-looking Gritti Palace Hotel – rather grand compared to some of my abodes in the likes of Suez and Sidi Bouzid!

A Tourist in the Arab Spring is out now

A Tourist in the Arab Spring is out now

I have 5 copies of “A Tourist in the Arab Spring” to give away and each will be signed by Tom. To take part, simply do 2 things:

– Answer the question “What was your favourite country for an adventure holiday and why?”, by commenting on this blog post below.

– Share this post though your preferred social media channel (Facebook, Twitter, etc), using the sharing buttons on your left or below.

Winners have been selected by Tom and have been contacted by email.

Tom Chesshyre was born in London in 1971. He has a degree in politics from Bristol University, where he was news editor of the university paper, Epigram. He completed a newspaper journalism diploma at City University, after which he had short stints at the Cambridge Evening News, Sporting Life and Sky Sports. He freelanced for The Daily Telegraph and The Independent before joining the travel desk of The Times in 1997, where he still works.

He has helped with the research on two non-fiction books: W. G. by Robert Low, a biography of W. G. Grace, and Carlos: Portrait of a Terrorist by Colin Smith, a biography of “Carlos the Jackal”.

He is the author of three travel books: How Low Can You Go? Round Europe for 1p Each Way (Plus Tax), published in 2007; To Hull and Back: On Holiday in Unsung Britain, published in 2010 and shortlisted in the 2011 British Travel Press Awards; and Tales from the Fast Trains: Europe at 186mph, published in 2011 and shortlisted in the 2012 British Travel Press Awards. A Tourist in the Arab Spring is out now.

His travel writing has taken him to almost 100 countries. He lives in south-west London.