The “London, I Came Back for You” Update Part II

Posted by Krista on July 22, 2014

photo (4)

Guys, I have a problem. I have an addiction to the Internet. And do you know what’s been going on since July 10th? I have been living without a home Internet connection. That’s right. New London flat and a TWO WEEK wait for Internet connectivity. (VIRGIN MEDIA, you slay me.) I die a little more every day. I wither. I crumple. I am nothing. I know nothing. I am lost. (Literally, lost. We are no longer in the A to Z world.  If you don’t have a hard-copy A to Z and you don’t have an Internet connection…you are lost. You will always be lost.)

So I do everything on my new UK mobile phone. I have used 5.5 GB of data on my phone already. 5.5 GB! In two weeks. I blame The Twitter. And because I am still in that weird in-between phase of needing to use both a US phone and a UK phone, I have racked up over $600 USD in phone charges on my US mobile — and that’s WITH all the fancy international add ons to help alleviate the costs and my constant repetition of “Can we make this quick? Do you use Skype?” to anyone who calls.

I am disconnected, and I am cash-poor.

So restaurants with wifi are my very best of friends. Here are some of the best places I’ve eaten at lately, roughly in order of deliciousness, with a special shout out to the wifi, where it exists. London restaurants everywhere, heed my call. You all need wifi. Think of your international guests! And, well, think about me, alone, lost and without an Internet connection…

Hix Smithfield, Smithfield/Farringdon. 36-37 Greenhill’s Rents, Cowcross Street, EC1M 6BN: Sunday lunch last weekend — a sirloin roast — was so good, I was back again this past weekend. Cheerful staff and a JAZZ BAND. I don’t know why no one is here — Farringdon on a Sunday, I suppose — but this is really absolutely fantastic. I nearly wept over my tomatoes on toast . I honestly almost don’t want the world to know about Sunday Lunch at Hix Smithfield because maybe I can have the jazz band all to myself. Wifi: FREE. The Verdict: GO. Particularly on Sundays. But shhhhhh.

The Palomar, Chinatown/Soho 34 Rupert Street, W1D 6DN: I thought for sure I would never get in here because it’s so super hot (as in cooler than cool) but I snagged a seat at the bar for a Monday lunch and instantly fell in love with all the men behind the counter, including the elder statesmen of the group, Papi. My Polpo a la Papi was zingy and made me want to buy all the octopus and all the chickpeas in the hopes of replicating this at home. (Not a joke!) And the pork belly and couscous! Fantastic. Even the bread — puffy, dotted with sesame seeds — was good! (And I just opted for the house bread, not the Yemeni pot bread.) The only downside? The Paloma was HOT. (As in sweaty hot. I was dripping.) Wifi: To heck with the wfii. Connect with the chef with the crystal blue eyes instead. The Verdict: Go! But go for lunch when you have a better chance of getting a table or a seat at the bar, where you can stare into the eyes of the chefs forever.

Moti Mahal, Covent Garden, 45 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AA: My friend Barry McCaughley is amazing. He proves that if you really want to do something in life, YOU CAN DO IT. He decided a number of years ago to leave the corporate world behind and start his own wine business and get into restaurants and not surprising to those of us who know him, he did it. He totally did it and he is now amazingly successful at it, while the rest of us are still working for the man. He invited me over to Moti Mahal to check out some of the things they are doing with champagne — Gosset champagne in particular — and we had a lovely evening in their cool (as in cold) basement, out of London’s heat.  I absolutely loved our starter of stuffed courgette flower with masala shrimp and tomato jaggery chutney. Also excellent, the red mullet baked with masala crab meat in banana leaf. I also liked the downstairs room with our own dedicated bar — great for a corporate hire. (Sorry, I keep track of these things.) Absolutely fantastic to catch up with Jeanne tooWifi: Who needs wifi when you have Gosset Grande Reserve? The Verdict: Go. (I did not pay for this meal or all the Gosset Grande Reserve I drank. Also, I am not sorry.)

Green Man & The French Horn, Covent Garden, 54 St Martin’s Ln, London WC2N 4EA: While I have the leisure of unemployment, lunch is my main meal of the day, not dinner. And lunch specials are EXCELLENT values. My two courses at Green Man & The French Horn (thank you to new Internet friend Fran for the recommendation) were French and lush and well, I cleared my plates and so will you. A super generous portion of beautifully porky pork rillettes and tiny crisp and copious gherkins to start, followed by a fried egg with mushrooms and broadbeans as my main. I left very happy, even though they told me I couldn’t sit where I wanted to sit and even though they totally ignored me there for a while. Wifi: No. The Verdict: Go for the lunch special! Or if you like French food! Or if you’re close by!

Coya, Mayfair, 118 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7NW: I had another leisurely lunch of unemployment at this trendy Peruvian on a sultry Monday afternoon and I loved it. My server was sweet and attentive, the food — the ceviche in particular —  was sharp and bright, and the vibe was so very very bossanova chill. I went back with friends on a Saturday night and hated the experience, even though I still loved the food. We spent 95 quid per person — table of five — and our server just did not seem very happy with us. She was pushy, aggressive and visibly disappointed in our ordering. I don’t know who these other guests at Coya are, but if I am going to spend 200 quid on dinner, there better be some Michelin stars and a lot less shouting of “Are you sure you don’t want anything else??” involved. That being said…Wifi: FREE WIFI!!! The Verdict: Go, but not on a Friday or Saturday night.

I’ve got more! Stay tuned! Come visit me again. Unemployment is the gift of the burden of time. It is time to say hello to old friends and new, time to eat and drink — which I really shouldn’t be doing after four years in America — and time to watch many episodes of Couples Come Dine With Me (WHEN will this show exist in the US??) But I will stop writing for now. Because you know…I don’t have any Internet at home and the people at this bar are starting to look at me funny.

I Want to See All The Restaurant Analytics

Posted by Krista on July 11, 2014

Long-term readers will know that I love math. I have always loved math. If I could do anything all over again, I would have been a math major. BUT…when I went into math in university (sorry, maths for my UK readers), I was the ONLY GIRL. And forgive me but I wasn’t ready for tthat. (I would like to slap my 18 year old self around sometimes.) And I just wanted to do math. I didn’t want to do Chemical Engineering or anything like that so the purity of my inclination made me a bit of an outlier. Even worse…all I really wanted to do was statistics and probability. Not calculus. I love me some mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive phenomenon. And I love to design experiments. Let’s go test us some hypotheses!!

So I love this video of Nick Kokonas, the owner of Alinea in Chicago, talking restaurant data. (And this makes me feel guilty about writing just the other day that I left Alinea hungry and went for tacos after. But it’s true. I did. The taco stand on the northeast corner of Chicago & Ashland in Chicago is quite delicious.) Also what I love about this video is that I can tell that whoever created his slides has some training in Lean Six Sigma…I love Lean in particular. Even more than tacos. Let’s go eliminate some waste, why don’t we? (And not in the scatological way.)

It all just makes me want to get my masters in statistics online…

Things I’ve Learned in Moving to London the Second Time

Posted by Krista on July 10, 2014
Just because

Tower Bridge

Logistics and operations continue. I am busy placing orders with JohnLewis, Ocado, VirginMedia, setting up standing orders, organizing parking permits…seriously, I can keep someone busy all day long. Who wants to be my personal assistant? Here’s what I’ve learned so far upon my return.

Bank Accounts
It was a lot easier (but still hard) to get a bank account this time. In 2004, I recall being in tears on many an occasion. You had to call banks back then and they would send you their application packs in the mail. And they would rarely if ever arrive. I remember Citibank promising me that everything was all sorted — my account was set up — and then weeks went by and still nothing and then the local branch guy stopped taking my calls. Not sure what ever happened there. This time around, here’s what happened. I was staying in Hither Green with friends and…

1. HSBC wanted me to bring my friends’ council tax bill along with a letter from them saying that I was their friend and I was staying with them. NEXT.
2. Barclays said that they thought they might be able to give me a bank account — maybe — but their appointment books were full until Wednesday. (It was Saturday.) NEXT.
3. NatWest had a little machine where you pulled a number. I walked in around 4 pm and pulled a number and it was 30 numbers away from the number they were currently serving and I knew they would close (as in close-close) at 5 pm so NEXT.
4. Halifax: I showed up at Halifax at 9 am on Monday morning and luckily there was a no show. I had a bank account by 10 am. Halifax wasn’t my first choice for a bank but sometimes, you will take what you can get. (I really wanted HSBC because I think — and I could be wrong — that they don’t charge me for withdrawals from HSBC banks abroad.)

You know what I am super mad about?? Last summer — the summer of 2013 — I finally closed my old UK account because I was all like “Sad, I will never live in London again.” That mistake cost me about eight hours worth of time and aggravation in June of 2014. I coulda been at the pub!!

Flat Hunting
I tried the estate agent offices I knew with no luck.(My constraint was that I needed something with immediate occupancy.) Then, in a fit of desperation, I used that “email all” feature on RightMove.co.uk and emailed every estate agent in Islington with my needs. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since. Which was great originally because it meant I got to see some places. But one week on and now that I’ve found a place, the phone calls are really getting annoying. Also annoying…I saw a lot of crap. Part of me wants to start a business: “Let me turn your rental flat into a showplace” because really, I am really kinda good at this sort of thing. (Seriously…who wants someone else’s manky MATTRESS PAD??!!! GAG.) In hindsight, I wish I had included “high spec” as one of my requirements. That being said, I did include “I need a flat immediately” in my request and people still wanted to show me things available in August.

Also, real estate…London is more expensive than ever. My current flat is about 1/2 the size of my last flat, and it’s the same price.

Mobile Phone
I had a bank account when I originally went to O2. I just didn’t have a debit card yet. (It was in the proverbial mail.) O2 wouldn’t give me a phone without a debit card. And then I had a debit card but no credit history. (Damn you, Krista, for closing your old UK bank account last summer!) So I had to pay a huge deposit of £450 quid JUST TO GET A PHONE. But!! I am in awe of how cheap UK phone contracts are! Unlimited calls! Unlimited texts! 5 gb of data!!! 25 quid a month. (Before the phone.) Unbelievable. I am very happy. And I am also looking forward to getting my £450 back. (As a comparison, my US mobile account with AT&T cost me $130 a month for 400 minutes, 200 texts and 2 GB of data.)

Internet
I remember back in 2004, I called BT and they said they would show up and they didn’t. And then I called them again and they said they would show up but they didn’t. Well this time, I didn’t even have to talk to someone. I just went online to Virgin and picked my package and scheduled everything online. It was super awesome. My only regret is waiting until the first day of my lease to do this. I should have done it as soon as I knew I had the property. Because now I seriously have to wait two weeks for Internet. Let’s hope they show up, but for now, I am optimistic.

Movers
Back in 2004, I packed up my belongings in April. They arrived in July! I remember they took forever to clear UK customs, and that was with half a container. It’s possible that I was in a container with some sketchy stuff but seriously. Painful. I spent a lot of time on an air mattress.  This time around, my belongings left the US on June 26th and arrived on July 7th. And I could track my ship — the Singapore Express — online! The movers have already told me that my stuff will be out of UK customs within 7 to 10 days of July 7th, which is great. but you know what is killing me? ISLINGTON COUNCIL. Apparently, they now need two weeks’ notice for a parking permit for the movers. I should have requested this when I signed my lease on Monday but I only just requested the permit today so the earliest I can get my stuff is July 23rd. This assumes that Islington grants the permit. I am waiting for their response…patiently. (If you are curious, I used Allied on the U.S. side and although they assured me that it’s Allied all the way through, it’s Brittania on the U.K. side. I was familiar with Brittania from 2010 so I felt good about this.)

JohnLewis
Only awesomer than ever before. Delivery, click-and-collect, anything. Love John Lewis.

My Name
No one gets my name right. I mean, it’s sort of unusual in the U.S. but then there was Christa McAuliffe so at least people are somewhat familiar with Christa. But here, even when I spell my name slowly, I am still very likely to end up with “Kirstie” or “Kristina.” It is kinda driving me crazy because it is so predictable that whoever I am talking to will get it WRONG.

I’m sure there’s more but that is it for now.

I am exhaustedly yours,

Krista

Saying Goodbye to Chicago…My Last Suppers

Posted by Krista on July 9, 2014

011Too many people asked me “Where are you going to eat before you leave?” before, I, uh, left Chicago. And then they would look at me strangely when I would say “Oh, I don’t know…I’m probably just going to order some curry from Rangoli and maybe some twice-cooked pork and string beans from Chengdu Impression.” What they wanted me to say, I do not know. (Don’t ask the question if you’re not going to like the answer.) I had no desire to hit Alinea again. (Sorry, left hungry and stopped for tacos that one time.) I was a little sad that I never visited L20 because I do love seafood more than most Chicago people. But well, other than that, I wasn’t really dying to try anything in particular.

So you know what I did before I left Chicago? I ate A LOT of chicken wings. At Jake Melnick’s downtown. I LOVE Jake Melnick’s! I love Pancho’s wings! Pancho, whoever you are, I love you. I sat at the bar at Jake Melnick’s and I ate a lot of chicken wings and drank a lot of beer. (They have A LOT of different types of beer to drink.) Sometimes I ate chicken wings with friends, sometimes I ate chicken wings by myself. But most of all, I ate chicken wings.

I also ate a lot of Chengdu Impression. It’s a very long story how I ended up in Lincoln Park during the last few days in Chicago, but I had to go to Home Depot a lot and going to Home Depot meant a trip to Chengdu Impression. The staff at Chengdu Impression are super sweet. Ask them for their help in ordering. I hope they do very very well because everything they have is all pretty delicious.

Ah, and Chicago Bagel Authority! My friend Jen’s English husband Leigh LOVES the Chicago Bagel Authority so while I was in the neighborhood, I had to check it out. I did. Many times. Although the New Yorker in me died a little every time I ate one of their **steamed** bagels, they were very tasty. And I kinda liked the intensely flirtatious bagel maker. He had nice eyes.

What else…I finally went to Longman & Eagle and it was very good but in hindsight, I don’t really remember anything we ate. I suppose that was my “cross it off the list” moment.

I did spend a lot of time at Scofflaw, drinking all the Temple Destroyers with Ben & Gerry and then Antonia. (Antonia says she’s now obsessed with verdita and is going to attempt it. I will be there.) I don’t remember much about my time at Scofflaw either, but that was obviously for other reasons. (And remember, I am not a big mixed drink person.)

Other things…Binny’s has a new wine tasting room, so I spent a lot of time there. Ah, and I had a nice lunch at Ramen San, although I hated their stools. Hated. I really need to start that “comfortable restaurant seating” business I’ve been thinking about.

My last meal in Chicago was at Nico Osteria. I stayed two nights at the very lovely Thompson Hotel. ((My stay at The Thompson Hotel was another Hotwire bargain!) I found it easier to camp out at Nico for the afternoon after me and my five suitcases checked out of the hotel. I ate a lot of Nico’s delicious focaccia olive bread. You should too.

So…I think that about sums up my last few days/weeks in Chicago. I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll visit the city. But hopefully when I do, it won’t be MINUS FORTY DEGREES FAHRENHEIT. (Which also, coincidentally, is equal to minus forty degrees Celsius.) So goodbye Chitown. Thanks for all the beer.

P.S. That photo is from the Chicago Distilling Company in Logan Square. You should visit!

The “London, I Came Back for You” Update

Posted by Krista on July 7, 2014

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I wish I could say I’ve hit all the museums, seen all the shows, and dined at all the restaurants since my return to London. But sadly, no. I have been  in “logistics and operations” mode nearly every day, getting a bank account, finding a place to live, getting a mobile phone. (Accomplishing all three took me until yesterday because you can’t get a place to live without a bank account and you can’t get a mobile phone without a bank account and no one wants to give you a bank account unless you have somewhere to live, sort of, and no one wants to call you on a U.S. phone number so it’s this endless cycle of endlessly frustrating conversations.) Today, I spent the better part of my day at the estate agent’s, John Lewis, and setting up electricity, water, etc. etc. all online and I only just finished about an hour ago, at 8:15 pm. What did people do before the Internet??

But in between all the busy work and frustration, I have managed to get some nice meals in. Nothing fancy. Just some cheap eats for the most part, but I feel like I am more about the cheap eats these days so here you go, roughly in order of deliciousness.

Sichuan Folk, 32 Hanbury Street, E1 6QR: My temporary flat is just down the road from this spicy little Szechuan joint. (Sorry, the American in mean spells it Szechuan.) The lunch special is an incredibly good value at £6.50 for an entree and soup. I will eat here all the time. Super nice service.

Sasuke Japanese Ramen Bar, 32 Great Windmill Street, W1D 7LR: My friends Lee and Matt were lovely enough to let me stay with them in Hither Green for a few days, but I wanted to give them some alone time (and there were only so many episodes of Max & Ruby I could watch) so I spent a few hours last Sunday wandering Soho and checking out what was new to me. I loved the clean lines and simple interior at Sasuke and I really enjoyed my big bowl of ramen too. I feel like Bone Daddies still has the flavor edge for me though. But I still liked it here and would go back.

St. John (the bar), 26 St John St, London EC1M 4AY: I met up with my old colleagues to watch the USA-Germany match in town and then after the match, Lee, Jen and I headed over to the bar at St. John for some snacks. Delicious, delicious snacks. Of course you should go here. I’ll try not to talk about St. John too often though.

Maddy’s Fish Bar, 397 New Cross Road, SE14 6LA: Adventures in New Cross with Ben & Antonia and friends! I LOVED the fish & chips at Maddy’s. Excellent frying technique. If it were closer to Old Street, I’d go all the time. Or well, maybe I should just move to New Cross. ??? A very nice field trip for me, particularly when paired with drinks at The LP Bar two doors down afterwards. 

Cay Tre Soho, 42-43 Dean St, London W1D 4PZ:  If you can’t tell, I’m a bit of a pho addict after my sojourn in Vietnam. So I dropped into Cay Tre on a Sunday afternoon for a big bowl of deliciousness. Very bustling crowd for early on a Sunday, that’s for sure. I liked it here and I will be back.

Brew Dog Shoreditch, 51 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6LA. Just like old times, Julie came to town and we did a little East London pub crawl while we waited for the people who had to go to work to finish working and come out and play. We started at Brewdog Shoreditch and enjoyed our mini individual nachos. Nice snacks. Very nice.

Shrimpy’s, King’s Cross Filling Station, Goods Way, London N1C 4UR: I’ve known my friend Brian since we were 14! He moved to London shortly after I left in 2010.(Yes, I have been gone for nearly four years. I can’t believe it myself.) Now that I am back in London, Brian is leaving for Canada! We met up at Shrimpy’s in Kings Cross for a nice meal and a lively, buzzy atmosphere. Shrimpy’s vibe and aesthetic reminds me of Crazy Homies in Westbourne Grove. My skirt steak and chimchurri was a bit of a lost cause, but the service was great and we got a kick out of the penguin wine carafes so I guess there’s that.

Butler’s Wharf Chop House, 6E Shad Thames, London SE1 2YE. I was trying to decide if I wanted to live in Shad Thames again (I lived there for 18 months back in 2004-05) so I had a quick lunch in the bar at the Chop House while I waited to meet the estate agent. I felt like I needed to have fish & chips so I did and while the fish was nice, the chips were a big soggy mess. Service was sweet though.

Meantime Brewery Greenwich, The Pepys Building, The Old Naval College, Greenwich, London SE10 9LW: On my last day staying out in Hither Green, Lee, Anna, me and the kids skipped through Blackheath down to Greenwich, prams and all, where we stopped at the Meantime Brewery for lunch in the garden. It was a lovely day for it. The food was fine — nothing outstanding — but it did the trick. (Although I really wish I had taken a photo of my phallic sausage and mash for you so you could laugh at it as much as we did.)

I may have also eaten at Itsu about 14 times in between too…I’ve missed Itsu!

But I’ve missed you, London, most of all.

Goodbye, Chicago

Posted by Krista on June 25, 2014

photo (1)I’m on a plane!

To London.

Yes, if you’re reading this Wednesday evening Chicago time, I have purchased a one-way ticket from Chicago to London and I’m somewhere in the sky right now.

My belongings sit in a container in a port somewhere in America, ready to depart. A lot of Americans I know think I’m crazy. (“Wait…you’re moving to London on Wednesday?” and “You don’t have anywhere to live??” and/or “You still don’t have a plane ticket?”) But my parents and Uncle George and Aunt Ursula and legions of taxi drivers across Chicago don’t think I’m crazy, and that says something now, doesn’t it? 

Oh yeah, and that plane ticket problem? Obviously I solved it. Thank you, Internet, which allows you to purchase magic paperless tickets to and through the sky with bits of plastic at the last possible minute.

You know what the weird thing is…10 years ago on June 26, 2004, I published my first ever blog post on the then “Krista in London” site on Typepad.

If that’s not a crazy big sign from somewhere, I don’t know what is.

So yes London, I have come back for you.

P.S. I took that photo under the El tracks in Chicago at that point in Lincoln Park where Bissell dead-ends into a parking lot around North Avenue. Tunnel vision, for sure.

Staying at The Langham, London

Posted by Krista on May 11, 2014

Dude, I was on a Hotwire roll in London. Who doesn’t love a discount? Particularly if the discount gets you a centrally-located luxury hotel like The Langham. Although upon check-in, as you can tell from the video, I wasn’t too enthused about my room — the furniture was ancient but not in a good way and the bathroom was badly in need of an upgrade — by the time I checked out, I was converted. There’s something to be said about staying somewhere with a high level of service.

Here’s what I liked and what I didn’t…

Likes

  • Location. I love Soho so being just a short walk away up Regent Street was perfect for me.
  • My bed was a marshmallow cloud. Seriously, the linens, the pillows, the mattress…the Holy Trinity of beds. Absolutely lovely.
  • The staff. Lovely, everywhere, helpful, funny, sweet, everything.
  • The bar. The bar at The Langham is absolutely gorgeous. I would gladly meet anyone here for a drink or five. Maybe even a mandarin panda drink. It gets way too buzzy and popular in the evenings, but in the afternoon, it is an oasis of calm with lovely and attentive service.
  • Bath products. Many and plentiful and restocked over and over again. I am past the days of collecting hotel bath products, but if you are still in those days, you will love it here.
  • Free wifi. Plentiful and everywhere and always connected. Well done, Langham.
  • Free canapes in the bar! Apparently at 6-something every evening, The Langham celebrates the year of its founding and sends out free canapes to everyone in the bar. NICE.

Dislikes

  • The room was a little dated. The service and the amenities made up for this, but I would generally prefer something a bit more updated.
  • The clientele. OK, this is picky of me but there are some very wealthy people who stay here and they act it, in that new money way. (Is that terrible of me to say that? To talk about new money vs. old?) Not once but twice while waiting for the concierge, I was cut in line by men who totally knew they had cut in front of me and they didn’t give a shoot.

Now all this being said, I did not get a chance to try out the fitness center or the spa. I was out and about for most of my stay. But while I was in my room, I was rolling around in my marshmallow cloud and feeling quite smug that I hadn’t paid $600+ a night for my stay.

The Verdict…And Hotwire Logistics

If you visit London and you like fine things, you should stay here. It’s tremendously lovely. I was lucky and got it via Hotwire. I booked this five-star mystery hotel for $275. 83 a night. At the time of booking, a comparable stay booked directly with the hotel would have been $6334.33, so I saved 56.16%. And I slept in a marshmallow cloud. Fantastic.

The Waldorf Hilton London

Posted by Krista on April 27, 2014

I stayed a couple of nights at the Waldorf Hilton in London the other week…another Hotwire via Expedia bargain. I got the hotel for $275.83 a night all in on Expedia, booking it again as an “unnamed hotel” and not knowing what I’d get until I got it. The hotel’s list price on the day I booked was $336.61. On the day I moved in, the price had gone up to $396 a night. So using that figure, I saved 30.35%. Not bad. I’m happy with that. I also saved even more because the hotel charges for wifi. I couldn’t get it to work, so they gave me complimentary access for my entire stay. SCORE.

What I liked…

  • I liked this hotel’s location…right on Aldwych, so a short walk to Holborn tube and just a generally good area in general for restaurants and walking around and public transport.
  • My room had been very recently renovated, which was really nice. The bathroom was brand-spanking new and very pretty. I would like the bathroom in my house to look like this.
  • The towels were great. Nice and new and long. I like a good bath sheet.
  • I needed to print a few tour vouchers and rather than charging me for printouts, they printed everything for me for free.
  • John the piano guy in the bar who works most afternoon seems like a lovely guy.

What I didn’t like…

  • I ordered room service one night and my stir fry was pretty terrible. Super greasy.
  • I asked for a bucket of ice when I first got to the hotel — my ankle injury from November is still plaguing me and I wanted to ice it down — and the front desk said they’d send it right up. They never sent it up. When I asked hours later, the guy at the front desk said something lame like “I was going to do it but then I got distracted and I forgot.” (At least he was honest, I guess.)
  • I wanted a Diet Coke from the minibar one afternoon. There wasn’t a bottle opener in the room. I called the front desk and then said they would send one right up. You can guess what never arrived.
  • The safe was a bit low. (The safe sat on top of the minibar.) Safes at this level make me nervous after  I left my camera lens in Singapore last month.
  • The room was pretty small. I’m okay with a small room, but I think I would go crazy if I stayed here more than a few days and if I was sharing this room with someone else.

Would I stay here again? Hmmm…I’m not sure there’s anything compelling me to return. But if I could get another good value like I got on Hotwire, I’d do it. It’s a nice hotel in a very good location.

 

Logistics & Operations Day, London…Plus…I Turn, uh, 40

Posted by Krista on April 26, 2014

20140426-195404.jpg
I’ve written before about my logistics and operations days. Today was one of them. I did really important stuff. Like LAUNDRY. I found this place on Yelp that washes your clothes for 10 GBP a bag. It’s called Marshall’s Laundry Service and it’s in Soho. And it was awesome. I dropped my stuff off around 10:30 and by 1:30, it was all done. 20 quid for a week’s worth of laundry. (It would have been 10 quid but I wanted the lights separated from the darks. If you think this is expensive, imagine how much my hotel would have charged me. 6.50 GBP for a pair of DRAWERS.)

I also did other really important stuff today. Like get my nails done. Sorry…you can take the girl out of Long Island, but you can’t take the Long Island out of the girl. I found this other place in Soho — also on Yelp —  that does manicures and stuff and I walked in at 10:45 am and they took me immediately and did a shape and polish for 13 quid. They also did my eyebrows. Totaly cost? 19.99 GBP! A huge bargain, by London standards. (Normally, I go to Selfridges for my eyebrows where it costs about 20 quid.) This Soho place isn’t fancy but it does the trick. It’s called The Beauty Lounge and it’s at the bottom of Kingly Court in Soho. They might try to sell  you all sorts of other things, but just say no.

Other things…I went to M&S and bought some new black tights, because M&S is where I get all my black tights. I also went to Boots and bought a million things I really don’t need. Boots is my favorite place.

What else? I checked my blog email. Words really cannot describe how much email I get via my blog. But then again, I just did the math and maybe it’s not that bad. So far, in April alone, my main blog account received somewhere in between 300 and 350 emails. (Sorry, I don’t feel like counting them all to find the number in between…maybe it’s 330?) I haven’t read my blog email all month — bad blogger, I am — but now I am caught up back to April 1. No, I still haven’t ready March or February. (Yes, LIFO.)

In between all this operations and logistics, I had a nice lunch at Antidote, also in Soho. A nice lunch, but that’s all. (Can you tell this was a Soho kind of day?) Oh wait…I should mention…the service was very French and VERY lovely.

Most time-consuming? Finding somewhere to have my 40th birthday party! (Yes, I’m 40. I still feel like I’m the 29 year old that started this blog — or, well, the precursor to this blog — back in 2004 but I will actually turn FORTY next week.) I called and e-mailed every place I could think of in London — with the exception of my favorite, Bob Bob Ricard, because the bar downstairs is apparently closed. The places I called told me to email them. My hotel concierge told me I should have my party at Sketch or Navikov. !!! I said nothing and instead sent all the places I wanted to go the same message:

I am looking to organize birthday drinks on Wednesday, April 30th. Probably 20ish people.I’d like to do something pretty easy and informal…some wines, some snacks, etc. 6:30 to 9:30 pm. (Worried about the tube strike so would like to keep this easy.) Can you oblige?

 No one has responded! I die.

 

Sojourn in Exuma, Bahamas

Posted by Krista on April 24, 2014

I like being an expert on something. I’ve decided to become an expert on THE BAHAMAS. I’ve lost track now of how many times I’ve been to this island nation of 300,000, but the first few times were to the easier parts. The parts easily accessible from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and West Palm Beach. If my memory serves correctly, the most western parts of the Bahamas are only something like 45 miles from West Palm. So now I’m trying to get out there more in the Bahamas…go east and east and east.

Last year, I went to the Abacos. The year before, it was Lucaya. This year, it was time for Exuma, a long stretch of land surrounded by the most gorgeous of shallow turquoise water. I hope to share some of my photos of Exuma in the coming days and weeks.

While in Exuma, we stayed at the Grand Isle Resort & Villas. And many people will like it here. Our three-bedroom villa had everything you could ever want: a huge kitchen and breakfast bar, good (not great wifi), Netflix — don’t try to get your older relatives into Orange is The New Black —  and comfortable beds and linens.

There were a few things that niggled at me though for the price we were paying at this resort. Firstly, the stairs in the villa were poorly constructed. I should have taken photos with a ruler. The steps were really uneven, which was made all the more terrible because my mother has some motor control issues. I didn’t like her on these stairs. Secondly, the wifi didn’t cover my bedroom, which as I hope you can imagine, was supremely annoying for someone like me. And thirdly, we had this very odd incident with our boat tour and I still don’t understand how it happened.

When we checked in, the resort confirmed that on Tuesday morning, Exuma Water Sports would pick us up at 8:30 am. I have a typed confirmation that says this. Imagine our surprise on Tuesday morning when we get a call from the front desk at 8 am. “The bus is here!” So we all run out and get on the bus and in the process, we are super apologetic and show everyone how our paperwork says 8:30.

The bus drops us off at the office for the tour. Only problem? IT’S THE WRONG TOUR. This is an all day tour with another outfit. So we were put on the wrong bus — why they let us on, I don’t know — and we ended up in the wrong place.

In the end, it all worked out, but as the responsible party in the group, I was a little more than stressed. Add 90 degrees and super sunshine, and this is all a bad scene.

So…would I stay at this resort again? Hmmm. Not sure. Would I go to Exuma again? Hmmm…not sure. Although maybe I would go back if I could live on a boat and float on the endlessly turquoise water. Abaco to me is more of a sure thing. I loved the Abaco Club at Winding Bay — enough to go back and I never go back to anywhere — and I loved going into Hope Town and zipping around on a golf cart and eating ALL THE FRIED CONCH. So right now, that’s my vote. Abaco, not Exuma. But please feel free to change my mind!!

 

Town Hall Hotel, London

Posted by Krista on April 23, 2014

Boy did I get lucky. A few days ago, I wrote about my experience using Expedia’s Unnamed Hotel feature. Well, here is the result. I got a three-night stay at the gorgeous Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green in London. Now, for someone like me, who loves East London and the 55 bus, the location is perfect. BUT! If you are here for the shops and restaurants in West London and you want to walk out the door and have London right there in front of you, The Town Hall is probably not for you. But check out my room! It is awesome. Seriously beautiful. What’s not pictured? A WASHING MACHINE. Yes, I was able to do laundry, TWICE. (I had arrived from Chicago on Saturday morning, but I was in the Bahamas up til late Wednesday night, so I was still a little behind on things. Plus, I know my other hotels won’t have washing machines so lest I get swindled at $6.50 a pair of drawers, best to arrive with all clean laundry. I made good use of this washing machine.)

What I liked…

  • I loved my room. It was super-spacious — unbelievable so — and I appreciated the kitchenette and the washing machine. Honestly, I might not even call the kitchenette a kitchenette. It was very functional. The bathroom was gorgeous. I took a ton of pictures so that when I make the millions I deserve, I can reproduce this box of white and glass.
  • Free bottled water (still AND sparkling) and lots of it. I vaugely remember that Town Hall has a natural spring on site, but don’t quote me on that.
  • Free wifi.
  • The design-ness of it all. This is a really beautiful property.
  • My dinner at The Corner Room. Delicious, delicious lamb.
  • The cool bar area and Filipo from Florence who I spoke to at length in the bar.

What I didn’t like…

  • The wifi was super-slow. Trying to upload the video above took about 90 minutes.
  • Dearth of nearby amenities, restaurants, cafes. Everything was a short bus ride away.
  • My server at dinner at The Corner Room. Kind of a jerk. Seemed surprise that I wanted to sit down and actually EAT.

So in short…would I stay here again?? My heart says yes, my wallet says yes, but the logical person inside me wants to be closer to a Boots (the UK drugstore chain that has everything you can ever imagine). Does that make sense? I am on the fence!

The Money Situation…

  • What I paid all in, using Expedia’s Unnamed Hotel Service: $215 a night, USD.
  • Price of the hotel the day I booked it all in, for the same room and same nights: $321.22 USD.
  • Price of the hotel for the actual room I received (upgraded to a suite) as of the day I checked in: $393.84 USD.
  • Overall savings: 45.41%

Eating & Drinking in New Orleans

Posted by Krista on April 22, 2014
20140421-164817.jpg

Bartenders at the Sazerac Bar at the Hotel Roosevelt

I had no set expectations of food in New Orleans. Drinks, sure. I thought everyone would be wandering around with Hurricanes. Also, I thought I’d see a lot of women taking their shirts off on balconies. (Do not Google Girls Gone Wild.) And a lot of Ann Rice fans dressed like vampires. Those were my preconceptions.

But actually, New Orleans was a lot better than I imagined. Very good actually. It has this old/new thing going on and I kinda liked that. Here’s where I ate and drank.

Sylvain, 625 Chartres St, French Quarter. Mary on Twitter recommended this dark and romantic little gastropub and we were glad she did. Great, personal service and nice food. Then again, I think we were all starving so we would have eaten anything. But really, this was very nice. 

Emeril’s Delmonico, 1300 St Charles Ave, Garden District. I made a last minute OpenTable booking and figured that while we were in New Orleans, we might as well eat at an Emeril’s restaurant. This was the surprise of the trip. I loved my spiced duck and our server was funny and personable. Also, the space was gorgeous. I would go back here. And no one said Bam! Yes!

Acme Oyster House, 724 Iberville Street, French Quarter. I took myself on a little oyster tour of the French Quarter one night. I didn’t expect to like Acme Oyster House. It’s loud, there’s neon, and there is a huge queue to get in. Plus, it’s a little dirty. And they skipped over me in line multiple times while they seated parties of two. (I hate that. How many parties of two do you have to seat until you seat the solo diner?) But my server Pam was fantastic…a true veteran…and the baked oysters were garlicky and delicious. Thinking back on all the oysters I ate, these were my favorite. Hot, garlicky and pure unadulterated fun.

GW Fins, 808 Bienville Street, French Quarter: I waddled into GW Fins after Acme and appreciated the change of pace. GW Fins is large and airy and quiet and the bar was empty when I arrived. I ordered some smoked oysters, which arrived almost poached-like, the shells piping hot. I took my server’s recommendation on the wine and passed an enjoyable 45 minutes chatting away about restaurants in New Orleans. It was she that sent me to R’evolution next…

R’evolution, 777 Bienville Street, French Quarter. Dark and rich feeling. Everyone looked expensive and slightly famous. I sat next to a journalist and his wife, who’s skin had been preserved through the blessings of modern medicine perfectly and eerily well. R’evolution served me their fire roasted oysters, but I think they had been left too long to cool before they arrived. Either that or I was still thinking about those oysters at Acme. I liked the ambience of R’evoluton and the service and the wine list, but the oysters left me wanting. So too the Death by Gumbo I had the next day. (Why I went back twice, I will never understand.)

Verti Marte, 1201 Royal Street, French Quarter: The woman who had had all the plastic surgery done told me to get a Po’Boy at Verti Marte. She had seen Angelina Jolie there once. (“Her arms are like toothpicks.”) So I dropped in in between tours and ordered a fried oyster po’boy and the guy behind the counter looked at me like I was 1. crazy and 2. speaking a foreign language. They get zero points for service here, although the woman at the register was nice. The sandwich though was delicious. Five or six really fat fried oysters and some delicious sauce and salad on a pretty good baguette.

 Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal Street, French Quarter. Everyone told me I would love it here. Everyone is wrong. This is a tourist trap. Sit on the carousel bar stools and watch the bar spin around. I left without ordering anything. Full of tourists. 

Sazerac Bar at the Hotel Roosevelt, 123 Baronne Street. One of my favorite stops of the trip. I really loved the vibe and the fittings and the bar tender. Am I a sazerac fan? Probably not. But I still enjoyed my drink. Also full of tourists, but a different sort of tourist. Highly recommended.  

At the end of my time in New Orleans, I found myself wishing I had more time to see and explore. It’s a unique American city. I put it up there with Boston and San Francisco as cities foreigners should really visit to get a sense of the different cultures of different places. You should go.