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I’m not feeling very App-y

Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I am utterly useless when it comes to technology.

It seems that I am one of only a very small number of people under the false illusion that my phone is for phoning people. Other than that and texting it sits in my bag and I wait for it to ring.

This is not something I’m proud of, by the way. I don’t wave my tech-uselessness around like a badge of honour. When I see friends using their smart phones, erm, smartly, I envy their confident swipes, swishes and clicks.

Although having said that I watched a friend research and book a holiday with their phone last night and couldn’t help but wonder if I could ever be happy doing that. The app he was using was clearly very clever and efficient. But there was no conversation, no expert advice from a voice on the end of a phone.

Yes there was plenty of information on the app and he could click through to reviews by other people, search hotels quickly, even have a mini tour of a few hotels… But I’m just too much of a chatterbox to be satisfied with that.

I want to have a natter on the phone with someone who really knows what they are talking about and loves travel like I do.

My friend told me I was old fashioned and I didn’t argue. Perhaps I am. As I researched the movement towards mobile and tablet traffic and bookings in travel it became very clear the rise is incredible and shows no signs of slowing down.

And with such great apps being built, like the SLH app for example, traffic will continue to rise and rise.

There are a lot of busy people who prefer the speed and convenience of an app. And of course there’s a whole generation coming up who use their phones for everything because they haven’t known anything different.

As long as people don’t disappear completely from travel and holidaymakers like me can still combine booking a trip with a long series of chats over the phone I’m happy to let the rest of the world let their fingers do the talking.

Don’t wait till Valentine’s Day to be romantic

I am always up for celebrating occasions. However small or insignificant it might seem I will put on a party dress and grab the excuse to do something special. Especially if that special thing involves a few days away in a lovely little hotel.

But there is one occasion I just cannot get on board with. Valentine’s Day.

I hate to sound like an old grump but having a designated day on which we are all forced to do something romantic makes me feel a little bit unwell.

In the past I have tried to embrace it and Henry, bless him, has in the past pulled out all the stops to put on a typically romantic evening. The trouble is the whole of London is full of couples dutifully having meals out alongside one another. While single people gather like pariahs at each other’s houses and drink too much wine while telling each other how much more fun it is to be fancy free. Until too much wine is consumed and someone starts crying. I know this happens because for several years I was the one crying and declaring that nobody will ever love me. I almost bought a cat one Valentine’s Day such was my despair.

While I wouldn’t ever say it’s better to be in a relationship than be single I can say that I prefer being in one. But I don’t want to make people who aren’t in a relationship feel like they are missing out or that their life is lacking in some way. And taking part in Valentine’s Day makes me feel like I’m doing that. So we aren’t doing anything at all this year. We’re actually not even going to spend the day together. We are going to go out with friends instead and have a strict no cards, no flowers, no staring into each other’s eyes policy.

Every day except February 14th will now be a pseudo Valentine’s and we will be trying to do something nice for each other on a daily basis.

And of course we will be going on an Anti-Valentine’s mini break somewhere. It’ll be very romantic but when we want to be, not when the card shops tell us to!

Any ideas about where we should go would be very welcome. Write your suggestions in the comments below and I’ll let you know which one we choose in a few weeks time!

SLH have lots of hotels just for adults! The perfect place for anyone’s Anti-Valentine’s mini-break…

I’ve been thinking that maybe I’d like to be a boy

I’ve been watching Henry in the morning lately, more intently than usual, and I’ve begun to find his routine rather annoying.

He wakes up, gets in the shower, showers, brushes his teeth, gets dressed and then has a coffee before leaving the flat.

This entire process takes a maximum of 15 minutes. 15 minutes. I don’t think I’m slow at getting ready but I’m lucky if I walk out the door an hour after waking up.

This is the same when we are on holiday too. By the time I’m ready he’s already had a swim in the pool or read his book on the balcony or something equally lovely.

I did some maths this morning (using a calculator obviously, my maths is appalling) and worked out that over the course of the year this means something rather disturbing.

I spend 273 hours more each year getting ready than he does. That’s 11 and a half days. Which is more days than people in America get for their holiday allowance each year I believe? Sorry America, we Brits get at least 20.

It turns out that Henry has almost a fortnight’s worth of time every year to kill that I spend doing exceedingly dull things like moisturising, drying my hair, putting make up on… the list is too dull to complete.

I don’t understand who decided, or when, that us girls have to do all these things but I think if I had a time machine I’d go back in time to whenever this was decided and change things round.

Let boys shave their legs and paint their nails while I have another half an hour in bed every day.

Sigh. Alas as much as it pains me the status quo is unlikely to change any time soon and the thought of having hairy legs doesn’t really appeal.

I have consoled myself by deciding that I look better than Henry when I walk out the door. Because quality takes a little time. If a girl were a hotel it would be elegantly decorated, well looked after with great attention to detail and a wonderfully manicured garden.

The Henry hotel on the other hand would be thrown together in a hurry, look quite nice from a distance but there would definitely be dust all over the place and chips in the paintwork.

Right it’s getting late. I’d better take my make up off… so I can put it on again tomorrow.

The importance of a tech – life balance.

I read an article earlier this week that said the average UK adult now spends more time using media or communications than they do sleeping.

The stats said we UK adults sleep for eight hours and twenty one minutes but use media or communications for eight hours and forty one minutes.

Now I’m not entirely sure what ‘media or communications’ means but I assume it’s phones, computers, television etc. That seems like an awfully long time to be doing these things. I was surprised.

But my surprise at this figure was a teeny tiny fraction of my surprise when I saw that adults are sleeping for that long. Eight hours and twenty one minutes. Who are these people? What time are they going to bed? And if it’s not 9pm or earlier how do their employers feel about them turning up late every day?!

I dream of sleeping this long. Well actually I don’t dream of it, I haven’t the time during the six hours I get per night on average to dream about it.

Clearly I’m doing something horribly wrong. Sleep is one of my favourite things and yet everyone else in the UK appears to be doing it far more than me.

The point of the article was not for me to become consumed with jealously over other people’s sleeping habits of course. Instead the point being made was that we use technology more than we sleep. That may be a good thing, it may be a bad thing. Depends on whether or not you have shares in Apple I suppose… ;)

But good or bad there is no doubting that all this screen staring and finger prodding is not what humans in our current form evolved for. Perhaps in a few thousand years we’ll be better at coping with it but at the moment we haven’t moved on much physically from bows and arrows and castles.

So if you’re going to be online a lot the message is make sure you take time out and look after yourself. The clever cruise line I was reading about has teamed up with one Randi Zuckerberg (yes a relation) who is something of a leading light in the tech-life balance world.

Between them they have come up with spa treatments with very cool names like ‘Texticure’ and ‘Control Alt Delight’. Other than in name these treatments are not unique. Giving your hands and face special attention has been around for quite some time. But the message from this collaboration is an important one. When you’re on holiday don’t let technology fill every moment. Don’t text during a meal, don’t play angry birds while on a sunbed and don’t feel the need to check in everywhere you go. There’s no need to go cold turkey but a balance is a healthy choice.

This isn’t to say I don’t think hotels should have free Wi-Fi by the way. Far from it. They all should have it unless they have a very good excuse. The control needs to be self control and I can promise from personal experience that if you have a few days at a nice hotel and don’t let your phone or laptop come with you to the pool or restaurant, you might just manage an eight hour and twenty one minute sleep.

I’m based in London – as regular readers will know.

So I tend to think about things in a London way. Naturally with this blog being read all over the world I have to make sure I don’t focus on things that are only relevant to those people who happen to live near me. So I won’t be telling you how sad I am that a famous coffee chain has appeared where until recently there was an independent café a couple of minutes’ walk from my flat. I also won’t bang on about the potholes that pepper my street and threaten to destroy my car suspension every time I go for a drive. Yes I love talking about potholes and my neighbours never tire of the topic – but you might.

However, there is something that I have to think about in a London-centric way that might be of interest to you. And that thing is travel.

Because wherever I go, I go from here. My journeys invariably start from a London airport so the decisions I make about where to go are shaped by how long it will take me to get somewhere. If you live in America on the west coast for example then getting to the new famous coffee chain I’ve just been complaining about near my house is going to be a serious and expensive undertaking. I would recommend you don’t bother, even if you are going to be in London anyway – it’s not worth the cost of a tube ticket never mind a flight.

If I am going to Italy or Spain it’s a couple of hours in a plane. If you go from the west coast it’s going to be closer to 15.

I live in a cold place so am constantly seeking out the sun. If you live somewhere like Dubai your idea of an escape might be Scotland because you can almost guarantee it’s going to be cold and rainy (sorry Scotland – I should add extremely beautiful to cold and rainy).

Another important thing to remember is there are incredible places to see within 50 miles of where you are sitting right now. Wherever you are sat on the planet. Places I would pay a lot of money to see and spend a long time getting to. How many of you non Londoners dream of coming here and if you haven’t been yet would place it high on your bucket list? Huge numbers of you. And yet I live here and haven’t ever explored the place properly.

If you decide to take my advice here are my top tips for this particular type of trip:

Dukes Front

1. Make sure you don’t sleep at home. Pack your bags and check in to a hotel. I’m going to be staying at Dukes in London and I’m going to act like I do when I’m staying in a foreign city – up early and explore, explore, explore.

2. Take your best clothes. The one’s you save for holidays. Maybe even buy some new ones.

3. Save up and spend as much as you would in another place. We tend to wait till we are away to really treat ourselves. I say blow the bank and go to the best show in town with supper at a restaurant you’d never consider in your day to day life.

4. Make sure you take one day off work. Monday perhaps. So you are enjoying yourself with the rest of the tourists while all the locals slave away in the office.

The Best Hotel in the World is…

Many of my friends tell me about a hotel they once stayed in that really blew their mind.

A hotel that stands head and shoulders above the rest and is, they insist, the best hotel ever.

But the hotel they think is the finest that has ever been can’t possibly be the best hotel ever. Because each of my friends tells me somewhere different deserves this accolade.

Granted they are all very pleasant indeed and when I look at them online I am able to confirm that my friends have excellent taste.

However it is, in a way, a little sad that they think one hotel is the best. Because it suggests they don’t know enough hotels. There are, I can confirm, LOADS of amazing ones. I know this because I spend as much time looking at them as train spotters spend hanging around at railway stations. It’s a bit of an obsession.

If I ask someone which hotel is the best their answer should be: “I have absolutely no idea Melissa there are far too many incredible places to stay for me to be able to choose just one.”

That’s the right answer. After all I am a massive hotel geek and I can’t tell you. I am forever unearthing new ones that look so amazing I want to weep a little when I realise I may never get to visit.

And no matter how much of a geek you are new ones will appear. I can’t do what bird-spotters do and learn all the birds and then try to find them all. The thing about birds is that new ones don’t just appear. Evolution doesn’t work that way and therefore any new species that may emerge are not going to turn up any time soon.

New hotels however pop up all the time and in the time it takes me to tick one off I know several more will have opened. And of course, unlike birds, hotels do occasionally get a revamp and then look entirely different so warrant another visit.

As if to prove my point for me a load of new hotels have joined Small Luxury Hotels of the World recently. And I had only heard of two of them. As I scrolled through them I had mixed emotions. Half of me was chastising myself for not knowing about them before now. And the other half was getting excited about new potential places to stay.

Below I’ve listed a few that have made me excited about travelling in 2015. And made me worry that even if I live till 100 I’m just not going to have enough time so see them all!

Campo Bahia Resort

Campo Bahia Resort in Santo Andre, Brazil

Maison Souquet 2

Hotel Maison Souquet in Paris, France

Hotel Regency 7

Hotel Regency in Florence, Italy

Hunas Falls by Amaya, Sri Lanka

Hunas Falls by Amaya in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Lijiangs Patio

Lijiang’s Patio in Lijiang, China

Londa Beach Hotel

Londa Beach Hotel in Limassol, Cyprus

Movich Casa del Alferez

Movich Casa del Alferez in Cali, Columbia

Hotel Sant Fransesc 2

Sant Francesc Hotel Singular in Palma, Mallorca

Vitamin D and broccoli

People are so predictable. Me included.

I’m currently watching television with my mother after our fourth enormous lunch in a row. But all I can think about is the weighing scales in the bathroom.

I don’t know when my brain switched from delighting in the extravagance of Christmas and New Year to craving a diet of broccoli and lentils. But the change has struck – I don’t want to see any more roast potatoes or sausages wrapped in bacon. Or Yorkshire puddings coated in gravy. I don’t even want to drink red wine and fall asleep in front of the fire! All the things I spent weeks looking forward to, and indeed spend every December dreaming about, are now my enemy. And the enemy of quite a few of my clothes that complain as I stretch them to fit this new Christmassy shape.

Luckily my jogging bottoms have an elasticated waist so they will fit me when I drag myself out of bed tomorrow morning and try to remember how to run.

Ever since I hit 30 and couldn’t rely on a young metabolism to do my dirty work for me this transition from feast to self enforced famine has quietly come about just in time for expensive gym memberships to strike.

Because they know this happens too. They know January is their month to make a killing, the month when hot cakes don’t sell like hot cakes but gym memberships do.

So my New Year’s resolution is to be less predictable in 2015. I’m not going to join the gym, go a few times and then get bored. I’m not going to give up alcohol and potatoes for a month. And I’m not going to feel guilty for enjoying the festive period.

I’m going to be an advertisers nightmare by refusing to do the things I always do.

Although there’s one predictable New Year ritual I’m not going to give up. Because there’s one thing in life (especially a life in London where it’s freezing for the next four months) that I can’t give up and that’s a strong dose of vitamin D in mid winter.

Santhiya Koh Phangan Resort & Spa 6

Santhiya Koh Phangan in Koh Phangan, Thailand

I’m very happy to do exactly what the airlines and hoteliers expect of me in the next few days and book some sunshine. Is there anything as exciting as stepping onto the sand for the first time in ages, laying a towel on a sun bed and feeling the sun’s rays on your back? I can feel my batteries recharging and sit back while the warm light breathes life into pale skin that’s been hidden under layers of jumpers and coats for months.

There’s not much I can’t do without. But warm sunshine is probably at the top of that list.

So you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got to steam some broccoli and start looking for hotels.

Happy New Year to me! And to you of course.

Christmas without the washing up

There’s very little I like more than to spend Christmas with my family. I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about it, getting excited and taking phone calls from my mother every five minutes.

She’s what I like to call a planner. So what should be a simple occasion – lunch for six people – becomes a month long military operation.

The discussions actually started in November. The big question was where shall we eat? An odd question really considering we’ve eaten at her and dad’s house every Christmas since I was born.

From there we moved on to who is coming, what time they are coming, what should those people who are coming bring with them, what we should eat for lunch, what time we should eat the lunch, should we open the presents before or after we eat, what should we eat in the evening… the list goes on.

I pointed out that, other than the presents, it’ll be just like the dozen or so Sundays each year that we get together for lunch. She didn’t agree.

So the build up has continued, the calls keep coming and my dad and I roll our eyes gently as mum winds herself up into a Christmas frenzy.

I think she enjoys it but it’s hard to tell. There’s no way of knowing though really as it’s what we’ve always done.

But next year I’m going to do an experiment. I’m going to call mum in mid November, just before she sees a Christmas advert on television and begins winding herself up, and tell her not to worry.

I’m going to tell her it’s all taken care of and all she has to do is turn up where I tell her to and when I tell her to.

Of course it’s perfectly possible she’ll miss running around organising everything for the big day. But just in case she finds it tedious and would rather put her feet up I’m going to take care of everything and see what happens.

I say take care of everything… I don’t mean it. In fact I’m going to let other people take care of everything and join my mum so we can both put our feet up. Perhaps in a Jacuzzi, while someone else does the washing up!

The only question for me will be where?

Well actually even though it’s a year away I’ve narrowed it down to three.

I don’t want to go take the family too far from home so two of them are in the UK. Here are my potentials… where would you take your family?

The Ampersand Hotel

The Ampersand Hotel – South Kensington, London, England

This hotel, which is a 19th century townhouse, clearly takes Christmas seriously. They have created a special Christmas afternoon tea with traditional treats like mince pies, mulled wine, jelly, turkey and cranberry gougères. I like all these things so I’m tempted to book us in for it. Along with the Christmas lunch and Christmas cocktails.

HULTNLH_42117725_HULTNLHLuton_Hoo_In_The_Winter_400x400

 

Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf and Spa – Luton, England

To the countryside now and not just any old countryside. Here we have a former haunt of movie stars and royals. This place is just as serious about December 25. And December 24 and December 26 for that matter. They have three days of food and frolics planned. Why have one Christmas lunch when you can have three?

Le Grand Bellevue 3

Le Grand Bellevue – Gstaad, Switzerland

My curve ball for 2015 might be Le Grand Bellevue in Gstaad. It’ll take a little longer to get there of course but when we do there’s almost certainly going to be snow. And Christmas and snow belong together. When I read this hotel has a 35m tree that they decorate with 40,000 lights I knew there were some Christmas lovers working there. And how better to earn the goose and salmon Christmas lunch than a couple of hours on the slopes in the morning?

Which one shall I choose?

Me and a mean mini-bar

Mini-bars are spectacularly annoying.

Well, some mini-bars are annoying.

It’s like a weird form of torture having a cold little fridge packed with nice things like chocolate and wine sat in the corner.

‘Open me’ it taunts.

I’m not complaining about the potential increase in calorie intake. If I can’t, or don’t want to, resist temptation that’s my problem.  My issue is that in the rather famous and rather expensive chain hotel I was staying at, the chocolate bar was almost £10 and the tiny bottle of wine was almost £20.

The prices were crazy. These prices have moved past crazy and become strangely arrogant. Like some of the people who work in the mega expensive shops in places like Cannes in France and the Kings Road in London who look at you and dare you to ask how much something costs so that they can laugh at you. It seems to me that if you’ve paid a lot of money to be in this room they shouldn’t punish you by multiplying the price of the chocolate bar by seven.

It’s not as if you’re in the beautiful bar enjoying great service and wonderful décor. You’re in the room that you have already purchased for the night. Part of the service of paying for a room, expensive or otherwise, should be the right to have cold things available at a maximum of twice the price you’d pay in a shop.

This particular mini-bar was even more intent on stealing my wallet than most. There were sensors underneath things so that when I finally caved in and opened the fridge I was charged for my wine before I’d even decided to drink it. Despite being the most expensive glass of wine I’ve had (excluding special occasions) it wasn’t even that nice.

It’s this behaviour by big international hotels that puts me off. Rather than feeling like a guest you feel like a pawn in an evil accountant’s business plan being hurried around a chess board. I know accountants are important and that hotels must make money as well as looking after their guests – and that is a tricky balance to achieve. But the moment I feel like I’ve come second to profit in a hotel the most important rule in hospitality has been broken.

Charge me good money for good quality and great service by all means. But don’t ever charge me £10 for a Mars Bar because it’s mean. And counter-intuitive. If the baby fridge were to be packed with reasonably priced drinks and snacks I’d embrace the little box and probably empty it. But as it is I fear it and almost wish it wasn’t there.

4.1.1

Château d’Isenbourg in Colmar, France

Small, luxury hotels like those you find in the SLH brand lead the way at making guests feel like the centre of their universe because on the whole they are genuinely pleased to see you. I’ve never walked out of an independent hotel feeling like I’ve been mugged. Last week at this big hotel – I most certainly did. The mini-bar started it and the 24 EURO BILL FOR WIFI FOR ONE DAY finished it. The capital letters are designed to express annoyance. I’d underline them too if I wasn’t quite so terrible at using computers.

Seats in the Sky.

I spent this morning talking about planes.

It was sparked by a Buzzfeed link that appeared on my Twitter feed called 12 First Class Cabins That Will Make You Hate Flying Economy.

The photographs are predictably impressive. Flat beds all round of course. Lots of smiling air hostesses (and hosts) some lovely looking canapés and some very smiley people enjoying their space in the sky. One airline has even created a three room suite on board for those who have $20,000 to spare. That’s the price for a one way ticket by the way.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t base a blog post on Buzzfeed. But then ordinarily Buzzfeed has posts entitled things like 17 Cat Reactions For Every Thanksgiving Situation and 46 Reasons We Should All be Thankful for Leonardo Di Caprio.

This piece was a little more my scene. It’s not something I’ve done a lot of, flying on these flat beds in business or first class. I’ve certainly not had my own three-room suite! But I, like so many people, see these chairs and dream of flying on one of them  – stretched out with a movie and a glass of champers. Somehow it has become one of the ultimate experiences around.

Which is strange when you think about it.

Imagine for a moment that you took that chair and put it anywhere else. It would be a thoroughly unimpressive photo that wouldn’t make any of us bat an eyelid. If it were billed, for example, as a budget pod hotel you’d expect that space to cost less than a meal for two in a chain restaurant.

Pop it in the sky and we’re talking serious money. And unless something goes very wrong you’ll be in that seat for an absolute maximum of 24 hours and most of the time far less time than that.

Whereas when you reach wherever it is your flying to you could be there for anything from a couple of days to three weeks.

Yes economy seats are not as comfortable and yes it would be lovely to have a duvet and not have to ask anyone to move when you want to go to the loo. But I think I’d rather hang on to that money, sit upright for a few hours, and then arrive in my destination knowing the bulk of my holiday cash has been invested in the place I’ll be living in for a few nights. That, for me, is when the holiday begins and ends. The getting there is the price you pay for wanting to see a new place (or revisit an old favourite) and stay in a beautiful little hotel.

Perhaps there’s an idea for a new Buzzfeed article there: 12 Small Luxury Hotels You Can Stay In for a Week – For the Price of a First Class Plane Ticket. That one would really get me excited about my next trip.

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