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Shopping in the Dark

Sometimes, if I can’t sleep or just want a late stroll after supper, I quite enjoy window shopping at night time.

The beauty of this hobby is that however much I like the beautiful clothes I see, there’s a thick pane of glass, a lock and no doubt a high tech security system preventing impulse purchases.

But alas the clever people who invent things may well have found a way to help me walk through the glass, bypass the security systems and buy the dresses and shoes all without being arrested.

Something called beacon technology may well be responsible for creating a poorer (but much better dressed) version of Melissa. I can’t tell you the technical details but basically once a beacon is in place as I’m walking past the window on one fine future evening the items in the shop will be able to talk to me.

They’ll be able to tell me all about themselves. Who designed them, what they go perfectly with, which magazines have written about them, which occasions I might like to wear them for, what’s on special offer or discounted and, here’s the killer, one tap of a button and I can buy them. Ouchy.

Part of me is a little annoyed. But most of me is seriously impressed. And now I’m just a little bit excited about the possibilities, it could really take over in so many different sector of one’s life. Imagine walking through the airport (since I spend so much time there) and not having to actually go into the shops because your phone will tell you the bargains all around you. It’ll point you towards a restaurant with a special offer on or it’ll alert you if a bikini has just been made half price. And when it’s time for you to go to your gate it’ll give you a firm nudge in that direction.

The Capital Shopping

Shopping at The Capital Hotel & Apartments in London, UK

And then you’ll be in your beautiful hotel, wherever that may be, cosy in a dressing gown and slippers. Smelling divine having covered yourself in all the delightful lotions and potions in the bathroom. Enjoying a glass of wine on the balcony… and beacon could well strike again. If I understand it correctly it could tell you all about the dressing gown and what it’s made of, the brand of skincare products you’ve just doused yourself in and give you a run-down of the wine in your glass. And all three could be waiting for you when you get home with very little effort involved. That’s exciting.

Most technology in the hotel world has not been exciting lately. I don’t like a complicated lighting system with moods to choose from. I like to talk to the concierge, not have an iPad that tells me where to go and what to do. And I prefer to draw the curtains with my hands rather than fiddle around with a remote control. But this beacon lark might just be very clever indeed.

Anyway my phone has just told me it’s time for me to stop writing this and check the chicken in the oven. I think I’ll like my phone a little more when it’s talking to me about shoes.

PS – if you didn’t see last week’s blog post make sure you have a look because you could be jetting off to a luxury hotel for a couple of nights.

WIN 2 nights at any SLH hotel around the world…

I went to a seminar the other day about getting people’s attention. I don’t mean shouting at them in the street or throwing a water balloon at them. I mean online attention. It’s a busy old internet out there and I get about 500 emails a day now. So if you can discover the secret to getting that attention and keeping it you’re on to a winner.

As I listened it also sounded very complicated indeed until one person stood up and just said: “Put the word ‘WIN’ in the title in capitals.”

So, as you should hopefully have noticed, I have.

The question is… do I have your attention?

We’ll find out soon won’t we!

Blog Competition Real Image

Because in my hand I have a voucher for four free nights at any SLH hotel in the world. But four seems greedy to me. Two will do. So I have two to give to one of you dear readers. But first you must do something for me. You must tell me where I should go next…

There’s something rather liberating about going somewhere having had no role in the decision making process. So whoever of you comes up with the best reason for me to go to one of the several hundred SLH hotels will be going to that very hotel for a couple of nights of free luxury. And shortly afterwards I’ll be going there too to find out if my winner chose wisely.

So if you fancy a free stay somewhere and have a spare minute to let me know why I should go there comment below and tell me where I should go and why I should go there.

And entitle the comment “WIN TWO NIGHTS IN A LUXURY HOTEL.” That way we can be sure yours gets my full attention.

T&C’s:

  • Competition will close on 4th August 2014
  • To enter competition write name of hotel and country as a comment below blog post
  • Winner will be drawn at random and notified by the email address attached to their WordPress account
  • Entrants can only enter competition twice

 

A faster horse and a menu? No thanks.

Choice is my chosen topic today. Are choices good or bad?

Every day I head out in search of something to eat at lunchtime and every day I have an internal debate about what to have. If I’m with someone it becomes external and lasts even longer.

Choice doesn’t end when a restaurant is selected either. If you’re like me and enjoy most things that can reasonably be placed in one’s mouth and swallowed then the terrible burden of choice multiplies when a menu arrives in one’s chosen eatery.

Zeavola's yummy skewers!

Zeavola in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand delicious skewers

“IT ALL LOOKS YUMMY” says the message my tummy to my brain.

“WHAT DO YOU FANCY?” says the message that goes back rather desperately hoping for some vague focus.

“EVERYTHING PLEASE.”

Not helpful.

So suddenly I’m sat with a menu the size of my torso, 50 possible meals and a waitress hovering over me desperate for me to eat and get out so that more people can come in.

I was whinging about this problem at lunch today which is why it’s on my mind. I didn’t have to worry about where to eat and what because as it happens I was eating with the general manager of one of SLH’s hotels. I find GMs of hotels always seem to know what they want, when they want it and what will happen if they don’t get it how they like it when they want it.

As I laid out my inability to choose he said something rather interesting. Choice is not always a luxury. Occasionally it’s a total pain in the you know what.

The logical argument is the more things you have to choose from the better because then you can have exactly what you want.

But he said: “If Henry Ford had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.” Henry apparently made this point himself back in the Model T days.

His argument was that often we don’t know what we want. And we don’t want to have to decide. Especially on holiday when often main aim is to use our brains less. A real luxury is to have a chef or waiter tell you the red snapper was caught half an hour ago and is delicious. Job done, I’ll have one of those.

Or if you don’t know what to do in a city you’ve never been to, don’t try to work it out. Just ask the concierge whose job it is to know what you might enjoy.

Relax. Stay somewhere small with knowledgeable personal service. And let them point you gently in the right directions. That’s luxury.

Chocolate Tort with Orange Syrup at Rockliffe Hall

Chocolate Tort with Orange Syrup at Rockliffe Hall in Darlington, UK

Who are you going to call?

Choosing a holiday is not simple. I know it sounds simple. Where shall I go and when shall I go there. Done. But don’t be fooled, there’s much more. And even these two seemingly innocent questions are a potential minefield of indecision. I’ve listened to people in my office spend several hours discussing just one of them. And not just once. Again and again and again until I reach a point where I want to scream.  What could possibly take this long and require this much procrastination?

Aquapura Douro Valley, Porto, Portugal

Aquapura Douro Valley in Douro Valley, Portugal

Holidays. And only holidays. People buy cars faster. People buy houses with less discussion. People name their children more efficiently. And why shouldn’t they take their time? This is one of life’s pure treats. And if it’s a let-down there’s nothing one can do. Time doesn’t give refunds. When the journey begins there are choices. Most people end up going online and looking around. The annoying thing is that one can look around forever. Literally. You could invent a pill that negates the need to sleep and then spend all day every day for 50 years just researching one holiday. But the bad news is there’s new information going up faster than you can read it. Not only that but most of the information is nonsense written by people who don’t know what they are talking about. And on the whole there’s no way of knowing if it was written by a bona fide travel genius who would be your best friend if you’d happened to have met them or a strange man living in a shed who’s never been on a train let alone a plane. I’ve been thinking about this problem recently because a girlfriend of mine was feeling a little lost. So lost that she actually cried at her laptop and then claimed she was finished with the internet and would never use it again. Ever. For anything. Once I explained that would mean no more Facebook she swiftly reversed her decision but begged me for help. Why do the hard work when you don’t have to? I said. When the car breaks down we don’t go online and try to work out how to fix it. When we need a new washing machine we don’t buy Which Washing Machine magazine (although it is a great read) and learn all about them I just ask an expert in a shop I trust. If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood who are you going to call? Yes, the Ghostbusters. You do not try to sort out the ghost problem yourself.

Hotel La Perouse

Hotel La Perouse in Nice, France

So why do people feel the need to trawl the internet looking for the perfect holiday when none of us are experts? I popped my friend on slh.com and in 20 minutes she had picked a hotel and booked. She clicked Hotel Experiences at the top. Then she chose a Beach Resorts experience. After that it was continent time and she knew she wanted short haul so Europe. And then she chose to look at the map. A map of all the beach hotels appeared and from there it took seconds. She didn’t have to scan the small print to find out how far the hotel was from the beach or worry that a ‘sea view room’ might only be a sea view room if you tape some binoculars to your face and do a handstand on the balcony railings. She just knew. Simple

A bridge, my back and a hotel up north

I don’t know if this is true but I heard somewhere that the Golden Gate Bridge is always being painted. They start at one end and by the time they reach the other it’s time to scoot back round to the other side and start again.

My back is the Golden Gate Bridge.

Not that I have it painted of course, that would be weird. But replace the paintbrush with a masseuse’s hands and the metaphor is complete.

I feel like I need to be massaged all the time. If Henry is there and willing I get him to squeeze and prod my shoulders and neck until he gets bored. And then for quite some time after he gets bored if I can get away with it. If he gets early onset arthritis in his hands it will be entirely my fault.

This can be anywhere by the way. I made him do it on the tube last night because after a day at my desk my shoulders had almost seized up. While I made odd noises in front of a carriage full of strangers he used his free hand to read the paper.

Sadly I have more things to achieve day to day than the Golden Gate Bridge and create less tourism income for the local area so it’s impossible for me to just stay still indefinitely while constant massages take place. If only my sole purpose was to link one place to another. I’d be laughing.

As it is my massages and spa treatments come sporadically so when I’m at a hotel I want to know that at some stage someone is going to attack my back like it’s a piece of dough in serious need of some heavy-duty kneading.

Which is why I was smiling as I read about where I’m staying for the weekend later this summer when I head ‘Up North’ as we London-dwelling English men and women call anywhere north of the capital.

HUMMERH_38836936_Rockliffe_Hall's_18th_Century_Old_Hall_in_Summer_4036x4134

Rockliffe Hall in Darlington, United Kingdom

Rockliffe Hall, an 18th Century country house close to the North Yorkshire Moors. Wonderful.

It has the largest golf course in the UK. But I don’t care.

It has elaborate crystal chandeliers, chenille and velvet fabrics in rich browns and reds AND televisions in the bathrooms. But I don’t care.

Alright I do care a bit. As you know as I once wrote an entire post about how much I love television baths.

But the amount I care in comparison to what I read when I reached the spa section of the website is roughly the amount a hungry Labrador cares about chasing a ball when someone has just dropped a large steak on the floor right by their nose.

Sure I want to play with the ball at some stage but for now I’m entirely, single-mindedly pre-occupied.

The list of things I can do in the 50,000 square foot spa is so extensive I had to look up some of the words in the dictionary. It’s possible, just possible, that I might leave this place feeling like my Golden Gate Bridge has been painted so well it won’t need a touch up for months.

Aromatherapy, body scrub, caldarium, deep tissue massage, hamman, hydrotherapy, Indian head massage, jet shower, kundalini, lymphatic drainage massage, rasul bath, reflexology, salt glow, sauna…

I’m going to stop there before I fall into a happiness induced coma. I feel relaxed simply reading the list. By the time I walk out of there having been covered in mud, salt, warm water, cold water, hot water been stroked and scrubbed and massaged all over I probably will have achieved nirvana and be able to float around rather than go through the bother of putting one foot in front of the other. And more importantly perhaps poor Henry will be able to enjoy our train journeys from now on rather than be forced to massage my neck every time.

Wear white and play tennis – is what to do.

The Bannister Hotel Tennis Court

The Bannister Hotel in Samana, Dominican Republic

I’ve been thinking about wearing white a lot this week.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another wedding post! It’s about tennis in fact.

I’m probably biased as I am a Londoner and was born in Wimbledon but as far as I’m concerned there is no tennis tournament to rival it. And part of the reason I think that is the dress code. While the rackets get cleverer, the players get better, the courts get snazzier and the technology gets more impressive the clothes stay the same colour. Put an Instagram filter on your photos and the players could be from anywhere.

It’s not complicated. It’s just white.

In many ways it must actually make it easier for the players. I remember when I started sixth form at school and suddenly we didn’t have to wear uniform any more.

My initial thought was HOORAY!

But after a week, having to think about what to wear every day was exhausting and time consuming. I longed for the tartan skirt and white blouse that we all wore every day. I actually often think it would be nice to have a work uniform to save me the bother of emptying my wardrobe every day searching for something to wear.

Stoke Park Tennis

Stoke Park in Stoke Poges, United Kingdom

I wonder if the players think the same way. Perhaps at other tournaments they walk out onto court wearing a pink and blue striped dress only to discover their opponent it wearing the same one.

Or maybe the night before (while they should be focusing on their game plan) they have to spend time going through their outfit choices and wondering if their chosen attire will clash with the green grass.
Probably not but it’s an amusing thought!

I always wear white when I play even if I’m on a dodgy concrete court with a broken net. It makes me feel a bit more excited about having a knock about.

With it being Wimbledon fortnight I will obviously become obsessed with tennis once again as I did last year if you remember. This obsession usually lasts about three months right up until the moment it gets cold and the lure of indoors defeats any outdoor activity.

So I’m looking for somewhere wonderful to play at the moment. Somewhere sunny, beautiful, with great courts and a great spot to have a drink afterwards.

Rather than do all the hard work myself I asked the lovely folk at SLH for recommendations and here are their top five picks for great tennis courts.

Villa Orselina, Switzerland 

Villa Padierna, Spain

Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola Au Lac, Switzerland  

Stoke Park, UK

The Bannister Hotel, Dominican Republic

 

Where to get married?

It’s been at least five minutes since I last talked about getting married. It’s probably time I updated you.

Since the oh so romantic Caribbean proposal a few weeks ago I’ve barely thought about it. I’ve just done some light research and read a couple of magazines. Is what I’m telling Henry.

In actual fact if you were to walk into my office now you’d see a room that looks like a confetti bomb has recently detonated.

There are pictures from magazines covering half the walls and the rest decorated with printed out photographs of dresses, flowers, cakes, table cloths, glasses, cutlery… and so on. I even have some photos of complete strangers haircuts who no doubt thought I was mad when I stopped them in the street. I’ve had to ban Henry from coming in here because if he saw it I’m not convinced he wouldn’t leave me.

There is a big hole though. A gaping chasm of wall space with nothing but a question mark and one word: ‘where?’

This is a quandary more and more couples are having these days as the lure of an overseas celebration in a spectacular setting tempts them. Not least because weddings in the UK are very expensive. My dad is firmly in the overseas wedding camp almost certainly because he has to pick up the tab. We have tried to offer to pay but he won’t listen!

My mum wants it to be in the UK as she doesn’t trust airlines to not lose my dress.

And Henry doesn’t seem to mind. If he does he’s keeping it to himself and that’s probably wise.

I was leaning towards Italy. That was until I popped into South Lodge Hotel on the edge of the South Downs. I think Brits too often think we need to go abroad to find the most beautiful places. This hotel proves otherwise. As I walked through the acres of parklands and woods and sat drinking Pimms in front of a glorious countryside view I could picture myself getting married there.

South Lodge Hotel

South Lodge Hotel in Horsham, West Sussex, United Kingdom

With formal lawns, incredible displays of rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias and croquet (my favourite game) this place is heavenly.

So as soon as I’ve finished writing this post I’ll be printing out the photo above and pinning it inside the big empty ‘where’ space on my cork board.

It’s not definite but it’s going to take some serious beating.

I’ll let you know where we end up choosing. For now I’ve got some Pinterest pinning to do!

Plenty of fish in the sea – terrifying isn’t it

If there’s one thing I haven’t done that fills me with regret it’s scuba diving.

So many people have, it’s not particularly brave and really I should just do it.

But I’m scared.

It’s strange that I’m scared. Because I’m not usually. I don’t mind snakes, I am happy to pick up spiders, and I will jump off high things without making a fuss.

But there’s something about going deep underwater and not knowing what I’m going to see or what’s behind me that fills me with fear.

But as JFK famously said (although not in the context of scuba diving) we have nothing to fear but fear itself. And sharks of course. Oh and jelly fish. And ones oxygen tank blowing up. And ‘the bends’ if you come up too fast. Other than that though it’s just fear.

So I’ve decided to jump in and try to conquer scuba diving.

The big question for me was where? I wanted it to be beautiful obviously, sunny with warm water so I don’t get cold and a sea full of interesting things that don’t want to eat me.

My other factor was making sure I did it in a proper place with excellent instructors and pristine equipment.

So I have chosen. Spice Island Beach Resort in St Georges, Grenada.

Grenada is perhaps not as well known as it should be for scuba but those in the know will tell you to go.

The hotel is set in eight acres of tropical gardens, it’s on the beach and the food is delicious with international cuisine and Creole both on offer.

Spice Island Beach Resort 2

Spice Island Beach Resort in St Georges, Grenada

Plus the spa, Janissa’s, has recently been redesigned by arguably America’s top architect and interior designer Kobi Karp.

Most importantly for this particular trip though is the PADI-certified diving centre which is full of very experienced instructors who are as happy with terrified beginners like me as they are with experts.

Hopefully they won’t mind me clinging on to them too much.

Some might say it’s silly to do what scares me but I think we should all try to stop fear from ruining our fun.

I’d love to hear from any of you who did something that scared them and loved it.

For now I’m just going to watch some YouTube clips of friendly looking sea animals like turtles and Nemo.

Melissa and Henry are going to Ireland

One could argue that I haven’t used my evening wisely tonight. What I was supposed to be doing was getting excited about the engagement present (yes I’m getting married) Henry’s parents arranged for us. A rather lovely weekend away at Brooks Hotel in Dublin, Ireland.

And actually in a way I have been getting excited. Just not in the most productive way.

Brooks Hotel Front

Brooks Hotel in Dublin, Ireland

Instead of reading all about it and looking at the photos I’ve been trying to turn my name and Henry’s name into one all-encompassing name.

Why? WHY? Yes very good question. Well it’s because of two Americans called Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. Or as they are now known, Kimye.

Kimye. It’s wonderful isn’t it.

Turning two people’s names into one has been popular for a while now. Brangelina may have started it all, I can’t remember.

Anyway. Kimye are in Ireland for their honeymoon apparently and so I thought it apt that Henry and I have our singular name sorted in time for the trip.

The trouble is that Henry and Melissa don’t really go together. Hensa? Melenry? Menry? They all sound like unpleasant tropical diseases to me.

It turns out, after many many hours of trying, it just isn’t meant to be. So for now it’ll just be Melissa and Henry are going to Ireland.

HUDUBBH_26067881_Lobby_View_1417x945

Brooks Hotel in Dublin, Ireland

His parents chose very well too. The Brooks Hotel is lovely. No surprises there. But more importantly it knows what it’s there for. Which may sound a little silly but I’ll try to explain.

Some hotels think that they are the centre of the universe, that inside their walls is where everything important and wonderful happens. In thinking this they make the disastrous mistake of forgetting why people travel. Why the kind of people who book SLH hotels travel.

The hotel must be lovely of course and have a great restaurant, nice rooms and all the rest of it. But the lion’s share of the holiday, especially in a city as swimming in history, culture and fun as Dublin, takes place outside the walls.

Brooks Hotel has the food, drink and facilities to keep you perfectly safe and content for weeks on end but instead they want you to explore. To head to nearby spots like Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green, Grafton Street, National Art Gallery, Guinness Storehouse, Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol Museum, Botanic Gardens, Dublin Castle, golf, tennis, horse riding, theatres, antiques, boutiques… I could go on but I won’t. I think you get my point.

I know from speaking to friends who have been there and met the concierges and asked for tips that there’s nothing the staff like more than for holidaymakers to get a good look at their home town of Dublin and come back exhausted and ready to be pampered.

So that’s what exactly what Hissa (last try – didn’t work did it) is going to do. And I’ll tell you all about it another day. See you next week.

Can a Hotel be too Pretty?

Sometimes the hardest part of writing a blog post is choosing the photos.

Take Hacienda Na Xamena Hotel in Ibiza for example. When you have a moment take a look at their photos and then imagine you can only pick two.

Hacienda Na Xamena Hotel 10

Hacienda Na Xamena Hotel in Ibiza, Spain

It’s impossible. As hard as picking a wedding dress or wedding cake or wedding flowers or…

Sorry, I am determined to not just talk about my wedding for the next year. I got engaged if you haven’t heard. You probably have heard as I shouted it from the rooftops last week!

Anyway back to Ibiza and these hotel photos. It’s amazing how often hotels take bad photos of themselves but in this case I think a blindfolded drunk alien who has never used a camera before and hasn’t slept for a week could get some good ones. It’s that pretty.

Because it’s set high on a cliff top. It’s surrounded by pinewoods. Everywhere you look is blue sea and bluer sky. It’s in a nature reserve. And just to ensure my photographic selection experience is a total nightmare they decided to build a cascading seawater pool. If you thought infinity pools were as good as it gets think again.

Hacienda Na Xamena Hotel 6

Hacienda Na Xamena Hotel in Ibiza, Spain

On top of this there’s a spa that looks like it was designed by angels and four restaurants where you won’t know whether to stare at the view or the food.

If you decide to go I’d actually recommend not taking a camera. You’ll never stop clicking.

And if you don’t stop you won’t be able to pop to nearby Formentera or explore the many secret coves of Ibiza. Or go on a yacht, or snorkel or see the old town or even be able to book in for a spa treatment by the sunset terrace overlooking the cliffs. And not doing these things would be criminal.

There’s something else I liked while reading about this place too. It’s the dress code. There isn’t one.

Personally I can’t get on board with dress codes. It makes me think of stuffy cruise ships from last century. We all know how to dress ourselves and nobody wants to feel uncomfortable by being stuck wearing something that is too tight or too fussy when there’s wine, food, views and warm weather to enjoy.

You’ll see I chose a couple of photos in the end. Let me know which ones you would have picked.

See you next week.

Ps I’M GETTING MARRIED!

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