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“I think we might be lost Henry”

He denied it. Ever since making an executive decision to turn down the hire car company’s offer of a sat nav we hadn’t been lost once… Apparently.

“Where are we then dearest?”

“Italy Melissa”

I laughed and he laughed and we stared at the paper map together.

And I was actually rather pleased we were lost. How dull would it have been if we had jumped in the car at Bari airport, typed in the name of the hotel and followed an arrow through Puglia.

Then we wouldn’t have been able to marvel at the spectacular unhelpfulness of the signs in this part of the world. We wouldn’t have puzzled over which turn to take when both directions apparently go to the same place. And certainly we wouldn’t have noticed a sign telling us our destination was 2km away and then driven past one five minutes later informing us we were now 3km away.

The places we’ve stumbled across by accident while here proved to be the most interesting to such an extent we started trying to get lost deliberately. At one point we put the map away and just used the sun to give us a vague idea that we were going in the right direction. And this turned out to be the most fortunate of all our decisions as it led us to a little town called Melissano. There’s something about walking through a town that has (almost) the same name as you that makes it a touch more exciting. Naturally I bought everything I could find with Melissano written on it. Including all the postcards I’ve sent home. If you haven’t received yours yet mum sorry for ruining the surprise!

Relais Histo 3

Relais Histó San Pietro sul Mar Piccolo in Taranto, Italy

Another interesting find was a town called Diso, deep in the heel of Italy where a huge party had erupted for no particular reason. It was there I was asked to dance by a little old Italian man who stepped in when Henry failed to do his duty. I’ve given up trying to make him dance now, he will forever remain 99% perfect. The Italian spent 10 minutes showing me the moves required without much success and then chatted to me for 10 minutes as I tried to keep up before realising that I hadn’t understood a word. When he spotted the blank look on my face he just laughed and span me around a few more times before delivering me back to Henry.

We finally settled into Relais Histó San Pietro sul Mar Piccolo in the charming coastal town of Taranto. Luckily we did manage to find this hidden beauty and didn’t end up roaming the coast line arguing again. And boy am I glad we did!

The stories I have about this stunning part of Italy are all with me because of Henry’s decision not to pay the 10 euros a day for the sat nav. And looking back on it I think that I’d pay 10 euros a day not to have one.

So next time you fly-drive just say no to technology, point your car in roughly the right direction and see what happens. I guarantee you’ll have a far more exciting trip.

I’ve got a bit of a crush – on a Teddy Bear.

I’d like to tell you about Claude Debussy.

Claude is well travelled. He lives in Eastbourne by the sea and is popular on Facebook with an ever-growing fan base.

He is also something of a daredevil: last year he strapped himself into a Jet Provost at Airbourne – a big air show in Eastbourne – and was flown around at huge speeds putting himself through some serious g force.

Grand Hotel Eastbourne Teddy 2

You’d think having done that last year he would relax this year and just enjoy the show. But no. He isn’t the type to rest on his laurels. So this year he decided to try his hand at wing-walking.

For those of you who don’t know this involves being strapped to the wing of a plane which then takes off and flies around for a while. So it’s pretty terrifying.

Oh and one more thing about Claude. He’s a teddy bear.

The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne had the clever idea of adopting Claude – who they named after the author who stayed at the hotel – and sending him around the local area and indeed the world for photo ops.

So far the bear has had rather a nice time visiting places as far afield as the Great Wall of China and home of Neighbours, Ramsey Street in Australia.

He is also clearly a bear with great taste having stayed at a new and rather stunning SLH hotel in Menorca Torralbenc recently.

It’s probably a little odd to be jealous of a teddy bear but looking through his photos on Facebook he seems to be having a ball, I bet he doesn’t get charged full price for a flight or need to pay for excess baggage. He doesn’t even have to worry about losing his passport or getting stuck in a huge queue at security.

Grand Hotel Eastbourne Teddy

And of course he had the chance to do something very few people ever get to do – wing-walking. It does sound terrifying but imagine the buzz of soaring through the air with the wind in your face and the world stretched out beneath you. I, sadly, was not invited to be strapped to a wing as I don’t have the sway, influence or access that Claude does.

But the next best thing was front row seats for the air show while having a G&T close by at all times. I was staying at the aptly named Grand Hotel which is essentially like having very plush front row seats to the whole thing without having to move more than a few yards from my room. And what a front seat it was with military fast jets, helicopters, parachutists and aerobatic teams including the Red Arrows entertaining me with the English Channel and the cliffs of Beachy Head as a back drop. Not just me of course but I felt so important sat enjoying it from the hotel grounds that it felt like a private show!

And I must say Mr Debussy looked a rather dashing daredevil up there. This teamed with his international jet set lifestyle and soft furry coat and it seems I’ve developed a bit of a crush on him. Hopefully he’ll join me on a trip one day soon.

Getting hot and sweaty at the airport

Flight delays are annoying.

I think I can safely say that on behalf of everyone that has ever flown.

But imagine a world where a flight delay made you smile. A little too fairy tale a concept for you?  Well it’s time to start believing in happy ever afters because it’s real. This world does exist and its name is Finland.

There I was, waiting impatiently in Helsinki airport tutting and cursing when, like an angel descending from heaven, a lady came over to me and told me of a magical place. A place with a sauna. Just a few yards from where I was sitting sipping overpriced tea, there were soft white towels and a hot room made of wood.

This wondrous steamy cave only opened in the last couple of weeks and I’d quite like to send flowers to whoever it is at Finnair that decided to build it.

 

As I sat in that toasty enveloping mist, glorious sweat glistening all over my tingling body I could barely remember what it felt like to be annoyed, bored or in a rush.

Eventually of course I had to get out. But a glimpse at the board told me I still had a little time to kill. Another sauna? No no. Ohhhhh no. Because another angel appeared and sent me off to ‘yoga gate’.

Yoga. Gate. Not gate 7, gate 17 or gate 94f, the kind of gates where people go to sit and wait in a grey room with not enough chairs. Yoga gate. A gate where one doesn’t get on a plane, one lays on a mat and does yoga.

Helsinki Airport Yoga

If you’ve read previous posts you’ll know I am rather keen on this particular pastime so this revelation on top of the already mind-blowing sauna revelation almost brought a happy tear to my eye.

Helsinki Airport you clever, clever airport.

Despite a three hour delay and getting there early in the first place I almost missed my flight. And almost wouldn’t have cared if I had.

I’ve always considered airports to be unpleasant places. Not quite the dentist but a far cry from cucumber sandwiches in a meadow.

But that’s changed now. Granted most of them are still a little on the purgatory side but now I have hope. Helsinki has found a way to make an airport a happy place.

And if we all shout loud enough then every airport will have to give us saunas and yoga and the world will be a happier place. If airports can be fun, there’s hope for everywhere else we deem annoying. Except perhaps the dentist.

 

Let there be light

Did you know there’s a problem with hotel lighting?

I didn’t. I’ve never really thought about it to be honest. If there’s a light switch, I’m happy. Sometimes there can be too many light switches I suppose. And sometimes the hotel wants you to select a lighting mood rather than whether you want the lights to be on or off.

That can be a little annoying as often the mood options are not moods I’ve ever had. I am sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes excitable or even childish. But those moods are not offered. Instead one must choose between options such as ‘cosmic’, ‘radiate; and ‘uplift’. Bleaugh.

But on the whole during my travels I’ve been perfectly content and certainly never thought to complain.

Others are not content and more than happy to complain it seems. I saw some research this week that said the majority of 350,000 global hotel reviews that mention lighting are criticising it. Lots and lots of people are being mean about light. Which is sad as light is so nice.

My home town London gets a particular beating by the light police with close to 10,000 reviews complaining about “dim, bad and sparse” lighting in their rooms.

One hotel’s lighting was compared to a railway station waiting room. Poor train station lights being held up as the what not to do of the lighting world. And plenty of people apparently can’t work in their room because of poor lighting.

I did not know this was happening. That we all got so pernickety about the way in which our light is delivered. I wonder if Thomas Edison saw this coming?

According to Osram, the folk who commissioned the research (and who help hotels with their lighting – they’re bound to be delighted with so many people being disillusioned with illumination!) guests will look for somewhere else to stay next time if the light doesn’t work for them.

How terrifying for hotels! Spending so much time making sure the place looks great, has a super view or location, excellent food and wine, lovely staff… and now they have to worry about whether or not people like the light bulbs.

My office lights don’t care if I like them or not. They occasionally switch themselves off for no particular reason. It’s very annoying.

I, a grown woman, have to stand up now, wave my arms around and jump up and down for five minutes if I want to be able to see. So to the people out there who aren’t happy with their hotel lighting I say this: no matter how bad your hotel lighting is at least it doesn’t make you dance.

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 20th 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

 

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