Archive for May, 2009

May 12th, 2009 dotted line

Spain, London photos uploaded

Spain, London photos


May 6th, 2009 dotted line

City Maps

When you’re a tourist in a large city, you want a pocketable map you can open in one motion, look at, and put away. A map which unfolds like a pop-up, or origami-style, is perfect for this.

  • In New York, I used vanDam‘s NYC Unfolds, which you can get at many Manhattan newsagents. Very, very handy.
  • Another option I used in London was Time Out Shortlist London, which is pocketable, thicker and heavier, but a better and more complete guide to the city. It has more maps and opens like a normal book, which is fine (avoid maps which fold over more than once).

May 6th, 2009 dotted line

Shopping in London

To walk through London in sunshine is to realize you’re in one of the great cities of the world. Here are some favorite stores in a week of living in Covent Garden (thanks for letting me live like a non-tourist, Manny!):

  • Scoop Gelato, a block away on Shorts Gardens. I was there twice and saw different flavors each time; few things beat sucking down gelato in sunshine, while watching half of Europe walk by in Neal’s Yard. Pistachio and coconut one time, and milk and mango sorbet the next – very, very good, and at £2.50 for a small cup, decent value for gelato in London.
  • Many of the world-class restaurants in the West End have fixed price pre-theatre menus (generally under 20 pounds), and there are deals to be had if you’re prepared to eat before 7 pm. Arbutus was excellent, and Joel Robuchon also has a branch here.
  • Abbott and Holder, purveyors of original English drawings, watercolors, oils and other artwork, located opposite the British Museum. They have a large selection over three floors, aren’t exorbitantly priced, and make for a unique gift or souvenir.
  • The Dover Bookshop, on Earlham Street; you don’t see a bookshop devoted to wallpaper patterns everyday.
  • Stanfords on Long Acre Road, travel maps, books and other resources over three spacious floors.
  • Tayyabs (thanks Manny), the best Indian restaurant in London, found near Whitechapel tube and worth our 50 minute standing wait. Ridiculously sophisticated interior for the rock bottom prices, it’s even BYOB, which you can buy at nearby off-license stores.
  • Marks & Spencer Food, the Long Acre Road store. Simply heaven-sent if you live in the city by yourself, with terrific packaging, great variety (Goan prawn curry, anyone?) and prices, and thoroughly modern. The self-checkout machines ensure lines move quickly.
  • Selfridges, now my favorite English department store, and their flagship on Oxford Street. Their Pantone 109 yellow and black carrier bags are iconic, and though you can’t buy souvenir versions of these like you can at Harrods’ (a shortcoming which will probably be rectified at some point), you can get a reusable Selfridges Food Hall-branded shopping bag. Centennial celebrations are taking place throughout 2009, seen in the window displays, the basement Ultra Lounge, and main stage.
  • The flagship store is contemporary and has a sense of fun where Harrods can be somewhat old-fashioned and fusty (not to mention chaotic with tourists), and bright and open where Harvey Nichols can be cramped and a little soulless IMHO. The range may be smaller, but it’s intelligently selected – I purchased this clever wine aerator made by Scandinavian Menu. Artisan du Chocolat are on-site, and excellent.
  • Harrods, Knightsbridge. Okay, the interior could do with some updating, but its product range and sense of luxe is still the one to beat (the food halls are deservedly famous), and the service is terrific. Come to think of it, the service in most of these stores is great, though being called “Sir” all the time can take some getting used to. I got a taste of espresso made by a bean-to-coffee machine from Jura, and played on the best digital piano yet, the Roland LX-10 (the Ivory Feel keys allow you to basically “grip” the keyboard, a tactile experience like no other).
  • The Topman flagship store in Oxford Circus, with almost Asian sizing if you overlook the too-long sleeves and torsos.
  • The Covent Garden Boots pharmacy has a great selection of travel-sized products, including labels such as FCUK, Hugo Boss, and L’Oreal.
  • A nice surprise – the proliferation of Muji and Uniqlo stores throughout the city (why are there none in San Francisco?), including three Mujis on Oxford Street alone (following the pattern of NeXT, Esprit and others, presumably so shoppers can stick to just one side the entire length of the street). Not-so-nice, the markup – the yen price is the pound price. Also not-so-nice, clothing is UK-sizing, not Japanese.
  • Special mention goes to the best staged production I’ve ever seen, the National Theatre’s War Horse playing in the West End. It veers close to but never topples into sentimentality, and the integration of life-size horse puppets into the sets and story is original and incredibly effective.


Selfridges window display