London – Jan 2019

Banksy

Kev and I spent a long weekend over MLK weekend in London this year. We flew to London after work on Thursday and got there on Friday morning. I knew we were going to be tired so I intentionally planned a day light on activities, so we just had a relaxing afternoon tea at The Wolseley. The Wolseley was recommended to us by a few people so I was really looking forward to it, but I actually wasn’t very impressed. We’ve been to a lot of afternoon teas that I’ve really enjoyed but I can’t say I’ll go back to The Wolseley. The afternoon tea there wasn’t particularly good–there weren’t many tea selections and the pastries and sandwiches weren’t anything special, and the ambiance was noisy and not particularly inviting.

Afternoon tea at The Wolseley

We stayed at Le Méridien in Piccadilly which was a great location fairly central to all the activities we had planned throughout the weekend. After afternoon tea we headed back to the hotel but stopped in Waterstones Book Store first which is across the street from the hotel. I LOVE Waterstones. It’s seriously the best book store ever because it’s spacious, has a huge selection, and it’s well organized. We had fun browsing and even picked up a few books.

Afternoon tea in Hotel Cafe Royal’s Oscar Wilde Lounge

On Saturday morning we went to find coffee and ended up finding a good doughnut spot called Crosstown in Piccadilly that had tasty vegan doughnuts! We spent the rest of the morning having a blast shopping. I got a nice outfit from Max Mara and a beautiful scarf and corset belt from Alexander McQueen. After our little shopping trip we walked to Hotel Cafe Royal for afternoon tea in the Oscar Wilde Lounge. I originally picked this spot because they’re all about pairing the scents with food but it ended up being my favorite spot because not only was the ambiance amazing with the gold ceiling and mirrored walls and a feeling of regaleness and intimacy, but the tea selection was amazing and the food was good. I even got a little Diptyque candle to take home 🙂 The Celestine was some of the best tea I’ve ever tasted. It’s made of Madagascan vanilla pods and roasted cocoa nibs in a velvety Chinese black tea. I still dream about this tea! It was so good that Kev got a pot as well.

On Saturday night we saw True West on West End starring Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) and Johnny Flyn (Beast). The play was okay. I think the acting was good but the story line wasn’t that exciting, and frankly, I was confused about the ending. I actually heard during intermission that a few people were nodding off because of the slow start. Johnny Flyn surprisingly stole the show in my opinion but that may have been due to the character he played. Kit Harington redeemed himself more in the second half.

One of my fav social commentary artists, Kai

On Sunday morning we took a spin class at Another Space via Classpass which was a nice way to feel like a true Londener while also getting a good workout in. After our workout we sprinted back to the hotel to shower before heading to Shoreditch for a walking street art tour. The street tour was awesome and I liked our guide. London has a lot of street art and it was interesting learning more about the key players and how in certain areas the artists have to pay the property owners to put art on the wall of their buildings (some of the art is so good I feel like it should be the other way around!) Kev and I saw one of Banksy’s more recent street art pieces when we were in Paris last year, but it was still really cool to see some more of his stuff in London. We got to see two of his pieces of work which was exciting.

Afternoon tea at Rosewood London’s Mirror Room

After our street art tour we booked it to afternoon tea at Mirror Room in Rosewood London. I intentionally booked afternoon tea at Mirror Room after the street art tour because their pastries are inspired by famous works of art. As their site says, the “Retro-inspired afternoon tea includes a selection of mouth-watering finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones and loose leaf teas accompanied by the creative pastries. Be prepared to discover a sense of nostalgia inspired by Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can, Malika Favre’s retro twister, and special retro wall art. In addition to the iconic cakes, enjoy a modern take on the classics, such as Ferrero Rocher and Jaffa cakes.”

The pastries at Mirror Room were creative indeed but they weren’t the best tasting. However, their finger sandwiches were the best I’ve ever had–so much so that we ordered seconds which I’ve never done. We also had a special tea pairing option which was fun. After afternoon tea we met up with one of my girlfriends and her husband at Soho House to catch up which was a nice way to end the trip.

Monday morning Kev and I took another class at Another Space but this time a yoga class. It wasn’t as good or challenging as the spin class we took the day before, but it was still good to stretch before our flight back to NYC.

Overall it was an amazing trip. London is one of my favorite places in the world, so I always have a blast there. To me it’s like a more laid-back version of NYC. One of my fav parts of London is the afternoon tea. Of the three new spots we tried on this trip, I would rank Hotel Cafe Royal first for its ambiance and tea, then Mirror Room second for it’s sandwiches, and then far behind The Wolseley. I can’t wait for our next trip back already to try some other spots!

2018 Christmas/New Years Eve in the Amazon

Kev and I planned a trip of a lifetime to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the Amazon Rainforest, the world’s largest equatorial forest on the planet extending into eight countries. We flew into Manaus, Brazil from Miami and stayed the night at the Hotel Tropical Manaus. In the morning we met the group of people we’d be spending the week with on a cruise aboard the Motor Yacht Tucano. The expedition cruise navigated upstream on the Rio Negro as far as a major river called the Rio Jauerperi, about 200 miles from Manaus, Brazil. Below is a map of our route.

The journey took us to many different rainforest habitats which allowed us to see a great diversity of wildlife. We did about three main activities each day each morning, afternoon and evening with our naturalist guides. Each day we walked in the forest and explored small streams that winded their way through into uninhabited interior in order to learn more about the flora and fauna and actually scout for the animals.

I had just as much fun on the day trips as the night trips because it enabled us to see different things. We saw animals including sloths, macaws, festive parrots, toucan, and giant otters during the day and different species of birds like owls, mice, snakes, and caiman in the evening. On the last day of the voyage we traveled to the “Encontra das Aguas”, the meeting of the waters of the world’s two largest rivers: The Amazon River and the Rio Negro. The light colored water of the Amazon and the dark water of the Negro do not readily mix and the two rivers flow side by side for many miles. It literally looked like what black coffee looks like when milk is poured in but not yet stirred.

I’m really glad our first trip to the Amazon was on the Rio Negro. The Rio Negro is a much more acidic river, therefore being home to less mosquitoes. It made it the ideal river to swim in without getting eaten alive. Also, even though there is greater density of wildlife on the Amazon river, there is more diversity of life on the Rio Negro.

After several days on the Tucano, it was nice to be on land. As soon as we got off the boat, we continued on our journey to Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge. It was about a 3 hours drive/110 miles from Manaus back into the thick of the jungle. Even though we were still on the Rio Negro, I’m glad we spent time at the Anavilhanas Lodge because it was a very different experience. The lodge was quite comfortable. My favorite part of our room was the screened sun room with two hanging hammocks. I enjoyed relaxing and reading in the hammock whenever we had a break each day.

My animal highlights from the trip include the following:
– Seeing a boa on a branch looming above a mouse obliviously eating a nut
– Swimming very close to Amazon river dolphins which are endemic to the Amazon
– Seeing an adorable baby sloth very close up on a low brand of a tree in a local village
– Coaxing a tarantula out of its nest
– Reading in the hammock in the sun room and watching a group of squirrel monkeys jump by right in front of us

Learning how to shoot a bow and arrow was a lot of fun too and swimming in the river with the river dolphins were two of my favorite activities. The most bizarre experience I had was getting locked in the zoo at the Hotel Tropical Manaus while waiting for our shuttle to the airport back to the U.S. but that’s a story for another day.

Some of the key animals we saw on the trip: caiman, Amazon river dolphins, sloths, macaws, Anis, howler monkeys, giant otters, hoatzin, kingfisher, sardine, squirrel monkeys, frog, boa, sting ray, vultures, tarantula, osprey, rusty-barred owl, sickle-winged nightjar, toucans, festive parrots, eagle, piranha, capybara

I often reminisce about me and Kev’s honeymoon trip to Boreno, and I didn’t think anything could top it, but the Amazon Rainforest is definitely up there. We both had an amazing time and got to see so many cool animals, and learned quite a bit too. I really appreciate that our guides took care to present the natural history of Amazonia without exaggeration (i.e. no feeding the animals to make sure we saw them). Everything was guided by the principles of minimum impact, responsible tourism and harmony with the local community. I hope we preserve this amazing place so many future generations have an opportunity to see these spectacular animals.

Winter 2018 Reads

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
It was a light easy, read that was entertaining.
Rating: 3/5

One Day in December by Josie Silver
It was a cute romance novel without being nauseating.
Rating: 3/5

No Exit by Taylor Adam
It was a pretty good suspense novel considering there were only a few characters in it.
Rating: 2.5/5

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I really enjoyed this novel; it was unique from anything else I’ve read. I really enjoyed the main character, Eleanor, however aloof. After reading it, I spent some time thinking about loneliness.
Rating: 5/5

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I had this one downloaded on my Kindle for a few months but kept prioritizing other books before it. I’m glad I read it but it annoyed me. I don’t understand why the main character was obsessed about getting his wife back after being incarcerated even though he slept with other women.
Rating: 2/5

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
I recently read Boyne’s latest novel, A Ladder to the Sky, so when I saw this one in the book swap cabinet on the boat we stayed on in the Amazon, I picked it up. I’m very happy I did because I enjoyed this novel a lot. It was a bit long but entertaining none the less. I also like Boyne’s style of writing.
Rating: 4/5

Golden State by Ben H. Winters
I’ve been more open to sci-fi recently. I really liked the beginning of the novel but it kind of lost me for the last third of the book. There was a lot of build up and not a really exciting end.
Rating: 3/5