Monday, November 29, 2010

Best of London Shopping

Last night, as I drifted to sleep, I kept muttering "I can't wait for Charlie's Angels" which is a family slogan in my household that hails back to the 1970's when my late husband's daughter was a little girl. Now it's come to mean 'I'm excited about anything' and so I could barely sleep for knowing that today we were off to Bicester Village, the outlet mall near Oxford... as well as the adjoining Tesco.

We had a car and driver (Prius is fabulous from the back seat) and passed sheep in snow and frosty fields. The Tesco was not a great store and I was very upset to discover they were totally sold-out of Original Source TeaTree & Mint. I had planned to buy a dozen bottles for the hols and take advantage of the car service to not have to schelp. Ah yes. At least I was outta Tesco quickly and into the village style outlet mall with its big name designer shops and upmarket shoppers in search of discounts on designer goods.

Sarah scored a pair of Tod's for less than their regular USA price...and I bought well at Kenneth Turner, where I have been a sucker for their original scent-- all cinnamon and orange peel. Turner used to have a florist shop on South AUdley Street, near The Dorchester and is still famous for his candles and room scents. Diffusers are still a big deal here in U.K. and our hotel smells so good with our reed diffuser (in the loo) that I went all out with my 22 pounds to bring joy to my home in Paso Robles.

We came back into London via Kensington High Street and realized that a lot of our favorite stores were there, as well as a branch of TKMaxx the U.K. version of T.J. Maxx. Since we had never been to a British version of this off-price store, we felt compelled to shell out 10 pounds in taxi fare (tubes on strike-- traffic horrible) to get back there from our hotel. Afterall, we are working shoppers and the public wants to know.

Indeed, Kensington High Street was better than Oxford Street and far less crowded. This is the location of the Beauty Boots, a one-off Boots branch that is devoted to all sorts of beauty brands and even has a cosmetic dental clinic on premises. They carry Chanel and YSL makeup as well as more commercial brands. I loaded up on their cucumber moistering cream for 1.49 (about $2USD) which is very similar to the brand Say Yes to Cucumbers, which costs $14 USD for a small tube. Sarah and I have both tested the new bargain cukes and adore it. I also bouth some of the famous No. 7 Preserve & Protect, which sounds like something the police force has promised to do-- but it's a wrinkle cream. I bought the new intensive night cream but not the serum that goes underneath-- I was saving for my retirement and couldnt bear to part with yet another twenty pounds.

There's a wonderful branch of Marks & Spencer (with food hall in basement) and a TopShop in this neighborhood, as well as a large UniGlo (as good as Tokyo!)and several other multiples-- American stores as well as British-- and then there's Whole Foods and, across the street, TKMaxx which is so different from the US cousin that you could write your masters' dissertation about the two different versions of the same store. Most of the brands are European; many are names uncommon to the U.S. Prices were not give-away, but were in the fun category-- many stocking stuffers in the under 5 pounds price range.

Since I'd fallen for reed diffusers at Kenneth Turner, I bought more for 10 pounds per-- much less and not from a fancy, statusy brand.There were many big brand items and a number o fno-name items throughout the store, although I did not have the strength to shop every inch of the three floors of goodies.

It was a wonderful day of shopping-in-London, Christmas and Channukah shopping and has put us in a very good mood. Soon we will tackle the traffic and taxi fares to head to Langan's for bangers and mash. And then we will bid a fond farewell to the Queen and fly over the pond and home to our doxy boys.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

For England and for Wills!

Last night saw much earnest debate between Sarah and I-- the perfect Sunday morning venue in London? Columbia Street Flower Market? Camdentown? Shepher'd Bush? Hmmm, not the right Sunday for the big flea market at Chiswick (first Sunday of each month; Margaret Thatcher not included)...a museum? Is Harrod's open on Sunday's (yes; recent change in policy); what time does Peter Jones open on Sunday (11AM)...what do we most need for Born to Shop pages versus the outrageous cost of taxis?

All became moot when we slept til 11AM and missed breakfast then had to get crackin' to check out of one hotel and into the next. We made it to Peter Jones on Sloane Square, noting that the Jo Malone and Patridge's (gourmet grocery) were both gone. Partridge's turned up around the corner in the Duke of York Square.

We went to Peter Jones for the bed linen (doesn't everyone) and found much adore about Cath Kidston bed linen...more Kidston prints in street markets of Hong Kong but still a feast for the eyes. Kings' Road seemed mostly unchanged altho Korres, te Greek bath line, seems to be gone as does Dollargrand, for cheapie handbags. An antiques mews is gone-- now a branch of Anthropologie and Lush has been renovated. They have a totally new line. When I asked after Red Rooster, I was told there was a special web site for retro products. Talk about making me feel old.

We'd had lunch at Wagamama before we starte down Sloane Street and were wowed by the number of young couples with their two perfect children. Each looked like Kate & Wills.

Once we had exhausted ourselves and I was reduced to limping, we checked into The Levin Hotel, next door to Harrod's on Basil Road. Our taxi driver thought we said "Eleven" which has been a common problem when bragging about this hotel. It's a townhouse hotel with only ten rooms; it's stunningly gorgeous. As the General Manager showed us around our suite he explained that there is no mini-bar, just a Champagne bar.

If we'd only bought all the Sunday newspapers we could snuggle down with the bubbly and the papers.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


We have been in fair london town for about 24 hours...most of that time we have been cursing the shoppers who have formed enormous mobs in streets and stores and gloating over our good luck in getting here so easily. Sarah had two upgrade coupons with \united, where she has 1K status, and because we flew on Thanksgiving Day when the plane was not as mobbed as Oxford Street, we both got business class seats with flat sleepers. It was life changing! For the first time since my accident, I have arrived somewhere within miserable pain and suffering or oragami blues.

Checked into The Athenaeum Hotel at Picadilly and Green Park while Sarah headed for Primark on Oxford Street. I got into a taxi and headed to Whitehall to inspect the new Corinthia Hotel, going up along the Thames next to Embankment and one block from Trafalgar-- it's going to be stunning. More on that one soon-- it opens in April, if you happen to be coming here for the Royal Wedding. I felt asleep looking at the moon over Green Park out my window and listening to American Telly on Channel 5 here, which specializes in American dramas and movies.

This is one of my favorite London hotels not only for location and chic ease but because of their famous sticky toffee pudding which I got for breakfast...along with poached eggs, bangers, mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon, etc. Then we flew off to Portobello Road Market. It's easier to take taxis since five lines of the tube are down now and the traffic is horrendous. Even Portobello was too crowded for intrepid shoppers so we headed to Boots and Tesco Metro, the grocery store, Pizza Express and then Liberty of London.If there is a recession in this country, you wouldnt know it by the throngs of shoppers.

Today and tomorrow the streets in major shopping districts are closed to vehicular traffic so you can join the mobs. Prices are so high here and crowds so nerve-racking that I long for a good old fashioned American Black Friday and would kill to shop at 4AM without jetlag. Of course, we have to pray Sarah has more upgrades in her bank for a seamless trip back to SFO on United...otherwise it's Executive Economy and aching bones for days. Oh well.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Carrying On

As the Born to Schlep Lady, I am turning over a new leaf and trying a radical approach to tomorrow's trip to London: carry-on luggage. Since I can barely walk and need a wheelchair to get to the plane, carrying anything is a crazy idea, but for a four night stay it seems a sin to waste time waiting for luggage to arrive.

This past spring I sprang for some lightweight Lipault luggage in Paris and hope to get another piece to the set when I am back in Paris in January. For now, I am terrified that my carry-on is not the legal size and I will be forced to check it and thus screw up the plan for easy sailing. If you don't know the Lipault brand have a look at their web site-- it's soft-sided nylon; I bought chocolate brown but it comes in a variety of fashion colors.

Here's what I have packed: two pairs Eileen Fisher black stretch pants (washable), 5 pairs clean knickers, one cashmere sweater (borrowed from Sarah), one Eileen Fisher dress, on silk scarf, makeup and toiletries and my Aerosoles desert boots in black suede. Oh yes, there's tights and socks and a black t-shirt or two and a nightgown...also some Born to Shop books and a few gift items for business meetings. As well as two empty nylon duffles as we don't have to play this silly game on the return.

My shopping list: Original Source, Cadbury Flake bars, whatever few must-haves I find at Boots and Tesco and a box of Thornton's Original Toffee. Since I can't take my dog Toffee.

Meanwhile, happiest of hols to all.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Watch It

I have driven myself, and all who know me, insane with my desire for two mis-matched purple beaded metallic watches from the Fa Yuen Street Market over the last six months. I did not buy them on two other forays because the vendor would not negotiate on price and was rude, rude, rude.

Today I gave in and bought the watches, blinded by my delight and greed-- two watches for $50. The vendor pulled them off my wrist with a nasty tug (I had planned to wear them) and shoved them into cello wrap.

In the taxi home to the InterConti Hotel, I took out my watches to bask in their glow. Just one problem. One of them does not work -- totally dead.

I now realize the vendor gave me the jerk off knowing full well that one watch was a dud. I know feel stupid, stupid, stupid because I am as bad and as dumb as every gweilo in history.

Moral of the story: this is China; pay attention!
PS: Update on story:
new watch battery from Sears: $8.99 and special trip to Sears; new crystals for the five that fell out the first day I wore the two watches: $4.99 on sale at Michael's plus a new tube of nail glue; aggravation from my obsession for these watches-- priceless.

Handbag Hunting in Hong Kong

Began the day at in the Peninsula Hotel Basement Level to check out the new digs of Maylin, a trusted source for many years which has just moved to smaller quarters downstairs-- nice but pricey; no cigar.
Then out the back door of The Pen to jaywalk across Nathan Road and dart into Middle Road and head to Far East Mansions and upstairs to the Ashneil nirvana-- as crammed as always with colors and textures and news of what styles are in and out, ie some new Chanel bags no longer have double C hardware on them in the real world. There were assorted clutches, three handle bags, leopard printed Keiselstein-Cord wannabes and the usual flood of beaded evening bags. Anil recently won a lawsuit against Chloe, the firm that said his work was a little too close for comfort. Ashneil regulars, please note: Anil has lost tons of weight and looks great! You will barely recognize him.
Went onward to Kimberley Hotel lobby (up their escalator one flight) to Cosmos, a new resource for us as recommended by Louisa Chan.(Photo above.) They had many of the same bags we'd seen at Maylin, but for less $$$ and equal quality. We went bonkers for beaded and embroidered velvet velour bags; I bought my daughter-in-law a crytsalized lether (new term to me) bag with G's all over it now that she's a Gersh-girl, even if she hasn't changed her last name.
From there it was a taxi yto the Prince Edward entrance of Fa Yuen Street Market-- jam packed on a Saturday. This is the place to buy low-cost dingle dangles for your handbags and totes-- these very much the vogue in Tokyo and here.
Now to pack these treasures.

Friday, November 12, 2010

One Perfect Day in Hong Kong

It has been a perfect day; alas, we spen very little of it actually in Hong Kong or even Kowloon.

Step No. 1= wake up in a Harbour View room in the InterConti Hong Kong, with dawn coming over the harbour and the highrises on Victoria Island;
Step No. 2= buffet breakfast in the Club Lounge, even if the croissants were over-baked;
Step 3= Walk from the hotel a few paces into the TST East train station for a direct train to Lo Wu, PRC;
Step 4= Sail through immigration and customs, out of HKG and into China, change money at depot money exchange at $1 USD for 6.8 yuan and then ride escaltor to shopping Nirvana in Lo Wu Commercial Centre;
Step 5= Eat peking duck at Laurel Restaurant on 5th floor.
#6= shop all of 5th floor, which to me has always been the best-- fabric market, Issey Miyake Pleats Please wannabe store, kite dealer in the hallway and plenty of Harajuku Lovers.
#7= Stop at Starbucks on the New Territories Side of the bridge before getting on train back to Kowloon. Once on train, admire sky, vegetation and Tolo Bay.
#8= return to InterConti in time for scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam for tea and a nap.
#9= Dinner at Nobu in the hotel followed by a foot massage on Nathan Road.
#10= Stare at lights from bed overlooking harbour, note all the lovers who promenade on the walkway, muse over the firepits with braziers glowing, then drift off with Mr. Chow, Chinese expression for dream time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Loose Change

With only hours left to our stay in Tokyo, I was anxious to spend down the extra change in my coin purse-- it's heavy, it's worth a fair amount and I don't see any reason to save it; Japan is not one of my regular runs.

I went to the fancy supermarket next door to the InterContinental ANA Tokyo hotel and bought two bags of thinly sliced garlic (262Y per bag-- one for me and one for my son & daughter-in-law) and a box of Mere Poulard cookies, my favorite French butter cookie. When I paid, from the coin purse, I did not feel relieved enough... so headed next door to Starbucks.

I bought Sarah a small Latte and me a small Mocha for another 700 yen, total. All in all, I spent about 1400 Y (just under $20) that was 'free' because I had the spare change. And they say you can't find anything affordable in Japan!

We had spent the morning at Tokyu Hands in Shibuya-- the flagship store and in my opinion much better than the newer store in Shinjuku at Takashimya Square. They are adding on yet another building, so there is reason to return. Before heading out, we did a search for Freshness Burger, our newest Japanese obsession, and found one 1/2 a block from Tokyu Hands-- how's that for karma? We rpinted out the map before we left the hotel.

For the uninitiated, Tokyu Hands is a type of department store that carries everything -- but specializes in crafts and DIY, and tsotchkes. Because the main store is created from several adjoined buildings, there are half floors, which makes the walk down so much fun. You can take the elevator to the top and then work your way around and down like in a funnel of fun shopping.

I did not buy the Hello Kitty pouch for MP3 player with built in speakers, but did buy up a lot of rabbit stickers for the new year (will be the Year of the Rabbit, duh). Left off the bath salts because I swear they cost less in Hong Kong...although I was wrong about the little camera I almost yesterday. I figured it would cost less on Amazon, but was wrong. Oh well. Much of the merchandise in Japan is imported and therefore outrageously expensive. I've had this theory that even Japanese products will be cheaper elsewhere, although I guessed wrong on the Sony Cypershot.

The taxi from Shibuya back to the hotel in Akasaka was over $25 -- more than lunch for three people. Taxi fares have been the biggest budget killer on this trip. The subway system is excellent, but takes so much energy that I don't like to use it for shopping trips. There's also a fair amount of dfficulty if you are changing lines as the subway lines are owned by different companies and your next ticket may or may not be compatble with the first.

We fly to Hong Kong tonight on Delta; have researched the luggage allowance online and discovered that we get three bags up to 70 pounds each. That way I can pack up all the ramen noodles I brought from the USA and havent touched. I am leaving behind the half bag of marshmellows that we needed for our group's Japanese Game Show simulation.

In fact most of the group has packed up and moed on, returning to the US today. A few will go on to Hong Kong with a day trip tomorrow to Shenzhen, PRC. Then we can talk about prices!

Kyoto Protocols

coming soon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back in Tokyo

After three fabulous days (and nights) in Kyoto we are back in Tokyo and I have Internet access again -- off to Hong Kong tomorrow but more infos soon.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Tokyo Weekends

Hard to believe we've been in Japan for well over a week -- and my Japanese is not getting any better. Today I had western food for the first time in the entire trip; unless an apple counts. Or a Coke...

The bad weather is over, it's hot (high 60's) and sunny and our group tour began Thursday night and has marched at a rapid pace leaving little time to do anything but collapse come afternoon or evening. Tonight we will all meet in the hotel Club Lounge with a picnic dinner from the food court at Mitsokoshi.

Last night I discovered the two massage chairs hidden in a corner of the Club Lounge and can't wait to return for a kneading. We are re-packing as tomorrow we will go to Kyoto at mid-day and then continue with out Born to Shop tour.

Most of our money has gone for taxis-- yesterday the fare from Ueno to our hotel in Akasaka was $45. We went to the newish Yodabashi store in Akihabara and went wild-- the store carries everything from electronics to makeup, with a huge kids' toy area. We stopped at Love, Merci (once my favorite adult entertainment store) but we were not impressed and left for Yodabashi, passing the girls outside on the curb in their maid outfits handing out brochures. I guess business is bad these days as everyone is cutting back.

We then whizzed one stop on the subway to Ueno for the street market and the 100 yen shop, which everyone loved. Mymotto has always been Ueno is Bueno. When Sarah and I checked it out a few days ago, we were not impressed-- but it was 10AM when we went. For yesterday's visit, at 3PM, things were bustling and it was ever so much fun. We ate chestnuts from a vendor in the street and gawked at the stalls selling Chanel makeup for USA prices-- could it be real?

Tomorrow we go to my favorite 100 yen store, Daiso in Harajuku. The Harajuku flea market has stopped operatingm but we'll be happy with the dollar store...where evrything now costs one dollar twenty.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Moving Day in Tokyo

Dawn again in Tokyo -- i wish I could sleep so this must be jetlag still. Another fabulous breakfast from room service at The Pen-- sublime French toast. We stuffed ourselves and will soon get organized to make our way back to the IC ANA and real life. Soon i must decide if i will dance under the rainforest showerhead in the shower stall, or soak in the giant tub that has TV controls built alongside the wall and a natural stone chimney which is actually the water pipe, delivering water right into te tub with a neat slosh.

The towels here are the largest and deepest pile of any we have tested. In the historical novels I read to learn Japanese culture and history I am learning that the country is famous for small towels. Peninsula has turned the world upside down.

We had a small party last night in our room -- we were expecting ten, but they never showed, so we were four: me and Sarah as well as Simon Johnson and his wife Reiko. Simon is my mentor's son and has lived in Tokyo for 18 years; I was at his wedding reception in Paris some ten years ago -- hard to imagine. It is a wonderful thing when your girlfriends have grown children whom you can enjoy and befriend as well as stare at for genetic similarities.

We were to all eat under the tracks at the famed (and inexpesive) yakatori stalls that few tourists visit, but when the rest of the group didn't show, we went for a more elaborate yakatori eatery in the same area-- although this one required Reiko to translate and query whether we wanted mini-kebabs of chicken hearts, livers and/or gizzards. (No thank you.) We had hot sake, some rice dishes in fish broth-- one with chopped up sour plums and the other with extra seaweed.

I love the somewhat tatty side street along the tracks, the dozens of little cafes and outdoor stalls and the banners and signs and the energy of the streets of Tokyo. I also like that it's all in the shadow of The Peninsula Hotel, so that you can feel and enjoy these contrasts of the town.

We had already planned the after yakatori-dessert party in our room -- Sarah had gone to much trouble as hostess to get goodies from the Pen's bakery and get room service to provide wine glasses. I had bought two bottles of Plum Wine so we could have a Pepsi challenge and blind tasting. Indeed, one more glass and i would have been blind. Plum wine is one of my weaknesses. Choya is my brand.

Without extra guests, it became a family night == we got to dish the elections, the town's architecture and residential 'hoods in Tokyo and then used the Skype phone to call Simon's mother in Paris. We sent the younger generation home with fresh and perfect persimmons (from the hotel General Manager) nand several Peninsula pastries (from Sarah), allgoodies wrapped in their individual cello packs.

They left us wth the glow that part of the wonder of travel is when you know people in a foreign city and they boost you up and stand by with offers to help.

Now we will soon move to the InterConti ANA and be the people our friends know in a strange and wonderful town.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sunny Day in Edo

It was marvelous to fall asleep with eyes half open to the Tokyo skyline, looking much like NYC, to hear election prattle on CNN and to drift asleep in the best of Peninsula's beds with softest duvet. Woke early to order a true breakfast from room service.

Going to the toilet in the middle of the night was tricky, as I forgot that this Toto opens its' lid for you on approach...frightening in middle of night. Alas, it does not flush itself.

We are off to run more practice trials for our tour group -- to Ueno, Akiabara, etc. Tommorrow we'll do Harajuku preview befor heading back to the realities of Akasaka and the InterConti.

Being in The Pen teaches you the value of your big bucks-- there is no way to put a value on the luxury, the glamour of the other guests, the location, the ability of the staff to speak English and to synthesize your questions and respond helpfully. When we checked in, I hobbled on my cane. The bellboy took me to a seat in the check in area than took my place in line so I could sit. When our turn came, he brought me to the desk. Now that's training.

It was worth the price of admission just to stare at the other guests when we arrived-- a young man in early 0's, gai-in, with leather backpack and Don Johnson good looks, a casual elegance of money and style as if he was doing business here and would never go to the real world outside this hotel.

This Tokyo -- near Ginza and Chanel and the heart of the money land-- is so different from other parts of town and yet so exciting and important to see and experience. If you have only one life to live, or only a few nights in Tokyo, this is the place to be. But maybe come next week, when more of the leaves in the trees across the moat will be in fall colors.

It's only 8:30 AM and we have no place to go-- most stores open at 11AM, depatos at 10AM. If you get to Ueno too early, the stores and stalls will be closed. So we will watch Anderson Cooper and the USA election projections and save our strength for a new assault on a new day in Japan. Obiously we must search for a Moshi ice-cream stand-- Moshi is a brand with distribution in the U.S. that sells ice cream donuts (better than bagels for breakfast). They have over a dozen flavors (better than Starbucks)-- you let the frozen ice cream donut thaw for a few seconds, then bite into it. This alone is worth the price of airfare to Tokyo and a few nights in The Pen.


The morning was spent researching Kyoto sights for possible inclusion in our tour (forget the Textile Center-- a major TT) and then we arrived at the station for the extra-fast train (nozumi) back to Tokyo. I cannot be the only person to note that Kyoto and Tokyo are the same letters in different orders and have similar kanji...nonetheless, we were not lost and easily got on the train and then into a taxi to The Peninsula Hotel.

I was concerned about actually getting to the hotel because we do not have a taxi card or an address in Japanese, but the taxi driver understood and knew The Pen. Amen.

A new-build, and open for only about two years, the Pen here is modern and more gorgeous than any art gallery. We just looked at each other and mouthed OMG...we seem to be in a different Tokyo than the one we left behind.

We have a junior suite overlooking the gardens of the Imperial Palace. We are just a few hundred yards from the famed railroad tracks so we had yakatori -- bento boxes on the train were duds-- and then checked out BIC Camera, the local version of Best Buy and then went in search of Frank Lloyd Wright who is, according to WIkipedia, in a museum and not much even in spirit in the famous Imperial Hotel.

The stroll along the tracks between The Pen and The Imperial is a visual and emotional treat. It's really Tokyo in all the contrasts you want to see-- gorgeous chic women and dives for chicken on a stick, banners flapping.

We stopped at 7-Eleven to buy Coke Zero for our room, but returned to find the General Manager had left a bottle of a 2004 Bordeaux in the room. That will take the edge off the travel weariness and go great with the spaghetti from room service. OMG indeed.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Japanese Hotel Dreams

As we finish up one just about perfect day in Kyoto, yet dream of our return to Tokyo tomorrow to test out the newish Peninsula Hotel, we reflect on the good and odd things about the hotels we have already met:
InterConti ANA, Tokyo:
* first stop on the shuttle bus from Narita (like);
* fabulous heated toilets (ditto);
* excellent personel and buffet at Club Lounge (amen);
* smallish rooms;
* nasty check in at front desk on 2F;
* worst exchange rate in world;
* free wifi in Club Floor rooms;
* Starbucks nearby;
* marvelous gourmet supermarket a few doors away.
Okura Kyoto:
* excellent location amidst shopping;
* great shopping in basement 2 level subway station arcade;
* must pay for water in room as well as instant coffee or tea;
* wonderful exchange rate, all things considered;
* walking distance to Starbucks;
* difficult to manipulate TV for English language, moshi-moshi;
* free wifi in room (like)!
* breakfast not included-- no lounge floor or special amenities. Stunning breakfast buffet offered atop hotel with great view of Kyoto at $36 per person, USD. Secret bakery with great croissants in sub-basement 2.

On to The Pen, always our favorite mantra.