Yet another Postcard from Dubai

It’s early February  – bear with me here – and this year, just like the last few years, we’re enjoying some sunshine in Dubai. My beloved is here for the dental exhibition, an opportunity to meet with a number of his distributors, largely local dental professionals and the company’s Indian partner. I’ve topped and tailed this business committment with a few day’s vacation.

We may still have spritely springs in our steps but neither of us are spring chickens – much as it pains me to admit it. We may look and act a lot younger but we both admit we are slowing down and it takes us longer to recover from things like jet lag. However, there’s nowhere nicer to recover than in the hotel we rather regard as our home from home in Dubai.

However, despite this being a catch-up post, I am getting ahead of myself.

The week before we left for Dubai, my beloved returned from one of his tiring, whirlwind business trips to London. We’d spent the Saturday shopping and lunching over the border in Italy. Sunday he’d ridden with the cycle club and had returned pretty tired out. The following day he was running a fever and his right leg was red, hot and swollen. I diagnosed an insect bite, an area where I have ample expertise. Mind you, that didn’t account for the man flu-like symptoms. Fast forward a few weeks and he’d no doubt have been claiming a Coronavirus infection.

Thursday he was feeling well enough to brave the doctor who organised a scan of his veins and a blood test to confirm my diagnosis. He’d been bitten by a tick in the UK, most probably while staying at his brother’s, and had symptoms not that dissimilar to Lyme’s disease.

Cue ungents, antibiotics and hourly inspections of his right leg to confirm he was indeed getting better. Consequently, I was pleased he’d have a few days relaxing in Dubai before the exhibition. We stayed at our favourite hotel, close enough to the World Trade Centre and the Metro but which also gives us access to the Jumeirah Beach Club. My beloved loves heading down there to swims laps in the pool and work out in the gym. I like walking along the damp sandy shoreline. So we were both happy bunnies.

Of course, while my beloved was busy at the exhibition, I did what I wanted to do. This generally involved exploring new areas of Dubai, having a spot of head to toe pampering and spending many hours in my favourite bookshop.  I was keen to see how the Museum of the Future directly opposite our hotel plus the renovation and redevelopment of the Jumeirah Beach Hotel site were progressing, visit a few of our favourite places but generally spend plenty of time catching up with new (to me) places in Dubai, plus a spot of relaxing and reading. Sometimes just doing nothing much can be very satisfying.

Before booking our hotel, I always shop around. This time I scored a great deal which included breakfast. The hotel’s breakfast buffet is superb, so superb, we went without lunch and only needed a light bite early evening. Sadly this meant no Friday brunches but it was probably much kinder on our waistlines. I’m pretty sure not eating between 9pm and 6am doesn’t really count as intermittant fasting. We generally regard our stays in Dubai as a welcome opportunity not to drink any alcohol but, with my beloved still on antibiotics, it was obligatory.

Here’s some of the new places I visited in Dubai

City Walk

There aren’t too many neighbourhoods in Dubai where you can easily and enjoyably meander on foot. Yet City Walk – located on Safa Rd between Al Wasl and Sheikh Zayed Rds at the Dubai Mall interchange – is one such place, with the developer striking the right balance between pedestrian walkspace, high-end retailers, restaurants, hotels and residential. We first visited back in 2018 but, like everything in Dubai, it has grown.

I like wandering around the place because it has a very European feel with its walkways, wide boulevards and low level apartment blocks with retail on the ground floors. Tree lined avenues and a collection of contemporary streetart murals and an open plan layout enable it to host regular community events. City Walk is also a bit of a foodie haven with around 70 cafes and restaurants. The eclectic nature of the offerings in the area means there are activities to enjoy no matter your age, background or interests. City Walk also boasts Green Planet, a stand-alone bio-dome.

Alserkal Art District

Located in the AlQuoz industrial district, Alserkal is an edgy arts hub with cutting edge galleries, design stores, pop-up spaces and an outdoor cinema. Its bold brutalist centrepiece is Concrete, an events space designed by Rem Koolhaas which has moveable walls allowing the space to be reconfigured around a central courtyard.

Alserkal brims with the unexpected and inspiring: a willy Wonka chocolate factory, a farmers’ market, sneaker and vintage stores, cafes and restaurants. Opposite lies the Courtyard a collection of shops and caves with Arabian fantasy facades and tinkling fountains.

This is where I was assured Dubai’s hipsters hang out though I’m not certain I saw anyone fitting that description! It’s a huge area to cover and I barely scratched the surface.

Kulture House

Kulture House on the Jumeirah Beach Road is what’s known as a multi-faceted concept space, aiming to facilitate a collision of different cultures. The venue houses a charming café, a fair-trade gift shop, a florist and an art pop-up featuring work by local artists.

The interiors of the converted Jumeirah villa are vibrant, bright and very much a reflection of that melange of cultures. A hearty breakfast prevented me from sampling anything in the cafe, though I was tempted by its wide-ranging and delicious menu.

Jameel Arts Centre

I also headed over to the Dubai Creek to see the Jameel Arts Centre. A cluster of gleaming white cubes, the galleries are built around courtyard gardens filled with desert plants. This aims to be one of the a leading contemporary art institutions for the UAE and the Middle East. It appears to have a very hands-on approach through nurturing artists to produce work from and about the region, and then encouraging its audiences to engage actively with the artworks.

Next door to the centre is the Jaddaf Waterfront Sculpture Park, the UAE’s first open-air art and sculpture park designed to balance the rippling water of Jaddaf Creek with the stacked geometry of the Jameel. Designed as an active and lively outdoor gallery space that welcomes community engagement, the Park transitions seamlessly from the open walkway around the corniche and features a children’s playground, zones of fixed furniture with speciality tables for board games or chess, as well as an area for food trucks, plus an amphitheatre.

Miracle Garden

Every year from mid-November to mid-May over in Dubailand, there is a massive space full of the scents of millions of flowers in a myriad of bright colours. The garden, with its 150 million flowers in full bloom, is stunningly arranged. The Garden’s  breathtaking landscaping has two Guinness World Records: the largest vertical garden in 2013 and world’s largest floral sculpture (an Airbus A380) in 2016. The garden is reimagined every year and attracts plenty of visitors. I should’ve allowed more time for my visit – next time!

One from the vaults: Postcard from Siena

I’m digging into my cycling repertoire for a tale about our maiden attendance at an early season race in Tuscany, called Strade Bianche. Its typically held in the first weekend in March and we’ve been fortunate to see the race live three times 2016-18.  I’m always happy to find an excuse to visit Tuscany. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that this year’s edition has fallen victim to the Corona virus. The elite men’s and women’s races and the accompanying sportif have all been postponed.

My beloved and I recently enjoyed a romantic tryst in Siena. It wasn’t our first visit to the town but it was our maiden trip to watch the Strade Bianche races. When I saw this year’s edition started and finished in Siena, I knew we had to go. It was a very pleasant five-hour journey, in fine weather, in Tom IV, which was badly in need of a run out.

Duomo from Piazza San Giovanni
Duomo from Piazza San Giovanni

We were staying in a hotel opposite the cathedral in the old town which made use of a car valet service. You drive to the valet and then he drives you in your car to the hotel, drops you off and takes the car away. Fine, except it doesn’t work for a two-seater with two passengers!

Best press centre ever?
Best press centre ever?

We navigated our way to the hotel with our spare GPS, as Tom IV’s didn’t recognise a road that’s been there since 15th century. Unfortunately, we inadvertently drove the wrong way down a one-way street only to meet the strong-arm of the law who then walked in front of the car for the remaining 200 metres to the hotel. Fortunately the hotel owner, a man with connections in all the right places, talked the police officer out of giving us a fine. Once we’d checked in, the valet service collected the car, promising to return it later that evening. Meanwhile, we hot footed it around to the press centre, surely the most magnificent I’ve ever seen with views over Il Campo, where the famous Palio horse race is held.

Double trouble: two world champions
Double trouble: two world champions

At the press conference there were contrasting demeanours from the two UCI road world champions: Lizzie Armitstead, for whom these affairs are still something of a novelty, and Peter Sagan, a man who’s endured more stupid questions from the press than I’ve had hot dinners.

Later, as arranged, the valet service brought the car back and, with the aid of GPS systems in stereo, we attempted to find our way out of the old town which is riddled with very narrow one-way streets. Sadly, we merely succeeded in going round in circles until, ignoring the by now raised GPS voices, we followed our instincts. We’d been advised the town we were seeking was a mere 10 minutes up the road. I’d allowed thirty minutes to get there but we’d already wasted 20 getting out of Siena and the hotel was seemingly in the middle of nowhere down –  yes you’ve guessed it –  strade bianche.

Our late arrival meant the rider I had arranged to interview had already gone into dinner. We agreed to meet up back at the hotel later while we went in search of our dinner. More fruitless driving in circles until we spotted a small restaurant on an industrial estate serving wood-fired pizzas. After quite probably the cheapest dinner ever, we headed back to the hotel to interview Daniele Ratto of Androni-Sidermec.

It’s not the first time I’ve interviewed him, having gotten to know him well while working for one of his former team’s sponsors. We chatted for around 90 minutes, giving me plenty of ammo for my article for VeloVoices, before heading back to our hotel while studiously avoiding any one-way streets.

We woke bright and early to the sound of various church bells and, after a quick breakfast, headed to the start of the elite women’s race. Stupidly, I had handed the map to my beloved who took us the long way round, which included both a descent and an ascent of THAT hill leading to the finish. We arrived just in time to grab a few shots before they set off on the first race of the inaugural women’s WorldTour.

The world champion braving the cold in short sleeves
The world champion Lizzie Armitstead ((Boels Dolmans) braving the cold in short sleeves
Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5)shedding layers at the start
Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) shedding layers at the start

This meant my photographer had plenty of time to take photos of the boys signing on while I took refuge from the rain which veered from deluge to light raindrops.

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) fresh from his recent victory in Belgium
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) fresh from his recent victory in Belgium
Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) prepared for rain
Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) prepared for rain
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) sporting a teeny, tiny ponytail
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) sporting a teeny, tiny ponytail
Who is that?
Who is that?
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) unmasked
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) unmasked
Race favourite Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) chatting to Southeast's Pippo Pozzato
Race favourite Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) chatting to Southeast’s Pippo Pozzato at the start

Once the boys were on their way we retired to a local coffee shop where my beloved had a heavenly hot chocolate and I had camomile tea. Sometimes I feel a bit frustrated with my newly imposed regime and then I remember the alternative (surgery) and realise it’s all worth while. We indulged in a spot of sightseeing/window shopping until the women’s race was due to finish whereupon we took our places on the last climb.

Lizzie powering up THAT hill with ease.
Lizzie powering up THAT final hill with ease
Nicole Braendli (Servetto Footon) giving her all
Nicole Braendli (Servetto Footon) giving her all
You can tell that it's hurting as these two weave all over the hill
You can tell that it’s hurting as these two weave all over the place. I can quite understand why!

Having cheered the women home we retired to a nearby Osteria for lunch, reappearing in time for the finish of the men’s race.

Gianluca Brambilla(Etixx-QuickStep) led up the hill
Gianluca Brambilla(Etixx-QuickStep) led up the hill
The leading riders went by in a flash.
The leading riders went by in a flash
Is Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in the right gear?
Is Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) in the right gear?
Fabian Cancellara's (Trek-Segafredo) third win in this race
Fabian Cancellara’s third win in this race
Il Campo
The race finished in Il Campo

The heavens opened shortly after the conclusion of the podium ceremony and we returned to the Osteria for further fortification, largely because it was opposite the restaurant I had booked for dinner. To be honest, one is spoilt for choice in Siena where good restaurants serving local specialities abound. The following morning, after a bit of a lie in, we headed for home wishing we could have stayed for longer – next time.

On the way back we decided to leave the motorway in search of somewhere for lunch. We chanced upon a packed restaurant just outside of Sarzana where the owner promised to squeeze us in. While waiting for our table, my beloved noticed the karaoke machine and musical instruments in the corner and joked I should just start singing to clear the restaurant and our table.

We had just started lunch when, lo and behold, the band started to play and the largely elderly clientel sprang to their feet for a local version of “Strictly.” My singing, not much worse than that of the band leader, would have had the restaurant’s customers on their feet to leave, not dance. It was an amusing intermezzo on our journey back home.

 

One from the Vaults: Five things we loved about Australia

I’ve decided that once a week I’ll re-post something from my extensive archives. Obviously many of my early posts 2009 – 2012 heavily feature cycling. I’ll try to keep these to a minimum as I know not everyone is a cycling fan. This one’s from February 2016 which I wrote after our month-long trip to Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide.

1. Australians and their passion for their country

As a nation, Australians are very friendly, chatty and helpful. They’ve been eager to share the best their towns have to offer which has been much appreciated. We’ve also enjoyed reading about their towns and gaining a better understanding of their place in Australia’s history. It has also given us an appreciation of how hard life must have been for the early settlers and the enormous challenges they faced. We can also comprehend the draw of Australia and its lifestyle for many people from other lands.

Mal Cooper and friends from Egham
Mal Cooper and friends from Egham

2. The scenery

To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect once outside the major conurbations but everywhere was wholly and (un)expectedly beautiful, magnificent and diverse from the towering rain forests to the fabulous sandy and rocky coastlines via the inland lakes, the salt flats, the fertile plains and the undulating hills. We’ve loved it all.

3. The Food

We have eaten well. It hasn’t mattered whether it’s been in one of Australia’s top fine dining establishments, local pubs, neighbourhood cafes or restaurants (literally) in the back of beyond, the food has been fabulous, fresh and seasonal. There has always been a vegan option for me and I’ve been thrilled at the number of delicious vegan baked goods I’ve found. We discovered a wide range of organic and vegan produce in every supermarket. I’m going to miss some of that when I get back to France, particularly the delicious relishes from Beerenberg’s Farms. If we had to pick a favourite meal it would be the one enjoyed at the quayside shack in Apollo Bay where we dined on fish caught that morning and, to quote my beloved, “the best chips ever.”

 4. Flora and Fauna

This would never be my specialist subject on Mastermind. Aside from identifying one of my late mother’s favourite plants which were in bloom everywhere, the agapanthus, I couldn’t name any of the wonderful trees and bushes we saw.

The same applied to most of the birds and animals, with obvious exceptions. Even the antics of the oh so noisy cockatoos were delightful. We’ve seen loads of different cattle and sheep but are no wiser as to their breeds which is where an Aussie version of Adam Henson from the UK’s Countryfile would’ve come in handy. I should add that neither of us has been bitten by anything: no mozzies, no man-eating spiders or anything remotely slithery!

5. Sport

Aussies love their sport. I have never, ever seen so many sports’ grounds! It’s no wonder they excel in so many sporting fields. The support for sport at grass-roots level is excellent. There was also plenty of live sporting action to see, such as 20/20 Cricket, The Australian Open and, of course, the Santos Tour Down Under where 70% of the spectators came by bike! It would never happen in Europe.

Tour Down Under riding past Adelaide cricket ground
Tour Down Under riding past Adelaide cricket ground

I could of course go on and on,  praising the excellent road network, the quality of the air, the sunsets, the night-time sky –  a black velvet backdrop for thousands of stars twinkling like diamonds – but I restrained myself!

That's what I call a sunset!
That’s what I call a sunset!

Postcard from Portugal (not)

As you know, we were planning to spend Christmas and New Year in Southern Portugal. The choice of destination had been made by my beloved who’d booked the flights to Faro, booked the car hire and chosen the hotel (with my blessing).

While we were enjoying Thanksgiving on Long Island, he started to question the wisdom of his choice. When we got back from the States, I ascertained we could cancel the hotel and hire car up to two days before our planned departure.

After much dithering, my beloved announced he didn’t want to go. I cancelled the bookings. Having organised meals and drinks with friends prior to our intended departure, this left a bit of a hole in our diaries. Plus, I’d pretty much emptied the fridge, the freezer and store cupboard!

We decided to fall back on our home from home just over an hour up the road in Italy. I booked us in for three nights from 23 December. Meanwhile, we pottered about locally in the warm sunshine and, on the Sunday before our trip, I decided to try out the brunch at the Hermitage in Monte Carlo. We’ve been looking for a replacement for the one at the Grand Hotel Cap Ferret which, after a change of chef, has sadly ceased holding its winter Sunday brunches.

Fear not, the Hermitage with its unlimited champagne offering happily fills the bill. It was also rather enjoyable strolling around Monte Carlo in the winter sunshine, admiring the yachts in the harbour and the flash cars parked outside both the Hotel de Paris and the Hermitage. After a simply delicious brunch in rather splendid surroundings, we window shopped, admired the Xmas market and then drove home.

The following day we were up reasonably early for our drive to Alassio. We ate lunch in one of our regular haunts before enjoying several hours relaxing in the hotel’s Spa. After that delicious seafood lunch we happily settled for an Aperol and nibbles in one of our favourite bars in lieu of dinner.

Unlike last year when it was decidedly chilly, this year the sun shone and we lapped it up sitting on our balcony. We had a very relaxing time, quite different to that which we’d planned for Portugal. We ate out at some of our favourite restaurants and checked out the Aperol offerings at some of the newer bars. We even did a spot of shopping as Alassio has an outlet Vilebrequin, home of my beloved’s favourite swim shorts. I’ve lost count of how many pairs he has but we’re well into double figures.

One of the antiques shops which had a couple of globes in the window was open but after much debate my beloved has decided he wants a modern globe and we’ve now identified a firm which makes them to order. I’m hoping this will be a less expensive option but I suspect not.

We even walked into nearby Laigueglia (where I first holidayed in Italy aged eight) on Christmas Day to work up an appetite for our Christmas Dinner that evening. We returned home the following day, well rested after our three-day break, loaded down with Italian goodies, feeling decidedly mellow after that heady mix of sunshine and spa time.

The weather between our return and New Year was unseasonably warm and sunny allowing us to spend plenty of time out on our bikes. In addition, we were able to lunch with some business contacts who’d unexpectedly popped over to Nice from UK for a few days. We might not have spent our holidays as we intended but it turned out to be a thoroughly acceptable substitute.

Potted History of Montauk

This wasn’t our first visit to Long Island, we had spent a few days here in September 2015 when we stayed in Sag Harbor. I much enjoyed that trip and had been looking for an excuse to return. I decided it would be the perfect spot for a few days of R&R before a hectic time for my beloved at the Greater New York Dental Meeting.

This time I decided to stay in Montauk, a hamlet at the east end of Long Island, located on the Atlantic Ocean and Block Island Sound. I first heard about the place from one of my girlfriends who’d had a beach house here in the 1980s. It’s a well-known spot for beautiful beaches, like Ditch Plains; fishing; surfing; paddling; seafood restaurants; nature trails; music and art festivals. Montauk Point State Park is home to the national landmark, the historic Montauk Point Lighthouse (top left).

Around the turn of the century, Montauk caught the attention of two remarkable real estate investors, Carl Fisher and his predecessor Arthur Benson. Benson bought Montauk in its entirety in 1879 for a mere US$151,000 – you might just be able to buy a garage for that now. And years later, in the 1920s, Fisher bought up 10,000 acres and began to develop Montauk as the “Miami beach of the North”. Both men recognized the “magic” of Montauk and dreamed of turning it into a retreat for the rich and famous, but it was Fisher who really left his mark. He built a luxurious hotel, the Montauk Manor and Playhouse, polo grounds, a beach club, the Montauk Yacht Club, a golf club and among other places, his own office, the Montauk Tower, a unique seven story building that stands today in the centre of the village.

The Great Depression put a halt to the development of Montauk as a high end resort though today, nearly a century later, the dreams of those early investors have been realised as Montauk has become a veritable playground. Though not as upmarket as its Hampton neighbours, make no mistake, Montauk is still enjoyed by families and old timers, but it has truly become a high-end destination frequented  by celebrities, artists, musicians, and us!

Thanksgiving: Part V

You may recall we’re in New York after enjoying our maiden Thanksgiving on Long Island. My beloved left early on Monday morning for a jam-packed day of business meetings, while I enjoyed a leisurely coffee before venturing out. I was well muffled up as rain which subsequently turned to snow had started to fall. I was heading for a lunchtime meeting with a fellow blogger.

Given the weather, it might have been more advisable to get the Subway but I didn’t mind the walk, 30 blocks along Amsterdam and past the Lincoln Centre where we’d entertained German clients many years ago at a Mexican restaurant. This turned out to be a huge mistake as they didn’t enjoy spicy food – their loss! I arrived at our restaurant rendez vous ahead of the appointed hour, secured a nice corner table and thawed out over a cup of coffee.

You know how it is? You meet someone for the first time and just click. Over a lazy lunch – more lobster for me – we chatted about anything and everything, particularly places we’d both visited. Time just flew and regretfully, as the light started to fade, it was time to leave. After walking a few blocks, we parted to head back respectively to home and hotel. It had been so kind of her to come out and meet me in that horrendous weather.

As I’d walked up Amsterdam Ave, I walked back along Columbus. Having been treated to a delicious lunch, I needed nothing more than a small snack for dinner while I enjoyed watching Toy Story IV. My beloved returned late after a dental association dinner. He’d had two, long and exhausting business days.

The following morning we were due to visit MoMa but my beloved wanted to show me Hudson Yards which is adjacent to the Javits Convention Centre where he’d attended the dental exhibition. We walked 20 blocks down 10th avenue until we reached the new, and as yet to be completed, Hudson Yards development between the Highline and Midtown. It had stopped snowing but was rather slippy underfoot.

It’s a lovely development choc full of high end shops and restaurants, overlooked by high rise offices and residential with spectacular views of the Hudson River. The wind chill factor ensured we didn’t tarry too long outside, happy to dive into the shopping mall and explore its myriad of layers. I declined to climb The Shed (top left) to get a better view of the overall development!

After a coffee in the Bouchon Bakery, we descended to Little Spain in the basement which, as its name suggests, is a Spanish gastronomic experience and where my beloved had lunched the previous day.

We emerged into the bright sunshine and continued our amble down to the Meat Packing District. My beloved and I recalled that many years ago I’d bought a dress from one of the shops here to wear at my younger sister’s wedding. Sadly on the day, I’d had a bit of a problem and ended up wearing something else entirely!

As we were in the ‘hood I thought we might visit the Whitney but I’d forgotten that it’s closed on a Tuesday – epic planning fail. We zigzagged back up to Midtown taking in a number of the sights and generally just window shopping – much my favourite sort of shopping. We skipped lunch in favour of an early dinner at a nearby Burger Bar where I’d reserved a table as the queues were ginormous everytime we’d gone past. The restaurant was deserving of its queues.

On our last day in New York we spent our time wandering around MoMa (Museum of Modern Art) just a couple of blocks from our hotel. Starting on the fifth floor we slowly wound our way through most of the galleries which were arranged mostly in a loose chronological order, each of them exploring an individual topic. Some were devoted to a particular artist, others to a specific medium or discipline, a particular place in a moment in time or a shared creative idea.

Not all were necessarily to our taste but MoMa’s presentations are always enlightening. Again, it’s interesting to see how many works were donated and each gallery bears someone’s name(s), many of them familiar patrons of the arts. I spotted a piece by Colombian visual artist and sculptor Doris Salcedo, recent winner of the Nomura Art Reward, whose works exhibited a few years ago at the Guggenheim had so traumatised my beloved.

I appreciate that her work isn’t for everyone and it can rarely be hung on your living room wall. Much of her work deals with the fact that, while the death of a loved one can be mourned, their disappearance leaves an unbearable emptiness.

However, Doris aside, there were plenty of other works to admire not least the architecture of the building itself. We had a hasty late lunch in a Tanqueria opposite the hotel before speeding back to Newark and our flights home. On red-eyes I follow a well-established routine. Glass of champagne, eye mask, cashmere shawl, my “Do Not Disturb” notice, seatbelt, skip dinner and sleep. I awoke just as we were coming into land at Heathrow and enjoyed breakfast in the BA lounge before heading back to Nice.

Thanksgiving: Part IV

As we left the hotel in Montauk the morning after Thanksgiving, many families were arriving for the weekend. I think we’d timed our visit to perfection. We drove back the way we came, dropping our luggage off at our next hotel in Manhattan, before returning the hire car to Newark, and getting the train back to Penn. It was very much colder in New York than on Long Island and you could sense that more wintery weather was on its way.

I love Mexican food, something we cannot get in France. It’s always Tex-Mex and somewhat average. I’d booked a table for dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant, much touted in the Michelin Guide.

Buttoned-up Midtown gets a much-needed shot in the arm compliments of chef Alex Stupak’s lively new flagship………………The menu bears the chef’s signature creative flair, offering a range of small bites, tacos and shareable large plates. Sample their clever spins on salsa, like a wickedly good smoky cashew salsa that arrives with a sampler salsa starter; or irresistible lamb sweetbread tacos with a flutter of white onion and bright cilantro.

Later that evening over Margharita’s – what else? – we had a magnificent meal which included a lobster dish I was reluctant to share! Typically my beloved and I will share most dishes but there’s stuff I now cannot eat, plus I like things a bit spicier than he does. For example, the graduated heat of the six small guacamole offerings was much appreciated.

I so rarely have a dessert but he always has one. The wait staff usually kindly bring an additional plate and spoon but are surprised to see I haven’t been tempted. It’s usually because at this point in the proceedings I’m full and, despite the number of vegan dessert offerings, I find them too “fatty” as they’re often made with coconut oil or vegan butter, and nuts.

As my beloved was going to be working all day Sunday and Monday, I let him choose what we went to see on Saturday. He plumped for visiting the Frick, an old favourite of ours, and a walk around Central Park. We walked to the Frick in the Upper Eastside along 5th avenue, enjoying the Christmas displays and lights in the shop windows. It was a gorgeously sunny, albeit chilly morning.

I often wonder what it must be like to have enough money that you could build yourself such a magnificent art collection and house it in an almost purpose-built setting? It’s hard to imagine but fun wondering about how you might spend the money. Sadly, the Frick is one museum where you can’t take photos of the rooms or exhibits just of its internal garden.

We’d gotten to the Frick just as it opened to avoid the hordes and left just as they pitched up. We crossed the road to enjoy a lengthy walk around Central Park, Manhattan’s lungs. All cities need green spaces where their inhabitants can enjoy the open air and nature’s beauty. We weren’t the only ones enjoying the Park’s bounty. There were families on foot or in horse-drawn carriages, people jogging or riding on bikes, skateboards and scooters. There were plenty of dogs nosing around their favourite spots while their owners/dog walkers looked on.

All that fresh air gave us an appetite which we put out in a well-known seafood restaurant where I had – yes, you’ve guessed it – lobster. Once more pointing the digit of doom at an innocent crustacean.

After lunch we browsed a couple of shops, specifically Lululemon, to which my hubby is addicted, and Uniqlo. We no longer have a branch of the former near us, its Cannes branch has closed. We do have a couple of small branches of Uniqlo with a correspondingly narrow range of products. No need to guess who came out of both shops clutching a purchase. Clue: it wasn’t me.

My beloved departed very early on Sunday morning for a breakfast meeting. Well, we were in New York! As the weather was still fine, I decided I would enjoy a spot of pavement pounding, door snapping and book shopping. Over the years I’ve probably spent about three months in total in New York which is why I now  like to only visit “old favourites” and any new stuff.

As I wandered around, an inordinate amount of construction and renovation seemed to be taking place. Even my favourite Flatiron building was covered in scaffolding. I happily whiled away more hours than I care to admit in a couple of bookshops. Luckily for me I was well under my luggage allowance on the way out, not so on the way back!

 

 

 

Thanksgiving: Part III

I believe I may have mentioned in a previous post that this was our maiden Thanksgiving. But, luckily for me, the hotel’s Thanksgiving offering was a splendid buffet – you know how I love a good buffet! We’d prepared dilligently with a light breakfast, a walk along the beach, a session in the gym and I was wearing my elasticated waist trousers – de rigeur for any buffet.

I started with half a dozen oysters and then moved onto the lobster and smoked salmon. My departure from the East Coast was no doubt good news for its lobster population but, while I was there, I made the most of them. My beloved decided to have one of the local craft IPAs so I drank a glass of Prosecco with my Thanksgiving lunch.

I like to take a bit of a breather between courses. We were seated at a window table with a beautiful view of the beach and sea, plus I had a good view of the rest of the restaurant which was rapidly filling up with both hotel residents and visitors.

I’m always fascinated by how some people tackle buffets. Many seem to love to pile a little bit of everything on their plates, despite there being no restriction on the number of times they can go to the buffet, returning to the table each time with veritable feats of engineering. One family dilligently worked their way through the buffet and then, after dessert, returned to the oyster bar! What was that all about?

After the delicious shellfish and seafood, I tackled a variety of healthy looking salads, a veritable manna for any vegan or vegetarian. Understandably I swerved the turkey and pigs in blankets to try small amounts of the side dishes but found most of them far too sweet for my liking, particularly the marshmallow with sweet potato. I guess it’s all a question of taste. I do not have a sweet tooth.

My hopes had been raised by the prospect of vegan ice cream or sorbet for dessert but they only had chocolate sorbet which I don’t like. I know I’m one of those rare creatures that doesn’t like chocolate ice cream or sorbet. Instead I happily returned to the breakfast part of the buffet and filled my bowl with some delicious red fruit and blue berries, before concluding with an espresso.

When we finally left the table, the light was starting to fade – cue brilliant sunset. We’d much enjoyed our first Thanksgiving which might well turn out to be our one and only!

 

 

Thanksgiving: Part II

As we drove along the main highway towards our destination of Montauk on Long Island, there was a distinct lack of places for a pit-stop. Finally, as we drove onto the south fork of the island, just outside of Southampton, we stopped for lunch (and a much needed comfort break). For me it was an easy choice: lobster salad. My beloved joined me. Whenever I’m on the east coast I try to keep my intake to at least one per day. On a two-week holiday to New England, I once famously ate lobster every single day!

Replete, we drove through the pretty villages which make up The Hamptons before arriving at our destination, just on the outskirts of Montauk, where I scored another room upgrade. Not for nothing do my sisters call me “Upgrade Sheree”! Our large and spacious room opened out onto the beach so that at night I could hear the surf crashing against the beach – quite my favourite lullaby.

We immediately went for a walk in the bracing beach air before heading to the gym and then the bar to try out the hotel’s cocktails and bar snacks! Everything passed muster and we slept like babes before enjoying breakfast in the hotel the following morning.

We spent the next couple of days re-aquainting ourselves with The Hamptons which is a series of beach towns and villages dotting eastern Long Island and, while all indisputably beautiful, each area of the island offers something a bit different. I was surprised that even though it was “out of season” so much was open, though none of it was busy. We were probably avoiding the visitors by leaving on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

We generally prefer to eat at lunchtime and enjoyed a little bit of France in Bridgehampton when we dined at a French restaurant. I ate a humongous lobster (steamed) while my beloved enjoyed brandade. We read with interest the story of how the current owner’s grandparents, who’d previously owned a patisserie in 16th arondissement of Paris, came to Long Island and opened a patisserie, which remains next-door, and chatted in French to the staff and charming owner. It was just the sort of neighbourhood restaurant which we love.

We were fortunate with the weather which was chilly but sunny allowing us to potter about each of the towns comprising The Hamptons, noting the changes from our last visit over four years ago. For example, the pretty white property (bottom right-hand corner) with the wrap around veranda and gingerbread trim used to sell antiques, it now sells French fashions. We also indulged in some spectacular property porn gazing!

For the first time we investigated one of the south-fork’s three local vineyards, the Wolffer Estate which had some impressive (IMHO) wines. We only tried a couple of their red wines, and would’ve liked to sample more, but didn’t fancy our chances of transporting them safely back to France. Despite the value of its acres, the island remains resolutely agricultural, and long may it stay that way. We’ve yet to visit the north fork which I understand has many more vineyards. Next time!

 

 

Thanksgiving: Part I

My beloved had built up sufficient air miles on British Airways for us to fly to and from New York, via London. We caught the first flight to London from Nice which left us about two hours between flights. I like to leave a reasonable amount of time to allow for delays and, more importantly, luggage transfer. We arrived in Newark ahead of schedule, early Sunday afternoon, and made our way to our nearby hotel for an overnight stay. I hadn’t wanted my beloved to drive any distance after a long-haul flight.

Typically, we’ll check in and then head into New York on the train from Newark. But it was cold and wet, so we opted for the gym and dinner locally. My beloved looked at the list of local restaurants, many of which were Hispanic; we plumped for the one claiming to be Basque.

A quick cab ride and we were entering a large buzzing restaurant, with bar attached. The food looked and smelled delicious. Since everybody appeared to be taking home a doggy bag, I elected to have just the one course which I struggled to finish. My beloved had to assist. Both of our dishes lived up to the billing.

We got chatting to one of our waiters and discovered the lady owner came from Markina, near Bilbao, a town we’ve visited thanks to watching Itzulia, a pro-cycling tour of the Basque Country. My beloved’s choice turned out to be a great neighbourhood restaurant that’s been in situ for many years. Replete, we returned to the hotel and a great night’s sleep.

The following morning we returned to Newark to pick up our hire car only to discover my beloved had mislaid aka lost his wallet containing his driving licence (credit cards and a number of membership cards)! A quick re-enactment established the last time he could recall seeing his wallet was at Nice airport the previous morning when he’d taken out his card to access the priority security channel.

He’d taken the wallet out of his hand luggage, taken out the card, and stuffed both back in his raincoat pocket. The wallet must have fallen out somewhere en route. Fortunately he’s a Herz Gold Card member, meaning they have a copy of his driving licence on file. You might be wondering why he didn’t notice it was missing before, like when we checked into the hotel, or paid for dinner? Simples! I always handle all of these tedious details.

Having established he hadn’t left his wallet at our overnight hotel, we sped off through Manhattan to Long Island and our destination for Thanksgiving, Montauk.

Postscript: On our return, I successfully applied on line for a replacement licence for my beloved. The site also provides “a declaration of loss of licence” should one need to provide a copy of same,  although I also had a copy of it on file. The replacement licence arrived early in the new year – pretty impressive turnaround.