One cannot possibly think of world class spas without Six Senses coming to mind instantly. This renowned luxury spa is located in the most exotic destinations and offers an experience that truly transports you to nirvana. I had the pleasure of disconnecting one afternoon at the Six Senses Spa Dubai located in the ultra chic and modern Renaissance Hotel Downtown. I was greeted in a gentle manner that made me forget my entire stress and work overload, and handed a form to fill out. The form was by no means generic, although some questions were standard; however they delved deeper into the needs of each massage recipient in terms of anxiety, panic, and otherwise, so that the staff would be aware of the needed outcome of each individual service.
Towers Rotana stands tall on Dubai’s prominent Sheikh Zayed Road and boasts a number of advantages due to this prime location. It is a 1 minute walk to the metro station (red line) that takes you pretty much anywhere you need to go, and if you prefer to cab the route, numerous taxis pass by the hotel every few seconds to take you to your destination. Around it and in walking distance everything you need in the city is there, grocery store, pharmacy and more essentials, including many local hotspots and cafes. This means that you are well surrounded by all that Dubai has to offer and will not have a second to spare from all this fun!
I had heard that Wings of Lebanon airline offers direct flights to Turkey, but it was amidst the media and public backlash so I had to make an informed decision. I traveled with them two weeks prior to Antalya and experienced a smooth flight to and from Beirut, with friendly Nakhal representatives keeping everyone company on the plane and bus. The days that followed my trip witnessed a major scrutiny of W.O.L., and I didn’t intend on traveling with my family on an aircraft that has been facing logistic trouble to reduce travel time, nor did I accept to jump to conclusions based on hearsay. I researched well, was in contact with employees and professionals who explained the exact situation of the recent flight that was required to head back to Beirut airport, checked the history of the aircraft that I would be boarding and was informed that the flight heading to Dalaman airport was on a new Boeing 737-700. Common sense eventually won this debate, no captain would wish to fly a less than perfect airplane neither would Nakhal, the largest and most established name in travel and tours, wish to bring shame on their renowned business by putting people’s lives at risk.
We usually search for most suitable plane tickets online, and spend quite some time reading hotel reviews before taking our decision. But since our children were going to be with us on this trip, we couldn’t risk a hotel or destination that was less than perfect, because while adults can adapt to their settings, kids need to feel comfortable in familiar surroundings, and we opted for a travel agency to handle every detail. We forewent online booking and packed our bags and were super excited to go with Nakhal and Wings of Lebanon to Letoonia Club in Fethiye Turkey.
I had packed snacks and many activity books for my children to distract them while we were flying, for my sanity and to keep the peace on board. Take off and landing were well received by my youngest, keeping in mind that this is his first flight and he is only two years old. Upon landing, we were welcomed by Nakhal representatives and each group of people headed towards them as they systematically told us which bus we should get on. We got on bus 67, spacious and air-conditioned, for a 1.5 hour ride to our destination, the famous Letoonia Club.
At the hotel reception, more Fethiye based Nakhal reps greeted us, informed us that the porters would handle our luggage as we rested in the lobby until it was time for a conference where details of the club were divulged. We would be having a few days of uninterrupted fun on a full board basis.
We went up to check our room, and to our surprise it contained a cot! I couldn’t help but think of how thoughtful the staff must be to go out of their way and provide Fares with a cozy place to sleep. A double and single bed were placed alongside one another, the room contained a TV, a fridge/mini bar that we could access free of charge, a mirrored closet with a safe, and a wooden balcony surrounded by greenery.
We started to explore the club and were amazed at how every walking trail had a continuous line of vision to the sea. We stopped by Likia restaurant, one of the club’s buffet zones, to check out what they offered and were taken aback by the chic setup despite it being busy. The cuisine was international and varies from breakfast to lunch and dinner, and the waiters and waitresses are of the utmost friendliness.
It was time to head to the Dolphin Bar and Restaurant on one of the three private beaches in Letoonia for a dinner with the Nakhal team. We took the funicular up the walking trail and again down to reach the beach, and it was setup like a movie, candlelit tables on the sand, only a few feet away from the water. We had a seafood dinner while having a lively discussion and headed towards the theater that offers nightly shows, each from a different culture. That night’s theme was a silent Western comedy that cracked up the adults and kids alike. After about an hour of laughter and fun we walked through the lively pool area where crowds were still massive although it was approaching midnight.
The next day we were set on spending the day at the Dolphin Beach, and walked the entire way to breathe in the majestic scenery. The advantage of this particular beach is the proximity of the kids club, so we enrolled Tracy in the gated space by giving the ladies in charge details of where we will be during her time at the mini club, informed the team of any allergies, and enjoyed the sun as she practiced her favorite hobby, painting. Later on she and her brother played on the slides at the kids pool and got to meet children from different countries, while parents also got to mingle.
What I love about this club is the attention to details. Did you know that there are water dispensers with plastic cups at every pool? How cool is the fact that even if you don’t want to walk across to the bar to have a drink, you can still beat dehydration. There is also a towel kiosk for convenience, ice cream stands and iced juice machines for refreshment. Along the walking trails there are wooden tables for you to dispose of any cutlery you might have used while outside the restaurant premises. There is also plastic containers to fill up your food from the buffet and enjoy it by the beach, how thoughtful is that?
There was even a proclaimed Instagram worthy spot where we tried to take a sappy romantic photo, spent more time on the beach before taking a short break at the Agora bar to head towards the pedalo. The kids enjoyed the calm ride in the between the two hills and we got to see the landscape from afar.
Walking back to the hotel room to freshen up, we decided to try to Moonlight buffet restaurant at the other side of Letoonia, it was quite the stretch to reach but we got to see all the seaside bungalows on our way as well as dine under a series of lit moons and stars hanging above the tables. We couldn’t miss out on another night of the theater, and this time they were presenting Indian, Egyptian and Arabic cultures as well as a fire show. We ended the evening by purchasing souvenirs from the convenient on site shop and enjoying rounds of drinks while the kids kept busy dancing and coloring, and headed back to the hotel via the internal shuttle train.
The next morning’s nature walk and delicious breakfast were bittersweet, having to say goodbye to this paradise nestled in a private land. We made the most of our time before we had to head back to the reception to board the bus once again heading to Dalaman airport. We were bid adieu at the check in counter by Nakhal as they assured that our wait in line was nearing an end, and to our delight the flight, which was full with not a single empty seat, boarded early on and we took off earlier than planned allowing us to return to Beirut to our daily activities sooner.
Would I fly with Wings of Lebanon again? Definitely.
Do I recommend Letoonia Club for a holiday destination? Absolutely.
With W.O.L. you get direct flights twice a day at practical times to Dalaman airport, and at Letoonia you experience fun for the whole family on an all inclusive basis in a resort that literally never sleeps, with meals and drinks operating 24/7. Lively music and ambiance, competitions and activities, nature and peace all in one destination.
Access to the restaurant is from the main lobby as well as from the promenade. I chose to experience the full hustle and bustle of the hotel and upon descending to enter The Fish House, I was led by the decorative bronze fish on the wall down the ramp to reach the indoor seating area. The color scheme is a soothing blue and white, reminiscent of Provincial France with a touch of modernity. The bay windows and doors across the floor welcome light to fill the space as well as make way to the terrace facing the iconic Ferris wheel.
I had a glance at the menu, and the friendly and knowledgeable waitress explained to me that I can either have their signature dishes or personalize my own fish. I chose the latter and was lead to the display of fresh fish (catch of the day) where I chose mine, with the weight I pleased along with the mode of cooking, sauces and sides.
As I was seated outside enjoying the calm ambiance, the resident mixologist approached me to discuss my drink options. Soon I realized how skilled he was by analyzing and pairing my drink based on my choice of fish, how fatty or not it was, and its first bite and aftertaste all contributed to his recommendation of the gin based cocktail “The Botanist”. He made sure I had a taste to give him my approval, as well as another visit to check if the fruity yet citrusy drink was a success with my choice of spicy side dishes.
I opted to forego the appetizers to leave my full appetite to the main course, but I was offered this delicious plate of traditional Baba Ghannouj with fried fish while my order was being prepared.
I’m a sucker for spices and strong flavors, so both sauces I chose were very spicy, but I experimented with the sides and ordered the harissa and Spring onion potato salad. It is relatively sweet in flavor due to the marination, the eggs compliment it and the onions add a bold crunch to the mix. The result is smooth on the palate.
The “Salsa” sauce with mango, jalapeno, green onion and tomatillo is an explosion of contrasting flavors. Is it sweet? Is it tangy? Is it spicy? Each bite combines the three and the result is a delicacy whether eaten alone or with the fish.
The saffron rice with almonds and orange peel is a more sober choice for a side dish, but is nowhere near boring. The very visible orange peel add a twist to the familiar fish pairing, and due to its subdued nature, it goes very well with the sauces I chose.
The “Harra” sauce with tomato, coriander and peppers is an obvious choice for my spicy food preference, and is more consistent in its chili than the sauce with the mango, the latter being an explosion of flavors, thus rendering the former a key ingredient to the fish experience.
Hammour fish grilled to perfection, crispy on the outside and oh so tender. Never have I tasted a fish so skillfully prepared and juicy, I was at a complete loss as to whether I should eat it alone or with the side dishes. In fact I did both in rotation, I kid you not. One bite solo, one with each of the sides, that’s how delicious this expert dish was.
As much of a sweet tooth I have, I was unable to fathom having any extra bite to eat, yet I was kindly offered this Caramelized Pineapple Ravioli, a specialty of the restaurant. I couldn’t refuse and I’m glad I didn’t, because the sweet pineapple and caramel was just what I needed after a hefty meal full of rich herbs and flavors.
The Fish House is without a doubt redefining the entire seafood experience as we know it. Long gone are the days of simple and straightforward fish based meals, be prepared for a feast for the senses, indulge in their signature dishes or customize your own according to your liking. I can say with confidence, that I have never had a meal that centered around fish that was this perfected, from the stunning decor, the welcoming staff, the adept mixologist, the chef, the breathtaking view and laid back ambiance.
The Fish House Intercontinental Dubai Festival City is now on my must visit list each time I go to Dubai, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do not miss out. You can thank me later!
Visit the website for more information: The Fish House Dubai
Contact: +971 (04) 701 1127 email@example.com
I had heard a lot about Manzil being the home away from home, and wanted to experience first hand what that meant. Being a solo traveler in a not so far away country, I didn’t expect to miss home this much, and I hadn’t realized it until I arrived and it hit me. I crave the familiarity of my country in my surroundings, and I was in awe of how Manzil brought the Arab culture closer to the rest of the world.
The entrance of Manzil is breathtaking in its simplicity. Men in traditional costume greeted me once I arrived, as I was led to the main lobby. The vertical elements of the chandelier mirror the many single flowered vases and create continuity. All throughout the hotel, there is the recurring pattern of the arabesque floral element, straight out of the architectural window that is called a “mandaloun”.
As I was heading to the check in counter, I crossed the seated area which perfectly enhanced the welcoming experience. The decor is consistently brown and beige with a pop of orange, thus leaning towards the warm shades which automatically drew me in and made me feel at ease. This space is well lit during the evening as well, and the calm ambiance and privacy makes it a prime location to host a business meeting during your stay.
The elevator operates by using an access card to reach the designated floor, thus adding a sense of security to the experience. Continuing my journey from the elevator and into my room, I noticed a unified theme running through, which is bringing the Orient to the Occident. The screens and every single item from the menu to the bathrobe conveys an Arabic word and translates it into simple English. Words such as: Hello, Family, Welcome, and “Naiman” the after bath greeting.
My in room welcome was a delicious one, a mix of delicately made cakes, macaron and baklava. I was taken aback as I received a phone call after my shower, and soon after opened my door to this tasty treat!
My room was in tune with the hotel’s decor but a tad cooler in terms of color scheme, minimalist, white and gray, with Arabic calligraphy as wall art. As soon as I laid eyes on the interior, I knew that I would have a hard time leaving this nest. The view from the window of Burj Khalifa is as iconic as it gets, the vanity and desk area for preparing tea and coffee is roomy, and the couch is ideal for my morning planning and nightly correspondence.
The windows start from the ground up, thus giving the guest the feeling of being outside while staying in the room. It is a magical spot at sunrise as well as at night when you can see the shiny lights of the downtown area of Dubai.
The spacious bathroom has it all, including private doors for the toilet and the shower. The sleek design of the mirror and bathtub add a soothing modernity to the overall ambiance.
Every corner in the room is functional and well lit, including a large closet space, all fitting to the contemporary Arabesque style.
As I stepped outside the mezzanine floor, I found myself surrounded with architecture, the kind that balances the old and new. On one hand there is the hotel, peaking inwards to the courtyard, seeming to blend with the yellow stone buildings. In the farther plane there are the towers, reflecting the majestic city, the entire scene looking picturesque with the palm tree leaves hanging low to give shade to the area.
Crowning this environment is the pool, nestled within the busy hotel yet so peaceful. The perfect place to swim, tan, or even relax on the loungers in the shade while sipping on a cocktail from the bar. The water is tepid and relaxing, hours are guaranteed to pass by in no time.
The hotel restaurant at the ground floor is Boulevard, an all encompassing Levantine menu, categorized into specialties from each of the area’s countries. For lunch, I had the Indian inspired spicy Butter Chicken with an Aperol Spritz, and for dinner a light and tasty Quinoa Salad with an Old Fashioned. Throughout the day the courtyard is buzzing with hotel guests, chitchatting over shishas and laughing the night away, I didn’t feel the need to leave the premises, as the ambiance was lively and the service was perfection.
The breakfast is situated at the same level but spreads into the internal area as well as the dining space that faces one of the main roads. The variety ranges from continental to local and includes many brunch items guaranteed to satisfy your palate and hunger. Coffee is served in a traditional pot, with a strong taste to fuel your day.
I knew I’d have withdrawal symptoms leaving this welcoming hotel, I truly felt comfortable, relaxed, within familiar settings. The luxury wasn’t overpowering and imposing, but more nurturing and made me feel at ease.
After my first hand experience, I must say that Manzil is my home away from home. The staff from the valet to the reception is friendly and eager to explain and show guests around, the food is impeccable, the room is anything one can ask for in terms of cleanliness and comfort. The location in Downtown Dubai reduces the need to use public transport or to rent a car as long as your trips are within the area. It is a few steps from Burj Khalifa, The Dubai Mall, the Dubai Opera and the fountain to name a few. The surrounding area is alive with restaurants, and the hotel is truly central. I will definitely be heading back sometime soon, and I recommend you consider it for your next visit to Dubai!
Manzil Downtown Instagram handle is @manzildowntown and #manzildowntown for image search.
Reservations on this link: Manzil Downtown
Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard
The Old Town, Downtown Dubai
PO Box 114822, Dubai
United Arab Emirates
Tel: +971 4 428 5888
Fax: +971 4 428 5999
I want to share my first hand experience with you if you ever get the chance to attend PFW, I went clueless but you don’t have to!
A couple of years into my fashion blogging path I started receiving the random invite now and then but I never made it happen. It was either work or family or just general laziness from my part. This year and as part of trying new things and living with no “what ifs”, I made it happen in record time. Within a week, even less, I had confirmed my invitations, booked a flight and hotel and started thinking of outfits to wear to the shows. In fact, I was still looking at hotels a day before my flight, it was all so surreal and happening fast.
The challenge was deciding on my PFW outfits in addition to my day to day clothes for an entire week. Being freezing cold in Paris in January implied heavy coats and layers and no cute frilly dresses, but I knew I could use my styling skills to mix and match pieces without sacrificing warmth.
I was off to Paris knowing nothing, expecting everything.
I didn’t get sucked into the whole “Oh-my-God-I-have-to-book-a-photographer-for-a-photoshoot” trend, nothing wrong with cell phone pics, am I right? Fact is, these sessions for PFW are time consuming, so unless you’re a) collaborating with a clothing store, b) have a friend who happens to be a photographer and can do a quick impromptu couple of shots or c) a celebrity, then disregard this (beautiful but not really necessary) element of Fashion Week. You know what else? Ditch the heels, I’m serious. Whether you are taking a cab to the venue or arriving by metro, there’s a whole lot of walking and waiting before each show. Expect to stand for at least an hour before being seated, and always have your invitation handy, as you’ll have to show if to around 5 or more different people as you pass each check point. The wait is long but the shows are short and never start on time. I had to miss one of the shows due to the overlap in timing, looking back there was no way I would have been able to make it with all the waiting going on. You will enter and be seated while rehearsals are still ongoing, and it is part of the experience. If you are lucky enough to go backstage, then by all means do! Meet the designer, have a glass of champagne, take photos and chit chat with socialites from all over the world. Another thing I learned is less is more, don’t stress your outfit, and I mean what I’m about to say in the nicest way possible, no one cares. All eyes will be on the models and celebrities so if you’re dressing up, do it for yourself. I don’t regret my outfits, for they were the epitome of simplicity, and I did actually get a bunch of follow up comments at later shows when women recognized me as the lady wearing the cape. But other than that, don’t sweat it, stay casual.
Georges Hobeika presentation for his Spring/Summer 2018 collection was at Universite Paris Descartes, Faculte De Medecine. The collection was inspired by Greek goddesses and ancient civilizations, intricate details on the dresses were in perfect harmony with the oversized earrings and crown like headpieces. The show was stunning, each outfit more beautiful than the next in terms of design, color and structure.
I got the chance to go backstage for a souvenir photo with the designer himself, as well as mingle with the models and staff while having a closer look at the dresses in the fitting room.
I wore a piece close to my heart, as I had revealed earlier during the fashion show that this cape is an heirloom handed down to me by my aunt, and it is handmade from Ecuador. I had never worn it before and was leaving it for something very special, and what better than an occasion like Fashion Week to rock this dramatic piece? I opted for understated makeup, focusing only on the eyes with a simple black liner as to not overpower my outfit and accessories. The earrings I wore I’ve been hanging on to for years, and the necklace is a gift of rare jewels from my hubby from Africa.
Rani Zakhem at The Westin Paris Vendome. The venue was majestic, and the designs were feminine and ethereal.
Walking around Paris in boots the first day wasn’t ideal, so I decided to choose comfort for practical purposes and mixed and matched to achieve this look. I picked up this coat while walking in Montmartre, paired it with a simple black top, a silk maxi skirt and punk rock inspired studded bag.
Georges Chakra at Musee de L’Homme at Place du Trocadero. The collection tells of a modern fairy-tale with a touch of timeless glamour and delicate muted colors.
For this show I wore a cozy sweater with a dramatic collar, pattern pants with the same versatile coat and shoes as the previous day.
Dany Atrache at Boulevard Des Italiens conveys the age of enlightenment with delicate feminine designs and a hint of oriental flair.
I am over the moon that I had the chance to attend, and what makes me so proud is that Lebanese designers were rocking Paris Fashion Week. No talent comes close to ours when it comes to creativity in fashion, it was a truly goosebump rendering moment to see crowds from all over the world gathering to watch our very own designers displaying their collections.
If you’re interested to watch more coverage of Paris Fashion Week through my eyes, head to my Instagram profile @stylememaria and click on the story highlight titled “PFW”, and enjoy the action!
The only summer event that was true to itself, thus allowing all the attendees including myself to be bare and genuine, was the notorious Monday nights of food, drinks, friends and dancing, a.k.a. the Doers Club. What makes it so sought after? It is because amidst the cookie cutter events happening in the capital targeting the same circle, rises an alternative by Dewar’s that caters to independent creatives living true to their passion.
If you thought Dewar’s was solely catering to whisky drinkers of a certain generation, think again, because the mixologists at the pop-up venue at Fattal headquarters were bringing their A game, from new cocktails to the classics. I for one am a fan of the staple drinks and mixes, but my senses were delighted as I discovered a few of the new recipes the bartenders concocted.
What was equally awesome was the food stations, namely the traditional Scotch Egg, and live bands and DJs until way past midnight to create an atmosphere that is hard to part with. Even if you do show up alone, you are guaranteed a good time and will definitely make a friend, or ten!
Who will you find at the Doers Club? Artists, actors, musicians, and anyone and everyone who seeks to question the status quo by living independently and eccentrically. The vibes are unmatched, the authenticity of the crowd is unprecedented, and the laughter cannot be faked.
So tell me, are you a Doer?
Naji and I are huge detective buffs with Sherlock Holmes topping our list. Any fan of the TV series Sherlock will recognize Speedy’s Cafe as the local eatery right below the on screen version of 221 B Baker Street which in fact is located on Euston Street. I kid you not, we walked kilometers to reach the cafe on over 3 separate occasions and each time we found it to be closed, and as it wasn’t meant to be for us to have the recommended English breakfast inside, we had to be satisfied with a mere photo at the entrance step.
Away from TV sets and on to the literary version, the Sherlock Holmes Museum on the actual Baker Street is a must see and brings the detective to life. Every item is recreated in this Victorian apartment down to the furniture and chemistry sets. There are a plethora of books and letters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, be prepared for the eeriest feeling after carefully examining all these intricate details.
Make a stop at the souvenir shop on your way out, there are plenty of items you can pick up for reasonable prices. I got these, the plate was hubby’s choice and can be mounted on a wall or a stand, the book is obviously for my collection, and the print is for a very cool decor idea I am preparing at home.
I’m a theater gal, take me to a show and I’ll melt! Unfortunately people don’t dress up to attend the theater anymore so it wasn’t the full experience I was hoping for, albeit slightly swankier than Broadway. I had to drag Naji to watch The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theater on Haymarket, and while he was dozing off, I was tearing up and so emotionally fulfilled. Taking photos is prohibited during the performance, I had to sneak this one during intermission with the broken chandelier on stage before I got a loud and embarrassing “no pictures”.
There are plenty of shows to see in London but make sure to reserve months in advance for good seats. I personally wanted to view the London Philharmonic but the dates of their performances didn’t overlap with my dates of travel. Madame Butterfly was another opera that was fully booked to my dismay.
Bookworms rejoice, there are countless bookstores in London, but being so in denial about living in our century and passionate about the eras past, the ones that caught my eye and heart are the second hand bookshops. It was a sight for sore eyes, the worn out covers, the fading pages and the wonderful old book smell are what dreams are made of. You can get some good deals on used books, but at the same time the first editions of other books are steeply priced but so worth it and make for a thoughtful gift to literature fanatics such as myself. One particular shop is Skoob on Tavistock with a huge collection in the basement, and the ultimate destination is Charing Cross Street which is an entire street of quaint bookstores displaying their low priced deals outside, alongside music shops and everything your artistically inclined heart desires. Visit Foyles and Waterstones for contemporary bustling library vibes in case vintage is not your cup of tea, just make sure you clear out an entire day for book hunting.
I got 3 second hand books and 3 discounted ones. Needless to say I am high on the mere knowledge that the former group belonged to someone else, which means they have been held, read and analyzed and I am about to dive into them also. One is a ‘Princess’ book from the early 1960s, inclusive of etiquette, recipes, home arrangement, how to host and much more, which I found to be an interesting purchase to see what it was like for young girls back then compared to now. The second book is style rules from the 1920s and includes everything from the essential wardrobe items to how a lady must carry herself. The third is a ripped apart early edition Joseph Conrad detective novel that I am thrilled to start reading. As for the new books, it goes without saying that I am interested in secret societies and mysteries and found they would be worth carrying in my luggage.
I’m not into tours or pretty much anything guided, but Shakespeare’s Globe tour is not to be missed. It’s located on the bank-side of the Thames and I recommend walking past the markets and the busy streets to build up the anticipation by relating your experience to old London, where the docks were the trade center and where the workers would line up after their long day to attend Shakespeare’s plays. While waiting for the tour to begin, you can watch the actors rehearse but no cameras are allowed and complete silence is required because they use actual swords during combat, so focus is a must. My tour guide was enchanting and I have never listened so intently to anyone speak in my life, as she swayed me back to 1599 where the old theater was built (to which this theater is an exact replica), how it was built, theater technicalities, high society, and so much more until my head was filled not only with the Shakespearean knowledge that I already have, but with what life was like back then. For me in particular this storytelling was the cherry on top to the theater courses I took back in university, which then focused on designing sets, costumes and script, but now complete with facts, trivia and a mental tapestry of what I am left with after the tour of the globe. My tip is to check the schedule of the plays in advance because they host nights with minimal entry fees, and again the dates didn’t work for us during our stay.
I would never miss the chance to take photos of Scotland Yard, so I was pretty much the only one posing in front of the building. It is in fact the metropolitan police station, but for me, it is Agatha Christie and all the detective stories I have read combined into one moment, one location. So allow me to have my Hercule Poirot moment while calling Inspector Japp!
Head to Portobello Market while walking to Notting Hill and you’ll find another cluster of thrift shops. Our luck was fantastic because one particular shop was moving and held a massive sale on books, comics and music.
Art on the streets and art in the museums, now that ladies and gentleman is what sets a city apart from the rest. I was in seventh heaven as I pranced along admiring the work of artists, their talents unleashed onto canvas. I also spent entire days in museums such as the National Gallery and Victoria and Albert Museum which are free of charge to enter (along with the science and history museums) so you can walk in and out as you please and indulge in artwork.
If you are anything like me and are into antique furniture and decorative items, then by all means clear out a few hours to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. I’m not a fan of sculpture and statues so I must admit I walked past that section onto the period collections and spent so much time admiring vases, cabinets and jewelry. Now if anyone can tell me where I can find a similar chair for the entrance of my home, I would appreciate it!
Another bucket list moment for me was visiting the 17th century The George Inn, the sole reason being that Charles Dickens used to frequent this exact inn back in the 19th century, and mentioned this place in his book Little Dorrit. The interior is preserved, the flooring creaks and the wooden pillars are cracked which adds to its charm. The food in itself wasn’t to my liking, but around us there were a few regulars, elderly British gentlemen, which reinforces the idea that it isn’t a tourist attraction, but a mere forgotten gem close to the heart of literature lovers.
I wasn’t going to leave London without seeing the bust of the queen of crime, my childhood (and adulthood) idol Agatha Christie. How it must be to live in her head and pick her brain, not for it being sinister, but for the truly awe inspiring plot lines, mysteries that can never be solved within the first few pages of a novel, and for details only a detective guru could coin. I literally ran around the few blocks surrounding this sculpture and could not for the life of me find it, and good luck for anyone who tries to ask for directions, because it is not of interest to many and perhaps has been passed by unnoticed. Needless to say I got my fix and my photo.
I also had a lot of trouble finding the sculpture of Oscar Wilde on Adelaide Street because it is not a major attraction and yes, I looked like a madwoman talking to it and did get a lot of stares while sitting. The bronze piece is dubbed A Conversation With Oscar Wilde with a quote from his play “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars”. His wit and genius was translated through the characters he created, and I truly believe that each sentence I read from his plays holds a universe of meaning and wisdom.
I cannot begin to describe how much of a hippie heaven Camden Town is, beginning by the streets aligned with thrift shops passing by the food kiosks reaching the vintage market. Poor hubby sat patiently people watching while I was reclusive, sitting on the floor rummaging through dozens of boxes containing thousands of old prints, encyclopedia excerpts, second hand clothing and accessories to mention a few. The market and its surrounding is home to kitschy design shops perfect for decorating your home, and much more reasonably priced than other parts of London. I nabbed a few vintage scarves mostly dating from the 60s including a silk belt, and cannot wait to style and share them with you, but being a big fan of headpieces I’d wrap them around my hair and will attend my imaginary Woodstock festival when I head out.
Some of the items I got from Camden market include a photo of Mount Tibidabo in Barcelona which dates back to 1920, and it is special because we had recently visited with our daughter (read about it here, here and here) and it was her absolute favorite destination. The photo on the right is from an old encyclopedia filled with plants types and imagery, and this popped out because purple is my favorite color and I plan to add it to the aforementioned decor idea I have planned.
There is always something going on in London, and while as tourists it’s impossible to be able to see all the shows and collections displayed on certain occasions within the year, I would have loved to see the Pink Floyd tribute at the V&A museum, along with Alfred Hitchcock and Alice in Wonderland special showcases. I also got the chance to see Abbey Road from the bus but missed out on visiting the studio or at least stand in front of the door to channel The Beatles vibes.
If you do feel like shopping for some music memorabilia, the street leading to the Sherlock Holmes Museum is filled with such stores. I totally regret not buying the iconic poster of The Beatles crossing the street barefoot, as much as I regret buying the overpriced Pink Floyd T-Shirt which I later found for a steal at Primark. But hey, live and learn.
This is the first trip that I separate from Naji while roaming around, for about 3 or 4 full days. While he went to science and military oriented museums, I camped out in bookshops, wandered anonymously around the streets, hypnotized by paintings in galleries. I would visit London again in a heartbeat just to breathe in the culture of this epicenter of music, art and literature.
To me it is a mesh of talent, of wise minds overlapping over time to create a city of ghosts and a lot of soul, to which I felt a connection. And for all of that and much more, a part of myself will always be in London.
So we landed in London and thus our new adventure began. I literally went through thousands of photos and filtered them out to share with you only a few, yet I’m sure they won’t do the city justice. The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are needless to say the magnet to which the tourists gravitate and for good reason. You can take a tour inside as well as walk around to view the majestic architecture.
We had booked tickets for the London Eye online and when we arrived it turned out that they were at full capacity (go figure) and we had to change our booking at the ticket office. So 3 hours later of waiting at the counter brought us modified tickets for the next day where we also had to wait another 2 hours to get on the ride despite being there early in the morning. My point is, yes the view from the London Eye is not to be missed, but be prepared to stand in line a lot, so if you’re visiting for only a couple of days, then don’t waste a chunk of your time by waiting.
Depending on the month of your visit, Buckingham Palace might not be open for tours, however you may watch the ‘changing of the guards’ procession outside (for free) which starts at around 11 A.M. daily. But as our luck would have it, the first day we went there, the ceremony was cancelled, so we had to adjust our day’s plans according to what was around the palace as so not to waste time with transportation.
A few days later after that, I dragged Naji back to the palace to try our luck, and this time the procession was in full throttle, complete with horses, a parade, the works. Be prepared to fight for a spot and don’t budge because if you so much as step sideways, your place will be taken. After you enjoy the traditional ceremony, walk towards what they call ‘the mall’ and discover beautiful architecture with horse guards training, and a little cottage next to a pond that will make you feel like you’re in a Brothers Grimm book, up until you reach the Admiralty Arch.
We visited the Tower of London, which is a historic castle and contains the crown jewels. The fortress itself is interesting to walk around but the jewels are really worth seeing, There was a lot of waiting in line (something impatient Maria loathes), and when we finally entered, we found out that it’s forbidden to take photos (but I did anyway). When we got out we found the famous British guard, and no he didn’t laugh!
The iconic Tower Bridge is one work of construction, and makes for a postcard photo if the weather permits, you have no idea how gloomy it was the first day we got to London, we must have taken hundreds of photos and we weren’t able to properly capture the bridge or Big Ben.
London for me is a ‘walk around’ type of city. You’ll benefit from more sightseeing and it’s all connected somehow so you start your day in one location and end up covering quite a lot. I highly recommend you walk up and down Oxford street, not only for the shops, but for the architecture. Same goes for Mayfair, stand back and admire the glory of old London, the iconic cab, phone booth and red bus, the swanky storefronts and the well to do.
As much as I’m in awe of the British high society and old gentlemen manners, I am also a major hippie, and I found my haven at Camden. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT miss out on the chance to chill in this town and discover their market which is an array of vintage shops, it was my personal shopping heaven.
If you’re looking for a picturesque street then head to Notting Hill after you’ve walked in Portobello Market, you’ll be in a symmetrical daze.
I was in a mood to take my British experience further, so I had booked tickets to the Medieval Banquet which is a three course dinner at the St. Katharine Docks in a space that mimics the middle ages. A king, court jesters, wenches serving ale, the works. We even had to drink our soup, no spoons allowed! The table setup wasn’t private, and the food was to share, so you’d get the chance to meet people from all over the world which was pretty cool. The dinner ended with a party, can you spot me dancing?
One thing I love to take advantage of when I travel is the abundance of green spaces. Whether it’s Hyde Park or St. James Park, we were stopping almost daily for a breather, for chilling on the grass, smelling the clean air, and even having a little picnic.
We also went outside of central London and visited Chelsea, it’s much calmer than the city, and you’d be amazed at the stores you’ll find there, like artisanal chocolates or tailors for ‘gentry’ promoting that men always look their best.
Back in London I had to go across many blocks to be able to capture the London Eye and give the skyline justice. This juxtaposition of historical monuments with recent additions and nature, all reflect what London is about.
As expensive as the dinner theater and entrance fees to pretty much everything is, the museums (most of them) were completely free of charge, except a small suggested fee you may pay if you want at the door. I spent so much time roaming around Trafalgar Square, inside the National Gallery, Science museum and Victoria and Albert museum, I was in a historical daze.
Then of course there is China Town that stays up well into the night, so we walked around post dinner when everything else was closing.
We made it a point to also head out of the central city to Greenwich to stand on the meridian, and stumbled upon the historic Cutty Sark ship, and lucky for us there was a festival featuring a live band, and it was a good stop during our long journey to reach the observatory. During our walk we crossed the Greenwich Park, a vast space of yellow greens until we finally ticked off this goose bump rendering moment off our bucket list.
Shoreditch is a hub for business and trade, and once you come close you find that it is also rich in culture and tradition, although it has a total different vibe than other areas. One of the major stops we made was at Skygarden (booking is required weeks in advance) where we saw the city from this high structure and when we were done admiring the urban fabric, we went back indoors to chill and have a drink at the literal garden in the sky.
We also visited Arsenal and Chelsea stadiums, the Churchill War Rooms, and every cathedral and monument a tourist usually makes sure to cover. As I had mentioned in my introduction, no amount of description will do London justice, and those who fall in love with it have every right to. I am currently under the spell of London, and as I return from each journey, I leave a part of me there as well as finding a bit of myself and bringing it back with me. Each has a personal view of London, and for me it lived up to my expectations of ancient glory, and I was pleasantly surprised at the hidden laid back side to it, which I will be sharing more of at a later stage (you will love my next travel post so stay tuned).
London you have been great, and I fully intend to return soon!
For more photos of my trip to London or any of my other travels, make sure to check the hashtag #StyleMeMariaOnVacation on Instagram!
Before I gave birth to Tracy, I was in the last year of my 20s. I had been there done that with a cherry on top, and now was the time to focus on my growing family. I read a lot of books, online articles, magazines, downloaded mobile applications that track my baby’s daily growth, the whole deal. One issue that interested me was breastfeeding and the long list of benefits for both the mother and the child in the long run, from reducing the risk of types of cancer for both, to a strong immunity and brain power for the child to name just a few. Another benefit that only a breastfeeding mother can feel is the bond that is created which nothing else can duplicate, not to mention that whatever the mother eats, the baby does too, thus widening the little one’s palette from day one.
When my Cita was born, everything was overwhelming, some supported my decision to exclusively breastfeed while others insisted she was always crying because she was hungry and needed a bottle. Do you have any idea how harsh those words are for a new mother who went through 9 months of crazy hormones, the pains of childbirth, the instability and mood swings following the new baby, who isn’t getting a wink of sleep, whose breasts are in unspeakable pain? You don’t? Well NEVER judge a mother who is trying her best. I had a choice at the time, introduce a bottle at the tender age of 2 weeks or soldier on and breastfeed. Can you guess my choice? Had I given her a bottle, she would have gotten used to the easy flow of milk and she wouldn’t be able to adjust to properly nursing from me. I will not sugarcoat things, breastfeeding is really painful the first few months especially when you’re feeding on demand and have no time to relax, always seek help to make sure the baby is latching on properly.
Then it was time to go back to work after my maternity leave, and since when there’s a will there’s a way, I made it work. My advice to you, working mothers, is to ease your baby into a routine before heading back to your daytime job, meaning, make the nursing sessions consistent. For example, wake up, nurse, nap, nurse, nap, nurse, bath, nurse, sleep. That’s the way I did it, I would wake up and nurse her, take her to my mom’s and head to work, then I would take a lunch break and nurse her and go back to work and so on so forth. I worked around her schedule and at the same time she fit into mine. It’s a two way street, and it is hard sometimes because the baby’s meal is more important than anything during this phase. Trust me when I tell you I used to schedule my life according to nursing sessions, I would never go out with friends unless I had nursed her in the evening and put her to sleep, and whenever we were out during the day I made sure it was at a breastfeeding friendly mall so we can take breaks in their special rooms. This went on until about 1 year and 3 months when I had to wean her because I was going on vacation for over a month and couldn’t take her with me nor was it practical for me to pump to maintain my supply. Weaning was hard on her, she hated the bottle and hated formula, we tried everything from spoon feeding her the milk to dropping it into her mouth with a syringe. It was even harder on me to see her so sad and wondering what was going on, I even wanted to sneak in a breastfeeding session without anyone knowing! I obviously didn’t and a while later she adjusted.
Moving on to my 2nd pregnancy, I knew what was waiting for me around the corner, and I remember telling my husband I don’t think I can do it all over again, I needed to feel like my body was mine, I was tired of the lack of independence. Then Fares was born, one look into his then gray eyes I felt there was no way I wasn’t going to make a tremendous effort to give him the one thing I can to prepare his body to combat infection, breast milk that is dubbed liquid gold. However I introduced pumped milk in a bottle soon after because I decided it wouldn’t be convenient to go on long tiring lunch breaks and stay long hours in the evening at work because I now have a child who attends school and I must handle her as well; therefore Fares would have to learn to drink from a bottle anyway. The same routine started and I would pump the milk each day for the next and settled into the schedule. I traveled once while he was still nursing, and he was around 6 months which is too young to wean, so I took my breast-pump with me and pumped each morning and night to maintain my supply, while he would drink thawed breast milk I had stored for him in the freezer. Then again came time for another vacation, he was one year and 2 months and I started weaning, which was oddly enough easy on him and super hard on me. He didn’t give ME time to adjust to this separation.
I am sure I can go on and on and write an entire essay about my breastfeeding issues and adventures but I will limit myself to the above, and want to give you a bit of advice my dear friends. Take it day by day, set a goal in your mind but once you climb the ladder slowly, you will get there in the blink of an eye. Ignore ‘friendly’ advice that it is time to wean, only YOU know what’s best for your baby; if I had a dollar for every time someone felt entitled to share their opinion, my bank account would be pretty hefty. It is not without struggle, from beginning to end, I personally had mastitis both times, so be careful and always talk to lactation specialists and your midwife or doctor to get all the details and scientific truths. It also helps if you have a supportive partner who reminds you why you’re doing it when you feel overwhelmed, in my case 5 years of continuous pregnancy and breastfeeding would have made me hysterical had I not had a support system at home. Remember there is a large community of breastfeeding mothers who are willing to give their advice and I am one of them, hit me up if you ever need to vent or ask questions.
Last but not least, I want to reiterate that mothers who have medical issues that prevent them from breast feeding aren’t doing anything wrong, sometimes reality forces us to make decisions we would rather not. We are all in this together, no matter how different our parenting techniques might be, at the end of the day we all want our children to be healthy.