About Renee Blodgett
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.
She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.
Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.
Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
Latest Posts by Renee Blodgett
With the FIFA World Cup underway and two major sporting events – the Tour de France and Wimbledon – set to kick off soon in the UK, Brits are in for an exciting sporting summer. However, if you just can’t get enough sunshine and sport, why not take a trip Down Under in January 2015 and take in their Australian equivalents? January sees two of the biggest events on the southern hemisphere’s sporting calendar – the Tour Down Under in Adelaide and South Australia, and the Australian Open in Melbourne.
Even if sport’s not your cup of tea, don’t forget the three-week Sydney Festival takes place in January too. Here, we’ll take a look at all these events in a bit more detail – and if you find yourself tempted to book a trip, this handy Cost of Living tool can help you compare the costs of transport, nights out and shopping in Australia to those of your home city.
Tour Down Under, January 17th – 25th
As the first event of the Union Cycliste Internationale’s Pro Tour – which also includes the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia – the Tour Down Under is a huge date on the calendar for professional cyclists and fans alike. Stages normally take place around the foothills of Adelaide, the scenic Barossa Valley wine region and the coastal Fleirieu Peninsula, before returning to the city streets for the final race.
Hundreds of thousands of people turn out to watch the cyclists pass by, but there’s much more going on besides the race: the celebrations usually include a Bike Expo in Adelaide, musical events, street parties and, of course, the chance to sample Adelaide’s unique food and wine. If you’ve never been, it’s a wonderful time to get to know Adelaide!
Australian Open, January 19th – February 1st
Held at Melbourne Park, the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific is second only to the US Open in attendance figures: the Rod Laver Arena, where much of the action takes place, has a capacity of 15,000. All three main courts have retractable roofs as of June this year, leading organisers to bill the venue as officially “weatherproofed” –particularly important for Australia, where extreme heat is just as capable of stopping play as heavy rain.
Tickets are due to go on sale in October, and if you’re planning a visit there’s also the Festival of Sails to enjoy between January 22nd and the 26th – one of the biggest and oldest regattas in Australia, and always a huge celebration.
Sydney Festival, January 8th – 26th
A three-week festival of music, theatre, dance, comedy and any other kind of performing art you can imagine, there’s nothing quite like the Sydney Festival. With more than 300 different events to choose from, there’s sure to be something to suit all tastes: from classical music to political street theatre, it’s all here. The festival also traditionally features a large programme of free performances, so you needn’t worry about all those tickets breaking the bank.
Events take place at around 30 venues around the city, including the Sydney Theatre, City Recital Hall and, of course, the Sydney Opera House. Look out for the colourful Spiegeltents that pop up in Hyde Park and Parramatta offering cabaret and circus performances. Much like Edinburgh, festival season is one of the best times to see Sydney at its most expressive and artistic: don’t miss it!
This post was made possible by our partner host BudgetDirect.
Or it was something like that. He was nearly bald although i think on purpose yet he couldn’t have been more than 24. He had a navy blazer on with those black capped dance like shoes that serious performers wear and yet I learned that he doesn’t dance at all.
He rattled on in French until he realized mine was more than rusty. A boyish face with a twinkle in his eye he held up his joint, close to the end of its use. He continues to speak in french because frankly he had no other choice. Somehow he thought I might be a good choice to access another joint. How wrong was his “read” and yet that was so not why the universe threw is together for that 20 minutes in time at the Bonne nouveau subway stop in Paris at close to 1 am in the morning on a Tuesday night in June.
We began to decipher language, why he chose the words he did and why such am emphasis on his joint. I asked him why he smoked, how often and what it brought him. The latter took three attempts in my broken French and yet third time lucky.
While he agreed it made him sleep better and brought more serenity, he acknowledged it was a way to deal with a troubled life.
I asked him to explain exactly what he meant and he went on to explain how difficult it was to live in France, and what he needed to be and exude to french society and how he never felt he could be what they needed him to be.
He looked french enough to me and he even acknowledged that he was born here but I soon learn that his father was Algerian and his mother was Czech and he felt an affinity to no one….or no-thing, except perhaps the burnt down hashish in his hand.
He asked a guy to translate a word or two once (vent/wind was one of them) but for the most part we were getting by and saying what we needed to say.
He understood sentiment and passion and from that place he told me how much music meant to him and why. The why explanation was beautiful as he didn’t use any word – his fingers, the timing and the energy went from eyes to heart and back again and as a fellow artist and musician I inherently understood.
He tried to justify pot as a higher escape alternative to alcohol and yet while I understood part of his logic, I retorted back that it was a short (court) term fix regardless and would never bring him the serenity he so deeply yearned for.
I asked about his dreams which were different and yet the same answer as the question I posed about his passions. Making people happy through music was a constant theme.
I didn’t want to lecture for who am I to argue about short term pleasures and gains to bring one through a day. After all, don’t we all have our own unique distinctions about what’s right and wrong, serving and not serving, useful or not, growth or unraveling in our lives?
Even if we don’t admit it, we so do feel and have all of those justifications.
On that note and reflection, the 8 train to Creteil pulled up on the track, which I knew was the last train of the night.
Remi who so didn’t look like a Remi with his warm, inviting and artistic smile called to me and said what was your name again? I said my name clearly but unlike I so often do, I left out the name of my website although I’m not quite sure. Did I see him as a piece of cherished art I didn’t want to share or perhaps because I did, I couldn’t bring myself to unveil a personal detail or two?
As I looked at his innocent and yet so eager to learn face through the window of the train as the doors began to shut, I felt as if our exchange was not quite done.
Why wasn’t he getting on the train I thought as it was the track for the 8 line only and I was told from my friend at dinner only 30 minutes prior that it was the last one. Was he homeless, merely hitting people up for another joint, desperate for conversation and connection or ???
Goodbye Remi I felt that I had called out and as I said it because I felt fairly sure it was the name he had given me, I shouted loudly as the doors were closing – what was your name again?
A moment in time on a summer night in Paris when encounters like this one can change people’s destinies in a short intervals of 15 minutes or an hour or five ….. or not.
Photo credit: UrbaLife Signs.blogspot.com.
In July, I had a unique opportunity to stay the incredible 5 star New Otani Hotel in Tokyo Japan, which is part of the Otani chain of hotels headquartered in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan. New Otani Hotels operates 18 hotels in Japan and two hotels outside of Japan. The flagship hotel in Tokyo has been around since 1964 and their management is nothing short of top notch.
The service is beyond exceptional….but it doesn’t stop there. Upon arrival, I was escorted to my room by the hotel manager since my flight was so late and I managed to catch the last limo bus of the night which put me into the center of Tokyo well after 11.
One of the first things I fell in love with beside the ability to manage every light from a series of controls next to the bed, was the heated toilet seats. I soon learned that heated toilet seats were a big part of Japanese culture, at the very least Tokyo culture. I ran into heated toilet seats throughout the city in various establishments and each one had a number of controls which were far too complex for the ordinary brain. Regardless, I quickly fell in love with them even if I couldn’t always figure out how to flush them ‘properly’ or which control to use.
The hotel also had a fabulous carpeted walk in closet with plenty of space for hanging clothes and other storage and a cozy seat in front of the main mirror in the bathroom which sat atop a round cozy and furry rug.
Like most Japanese hotels, I would soon learn, they had a cupboard with a traditional Japanese tea cups, together with a selection of teas, and Green and Jasmine teas were of course among them. They also had assorted coffees, spirits, wines, saki and beautifully presented tea serving sets, as well as glasses for soda, and juice.
On a clear day, apparently you can also get a distant view of Mount Fuji, which of course wasn’t the case over the few days I stayed there (wrong time of year). The style is traditional but most definitely modern, from the bed design to the bathroom, artwork and windows.
There’s a main hotel tower and a Garden Tower adjacent to it. The main tower houses the two floors which have access to the premium Executive Lounge which also gives guests access to the spa, sauna and swimming pool in the same building every morning from 7 am to 10 am. There’s also a beautiful pool outside which is open to guests.
There are four restaurants – Satsuku, which has a buffet of Japan and Chinese items for breakfast and other meals, Top of the Tower, which serves a Breakfast buffet, the Nadaman, which is where I went for my very first breakfast in Tokyo, which serves traditional Japanese meals and lastly, the Garden Lounge, which has lovely views, great lights and is spacious but is more focused on traditional western/American food.
And then there’s breakfast. Yum!!! Below are some shots of my breakfast at Nadaman which was so delicious, I wanted seconds.
Above, breakfast at New Otani’s Nadaman Restaurant
Below is the Zen Executive Lounge in the Main Tower on one of the upper floors, which also serves food in the morning and late afternoon/early evening for what a “happy hour” period. During that window, they have wine, appetizers, cheese and fruit, beer, fresh juice, raw vegetables, pickles, crackers and nuts. There are light meals served four times a day here.
Above, the New Otani Executive Lounge
I also had an opportunity to experience the spa at the New Otani, which is fairly formal in nature. The experience was in true New Otani style, somewhat formal while offering exquisite service. They have a private gym as well as a main gym, an area for relaxation, a hot (dry) sauna, steam room and two adjacent hot tubs.
Above, the Spa at the New Otani Hotel
On the way to the main outside pool, you need to walk through the infamous gardens of the New Otani property. They walk is beautiful and makes you feel as if you’re far away from a city center, with nothing but peace and tranquility bathing you from all sides. As serenity overtakes you, you feel as if you can get lost in the gardens’ endless greenery and flowers.
There’s a stunning little red bridge that crosses a river area loaded with colorful fish.
With its 400 years of history, the Japanese Garden at Hotel New Otani is one of the most renowned gardens in Tokyo. The vast ten-acre ground, surrounded by the outer moat of the historic Edo Castle, houses numerous kinds of trees, flowers and foliage. They have stone gardens and lanterns, carp ponds and waterfalls.
The highlight of the Garden is its traditional stone gardens, called Karesansui. Pine trees with stones of different sizes represent mountains, while white pebbles and sand are water with rake marks depicting its ripples.
One of the most recognizable structures in the Garden is a square-shaped pagoda, a style which has been kept intact since the Nanboku-cho period (1336-1392).
They also have 42 stone lanterns, some along the pathways and slopes, and some by the pond. For example, the Kaneiji Lantern is a dignified looking lantern from the Kamakura Era (1183-1333), that was acquired by Yonetaro Otani from the Kaneiji Temple in Ueno, Tokyo.
- The Kasuga Lantern has twelve animals of the Japanese zodiac engraved on the hexagonal surface, each facing the direction it represents. The Nuresagi Lantern dates back to the Edo (or Tokugawa Shogunate) Era (1603-1867). And, there are countless ones you can view taking a stroll through the gardens.
One day during my stay, they had a media event by the pool where Japanese swimmers entertained us for an hour or so with a variety of dances in and outside the pool.
The music was lively and fun, and people were tapping their feet and smiling ear-to-ear while they sipped Bombay Sapphire Gin under colorful umbrellas to protect them from the hot summer sun.
Below is a quick video I shot of the performance.
Conveniently located a stone’s throw from the Akasaka-Mitsuko stop on the Ginza line (other lines also pass through here), it’s hard to beat the area as a place to base yourself. Within five minutes, I was on a main line to get me to the most important parts of the city.
We give it two thumbs up and would definitely recommend putting New Otani on your list for your next trip to Tokyo. As for other choices, there are a few traditional western 4 and 5 star chains but in our opinion, why would you stay there when you could stay in a more authentic Japanese hotel? And since I’m a known snob when it comes to stellar service, you can’t go wrong with the New Otani, who consistently proved themselves again and again — from check in, the spa and loung area to their dining experiences and shops.
We were planning to check out the Palace Hotel near the Imperial Palace, but it didn’t pan out so we didn’t have an opportunity to do so. While it looked great from the street and the lobby (I visited briefly one day), we’ve heard mixed reviews from various sources and since we didn’t have a chance to take a deep nose dive, we can’t verify which sentiment is valid or not.
What We Most Loved:
1. The modern style of the rooms that were astonishing prestine.
2. The fabulous cabinet with the adorable traditional tea kettle and cups, together with the assorted teas and coffees.
3. The walk in closet (sweet)!.
4. The sitting stool atop the plush furry throw carpet in the bathroom.
5. The light controls that are accessible from the bed.
6. The heated toilet seats.
7. The view of the gardens below. (I had a stunning view and while I may not have been able to see Mount Fuji, it was still stunning).
8. The flow of the room (someone with feng shui design sense was involved in the decision making).
9. The service was through the roof (above and beyond — makes many American 5 star hotels feel merely like 5 star wanna-be’s).
10. The traditional Japanese breakfast. (see our separate write-up on Japanese food in Tokyo and beyond, including the New Otani Hotel).
And of course, the traditional spa and Executive Zen Lounge where you can get away from it all throughout the day.
New Otani Hotel
We discovered Yakima bike racks after several hours of fishing on the web and a couple of days of researching options for travelers. Since we’re doing a lot of car travel in New England this summer, we thought we’d test out a couple of bike racks and give them a spin.
We’re starting with the Yakima, since we loved their variety of choices, making it a godsend for people with more than one kind of vehicle. There are various options for how you affix a bike rack to your car (for newbies) and for those who have tried more than one type, you’ll love the fact that Yakima gives you choices within each category.
First, there’s the roof racks for people who like to put their bike on a pedestal but only have a car. The hitch racks go on the back of the car and albeit they can be a little pricier, they are very easy to assemble, install and load. There’s also one that connects to your spare tire and for those who have trunks, they offer racks you can use on the back of the truck to keep them securely fastened while you drive. Lastly, there are trunk racks which come fully assembled and easy to install on both trunks or hatchbacks.
We like trunk racks since they are flexible and don’t require you to have a SUV or do any extra installation or adjusting. They simply affix to the back of your trunk and off you go.
Our favorite option of their trunk racks is the QuickBack 3 (there’s also a QuickBack 2), which features single-knob adjustment for lightning-fast installation, a steel-reinforced security strap, premium oversized padded feet and anti-sway cradles to eliminate bike contact. Below is the QuickBack 3, which we opted to test out for our first New England road trip.
The installation is fast right out-of-the-fox with its single adjustment knob. We found it fairly easy to install onto a Chevy Malibu.
The unit includes steel-reinforced strap security system, and labeled straps, making it easier to figure out how to install, a godsend for people like me. The arms fold down easily and quickly when you’re not using the unit so you can store it or toss in the car when you take your bikes off to ride. We weren’t traveling with a particularly large car – a Chevy Pontiac – and yet, it presented no problems installing regardless of the size or type of trunk.
First, we love the protective coating! Unlike any other bike rack I’ve ever had, there is a ton of protection for your car. The unit has premium oversized padded feet so its easy on the paint and there are coated metal buckles which also give your car extra protection. It also includes glass hatch hooks and bottle openers. They recommend this option as a great choice for hatchbacks, minivans and SUVs and it comes in a 2 or 3 bike capacity. We agree!
The price point is $209. Another thing to note is how many choices they offer on their site for accessories – take a look! We added a TubeTop gizmo, which can help mounting onto a mast-style hitch rack. While our unit came with strong straps to hold your bikes, they sell them separately for only $10 if you want to add a few more.
Their stretchy rubber straps come in pairs and are durable and dependable, keeping your bike even more safe and secure. Each strap has 8 holes which are ½” in diameter.
The other choice we thought was a great (and sturdy choice) was the KingJoe Pro 3, one of their other trunk fitted racks which requires no trailer or truck bed. The QuickTrigger II hub system makes installation fast, and the sleek design fits stably on a wide variety of vehicles. The StableCradles II hold your bikes firmly in place and folding arms let you store this away easily.
This is a slightly lighter option but it still includes premium oversized padded feet and coated metal buckles to protect your car. The arm design is narrow so it’s flexible enough to fit a wide variety of bike frames.
Like the QuickBack 3, the arms fold up, making it easy to store in the car when you’re on a ride or in your basement or garage when you’re back home. It’s also a great option for hatchbacks, minivans and SUVs and comes with integrated bottle openers and glass hatch hooks. It is available for either 2 or 3 bikes and is priced at $185.
Yakima is well established so you don’t need to worry about quality, longevity or service. They’ve been around for 30 years so have had plenty of time to learn how to make the best of the best secure racks for your gear.
They unit we tried is too heavy for international travel options but it makes a perfect choice for car travel, which is ideal in our case as we are planning to do some family travel write-ups this summer.
We give them a two thumbs up for design and style, protective coating and materials and sturdiness and would recommend giving their bike racks a try. If you’re uncertain which bike rack to choose based on your needs, they have a great “How Do I Choose” link on their bike rack page on the upper right.
Oh yeah, and I should mention that we love their team and philosophy as well. They’re outdoor enthusiasts and come at design and durability from their own experience in nature. Based on their personal experiences with adventure sports and cycling, they follow something they refer to as “Insight-Inspired Innovation.” I love it!
Led by General Manager Thomas Szymanowicz and Chef Iain S. Falconer, Cooper’s Mill is a farm-to-table restaurant adjacent to the Marriott Westchester. We discovered it by accident through the marketing folks when we stayed at the Marriott earlier this summer.
The eatery brings food from farm-to-fork in a unique and social setting and if you didn’t know where you were, you’d think you might be somewhere in northern California. They use locally and regionally grown and sourced ingredients and the ambiance is a mixture of rustic and sleek industrial design.
Reclaimed barn wood has been used to create a natural ambiance and feel. The restaurant features hand-crafted booths and table tops fashioned from barn wood, and private dining areas are separated by custom-made sliding barn doors. Another thing to note that is unique about the place is the vast selection of craft beers they offer from local area breweries including Captain Lawrence and Defiant. They are also proud of their bourbons, vodkas and eclectic wine list.
One of our favorite dishes was the scallops with risotto and their presentation was stunning.
Their name Cooper’s Mill, was taken from a flour mill that opened in Tarrytown in 1886 and for many years refined more than 300 barrels of flour a day. Farm-to-table seems fitting given the history. Take a look at this beautiful fish selection below, one of the specials of the day — Skuna Bay Salmon with corn succotash and lemon sauce.
Their salads are organic and incredibly fresh and include pea shoot and english pea with white bean hummus, roasted beet with smoked goat cheese, a steak cobb salad and organic mixed greens with baby carrot, grape tomato, cucumber and summer radish (pictured below).
Some of the New York state vendors they source from include Sprout Creek Farm, Coach Farm, Cooperstown Dairy, Old Chatham Sheepherding, Five Spoke Creamery, Catskill Distillery and Cascun Farms to name a few.
A homemade spring pea soup followed by a scrumptious tomato-based soup.
A fine selection of assorted homemade ice cream with unusual flavors that change regularly. Some odd but yummy sounding flavors on the menu have been basil with tomato, grape jelly, nutter butter, chocolate explosion, tamarin sorbet, bacon walnut, chocolate covered pumpkin seeds and more. The bacon walnut ice cream flavor was influenced by the former chef, who was Scottish. The menu since the current chef, Claude Moreau took over, has more French influence.
Other fabulous dessert choices include sweet ricotta and peach flatbread, beet, white chocolate bread pudding with a honey anglaise sauce, whipped pineapple mascarpone with soy sauce cookie, or a more traditional cheese board, which includes sprouts creek margie, chatham ewes blue, cooperstown dairy toma celena, fig jam (yum) and truffle crisp. The menu overall is unique for the area and locally grown — even the coffee is locally roasted from Irving Farm.
The inside of the establishment — you can see its rustic ambiance but modern design.
We were pleasantly surprised by how great this was – a real surprise and a gem in Westchester County. Two thumbs up! Definitely give them a try next time you’re in the area. And a huge kudos and thanks to our gracious server Karen who has been there for 32 years and Tom, the GM of the restaurant, who both provided out of this world service.
Cooper’s Mill Restaurant
670 White Plains Road
Tarrytown, NY 10591
The Arizona Taco Fest is returning to Salt River Fields October 18 & 19 for its 5th year. This ‘Taco-Topia’ will serve an estimated 100,000 tacos to an expected 25,000 attendees and offers plenty of live entertainment including the Ay Chihuahua! Beauty Pageant and live Lucha Libre Wrestling. The National Taco Association will also be in attendance to judge more than 50 team’s tacos as they compete for the Grand Champion title.
The Arizona Taco Festival pits these participants against each other in a double-blind competition. Tacos are submitted to more than 50 National Taco Association judges sequestered in a closed tent for truly anonymous scoring. Points are awarded and weighed for presentation, taste and texture. Cumulatively, the scores lead to an overall Grand Champion title and $1,000 checks each day.
Outside the judge’s tent, this exciting festival rages on with live Lucha Libre wrestling, a now-legendary Tequila Expo with more than 30 brands participating, and live surf and salsa bands on the main stage. A contest stage also will feature ‘best sombrero’ contests, interactive entertainment and the always popular “Ay Chihuahua! Beauty Pageant.”
The festival humbly began on a dirt lot in the heart of downtown Scottsdale and has since moved to an eight-acre grass field at the Spring Training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks — Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. The Arizona Taco Festival is believed to be the world’s first taco festival, and is estimated to draw more than 30,000 people by 2015.
Tequila Expo Tent, Sat., Oct. 20. The main tent hosts the popular Tequila Expo. Inside, patrons can sample from more than 100 tequilas. A tasting pass is $20 for 10 samples of fine tequila.
Ay Chihuahua! Beauty Pageant, Sun. Oct. 21. Sunday at 2pm, watch more than 15 sassy Chihuahuas strut across the Yelp Contest Stage.
Live Lucha Libre Wrestling. Enjoy live Lucha Libre wrestling all weekend long from comfortable seating around the ring. Also, get a chance to meet the wrestlers themselves during the meet-and-greet.
The Arizona Taco Festival was founded by David Tyda and Rick Phillips of Affordable Food Festivals. They also produce the Arizona Barbecue Festival, Scottsdale Beer Palooza, the most recent Taste Tequila, and run the popular food blog, EATERAZ.com.
Photo credit: penandfork.com.
It was the house really that brought me there. While the Normandy countryside was bitter sweet in its lush green fields of early summer poppies and sandy brown wheat which grows wildly everywhere and I couldn’t help but remember the times by the roadside where I had thumbed my way across roads and fields just like these twenty years before, it was my friend’s house that brought me back even further in time.
I learned that it belonged to her grandparents and at the time, was considered the “country home”, the place of serenity they would escape to when Paris became too hot, too crowded and just too much to bear. They would come out on bikes, something that took us an hour and a half to drive, simply because they had no car at the time and it was a faster alternative to walking.
The place was musty when we entered the living room, the main bowels of the house. It reminded me of the smell our summer camp had after being bottled up all winter except stronger, as if it had been bottled up for six seasons not one. Apparently they visit the place to maintain it but it’s no longer the escape pad from the city for weeks at a time like it once was for the previous two generations.
The furniture remained as it was from its likely upgrade sometime in the mid-forties. Two matching vinyl black chairs with ottomans, a tiger throw, and a retro glass table loaded with trinkets and those thick glass ashtrays of the time that you could find on any of your grandparent’s side tables. The only thing missing was a bowl of hard candies which I later discovered at a restaurant entrance in the main town, a five minute drive away. The table too was vinyl or looked like it had a layer of it on the top of its a partial wood base and trinkets were scattered across it, a table that today would have housed a full stereo and TV system.
This country getaway house had no TV however, nor did it have a phone or entertainment system – the closest thing I found was an old black transistor radio, with its antenna still extended as if it was actually used the last time someone stayed here.
The first thing I did was open the French windows in the main room to let the air and sunshine in to warm our bones before we were about to venture on several hours of yard work. The kitchen was as retro as it gets and reminded me of my great Aunt Betty’s house, where no room appeared to have changed since they moved in as young lovers when they first married.
Upstairs, a room half the size of an old fashioned closet was made into a half shower and sink, which only delivered hot water so you had to duck in and out quickly to avoid getting scorched. Downstairs was only cold water and a separate room for a toilet, which is common in France.
Two bedrooms joined each other, both with sitting tables and side drawers for jewelry, brushes and make-up. Not unlike the childhood bedroom on my Adirondack lake, on the paneled walls, there were old slightly faded prints of lakes, trees and birds nestled inside brown wooden frames. An olive green retro chair sat in the corner, alongside the bed was yet another transistor radio, a small framed picture and a cross that probably hung somewhere in the room once upon a time.
The carpet was rust as was the itchy woolen throws that acted as duvet covers on top of the beds. The pillows like so many in early French homes, were those long thin rolls that spread across the width of the bed. They were wide enough just to fit under the arch of your neck and often in materials that displayed colorful checks, swirls, flowers or stripes.
The curtains were just dark enough not to see through yet thin enough to be only a grade above sheer. Dark but peppy blue melted into layers of pink and purple, none of which really went with the rust carpet or the bright yellow pillow that resembled a modern day dog pillow, and didn’t really have a place in the room.
Lamps throughout bore modern and bright colors in an overly retro design and felt out of place against everything else in the house; it was as if Don Draper’s Megan had picked them out herself before the rest of the house was thrown together. I marveled at the purple glass and white plastic design hanging above me with its matt silver shimmering fixtures that held it in place from the middle of the ceiling.
The kitchen cannot be overlooked as it reminded me of my own mother’s kitchen in many ways, which was where I first listened to stories across generations from the top of the stairs late at night when the adults thought I was sleeping. I sometimes perched myself half way down the stairs if I couldn’t hear clearly enough and other times, remained hidden under the tables, curled up like a ball holding my breath to avoid being seen.
Below if you look carefully, you’ll see the old fashioned toaster I used to brown my French loaf which I coated with homemade Rhubarb jam.
It was that same kitchen we prepared the dishes for the following day which included hours of eating, drinking and sharing over paella, French champagne, cheese, Bordeaux, and fresh salads.
During my early visits to France, I first learned the art of storytelling and the importance of the textures that make up people’s stories, a mere expression of their lives. Their pains, tribulations, and unspoken truths of which there were so many at the time. I learned what women held dear and what they didn’t share with their husbands and how some of them had to finagle their finances merely to survive.
Others spoke of miscarriages and how they planned to carry their family forward after their husband got laid off from the “plant.” I learned about cigars, cars, whiskey and gambling from sitting quietly under the desk in the den, where the men would retreat when the women washed dishes after a group meal.
The once country had become more of a suburbia town, but a small one which now integrated what was once a village. The most obvious thing that made it feel still “country” was the amount of birds who played with your senses early in the morning, such as the early morning visits by the coukou’s and morning doves and later in the day by the white and black magpies, who had built a nest in the backyard.
They were loud and countless enough to sing like a chorus, something you never hear the textures of in a city and rarely in a small town. Birds bring me back to another reality, a spiritual one in which the physical world doesn’t exist.
It’s as if their singing and chirping is nothing short of the raw joy they feel to be alive and how they celebrate in unison every morning before taking the day on, not unlike children do before they learn that the external world ‘should’ hold more value than the internal joy they simply feel from being, listening, partaking and experiencing. In other words, before they are forced by society to move into the world of thinking which sadly in western societies drives our decisions more than does our hearts.
As I perched myself up against the wall in the bedroom with two single beds and looked out the open French windows, while I couldn’t see them, I felt as if they wanted to make sure I heard them even in my dreams before I awoke. I couldn’t help but thank Normandy for bringing me back in time to a place where every day you could wake up to a day of joy, just like children do and the birds of Normandy do, grateful for the trees they call home for the summer season. The trees, the air and the sunshine were enough for them just as they are enough for children, a reminder of the things in our lives that truly bring us joy, rather than ill substitutes for happiness.
Normandy is a different life and frankly, so is Paris. While my Paris counterparts who work at start-ups tend to put in long hours, when they turn off, they really turn off, taking retreats to the south of France, northern Normandy, wine country or a family member’s house in Corsica. And social life is truly that, social. Laptops and cell phones don’t turn on nor are they dominant or even integral to a conversation over dinner or in a café.
As I relished in the sound of the birds, I couldn’t help but wonder how long we have before other societies turn to technology as the driving force in our lives just as they have in Silicon Valley, other American urban centers and parts of Asia.
Once the sounds of cell phones take our attention more than the birds do off in the distance, I also wondered if the birds would want to visit anymore. At first, they might be curious as they watched from above. Below, the human race turning into zombies before their eyes, so unaware of their natural surroundings that they can no longer participate in their own chorus, just as the birds continue to do…as naturally today as they did 1,000 years ago.
If you haven’t been to the Plaza Athenee Hotel on New York City’s Upper East Side, you’re in for a real treat. While we didn’t stay at the hotel during our most recent trip in late June, we did test out the hotel’s spa – Spa Valmont. For those of you who know anything about the Valmont spa philosophy and high quality products, you know that the quality is top notch.
Spa Valmont for Plaza Athenee is the only luxury hotel spa in New York City to exclusively carry Valmont Cosmetics skin care lines. Skin enthusiasts likely know about Valmont, a line which was created in Switzerland as far back as 1985. Valmont is known for its scientifically advanced skincare products, incorporating cutting-edge Swiss technological research and Glacial Spring Water into all of their luxurious products.
In line with its commitment to luxury products and a luxurious experience, all the rooms are private. The spa features four Asian themed private treatment suites sumptuously designed with natural elements. Each treatment area is for you alone and in addition to the room itself with the spa “bed,” you have a suite to yourself, which contains a dressing room, lounge chair for relaxation and a private steam shower. They also have an option for two “beds” in one room.
All of the treatment rooms offer complete spa services – including massage, facial, body wraps, reflexology, manicure, pedicure, make up application and a comprehensive spa menu. One of the treatment suites features Thai massage treatments while another offers couples massage treatments. (see above).
I had a 90 minute “Valmont” signature facial, which includes a hydration, energy renewal, radiance and anti-wrinkle and firmness treatment. They started me off with a foot soak in a large round copper tub, which was scattered with beautiful rose petals, before bringing me to the treatment room itself and diving into the facial itself. You can get a body wrap as part of it except I decided to opt for a little extra firming treatment for under my eyes.
They use a Solution Booster (Butterfly method of massage), then do a C Curve Shaper, followed by a cleanser. Like most facials, they give you a face massage and exfoliate with a mask. Their ingredients are renowned for giving moisture and revitalizing energy to the skin, so the prime renewing pack is an integral part of the process.
The program utilizes their exclusive Time Master Intensive Program, a cure which features 26% active ingredients for both immediate and long-term rejuvenation. The idea is that they want you to “see” and “feel” results immediately while also experiencing long term gain. Following the treatment, your skin is more luminous (this is true btw) and the structure of the skin appears more defined (also true in my case).
I didn’t know much about Valmont before I had my treatment, so I decided to do some digging only to learn that they’ve been around trying to advance skincare since the mid-eighties. Valmont was one of the earliest innovators by becoming the first Swiss clinic dedicated to plastic surgery, and a skin care line followed. The range which is an integral part of their treatments today (ELIXIR DES GLACIERS range) was launched in 2001 and the birth of their spas kicked off in 2003.
They’re well known for their work with anti-wrinkle cosmetics to fight against expression lines, chrono-biological wrinkles and hormono-structural wrinkles. God knows I have more than my fair share early in life because of how much time I spent in the sun. They also do hair repair and have something called the Electronic Eye, a skin aging diagnosis tool.
Valmont has four main Beauty Rituals:
Hydration Ritual which gives your skin long-lasting moisturization. The idea is to rebalance the hydro-lipidic firm to restore the barrier function of the skin. The process optimizes the capacity of water retention in the cells, restructures the membranes of comecytes and the inter-cellular cement. In other words, it gives you in-depth and long lasting hydration which is really important to keep the skin looking young.
Energy Ritual to boost cellular renewal and provide the skin with a second youth.
Radiance Ritual which helps to reinforce micro-circulation to restore a luminous, radiant skin tone. This helps make an even spread to skin pigments for a more unified look to your complexion.
Lastly, is the Anti-Wrinkle and Firmness Ritual to fight against wrinkles and skin sagging. This process helps to boost the elastin synthesis and re-stretch facial features for a face that looks more lifted and reshaped.
Think….a very unique skin treatment combined with an overall luxurious experience in full privacy. I loved the experience and the service was top-notch. I’d definitely recommend giving them a try next time you’re in the Big Apple. Thanks to JC, Miranda and team for a fabulous few hours!
Spa Valmont in the Hotel Plaza Athenee
37 East 64th Street at Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10065 | T: 212.606.4600