Friday, June 25, 2010

More Travel Tips-What To Wear

If I told you I'm walking all over New York City today where it's in the high 80s while wearing a wool dress, you'd probably think I was crazy. In fact, I'm being the savvy traverler. A company that I adore, Icebreaker, just sent me two merino wool items to test out. One is a tank top and the other is a dress, both in black, of course, because in New York we seem to gravitate to that color palette.

I only recommend products that I'm particularly found of and I bought their hoodie ages ago and can't live without it, whether I'm in Madrid or in Iceland. It always provides a warm, comfortable layer and looks good at night, too, when paired with a skirt or jeans. In fact, I've blogged about this hoodie before in a travel tip post of mine.)

Most people associate wool with a scratchy factor and with being bulky and overly hot. And who would think of wearing such a fabric during a sweltering New York City summer? In fact, Icebreaker manufactures different merino wool fabric weights and the ones that make up these two items are some of the thinnest. But no Icebreaker product is every scratchy or uncomfortable. In fact, it's so comfortable, you may not want to take it off.

But why wear wool when it's warm? For one thing, these specific products keep you cool when it's warm out by wicking away sweat and body heat. So none of that sticky feeling you get when wearing cotton or some synthetics after racing around the city all day while carrying a heavy backpack, which I often do. In addition, I'm also running in and out of highly air conditioned venues and a/c makes me shiver, but not when I'm wearing Icebreaker.

Yesterday I wore the Retreat Tank Emu which has a lovely floral-type pattern. It's their lightest weight fabric. And it kept me cool during one of our hottest and most humid days we've had so far. Plus, it looked great for a networking event I had at night where I paired it with black capri pants and black sandals. Some of my friends felt the fabric and thought it was silk, that's how thin and luxurious it feels.

Today it's another hot day, though not as humid, and I'm wearing the Villa dress which is just a wee bit thicker than the Tank's fabric. I've been comfortable all day while I walked a total of three miles in the heat all over the city as I went from meeting to meeting. I'm also carrying my Icebreakder hoodie to put over the dress in case it gets a little cooler at night. But aside from all this cool functionality, the dress fits well, looks sophisticated, perfect for the boardroom or the bar.

And aside from all these fab features, these two items pack small and don't wrinkle. And that's important because, as many of you know, I never check luggage when I travel.

I'll be traveling to Florida soon and I'll be taking my two new favorite Icebreaker items with me, even though I'm told that the temperatures are rising above 95!

continue reading "More Travel Tips-What To Wear"

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Gem of a Hotel in Amsterdam

For me, it's always a delight when I find a hotel that allows me to feel like I'm outdoors while still enjoying the luxury of a boutique property. That's what I found at Hotel Pulitzer in the old quarter of Amsterdam. Basically down the street from the Anne Frank House and overlooking two scenic canals, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht, the location can't be beat.

But one of the things that makes this property so endearing is that the hotel is made up of 25 merchant houses that date from the 17th and 18th centuries. They're all connected by a series of mostly glass-enclosed corridors that lead to my favorite hotel feature: several leafy courtyards.

As I roamed around the hotel, I strolled along corridors that zigged and zagged, and then climbed up and down short sets of sometimes steep stairs, all understandable given the different character of the more than two dozen different structures that comprise this eccentric but elegant accommodation. The rooms in the front of the property have wood floors and low ceilings and are completely different from those in the rear which come with wall-to-wall carpeting and high ceilings.

For those who love sunlight like me, room #326 will be your favorite -- you've got a view down into one of the garden courtyards and the light simply pours in.

A good way to start the day is to visit the hotel's espresso shop for a cappuccino. (You can imagine my surprise when I didn't have to ask for skin milk; that's all they serve!) Then take your steaming cup into the light-filled leafy courtyard that has a pergola draped with wisteria, stone benches, bronzes and a water feature. I sat at one of the tall tables and planned out my day from my perch.

Across the corridor from this courtyard is a shady garden with ivy coated tree trunks and tulips. From here you have a good view of the church at the rear of the property. This garden is usually peaceful unless there is a group of business people hosting a breakfast meeting there. (Luckily, I had the place to myself.)

Interestingly, the corridors also double as mini-art galleries displaying some contemporary works by local artists.

The breakfast buffet is a real treat with an array of different breads, cheeses, fresh fruits, smoked fish, yogurts and more. But, among these offerings, I most enjoyed the creamy yogurt that came in small glass jars. This was an organic yogurt and I have to say one of the tastiest yogurts I've ever sampled. Of course, eating breakfast next to the glass windows overlooking the canal front where you can see the sitting waking up and locals pedals past made it all the more picturesque.

The restaurant, Keizergracht 238, also serves lunch and dinner and is most noted now for it's grilled dishes -- they even cook everything on a lava grill. From grilled halibut and king prawns to grilled veal and corn-fed chicken breast, they've got something for everyone. (And they even label their menu with low-cal and low-fat options -- something I don't often find on my European travels.) In nice weather you can enjoy a meal in one of the courtyards.

Hotel Pulitzer -- named for the owner whose great great grandfather established the eponymous prize -- is loaded with history. Part of the hotel is an old pharmacy with the interior dating to the early 19th century. And, should you want to hop aboard a boat for a canal cruise, the hotel has their own teak and brass vessel dating from 1909 and the same boat that Winston Churchill once traveled in when he visited Amsterdam.

I can't wait to return to Amsterdam and stay a few more days at the Hotel Pulitzer. Once you stay there, it's hard to stay anywhere else in the city.
continue reading "A Gem of a Hotel in Amsterdam"

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tips for 24 Hours in Brussels

Sometimes when I'm traveling, I only have one day to spend in a large city. That's what happened recently on my trip to Brussels. And yet, I often have an amazing ability to pack in as much as possible into a single day by having the day's itinerary plotted out precisely the night before, both on a map -- with everything color coded for the time different venues open -- and in my notebook where I note the best way to get everywhere, including metro, bus, walking or taxi. Yes, it's all very organized but that's what happens when you only have a day to see Brussels. Here's what I managed to fit into 10 hours:

1. Place du Petit Sablon -- a petite neo-Renaissance-style park with bronze statuary, wrought iron balustrades and plenty of ivy. It's worth sitting on one of the benches listening to the tinkling water. You'll feel far from the traffic, though it's literally as the park's doorstep.

2. Sculpture Garden of the Fine Arts Museum -- it's curious that only school groups seem to visit this tiny strip of verdancy that's literally adjacent to one of Brussels' most prominent museums. This garden sits on the site of the city's first botanical garden from the 18th century. I walked along the thin path under locust, linden, maple and plane trees, checking out the statuary that all have a female theme. (One of the works is "Bathing Beauty" by A. Maillot.)

3. The Belvue Museum isn't far away, but clearly I didn't have time to visit. What I did check out is the museum's lovely outdoor terrace where you can sit amongst the shrubbery and sip a fruit juice under an umbrella.

4. Across the street is yet another green space -- Brussels is chock a block full of leafy swaths -- called Brussels Park. But instead of joining the school groups along the main paths, I found a series of tiny gates leading to small pockets of forestland. Not a sole could be bound in these shady retreats.

5. The Magritte Museum deserves a full day, or at least the entire morning, to adequately explore the works of one of my favorite surrealists. Everything is arranged chronologically. But during my brief visit, I'd have to say that among my favorite works are the series of paintings titled The Dominion of Light.

6. I also could've spent most of the day in the Musical Instruments Museum but that couldn't happen either. Instead, I checked out a few exhibits but found this place quite addictive. Once you don the infrared headphones, all you have to do is stand in front of a display and you'll automatically hear the sounds of that instrument. The museum's collection is one of the largest in the world and includes both antique and contemporary exhibits. Just think: they've got 58 different types of wind instruments.

7. On the top of this gorgeous Art Nouveau building is Restaurant du MIM. This is a low-key eatery with one of the most expansive views around. The gazpacho soup with salad is an inexpensive, hearty and tasty choice.

8. I'm a very big fan of contemporary art so I didn't want to miss visiting the Xavier Hufkens Gallery
where in the white-on-white interior I explored the fantastical works of David Altmejd, a Canadian artist who puts together disparate objects. In his most recent exhibit, multicolored thread formed a dragon-like creature sitting in a plexiglass cube as well as the heart and liver of a plexiglass human.

9. You can't leave Brussels without visiting the Comic Strip Centre where I found it hard to pull myself away from a special exhibit on Tove Jansson, the creator of The Mommins. These curious little creatures that occupy numerous comic strips and books are plenty eccentric. But even if these odd forest-dwelling characters -- many that resemble white hippos -- don't interest you, the prestigious collection of comic strips will.

10. I had some difficulty getting the taxi to figure out where Parc d'Egmont was located. That's because you can only access this small park via three narrow alleys. But once inside, I found I had the place almost to myself with just a few locals wandering the paths, past a bronze of Peter Pan and the neo-classical orangery where they serve lunch and brunch of the weekends.

11. L'Atelier Yves Mattagne is a perfect place for dinner though not relaxing in the true sense of the word. That's because it's a combination cooking class and dining experience. Everyone is broken up into groups and set to work at one of four stations to dish out the dinner menu for the evening. Because I love being active, this was a perfect way to end a very frenetic day. Using the executive chef's menu -- and it changes from night to night, though we worked with Belgian cuisine -- we sliced potatoes, diced leeks, whipped cream, whisked in truffle oil and topped the chocolate tarts with raspberries.

continue reading "Tips for 24 Hours in Brussels"