Smitten with Mayfair!

Mayfair in London Fortumn and Mason

Fortnum & Mason in Mayfair ... it really is the Best Thing Ever!

A trip to London isn’t complete for me without a visit … or two or three … to Mayfair. I just love exploring this neighborhood’s elegant streets so full of London history, going for tea and shopping at Fortnum & Mason, window shopping in the beautiful Burlington Arcade, walking through Hyde Park to the Serpentine or across Green Park to Buckingham Palace or stopping in the Royal Academy of Arts to see a special exhibition or the marvelous permanent collections. It’s a fabulous little area in London that is literally surrounded by all my favorite things to do just walking distance or a short bus ride away.

Burlington Arcade Shopping in London

Shopping in Burlington Arcade at Penhaligon's ... founded in 1870!

Mayfair is one of London’s most fashionable areas, and its location tucked away between Hyde Park and Green Park on two sides and the fabulous shopping areas of Oxford Street, Regent Street and Piccadilly on the other sides means you’re really surrounded by the best of London – shopping, iconic sights and beautiful parks.

Liberty in London

Loved being able to walk to Liberty - one of my favorite shopping spots in London!

On my most recent trip to London I had the chance to not only visit Mayfair but also to call it home. Once you’ve rented an apartment while traveling it’s hard to imagine going back to staying in hotels. For a week I got to call call Mayfair “home” and to discover one of London’s most exclusive neighborboods like a local. Sweet! While shopping in Mayfair is always on the top of my list in London, I discovered an area new to me during my stay at the Mayfair apartment – Shepherd Market. And what a find!

Fabulous Restaurants and Pubs in Shepherd Market

Fabulous Restaurants and Pubs in Shepherd Market

Shepherd Market promotes itself as one of London’s best kept secrets, and I’d have to agree! This area takes its name from a man named Edward Shepherd who developed the square and shopping area from 1735-46. It has always been an ultra fashionable area, especially in the 20s, with an artistic touch. James Boswell lived in Shepherd Market, all the while keeping his famous journals. Just around the corner on Half Moon Street was the stylish flat of Wooster and his faithful valet Jeeves in the stories of P.G. Wodehouse. I couldn’t help but smile every time I walked by Half Moon Street thinking of all the messes that Jeeves managed to get Wooster out of!

Fish and Chips in Shepherd Market

How about fish and chips in Shepherd Market?

But Shepherd Market is more than just historic charm. The area is full of restaurants, pubs, cute little cafes and beautiful stops. It’s a very lively spot for Londoners at night, too! I’ve even read about restaurants and clubs in the area that have hosted Pippa Middleton and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on many ocassions … if you feel like a bit of royal spotting!

Beautiful Pubs in Shepherd Market

Just one of the lovely pubs in Shepherd Market

I loved returning in the evenings to see the crowds at the local pubs spilling out onto the street with Londoners enjoying a pint after work or meeting up with friends before dinner in Shepherd Market. There was a vibrant atmosphere and very local feel that I enjoyed experiencing, especially compared to some more touristy parts of London.

Great Restaurants in Mayfair

There are all kinds of restaurants in Shepherd Market ... even some types you wouldn't expect!

The Mayfair apartment was perfectly located at the end of a quiet street, but just around the corner from the lively heart of Shepherd Market. There’s not a lot of traffic in Shepherd Market to begin with and many of the streets are pedestrian only. Love that! The apartment I stayed in is set in a charming red brick building on a street that wasn’t even a through street so it was a nice and quiet setting. Once I stepped inside the apartment the bustle of Piccadilly and the energy of Shepherd Market seemed worlds away even though they were literally just around the corner!

Cool Modern Wallpaper in Living Room

Very modern decor with cool wallpaper in the living room

This apartment had a modern and fun decor with a striking wallpaper in the living room and dining area. I really enjoyed the contemporary vibe that seemed just right for the lively feel of Shepherd Market and the location in the stylish Mayfair neighborhood.

Mayfair Gorgeous Living Room Details

Loved all the gorgeous little details in the living room

The design details were lovely, including a whimsical piece of artwork that contrasted nicely with the Victorian fireplace in the dining area. It was a very comfortable apartment in every detail – especially the under floor heating. Oh how lovely that was! It sure made a delightful change from the freezing cold tile floors at home in Italy. When the super nice greeter showed me how the under floor heating worked when I arrived, I joked that I might never leave again. (I liked this apartment so much that I wasn’t really joking!)

Mayfair Dining Table

Glass table and modern chairs ... and warm floors!!!

I always look for a beautiful kitchen when picking out an apartment to rent for vacation, because I love enjoying the comforts of home while traveling. I’m also a bit of an intensive sightseer … meaning I walk and walk and walk and walk all day long since it’s my favorite way to discover cities like London. At the end of the day I often feel like coming home to a comfortable apartment, preparing something to eat at home and just relaxing!

Modern Kitchen in London Apartment

Lovely modern kitchen with fab appliances!

The kitchen at the Mayfair was perfect – completely modern with all new appliances, very clean and with beautiful dishes, too. Some evenings I stopped off on the way home at the great Marks & Spencer Simply Food store nearby or one of the other little food shops in the neighborhood to pick up something fresh and easy to prepare. Other nights I couldn’t resist heading out to try some of the restaurants and pubs in Shepherd Market. It was great that they were just a few steps away! However, after a busy day there’s nothing quite like relaxing, staying in and … Downton Abbey!

Watching Downton Abbey in London

Watching Downton Abbey in London ... how perfect is that?

The TV in the living room was massive! It angled out just right so I could relax on the sofa and enjoy an episode of Downton Abbey in the evenings with a DVD I picked up at the airport. There was also a TV in the bedroom just opposite the bed. Oh, the bedroom …

Peaceful Bedroom in Mayfair

Ahhh ... it felt so good to sink into bed at night!

The bedroom was beautifully designed and decorated with pale shades of beige and off white. I really enjoyed the inset lighting above the bed and the small reading lamps on each side of the bed. The windows are double paned and were frosted part of the way up for privacy, which was a great feature. There was a ton of storage so I could unpack when I arrived and store away my suitcase. I really like doing that when I travel so I don’t have to think about leaving until it’s time to pack again!

Comfortable Bedroom with Great Features

Great storage in the bedroom plus reading lights, a TV and stereo with iPod dock

Before staying in Mayfair I hadn’t realized just how well connected it is for public transport in London. The Green Park tube station was just a few minute’s walk away, and that station is conveniently on the Piccadilly, Victoria and Jubilee lines. It was just one stop to Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster, Victoria and just a few stops to go direct to Harrods in Knightsbridge, Museum Row in South Kensington, Leicester Square and Covent Garden, the British Museum and so much more.

Taking the Bus in London

On the bus zipping around Duke of Wellington Place

While the Tube is fabulous, my favorite way to get around London is on the bus. It’s so easy to use (and I used to be scared to use buses while traveling!) and you get to actually see London on the way.

Easy to Take the Bus in London

It's easy to take the bus in London - you can see the name of the upcoming stops and whether or not the bus is stopping to tell when to press the stop request button. Simple!

There were lots of great bus lines that passed by the Green Park Tube station and other stops nearby. One day I took the #9 bus straight to Kensington High Street for shopping and to visit Kensington Palace while another day I hopped on a bus and enjoyed the ride through Knightsbridge and South Kensington to King’s Road in Chelsea for another fun shopping expedition. The rest of the time I usually just walked everywhere I wanted to go since Mayfair is so centrally located.

Take the Tube to Harrods

Take the Tube or bus to Harrods

London is full of surprises and mine on this trip was the discovery of Shepherd Market and the Mayfair apartment. It’s such a quaint and intimate neighborhood right in the heart of Mayfair. It’s an ideal central location yet with tons of London charm … I’ve become smitten with Mayfair!

Book Review | InterRail by Alessandro Gallenzi

Italy Book Reviews InterRail Alessandro Gallenzi
There is something inspiring in a train station. The coming, the going, the energy of the crowds or the sadness of an empty platform – everything adds to the air of possibility and adventure. And freedom, of course. It’s all three of these that entice Francesco, a university student living outside Rome, to buy a month long InterRail pass and set off to explore Europe. Based in part on the author Alessandro Gallenzi’s  adventures traveling around Europe by train, InterRail follows Francesco’s journey as he travels from Italy to Germany, Denmark, Sweden, to disaster in Amsterdam, sleeping on the streets and falling in love in London and the most unusual experiences in Paris before arriving back home in Italy again.

Although Francesco visits some of the most popular travel spots in Europe, InterRail is a novel more about the people you meet and experiences you have while traveling more than a travelogue about place. While Francesco criss-crosses Europe, it’s the chance encounters, new friends and strange acquaintances he meets that guide his travels and teach him the most.

The tagline on the cover of the book caught my attention before I even started the story: “A novel about the joy of being young and the infinite paths our lives can take.” Since I’m constitutionally incapable of simply jumping on a train and traveling across countries with little information and even less planning, I enjoyed traveling vicariously through Francesco’s mishaps and adventures. His openness to exploring some of those “infinite paths” that life spreads out before us was certainly an inspiration.

As an expat who was drawn to Italy for love, I know just how unexpected those paths in life can be. While my unexpected pathway didn’t happen while traveling by train, it certainly did happen while traveling. There are infinite paths that surround us every day, but when you travel they spread out to horizons you may have never imagined. Sometimes the only way to see that there really are an infinite number of directions life can take is to get out there, take a good look around and be brave enough to walk down a path when it feels right. It takes courage to pack up a bag like Francesco and set off with only an InterRail pass, a few changes of clothes, a map of Europe and a small amount of money – all of which he loses, except, of course, for his InterRail pass!

Whatever it takes, you’ve got to go. If you’re open to change and discovery, life’s adventures might just change the rest of your life. That’s the beauty of travel. The passion for travel and a sense of discovery is just one of the undercurrents in InterRail by Alessandro Gallenzi. If traveling is part of your life, or you simply enjoy a good armchair travel read, you’ll have fun following Francesco’s adventures in InterRail.

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Find out more and purchase InterRail by Alessandro Gallenzi on the Alma Books website.

The Traveling Writer

Seine River in Paris

Crossing the Seine on a winter day

I wrapped my scarf around my neck an extra time against the cold wind as we crossed the Pont d’Arcole toward the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. The weather in Paris had been mild compared to our previous January visits, but along the Seine I could feel that the temperature had dropped according to the predictions. In the distance, I spotted the dark spire of Notre-Dame shooting up between two buildings along the Quai aux Fleurs on the Ile de la Cité. A great Gothic cathedral on an island. This is the magic of Paris – that magic is real.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris

Viollet-le-Duc's spire on Notre-Dame

Walking along the cobblestone streets that have inspired so many writers is a quietly moving experience. As I stood in front of the towering facade of Notre-Dame, I felt humbled and small thinking of great writers, such as Victor Hugo, who have captured something of the beauty of this building in the art of their written words. It’s not a question of comparison that intrigues me, but a current that runs deeper – that fascinating way travel and writing overlap and interact, swirling together like the water of the Seine at the tip of the Ile de la Cité. Traveling to Paris over the past week brought up this question every time I pulled out my camera or notebook to try to fix an emotion or memory.

Detail from the Facade of Notre-Dame

Stone detail on the facade of Notre-Dame

Today I happened across Matador’s 50 Most Inspiring Travel Quotes of All Time, and not one to ever pass up a qood quotation, I read through the list from beginning to end. One by British travel writer Freya Stark caught my attention and begged to be read over and over again.

“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.”

It made me realize that there is no point in trying to straighten out the currents of a river as they blend together. Travel and writing both bring the art of life into sharper focus, by making us look at the new or the familiar with different eyes. The point is simply to travel, to question and to write.

Laura Thayer in Paris

In front of Notre-Dame in Paris

Photo Friday: Running Back to Paris

Paris rue Mouffetard

I can’t believe it’s already time for another Photo Friday. Two weeks ago today I was out exploring the 1st arrondissement in Paris, from the l’Orangerie Museum in the morning, along the rue de Rivoli to the Palais Royal, shopping on Place des Victoires, the late Gothic magic of St-Eustache, vin chaud on rue Montorgueil and the evening chaos of the Les Halles metro. I’ve hardly had time to enjoy my photos and finish writing about everything we did in Paris. Life is simply too busy! This morning I thought back to this photo I snapped while strolling along the rue Mouffetard market street in the 5th arrondissement south of the Latin Quarter. I would go running back to Paris in a heartbeat!

Photo Friday: Paris Métro

Paris Metro Sign

This morning I’m waking up in a different place, one that is both familar and foreign all at once. Parigi! (That’s how you say Paris in Italian.) Last January I visited Paris for the first time with my boyfriend, and we loved it so much that we were thrilled when I had the opportunity to visit for work again this winter. Warm weather or cold, Paris is always a good idea! Last year we had a beautiful dusting of snow on our first night in Paris, and I’m excited to see what beautiful memories this trip has in store. A plus tard!