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.

A Bird’s-Eye View of Naples, Italy

Flying into Naples, Italy on a clear day is a treat. The airport is located near the city center and the landing flight path often goes right over the Naples. Sometimes it’s too hazy to see clearly, especially during summer months, but over the years I’ve spotted the gardens at the Royal Palace of Caserta, the islands of Ischia and Procida and enjoyed some great bird’s-eye views over Naples. Last week on the way back from London it was a beautiful day with blue skies and a fairly clear view thanks to north winds. I was glued to the window as the plane made a large bank coming into the Naples airport. I caught a glimpse of Ischia out the opposite window and knew soon I would be able to see Capri. As the plane leveled, I squinted my eyes into the blue.

Landing in Naples Airport Island of Capri

The faint outline of Capri in the distance

There in the distance I could make out the faintest outline. My eyes traced the familiar curves of the island from the peak of Monte Solaro down to Capri town sitting in the saddle and over to the sheer cliff dropping off from the Villa Tiberius. The view was faint, but I knew it was there. Not long after I looked down to see the oddly shaped islet Nisida. It is of volcanic origins, which is what created its circular shape and the round little bay that make it so easy to spot from above.

Flying into Naples Airport Nisida Island

A glimpse of the island of Nisida near Naples

It’s fun to try to spot as many landmarks in Naples while flying over on a clear day. That little port there on the right is called Mergellina, and it’s a pretty part of the city overlooking the bay.

Landing in Naples Airport Mergellina

The pretty port at Mergellina in Naples

I try to see how many castles I can spot in Naples while flying over. Below you can see the Castel dell’ Ovo in the late afternoon sunshine.

Castel dell' Ovo Bay of Naples

The Castel dell' Ovo jutting out into the Bay of Naples

And then there’s Castel Sant’Elmo in the Vomero above Naples. Can you spot it below? It was clear enough that I could make out the white facade of the church at the Certosa di San Martino. What a view!

Flying into Naples Castel Sant Elmo Certosa di San Martino

Flying over the Castel Sant' Elmo and Certosa di San Martino

Coming over the centro storico, I always look for the glass dome of the Galleria Umberto I and the green roof of Santa Chiara. Can you find them below? (Hint: The dome is on the right and Santa Chiara is under the wing of the plane.) How many other sites can you make out in the photo?

EasyJet flying into Naples Italy

A bird's eye view over the centro storico of Naples

There were some very large cruise ships in the port of Naples last Monday, but one was exceptionally large. I think gigantic is appropriate. I couldn’t believe how big it looked, even from so high and far away!

Cruise ship in the port of Naples Italy

Now that's a huge cruise ship - even from the air!

As the plane came in to touch down, there was Mt. Vesuvius in the distance. It’s always there to greet you when you land in Naples. It would be more reassuring, I suppose, if it was a dormant volcano. But I’m awfully fond of it nevertheless.

Mt Vesuvius landing in Naples Italy airport

Mt Vesuvius while landing in Naples

What has been your favorite or most memorable experience flying into Naples?

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

Book Review | Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore by Chantal Kelly

Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore by Chantal Kelly

The beautiful Amalfi Coast, travel stories, history, traditional Campania recipes and, of course, gelato – I think I fell in love with Chantal Kelly’s book Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore before I finished reading the back cover. It was a joy to dive into the story and join Chantal Kelly as she takes readers along with her on a seven day tour in Campania, with stops in some of the region’s most iconic spots like Capri, Sorrento and the villages of the Amalfi Coast. Along the way Kelly shares a nice balance of historical details and personal anecdotes from her previous travels in Campania.

The book opens in Rome where her group of 10 women arrive to tackle jet lag while discovering some of the city’s ancient and modern treasures. On their transfer to the Sorrento Peninsula in Campania, the group stops off for a visit to explore the ruins of Pompeii. The next day they’re off to discover Campania’s ancient Greek heritage at Paestum. A brief stop at Vietri sul Mare gets the ladies in a flurry of ceramic shopping excitement, but it’s not until their third day in Campania that they get the first full taste of the Amalfi Coast’s beauty by visiting Positano.

As their travels continue to Capri, Sorrento, Ravello and Amalfi, with wine tasting in Positano and a morning cooking class in Sorrento, readers are also enticed to fall in love with this special part of southern Italy. I enjoyed reading Kelly’s stories from her travels, and loved how they reminded me time and time again of my first trip to Campania in 2007 with my mother. One of her descriptions of the Amalfi Coast particularly hit home with me, and I imagine it will for anyone who has visited here.

“The Amalfi Coast is simply spectacular, divine, stunning, fascinating, splendid and breathtaking. These adjectives are often used to describe this stretch of the Campania coastline, considered one of the most impressive in Italy, if not all Europe. However, dazzling words cannot begin to arouse the feelings that only a visit can inspire. On site, you will simply succumb to the alluring charms of the Amalfi Coast just as I did, and your sojourn, after you leave, will linger forever in your memories as one of the most wonderful in your life.” – Chantal Kelly from Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore

One could say I’ve made a career out of doing just this. Trying to capture in words—which somehow always seem insufficient no matter how “dazzling” they are as Kelly describes them—that way in which the natural beauty and particular qualities of the Amalfi Coast change something inside of you. There is a shift, sometimes imperceptible in the moment, that you feel has changed you forever. In my case, from the moment I stepped on the tourist bus in Amalfi that sunny February day in 2007, I felt how this place had already begun to stir something deep in me that I am still discovering day by day.

Inscribed at the beginning of Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore are the wise words of Thomas Jefferson, “One never really knows how much one is being touched by a place until one has left it.” No place in the world does this ring truer for me than the gorgeous landscapes that you’ll find on the Amalfi Coast, on the coastline surrounding Sorrento and the island of Capri. These are places that seem somehow just too beautiful to be true when you first see them. The American writer John Steinbeck captured this sentiment perfectly in an oft-quoted description of Positano written in 1953, “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

Nearly sixty years later, Kelly’s book proves that the Amalfi Coast’s allure is as strong as ever. Whether you’ve always dreamed of coming to this stunning part of southern Italy or you’ve been time and time again, you’ll enjoy joining Chantal Kelly on her journey to Campania in Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore. And just to tempt you a little more, here’s the lovely book trailer to enjoy!

Visit www.chantalkelly.com and www.gelatosisterhood.com for more information, and be sure to stop by Chantal Kelly’s Gelato Sisterhood on the Amalfi Shore Facebook page for updates, stories and events!

 

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DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of this book as a gift from the author. The opinions expressed here are wholeheartedly my own.

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