Ever thought about turning your life upside down – jacking in your dream job and travelling to mystical territories to get some perspective? Ever had a boss or mentor who you imagined ‘had-it-all’, only to discover that they were pretty miserable underneath? Ever dreamed of changing path, if only you knew where to begin? If so, read my review of ‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ for Escape the City here, a bestselling story about a hotshot lawyer whose near fatal heart-attack in a court room propelled his voyage around India, where he discovered the kind of truths we only dream of…
Where’s Your Dream Summer Destination?
Poolside, Caribbean cocktail in hand, surfing across beautiful, frothy waves in Hawaii, or whiling away a sunset on a roof terrace overhanging city lights? I could happily indulge in all three, but found myself with plenty of opportunity to sample the latter last year, hopscotching from roof terrace to roof terrace across Madrid.
What’s So Heady About Being On A Roof?!
The best thing about rooftops is the sense of space and freedom that you find high above the crowds of craziness down below. Peaceful, glamorous (and sometimes with a price tag to match), these treasures really are some of my favourite places on Earth. What’s more, they usually come with cracking views over beautiful cityscapes and warm, starlit climates to match. Romance at its best.
Searching For A Cure For the Monday Blues?
This is a beautiful slide show from Architectural Digest, featuring some of the world’s best designed rooftops. From Miami and Mumbai to Madrid, Chamonix and Paris, these are high points in more ways than one.
I seem to be doing a pretty good job of following them around the world and look forward to sampling Le Panoramic in Chamonix very soon
Who Was She?
Maya Angelou’s early life was tarred by rape and prostitution. So disturbing was the abuse that she endured aged seven, she stopped talking for five years.
Despite this, she developed a love of language which saw her become a world-famous poet, civil rights activist (working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X) and award-winning author known for her acclaimed memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”.
Awards She Won?
Her achievements don’t stop there. In 2000, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton. In 2010, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the U.S., by President Barack Obama, not to mention being awarded over 50 honorary degrees and three Grammys. She was also the second poet in history to recite a poem at a presidential inauguration.
Tributes To Her?
Michelle Obama described the African-American poet as: “One of the greatest spirits the world has ever known”, Barack Obama lauded her as: “One of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman” and Bill Clinton called her: “A national treasure”.
Why Does She Remain So Popular?
A truly indomitable spirit, the power of her work stems from her remarkable approach to suffering. Her poetry has been lauded for its depictions of black beauty, the strength of women and the human spirit, combining humanity, passion and dignity to stunning effect. Never losing the strength, defiance and humour which underlines her work, she rises above adversity with wit, wisdom, courage and grace. The power of her work is rooted in incongruity; despite her deep understanding of suffering and pain, she became known ultimately as a figurehead for strength, hope and survival.
Where Can You Read Her Work?
I’ve referred to two of her most loved poems below, including a personal recital of “Still I Rise”. With a commanding voice full of humour and gravitas, her poetry comes alive with her performance of it – so if you’re feeling a little run down or tired, watch, listen and be uplifted. It’s magical.
My favourite quote. It bears the test of time and is manifest in public reaction to the deaths of much loved figures such as Robin Williams, Princess Diana and Maya Angelou, herself. It was their human kindness, warmth and ability to make others laugh which people remembered, not their jobs or how much money they made.
Corny but true. In line with Buddhist thinking, the greatest achievement and fulfilment is found in selflessness. A poignant message of internal beauty in an age which is increasingly obsessed with the external.
While her brilliant poem, Phenomenal Woman, celebrates female sensuality, she focuses predominantly on the beauty of the human spirit. Defiant and poised under attack, like a tree rooted to Earth, her ability to capture what it is to be grounded brings tremendous inspiration to her readers.
Not dissimilar to Einstein’s words: “Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value”, her words are all the more humbling given her achievements.
A woman who survived many trials herself, with teenage pregnancy and marital breakdown being at the minor end of the scale, Maya Angelou is a compelling example of hope.
Marianne Williamson builds on this, praising the benefits of intention: “Magic happens when you tell the universe what you want it to do for you”. I’ve also found this to be very true.
In the words of Freud, another great mind: “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful”.
Listen to Maya Angelou’s personal recital of one of her most powerful poems on adversity at the end of this article. The determination, defiance and positivity in “Still I Rise” is infectious.
A woman who created swathes of beautiful literature, Maya Angelou is a great example of the self-generating nature of creativity. If you want to create something, whether a blog, a business or an online pin board, just do it. The rest will follow.
I’m probably one of many who have learnt this the hard way. The idea that you can change someone is one of the most idealistic going. It’s easier said than done, but truly listening to what someone tells you about themselves is emotionally economical and can save much pain. In the words of Freud: “Being entirely honest with yourself is a good exercise”.
Suffering and isolation often go hand in hand but remembering that we all experience this at different points in our lives can be very comforting. Focusing our attention outwards shifts consciousness away from our inner turmoil, creating space for hope and regeneration.
So avoid becoming too entrenched in your emotions by taking a peek at others’ adversity. The likes of Stephen Sutton who raised more than £5 million for The Teenage Cancer Trust after being diagnosed with terminal cancer at 17 years old puts things into perspective, reminding us of the positives that can come from adversity.
There’s no shame in taking a break from life if your body and mind are screaming for time out. Whether rooted in relationship breakdown, job overload or general life confusion, we’re all human – the only difference is not everybody admits it.
Simple. Nobody will change your life for you. “You are the master of your destiny” – Napoleon Hill.
Those of us born in Generation Y are very fortunate in educational, professional and travel opportunities but this freedom can confuse as well as enhance us. But however muddled we become on the journey, the fundamentals rarely change.
In the words of Mandy Hale: “True love is crystal clear” – so don’t make too many excuses for a partner who doesn’t make you feel valued.
It can take a while to learn, but love is really quite simple. Your best friends don’t let you down and – corny as it sounds – love is just friendship set on fire.
If you’re a reasonably settled soul, you’ll sometimes attract people who are lost. If you find yourself with this type of person and you’re unable to help them, you may start feeling pretty disorientated trying.
You then have a choice.
Be careful staying in a partnership which may erode your self-esteem. If you spend too much time with someone with no self-worth, this will likely manifest itself in your relationship and may start to decay your own sense of self. Instead, hang onto who you are and remember Barbara Marciniak’s words: “The quality of love you receive mirrors the value you place on yourself”.
Life’s stressful enough without laughter. Put simply by Charlie Chaplain: “A day without laughter is a day wasted”.
What have you done for yourself today for feel good factor? If the answer is: “Not much”, watch the below. Maya Angelou’s energy is contagious.
Four weeks in Chamonix and I’ve survived belly-flopping face-down into the snow (unwitnessed – small mercy), breaking a pair of skis (apparently pretty hard to do at my ‘level’), four hour-long hikes and learning to cook. Those are some of the lows (not really).
The highs are a no-brainer. The daily intake of scenery is nothing short of spectacular. From snow-drenched forests and lake-side views clearer than glass, to breath-taking glaciers heaped in ice-like lava and heavenly amounts of cheese and wine (raclette, fondue, fondue, raclette), this is a place to spend a while.
Below are a few snaps of the pretty little town that goes by the name of Chamonix. A town which is bigger than I’d imagined, where St Bernard dogs drink out of fountains and vin chaud is consumed like water. I can see why the Romantics came here to feel better.
1. Chamonix Centre
The quaint little valley town is flanked by the Alps, billowing and calm all to once.
A stretch of the main shopping street which typifies Chamonix rural-chic. As one of the more prestigious ski resorts, it’s no surprise it’s on the pricier end of the scale…
The ultimate Christmas location… Chamonix by night.
La Calèche, a well-known restaurant in Chamonix centre, is one of three excellent restaurants owned by a local entrepreneur. Lined with wood and pictures a-plenty, it’s a super cosy place to while away an evening.
2. The Sky Line
The views from Brevent, one of the most popular skiing areas in the valley.
First day back on the slopes after ‘the accident’.
Trees, trees and more trees, this is the perfect place for nature-lovers and tree huggers.
3. The Glacier
The view of Glacier des Bossons and its icy, pale turquoise covering. Not a bad way to start your day.
The view of Chamonix from above, nestled between the Alps.
4. Para-Gliding and Rock-Climbing
Hiking down the mountain after my ‘accident’, I stumbled across these para-gliders setting sail across the pistes. Although things could only get better after ‘Incident Whiplash’, this was definitely the high-point of the day.
Rock-climbing in Gaillands between Chamonix Centre and Les Houches. Cold on the hands but super fun.
5. The River
The River L’Avre runs the length of Chamonix. Not a bad view from home and lovely to wake up to the rushing sounds of nature.
6. The Lake
The stunning Lake Gaillands with its mirror-like reflection of the mountains is hard to beat for wow factor.
7. The Forest
The Gaillands Forest nestles behind the lake and is a beautiful place for a run.
8. Hiking A-Plenty
Innocuous this may look, but this was the scene of a four hour hike that may have involved more than a literal stumbling block… The moral of the tale… don’t forget to use your poles properly… and be prepared to feel unfit even if you count yourself ‘sporty’ (I blame the altitude…)
Interesting fact – hiking is, apparently, a wonderful form of couples’ therapy (presumably the making up part makes up for the arguments which ensue on the way up)!
A little friend I found on the easier hike near Les Bossons. Surrounded by snow-covered trees, this really is Christmas Heaven. Like something from Narnia, I half expected elf-like animals to hop out from the undergrowth. Scenery like this is the perfect distraction from exercise!
9. The Slopes
In the bubble on the way up Brevent to the safety of the blues slopes. Never trust a man who tells you to go on a black run on day one… Bad idea…
One of the chair lifts on Brevent where blue slopes abound – perfect for experts in clumsiness such as myself.
The skis I managed not to break…
And last but not least….
10. Apres Ski O’Clock
Tick tock tick tock – vin chaud o’clock. Whatever the hour, with bars a-plenty slope-side, elevensies and afternoon ‘tea’ abound!
Some delicious treats from a local bakery… A dangerous place to pass with an empty stomach…
Located at the Lillie Road end of Munster Road, Parsons Green, this new little cafe-diner is as kooky as it is tasty. Nestled on the corner of Bronsart Road, the glass facades provide a light, airy space which won’t induce Sunday morning hangover claustrophobia.
Poppy’s is beautifully decorated with white wooden walls and flooring giving it a beach-like, summery feel perfect for a summer’s day treat. A rustic, duck-egg blue cabinet houses a delicious spread of jams and breads (even crayons for your tots), while the vintage server at the front is bedecked with tea cups that little girls dream of. Cute wooden tables are adorned with beautiful fresh flowers in coloured glass vases and lab-like stools complement the uncluttered vibe.
The menu is varied and affordable and the quality of food, top-notch. Nothing on the breakfast/lunch menu exceeds £10 which is a pleasant surprise versus some local joints so if you’re after a bargainous, slap-up brekkie, take your pick. There’s something for everyone here, from smashed avocado on toast with poached eggs and a choice of sides such as grilled bacon or chorizo to bacon baps, porridge with winter fruit compote or greek yoghurt with seasonal fruit.
Lunch options are equally diverse from house burger and macaroni cheese to a range of toasties, salads and baguettes. Steak, horseradish and rocket is a personal favourite. There’s even a Little Munsters Kids’ Menu including fish finger sandwiches, chicken wedges, baked beans on toast and boiled egg and soldiers.
Open until 11pm, the dinner menu also includes a range of mouth-watering dishes, from fresh catch of the day to ribeye steak (sourced from premium Lake District Farmers, this is the priciest dish on the menu at £25). The only health-warning of note is that you’re likely to become a regular if you visit this place. After a mouthful of these goodies, you’ll be chomping at the bit for more.
Address: 255 Munster Road, Parsons Green, SW6 6BW
Telephone: 0207 920 6420
Nearest Tube: Parsons Green
Lateral, Santa Ana
One of the most well-known tapas joints in Madrid, Lateral’s terrace in Plaza Santa Ana is a truly pleasurable place to while away an evening. A top of the range chain with a distinctly ‘unchainy’ feel, Lateral is located throughout Madrid, including the popular Calle Fuencarral in Malasaña. Understated, chic and well-run, Lateral is great value with a diverse choice of tapas to boot.
What of the food?
While it may be known for its top quality Tortilla, there are many other delicious dishes to choose from, from the Murcia Blood Sausage (a personal favourite a bit like black pudding), the OxTail, the Avocado and Salmon or the Pork with Melted Brie. Add a Tinto de Verano or a generously sized Gin and Tonic to the mix and you have the perfect feast.
Lateral, Arturo Soria
What’s the decor like?
If al fresco’s your cup of tea, this is the crème de la crème. Slatted wooden tables sit beneath a discrete cream canopy with flame heaters to keep you snuggly. With buzzers table-side, there’s no escape for lazy waiters who are, quite literally (or perhaps more aptly, laterally), at your beck and call.
Lateral, Santa Ana
If tapas isn’t enough for you, you can chose from an array of desserts and cocktails. Situated in the heart of possibly the prettiest square in Madrid, there are bars aplenty for after dinner digestifs or rooftop glamour atop the famous ME Hotel (next door).
Well-located, scrumptious and beautiful, this is a great stop for visiting friends and family.
Address: Plaza Santa Ana, 12
Nearest Metro: Anton Martin / Sol
Where is Mews hidden?
Tucked away down the dimly-lit alley of Lancashire Court, this classy brasserie come bar is cosy-chic combined. A stone’s throw from Berkeley and Hanover Square, the cobbled courtyard comes alive with business folk winding down with a cocktail or two after a hard day’s slog. Whether sinking into the deep leather sofas in the cocktail lounge illuminated by 18th century chandeliers, or sitting nestled in the narrow outdoor alley under the stars, there’s something for everyone.
What’s on offer?
The extensive cocktail menu offers many a zingy delight from the classic Cosmopolitan to the exotic Chilli Cuddle for the more adventurous-spirited. The food menu is equally pleasing, with a range of delicious bar snacks such as Smoked Salmon Scotch Eggs and Cheese Boards to heartier meals proper such as Fish and Chips, Guinea Fowl Leg and Scottish Ox Cheeks. Prices range from £5-18 for bar snacks to £9-18 for mains with a South Devon 1 Kilo Double Rib Steak for a hungry twosome at £65.
The basement lounge is the ideal spot for after-dinner drinks, with DJ decks built into a grand piano and glass beaded nooks that are easy to sink into. Open until 1am Wednesday to Saturday, whiling away the wee hours here is the perfect way to round off the evening.
If it’s a private room you’re after, the upstairs space is perfect for a canapé party of up to 40, a seated dinner for up to 28 guests or a snazzy meeting spot for presentations. With antique maps adorning the walls, surround sound, wifi and a hidden 50” screen, this an an imperial experience no client will forget!
For a more decadent affair, La Cave Private Room is situated opposite Mews Art Gallery and can accommodate up to 15 guests for lunch and dinner, or 25 for a standing reception. Doubling up as a wine boutique, La Cave mixes cosiness and sophistication to perfection, the dark wood and brown leather seating set off by the wine and champagne which lines the walls.
I’ve always thought that Mayfair embodies the ideal man – powerful, understated and elegant. Mews is an example of all three.
Address: 10 Lancashire Court, New Bond Street, London, W1S 1EY
Tel: 0207 518 9388
What’s La Rosa Negra?
If you like cheap and cheerful Mexican food in vibrant surrounds, give La Rosa Negra a whirl. Think rainbow decor, statement sombreros and a menu to make your mouth water and you’re on the right track. Sandwiched between Calle del Prado and Calle de las Huertas just a stone’s throw from Anton Martin Metro, this is an easy to reach little gem.
What of the grub?
The menu is full of Mexican classics with dishes ranging from smaller bites such as Guacamole and Nachos to larger meals of Burritos and Tacos. There’s also a delicious range of cocktails on offer from Caipirinhas and Daiquiris to Mojitos and Margaritas. I love their delicious Tacos and Passionfruit Daiquiris and would also highly recommend their zingy Margaritas alongside the scrumptious Chicken Burritos - the ideal mix of the spicy and refreshing.
What do they say?
Jamie Oliver would probably describe this as good, honest food. The presentation is simple but it tastes great, is good value and is served with mega-watt smiles. I’d definitely recommend this joint if you’re after a vivid, fun-filled break from tapas.
Address: Calle León, 16, 28014 Madrid
Tel: 914 20 30 68
Nearest Tube: Anton Martin
What is it?
My favourite place in Madrid, this should be top of your to-do list. With an energy and buzz that reminds me of New York, Mercado de San Miguel is what living is all about. Think Borough Market Spanish style and you’re getting a little closer to conjuring up the vibe of this gastronomical treasure.
Step inside the elegant glass structure and you’ll enter what can only be described as a culinary Paradise. From seafood paella and every type of croqueta your heart could desire to oysters, frozen yoghurt and sweet treats to melt even the hardest heart, this is Eden if ever there was one.
Who goes there?
Full of tourists from every corner of the globe sipping wine and beer whilst savouring tapas at chic high tables running the length of the market, this is a place buzzing with energy. I’ll never forget visiting Mercado de San Miguel having just left the corporate world – the happiness etched across the market sellers’ faces was tangible and striking. Simple pleasures. Food for thought.
Will you like it?
And a food lover you should be if you come here. If you’re happiest eating, you’re in for a treat.
This is a place which will tease every sense and catapult you full-throttle into joie de vivre.
The only warnings are as follows: 1) Don’t let your bag out of your sight 2) Bring an empty tummy 3) Be prepared to feel bloated after a visit.
This is an experience to be embraced. This is living.
Plaza San Miguel, 28005, Madrid
Nearest tube: Opera
1. Soufrière, St. Lucia
A lush, mountainous paradise on the West Coast of Saint Lucia, Soufrière was founded by the French and was the original capital of the island. Home to the Gros Piton and Petit Piton, the famous giant volcanic plugs, this is the perfect spot for a sunset cocktail…
2. Lake Titicaca, Bolivia
A flat calm lake on the border of Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America by volume of water. Flanked by the distant, snow covered Andes, the polarity of tranquillity and majesty is breath-taking. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of ginger piglets trotting along the water’s edge.
3. Salar de Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
The world’s largest salt flat spanning 4,086 square miles, the Salar de Uyuni unites landscapes like nothing I’ve seen before. Horizon-wide crystal sheets are dispersed only by sporadic cactus islands, sulphurous geezers and pink flamingos bathing in lakes flanked by the snow-covered Andes. The result of transformations between prehistoric lakes, you’ll be dazzled by a sparkling expanse by day and freezing cold temperatures by night.
4. Inca Trail, Peru
The most famous trek in South America, the Inca Trail combines beautiful mountain scenery, lush cloud forests, subtropical jungle and stunning views of Inca ruins. Machu Picchu, the peak of the 4-day trail boasts incredible views over the “Lost City of the Incas” at heights of 4,200 metres. If you reach the top on a cloudy morning, don’t lose heart – it’s like a witch’s cauldron, bubbling with mystery and magic. And if you can’t face walking 26 miles skyward with a heavy bag, minute Peruvian porters are on-hand to carry your wares northwards, or there’s a train for the super lazy… But as the saying goes, nothing in life worth having is easy.