Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

High Street Hook Ups

February 28, 2009

I studied abroad in London for a short time during college.  While there, I lived in Kensington, between Gloucester Road and Queen’s Gate.  I was in the city to secure an internship, it was my main reason for going.  The organization my school worked with placed me at a PR firm, which was terribly uninteresting.  I had hoped to intern at a magazine, but instead I found myself running out to buy fruit for clients (I’m looking at you, Mary J Blige) and receiving piles of samples from the couriers who raced between our office and the offices of Cosmo, Elle and Vogue.  I hated it, and I managed to talk our program director into letting me quit, opting instead to do research at the V&A for my credits.

I shopped a lot while in London.  An obscene amount, in fact.  While there I discovered tons of shops that I had never seen in the states, and found that London high street shops were brilliant at interpreting trends for cheap, much more so than American retailers.  Since that time (2002), a few European retailers have made their way to the states – H&M, Zara, Mango, Jigsaw, etc.  I find myself sad when I read through UK magazines, that I no longer have immediate access to the those great shops.  So, I decided to gather some websites together!

A great site for researching London shopping is Street Sensation.  In fact, I can recall looking through this site before I even left, years ago.  The site actually has live photos of the streets, which has been fun for me in retrospect, as I can virtually walk my old commute from Sloane Square, a mile down King’s Road to my job at Halpern.  In fact, you can even see my office!

While in London, I spent the first month hitting the Starbucks by my apartment.  The coffee was 10 times more delicious than what they sold in the states.  I found out, however, that the reason my mochas were so yummy was because I was not requesting “skinny” drinks, meaning I was getting whole milk.  Soon after I swapped to Coffee RepublicCosta Coffee was another favorite.

The first store I hit up was Harrod’s, for obvious reasons.  Then came Harvey Nichols.  I couldn’t afford to buy much at either store, but the food halls were amazing.  Also, I credit the boy at the YSL counter at Harrod’s for introducing me to YSL Touché Eclat and Clarins Beauty Balm, which I still use.

My next stop was the flagship Topshop store on Oxford.  I still miss that place.  Nearby I would hit up H&M, HMV, Zara and French Connection.  I can recall seeing Kylie Minogue’s “Love At First Sight” video while waiting in line at Topshop and I totally fell in love with her.  And, my first name starts with a ‘K” and I totally wanted her earring.  That song still reminds me of the store.

I would often walk from my apartment to Kensington high street, using the small back streets.  It was upscale, with cute shops, and it was quiet.  When I’d emerge on the high street I’d hit up shops like Selfridges, Jigsaw, Dune, Muji, Whistles, Monsoon, Oasis and Warehouse.  An intersecting street, Church, had a cute shops including Office, Sweaty Betty and a super awesome shoe store.

On the way home, I would often go to Oddbins, which was on the corner of my street.  Before leaving abroad, I had read “Confessions of a Shopaholic,” and always wondered what this “Oddbins” she spoke of was about.  The guys at the store would always get on my case because I called it a liquor store.  “We’re a WINE SHOP.”  I’d buy cases of Australian chardonnay, which was delicious and dirt cheap.

Down the street was Boot’s, which essentially filled the same needs as Rite Aid or Long’s back home.

When commuting home from work, I would always shop along King’s Road, which remains one of my favorite streets in the city.  There were some great stationery shops, the UK is known for beautiful paper products.  Peter Jones was on the corner just outside of my tube stop, although I rarely went in.  Other favorites were Joseph and Habitat, where I bought a lot of stuff for my apartment.

Aside from lots of shopping at the Portobello Market and small stores in Notting Hill, I also liked the following stores:


Boutique Hostels – New Trend Or Misnomer?

February 18, 2009

The Ace Hotel, Portland, OR

I’m not a fan of hostels. There, I’ve said it. Call me unadventurous, call me a snob, I don’t care. I want to like them and am fully aware of their virtues, but I simply can’t hop aboard the Hostel Love Train. This is a major problem for David, who has traveled alone through most of Europe. The boy loves hostels. Then again, he’s a boy, and he’s social. Whereas I am a self-proclaimed high(er)-maintenance girl and not quite as social. I’m not looking for new people to chat with when I check into my lodgings, I am looking for a decent bathtub and a bar.

Granted, not all hostels are created equal. And, admittedly, I don’t have a tremendous amount of hostel experience. I’ve stayed in four, all in Scotland, and only because I was forced by a tour I took with friends. I had a blast, and I didn’t mind the hostels; but in my post-college and coupled state, I would really prefer to avoid bunk-beds and nasty communal showers.

Enter the Boutique Hostel, which, according to Budget Travel, is the “new trend.” The idea piqued my interest, but upon further investigation I learned that some of the hostels were…..well, not really hostels at all. All, with the exception of those featured in Bangkok and Lisbon (where it’s cheap to travel, period), will cost you over $100 for a private room. You can find a similar deal at thousands of other boutique hotels around the world, many of whom offer European (read: shared showers) lodgings. That said, I love discovering new and affordable places to stay.

Budget Travel Recommends

Mama’s Shelter
Paris, France


  • Designed by Philippe Starck.
  • All private rooms, all with kitchenettes, iMacs and showers.
  • Located on the Right Bank.
  • Attached restaurant head by star chef.

Aschau Im Chiemgau, Germany


  • 13 private rooms.
  • TV-free and 1000+ books.
  • Located in a medieval hamlet located 90 minutes by train from Munich and 45 minutes by car from Salzburg.
  • Lots of restaurant local choices, from budget to foodie.

Los Angeles


  • Private and shared rooms.
  • Near Little Tokyo and MOCA.
  • Restaurant and bar planned for the future.

Lub d
Bangkok, Thailand


  • Broad range of rooms are available, from private to shared.
  • Located near Silom district, with plenty of shopping and eating nearby.
  • Walking tours offered every Thursday morning.
  • Hotel movie theater, with free popcorn!

Amsterdam, The Netherlands


  • Located near the Schipol Airport.
  • All private rooms with XL beds and touch-screen mood/temperature control.
  • 20-minute train ride into Amsterdam.
  • Second location slated to open in Amsterdam’s business district.

Living Lounge Hostel
Lisbon, Portuga


  • Located in the Baixa section of Lisbon.
  • 17 artists designed the rooms, ensuring that none are the same.
  • Singles, doubles and dorms available.
  • Morning walking tours with wine tasting and 4-course meals served nightly, for 10 bucks.

Penny Plastic Recommends

The Ace Hotel
NYC, Portland, Seattle, Palm Springs

I’ve made no secret of my love for Ace Hotels. And any hotel offering $100/night rates in NYC, much less an awesome hotel like Ace, gets my vote. Big time.

The White House
Melbourne, Australia

Joie de Vivre Hotels
San Francisco

Galleria Park Hotel is a fabulous hotel near Union Square that feels quite decedent for the price.

Personality Hotels
San Francisco

Hotel Metropolis is positioned just north of Market Street near Union Square. I’ve stayed here quite a bit, as it’s very close to my favorite SF club, Mezzanine and one of my favorite SF restaurants, Zuni Cafe. It’s simple, modern, and they serve wine every evening. They also offer special rooms just for children. Rates from $70/night.

My Dilemma – Far Flung Friends & No Money

February 5, 2009

Penny & S, Photo: Carly

Right, so I live in Sacramento. It’s….fine. There are worse places to be, of course. David and I live in a super cute highwater craftsman in a nice neighborhood near downtown, our parents are both close by, the weather is mild. I could deal with living here for a few more years, if my friends hadn’t all left.

I do still have friends around, but my BEST GIRLS are gone. And, I need The Girls to feel complete.

Carly moved to Boston two and a half years ago for grad school and now works as a writer in the city.

S moved to NYC in the summer of 2008 for med school.

L moved to Phoenix 4 years ago and STILL hasn’t returned. She can’t like it there that much!

H currently lives in Philly, although she’s from NYC. But she gets a pass because we met in California while she was here for college.

So my problem is this, we talk on the phone, we IM, we email, we sometimes send love notes…..but we don’t see each other nearly enough. Conversations with these four friends nearly always evolve into plan-hatching; vacations and visits. Where we might meet up (last year it was Palm Springs), when I can make it to see one or more of them (NYC to see S & H last October) or visa versa and how on Earth we will find the money to do so.

Even now, I am talking with H in G-Chat about going to Hawaii this fall to stay with her best friend, and Carly wants me to visit Boston in July (when I have to take a week off of work – forced), which would be so fun!

So then, friendships are important, but what’s a girl on a budget to do?

Jet Age – City Girls (& Boys)

January 15, 2009

Joanna Goddard recently blogged about favorite cities (noting Portland, which is why the post caught my eye), and I started thinking, “what are my favorite cities?”

Now, I haven’t been to every city on my wish-list.  Domestically this would be Chicago.  Internationally it’s Montreal and Berlin.  To narrow down my list, I thought about what makes a great city.  Is it the people?  The food?  The arts?  Proximity to the outdoors?  Love of a city can mean countless things to countless people.  See below for which cities made my Top Five List.

Photo: Veer

San Francisco



New York City


What are yours?

Request: Do You Live In (Or Love) Seattle?

January 9, 2009

If so, I need help choosing a hotel. David and I are taking a trip with some friends in April, driving up to Portland, OR (where we will stay with his sister) and then Seattle for a few days. I’ve done a tiny bit of research on hotels, but I would love to hear from those of you familiar with the area. My requirements are pretty simple; under $200 a night (under $150 would be even better), downtown and preferably a unique boutique hotel (i.e. not a Marriott). I have found a few that I have shared below. I am partial to the Ace Hotel simply because we’ve stayed at the Ace in Portland and loved it.

Hotel Max


Hotel Deca


Ace Hotel



Daily Inspiration

January 6, 2009

What’s inspiring me today.

Mezzanine in Tulum, Mexico.

Photo: David

Two years ago, David and I took a week-long trip to Mexico.  We flew into Cancun and hopped aboard a northbound bus which took us down the Yucatan Peninsula.  Our destination was Tulum, a small village north of Playa del Carmen.  I had read about Mezzanine, a small hotel on the beach in Tulum, on the Condé Nast Traveller website.  It sounded fantastic, albeit expensive.  David and I had used miles to fly to Mexico so we decided to splurge on a few nights in Tulum before heading to our more budget-friendly lodging in Playa del Carmen.

The hotel is unique in a few ways.  For starters, their chef is Thai and the bulk of their menu is Thai-focused.  But they also made the best fish tacos I’ve ever had so I was hardly complaining.  Secondly, it hosts a DJ every Friday night from around 11pm to 3am.  A few hundred (mostly beautiful) people cram into the small outside area and it’s loud.  If you don’t like electro/dirty/Euro dance music….don’t stay there on a Friday night!

We had a great time, and were lucky enough to stay there while the owner was visiting from Australia.  We were able to pick his brain about the development of the hotel and how it was recovering from Hurricane Wilma a year prior.

I not only recommend the hotel, but if you find yourself in Cancun (not the most desirable location in Mexico, most certainly around Spring/Summer Break), it’s quite easy to travel north to Playa del Carmen or Tulum to escape the huge clubs and all-inclusive resorts.

I want to go back.  Now.

Photo: Mezzanine

Daily Inspiration

January 3, 2009

What’s inspiring me today.

Vancouver, BC.

Image: Corbis

Never been to Vancouver?  Go.  It’s one of my favorite cities.  My aunt lives there with her partner, who’s responsible for a lot of the development happening in the downtown area.  I’ve seen every view imaginable from every tall building in the city.  I would live in Vancouver in a millisecond if I had the chance.  My only beef is the transportation infrastructure; it’s hard to get around by car in the outskirts.  But, the city is hosting the Winter Olympics in 2010 so they are investing a great deal in a new tram system.  The city is urban, but you can find nature anywhere (and, if you’re a skier, Whistler is close by).  Fish is abundant and delicious, as well as fresh produce.  It feels European but not overwhelmingly so (compared to, say, Montreal).  There are many, many cute boys.  There’s good shopping, and a decent arts and music scene.  Go!  Immediately!


December 12, 2008

My boyfriend and I are flying to Portland this weekend, a trip I had totally forgotten about (did I mention that I’m also forgetful?). We’re visiting his sister and brother in-law so it should be a relatively low-cost weekend. It’s an opportune time for me to reign in my near-obsessive need to “treat” hosts. Whenever I visit someone, I inevitably want to pay for everything and treat them to a dinner, or two. This is a habit I must curb, immediately.

My plan is to take out $100 in cash to take with me. I will leave my cards at home (I do carry a card from my parents for emergencies but….it’s for emergencies).

I know this goes against my $100 per week plan, but next week should be pretty quiet.

For now my only planned spending includes a few pounds of coffee from Stumptown, a few glasses of wine at the airport/on the plane and maybe a book or two from Powell’s. Maybe something focusing on personal finance?