London Breakfasts

 

At The Haberdashery, in Crouch End. According to Time Out is one of the 7 Best Breakfasts in North London.  I couldn’t miss it, could I?

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 17.20.44

 

At The Breakfast Club in Angel. I believe the picture says it all.

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 17.18.47

 

And of course, at my place. Black coffee and the unmissable Italian biscuits “Pan di Stelle”.

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 17.19.55

Advertisements

A special place to stay

I arrive in Nailsea in the early afternoon of a hot August day.
Only an old woman is walking in front of me out of the station.
I have never been here before, but Google Maps told me where I have to go long before I even arrived.

I walk a few hundred meters and see this.

Immagine

I keep walking.
Nice houses, nice gardens, empty streets.
Cars seldom pass by and go.

I keep walking.
I need to start my research.
A blonde woman walks down the hot pave in a dress.
A push-chair before her.

I hesitate.
Shall I stop her and bother her with my survey?
She’s just having a walk with her baby.
Should I?

But I have many, too many questionnaires to give out.
And they must be completed.
Quickly.
My train back to Leeds is tomorrow.

“Good morning, I am a student from Leeds University Business School. I am doing a research for my dissertation, to complete my Master. Would you like to help me by filling up this survey for me? It will take just a few minutes.”

She is completing the survey.
And I am making funny faces to entertain the baby in the push-chair, who does not look entertained, but suspicious.
The woman completes her survey.
I thank. I move on.

A man in his late twenties, dressed as if he forgot ten years passed since he was 18, walks alone. A long bush keeps him company.
I approach him and repeat my “commercial”, trying to lure him to help me.
Sure. He says.
He completes. I thank. And move on.

The day passes.
I said I am a Leeds University Business School student to way too many people who did not have the least interest in who I was.
But I now have 35 completed questionnaires.
In just few hours.

Nailsea.
Nice houses, nice gardens, nice people.

I am hungry. I look around.
Do not feel like pub.
Do not feel like a sandwich from Tesco.
Neither Waitrose.

There is an Indian restaurant.
I stand at look at the menu on the window.
Behind the menu two big brown eyes look at me.
I do not hesitate. I enter.

I am the only customer. It’s only 6pm. I sit and stare at the corner in the left: Aishwarya Rai, Salman Khan and many others are dancing in a 32″ television screen.

“Are you ready to order?”

Chiken Korma.
Garlic Naan.
Mango Lassi.
Brilliant. Or I shall say, Vah!

I leave.
Full and happy.
The sun is slowly hiding behind the hills and I need to find my B&B for the night.
Google Maps, again, saves me and leads me to my destination.

I climb up a small unpaved road and find it lost in the woods, my roof in Nailsea.
I knock on the door and nothing happens.
I call the owner on the phone and few seconds later the door finally opens.

David shakes my hand and shows me my room.
And I am happy.

Immagine

Immagine

I walk out of the shower, inside the room again.
Through the curtain I see something moving outside.
I can’t stop myself and look out of the window.
There she is, the peak of my day.
Sitting on the bench just under the window of my room.

Immagine

I play with her a bit.
Then she leaves me.
And she leaves me to my data entry task.
After a day of collecting surveys.
And I sleep.
But not before Sandra Bullock has kissed Hugh Grant in Two Weeks Notice.

Breakfast is ready in the kitchen at 8.30.
And so am I.

David prepares tea for me and I help myself to milk and granola, without forgetting to add some fresh strawberries that won’t stop looking at me in such temptation.

I reached the kitchen first, so I pick the best table by the window and stare outside, lost in the trees and the calmness of the place, interrupted only by David that asks me what I would like for breakfast.

I am confused.
I have milk, and granola, and strawberries, and tea, and there’s yogurt waiting for me on the cupboard.
David shows me a menu where I can pick from a list of items and again, David will prepare for me whatever I wish.
I order an omelette with mushroom.

Delicious.

Elm Tree Cottage B&B
http://www.a-specialplacetostay.co.uk

I can’t get out of Waterstone’s without a book.

I just can’t help it. As soon as I get into one of the Waterstone’s  bookstores I feel like buying. The good thing is I am not just buying all the useless stationery and gadgets but I am actually buying books. It is not bad indeed to buy books (if not, maybe, for all the paper that I am wasting, but I am 99% sure the book I buy are made with recycled paper, I don’t feel like killing trees for my own benefit). The problem I need to stress out here is with the loyalty card. I actually feel rewarded by the fact that buying books I earn points on my card and then I’ll be able to buy more books.

Waterstones on Oxford Street

Waterstone’s on Oxford Street

Loyalty programs are the reason why I am always buying toiletries at Boots and doing grocery at Sainsbury’s. An addiction indeed.

But if I need to buy some food and having a bath, I definitely do not need to read. Gosh, this sound stupid! I mean, I do not need to buy books. I can just go to the library and borrow some, right? I even registered at Willeseden Green Library.
But Waterstone’s… is different for me. First, it’s like doing shopping, but instead of spending money in shoes I’m doing an effort of investing in culture (well, I’m not exactly reading classics or manuals, but at least I’m improving my English). Second, they just happen to have stores in all the places I like to hang out: Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, the O2 Centre on Finchley Road. Probably the only place I go where they do not exist are the Westfield centres at White City and Stratford (I am not totally sure about the latter, it’s so big that they might actually have one hidden somewhere). I think in Westfield they just have Foyles, which is a really nice bookshop chain as well. I loved it when on April 23, for the World Book Night, I popped in and they gave me a book for free (“The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox” by Maggie O’ Farrell, which I haven’t read yet – apparently I have a problem with free books). They also gave me a voucher with £5 discount on any book worth £15. I honestly don’t know if Foyles have a loyalty card. Fact is I discovered Waterstone’s first, and since the prices of the books are usually the same, I just stuck on my original choice.

Foyles at Westfield Stratford

Foyles at Westfield Stratford

So, if anyone has some really good solutions to my problem with loyalty cards please feel free to suggest. I just warn you, telling me these programs are just marketing strategies which do not reward me but them… doesn’t help.
I am totally aware of that, I need something stronger.

Like a Dry Martini.
With olives, please.

How to enjoy nightlife in the city that never sleeps: best rooftops in NYC

How does New York nightlife look like? Just as in any other field, New York, is capable of everything. You can find just about anything you want in the Big Apple, even at night, and I am not speaking just of the fact that you can find every kind of food, drink or item 24/7.
Different parts of Manhattan offer you different kinds of entertainment: movies, theatres, concerts, karaoke spots, pubs and, of course, clubs.
Today I wanna focus precisely on this last topic. All over Manhattan you can find all the different kind of ballroom and clubs you can find in the galaxy.

Remember. Wherever you go never forget your ID. No matter how old you look like, you always need to prove you’re at least 21 years old. The only place where you can get in even if you are 19 is Webster Hall, but you can’t drink till 21 (sorry guys).
It is a really big and nice club but is often full of very young and sometimes annoying guys trying to get with you in every possible way without really caring about manners. It might be fun if you just broke up with your boyfriend and you just wanna get drunk, but either you carry a lot of money with you or – better – you ask someone rich to be nice and buy you drinks: glasses are tiny and average price is 15 dollars, plus the 35 you paid at the entrance. Nice place to see, but too messy. And crowded with wrong people. Unless, of course, you are 19.

In the East Village you’ll  normally find more casual spots, similar to pubs but packed. You usually recognise these places by spotting few alternative guys and girls smoking in front of it, waiting for a cab or talking with strong New York accent. Most frequently they are built under the buildings – as in, under the pavement – so if you wanna get in you have to walk down the stairs and you’ll find yourself surrounded with fancy people of every colour, shape and age. Honestly I never really tried this kind of experience since I do not really love clubbing, especially when it has to be in close places under the earth surface. I am not claustrophobic but in these places I feel like I am.
What I do love in New York City is that you do not need to keep your feet on the ground. You are in the Big Apple and you can dance within the stars! This means two different things. First, you can dance at the top of the skyscrapers. Second, you can actually meet “stars” – as in VIP – or at least, you can dance in the places where they usually go.

Sky Room

Sky Room


One of my favourite spots is the Sky Room. I got in for a birthday of a guy I did not even know, but I’m glad I did. You get in, you take the elevator, you take the stairs and in few steps you are in front of the Empire State Building and you can see Times Square at your feet. Useless to say it has an amazing view. If you have Foursquare and you check-in there you can have a free shot, not really strong, but you know, it’s free! I was supposed to get in for free at the entrance but for some reason I got to pay 10 dollars and the drinks are actually pretty expensive but still in the average of New York prices.

230 Fifth

230 Fifth

Another nice rooftop is 230 Fifth. I went there for a pre-dinner cocktail and I found it really cute. It was raining so I stayed under the tent, but normally even from this club you can have a great view of the Empire, probably even better since it is almost in front of it. I did not see it cause my table was on the other side and I was too lazy too go and check since I was sipping a lovely Cosmo and I didn’t want to get wet under the rain; moreover, when you live there you get pretty used to see the Empire from every corner of the city, so you don’t really go and look for it every 5 minutes. In winter the place is heated even on the outside but if you are still cold they have some coat you can put on to warm you up. They have some really nice penthouses for private events and even from some of them you can have a really great view of Manhattan’s most beautiful buildings.

Boom Boom Room

Boom Boom Room

If you want a really VIP experience you should try to get in the Boom Boom Room. They say it is one of “the hardest door in NYC”. Lady Gaga uses to appear there and if she is in the mood she sings for the lucky people there. I tried to get in once, but there was a private event from Calvin Klein and for some unexplained mistake my friends and I were not on the list so we had to say bye to the Boom Boom Room. The good thing, is that if you can not get in there – which is common – you can at least try the Le Bain, which is the door right in front of the Room. These two clubs are at the top of the Standard, one of the most exclusive hotel in New York City. My friends and I even made up an expression “to be at the top of the standard” meaning you are at your best, you are having an amazing time and you feel nothing can be better. Try to go up there and you’ll know what I mean. The view is gorgeous, of course the Empire is always there, looking at you. You can even go during the day, to sunbathe closer to the sky, sitting in one of the huge pillows in the synthetic grass drinking your favourite cocktail and enjoying one of the best view ever.

The best area to hang out is the Meatpacking District. There you can find restaurants, clubs, late night pizza to save you from hangover… Just about everything you need to enjoy the Big Apple as much as you possibly can.

Little advice.
If you are in New York don’t lose your time in the typical kind of club and pub you can find even in your own town. If you want to feel the emotion of being “at the top” go on a rooftop. There is nothing better than to enjoy the New York nightlife than too see it from the sky.
It might be a bit expensive to drink there. But if it is once, it is worth.

New York on a budget: shopping tips

When thinking about New York there are different pictures that might pop up in our minds.  One might be the picture of happy beautiful girls carrying loads of shopping bags walking down Fifth Avenue or looking with admiration at the windows of some gorgeous shops like Tiffany or Macy’s.
New York is fashion. Fashion, most of the time, means shopping.

I must say in my 100 days I got to respect the tradition fully so I feel confident about giving you some advices.
If you are on a budget do not lose hope. In New York you can find everything at every price. I’m not saying you will find wonderful huge diamonds for few dollars, but if you have some time to look around you’ll sure discover that you can find really good deals!

Best place ever to me is Century 21. There you can find high label items with huge discounts! There are different shops all over Manhattan and all over the U.S., my favourite one was at Lincoln Square but there’s also a really huge one at the World Trade Centre which I guess is the biggest one ever but it’s too messy in my opinion. At Century I bought a waterproof Casio watch for 12 dollars, a Guess purse for 15, a Tommy Hilfiger bag for 39 and a pair of Steve Madden flats, again for 39 dollars. I think these are deals.

Other great places where you can find really good offers are TJ Maxx and DSW. Here the quality is a little lower than in Century 21, but if you are lucky and keep looking you might find real bargains. You might come across a lovely Versace shirt in the middle of what seems to be a mix and match of pyjamas, so you better look everywhere when you are in these shopping centres.

Another really cheap shop is Forever 21 (I am not sure but I think they often use “21” in their names to show they are actually selling 21st century fashion items). Here you can not find branded items but a lot of nice dresses and accessorises without spending much. It is something like H&M, but I think it is actually cheaper and it is not so spread in Europe yet. For those who know, it also seems similar to Primark, maybe a little more expensive but really not much. There’s a really good one in Times Square, open till 2am for late night shopaholic.

Do not forget to stop at one of the many Loehmann’s. They usually give you coupons at the entrance or either you’ll have a discount when you pay. First time I went there I bought two cashmere sweater: the full price was 238$ for one and 198$ for the second, but they were on sale at 89.99 and 69.99. I thought it was a good offer to pay around 160 for something worth more than 400 dollars, but once I was at the checkout the cashier asked me 97.38 dollars. I am not sure how it happened, apparently there was a 10% discount on every item, plus a 25% off every item worth more than 75 dollars and then another 15% off for selected sweaters and apparently both mine were. I know it seems unbelievable but I have a proof: the receipt. Cool, right?

Another nice chain you can find in New York is Strawberry. You recognise it easily since the logo is, well, a strawberry. The stores are nice, usually smaller than the other shops. I found the best leggings ever here but I found it to be a little more expensive, for example, the Steve Madden flats I bought for 39 dollars at Century 21, did cost around 60 dollars here, so be careful.

If your luggage is full and you are interested just in some window shopping, than do not miss Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman. These places are simply amazing, real paradises for fashion addicts. Henri Goodman was also the venue for the Gossip Girl event for the launch of the second season of the series.
You can also walk up and down Fifth Avenue from the Rockefeller Center to Central park and Madison Avenue from the 42nd till the 70th street and you’ll find some of the best shops ever, just about everything: Tiffany, Apple Store, Sony Corporation and Wonder Technology Lab, and all the big fashion label you can think of. You can even find Godiva, the prestigious Belgian chocolate brand, and Victoria’s Secret, the lingerie retailer famous most for its models, the Angels, than for its bras and slips.

As you can see you can find pretty much everything you want. The only matter is how much are you willing to spend but now you know you can find good offers in the shops i mentioned above.

Remember just one last important rule. When you go shopping the best thing is to buy the “made in here” product. So if you are in England you should buy Fred Perry, if you are in France you should buy make-up products like L’Oréal and Chanel, so if you are in the States you should buy Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. It might seem a stupidly simple rule, but not everyone think about it.

Another good rule, if you travel by plane, is to take some time at the airport to do some shopping. With the duty free at the airport you can find really good deals: buying at the airport does not mean you are obsessed with shopping, it simply means you care about what you spend. Isn’t it smart?

New York for tourists

Some people ask me which are the best things to see in New York City.
Having been there for quite some time it is actually hard to pick up the best ever, especially considering I was there working and not as a tourist, but I will try to answer.

1. You can not miss the skyline. You can see it from different points of view. If you are lucky you can see it from above the city, either if your plane make a tour around Manhattan while you are landing or if you make a tour with an helicopter, but I warn you the second choice is really expensive. You can also have a great look of the skyline from the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rocks. I went on the Empire and it was actually amazing, but most people say the second one is better. You have a better view of Central Park and you can see the Empire, which obviously you can not see if you are on the top of it, right? Remember to go up before the sunset to have the most romantic view ever. Another nice way to see the skyline is from the Brooklyin Bridge or from the Queens: absolutely lovely.

2. My favourite place in New York is Central Park. You are right in the middle of the Big Apple and you don’t even realise it. Its lakes and ponds makes you think you are in the middle of a dream and only the buildings at the edge of the park let you remember you are in New York City.

3. I think Lady Liberty is actually overrated but I guess you should see it somehow. I did not take the tour around the Statue. When I first landed in La Guardia – the city airport – I could barely see it right in front of Manhattan and I noticed how small it is if compared to the Financial District buildings, so I choose not to go. What I suggest is to see it from Battery Park, downtown Manhattan. It is a little far but you can see it really well and, again, you can have a really romantic view of it when the sun goes down.

4. Do not miss the Rockefeller Center, especially if you are visiting the city in winter. You will find people ice-skating and a huuuuge wonderful Christmas Tree.

5. No matter if you like arts or if you do not. You must see at least one of the most important museums, which are: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MoMA and the Guggenhaim museum. In the first one you can get in with a dollar since the price is only suggested. You can visit MoMA for free on Friday after 4pm while the Guggenhaim is $18 pretty much for everyone. If you do love animals and nature as much as I do you will love the American Museum of Natural History where you can see “Rexy”, the lovely T-Rex we discovered in “Night at the museum” with Ben Stiller.

6. I almost forgot! You can not leave NYC without visiting Times Square. It is the essence of the city: lights, people, music, colours. It is the symbol of the “city that never sleeps”. Broadway theatres are all over the area, as well as some of the most important shops and restaurants. You must visit it, but if you are hungry you better move to another area. All Manhattan areas are quite expensive but Times Square is the most touristic one and, obviously, the most expensive (I paid 75 dollars for two hamburgers and 2 cocktails!).

These are some of the activities I think NO ONE should miss in the Big Apple. Of course there are many more attractions to see and enjoy all over the city, depending on tastes, money and time, but I think you can not come back if you haven’t seen – at least – these few things!

Mangiare il giovedì, non ha prezzo. Con Mastercard.

Avete presente gli spot di Mastercard? Ormai sono diventati un luogo comune: quante volte leggete su Facebook persone che scrivono che qualcosa “non ha prezzo” con lo stile usato nella pubblicità?
Beh, sappiate che per tutto il resto c’è Mastercard.
Non sto delirando, voglio solo raccontarvi di una meravigliosa iniziativa che la suddetta compagnia di carte di credito ha realizzato nella mia adorata metropoli.

 

Era un giovedì mattina qualsiasi e come ogni altra mattina mi stavo recando al Consolato per iniziare un’altra giornata di rassegna stampa, passaporti e presumibilmente scrivere qualche lettera per la Console (già, è una donna).
Scendo dall’autobus e mi precipito verso le scale mobili per scendere a prendere la Subway 6 Uptown quando vengo fermata da una signora che distribuisce strani volantini neri. Ne prendo uno ed inizio a leggere.

Precisamente: cibo gratis.
Basta mettere un “Like” su FB alla pagina di Mastercard o tweettare #PricelessNY per avere un panino gratis ad uno dei truck indicati nel volantino.
Non appena arrivo al lavoro lo comunico alle mie compagne di pranzo e naturalmente aspettiamo con ansia che arrivino le ore 13 per lanciarci alla ricerca di quei preziosissimi panini gratuiti.
Quando scocca la fatidica ora la sfida si fa ardua. Piove come solo a New York potrebbe piovere, ma noi non ci perdiamo d’animo e ci dirigiamo verso il magico camion dispensatore di felicità. Finalmente lo troviamo. Anzi, ne troviamo ben due! Uno distribuisce panini e l’altro gelati.
Oltre ai camioncini però, troviamo anche una lunga, lunghissima fila di gente affamata che attende sotto la pioggia il proprio meritato pranzetto.

Per avere il nostro panino gratis dobbiamo mostrare a delle ragazze il nostro “Like”, e come prova abbiamo stampato la pagina Facebook; le ragazze ci consegnano quindi due ticket a testa, uno per il panino ed uno per il gelato.
Per una strana coincidenza ci siamo ritrovate con due ticket in più, per cui con otto ticket per tre persone! Vale era l’unica ad avere voglia di gelato e dal momento che i biglietti erano tutti identici abbiamo deciso di prendere sette panini e un gelato.
Alla fine non siamo riuscite a mangiare tutto, un po’ per la quantità e la consistenza, un po’ per l’odore asfissiante di cipolla, allora, uscite dal lavoro abbiamo deciso di donare uno dei panini ad un barbone che stava seduto per strada.

Mangiare un panino alla cipolla costa zero dollari, con Mastercard.
Donarne uno a chi ne ha davvero bisogno, non ha prezzo.