Meditations #73

April 26, 2016


A Pocket Trip

The recipe:

A nonstop flight

A 4-night stay

One destination

And a singular objective

The result:

A serendipitous encounter

An unforgettable meal

A drop of sun on a gray winter canvas

Adventure, knowledge, laughter

And, of course, memories

Location:  Cotswolds, Engand


to view itinerary:

Haven’s Kitchen

IMG_4498 (1)

We are looking for entertaining space because we are happily awaiting another wedding in the family, and so the time has come to vet the venue possibilities.  Haven’s Kitchen, located in a three-story converted carriage house on West 17th Street, is a lovely option.  We were welcomed  by Halle Heyman, an adorable and very capable woman who oversees private events, and given the grand tour.  Haven’s Kitchen is multi-purpose, offering just off the entrance a relaxed cafe with bar stools and serving healthy soups and light snacks.  In back, an open kitchen offers cooking classes.  The private rooms – first and second floor throughs – have wide plank floors, white brick walls, cosy sitting nooks, and a bar.  There is space enough for round or long trestle tables to seat 80-100 guests and for after dinner music and dancing.

The Cotswolds

April 7, 2016


Each Cotswold village, it seems, is more picturesque than the last, and the rolling countryside that links them, lined with thick hedgerows and limestone walls and, in spring, carpeted with daffodils and cowslip, is postcard perfect. Located 1.5 hours from London or just a 40-minute drive from Birmingham, the Cotswolds can provide a richly rewarding experience over a long weekend.

  • DO read up on the area before going to get a good historical sense of the region … the importance of the geology and geography to its economic rise, and the reasons for its suddenly eclipse
  • DO fly in to Birmingham rather than London Heathrow
  • DO rent a car and self-drive
  • DO keep to the back roads to avoid tourist traffic and to guarantee marvelous discoveries
  • DO take advantage of England’s footpaths that crisscross the countryside
  • DO visit the many interesting churches, known as the “wool churches,” for they were built by money made from the wool trade

Wander. Wander by car or on foot or, if you are a lover of horses, you can even ride by day and overnight in different country houses. The celebrated villages – Broadway, Burford, Chipping Camden among them – will be frustratingly busy in summer and virtually impossible to park in. But there are so many other villages that all you need do is to stick to the back roads and mosey along; among my favorites are Adelstrop, Swinbrook (home of the Mitford sisters) and Snowshill, impossibly pretty and surrounded by lavender fields. Visit Northleach which has one of the finest wool churches and a museum of musical instruments and clocks; Cirencester, at one time the largest Roman town outside of London, with another important church that houses Anne Boleyn’s chalice and one of the country’s oldest weekly markets; Lechlade, located at the source of the River Thames and home to William Morris, has ancient walls constructed of vertical Cotswold stone slabs.


Walk. The Cotswolds is a walker’s delight and, frankly, the very best way to savor this region of golden stone villages, woodlands, meadows and valleys, brooks and tight fields. The region is protected as an area of outstanding natural beauty – the largest in the country – and walking along its footpaths will ensure you are far from the beaten path. Your best guide for delicious walks in the Cotswolds are outlined in 50 Walks in the Cotswolds.

Visit. The Cotswolds is famous for its gardens, castles and stately homes, many of which are managed by the National Trust. Heavily trafficked, you can feel utterly local bypassing Hidcote Manor Garden and stopping in at Kiftsgate just down the road. Intimate and riotous with color, Kiftsgate Court Garden was planted post WWI and has been tended by three generations of women. Sezincote, considered by some a “folly”, is a 200-year-old Mogul Indian palace, set in a romantic landscape of temples, grottoes, waterfalls and venerable centuries old trees.


Shop. Poke around in the seemingly endless antique shops in the region, many of the best to be found in Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden and Chipping Norton. Immerse yourself in the Bamford brand, shopping for organic farm produce, home products, housewares and wonderful cashmere and cotton clothing at Daylesford near Kingham. If a long weekend without a pilates session or a soothing massage dampens your spirits, the Bamford Haybarn Spa will give you these and more.   And if outlet shopping is your thing, drive half an hour to Bicester Village Outlet, home to more than 100 high-end designer brands like Marni, Celine and Mulberry.


And remember that Oxford is not that far away either. Visit the Ashmolean or Pitt Rivers Museum and another gem, the oldest botanic garden in England. On a lovely afternoon, rent a boat at the Boathouse and punt down the Cherwell River. End your day at Christ Church Cathedral for choral Evensong at 6PM.

The best season to travel to the Costwolds is in April, May, very early June and then, again, after the summer in early Fall. The flowers are beyond belief in the spring and then, as the months wear on, the thick hedgerows patchwork the farmland and meadows and the ancient trees offer shade to sheep flocks. Avoid the summer months when the crowds descend.


Meditations #72

March 22, 2016

Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

Mystery and Magic.

Magical is the splendor of our earth – its colors and formations, and its endless diversity.

Mysterious is what remains untouched and hidden to us – a valley or peak, and the subterranean caverns of our dreams.

Photographer:  Ryan Deboodt

Soon Dong Cave, Vietnam

Meditations #71

February 16, 2016


Hugging the coastline, their hand-sewn ships ran with the trade winds, laden with dates and dried fish, mangrove poles, coconut oil, pearls and slaves.

 For millennia, they plied the incense route, a maritime cat’s cradle of ports and straits and pirate coasts, weaving together a babel of languages, religions and customs into a glorious trading empire.

Photographer:  Clara Zawawi

Location:  Muscat, Oman


Friday at the Met

February 13, 2016

Ganesha, Cambodia

Friday, at the Met – a wonderful ritual that a friend and I have developed over time.  In sub freezing weather or on a summer evening, the glories of the Met are a siren call to us.  Much of the Met we know but, somehow, we always seem to find a new cabinet of jade objects, a special textile, an old friend of a painting or sculpture. Our footsteps often echo walking the marble halls – the museum is so vast and there are so many rooms that hardly see a visitor – and even in opening exhibitions, Friday evening is a a peaceful time.  It’s a long week, the pressures are non-stop, the computer a fixation; how nice to amble through Southeast Asia, sit in Astor Court to catch up on family news, breathe in the rarified air of Dendur.  And then there is always the mezzanine gallery where the Friday quartet plays a lively concert while happy museum goers stop for a glass of wine and a light bite.





The Empty Quarter

January 24, 2016


When I was in my early 20’s, I shared a tented camp for many months in Kenya’s Maasai Mara with my first husband, a filmmaker.  We lived a very local life amongst the Maasai.  One day, as I was tending to chores in our al fresco kitchen, I looked up to see a very tall, older man approaching on foot with two Samburu youths.  No one was ever seen walking in the Mara with the exception of the Maasai, themselves, and us who had been given permission by the warden to move around on foot.  I welcomed the trio to our campfire and was introduced to the great Arabian explorer, Wilfred Thesiger.  After having spent much of his life walking through Arabia, he had come to spend his later years in Samburu in the north of Kenya.

Subsequently, I read Thesiger’s masterpiece, Arabian Sands, and devoured his autobiography, The Life of My Choice, as well as his book on the Marsh Arabs.  A good writer, Thesiger was also a wonderful photographer and his gorgeous black and white photographs of worlds that no longer exist captured my imagination.  The Empty Quarter and the soaring reed houses of the marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq were the standouts, for me, in his book, A Vanished World.  The latter are gone, I am told, but the Empty Quarter – a vast desert of fine sand and soaring dunes, is very much there.  On my bucket list for years, I have just spent two nights marveling at its beauty.


The Empty Quarter exists primarily in Saudi Arabia, but Yemen, Oman and UAE each share a part of this vast sea of sand.  At Qasr al Sarab, Anantara’s crenellated palace in the desert, you can head off on foot, on camel or in 4×4 and, in less than 10 minutes lose sight of any human hand.  There is much to marvel at – the shapes, the shadows, the colors, the striations, the wind ripples, the salt beds, the dried wadis, the powder texture – and contemplate upon.  The Saudi border is less than 5 km away, and yet this is a sea that one crosses only at your own peril.  Even the Bedu would only traverse the desert close to edges; the Empty Quarter is beautiful but unforgiving.  All of that has changed now, of course.  The Bedu and their nomadic life is gone.  The Empty Quarter and the rest of the Arabian desert is now truly empty.

peregrine falcon on his block in the Empty Quarter


Zighy Bay – Oman

January 18, 2016

aerial view of Zighy Bay and Zighy Bay Six Senses Resort
aerial view of Zighy Bay and Zighy Bay Six Senses Resort

The approach is vertiginous, whether you descend by driving or by paragliding.  Tucked in to a perfect crescent of a beach on Oman’s Musandam coast, Zighy Bay Six Senses cannot help but take your breath away, so perfectly blended is it into this starkly beautiful, bone dry landscape.  Who would have had the imagination and courage to create a resort here?  Three owners deserve the credit for the vision, the patience and the resources that it took to build the 80 villas (all materials came in initially by boat as there was no road) which are clustered like a village on the seashore.



And Six Senses, a brand that started in the Maldives and now extends into Europe with its hotels and its world class spas, is responsible for the management.  It can’t be an easy task but you would never know it.  With a staff to guest ratio of 3:1, the care, attention to detail, and the ease with which Zighy Bay conducts itself is equally impressive.  This is real barefoot luxury existence except that the luxury part of it is so relaxed, so inherent to the soul of the place that you feel completely at home.  The staff, from many nations – as is usual in this part of the world – seem to love being here and their welcome is warm. The menus, designed by the Canadian chef, are diverse and utterly delicious.  Villa pools are temperature controlled, sand is raked, lounge chairs carefully aligned with freshly rolled towels.  There are dozens of activities ranging from the aforementioned paragliding to microlighting, fishing, diving, snorkeling, archery, cooking in the sublime organic garden, tennis and, of course, that spa.  And then, with each villa offering a good sized pool, summer lounge space, large courtyard and verandah, all contained by rock and split cane walls, there is the serious temptation of never leaving your house at all.  A little bit of heaven.




2 bedroom retreat villa complete with in house gym and massage room
2 bedroom retreat villa complete with in house gym and massage room
ruggedly beautiful Musandam Coast
ruggedly beautiful Musandam Coast

Ras al Khaimah

January 17, 2016


On the road to Oman, we pass through one of the 7 Emirates, Ras al Khaimah, the most fertile in the country.  Quieter than Dubai, Ras al Khaimah has lovely beach and water, and its desert is greener than that of Dubai.  It is poised to become another major tourism destination for the European market.  Currently, there are three charters arriving into RAK weekly from Germany.  For other European and US travelers, Dubai still serves as the best hub and the drive takes only one hour from Al Maktoum International Airport.

Waldorf Astoria occupies an extraordinary beachside property that was built by Sheikh Al Quasimi as a palace.  With 235 rooms, it overlooks a quiet sea (once called the Pirate Coast).  A man-made island draws the eye in to the deep blue.


A full service resort with very good restaurants, tennis courts, water activities and spacious rooms, it is, nevertheless, a singular property in a landscape that is still being shaped out of the desert.


UAE: Dubai and Around

January 16, 2016



Burj al Arab profile behind Jumeirah Madinat
Burj al Arab profile behind Jumeirah Madinat


One’s impressions of places have so much to do with who you travel with, what you see, weather and your own state of mind.  My last visit to the Arabian Gulf – four years ago this month – lasted but a week and was divided between Oman, Dubai and Doha.  It was warm but gray and, while I found the area unique and interesting, I could not understand why my clients would want to spend any extended time in the region nor why my friends who live here could be so happy.

This trip – a two week whirlwind that has started in Dubai and takes in many hotels and activities both in the cities and in the desert – has changed my perception.  Life here is ordered and orderly, weather is wonderful, infrastructure is up-to-the-minute new, service is phenomenal, smiles abound, food is excellent, the mood is welcoming, one feels safe.  I love the fact that the population is so international – I have spoken more Swahili in the last week than I have in years – and rubbing shoulders with Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis and the more than 40 nationalities that make up the 3000 staff of the Jumeirah Madinat hotel, is a real pleasure.  UAE nationals number only 18% of the population and, while one has very little interaction with Emeratis, there is a real sense of welcome that starts at immigration on arrival.

Jumeirah Madinat, Dubai
Jumeirah Madinat, Dubai

Much of what Dubai has to offer is great weather and warm water.  But it is also an incredible Disneyesque adventure for the young who can enjoy the highest, the biggest, the deepest, the coolest, the most action packed few days available anywhere.  On order, in no particular order, are: Atlantis aquarium with incredibly beautiful fish displays, the possibility of swimming inside the larges aquarium in the world surrounded by mantas and sharks and endless other fish species;IMG_3878


the usual swimming with dolphins and sea lions; a private visit to the top of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa; skiing or snow boarding in the Mall of the Emirates, an extraordinary venue with three ski lifts to runs of varying difficulty, with man made snow that is groomed nightly; a sky diving center which is, I am told, world class.  Of course shopping is tax free and a huge draw for those from the region and on offer is every brand you can think of in fashion, accessory and home furnishings.

But there is more..there is the desert as well which I was unable to visit when I was last here. The magical desert of your imagination is a mere 40 minutes from the city center, a landscape of orange sand dunes, cresting away into the distance.  There are various outfits that offer desert excursions but the best is perhaps Heritage-Platinum Safaris. Located in a wildlife conservation of many hectares, they take guests out in classic land rovers to view oryx and gazelles, to journey out on camels or horses, and to dine under the stars in desert camps aesthetically positioned in the sand dunes.  The landscape is beautiful.  It is shared by Al Maha Resort, a property owned by the royal family and operated by Starwood.  This is a wonderful  place for anyone interested in quiet, beautiful scenery, good spa services and no children.

View from Al Maha pool
View from Al Maha pool



throw pillows