Travel Inspiration By A Pro Trip Designer

Amsterdam

October 27th, 2009

As with every city I visit (and now reside in), I’m always curious about the hotels and moreover, which one will provide the best overall recommendation for friends and family. Of course, all travelers are different and recommendations are best when tailored. For instance, I would never think of suggesting a hotel without a gym for my Dad nor one without excellent decor and service for my Mom, but either way, I always like to have a set ‘go-to’ suggestion for each city.

I liken my hotel recommendation hunt to that of my apartment hunt – you’ll never find a spot that satisfies all of your top desires, so in the end you pick and choose, prioritize and then determine the one non-negotiable. For me, its always been about location. I’d rather suffer so-so design in order to be right, smack in the area of town that I favor. I won’t bore you with my long held ‘one should live where he/she wants to wake up on Saturday mornings” adage and instead treat you to a brief peak at my  favorite neighborhood in Amsterdam  (NB: It’s only been 3 weeks so it’s clearly subject to change):

9 Straatjes (Nine Streets).

map of the 9 streets

I borrowed this photo from another blogger Lizzy whose website is fantastic and a great source for me. Thanks Lizzy!

map and current day shot of the 9 streets (courtesy of Lizzie)

Timageshis grid of nine short streets between the three main canals are a bastion of charm with boutiques, vintage and second-hand clothing shops, tiny cafes and restaurants with curbside dining and specialty stores like the cheese shop whose pungent fragrance and vast selection makes me oh so happy to be living in Europe. So far, I have strolled the streets for window shopping purposes only and to my surrpise, have remained quite content.  Okay, I lie. There may have been two shops where I fell victim:

1. CORTINA PAPIER.

The exterior

The exterior

Stocked with over 100 different wrapping papers, Italian stationery and delicate bound journals from Japan, I simply couldn’t resist.  As they advertise, if you love the handrwitten note, you can’t go wrong here. I agreed!images-4

2. BUTLER’S

The tempting storefront

The tempting storefront

This sleek European home accessories store is run by two men who handpick each element of their heavily Italian influenced inventory. From Missoni robes to Culti bed linen, the offerings beg to be caressed while the affable owners are eager to share their knowledge and design suggestions. They even do consulting for home decor. Also, this November the store is releasing it’s own, brand new label of high quality bed linen. With over 350-count fine Egyptian cotton and packaged in its own embroidered laundry bag, the duvet and pillow set offers refined style and chic comfort. After all, both owners use it at home.


So, with the desired neighborhood in check I got back to work (ehem, I’m a hotel reviewer) and did a quick search of the area hotels whose amenities (okay, number of stars) were up to snuff. Right away I came up with these two well-known favorites:

The Dylan

The famous Dylan Courtyard

The famous Dylan Courtyard

and the Hotel Pulitzer

Hotel Pulitzer's private canal dock
Hotel Pulitzer’s private canal dock

I must admit, I was more keen to find some off-the beaten path options, but pressed for time (there were incoming visitors), I needed to act fast.

I must admit, from the websites alone, there wasn’t much competition. One of the two (The Dylan) appeared far more to my liking. However, buoyed by positive reviews from Dutch friends and family, I kept Hotel Pulitzer in contention.

Individual reviews to come…


Posted in: Hotel Reviews, Shopping

Published by Meg, Tuesday, October 27, 2009 No Comments

NUMBER 1 SILK FACTORY

Asia, Shopping

Sep
16
2009

SUZHOU, CHINA

September 14th, 2009

The Number 1 Silk Factory doesn’t get its name because its the best in China, rather because it’s the oldest. Its one of the few remaining factories where employees still do some of the work by hand. It makes for a surprisingly enlightening tour, causing you to rethink every silk possession in your closet. Especially you guys – those neckties of yours require 300 cocoons! Here are some photos that put it all in perspective.

The worms munching away on Mulberry Leaves

The worms munching away on Mulberry Leaves

A worker separating the good cocoons from the bad ones.  The whole thing smelled kinda funny

A worker separating the good cocoons from the bad ones. The whole thing smelled kinda funny

The machinery was quite incredible and the whole process both unnerving and fascinating.  The silk wheels at the top of the machine were spinning oh so fast while the used cocoons would bob in the water trof til pulled out and discarded by the employees.  After the spinning machines you see the ones that make the print on the fabric. I’m sorry there’s no picture here because frankly, it was all very confusing to me. The cards had some sort of braille like code that told the machine what to do and stamps of Confucius on a yellow silk background miraculously pumped out the other end. I assure you, the picture would hardly do it justice either.

The tour ends in a showroom, of course. It is China after all.  The largest selling product at the factory are the silk duvets. A huge business for them, the duvets come in all sorts of weights and sizes (pictured below). A queen size lightweight one goes for 680 RB which is around $100. Okay, yes, I bought one.

Like Penn Station. They also offer shipping rates for bulk purchases. The brown ones are finer quality than the orange

Like Penn Station. They also offer shipping rates for bulk purchases. The brown ones are finer quality than the orange

The shipping includes SpotSee to make sure your item is in good hands.
Right before you head into the room to purchase, you can witness the women making the duvets by stretching the silk across the mattress to layer a duvet. If you’re nice enough they’ll let you do it with them.

silkduvetmn

Posted in: Asia, Shopping

Published by Meg, Wednesday, September 16, 2009 No Comments

FAMED FABRIC MARKET (The Reality)

Asia, Shopping

Sep
15
2009

SHANGHAI

As customary, I returned the following day to the Fabric Market to retrieve my custom-designed, tailor-made selections: a brown cashmere coat with added detail on the cuff and pockets, a purple cashmere dress with added pockets, a green and gold wool dress, and a silk print shirt. While yesterday felt like a giddy foray into the world of Project Runway (adding pockets, mixing various design elements to create my own vision), was quickly replaced with that pit-in-the-stomach feeling. My fantasy of 100% cashmere coats and winter dresses and my very own design silk print shirt (all for under $300 total) was crashing to a harsh reality illuminated by those godawful flourescent lights,. Like all personal disasters, the damage accumulated slowly.

The woman whose great designs orchestrated my cashmere crush and eventual catastrophe

The woman whose great designs orchestrated my cashmere crush and eventual catastrophe

First, I went to the green dress. It needed to be taken in, a lot. She said she’d have it done in an hour. Fine, I kept moving.  I next headed upstairs to the silk shirt man. The design was as I had instructed, but there was a zipper where none had been desired. And what felt like silk yesterday was now an obvious polyester. Ho hum.  So, with my 70’s costume top in hand, I headed down to collect my couture piece de resistance – my chocolate brown cashmere coat (pictured above) and cashmere purple Jackie-O style dress. With positive thoughts surging in my head, I headed to the corner booth where “my friend” (her self-anointed nickname), would surely prevail.

Alas, my dreamboat coat that, was meant to wow the crowds of Amsterdam, was instead a rough wool fabric, itchy at the neck and a tad tight across the bust (shocking that’s even possible). I will say it was cut well in the back and the pockets and cuffs turned out quite nicely but the fantasy of 100% cashmere was quickly dashed. As my face fell she tried to compensate with the purple dress. In keeping with the other dress, it was way too big. Again, I was re-pinned and told to return in an hour.  So here I was left with two dresses that didn’t fit, a coat that wasn’t the right material and a field of fabric dreams falling all around me.

One of the many Siren booths

One of the many Siren booths

So, with an hour to kill and wounded pride I did what any self-respecting, natural-born shopper would do – I searched for better bargains. I deduced that the model designs were indeed the ones to buy because THEY were made with the better fabrics and used as tools of enticement. So, I figured I’ll forfeit my original purchases and find a deal of a coat that WAS real cashmere to caress my battered spirit.  Again, the “Supermarket Sweep” drive to win resurfaced and off I went, running, trying on coats and working out the savings.  Like a moth to the light, I was pulled yet again to the idea of getting something for less and thinking I had solved the puzzle of the fabric market: Go with the samples! Luckily, I had two colleagues with me who were able to show me that the coat (which was perhaps 80% cashmere) I was mulling over was in fact not stylish, and not flattering and to cut my losses and collect my failures like a big girl. So, I trudged back to “my friend” and told her defiantly that I would pay less because the dress and the coat were not in fact cashmere as she had promised. We did feel tests together, she whined in protest and I was left standing in her booth as the lights above us were being  systematically shut off.  Talk about a cinematic moment. The darkness of my reality was literally closing in on me.

In the end I was able to get 100RB down from what I owed (a savings of about 13 dollars) So, if you see me strutting around in my felt brown coat over my itchy wool purple dress this winter, please, refrain from the “I told you so” or tossing out the  “Too good to be true” adage and instead, just be nice and compliment the custom cut and stylings. But whatever you do, don’t touch.

Oh and if you do go to the Fabric Market, which, really you must, please heed this warning and go with adjusted expectations. And, if you’re able to really be prudent – buy the display model, always.

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Posted in: Asia, Shopping

Published by Meg, Tuesday, September 15, 2009 No Comments

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About Meg

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Meg is the founder of luxury travel consulting company, Friend of a Friend Consulting. Her three books, Italian Hideaways, Caribbean Hideaways and England's Hideaways are published by Rizzoli. Passionate about travel, hotels and wine, she continues to write freelance travel pieces and is currently pursuing a Masters in Wine through the WSET.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are solely my own and do not reflect separate business relationships with the subject. Whenever posts are supported financially, they are designated as such.