Travel Inspiration By A Pro Trip Designer

Holiday Cards – So many fun Choices!

Hotel Reviews, Shopping


December 1st, 2009

Amsterdam (and really, my computer)

I recognize this posting is a bit of a divergence from my regular material but, given that I  have always had a deep love affair with paper goods/stationery and now live abroad- I can’t help but become a bit preoccupied with my holiday card selection.

Not only do I have to convey that we have indeed relocated to Amsterdam, but I must also showcase our happiness, my sophisticated taste and the appropriate holiday sentiments. As you can see, that’s a tall order for just one card. Luckily, my determination and love of research, not to mention friends and colleagues who make beautiful stationery, provide just the fodder for this pursuit.

Of course, some may find this all a bit trite, presuming my intense focus on my holiday card choice is really just evidence to my massive amount of free time. YET, I assure you – I have been like this every year and will continue to be so given the importance (okay, perhaps its a bit inflated) I attach to my annual holiday card.

As an editor at Town & Country Weddings I was in charge of the stationery stories we ran and nothing made me happier than sifting through the multitude of cards. There are so many wonderful designers out there these days, plus the internet has opened up incredible options, not to mention providing a forum for new, independent designers. What can I say? I absolutely adore the process and hope by putting down some of my contenders here, I can encourage you all to enjoy the annual pursuit as much as me!

A list of some of my favorite designers and their holiday designs:

1. HELLO LUCKY – one of my favorite card designers out of London and San Francisco for wonderfully colorful, graphic heavy, letterpress designs. Their fold over holiday cards are simply adorable plus customizable!

DECK THE HALLS is one of my favorites, especially for those living in a city. It translates the warmth of the holidays, the homeyness, yet also shows how its a wonderful time of year for people, neighbors even, to share and experience the spirit together.

If you follow the link on the name above you can custom design it

If you follow the link by clicking the image above you can custom design it on their site

VESPA GIRL is ideal for the single gal who’s always on the go or a cute personal one from you to your girlfriends. (It can also double as a Thank you card to someone who is busy but always remembers your birthday)

not the greatest image - please click on it for the website

not the greatest image - please click on it for the website

NUTCRACKERS is one of my top picks because I simply love them and feel they don’t get enough play from holiday designers. While I like the blue and brown colors of this card, I would prefer to see it in a red and brown or red and green motif instead Nevertheless, it’s still adorable.

click on photo for link

click on photo for link to website to order

2. SMOCK – For the eco-conscious sender, these letterpress designs done on Bamboo paper stock are 100% biodegradable and charming.  ORNAMENTS and the REINDEER designs are my two favorites. They both come as sets of 8 for $14 and are petite in size. They also make great gift cards – particularly for that “green” friend of yours.

I always love saying Merry Merry too!

I always love saying Merry Merry too!

Makes for a great gift card from or for a little one

Makes for a great gift card from or for a little one

3.  MINTED is a stationery site that displays the work of various featured artists. They consider themselves promoters of independent designers and some of the very best small shop designers out there. Their intent is to promote talent and showcase today’s “freshest designs” and I have to agree, they do it all quite sincerely, and successfully. I have ordered cards from them in the past and consider them one of my first stops for my stationery needs and to get a good look at who’s doing what these days. This year, they have two new products which stand out – particularly for families and bulk mailings.

The first is the wraparound skinny address label

clever and cute

clever and cute!

The second is their Minibook holiday card – ideal for a new baby, families with multiple children, or the indecisive since its the perfect way to include more than one photo. There is an array of design options and all can be customized. Below is my favorite.

The black and white photos with the burgundy color and chartreuse envelope are a sophisticate's color palette dream come true

The black and white photos with the burgundy color and chartreuse envelope are a sophisticate's color palette dream come true

That’s all I have so far but don’t worry…there’s more to come!

Posted in: Hotel Reviews, Shopping

Published by Meg, Wednesday, December 2, 2009 No Comments

Affordable Art Fair




October 28th, 2009

Upon my move to Amsterdam, I reached out to the Dutch Tourism Board in an effort to introduce myself (get plugged into upcoming events) as a  new journalist. Just  my luck, they were extremely responsive (far nicer than the PR department at KLM) and right away I was invited to the preview party of Amsterdam’s annual Affordable Art Fair.


I must admit, I was very eager to go and for more than just professional reasons…after all, this was to be my debut on the Dutch media scene!   And maybe, just maybe, my husband and I would spot something suitable for our new home.

The Affordable Art Fair in Amsterdam

The Affordable Art Fair in Amsterdam

The Affordable Art Fair debuted in London in 1999 by a gallery owner in Battersea and from there the idea caught on like wildfire.  Cities like New York, Melbourne and Glasgow called him, eager to do the same – encourage art enthusiasts of all wallet sizes with over 500 galleries showing.  Though the AAF events are connected by name, each city has its own management office and given art tastes differ from city to city. In Amsterdam, the art tends to be more Modern than traditional or contemporary.

Stalls in the Westergasfabriek

Stalls in the Westergasfabriek

The entry price for Amsterdam’s fair  is said to be 100 euro, though the least expensive thing I spied was 600.  My husband and I biked to the fair (naturally), which was housed in a former gas warehouse just beyond the center of the city – very industrial chic.

The opening party attracted hordes of people (so much for it being the exclusive press debut I had hoped for) and appeared to be a huge success. People were milling about, wine glass in hand jovially chatting while gallery reps were eager to share information and push the sell. Some looked as though they were there purely for the social benefit.

Walking around, I was surprised to find a few things that caught my eye. Admittedly, I am hardly an art conaisseur, let alone Modern Art.

Dutch contemporary artist

Popular contemporary Dutch artist

One of the artisits whose work I very much liked but which was sadly  NOT affordable

One of the artists whose work I very much liked but was sadly NOT affordable

Just as we were about to leave, my husband and I actually happened upon a print that we both adored. As the gallery manager pushed his go-to line, “It’s so rare when both members of the couple are drawn to a piece equally”. We shared a longing look and excitedly secured of our first art purchase.

Entitled "Cowger" with the caption "The Cow who wanted to be a Tiger"

From up-and-coming English artist Carl Moore, “The Cow Who Wanted to be a Tiger” caught us both with its charm and color scheme and given our own tiger fantasies, seemed like a must-have. The print is one of a series of 25 animals that Moore has done and we hope (once our wallets expand) to add a few of the others to our collection.

The Affordable Art Fair in Amsterdam runs through the first week of November and then heads back down to Sydney and then to London in March 2010. Be sure to check any of them out if you can. They’re a great time to mingle if not, purchase.

Posted in: Shopping

Published by Meg, Saturday, October 31, 2009 No Comments


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:


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


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…

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Posted in: Hotel Reviews, Shopping

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

about meg

About Meg


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.