With over 120 million hashtags this year and counting London is the most Instagrammed city in the world . This is not news as I have written about that before. But it is not just Big Ben or Tower Bridge that makes you want to take out your phone and get that selfie. It is far more than that. Around every corner there is something spectacular to look at. So I thought I would show you some of my favourite Instagram hotspots that are not your typical hot tourist attractions but rather the reason why London is the most photogenic city in the world.
He (or in this case she) who is outside their door has the hardiest part of the journey behind them. Dutch Proverb
According to a recent study women travelling alone are currently making the biggest changes to the global tourism industry. With a 131% increase over the last two years of women spreading their travel wings and flying solo.
And I can tell you why…
Travelling alone gives you a perfect time to reflect and really learn something about yourself.
You do what you want, when you want and what interests you. You gain a much needed appreciation and perspective on life, something no on else can give you. By climbing out of your comfort zone, by travelling alone it is truly where I have experienced the most amazing personal growth.
Ok, has revolutionized the way I am dressing. I am serious AND I am not alone in this. It used to be after a long day at work or at a social event you would walk or more often hobble home having been in uncomfortable yet stylish looking heels all day. The absolute first thing you would do would be to kick off your shoes, sit down and massage those poor sore feet of yours. I know all you fab fashionista sistas out there know of what I speak.
I’ve been spending some vacation time with my grownup-ish children this summer. As I’ve been watching them interact with others of their youthful tribe in their exuberant self-centred adolescent bubble it has had me feel…well…nostalgic.
I was a kid of the 70’s and although not a perfect decade….IT WAS PERFECT in its simplicity to be a kid.
I have the extreme privilege of being able to take a month every summer and head to one of my favourite places on earth, Muskoka, Canada. For those who do not know Muskoka it is a spectacular lake region just a few hours north of Toronto.
Muskoka consists of two contrasting lifestyles ~ The First, Old Muskoka
Old Muskoka families who have rustic cottages whose grandparents or great-grandparents had purchased. Years ago they would come by train to summer in the Canadian wilderness of crystal clean lakes, miles of untouched shoreline, countless islands and the gentle peaceful sound of the “dip dip and swing” as their paddle propels them across the lake in their red Hudson Bay canoes. But these old Muskoka families and their cottages are quickly disappearing.
London for sure is an exciting, busy, social city and one might look around and think that this somewhat intimidating city is better suited for couples, groups or families. But I have to say some of my favourite things to do in London I love doing by myself. In fact some things are even easier or more accessible when you are flying solo.
I have been spinning for roughly two decades. It has been my stress buster, the releasor of endorphins and often the cause of legs that feel like jello and long hot epson salt baths I literally have to physically struggle getting out of. I have a true love:hate relationship with spinning which I affectionally have nicknamed the Wheel of Pain.
So when I heard that the spinning cult phenomenon Soulcycle was coming to Soho in London I had to find out for myself what the hype was all about and just how different a spin class can be. Let me tell you…it was quite the ride.
The Beatles sang about it, Queen Victoria commissioned it and now after almost 150 years Royal Albert Hall is still one of the most spectacular, prestigious concert halls in the world having hosted over 30,000 events from 1871 to …well last night. Originally it was suppose to be called the Centre Hall of Arts and Science but it was changed to Royal Albert Hall by Queen Victoria honouring her late husband who died only six years earlier.
Its past (and present) has hosted a myriad of performers and legends to take its famous stage. From symphonies, rock concerts, opera, boxing, ballet, tennis, political events, award shows, charity events, circuses, film premieres (check out me and my guy Colin Firth at the Mary Poppins Returns Premiere), Albert Einstein and they even had the first ever Sumo Wrestling event outside of Japan, EVER!
If you are out in some of London’s hippest restaurants, trendiest hotels or funky bars you might have noticed a trend that has exploded…not quite like a weekend in Mexico explosion but rather the incredible detailed lavish bathrooms that in of themselves have been attracting major attention. The bathrooms have become more than a quick essential place to do one’s business they have become an Instagram hotspot, as people have posted millions of photos of London’s fabulous loos. The intense competition for the most incredible place to relieve yourself has even given way to Britain’s Loo Of The Year Award, honest it’s a thing. So you could be actually “Number One” in the number two business… so to speak.. A really good restaurant cannot sit back just on their food reputation anymore. Nope. Every bit important now in the world of social media is buzzy interiors and that must include a fabulous trip to the loo.
I call it the Mother Ship, Mecca, the indisputable centre of the glam retail universe. Harrods is London's most iconic and beautiful department store and one of the top tourist attractions in the U.K. estimating 15 million visitors annually. It is the 7th most Instagrammed place in London where at any given time you will see tourists taking selfies outside its majestic exterior or inside the world famous Food Hall. This beautiful Grand Dame of London occupies over a million square feet in prestigious Knightsbridge. That is over 5 acres of shoes, electronics, toys, make-up, jewellery, books, furniture… and of course fabulous, fabulous clothes making it the largest department store in Europe.
A short time ago, after a punishing morning workout on the Wheel Of Pain (spin) as part of my personal reward program I wandered into my local neighbourhood bakery (guilt free-ish) to get myself my usual… a café latte and a fresh baked blueberry muffin. I had earned it. That particular morning something unexpected happened. As I let the sweet warm scent of baking bread, rising yeast, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar enveloped me I instantly was transported into a joyous moment of pure, unquestionable happiness. I inhaled deeply as if to hold in the delicious moment of total bliss for as long as I could. Bakery air I thought. Something as simple as bakery air made me happy. I had been in that bakery before, in fact many times but I had not really paid attention, I’d just grabbed my muffin or warm baguette and leave. But that day for some reason…I was aware…I paid attention and was present…and it in the words of Marie Kondo (look her up)….it sparked joy.
Don’t you love a good mystery? London is literally overflowing with them. Filled with outrageous tales of venomous vampires, Coco Chanel’s personalized lampposts, rampant rodents and 60,000 parakeets that supposedly belong to legendary rocker Jimi Hendrix. So what is true and what is nothing more than weird and wonderful London folklore? I just had to go digging into London’s most infamous secrets, tales and myths.and find out for myself.
Going back to the time of The Late Show with David Letterman I had become obsessed about two things, Stupid Pet Tricks and Top Ten Lists. Although it might be more visually entertaining showing you a Rottweiler fit five tennis balls into its toothy mouth I have decided to focus this week’s blog on a Top Ten List I found, one that includes two things I love, London and music.
This time of year can be brutal. In fact my friend Marco accurately dubbed the time from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day as “The Mean Season”. A time when being single is never more obvious or inconvenient to all around you. And the horrific climax of the mean season should be no surprise… Valentine’s Day. I have never liked Valentine’s Day. I think for me it falls into the category of being told what to do…and when to do it. Also, if you are only reminding the people you love how you feel 1 day of 365 due to the social pressure of a greeting card company than I think you need to re-examine your relationships. In fact, I think I will start a petition to replace Valentine’s Day with a second Halloween, which I personally think is a genius idea.
Brits tend to be far more discrete when it comes to their celebrity worshipping, that is say compared to our Americans friends where there are people literally sitting in folded lawn-chairs outside the stars homes selling maps to their homes. There was no obvious map to the stars in London, and as I am not a tween interested in following some snapchat story about where the latest boyband de-jour might be hanging out I decided to create my own little self guided tour of London celebs and see if I could find the homes of some of London’s elite and infamous. Here is who I found.
Since Downtown Abbey I have become obsessed with British period dramas, a genre I am now addicted to mostly thanks to Mathew Crawley (sigh) and Colin Firth (double sigh) as Mr Darcy. So in my binge watching I discovered you would be hard pressed to find in any aristocratic storyline some outing that didn’t have at least one scene around a shoot or hunt. The British elite, royalty, or even peasants (not pheasants) like myself dress in their scratchy wooly tweed and their rubber wellies as they step out on the English countryside, guns and dogs by their side as they prepare for one of England’s longest standing traditions, the shoot.
I hope and trust 2019 is off to a great start. I was planning on doing Dry January, you know give my liver and some other internal organs a well deserved break…but my only New Year’s Resolution was don’t make any promises you cannot keep. So sorry Ban-uary, I am coming to you with a glass of Chardonnay by my side, 4:45 BST.
As I was recapping 2018 it was a big year of change for me. I have moved house, I lost 20 pounds (although gain five back over the holidays) and I have officially changed my Facebook status to single by dropping another 170 pounds. I have a shiny new outlook on my life and I know this time is my time..and that makes me feel happy and empowered like the skinny legend I have become.
Like Neil Sedaka sang, breaking up is hard to do. Now I know that not all breakups are created equal. There is the amicable “it’s not you it’s me” to the “I curse you and your entire bloodline” but the principles are the same to getting past it and moving on. But even if you knew your conscience uncoupling was inventible, a ticking time bomb it can still hurt like a son of a bitch. It can cause the strongest of us to lose ourselves in a vat of Ben & Jerry’s with vodka chasers all the whilst singing All By Myself into a brush handle. Now in my humble opinion that’s a totally acceptable solution for the short term but trust me sooner than later you will actually need to wash your hair, leave your flat, and get your ass into the land of the living. So what is the fastest way to do that?
London is known for its drinking culture. Raising a pint or two with your mates as you unwind from your day, a shaken not stirred martini or just cuz it’s Tuesday. Nothing in my opinion is more British than a friendly “tying one on”. So it is not surprising that London took 3 of the top 5 spots at The World’s 50 Best Bars competition this year. The judges comprised of more than 500 drink experts around the world. I convinced a girlfriend (I think all I had to say was “cocktail”) and we were off to explore this list and see for ourselves what makes them the World’s Best Bars.
Ever since I read Eat, Pray, Love (confession, I never got passed the “Eat” part) I was obsessed with Italy and the idea of exploring that incredible country. The food, the wine and the glourious picturesque landscape. As I was needing to make a hasty retreat out of London (a blog for another time) and looking for a journey that was not only great for the soul but a treat for the rest of my senses I decided to do a three day solo trip to Cinque Terre, my own mini version of Eat Pray Love. I am calling it “Eat, Drink, Repeat and I think I decided I want Chelsea Handler to play me in my movie adaption unless of course if Charlize Theron is dying to play me.
London is a ever fascinating town. There is always something to see or something going on. No time is this more true than in the spring. They refer to May and June as "the season". Royal events, galas, Royal Ascot, Henley, Wimbledon and regal garden parties. Of course the dress, protocol and the invites to attend are strict and are hard to come by. But I am going to let you in on how this Canadian girl came to London and got invited to these royal events... became the Queen's biggest stalker ...AND more importantly how you can too.
When you talk about a bucket list adventure for me riding the Orient Express was right on top of that list. I mean what other trip has been at the centre of a murder mystery best selling novel and several movies. The Orient Express is everything that you would think it would be. Glamorous, romantic and a very special adventure. Come onboard as I take you inside the world's most famous luxury train ride, The Orient Express. I even found a mysterious man with a moustache to rival Poirot.
Set aside the coffee, this is a job for alcohol. What happened to me??
I mean my dad did warn me, one day you are going to go to bed and when you wake you'll be 50. Maybe I am freaking out as I have a birthday looming. I’m in my 50’s... but I still feel like I’m in my 20’s…until I hang out with 20 years olds…then it is like nope…I am in my 50’s. I mean who the hell is this person staring me down in the mirror…wait is that a chin hair? Shit really???
I can try and see that silver lining and feel grateful that wrinkles don’t hurt (physically) but in the end I am not 20 anymore and not all of that is bad. Just recently I was having that conversation with a friend…the one that asks,
"If you could go back in time what advice would you give your 20 year old self?
The list was interesting. Aside from invest in Apple and buy real estate the conversation was a cathartic one ripe with the wisdom that can only come from a having some mud on the tires. It has been said, life’s tragedy is we get old too soon and wise too late. How very true.
Like most little girls I had a very strong imagination growing up. I played with dolls, I dressed up like a princess and I imagined (pretty much solely thanks to Disney) that someday my prince would come, riding his white horse and whisk me away from my little split-level bungalow in North Toronto to his fabulous castle with a Michelin Star chef and a full time masseuse... and of course live happily ever after. But what every Disney Princess did not know was that behind the castle gates, after that sun had set there lurked the in-laws...ohhhh the Royal in-laws. With their pending pre-nup, royal wedding planner and most importantly the countless rules and regal protocol for marrying into their family.
LONDON'S MOST FAMOUS ALBUM COVER LOCATIONS ~ RE-VISITED
It was Mick Jagger who said anything worth doing is worth over-doing. I would like to add that it is also worth redoing and revisiting. So with my strong love of music and exploring London I went out to re-visit the locations of some of the most famous album covers in music history and see just how they look today. Some were not that easy to find... but others you could not miss.
I have enough clothes and shoes...said no woman EVER!
They call it "retail therapy" for a reason and that's because shopping releases endorphins, reduces stress and is cheaper than a psychiatrist. Shopping may even help you live longer (like you need another reason). So in the name public health I have incorporated shopping into my daily healthy lifestyle and started exploring London's markets.
I love the feel of the markets, they have textures, grit, smells, and personalities that you are not going to find strolling down Oxford or Regents Street. Don’t get me wrong, I love that shopping experience too but it you really want to get to know London you cannot do that without experiencing her fabulous markets. You noticed I referred to London in the feminine…that’s because anyone who has so many shoes has to be a girl.
BRACE YOURSELF... MY "HAPPY AS SHIT" PLAYLIST WILL CHANGE YOUR DAY
I am going to share with you something that only one other person on the planet knows about me, and because of it he thinks I am a little crazy. Every morning I when I wake up I hear music in my head. No, not voices but actual songs. Actually they are never the whole song but rather a continuous repeat of the chorus generally. Sometimes the song in my head makes sense as I may have heard it somewhere the day before but other times, most times it a random song that comes out of nowhere and will haunt me all day until some other song replaces it. This morning's song was Hell's Bells by ACDC, no idea where that came from...... I think they call that an earworm or brainworm where some involuntary piece of music (usually the same 8 bars) continually repeats in my brain until I go insane....but for me it starts the moment I open my eyes.
As a North American living in London you have a certain vantage point, you're able to see what is uniquely British AND what is not. While the Americans or Canadian's tend to look for the newest, biggest and shiniest next thing the British celebrate the oldest, dustiest and longest standing. It is proudly written in gold glided letters outside store fronts "established in" or on a historical plaque telling you who was "nearly done in" at this place hundreds of years before you were even born.
I have heard it said that London's history can be measured by two things, churches and pubs. Since I am pretty much an atheist (unless of course if I am flying through turbulence) I thought why not visit the oldest places in London where one can throw one back, get sozzled and wet your whistle...
LONDON'S OLDEST PUBS
So here is where things get a little cloudy like a pint of Hoegaarden. London's oldest pub? It depends on how you define "oldest"? Is it the oldest name...building...location... license...? Trying to find the definitive answer could lead oneself to drink so I have decided on a collection of the oldest noteworthy pubs of "ye olde" distinction. Just so you know the term "ye olde" is just marketing.
A Day With London Fashion Designer Charli Cohen and Suki, Her Instagram Famous Pomeranian
London and Fashion. Two words that go together like ….er...London and Fashion. I love fashion and its crazy scene, its colourful people and its ever changing landscape. I was raised by a mother who was a fashion model turned photographer, my father a fashion editor/writer and I started my early days as a model in Italy followed by short career as a wardrobe stylist in the film industry in Canada. I was surrounded, raised breathed and weaned in fashion's colourful flamboyant fabric.
So when a opportunity came up to bid on a “Day With A London Fashion Designer” for UNICEF, well it was in my mind sold before the auction had even finished. I wanted this. I thought this would be a fun experience. You know, get a few insider tips, a brief fashion update…and a little bit of a fresh perspective on the world of London fashion as told from the inside. What I didn't expect was to be impressed with this new generation of the conscientious designer, and how through this ethically moral compass fashion and its people are being redefined.