London Tower Bride and HMS Belfast on Thames

4th Annual Travel Review: A Rebuilding Year with the London Hat Trick

Posted on Posted in London, My Thoughts and Musings, Travel

Another year over…a new one yet begun. So for this year’s blog summary & travel review (it’s four years now!), I look back at the year that was 2016.  If you are a sports fan, then you’ll understand that 2016 for me was a rebuilding year.  I was decimated in 2015 with the sudden job loss and was fortunate enough to have miles, savings and a keen sense of planning to escape to Europe for sabbatical before starting the insanity of the job search.  Luckily, I secured a new job in 2016 and thus began a rebuilding year for me personally, professionally and in travel.  It also meant that I needed to be mindful of finances and time off policies as both were major changes to my prior lifestyle.  It didn’t mean that there wasn’t travel – there was travel but a lot less shoes! I need to travel to reset my mind, body and spirit, even more so with the variety of major changes in my life.  The destinations were familiar and allowed me to discover more and share my favorites seeing them in yet another new light.

Fashion Note cards Spirit of Christmas Travel Review
Who doesn’t want to look and feel this good when traveling?

It’s ok to travel to favorite cities, I know many who don’t like to repeat destinations but I’m ok to go back and see more.  I did have a few people question my decision to visit Paris with Mom given the recent terror attacks but I had no qualms.  I did, however, register our trip with the U.S. State Dept. using their STEP program so I could receive email updates from local U.S. Embassies if there were any notices for concern. I’ve registered many prior trips such as Santiago, Chile and in Africa – Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa and find comfort in the emails to keep up with the developments in country.

London, the Hat Trick

London Eye Westminster Bridge Travel Review London
London Eye and Marriott County Hall Hotel view from Westminster Bridge

My first international trip was to London in 1988 and thus ignited my love affair with exploring the world.  London now feels like my second home after more than 2-4 trips a year for the past 15 years (prior job) and sporadic trips prior to that. If I could live and work in London, I would in a heartbeat if not for the Tier2 visa sponsorship hurdle. I laugh when friends tell me I know more about London than they do and they live and work there!

So in 2016, I had a London hat trick (it’s an ice hockey term when a player scores three goals in one game – the fans toss their hats onto the ice to celebrate).  I had three trips to London this year.

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – Samuel Johnson

I visited London for a crazy (Memorial Day) weekend to hit Silver Elite status with British Airways, even I was surprised that I did this but with the new job and no time off, I hadn’t been on a plane on a trip for six months which is a lifetime to me.  Leaving on the 11 pm flight on a Friday night traveling in British Airways World Traveller Plus, I had Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday to catch up with friends, stock up on my favorite chocolates and discover a new hotel, the Hoxton Holborn and the perfect restaurant for me, Chicken Shop.  I arrived home happy with my decision to go for the weekend, my new work colleagues gave me odd looks when they found out I went to London for the weekend (hey, it’s easier than going to the West Coast for me).

Hoxton Holborn Hotel Cosy Bed
Plush and Comfortable this Hoxton Holborn Cosy bed was an oasis after the long haul flight

At the end of summer (Labor Day), I’d embark on a trip with my Mom on her first international trip.  She picked Paris and London and this gave me a wide berth to visit old favorites and add new experiences to our itinerary.  While I’ve posted a few stories about that trip, there are so many still to share – suffice it to say, we both survived and Mom ate a lot of ice cream.

Magnum Paris Ice Cream Travel Review Paris
Make your own Magnum Ice cream bar in Paris

For this trip, I had to take a whole set of different input variables (Mom’s age 74, recent knee surgery and walkability, her American food preferences (burgers, pasta, ice cream and diet Coke) and her lack of interest in museums to plan a first time visit to London that worked best for her (not me).  This resulted in renting a lovely posh two bedroom mews house in Kensington with One Fine Stay, scheduling a Vacation Photo Shoot with Flytographer and treating Mom to my favorite steakhouse (Hawksmoor) and burgers (GBK and Bryon). We traveled business class and First class on British Airways and Mom loved every minute of it especially the Concorde Room.  As for me, I was stressed out the entire time making sure Mom was all good.

Vacation Photo Shoot Flytographer
Our London Photo Shoot
Photo courtesy: Flytographer, Hector

I’d return to London in November for an early birthday celebration with friends and to attend the World Travel Market (WTM), the Conde Nast Luxury Travel Fair and the Spirit of Christmas Fair.  I stayed at three hotels during that trip (Aloft Excel, My Bloomsbury and The Ampersand).

Hotel Ampersand London
Luxury Hotel Ampersand in South Kensington, part of SLH collection

I went to the movies, discovered a new steakhouse and had a few “only Sue” moments.  I found a few ways to experience London as a local and do things I liked on my own as I continue to dream about moving here.  While in London for WTM, I experienced the U.S. Presidential election from afar (I voted absentee prior to leaving).  It seemed apropos to be at a travel event with over 100 countries represented and talk about the potential and eventual results and how it might affect travels to the U.S.  Seeing how the U.K. media and international attendees reacted was so interesting and continues to remind me how interconnected we all really are.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

Paris

For the third year, I returned to Paris this time with Mom (prior visits with my 11yo niece and last year as a last minute diversion on my sabbatical).  Again, seeing one of my favorite cities through another person’s eyes was definitely interesting.  I returned to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre but experienced the Opera House and the town of Epernay for the first time. Staying in the 1st at Hotel Therese, so close to the Louvre and Seine was a wonderful surprise. We could walk everywhere or jump on a boat rather than traverse the metro (lots of steps for Mom).  I’m usually further away from central attractions so being close was new experience.

The Salon Paris Opera Tour
The Salon at Paris Opera can be rented starting at near $1 million

The Travel Shows

In 2016, I returned to the NY Times Travel Show and the Travel & Adventure Show in Philly and was excited to meet new vendors and destinations of interest. Sadly, my attempt to try the new Fathom Cruise, discovered at the NY show, ended in tequila and tears.  I finally made it to World Travel Market, one of the largest in the world held each year in London.  Finding new destinations, experiences and networking continues to be a highlight of the travel shows.  Learning what’s new in the travel industry and how destinations are responding to discovery, neglect and terrorism is important for me and now my travel clients.

World Travel Market London travel review
World Travel Market (WTM) London is a massive travel industry event with over 20k attendees

Arden Road Travel

One travel highlight at home this year has been starting my own travel agency, Arden Road Travel, to book readers and client trips.  From small weekend trips to individual private guide luxury vacations, I’ve been able to help folks this year plan dream holidays.  In the past, I was happy to respond to email queries with lengthy trip suggestions, itineraries, etc. but now I can book that for you.  With over twenty years in end to end travel (business and leisure), I’m now able to come full circle to help others realize travel dreams, discover the hotel and tour they never knew about and save them money in the process.

Airport Tag Travel Quote Tote Bag Travel Review
My favorite quote on a tote bag by Airport Tag

A highlight was suggesting a solo studio cabin to a friend for a Caribbean cruise and having him spend hours texting me “OMG Amazing” photos as he discovered the ship prior to sailing.  Knowing what he likes allowed me to match him with the right itinerary, ship and cruise line.  As part of the Virtuoso network, I have access to hotel benefits that you can’t get online.  I’m also a Starwood Luxury Privileges agent and those deals are agent only so I was able to help a client get 2 free nights in Paris along with VIP benefits.

The Travel Review Year End Summary

So while 2016 may look boring on paper “Travel Shows, London, New York, Paris, London, London”, it was a good year to rebuild, revisit those places that make me happy and discover new adventures (really travel with Mom was an adventure!).

For 2017, right now I have a family Disney cruise booked (my first time doing the multi-gen family trip) and the rest of the year open for a few new destinations and of course a return to London, because I’m not tired of all that life (and the world) has to offer just yet.

What were your 2016 highlights? And what destinations are on your “to do list” for 2017?

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