Thursday, December 23, 2010


France and my family home have never felt so far away than this week.

Like thousands of other people, my travel plans were severely hindered this past weekend - and unfortunately still are.

Unusually heavy snow flurries hit most parts of Britain and closed down airports. I always fly via London and therefore my flight on Saturday night was canceled but I managed to rebook for the following night on a 1am red-eye.

I made it to London by Monday lunch time, expecting to grab my connecting flight to Lyon that evening. Except that it was canceled too and no-one could tell us when we could expect to fly to our final destination. In fact now, 3 days later, British Airways still has no information about alternative flights on their site and their phone lines are dead. I luckily have a lot of friends in London and therefore have spent the last few days warmly ensconced with one of them, but thousands were left stranded in the airports for days with nowhere to go.

On Tuesday, I spent hours on the Internet and on the phone trying to find a way, any way, to get to my parents in time for Christmas. The Eurostar was fully booked and barely functioning. I even considered taking a 2 day journey consisting of taking 3 trains and a ferry to get there but even availability for that was scarce. At the height of my despair, I called my parents and burst into tears of frustration and sadness that I may not make it at all. I know I am a grown woman but I have never spent a single Christmas without my family and the prospect of that happening left me devastated.

I guess these kind of things make you realize what's important and when I miraculously found an Easyjet flight leaving Gatwick at 7am on Dec 24th, I booked it straight away, ignoring the cost.

So now, unless the snow situation gets much worse, I should be able to at least spend 3 days with my family before returning to London to spend New Year's Eve with friends as was originally planned. I can't wait.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Let's Go Knicks!

I have written before about my rather surprising love of watching the New York Knicks play at Madison Square Garden. What started as just another item I felt I had to tick off my list of things to do in New York has now evolved into a full blown passion. As my friends and family know, I can be very "all or nothing" and in this instance, I am very much "all' but even they are surprised as I am the most unlikely basketball fan one can imagine.

After taking many different friends to games with me, who all enjoyed it thoroughly but not quite to the feverish extent I do, I'm so happy that the last friend I took with me, LE, has fallen as hard for the game and the atmosphere as I have and we've been to 2 games together already with many more to come I'm sure.

Watching a live game is almost like a workout for me. It's so intense, fast, unpredictable and suspenseful that my heart races throughout and the constant adrenaline rush makes me dizzy and giddy at the same time. I jump, scream, swear, clap, cheer and usually lose my voice by the end of it. The beauty of the whole thing is that I only have a fairly rudimentary understanding of the game but that's enough - unlike other American sports like baseball or football, no advanced knowledge is required to enjoy it.

There is something incredibly exhilarating and intoxicating about chanting along with 10,000 or so other Knicks supporters for a common outcome: victory. I have tried to capture a little of the atmosphere with this video taken on my iPhone but I must admit that it doesn't quite do it - not only does it not show how well you can see game but I also find it very difficult to stand still when cheering which makes recording quite challenging!

I must say that this year is definitely a more fulfilling one to be a Knicks fan because the team is playing very well. Last year, they only won 1 the 7 games I saw. This year, they've won all 5 games I've been to so far. Amare Stoudemire, their new star player and team captain, even broke a historical Knicks record last week by scoring over 30 points at each of the last 8 games the team played and seeing him do amazing dunks (all 6"10 of him seemingly effortlessly hanging from the basket) is an incredible sight.

It is one of things I will miss the most if I ever leave New York for new adventures and the experience I most wholeheartedly recommend to anyone visiting the City between the otherwise dreary months of November and April.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Santa Con

Photo by Jake McGraw @ Flickr (C)

As I popped out for coffee and to run some errands on Saturday, I was surprised to share the elevator in my apartment building with a girl scantily dressed as an elf. I have noticed New Yorkers' fondness for dressing up before but at 11am in the morning, this seemed a little odd.

Later that evening, on my way to some friends' holiday party, I noticed quite a few people dressed as Santa, some of them in advanced stages of inebriation (read "passed out on the pavement") even though it was barely 8.30pm.

Just when I thought this City had gone completely Christmas mad this year, it finally dawned on me the next day that it must have been SantaCon! And indeed it was.

SantaCon is, according to their website, a "non-denominational, non-commercial, non-political and non-sensical Santa Claus convention that occurs once a year for absolutely no reason". Which from what I can tell is just a brilliant excuse for a lot of people to dress up, get drunk during the day and loudly spread some holiday cheer. If you happen to be near one of their meeting points in the City for the day, I hear it can be quite a sight as the picture shows!

My hatred of crowds means that I will never partake but it is one of those rather random New York traditions that you never hear about until you live here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cupcake Craze

Photo by jammieanne @ Flickr (C)
Today I am delighted to be bringing you a guest post about the best cupcakes in New York from Charlotte, a writer for

This is rather handy as, while I have on occasion enjoyed them, I am not a huge fan myself (too sweet for me!) and therefore wouldn't be able to provide any guidance on this hot topic!

These beautifully crafted small cakes adorned with icing of every colour and flavour you could imagine, once associated with children, are now big business, a fashion statement in their own right the cupcake is now glamorous, fun and here are some of the best places in New York City to pick up one of these delicious treats.

Magnolia Bakery
No list of the top places to grab a cupcake in New York would be complete without the Magnolia Bakery. Opening its doors for the first time in 1996 on a quiet corner in Greenwich Village, Magnolia Bakery was designed to make visitors feel as though they were stepping back in time whilst enjoying the best in traditional American desserts. The brand has developed and there are now six stores, four of which are in New York, one in California and one as far afield as Dubai! Fans of the hit TV show Sex and the City will recognise the Magnolia Bakery as where Carrie and Miranda devour delicious looking pink frosted cupcakes in one of the episodes. Magnolia bakery is a tourist attraction in its own right, it’s even a stop on the Sex and the City tours that run all year round, be prepared to queue if you visit, sometimes around the block but the experience is worth it once inside – particularly for a Sex and the City fan like me!

Sweet Revenge
Sweet Revenge situated in the West Village offers an artisan twist to cupcakes, the eatery is open every day and becomes an excellent place to be in the evening as it stays open till late. This is largely due to the fact that Sweet Revenges unique feature is that it sells alcohol, the menu teams the perfect cupcake with the perfect drink for you so you don’t have to worry that your chosen combination won’t taste right! They offer the finest in beers, wine and cocktails to accompany your delicious cupcake and for those who don’t have a sweet tooth they even offer a savoury cake option. If I were to go it would have to be a Crimson and Cream cupcake and a Raspberry Bellini for me, I’m booking a table already!

Sugar Sweet Sunshine
Situated on Rivington Street, Sugar Sweet Sunshine aims to offer its visitors a warm and comfortable vibe with a 60s and 70s vibe thrown in. The atmosphere here is relaxed, the decor of mismatched chairs and tables make it feel as though you are in someone’s living room rather than a coffee shop. The owners operate an open door policy, visitors are made to feel more like guests than customers and all can see into the kitchen to watch the sweet treats being made. The delicious offerings at Sugar Sweet Sunshine include the cupcake named after its birthplace Sunshine which is a yellow cake with vanilla butter-cream icing and a Sassy Red Velvet, red velvet cake with chocolate almond butter-cream. The overall aim of this coffee shop is that its customers leave feeling happy, a reason enough to pay them a visit.

Crumbs Bake Shop
Crumbs Bake Shop first opened in New York’s refined Upper East Side in 2003 with the promise of offering elegant comfort food. They offer over 50 varieties of cupcakes, all baked fresh daily with a cupcake of the week being unveiled every Monday, they are renowned for the large size of the cakes and deliver all over the USA. They even offer a college care pack, so if your loved ones are in college in The States you can show them your thinking of them with the cakes being delivered to their door. Crumbs focuses a great deal of its energies into donating to charity, so although the guilt of the amount of calories you’ve just eaten can’t be taken away knowing that $1 from every cupcake purchased goes to the Breast Cancer Coalition makes you feel better about ordering that second cake!

Cupcake Stop
Cupcake stop is the place where New Yorkers go to enjoy their cupcakes and avoid the crowds of tourists at the better known cupcake shops across the city. As Cupcake Stop in no ordinary coffee shop, instead it is a fully mobile truck, rather like an ice cream van, the Cupcake Stops several trucks travel around New York stopping in some of Manhattans prime locations to serve delicious freshly made cupcakes to the passersby. All of the cakes are baked the night before in a commercial kitchen, making over 40 flavours, with any leftovers at the end of the day being donated to the less fortunate at the City Harvest. This relative newcomer, only being established in 2009 offers a unique mobile cupcake service and is perfect for those you want a quick sweet treat to go minus the long queues and waiting times.

If you are looking to visit New York and sample the cupcakes on offer, you might want to also look at the top rated recommended New York hotels on Simonseeks, where you can find inspirational travel guides and expert advice.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter Survival

Photo by Robert Harding (C)
As I prepare myself to face my fourth winter in the City while seemingly dishing out advice on how to survive it to a number of friends for whom it will be the first, I thought I would share my own little survival guide to New York's coldest and most challenging season.

1- Forsake fashion and style. Completely. I remember being puzzled by seeing the normally fashion-conscious New York women donning these awful and unflattering padded down coats that make you look like you are wearing a duvet. But I barely made it past a month into my first winter before reluctantly buying one myself and I haven't looked back since. I still hate it of course but, more than a necessity, it is a life saver - keeping you toasty warm and insulated when you have to brave the elements. The same goes for rain boots (indispensable when crossing the streets through the huge puddles of melted snow) and ear-muffs (although I have yet to cross the line on the latter).
2 - Prepare a long list of movies you've always wanted to see but never had time to - you will be literally hibernating, whether you like it or not. The arctic temperatures will compromise your social life quite dramatically.
3 - Having said that, unlike most European cities, a snow storm doesn’t stop the subway from running like clockwork here and taxis will still be fairly abundant even in the worst of blizzards, so you can still go out. At this time of the year, only the coziest of restaurants and bars appeal to me and I shun anywhere that is minimalist looking - my perennial favourites (Marc Forgione, Boqueria, Tolani, Hi Life and Landmark in the Time Warner Center) will get even more visits than usual. I'm on the hunt for a place with an open fireplace and comfy sofas (probably pining for a British pub) and will let you know if I find one.
4 - While this is not the most practical advice, you should in general avoid finding yourself on large avenues, especially near the river - the bitterly cold winds get channeled into them and make walking, let alone standing, intolerable for more than a few minutes.
5 - Make the most of snow days. Ahead of a storm, companies here will usually send out an email to their staff advising them to work from home. Not that commuting to work will be impossible (see point 3), but more because the possibility of an employee slipping on pavements is a lawsuit reality. I love it because it very much feels like an unexpected day off school - I usually stay in my pajamas all day and occasionally look out of my living room windows to see Broadway covered in white powder.
6 - Go to Central Park. It’s not only hauntingly beautiful under a white blanket of fresh and fluffy snow but it’s also very entertaining to see entire families sledging down the hills and a few brave souls actually cross-country skiing around it. The sight of the latter never ceases to amuse me as it is the antithesis of what one would expect to see in a city setting.
7 - When all the above fails - escape! My yearly January jaunts to Miami are no coincidence. South Beach is really only $250 and 3 hours away from this frigid cold hell so you can lie on the beach for just a weekend to get your much needed vitamin D injection, while getting ready to face yet another month or so of New York winter with some sense of perspective that summer (and getting your life back) is only around the corner!