This week… adjusting

Although we’re no longer officially under national lockdown in the UK, life remains uncertain and unsettled, and it shows. One thing I’ve learnt from the past four months or so is that a routine is essential. If you let the days slide into personal anarchy you risk getting lost down the rabbit hole.

“You can struggle in life but also you can work out how to navigate around it, find brightness and lightness somewhere, and help yourself through it”, Dame Kelly Holmes.

My average day (aren’t they all at the moment) includes a good long walk or some HIIT and weight training, with a little yoga thrown in for good measure. Sorting through emails for ideas, I’ll research, plan and pitch story ideas. I might travel somewhere via Zoom, join a workshop on travel-related issues, or how to improve my social media and photography. I spend some time on various online platforms to catch up, or check something out. And I can easily get sidetracked by a new podcast popping up. In fairness, I usually get ideas for content from these, not to mention great personal tips.

Alec Baldwin. Photo @AlecBaldwin.

Podcasts I’m currently subscribed to: The Doctor’s Farmacy, an advocate for ‘food as medicine’ (long but incredibly informative); Alec Baldwin’s talk sessions on Here’s The Thing (also informative as well as entertaining); and Tea and Tattle with Miranda Mills (informative, entertaining and rather soothing). At some point I’ll check in with family and friends, for my benefit as much as theirs! Staying close is especially important right now. Lunch is a quick salad or homemade soup and, later, I’ll cook a meal from scratch. I settle down for the evening with a (real) book or watch a film, depending upon my mood.

Five things I like this week

Mini work-break

Remember in Sex and the City 2 when Carrie goes back to her single flat to work, as she and Big negotiate ways to live their marriage? Well, now you can do the same for a break from at-home working. US and European hotels are not expected to fully recover until 2023 with current occupancy rates at just 44%.

Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel outside Santa Barbara.

Thinking creatively, luxury hotels are reaching out to new audiences and renting rooms by the day to local residents, often at steeply discounted rates. Brighten up your week with a special date with yourself. There’s the anticipation, planning and packing (everything for a busy working day with perks) and what-to-wear decisions to be made. You get to enjoy the gym, sauna and pool access for midday breaks. Elegant rooms are Zoom-meeting ready, and offer a change of scenery, possibly with a great view. Order in room service and maybe treat yourself to a cocktail at the end of a hard (ahem) working day.

For instance, the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi is renting out areas of the hotel for private workspaces including the living room, wine cellar and library, for up to 10 hours a day. Similarly, the Rosewood Miramar Beach outside of Santa Barbara, is transforming suites into offices with computer monitors, printers and office supplies aimed primarily at travelers who need to work while on vacation, but suites are also available by the day. Rate: from $250 per day.

I haven’t heard of any luxury hotels in the UK offering daily work space options but will keep you updated.

Norway reopens

Sognefjord_ Norway. Photo Best Served Scandinavia.

This week the focus in my inbox has been on autumn holidays. Norway has reopened to British travellers. This beautiful country calls to me Siren-like. I had the opportunity earlier this year to visit but it wasn’t to be. Although we tend to think of European holidays in terms of summer, last year I visited Northern Italy in October. It was a different experience, but gave me such a pre-winter boost and I wondered why I didn’t travel more out of High Season. One thing I learned was to be prepared with the right clothing, Europe is just as cold as Britain in autumn! Norway’s backdrop of spectacular fjords and steep mountains would be rather special at that time of year. This particular tour operator offers trips such as a remote secluded fjordside lodge before you venture out into the Arctic Wilderness, or see the Northern Lights while staying in an iconic Ice Dome. #Dreamingoftravel.

Museums and exhibitions

Anish Kapoor, Sky Mirror, 2018 and Eight Eight, 2004 (behind) © the artist and Lisson Gallery

The largest UK exhibition of outdoor sculptures by British sculptor, Anish Kapoor, has opened in the grounds and historic interiors at Houghton Hall in Norfolk. The house was built in 1720s for Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. It is currently the home of the Marquess of Cholmondeley, a direct descendant of Sir Robert Walpole, and his wife, Rose Cholmondeley. The exhibition features 24 mirror and stone sculptures as well as drawings, ‘challenging the classical architecture of the house and the idyllic beauty of the grounds, whilst being in continuous dialogue and engagement with Houghton’s history.’ Anish Kapoor is one of the most influential sculptors working today and known for creating ambitious public sculptures. (Runs until 1 November 2020) Note: the remainder of the house is currently closed to visitors.

Up close and personal with Vincent Van Gogh

This one looks interesting in that it presents one of the greats in an innovative and creative way. Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience at York St Mary’s allows the viewer to step inside the artist’s paintings via virtual projection. The experience covers the life of the artist from his time at the convent and in Arles, and the secrets from the letters he wrote to his brother. Opened 5 July.

Drift away

A romantic narrow boat short break in the UK.

I’ve always wanted to try a canal boat holiday. It sounds romantic and I find the sound of water lapping against a boat soothing. I’m also keen to suport and make the most of Britain’s waterways and would like to see them playing a part once more in transporting non-perishable goods more sustainably, rather than by road. The countryside is so pretty too with fields, hedgerows and magnificent trees lining the waterways. There’s wildlife to spot, from birds to small mammals such as wood mice and bank voles. Another advantage is that you can take all the supplies you need to be self-sufficient. Even simple foods taste so much better eaten al fresco. Alternatively, you can moor up for the night alongside canalside pubs offering take-outs.

You don’t require a licence to steer a canal boat and operators provide boat steering tuition as part of the package. There’s all the home comforts too. Drifters‘ boats, for instance, are equipped with central heating, hot water, TV, showers, microwaves, flushing toilets, and many now have WiFi, although it would be ideal to take a digital break too. 2020 hire prices start at £560 for three or four nights on a boat for four people. You can explore the Breacon Beacons, Shropshire or drift through the Scottish Highlands and more.

A hike with my son through the Hampshire countryside one day this week proved to be just what I needed to reconnect with nature after a busy week chained to my laptop. We took a picnic lunch and found a good spot beside the crystal clear chalk stream to relax and catch up. The countryside around the medieval city of Winchester is magnificent this time of year, with frothy greenery, wildflowers, and butterflies flitting here and there. Naturally, I took a few photos (I cannot resist!).

From Columbia to Cornwall

In the UK we drink 95 million cups of coffee per day! 80 per cent of households buy instant coffee, rather than fresh, usually along with the weekly shop. This is also true of how we choose our wine with 86% picked up at the supermarket, and selection based on the bottle label. Most of us are simply unaware of How to taste and buy speciality coffee. Is it best to buy ground coffee or beans? How do you store your coffee and what’s the best way to brew your daily cup? And what about sustainability? I talked to Cornwall based speciality coffee roaster, Richard Blake, about all things coffee. Read more about how Richard recently transported coffee beans from Columbia to Cornwall using sustainable transport, the sailing ship Dawn Trader, in my latest feature.

Coffee time. Photo Yallah Coffee Roasters.

“A lower quality coffee will always be blended in big lots and become untraceable. This means that it has probably been traded through the commodity market, which is not providing a sustainable income for the producers, and it also means it’s a lower grade of coffee,” says Richard Blake, @YallahCoffee

In my inbox

Queen of the skies

Bye bye 747. My first job out of school in the Sixties (University came later) was at a travel agent. The work was demanding and the social life was exciting, with parties galore. We were courted by the travel operators, and elegant and urbane international airline reps would regularly call in on the all-girls high street team. Opportunities for last minute standby trips were handed out amongst the team fairly, and I caught the travel-bug big time. We also wrote out flight tickets by hand back then in a pre-digital age. Including complicated ticketing for round-the-world trips featuring the Jumbo Jet or 747. BOAC especially was one of the most glamorous airlines and their First Class cabin bags were a must-have, as were Pan Am and TWA. So sad to see the 747’s go but what a run.

Picnic at the Palace, photo Blenheim Palace.

Blenheim Palace has joined forces with Midsummer Nightcap to provide al fresco dining overlooking the stunning ‘Capability’ Brown-landscaped parkland. Picnic at the Palace will offer lunchtime or afternoon tea spots (Tuesday to Thursday) or a dining option (Thursday to Sunday). Picnic hampers will be packed with locally sourced produce. The caravan bar ‘Maggie’ will also be providing alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The 16 weekly sessions will be accompanied by live music or comedy performances (with headline acts on Friday and Saturday). Groups of up to six will be seated under pergolas with tables and chairs, or deckchairs and parasols for couples. (22nd July – 16th August). Bookings only

Trivia: Home to the Dukes of Marlborough since 1704, the Blenheim Oxfordshire Estate was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Photo courtesy Guide Base.

A new online platform, Guide Base, allows budding adventurers to find and book outdoor guides and instructors. The founders describe it as ‘like AirBnB’ but offering adventure instead of accommodation. Guide Base aims to make safe, guided adventure accessible to everyone by enabling users to find and directly book with qualified outdoor instructors and guides online. It also means you’re supporting the local community.

Experiences range from hiking, rock climbing, ice climbing, abseiling, outdoor skills or mountaineering. There’s an open, mutual review system to help explorers find the right guide. You can pre-plan a trip to get the most from an activity or location with detailed itineraries and kit lists for a day out. Trips are reviewed and rated and using the website is free to open an account. Guide Base is also partnering with charities including Black Dog Outdoors, and local businesses including The Outdoor Guide, to promote the physical and mental benefits of adventure.

That’s all for this week. I hope you have a good week, keep smiling and stay sane and well. As always, comments below are welcome so please share your recommendations and news.

As always unless otherwise stated, I have no affiliation with the brands mentioned but simply aim to share places and products that have caught my eye.

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