Saturday, 26 November 2016

Work, play and Autumn's spectacular show


Every year in November since 2009 I have worked at the ATP World Tour Finals - the top 8 men pro tennis players in the world in singles and doubles battle it out in the season finale at the O2 Arena in London. 

It's a full on 8 long days for us and we have always stayed nearby in Greenwich so that our journey to work each day would be traffic free and quick. 

Most days I accompanied the Presenters who I had to make up each day and we would take the Thames Clipper river boat from North Greenwich Pier to the O2 as it was super fast - only 5 minutes journey time to be exact! 

It was a perfect way to start the day - and the only daylight and fresh air we would see until the following day! Luckily for us most days were beautifully sunny and unseasonably mild which we made the most of in those precious few minutes between the walk from the hotel to the pier, the journey and the few minutes walk to the entrance of the O2 the other side.

Every day would be pretty much the same apart from the last day - the final day - when our day started at midday.

The length of the working day is mostly dependent on how long the matches are and fortunately for us, Andy Murray beat Novak Djokovic in two sets and got us off air at a reasonable time. 

A fantastic finale ending an amazing season of tennis. 




After that long stint of work, it's always good to be home again and to be able to enjoy the continued good weather. This year the autumn colours have been particularly stunning and have lasted for a good few weeks. 

I have only had one day of the day job this week at the Westminster Studio and during my break in the early evening watched the changing light over the River Thames as the sun went down. I always find it very uplifting and cannot help but photograph anything that catches my eye. (As you can imagine I have taken a lot of snaps too numerous to post on here.)

The rest of my week off has been taken up with walking my dog in the local park and enjoying the last of the autumn colour before all the branches are bare and winter sets in.

 I think it's time for HQ to start planning another holiday .. perhaps a little Caribbean jaunt again next spring? How predictable! Anywhere warm and sunny by the ocean to wash away the winter blues.









Saturday, 5 November 2016

Another week in New York ...

I never get tired of New York. I have been countless times and there's always new things to see and do. Buildings get demolished and new ones go up in their place - restaurants come and go, shops change - the whole vibe of the city has altered over the years as it becomes more gentrified but for me it still has loads of energy and is one of my favourite cities to visit.

During the past five years I have been fortunate enough to work there for two weeks in late summer and tag on a few days to play afterwards. This year the work was elsewhere (see previous post) so I had a whole week to enjoy New York City uninterrupted with my New York 'family' and friends.

Since Brexit the value of the Pound has plummeted making everything just that bit more expensive in the US. Luckily for me I didn't really need to buy anything so it was a matter of a little browsing and the odd purchase of items not available in the UK or local products which were cheaper anyway. It meant more time to do other things. I had also just acquired a brand new camera and I was intent on learning more about it and taking pictures at every opportunity. 

The week started with a 'Debate' party - we had home cooked chilli, cocktails and yummy desserts while we watched Trump and Hillary battle it out in their last debate before the US election. It was great to catch up with friends and meet new ones and the sight of the waning moon over Queens was quite spectacular.

 
I was hoping to get the time to go out to the very end of Long Island to visit Montauk but to get the best from it I will probably make more of a destination out of it next time, so the decision was made to visit Coney Island in Brooklyn instead which is much closer and easily accessible by the subway system. I can't believe I had never been before. It took about an hour to get there from the centre of Manhattan and was relatively quiet given the time of year so a very pleasant experience walking the boardwalk (it's in countless movies) and taking in the fresh sea air. 

We ate lunch at Ruby's Bar and Grill (although Nathan's is most famous for hot dogs) and grabbed a coffee before our return journey at Whalburgers also famous for being owned by Mark Wahlburg and his family.


I could more than fill this page with things we had to see and do but instead will give you a list of places we enjoyed this trip. Click on the highlighted links for more info.

View from Robert Restaurant
The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) next to the Time Warner Center - my favourite exhibition was Crochet Coral Reef - TOXIC SEAS which is on until January 22nd 2017. On the 9th floor is Robert Restaurant open for lunch and dinner which has great views of Broadway meeting Central Park at Columbus Circle - recommended! Reserve in advance for a table by the floor to ceiling window.

The Lambs Club - located in the theater district and where we had dinner and cocktails (Moscow Mule in a copper cup - left) before seeing Les Liaisons Dangerueses with Liev Schrieber and Janet McTeer at the Booth Theater.

Black Barn - located in the Gramercy area on East 26th Street - we had a 'girls birthday lunch' celebration - great fun and scrumptious food and wine.

City Winery, Soho area - for intimate music and good food and wine. We saw J D Souther, an American singer-songwriter and his Norwegian girlfriend, Ida Jenshus who performed a couple of numbers with him.

Roberto's Restaurant, Bronx - an authentic Italian restaurant in the real Little Italy. Great atmosphere and good food.


Boulton and Watt - East Village .. where we had French toast and berries for brunch (yum) and spent a few hours in the district checking out the boutiques and stores. The area is home to the NYU campus so has a young and vibrant vibe. It still has a gritty edginess of the old New York which I like and hope never disappears. Apartment buildings with exterior wrought iron fire escapes are still there along with one-off shops, street and wall art in constant renewal.

Maison Kayser - French cafe restaurant with several locations in the New York City area. Authentic French cuisine with a patisserie next door for goodies to take home. We went to the Upper East Side for lunch - I had tartine saumon fume with French bread on the side - magnifique! We bought baguettes and pistachio madeleines to take away for later.

Dick Hyman and Bill Charlap play jazz
We were also fortunate enough to be invited to a jazz concert at the Rockland Community College Cultural Arts Center near Nyack NY. We saw Dick Hyman and Bill Charlap play the most amazing jazz piano together. At almost 90 years old Dick's fingers are as dexterous as anyone half his age - and Bill is almost half his age! What an inspiration and a talent!


Sunset behind the Time Warner Center
The weather was amazing for the time of year - starting with 2 days of 28C (82F) then cooling down with a little rain on one day but mostly beautiful mild early fall weather. I saw a different sunrise and sunset every day and was in awe of how beautiful they were. I never quite understand why people say any particular place has the best sunsets - they are all splendidly beautiful and unique.
 

New York is never really a vacation in the true sense of the word but it has the best energy and many happy memories for me and I find it very uplifting. It was a week packed full of things to see and do - I'm missing it already. Next time I'll try to make time to squeeze in that trip to Montauk and the Hamptons! 

Oh .. and how could I almost forget to mention the mandatory shopping for make-up at Sephora for all things bright and beautiful! It's a sickness you know .. can't get enough of those those pretty colours and gorgeous palettes ....


#newyork #manhattan #sunsets #restaurants #music #streetart #brooklyn #bronx #makeup


HQ flew Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow to JFK



 



Monday, 10 October 2016

Minneapolis - or how not to see a city when you're working!

Two weeks ago my work colleagues and I left London behind on a Virgin Atlantic flight en route for Detroit where we had to clear US immigration and collect our luggage, only to put it back into the system and catch our connecting Delta flight to Minnesota.

On our descent into Minneapolis, the first thing I noticed from the window of the aircraft is how densely populated with trees and lakes the State of Minnesota is. It is known as the "land of 10,000 lakes". In my highly imaginative mind it conjured up images of the Wild West, Native American habitation, pioneers, isolated cabins with raging log fires, boats on the lakes .. every idealised notion sprung to mind. I can see why the Northern Europeans settled there. It reminded them of home. The reality now as then is four distinct seasons with hard winters; hunting and trapping - deer, bears, rabbits, squirrels, fox, badgers, otters, beavers and mink - we passed a firearms superstore on the way to the course every day - it's a normal part of life here. Huge trucks are the norm here too - some immaculately maintained - clean and shiny - and I must admit to being a little bit in awe of them!

We arrived early evening at the Hilton Hotel, Bloomington 10 miles south of Minneapolis where it was a turning a little overcast. Weary from the long day of travel, we all trundled off to our respective rooms to unpack and settle in. I ordered room service from the Chop House and had the most delicious crab cakes I've ever tasted. I would have liked to have time to explore the city, the birthplace and home of the superstar Prince, but as with most work trips it's not always possible. C'est la vie.

The next day was grey and raining and we all hoped it wasn't going to stay that way as we were there to cover the Ryder Cup for a UK television broadcaster transmission the following weekend. One of my colleagues and I needed to get some supplies so headed off to the Mall of America about a 10 minute cab ride away from our hotel. There are around 500 stores in the complex so fortunately we knew exactly what we wanted and went straight there. By all accounts it is a destination stop for many people - there are a number of hotels located right there and family attractions like the Minnesota Aquarium, Nickelodeon Universe etcetera etcetera. 

I of course made a beeline to Sephora for yet more make up and discovered the Sigma Beauty shop nearby. Although their products are available in the UK it was lovely to see everything they had on offer in the shop. Despite the unfavorable exchange rate at the moment, everything was still slightly cheaper so I purchased a 3-in-1 brush cleaning spa. As a pro make up artist, I'm always looking for more efficient ways to improve the maintenance of my kit and equipment and on the look out for new products and ideas. I love this one!


Work day 1 (for reports and previews) at Hazeltine Golf Course was a beautiful, crisp, cold, sunny day although there was a biting breeze adding a sharp wind chill factor. We did not realise that one of the two studios (and the one we were to use first) was not complete before we got there (no glass back) so we had to deal with cold, damp conditions coupled with intermittent chilly gusts of wind. We went with it anyway and by day 2 thankfully the glass window was installed and a heater provided! We did learn on day 2 however, not to have the heater blowing directly at my talent as it caused her carefully done hair-do to drop! 
 
By Thursday my workload had increased quite a bit as we had the main studio up and running for the preview show. When the Ryder Cup tournament itself started on the Friday, we were up bright and early for a 3.30 am pick up to take us to the course, which was approximately a twenty five minute drive from our hotel.

We were very lucky that the weather was fantastic – sunny and mild for all three days (although the early mornings were a little fresh). Watching the beautiful sun rise every morning was an added bonus! The downside being the journey home – a traffic jam in the car park delaying our exit by at least half an hour!

At the end of the final day, we de-rigged and packed up happy that it had all been a huge success on our part, although Europe lost to the USA. The early mornings and long hours almost forgotten we went back to the hotel and wrap party celebrations in the sports bar across the road.

The journey home the next day took us via Chicago. I got a glimpse of the Windy City from the window of the plane but that's as close as I have ever been. A few hours later we were on the overnight flight back home, exhausted and so ready for a couple of days R & R before going back to the work treadmill again ... but not for long ... 

HQ is off on her holidays again in a couple of weeks - back to the USA and New York, New York!!  Can't wait!!









Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Where to next? Minneapolis in the U.S. of A.

Minneapolis (Prince's home town) is in the mid-west state of Minnesota .. and sits on the banks of two rivers - the Mississippi and the Minnesota. This is a brand new destination for me - another work trip that will take me somewhere I would likely never have gone to. 

I'm not sure yet whether there will be any time to look around before work kicks in but I suspect on the first couple of days there may be .. and there is a lot to see and do!

Look out for my next blog post around the second week of October - I will hopefully be much more enlightened then and share some great snaps and stories from my trip.




Saturday, 10 September 2016

Swiss Alps and Italian lakes - what a treat!

I finally have a few moments to recount my recent long weekend trip from London City Airport to Zurich, Lake Como and Milan. It was an amazing trip - I'm so glad it wasn't all about shopping but more about the beautiful scenery, good food and the fresh mountain/lake air.

If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that my friend and I make a weekend trip to Milan every year to buy some pieces to add to our winter wardrobe. On our trip last year it was obvious that most brands and stores exist in all parts of the world now and the shopping experience is not what it used to be - for me at least. You can buy anything, anytime, anywhere online.

So this year, we decided to enhance our weekend by staying on Lake Como and only going down to Milan on the train for a few hours. Having been there so often, we know where all our favourite shops are so it was a no brainer.

I flew into Zurich where my friend now lives and spent the afternoon walking by the lake. It was a beautiful sunny September day and so relaxing. There's something magical about being by the water, whether it be a lake, a river or the sea. It's always a calming experience.

The next morning we were up and out early and boarded the train (I love a train journey too) to Como which is at the very southern tip of Lake Como. The journey lasts about 3 hours and takes you through beautiful countryside, past lakes and through mountains. The Swiss really know how to do tunnels! 

We arrived in Como around midday and made our way down to the port where the ferries arrive and leave for various towns on the shores of the lake. Our destination was Caddenabia and the best way to get there is by boat unless you want to drive. We boarded the hydrofoil or rapido for a relatively fast ride to Bellagio and from there a short hop across the lake to our hotel. Its a good idea to buy a day pass for €15 which you can use on the regular ferries to go wherever you want. If you decide to take the faster option by hydrofoil you can pay a €4 supplement per trip or you can get a water taxi but this is by far a more expensive option.

After checking into our hotel, the Hotel Britannia Excelsior we were back on the boat going back to Bellagio for a late lunch at Far Out and had some locally caught lake fish pesce del nostro lago - absolutely delicious and recommended if you like fish! After lunch we visited a beautiful little fishing village called Verenna, just north of Bellagio and on the east side of lake. We wandered through the village browsing little artisan shops and found a lovely outdoor terrace overlooking the lake at the Hotel du Lac where we had the best fresh peach bellini's I have ever tasted.

The next day we organised our trip to Milan. It took a bit of jigging to work out which boat would get us to Como on time to get the train that we wanted. In the end we went to Bellagio, from there to Lenno, where we got off and waited for the hydrofoil to Como. 

Como train station is about a 10 minute walk from the port and we bought a ticket for €4.50 which took us to Milano-centrale. For €1.50 we got the subway to the Duomo, the closest stop to all the shops we regularly frequent. 

Surprisingly, this is the first year ever that I didn't buy anything for my wardrobe but managed to get the obligatory make up essentials and a few food items from the Excelsior food hall! The things that I did like were prohibitively expensive so I saved myself some Euros this year! (The exchange rate is not so favourable right now anyway.) We were back on the train around 5pm and back in Como in less than an hour.

The best thing about our hotel was the location. We booked a lakeside with balcony room on the fifth floor and had beautiful views of the lake - the sunrises were pretty spectacular too. The room itself was basic but suited our needs and the price was right.

Sunday morning after breakfast we checked out of the hotel and rather than go back to Bellagio to get the ferry, we decided to walk the one kilometre to the pier at Tremezzo, past the famous Villa Carlotta - built at the end of the 17th century - and caught the ferry back to Como from there. It was a lovely way to end our short holiday, the wind in our hair, sailing past stylish villas tucked away in the hills and on the lake side - not to mention past the most expensive property on the lake. I wonder who lives in a place like that?



The train journey back to Switzerland was split into two - the first leg from Como to Bellinzoni, passing through one of my favourite places Lugano, then from there through to Zurich watching the weather change as we headed north. By the time we arrived early evening, the temperature had dropped and the rain was pelting down - a little reminder that autumn is just around the corner.




 

Friday, 12 August 2016

City break with a difference ..


Every year around this time I would now be preparing for my long weekend in Milan, Italy. This has been arranged on this upcoming weekend for the last five years to pre-empt my trip to New York for the US Open Tennis. Unfortunately we will not be covering the event this year so it's left me free to go at a slightly later date - when the summer holidays are over and all the shops and restaurants will be open. 
Left - Duomo, Milano

Right - Hands Sculpture, Como

Bearing in mind my pal and I have been doing this trip for a number of years, we know Milan quite well so have decided to break it up a bit and throw in a trip to Lake Como en route. That way we still get to spend a day shopping in the City but with the added benefit of enjoying the tranquility on the lake. Como is only one hour away by train. 

I am very excited to include this stop over in my plans this time - I have been there before and love it!

I have another entirely new destination to tell you about too in October but I'll keep shtum on that for now!



Saturday, 23 July 2016

North of the Border and the day job ..

It's been a long while since I have visited Scotland as a tourist .. the last few times have all been for work .. The Today Show for NBC, Portrait Artist of the Year for Sky Arts, Greyhound racing and the Ryder Cup for Sky Sports. 

The trouble is when you travel for work you don't really get to see much of the place you're working in, specially given the hours that we have to work. There is rarely enough down time to find a good restaurant to eat in let alone having time to go and see the sights! 

This trip was no exception either. Although we stayed in Glasgow, our place of work was about an hour's drive away in Troon, Ayrshire - at the Royal Troon Golf Course for The Open 2016. We were there for a total of 9 days to do preview shows and build ups to the main tournament which started on the Thursday and finished Sunday. This travel time added 2 hours per day to our already long days. Oh the glamour of 2.30am starts!

The weather was changeable - four seasons in one day on some days with winds gusting at 30mph and rain pelting down at a 45 degree angle but when it was sunny, seeing the beach and the ocean alongside the course was breathtakingly beautiful. It's a pity we could not get time to walk along that stretch of coastline. Every day we would see people walking their dogs and on the windy days a few kite surfers took advantage of the perfect conditions and location for that sport.


 
We even had a visit from the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon who was interviewed by 2 children who had won a competition through the Sky Academy.

The pictures below show our backstage make up and hair area, the main studio which overlooked the 18th hole and the Open Zone which was located right next to the practice area and driving range. 

We had a smaller open backed studio for the Sky Sports News reports which was particularly susceptible to the elements like wind and rain but benefited when the sun was shining.

For the television viewer it was probably a seamless, effortless transmission but for those of us 'on the ground' it was the most grueling few days

I find that jobs like these can be the most rewarding because of the time and effort you put in - mostly running on adrenalin towards the end. The relief when its over makes you almost forget what you put yourself through!




 
The new 2016 Champion - Henrik Stenson from Sweden

Next year The Open will be at
Royal Birkdale Golf Club Southport, England