London

Oct 16th, 2015 Inspiration, Travel

Returning to visit London is always something of a whirlwind experience.  Co-ordinating and catching up with family and friends, as well as attending to some practical matters, in a short space of time is challenging.

It can can also be a little bitter sweet.  Flashes of regret, and thoughts of the parallel life that I have left behind, bombard me.   The realization that, for me, life there has stopped, yet for everyone else it has progressed unabated, is challenging to process.  Mostly because I do not want to it to be true.  I want my friends and family to be preserved.  Static.  Frozen in formaldehyde, Han Solo-esque, ready for me to release upon my return.  I guess what I am experiencing is a sense of loss, or regret, or missed opportunities?   The dislocation of time and geography and a litany of unknown possibilities.  Wait a second, is this getting too heavy?  Oh man, stream of consciousness!  Time to turn off the inner monologue.  This is, after all, a blog about kids and being a dad right?

Enough of the self-reflection.  Although…I will just say that it does feel a little strange to be a visitor in your own town.  I take the opportunity to visit some of my old haunts and areas.  The images and the memories come flooding back in visceral waves of nostalgia.  Increasingly – and somewhat worryingly reminiscent of an old foggie – I catch myself looking for what has changed or altered.  “Ah yes, I remember when…” (add annoying, frequently pointless, observation)  A phenomenon that I find simultaneously reassuring and depressing.

This time I took a spin through the City.  The Financial district.  Which on the day I visited was shrouded under grey skies, rain lightly, yet ceaselessly, descending adding a cold starkness to a place not known for its warmth to outsiders.  Much of the architecture is familiar and remains largely unchanged of course – including the Gherkin which was being built before I left – but there is also much that is new – such as the Heron Tower.  I love modern architecture and cityscapes – the exhilaration and pulse of a city is intoxicating.  Los Angeles has pockets of this vibrancy.  But you have to search it out.  In London, it is everywhere.

The Gherkin

I love this shot of St. Paul’s Cathedral as it’s not how you would typically think of the Cathedral.  It seems to be almost framed by the row of buildings on either side.  The juxtaposition between the narrow, claustrophobic streets and the looming silver grey of the dome create a powerful image of classical London co-exisiting with the modern.

St Paul's CathedralHeron Building

I also am lucky enough that my sister’s family lives in London, and that they are amenable to putting me (and when we have traveled as family, all of us) up when in town.  This time around, being as I was on my own for the first few days, it was a great opportunity to have some snuggle time with Luca and Ivy.  The brother / sister dynamic is certainly totally different from the brother / brother one that I am used to with Jaxon and Skyer.  I could not believe how composed both Luca and Ivy are.  I kept trying to convince myself that it was all genetic and had nothing to do with parenting styles – but I’m not convinced.  Certainly gave me more than a moment’s pause for thought as to how to handle Jaxon and Skyer.  And there I was, thinking I was doing such a bang up job!

These two though are fully paid up members of the Beachwood Boys Club (event thought one of them is a girl!) and I love having them in my life.  We here at Beachwood HQ, just wish we got to see them more often.

Saturday morning began with a good old fashioned English Breakfast – ably assisted by our two resident sous chefs.

Cute kids

Then out to one of the many local parks that grace the area.  Where both Luca and Ivy rocked the hipster chic – with obligatory retro bobble hat and no socks.  Doesn’t get more insouciant than that.

Cute boy in sandbox

This next one is from another sand box (oops sorry sand pit) this time on Clapham Common the next day – as I said a dizzying array of parks in this area.   By this stage in the weekend, Ivy had moved on from her hat faze and was all about clinging on to the last moments of warm weather.

Cute kids in sandbox

I have another confession to make.  When I’m now I visit the West End I go into full blown tourist mode.  I don’t know what has happened to me.  And I’m not all too sure that I care.  I can’t help but marvel at the Burlington Arcade.  I fully admit that it has a series of impractically priced miniature stores – sort of like a high end Lilliput – but it is still the best “shopping mall” in the world.

Burlington Arcade

In any case, I am always a sucker for a vintage rolex.  This particular place is great should you ever wish to commemorate a specific year.  Sadly this time, I was just window shopping.

Vintage RolexVintage Rolex

I don’t know why I shot this street sign of Saville Row.  I was passing a corner I must have walked down a thousand times before, and I just felt the urge.  There is something so simple, iconic and sharp about the way that the letters looked.  Maybe it’s because Jaxon is really into his letters at the moment and I knew he would like the symmetry and the clarity.  I’m not sure that comes across from my photo but I love the image all the same.

Saville Row

And then I really like this building directly opposite.  Again I have no idea why, but I find the corner of Saville Row and Vigo Street quite evocative, so I wanted to capture the moment.

cool building London

Now this next one you’ll have to forgive me as I have no excuse.  I think for me it was the contrast of the slate grey sky, the taxi cabs shimmering shadows on the rain slicked streets, and the garish bright lights of the billboard that created a crisp vignette of London.  Again so familiar to me and yet – for now at least – not my home.

Picadilly Circus

This one of the House of Commons, I snapped from the window of the cab on the way back to my sister’s those.  A cheesy tourist shot undoubtedly, but it was such a beautiful sunny day – with crystal clear blue sky – and I had landed at Heathrow only hours earlier. There was something euphoric in the moment for me, which sadly I’m not a good enough photographer to capture, but I couldn’t resist.  And I didn’t know if I would get another chance with the sunlight hitting the building so perfectly.

House of Commons

Finally this picture was taken with my iPhone from the roof deck of Google’s offices in central London.  What a view.  and what a day.  The panoramic views are on all four sides of the building. You’re not really supposed to take pictures, but I sneaked this one while no one was looking.  The prospect of more illicit Google photography alone, is sufficient reason to go back soon.

Aerial London

London – Chiltern Firehouse

Oct 13th, 2015 Entertainment, Travel

London has definitely changed a lot since I left.  Architecturally, emotionally and culturally. Perhaps it’s also the fact that I now view London through the lens of parenthood that my perspective of it is altered.  I am certainly significantly more acquainted with the playgrounds of Balham and Clapham than ever before.  Perhaps also, I approach London from the rose tinted perspective of visitor than resident.

With that being said, the Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone, by any criteria, is a gem.  Staying in a hotel in a city where you grew up is, I feel, always going to be a slightly awkward match up.  All too readily, I find myself slipping into the role of bumbling tourist, whilst at the same time inwardly critiquing and analyzing my experience with a fervor and toughness that is the preserve of the homegrown. Familiarity breeding contempt sort of thing.

With that being said the Chiltern Firehouse passes every test with flying colors.  Super friendly, yet chic.  Rock ‘n roll, yet cosy.  Aspirational, yet welcoming.

The entrance and courtyard are truly wonderful.  Creating at once a sense of  heritage London, coupled with a modernity and sophistication.  It feels as though you are being let in to an intimate secret, right in the heart of London.  That paradox – between the intensity of the outside world and the intimacy of the interior creates a certain magic in a lot of hotels – here the effect is enhanced by the narrow corridors and hidden doors of the converted firehouse, creating a labyrinth of found spaces.  Oozing warmth and charm.

Chiltern FirehouseChiltern FirehouseChiltern Firehouse

I don’t want this to turn into a full blown hotel review.  So hopefully you get the idea.  Overflowing with charm and personality, we were even told that the Chiltern is a family friendly hotel – with the exception, I assume, of the bar!

We really loved the exterior courtyard that you pass as you enter the front door.  Very special.

Chiltern Firehouse courtyardChiltern Firehouse Courtyard

Aside from the cocktail bar – which was jam packed with glamorous types every night – the oyster bar was also a particular favorite.

Chiltern Firehouse Oyster BarChiltern Firehouse Oyster Bar

And then here is what a dozen of these beauties looks like when served up in the restaurant.  All from different regions around the British Isles.  All with their own unique flavor and texture. Really delicious.

Chiltern Firehouse Oysters

We ate in the restaurant for breakfast and dinner and the food is good without being world class. You definitely come more for the ambiance, the celebrity spotting (the night we were in we saw Bryan Ferry and Janice Dickinson – not bad for a Thursday night) and the people watching as much as the cuisine.  The open kitchen is also a great feature of the restaurant and really gives you the feeling of being at the heart of something vibrant and special.

Chiltern Firehouse Restaurant

Flying Solo

Oct 12th, 2015 Fatherhood, Life, Travel

My pre-planned trip to London is upon me.  An opportunity to catch up with family and friends as well as celebrate my sister’s birthday (more of which in a subsequent post).  I made the tactical decision to leave the boys at home.  From experience the jet lag is rough on both their little bodies – especially if traveling for a week as in this trip.  No sooner have they adjusted to the time difference than you are returning home and having to readjust all over again.  When we lived in NYC it was a little different, but the extra three hours time difference, not to mention the additional flight time, is rough.  So Beachwood Boys Club went international – but without two of its principals.

I should feel guilty.  I should feel as though I failed to give them an opportunity to travel to London, broaden their horizons and see friends and help them on to the path to becoming citizens of the world.  I should do.  But I cannot.  For one simple reason.  Two words.  Economy Plus.  Please note the second word and the emphasis given to it.  Yes Economy Plus on United Airlines on the outward journey was a revelation.  I suspect I would have been almost as content in good old economy, but there is something indulgent (although not excessively so like business class!) about the few additional inches of legroom offered by United Airlines Economy Plus service.  And all for the bargain price of less than $200.  There was also something about the fact that I was not going to have to share any of my space with small boys feet, shoes, toys and backpacks.  Yes flying solo really is the way to go.  I finally understood the allure of the endless road.  The simplicity of only one bag to check in.  The effortless breeze through security. The normal interminable trek to the departure gate felt like a ticker tape parade in celebration of wanderlust.  The walk through the aisle to my seat, usually a minefield of the arms and legs of impatient travelers was like taking a pleasant Sunday stroll through Hyde Park.  This was truly the only way to see the world.

And then I saw him.  The grinning, marauding toddler sat in my seat.  Sitting next to him, his father fidgeting nervously.  Momentarily thrown out of my near euphoric state, I remained composed – gave the dad the universal symbol for “I’m sitting there” – you know the one: the light throwaway point and patronizingly reassuring smile.  Delivered while mouthing the words “That’s my seat”.  Apologies were hastily made, blankets and pillows – already strewn on the floor – were gathered, tray tables duly restored to their upright, and locked, position and I settled in to the spot that was to be my world for the next eleven hours.

Within moments, the dad was fretting.  Urgently making small talk, his son had already upset the man who was sitting in front of him.  I knew that look.  That look of panic and fear that the dad was tethered to a small, uncontrollable maniac – also known as his son – in a confined space for eleven hours.  And that there was nothing he could do to control the situation.  Well, almost nothing.  I knew what was coming.  I’d been there.  I’d shared his pain and his fear.  But I had never actually done what my new companion was about to do to me.

“I think he’ll be better…” he began haltingly.  “Would you mind swapping with him?”  He blurted out.  “He’ll be better if we can contain him by the window.”   My precious window seat.  Chosen to better endure the, all too familiar, LAX to LHR red eye pain.  Advil PM after all can do only so much.  I was flying solo.  I was free and clear.  My moment to rest and relax and look forward to my trip.  All from the luxury of my contained Economy Plus (window) seat.

But it was useless.  It was all for naught.  I felt his pain and understood his predicament.  I had had my moment at the security line I reasoned.  That smug feeling that comes from being able to gather your laptop, shoes and belt from the other end of the x-Ray machine more efficiently than anyone else.  That had felt good.  Now it was time to pay it back.

So I relented. I gave up my precious widow seat and swapped with the kid and his dad.  I suspect that he wanted me to take his son’s middle seat, but I think he knew better than to push his luck at that moment.

        United Airways

Did it feel good?  Not really.  Was it the right thing to do?  Probably.  Did I do in hopes that I’ll get payback some time soon?  You better believe it.

Heathrow Airways

Landing solo at London’s Heathrow terminal 2.  Something somehow feels missing from the picture.  It’s too uncluttered.  Too un-frantic.