Monday, November 28, 2016

Buying for that someone who has everything!

Let's just say you have a cousin who has everything she wants.... well, maybe except that $81 million dollar Monet Haystack painting that was sold less than two weeks ago at Christie's auction house.  And clearly you don't have the budget that even come close to affording that insanely priced painting, what do you do?

If you have been following my blog for awhile, you know I love buying artist collabs utilitarian stuff. Here's a collection of art x stuff (much more affordable than the Monet Haystack) that you can afford to giveaway as Christmas gifts.  And who knows, they may go up in value 50 or 100 years from now!!  ;)

Flower Packable Tote Bag.  $26.  This is a tote bag by Herschel Supply co. and is a great bag on the go.  You can fold the tote bag to 6" x 8" and just stick it in your purse.  The bag is designed by Takahashi Murakami for Complexcon.  At $26, you can't really go wrong. 

Water Bottle.  $28. This water bottle is designed by Alex Katz for Art Production Fund.  It's a perfect water bottle for using at a gym.  Just because you are sweating doesn't mean you can't be stylish at the same time.

All You Need Is Love T-shirt.  $38.75.  This T-shirt, designed by Damien Hirst for RED few years ago, is still on point.  All profit from the sale of this t-shirt goes to RED that finances programs to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in Africa.  Fashion never looked so good.

Come to think of it, this is a perfect outfit for your cousin's yoga class!  She can use the Murakami tote to carry her Katz water bottole and Hirst t-shirt to her gym.  Now if only I can find an artist designed yoga mat....


Monday, November 21, 2016

The best hotel in the world!

According to Conde Nast Traveler readers, Eden Rock in St Barths is the best hotel in the world.  Surely Pippa Middleton, whom had vacationed at ER, agrees as her in-laws to be are the ones who own the resort.  But just how good is Eden Rock?  I set to find out for myself.

The motto of the hotel is "Anything is possible".  And that's pretty much the attitude of the staff at Eden Rock I encountered.  Service is over the top and finishes of the rooms are either eclectic or luxurious.

After arriving from St. Martin via a propeller plane, the only way (besides boating) to reach St Barths island as the existing runway is short, you are whisked away by the staff of Eden Rock.  Bottle waters and cold towels were supplied in the one minute car ride to the resort.

My room wasn't ready but they provide me with a small temporary room that I can stash my stuff, take a nap, change to a swim trunk, or take a shower.  Very thoughtful.  I imagine these rooms are used quite often for people who arrive early or with super late checkouts.

The hotel is basically laid out in three sections.  In the middle section, you have the rock where there are several categories of rooms available.  The cheapest ones are called Legacy rooms where essentially you are facing away from ocean and to either garden or mountain views.  The most expensive ones are the ones facing ocean.  Christopher Columbus suite is the most expensive and newest.  It's essentially a huge one bedroom suite with insane views.  Above Christopher Columbus suite is Howard Hughes suite which is the second most expensive suite on the rock and is currently under renovation.  It is being made into a two bedroom suite.  I imagine it would be perfect for a family with kids or two couples.  Like Christopher Columbus suite, it also has fantastic views.  De Haenen Suite is below Christopher Columbus suite and has similar view as CC suite although the finishes is much more eclectic to reflect Mr. De Haenen's taste.  Mr. De Haenen was the original owner of Eden Rock resort.  Last but not least, Garbo Suite also has wonderful views of the ocean and cost about the same as De Haenen suite.  The difference is De Haenen suite has front and center view of the ocean but ceiling is lower hence feels less gracious where as Garbo suite view is not as good as De Haenen but ceiling is higher hence the room feels more spacious.  There are few other premuim suites on the rock such as Fregate and Harbour House.  They are currently under renovation so I didn't get to see them.  They have bay view and are cheaper than De Haenen and Garbo suites.

The right section is compose of Fontaine, Michaels, and James suites.  James being the largest of them all and have a private dipping pool and ocean/ bay view.  It's priced higher than De Haenen and Garbo suite.  If you are coming with family, Fontaine is a good option as it has two separate bedrooms (the master has view of the bay whereas the other room has minimal views) and an interior private pool.  Michael is basically a smaller version of James suites.  I would say the con to stay on this side would be it's literally next to Nikki Beach thus you will definitely get lots of noises during lunch time.  I believe Nikki Beach closes at 7PM.

The left section is composed of beach houses and two ultra luxurious villas.  If you are in the mood to spend money, Villa Nina or Villa Rockstar is definitely for you.  Both villas, next to each other, are huge with Villa Rockstar the biggest property at Eden Rock.  Finishes at both villas are insane and if you have a large entourage, you can even combine both villas as the wooden wall between both villas can slide open to create a gigantic villa.  Both villas also have parking space for your car rental.  I believe Villa Rockstar comes with it's own car.

If spending five figure daily rate is not in your budget and you have more than two people in your party, I would highly recommend Frangipani which is the villa I stayed in (although if you go during December through March, which is their high season, Frangipani is priced at five figure).  It's a three bedroom villa that comes with its own kitchen, two outdoor dining areas, a private pool (the most private at Eden Rock, even more private than the ones at Rockstar and Nina as no one can see in), a Jacuzzi, and a large rooftop balcony.  It's essentially two buildings connected by a shared garden.  One of the building has kitchen, living room, and powder room downstairs and a bedroom with bathroom upstairs.  The other building has basically one bedroom suite upstairs and one bedroom suite downstairs.  The design is quite smart as the way they layout the bedrooms, it can function as three separate cottages.  The only exception would be the rooftop terrace is shared unless they put up a removable wall which I think they should in case they can't rent out the whole Frangipani suite, they can break it up and rent the buildings individually.

I would say Beach House side (left section of the resort) is the quieter side of the resort and probably the most convenient as you are just steps away from the powder white sand beach but far enough away from restaurants where most of the noises will be coming from. 

The food at Eden rock is quite good.  I went to Sand Bar, their beach restaurant, to grab lunch and let's just say their truffle pizza is possibly the best tasting pizza I ever had.  It oozes truffle oil and is super fragrant and tasty.  Rock bar is nice.  They serve you nuts with truffle flavor and they are free!  I find it almost funny that even warm nuts are drenched in truffle.  Can it be more over the top than this???  It's just one of the luxurious details that made Eden Rock number one in the world.  I thought the food at On the Rocks was solid.  I was hoping for Jean George NYC level great but it definitely was not.  I thought L'Isola restaurant in Gustavia and the main restaurant at Le Toiny resort are a notch better than On the Rocks.  By the way, food prices at St Barts is not that expensive when you are used to NYC and SF prices.  It's on par with both cities.  However, if you live outside of those two places, prices may come as a shock to you.

I went to see the beach at Cheval Blanc resort as I heard they have a nice beach as well.  I have to say I thought Eden Rock's beach at St Jean bay is prettier.  The wave is also stronger at Cheval Blanc.  Since I'm not a good swimmer, I prefer Eden Rock's gentle waves.  There are turtles in the St Jean Bay.  I was lucky to saw couple and actually swam with one for a good twenty minutes.  Besides turtles, there doesn't seem to be a lot of fish....specially when compare to Hanauma Bay in Oahu.  Nonetheless, the water is so clean and color is absolutely gorgeous.  The ocean color is prettier than the ones I seen in Hawaii or Bali.  Eden Rock also assign you to same lounge chairs for the duration of your stay so you don't have to get up early to grab your seat which is nice.          

Overall, the service level is very high at Eden Rock.  I find all the staffs extremely friendly and helpful.  The hotel is centrally located and if you are into the "scene", it's an absolutely no brainer to stay here.  Sand Bar is one of those place that is great to people watch and being seen.  Because the resort only has 34 guest rooms and villas, it is routinely sold out especially during Christmas holiday.  Many of their guests come back year after year staying in the same room.  Depending on when you come, prices can sometimes double!  Would I return again?  Absolutely!  I thought the guests I met were all very nice and not snobby at all as one may have assumed.  The Eden Rock experience was worth the money.  At the end of the day, you get what you pay for.  Have I seen better finished resort rooms?  Yes.  But if you routinely travel, you know hardware is the easy part.  It's exceedingly hard to get the right service staff.  This hotel staff are all topnotch.  They are best of the best.  It is the combination of gorgeous beach, perfect staff, delectable French cuisine, and friendly guests that made this resort a must stop for every globetrotter.        

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Difference between Louis XIV and Louis XV style

Nothing irritates me more than some interior designers, whom clients rely on for their knowledge of interiors, confuse the style between Louis XIV and Louis XV.  Often times, even though they may know there are differences between Baroque and Rococo style, they fail to acquire the knowledge.  I see in magazines that a Rococo chair been described as Baroque style and on television Baroque interiors get confused as Rococo style.

Baroque style started in 1600s and probably the most famous building in Baroque style is the Palace of Versaille outside of Paris.  If you stand in front of the palace,  you will notice that architecturally, the building is stately, balanced, and formal.

Rococo style started around 1720s as people got tired of formality and desired more playfulness in their everyday living.  The most famous building in Rococo style is the Hermitage Museum/ Winter Palace.  Comparing it to Versaille, you will notice the outside is less formal and use of color is lighter and less stuffy if you will.      

So what is the biggest difference between both styles when it comes to interiors?  The biggest difference between both style is symmetry.  Baroque style is always symmetrical whereas rococo style tends to be asymmetrical.  In addition, Baroque furniture tends to be heavy visually.  In response to the heaviness, Rococo is usually very playful and light.

The easiest way is look at plaster on the wall when one is trying to identify if a room is Rococo or Baroque.  With a Rococo interior, which the word Rococo is derived from the French word Coquilles (seashell), you will often see seashells.  So whenever you see seashell plaster work on a wall, you are most likely looking at a Rococo interior.  

When it comes to furniture, it is actually pretty easy to identify which ones are Baroque and which ones are Rococo.  Case and point.  Here is a Boulle commode (chest of drawer) on the left hand side.  Andre-Charles Boulle is often associated with Baroque style.  The chest of drawer is ornate and heavy looking.  It looks like it will easily take an army of four guys to lift this chest up.  As you can see, the decoration is symmetrical.

On the right hand side, we have a BVRB commode.  BVRB, aka Bernard II Van Risemburgh, is often associated with Rococo style.  Here we have a chest of drawers that is covered in Japanese lacquer.  As you can see, the image on the lacquer is not symmetrical and the feet that commode stands on are much smaller compare to Baroque chest of drawers.  Even the gilt bronze decoration is much lighter and more delicate looking.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

A stroll through the New SFMOMA

SFMOMA had not been opened for that long but it certainly had made plenty of headlines.  The new addition done by Snohetta, next to the iconic Mario Botta cylinder, is beautiful.  But how well does the new addition talks to the original building is whole another matter.

I visited the museum couple months ago.  I was very excited as I missed looking at modern art here in SF and was eager to have them back into my life.  Having another world class building in SF is equally exciting and I was looking forward to see how Snohetta gel the old space and new space together.  Furthermore, I was looking to see how the existing collection speaks to the Fisher collection.

As I approach the museum on 3rd street from Folsom street, I wasn't sure if I was suppose to into the building from the old entrance via Botta's building or there seem to be another entrance right on Howard Street.  I took a chance to walk into a gap on Howard Street hoping I do not have to backtrack to the original entrance by Botta on 3rd street.  As luck would have it, looks like there is an entrance on Howard street although I did have to climb few stairs up.

Right near the entrance there is a giant sculpture by Richard Serra that reminded me of the one I saw at Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum.  I was happy to finally see one here in San Francisco.  Getting a ticket was easy and I got an audio headset to help me understand the collection better.  Off I go.

I took an elevator all the way to the top and start going from top to bottom.  The Fisher collection in the new building was impressive.  It basically has who's who of modern art.... from Alexander Calder to Gerhard Richter, from Chuck Close to Andy Warhol.  However, I'm not seeing any of the paintings that were in the old Botta building.  With the incredible collection from Fisher, SFMOMA's modern art collection will be elevated to second best Modern Art collection in the world but where are old paintings???

Finally I came down in the new building far enough that now it is connecting to the old building.  There is a stark difference between the old and new building.  I would think they minimally refreshed the old building to make it look more cohesive with the new one.  Well, maybe they ran out of money because nothing was done.  A good addition will make you feel the two buildings came together as one.  This one, unfortunately feels like two separate buildings that desperately want to get away from each other.  There is a stark contrast between new part and old part.  And the old SFMOMA collection are all hiding in the Botta building.  I came to realization that essentially the Snohetta building is the Fisher wing of SFMOMA.  There is no flow between the collection which begs one to wonder why doesn't Fisher just open their own museum and call it a day?  Why do they want to be under the SFMOMA moniker and then essentially want nothing to do with the existing collection?  Just seem so odd to me.

Once I got down to the first floor, I saw the old Botta atrium was gone and Snohetta had built a brand new stair right in the middle.  I was aghast to say the least.  Not that I was a big fan of the old Botta building but by building a giant stairwell in the middle of the atrium, Snohetta had essentially killed off the Botta building.  The essence of the old Botta building is that atrium.  Which made me wonder why didn't they just torn down the old Botta building and start anew?  To me that would make much more sense and make the whole museum feel more cohesive.  My guess is money.

I have to say I was happy to see the new addition but sad to see how separate it is.  SFMOMA right now is in a no men's land.  The experience of viewing the collection as a whole is disjointed and the experience of walking through the old and new space is odd too.  I guess that's what happen when you want a highly valuable collection to join the are at their mercy.  According to SF Chronicle, SFMOMA won't be owning the collection down the line either.  It's all on loan from the Fisher Art Foundation.  Although the loan is 100 years long and can be renewed at 25 year increment after, makes you wonder are all those art loans from Fisher family worth it for SFMOMA to bend forward and backwards for them?


Monday, October 17, 2016

Thais copied from us

There are few iconic places I feel should be on all traveler's bucket list: Versaille, Great Wall of China, Pyramids, and last but not least Angkor Wat.  AW is a temple located in the city of Siem Reap in Cambodia.  If you are looking to go there from US, your easiest bet is probably fly directly to Hong Kong, then take a nonstop flight on Dragonair to Siem Reap.

Before coming here, there are few things you need to know.  First there are two seasons, monsoon season which is basically May till November.  Dry season is December to April.  Best time to go is January or February because it is the coolest time of the year and are the none raining months on the calendar.  I went at the end of October.  There were some rain here and there but typically it rains hard for 30 minutes and rest of the time is either sunny or overcast (and humid!).  In terms of visa, you do need a visa to go to Cambodia.  I got mine in the US; it was an easy process.  Last but not least, even though the official currency is Cambodian Riel, in reality it is US Dollar.  You don't need to change your money to Riel before you come here as Dollar is pretty much accepted as the defacto currency.   

Khmer culture is an interesting one.  Before coming to Cambodia, I did very little research as my friend who lives part time in Siem Reap had asked her friend, who's a professor at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, to come and lead me to various temples.  Since he teaches history of these temples for living, I was thrilled to have him as my guide as he knows these temples better than just about anyone in the World.  After few days spending with him, two highlights I learned was: 1. These temples used to be Hindu temples and they are greatly influenced by Indian mythology. 2. Things that I associate with Thai style actually originated from Khmer culture.  The funny thing is I told him XYZ looks so Thai.  Did Cambodians copy Thai?  He replied, actually Kingdom of Cambodia came way before Thailand existed.  They copied us.  Me: oopsy..... #facepalm.  Few temples I love to highlight (despite I saw more than a dozen temples within few days... I lost count on how many): Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, Neak Paon, Bayon, and Banteay Chhmar.      

Area around Angkor Wat was made even more famous by Hollywood hit film Tomb Raider starting Angelina Jolie that came out in 2001.  Most people associate the film with Angkor Wat.  But in reality, the film was shot at Ta Prohm temple which isn't too far from Angkor Wat.  This temple is best known for overgrown trees straddling temple walls and roof.  It's an absolute must for anyone visiting Siem Reap.  It is purposely not rebuilt so that it can have a neglected look which I much prefer when compare to Angkor Wat.  Because of the movie, there will be whores of people so go early.

Angkor Wat temple is a huge Khmer Palace built in 12th century.  The ground is big.... over 400 acres!  It was originally Hindu then turn Buddhist.  So you can see Hindu carving on walls and Buddha stand alone statues on the top floor.  On the bottom floor you will see bas-relief friezes along an open gallery.  The amazing carvings just go on and on and on.  You can spend all day just following the story on these carvings.  This temple had been cleaned up more so than any other temple around.  While it definitely doesn't look spanking new, I prefer the ones that look less pristine.  I was told usually there are tons of people standing in front of these friezes but on the day I was there, I could roll a bowling ball down the gallery blind folded and it would not hit anyone!  I was happy to finally see Angkor Wat, but it was not my favorite temple. 

Neak Paon (Holy Island) is a temple in the middle of a lake.  I was told when the temple was first created, it was in a lake.  However, the lake had slowly dried up centuries ago and people started to farm there.  The government of Cambodia decided fairly recently to flood the existing farmland and return the temple to its original state.  The only way to access the island would be to walk along wooden plank path from shore to the island.  Flooding of the farmland was controversial but I get why they did it.... the lake is just beautiful.  The temple itself is actually in the middle of another lake which you can't really get to but the sight of the exterior lake and the romance of walking on this long wooden path to reach this holy island made this excursion worth it.  Neak Paon is not the most popular temple in Siem Reap but I highly recommend it.

Bayon is one of those iconic temple that when I first saw it for the first time, I had a revelation... I saw that face on a wood carving at my local spa before!!  Now I know where that face came from.  Chances are you also saw that smiling Buddha face relief panel at your local spas as well.  Besides hundreds of smiling Buddha's all over the walls, there are also carvings of a naval battle among other mythology.  This temple is centrally located in the temple area and you will definitely pass it when you go see Angkor Wat.  I would say 100% worth your time to walk through this temple.

Last temple I like to highlight is actually not in Siem Reap.  It's actually about 2.5 hours of bump road ride outside of Siem Reap close to Thai border.  It's one of those temple that is so rundown that if you want to truly experience what it feels like when Angkor Wat was first discovered by an outsider, this temple definitely fit the bill.  Because it is so far from Siem Reap and the road to Banteay Chhmar isn't exactly all paved asphalt, few tourist ever made it to there.  In fact, the asphalt was laid just few years ago so it used to take even longer.  The fruits of the long ride is you pretty much get to tour the whole temple all by yourself.  It literally look like Tomb Raider/ Indiana Jones movie set... overgrown trees intertwined with falling apart temples.  You have to climb over rocks, well, more like what used to be temple pillars/ ceilings, to reach the inner sanctum.  This temple is best known for the thousand arm Buddha bas-relief.  I believe it's the only kind in existence in a Cambodian temple.  I was told the whole temple has two or three of this particular relief.  Because the temple is so close to Thai border, my understanding is smugglers would pop over from Thailand from time to time and chop up the temple to sell on the black market in Thailand/ Western world.  So if you get a chance, definitely go see it before all the reliefs get stolen.

On this trip, I didn't go to Phnom Penh so I can't say anything about it.  But I did left Siem Reap with great memories of the history and the people of this wonderful country.  I look forward to return to Cambodia someday.            

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Yummy German food!!!?

According to S. Pellegrino's the World's 50 Best restaurant list, Restaurant Tim Raue is ranked number 34 this year.  This restaurant in Berlin, Germany, is the highest ranking German restaurant on the list and recipient of two Michelin stars.  So when I had a chance to travel to Berlin, I knew I had to stop by.  And boy was I glad I did.

The decor of the restaurant is nice and simple.  Couple birdcages at the entrance to give an IndoChine vibe to the decor.  Menu was concise as well.  The tasting menu I had consists of 6 small dishes of chef's compliments.  Those were delicious... lots of Asian flavors one would associate with Southeast Asia.  The first dish was a carefully composed Imperial Caviar that looks like delicate macaroons.  Let's just say they melted in my mouth in a New York second.  The second dish was White Asparagus.  Tasted like spring to me!  After that was Hamachi.  Perfectly cooked.  Then came the prawn.  The tomato sauce was amazing.  I wanted to lick the plate.  The fifth dish was the suckling pig.  This was unfortunately a miss for me.  The pig was dried out.  Luckily the next dish, Dim Sum Duck, which was his version of deconstructed Cantonese soup dumpling, was brilliant.  I thought to myself all is well with this dinner.  I was a bit worry it was all going downhill after the pig.  Disaster averted!  Then came the super tender Shabu Shabu Wagyu dish.  The beef literally melted on my tongue!  Hands down the best dish of the night for me.  Then we had a green tea palate cleanser before the last dish which was a Calpico flavored dragon!  I love my Calpico.  I always drink it whenever I'm in Asia.  This was a perfect ending to a wonderful dinner.

This restaurant has to be on any foodie's list.  I know where I'm eating when I return to Berlin.  In the mean time, I'll just have to make due with his dessert dish at In Situ restaurant here in San Francisco.    

Friday, August 19, 2016

Hottest Fashion Brand right now!

Well, if you have been loosely following fashion news, you probably know that Gucci, Valentino, and Saint Laurent Paris are the "in" brands right now.  If you follow fashion closely, you would know that Hedi Slimane had left SLP in the spring which makes this FW2016 collection his last one.  And let's not forget the latest news at Valentino is that Maria Grazia Chiuri jumped ship to House of Dior and left Pierpaolo Piccioli at its helm as sole creative director.  Given the messiness of "divorces", the only steady ship within this trio is Alessandro Michele who took helm of Gucci just last year!  Whew, are your heads spinning yet?!        

This new Gucci is far from Frida Giannini's.  I felt she played safe and pretty much just rehashed what Tom Ford did.  But then again, it's hard to follow Tom Ford... after all, he did revived a pretty much dead brand that was heading the way of Pierre Cardin.  However, it's hard to recall such a quick resurgence of a brand within such short gap between its last revival.  Much credit to Alessandro that he was able to execute his vision flawlessly.  Regardless if you like the new Gucci look or not, at least it's not a rehash of Tom Ford's vision.

I'm not a big fan of some of his super exaggerated retro pieces but here are the ones I like:

Cotton Polo with Snake embroidery; I like the embroidery around the collar.

Viscose jersey sweatshirt with web; I don't wear that much sweatshirts but I thought putting webbing on a sweatshirt is interesting.  

Silk bomber jacket with embroideries; I love the new trend of souvenir jackets so bring on embroideries!  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A trash can you definitely don't want to throw trash in!

I really can't imagine anyone throwing trash into this Hermes Equilibre d'Hermes wastebasket.  I mean after all, I would not want to get that exceedingly expensive wastebasket dirty would I?!  And where's my lotto tickets again?!  LOL.  Joking aside, I do get that the leather is all hand dyed and everything is hand stitched on this beautifully designed trashcan.  I'm pretty sure that the canning on the basket as well as the leather strapping near the bottom is all hand done as well.  Be forewarned though, this will probably be the most expensive trash can (cost is equivalent of a Birkin bag) you have ever purchased in your life unless you have trash cans made of gold!!!        

Monday, August 15, 2016

A perfect Christmas gift for that Fashionista!

Just came across an article on Lanvin's wooden chess set based on illustrations by Alber Elbaz.  As everyone knows, he was ousted as head designer from Lanvin recently.  However, his spirit at Lanvin lives on with this whimsical chess set.  I can totally see this set displayed on a coffee table or on a desk of a fashionista.  Heck, I'm very very tempted to buy one myself!  Get yours at Net-a-Porter!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Perfection at a Japanese restaurant

If you are looking for French and Japanese fusion food, you go to Narisawa.  If you are looking for pure unabashed traditional Japanese food, you go to RyuGin in Tokyo.  Chef Seiji Yamamoto makes his magic in this small restaurant and what you get is fresh traditional Japanese ingredients that transform into pearls of delectable yums.  This restaurant ranks #2 in Japan and #31 in the world according to S. Pellegrino's the World's 50 best restaurants.  But honestly all the restaurants ranked in the top 100 are pretty much on the same level.  I can't say Le Bernardin (#24) is better than French Laundry (#85) by a mile.  If anything, I prefer French Laundry to Le Bernardin.  It's a personal taste.  One thing is for sure though, I never had a better pure Japanese meal than at RyuGin.  What he created for me was just eatable Japanese art.  If you get a chance to go to Tokyo, do not hesitate and make a reservation there.  Your stomach will thank you!  BTW, if you love uni, this is the place to get fresh uni.  It's so fresh and tasty here that any other uni you have anywhere else in the world will not be able to come close.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hottest trend right now in men's fashion

One of the hottest trend right now in men's fashion is Souvenir Jackets and I'm sure that trend will last for few years so one should definitely get one if you don't have such a jacket in your wardrobe.

You may ask what is a souvenir jacket?  Well, souvenir jacket, also known as Sukajan jacket/ Yokosuka embroidered jackets/ 橫須賀ジャンパー, was popularized by American soldiers.  After World War II, American GIs who stationed in Japan wanted to commemorate their stay in Japan before heading home.  So what do they do?  They commission silk satin jackets with motifs they associate with Asian culture: tigers, dragons, and eagles, etc.

There are many places you can get vintage Sukajan jackets such as Ebay, Craigslist, etc.  Brands like Gucci, Valentino, Saint Laurent Paris also have their own versions...   Here are some of my favs from this past and coming season:

This one from Gucci is reversible so when souvenir jackets are no longer in, you can just wear the jacket inside out!  Price of one for two.  My kind of jacket!  SS16

This one is from Valentino from FW16.  A different take than most souvenir jacket motifs!

And if red is your color of choice, Louis Vuitton has one just for you! Gorgeous crane embroidery in the back.  SS16

Monday, August 1, 2016

Buy art or not to buy art, that is the question

If you have followed me on this blog for the past few years, you know I have suggested you guys to pick up some limited edition artwork here and there.  While art, like stock, is never a sure thing, but I always feel if you buy a blue chip artist's work, most likely it will increase in value while give you joy daily.  Of course most of the blue chip artist starting prices typically is five to six figures and often they can command seven or even eight figure for masterpieces.  I certainly don't have the budget for those one off pieces so I go for limited edition that are published by museums and charities by these artists.

Today, I went back to see the pieces I have recommended in my blog and did a search on the internet to see what they fetch today.  Here's what I found:

On January 9, 2015 (so about year and a half ago), I recommended you guys to buy a limited edition Cindy Sherman tray from Sundance Institute.  The run is limited to 500 pieces and sold at an affordable $150 a pop.  Today, I found one on ebay sold on June 5, 2016 for $950!  I also found it at an art gallery asking $1750!!  Now how many asset classes out there command this kind of return?!

On September 22, 2014 (almost two years ago), I recommended you guys to buy a limited edition print by Takashi Murakami whom is probably most famous for his collaboration with Louis Vuitton.  This print was sold on and you have two options.  One is called Contemplating Dark Matter and the other is called Standing on the Bridge, Linking Space and Time.  The run was 125 pieces each at $585 a pop, which includes frame and matting plus shipping.  If any of you have custom frame a print before, you know how expensive it is!  A quick search yield someone on Ebay in Ireland selling theirs for $950.    

On December 23, 2012 (three and a half year ago), I recommended you guys to buy a limited edition Peter Doig print from Tate Modern called Two Faces and a Guitar.  The run is limited to 500 pieces and sold at £350 a pop.  Today it is being sold by an art gallery for £950.  A listing on German Ebay sold for €800.

On December 26, 2012, (three and a half year ago), I recommended you guys to buy a limited edition print by fame photographer Mario Testino.  I even give you a discount code to save you £250.  I recommended the Kate Moss print as I believe it would be the more valuable among the selection.  This print had a run of 175 pieces at £1200 a pop but with discount code, the price dropped to £950.  This is by no mean pocket change especially back in 2012; one pound was worth about 50-60% more than dollar.  Fast forward to January of 2015, one was sold for £7,500 at Phillips auction house.    

Although not everything I recommended had gone up in value yet.  Case and point, I recommended to buy Jeff Koon's Split Rocker plate for $475 on December 4, 2014.  Unfortunately the edition is still not sold out so until it does, the value will remain the same if not somewhat lower on the secondary market.

Buying art is not always about investment.  I always believe you have to love what you buy.  But I do think if you stick with blue chip artists' limited edition artwork, you are likely to rip the rewards few years (or a decade) from now. 


Monday, July 25, 2016

The mythcal land called Honah Lee: Review of St Regis Princeville Resort

Just came back from St Regis at Princeville.  Had a great time.  The resort was quite nice although they really could use some improvements.... some simple, some not so simple.

This was my first time on Kauai.  I've been to the Big Island and Oahu before so Hawaii is not foreign to me.  However, many people said Kauai is the prettiest so of course I have to see it for myself.  I have never stayed at St Regis hotel chain before although the lobby of St Regis in San Francisco is quite chic so my expectation was high.  My understanding is that if one were to go to Kauai, St Regis was the place to stay.  A close second would be the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa.  Having stayed at both during this trip, I would say St Regis Princeville is definitely better than Grand Hyatt Kauai.

First, a little 411 about Princeville.  It was named after Prince Albert Kamehameha when he paid a visit at Hanalei Bay in 1860.  This location is also used as the back drop for Hollywood film South Pacific in 1958.  You can actually see the exact same trees in the movie that still exist today at St Regis Princeville's beach.  In addition, the legend has it that the song Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton, was about Hanalei Bay with red part of the mountain as dragon eyes and Na Molokama mountain range as its spine.  The mythical land called Honah Lee refers to the town Hanalei, a stone throw from St Regis Princeville.  

The pluses at St Regis Princeville: location, amenities, and the crowd.

St Regis Princeville is located at Hanalei Bay.  Having stayed at places like Four Seasons Koh Samui, Amankila in Bali, Aman Sveti Stefan in Montenegro, etc.  I would say the view of Hanalei Bay was the best.  The reason is with places like Four Seasons Koh Samui or Amankila in Bali, you get palm trees and white sandy beaches (or in Amankila's case, black sand beach), but at Hanalei Bay, you get all that plus Na Molokama mountain in the background.  Or shall I say icing on the cake!  The view is tranquil yet majestic.  Waking up daily to the view is just incredible.

There are lots to do around St Regis Princeville.  Some of the onsite amenities include snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking.  There are lots of coral reefs in the Hanalei Bay.  I would say it's actually not too safe to do regular swimming as there are just too many corals around to do laps.  If you like snorkeling, this is a very good place to be.  There is a desk next to the beach where you can rent paddle boards, kayak, or snorkel gear.  They charge by the hour (Four Seasons Koh Samui include these amenities in room rate... cough cough).  The fish is not as abundant as Hanauma Bay in Oahu or Blue Lagoon in Bali.  With that said, it's a lot more convenient to snorkel when your hotel room is few feet away.  There are definitely more fish (interesting ones too) when compare to Four Seasons Koh Samui which also have onsite snorkeling.  Some people saw turtles... I didn't unfortunately.

Another good amenity at St Regis Princeville is their Kauai Grill restaurant by Jean-Georges.  Possibly the best lunch I ever had was at Jean-Georges in NYC so I had high expectations for Kauai Grill.  I was not disappointed.  My surf and turf entree was cooked to perfection.  The maitre d' knew it was my birthday so they send a moist and delectable chocolate cake on the house for dessert.  A perfect way to end the dinner.  I would come back here again.  By the way, they require you to wear long pants and dress shirt at this restaurant.  Don't mind that as everyone was wearing t shirts and shorts.

Having spent a night at Grand Hyatt Kauai, I definitely prefer the St Regis crowd.  There are less people at the St Regis for one.  In addition, there are a lot less kids at St Regis as well.  If you are on a honeymoon, I would definitely recommend St Regis Princeville over Grand Hyatt Kauai.   If you have kids, then it's a toss up as Grand Hyatt Kauai has water slides which everyone likes.

The minuses at St Regis Princeville: physical plant, weather,

When comparing this resort to others ones such as Four Seasons Koh Samui, or Four Seasons Haulalai on Big Island, this St Regis just looked tired.  The architecture had not been updated since the 80s and it showed.  The finishes in guest rooms looked like something out of 80s/90s/ and 2000s and we are already halfway pass 2010s.  Lounge chairs on the beach look like something right out of 1980s sitcom.  I stayed at St Regis Ocean View Suite and the marble in the bathroom was green.... Alexis Carrington called and she wants those marble back!  What Starwood Property really need to do is revamp this whole hotel.  The location is magnificent but the physical plant is not.  With that said, I have a feeling that Starwood is going to milk this property dry until Four Seasons finally put a resort on Kauai.  Better yet, Starwood should sell this resort to Four Seasons as I'm sure Four Seasons will do a phenomenal job at this resort.  I mean just look at what they did to the Four Seasons Lanai... it went from a tired 1980 resort not too long ago to a modern day rock star!              

The weather is another ding against this resort.  I was told summer is the drier months at this location and it rained every single day when I was there.  Rain usually does not last long....sometimes ten minutes...sometimes thirty minutes.  Only one day was more or less all day.  You rarely see sky without any clouds.  In fact, clouds typically linger around Na Molokama mountain range while Hanalei bay is usually fairly sunny.  A bit odd but as long as the clouds don't interrupt my sunbathing, I'm fine with them.  If you are planning to be here during the raining season, you may want to think twice.

If you are staying at the suite level, you will get a butler.  What's great about St Regis butler service is that they will come and unpack and pack for you.  For some people, that's a huge plus.  In addition, they will iron your clothes.  That's a big plus in my book although I'm in Hawaii so not exactly useful.  Moreover, they will bring freshly brewed Kona coffee to you anytime you want.  Most places when they say they serve Kona coffee, it just means Kona coffee is part of the blend.  But not here.  Your butler will bring 100% Kona coffee to you and it's heavenly!  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Lastly, your butler can really enhance your cultural experience here on Kauai.  The odd thing about this St Regis is that some of the staff are very friendly while others don't smile at you at all (somehow St Regis didn't train them right... but that's a different complaint).  We had the fortune to have Robert as our butler.  He's the head butler at this St Regis and I can see why.  I honestly think that St Regis does not deserve to have him as their head butler.  He's exceptionally wonderful and kind and dedicated to his job.  If Four Seasons ever opens a resort on Kauai, Robert is the guy to train all your staff.  He's worth every single penny and then some.  Robert took time to explain to me about the culture and history of Kauai.  He advised me where to go for a great authentic luau.  He even planned a lei making session as well as Hawaiian dance session for me.  I can honestly say besides the great view, Robert was the second best thing at St Regis.

I really enjoyed my time at St Regis Princeville.  There are definitely cons to be had (mainly the dated facility while paying high prices).  I'm crossing my fingers that next time when I return, I will see a beautifully remodeled resort.  Until then, mahalo.



Saturday, July 16, 2016

JAL First class review


I was very excited to take JAL's first class Sky Suite.  The route I took was from SFO (San Francisco) to HND (Haneda).  It was a blissful 11 hour flight.

Unfortunately, I can't say that about their SFO private lounge area.  The first class lounge is essentially a small room next to the business class lounge with a sliding door separating both areas.  They basically have club chairs line up against walls and that's it.  No amazing designs (which Japanese are known for) and food station is in the business lounge area with just typical nuts and soda.  Going into the room made me feel depressed actually and I should feel opposite!

Luckily my seat on the airplane was fabulous!  The brown leather seat is nice and wide (although not as wide as Cathay Pacific's) and there are plenty of storage compartments where you can store your hand bags and ipads.  Normally your tray is stored in armrest.  But this particular design, your tray is actually butt below your TV and can be slide to you when you want to use it.  I actually don't like this design as I typically wear my seat belt at all times so when I want to use the tray table, I actually have to unbuckle myself to get the tray.... not end of the world but a slight negative with the design imo.

The amenity kit is from Loewe!  Nothing extraordinary inside though... just your typical eye mask, refresh towel, brush, lip balm, etc.  But the bag is cool and I love Loewe so a big plus for me!  Oh, and you also get Shiseido products. I got travel size bottles of cleansing face wash, hydrating toner and total revitalizer face cream.  I actually like the face cream quite a bit.  I need to go to my local mall to pick one up.  You also get a set of PJ.  I have to say, their PJ is the softest one when compare to British Airways and Cathay Pacific) although the top is thicker than the other airlines which may be a plus or minus depending on the person.

Food is good not great.  For my dinner, they give you a nice jar of caviar which is tasty although the jar is smaller than the ones from Cathay.  I thought sushi would be great on JAL.  Well, not so much....  I'll just leave it at that.  I had a lobster salad which was tasty.  Fruit plate was nicely presented.  For breakfast, I had Japanese breakfast which was good.

I usually don't sleep much on international flights regardless if I get lie flat seat or not.  JAL give you option of soft mattress or hard mattress.  I picked the soft one.  I ended up sleeping for 4 hours which is very good for me.... so I definitely like their beds.

The bathroom is your typical airplane bathroom except they have that water spray function you see on many Japanese toilets!  A first I seen on any airplane I've ever been on. 

Overall, I have to say I'm very happy with my flight.  I thought the service was very good, my seat was very good, and food was good.  They can definitely improve with their SFO first class lounge situation and better sushi on board.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Romance in Napa Valley

Calistoga Ranch is a luxury resort located in the upper Napa Valley.  It's about hour and a half north of San Francisco.  The resort is about 157 acres with lots of oak trees dotted around the property.  If you like dry heat, this is a great place to be in the summer as temperature definitely gets up there.  The property is divided into two areas.  On one side is the resort.  The other side is the residences.  There is a river that cuts through the middle part of the property which basically divide up the property.  I believe the residences part is essentially luxury timeshare.

Each home is outfitted exactly the same.  The difference between each category is: location of the lodge, the size of the deck, and if you have an additional living room or not.  What Calistoga Ranch doesn't say on their website/ brochure is that this resort is essentially a collection of trailers.  Or what I jokingly call the most expensive trailer park in the world!  The reason why it was built this way was because the town of Calistoga didn't want Auberge Resort to build a luxury resort there.  To skirt around the rule, SB Architects devised an idea.... why don't we build whole bunch luxury trailers with decks!  So town of Calistoga got out maneuvered and Calistoga Ranch was born.  Because each trailer is exactly the same size with same finishes, the only way to have a different category of rooms is by the size of outdoor space and how many pods (trailers) you get.  Deluxe Lodges get zero deck but they do have enclosed outdoor showers.  Deluxe Hillside Lodges gets a deck.  The One Bedroom Lodges gets two pods: one of them is a bedroom plus bathroom, the other one is a living room.  The option above One Bedroom Lodges is One Bedroom Oak Creek Lodge which gives you a deck with an oak tree piercing through plus a bit more privacy.  Then after that is 2 Bedroom Lodges.  This gives you four pods: one bedroom with bath, one bedroom with bath, a kitchen, and a living room.  The Estate Lodge, which essentially is their presidential suite, consist of everything 2 Bedroom Lodges have plus privacy.  The estate lodge I stayed at was actually located at the very end of the resort so it was incredibly private with no one looking in.  Simply put, I can live in my lodge for months on end because it's so fabulous.  While I joke that this is the most expensive trailer park in the world, the finishes are topnotch and honestly, with decks and all, no one can tell you are sleeping in a trailer.  SB Architects was very smart in their design and blended the outdoor and indoor spaces seamlessly.

The food at their restaurant was good.  I thought the view was quite nice; nothing beats eating outdoor under moonlight next to a small lake.  I had a facial at their luxurious spa.  The facility was quite pretty and again, the architect blend the indoor and outdoor area really well.  The resort also seems to have a very good wedding facility.  There is a wine cave where you can have an indoor reception.  You can also do it outdoors next to the small lake on a gentle hillside.  In fact, while I was there, I saw a wedding next to the lake.  It was quite pretty and I'm sure bride and the groom had a marvelous experience.  If you are into hiking, then this is a good resort to do so.  I believe there is two or three hiking trails inside the resort.  There is also a large swimming pool next to the check in area with a bar.  I didn't use that part of the facility but it did look nice from outside.

Overall it's a fantastic resort which I would have no problem of recommending it to my other high maintenance friends especially if they want to splurge and stay at the Estate Lodge.  I look forward to coming back to this resort sometimes in the future.    

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Spring/ Summer 2016 Men's sale edition

It's that time of the year again.  The last calls at various department/ online stores are in full force.  So far, Saks, Bergdorf, and Barney's have hit the "up to 75% off" sale.  Neiman, on the other hand, is still stuck at 55% off.  But I'm pretty sure they will get in line soon enough!  After all, one only have so much money to spend, and people are not likely to wait till Neiman to go Last Call before heading to other clothing stores to grab all the good deals. 

First up, Bergdorf Goodman.  Not much is left online and the perennial that's not really 75% off does apply to their online store.  Case and point, Moncler is still only 50% off among what's left.   But these days, only very few Moncler stuff ever goes on sale anyway and there is couple wintery looking jacket/ vest that smart buyers can pick up now for later usage.  Most of the Saint Laurent stuff are not even close to 50% off with few exceptions here and there.  But since Hedi left, this is the second to the last season you can pick up his work so buy what you can before it's too late.  Valentino stuff are also slim picking and most are barely 50% off anyway.  Honestly, I would say skip the Bergdorf website unless you have nothing better to do as the "in" brands is pretty much only 50% off if that with couple exceptions.

Next Saks.  There is a Saks in SF so I went there to see what's up since nothing much is left online.  I have to say in person, there are a lot of stuff.  If you like Givenchy, they have a pretty decent selection.  But as you Givenchy lovers know, everything is cut either super big or regular.  You just never know.  There are some camubutterly neoprene sweatshirts.  I think they have all the sizes.  If I didn't have the hoodie version already, I would have totally jump on them since they are 75% off.  Yes, literally 75% off.  Not up to.  Saks really have the best selection in SF of the Last Call markdowns IMO.  If you are in SF, you should definitely hit it up.  Unfortunately I didn't see any accessories or shoes on sale at Saks.  So that's the downside.  What's left online in the men's section is pretty pathetic.  No need to bother.  They do have the late Starchitect Zaha Hadid Rim Vessels cups online for sale at 70% off in the home section!  I believe the price is for a set of four.  These will be a collectors item for sure since I don't think it's widely distributed.  Plus the designer is dead so there isn't exactly going to be lots more of Zaha Hadid home stuff in the future (if any).  There is also decent amount of Missoni Home stuff on sale.  Some of them are only 30% off while others are 70% off.  My suggestion is buy the 70% off stuff online and head to for other Missoni Home stuff.  There is also a healthy selection of Alessi stuff.  Alessi barely ever go on sale so this is pretty good.... although the markdown is only 30% off.  Kinda lame.

The third one I would mention is Barney's New York.  Honestly, there isn't much left online to buy.  They do have a pretty decent selection of Valentino stuff on sale.  Sadly it's 60% off not 75% off like Saks in person.  In store they have the wolf version backpack here in SF on sale.  Online you can find the dragon backpack on sale.  I like them except I don't ever carry a backpack.  I guess if you live in NYC, then this maybe a good buy for you.  There really isn't much left in store.  I saw a Gamme Bleu sports jacket that look like something out of circus (black and what stripe pattern).  That was the only Gamme Bleu stuff left (and for good reason).  Not a lot of shoes left either.  One Valentino Camo hightop left.  I think it's a size 10.  Couple Christian Louboutin spikes shoes available if you are into Loubs.  Speaking of Louboutin.  On the ground floor, there is quite a few Louboutin card case/ wallet left.  I didn't bother to see how much they are but I suspect probably around 60% off.

Who could forget MrPorter?  Good thing about MrPorter is that not only they don't charge sales tax, they are up to 80% off too.  So you can always find a good deal or two.  Sadly what's left of their Valentino selection is only 40% off.  Comparing that to Saks' 75% off, it's kinda a turn off.  The best piece that's left is the Color-Block leather varsity jacket.  But at 2k+ after 40% off, it's still quite an investment.  There are still quite a bit of Balmain left.  Most of the stuff are only 50% off so not terribly attractive at this point.  I think their collaboration with H&M late last year probably turned off most of their loyal customers.  I'm not surprised MrPorter still have plenty of Balmain left.  Bottega Veneta are mostly 60% off.  The selection is not great but it does have a panelled cotton jersey zip up hoodie left in size 46 and 48.  I'm all about hoodies these days and at 60% off I think it's buyable. There is a pretty good selection of Saint Laurent stuff left.  Discount range from 30% all the way to 70%.  The 70% off stuff is mostly leopard print stuff.  Think Peggy Bundy!  LOL.  I think the best piece left is the Camouflage print cotton field jacket at 50% off.  There is one S and one L. 

Lastly MatchesFashion is an interested place to buy from.  Not least it is based in London and you can actually choose to pay for your stuff in English Pound.  Unless you live under a rock, I'm sure you heard of Brexit.  Along with Brits exiting EU, English Pound plunged about 10% against US dollar.  It had since gained a percentage or two against dollar.  So you can actually arbitrage the currency difference and gain more discount by paying for your stuff in English Pound!  Typically Matches stuff are about 20% below suggested retail so even though most of the stuff are only 30-40% off, you are really getting about 50% off.  If you added weak English Pound on top of that, you can get about additional 10% off advantage.  The best piece in the sale category is the Bottega Veneta Quilted-Leather backpack at 949 pounds (retails for $3900 in USA).  While that is definitely not cheap but it had already been marked down 70% off plus with the currency arbitrage, this presents an insane steal opportunity.  Another very unique purchase opportunity is option to buy some discounted Gucci clothes from this season... some at 40% off!  Gucci had a 30% off sale about a month ago and since then, no current season clothes have gone on sale either at Bergdorf, Saks, or Barney's. 

There's definitely bargain to be had this season if you dig deep within stores/ websites.  I'll be reviewing some of my favorite pieces for the fall/winter of this year soon. Until then, happy hunting.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Aman Surprise

Just got back from Aman Sveti Stefan.  I have to say I'm a big fan of this Aman for several reasons.... Great service, Great food, and Great rooms.

Before heading there, my travel agent had said that several of her clients had not liked this particular Aman because they were bored.  Combining that with the reviews on Tripadvisor, I was somewhat hesitant about going there.  On the other hand, a friend of mine whom had done extensive travels throughout the world (over 100 countries by age of 40) had highly recommended this Aman as he said this resort was very unique among all Aman properties as it's an UNESCO World Heritage site.  So reluctantly I decided to stay there for 3 nights and 4 days hoping this resort will live up to Aman standard.

I was pleasantly surprised.  I wish I had stayed at least one more day if not two.  Although honestly I can stay there for few extra months in my gorgeous suite.... This Aman is on an island right off the coast of Montenegro.  The island is connected to the coast via a walkway so I guess it's really more like a peninsula than an island in my opinion.  Anyway, this island originally was a fisherman's island.  The legend has it that Pastrovici tribe robbed some sleeping Turks off a beach in Montenegro.  They used the money to build this village in 1400s.  By 1800s, the village had about 400 inhabitants.  During the communist era, the island was converted into an upscale hotel.  Famous visitors during this time included: Sophia Loren, Kirk Douglas, Elizabeth Taylor, and Princess Margaret.  In 2006, Montenegro became an independent country.  By this time, Sveti Stefan had fell into ruins as it had been neglected for awhile.  In 2007, the new government invited international hotels for bids to reinvigorate Sveti Stefan and Aman won the bid and signed a 30 year lease with the government of Montenegro.  Aman Sveti Stefan officially opened in 2009.

Most of the complaints on Tripadvisor had to do with service.  People complaint that while the staffs are nice, but their English are poor thus lots of miscommunications happened.  In typical Aman fashion, they like to hire locals as locals tend to stay at the hotel for extended period of time.  Aman Sveti Stefan was no different.  However, with that policy, I can see how the problems arise.  While I find most of the staffs' English proficient, there were couple instances where things were not done correctly either because of miscommunication.  But I think as time goes on, the staff there will get better and better.  I would say they are 95% there so good enough for me.

While you would think most of the rooms on Sveti Stefan faces Adriatic Ocean to the West, in fact, only four rooms faces West.  Most rooms face East with some facing South.  Few rooms face North as that's where main dining facility is at.  I stayed at the Adriatic Suite which was one category below the presidential suite (Sveti Stefan suite).  This particular suite is one of the view rooms that have west facing windows.  This room also has three different balconies with one facing Northwest which gets the sunset view whereas Sveti Stefan suite faces Southwest thus only gets sunrise view (and who gets up that early while on vacation anyway....).  The second balcony has direct access to the adult pool on the west side of the island.  The third balcony has two lounge chairs and is also quite private for sunbathing.

The Adriatic suite is actually two levels.  The bottom level has a kitchen plus access to one of the four rooms that has a West facing window thus making this a perfect family suite if you are traveling with your kids or other family members.  Outside the kitchen, there is a stair that leads to the upper level of the suite.  The upper level consist of a living room, a dining room, a powder room, and a master bedroom with a generous sized bathroom.  There are four access points to the Adriatic suite.  One is via kitchen.  The other three are through the balconies.

Aman Sveti Stefan actually consist of more than just rooms on the island; it also includes a villa on the mainland called Villa Milocer.  This villa used to be the summer palace for Tito, the communist dictator.  It has now been converted to 8 different suites.  The first floor is consist of public areas such as a restaurant, a library, a reception hall, and a meeting room.  Next to Villa Milocer (about 5 minutes walk), Aman constructed a series of spa buildings in the style of the Villa Milocer.  This collection of buildings has a spa, a gym, and a indoor/outdoor pool.  There are three different private beaches that Aman guests have access to (all of them rock beaches not sand).  The best one, in front of the spa buildings, is called Queen's beach and is the most private one of all three beaches as public has no access to it.  The second best one is called the King's beach and is in front of Villa Milocer.  This one is not particularly private as there is public access road that cut across the private beach and Villa Milocer.  So anyone walks pass the public road can see you.  The most public beach is the one in front of Sveti Stefan called Sveti Stefan beach.  If you are on the mainland facing the island, the right side of the beach is private and my understanding is public has access to it provide they are willing to pay a high premium.  The left side of the beach is public. Thus what you see is you have gazillion people using the left side and maybe one or two people on the right side.  Very weird and odd.  On the island, there are three pools.  One is inside the Sveti Stefan suite's terrace.  This is the only room that has a private pool.  The second one is called adult pool facing West.  Gorgeous view of the Adriatic Sea but it's small and not very deep.  The third one is right next to the main dining room.  Part of it is actually inside the building and part outside.  It's about twice as long as the adult pool.

On the island, there are four orthodox churches.  One was actually where Novak Djokovic, arguably one of the best tennis player ever, got married.  All the churches are quite small and the one that Novak got married in can perhaps fit 15 people at most.  There aren't many original icon paintings inside the churches.  I assume those had been moved to churches on the mainland or museums.

The main dining room (which has inside and outside seating) serves Montenegrin/ European food fare.  There are a good selection of seafood (no surprise here).  Another restaurant is located at the piazza which serves Italian food.  Montenegrins actually make good Italian food as Montenegro used to be ruled by the Venetian Empire.  The third option is at Villa Milocer on the mainland.  I had a fish soup there once during lunch and was very surprised at how good the soup is.  The soup has lots of complexity to it and is comparable to any one Michelin star restaurant.  It's that good.

While I was at the resort, I signed up for two activities.  One is to the Skadar Lake.  This one is not to be missed as the lake is just stunning... especially when you pass through thousands of lily leaves to get to the center of the lake.  There are tons of birds flying around.  The water is also very clean.  They have a mirror look to them.  Hard to explain as you have to see it in person.  The second activity was a trip to Kotor and Perast city.  Both are located on a fjord.  This fjord is unique as it was not made by glacier (like the ones in Norway) but by rain.  Kotor is the bigger city of the two and has various architectural styles (think French and Italian) from different centuries.  I wish I had more time to spend at both cities...very unique setting.  One thing that is missing is cultural activities on the Aman activity menu.  For example, when I was at Amanjiwo, I had a chance to listen to Buddhist monks chanting at a local temple.  I would have loved to visit a local traditional Montenegrin home and experience Montenegro through Montenegrin eyes.  To me that would be quite interesting.  My understanding is the new general manager is planning more activities in near future.

Overall I would highly recommend this unique Aman property.  This is one of the few Aman properties where each room is different.  I feel as this resort ages, it'll get better.  My understanding is that the general manager at Amanpulo had recently been reassigned to Aman Sveti Stefan.  Given all the rave reviews I read of Amanpulo, I have no doubt in a year, people will be raving about Aman Sveti Stefan as well.  I look forward to return to Aman Sveti Stefan again soon. 


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

British Airways First Class review

This is a review of British Airways first class from Heathrow to JFK.  I would say the best part is probably playing with the window shades!  LOL.  But I digress.  Let me start from the beginning.

At Heathrow airport, they separated the first class lounge from the business class lounge.  The business class lounge is on the top floor of the airport.  It's large and there are buffet areas where you can pick up food a la cafeteria style.  I find this lounge typically packed with people.  There is no sense of serenity for sure.  Essentially not that different from the regular waiting area outside with the exception of buffet.  Well, maybe I'm being harsh.  The finishes is nicer than outside regular area but it has a hurdling cattle feel due to large number of people inside the lounge. 

Luckily I flew first class this time.  First class lounge is on the second floor, a floor below business class lounge.  The area seems smaller but obviously a lot less people fly first too.  The lounge was packed with right amount of people.  It wasn't empty but certainly was not over crowded like the business class lounge.  There are couple good things that differentiates first class lounge from the business class lounge.  One, you can reserve a resting pod where you can take a shower, make phone calls, or take a nap.  It's nice to have an amenities like this.  However, the pods get booked up quite often so if you know you want a private pod, best reserve one well in advance.  The other good thing is that there is a restaurant within the first class lounge.  Everything on the menu is free.... well, sort of, since it's included in your ticket price.  The food is actually not bad.  I would say better than your run of the mill restaurant food but below Michelin star level.  There is also free spa service right outside the first class lounge.  I believe it is shared with the business class passengers.  If you want to get a spa treatment, I would definitely put your name on the list before you enter the lounge as they seems to be very booked when I tried to get an appointment.  I did managed to get one though.

Now to the airplane experience.  I thought the seat was nice.  Not as wide as Cathay Pacific's first class (that's a review for some other time) but finishes was nice.  I thought the shape of night light was an elegant touch.  There is a large private compartment to store one's jacket which I like.  You can also put your shoes in the compartment.  The electric window shade was probably the best part of the seat.  Sounds dumb moving a window shade up and down.  But since I never done that before on an airplane, I thought it was cool.  I also like the lighting.  They had a overhead blue light which makes the cabinet looks futuristic. 

You get two giveaways from the first class.  One, you get a set of pajamas.  They are quite soft and great for lounging around.  The top has a nice BA logo with the word First on it.  The other amenity you get is a wash bag from the Refinery which is a grooming specialist brand based in London.  The bag is actually pretty nice; it is made of canvas and leather.  I can see me reusing the bag for future trips.  Inside the bag there are: revitalizer moisturizer, eye gel, lip balm, deodorant stick and shave gel.  I thought the deodorant stick was a nice touch as one doesn't typically get them in an airplane wash bags.  In addition to these Refinery brand products, the bag also has a brush/comb, disposable razor, British Airways First branded pen, reusable toothbrush and travel size tube of Colgate toothpaste.  I pretty much chucked most of these and only keep toothpaste and pen.  You also get an eye mask and a pair of socks which again, I chucked as I never use them.

The airplane food was not bad.  Not as good as the one I had at the first class lounge but they do have pretty decent selections.  For example, you can choose to have dishes such as: duck confit terrine with pickled apple puree, carrot, celeriac and grain mustard salad and a beetroot jelly or/and chicken tikka masala with dal makhani and jeera pilau rice (don't ask me what's jeera pilau rice... I just assume it's a rice from jeera pilau region....but honestly, I think they just put that in to make the dish sounds fancy).  Dessert selection includes: rhubarb and red currant tart with rhubarb compote or warm chocolate and hazelnut torte.  

After dinner, they came and fluff up my seat and turn it into a bed by adding a quilted mattress (not really a mattress.... more like mattress topper) and a duvet.  It's very civilized I must say.  The mattress did make sleeping more comfortable for sure.

I thought the service was good.  They were very friendly and when they found out it was my first time taking BA first class, they explained all the buttons to me.  Having been on their business class many times, I have to say the service in first class is noticeably better.

Overall I enjoyed the experience very much.  My understanding is that airlines such as Singapore airline or Etihad airline offers better hardware experience but since I never been on either airline before, I have no way to compare them.  But from reading online reviews, I'm sure I'll enjoy those two airlines very much.  I hope someday I get to try them!