A little under one year from our honeymoon in Malaysia and Paris, we set off on Honeymoon 2.0 to the States and the Caribbean...
Hands down the best holiday ever. Three weeks, I have discovered, is the optimal amount of holiday time to take from work, especially from desk bound transactional work. One week never suffices because even with the best will in the world your colleagues who are babysitting your files can just put them on the long finger for the week and when you return, you do so to a mountain of work and clients who've been waiting for something to be done! We're all guilty of this sometimes. Two weeks is better but by the time you've properly switched off you're into week two and starting to think about the impending homewards journey (particularly if like me you hate flying and the prospect of another long flight niggles away at you all week). But THREE weeks? It's the holy grail of holidays. Long enough that your workload is managed in your absence and you can genuinely unwind and relax. That said, I'm of the no emails on holiday school of thought. I am not so important that my work can't be adequately managed by someone else! See Lucy Kellaway's thoughts on that in the FT.
I had been fooling myself for years that I didn't like sunny holidays. Sandy beaches and clear blue waters just weren't for me. Instead we went to places like Oslo (in November - when there were about 3 hours of daylight) or Paris (usually at Christmas time) and wrapped up warmly.
But I had been threatening to visit family in LA for some time, not having been over there in a few years, and a great friend was living in the British Virgin Islands at the time so it was a good opportunity to do some long haul travelling.
We started in LA. We flew business class with American Airlines which was pretty fabulous.
It's going to be hard trudging back to economy when we go to NYC and the BVI in January 2016 (yep - it was that good that we're going back...more on which later) with Aer Lingus. I was a business class virgin. Between the lounges (unlimited champagne in the Admiral's Lounge at JFK!) the lie-flat beds, the service and the pre-push back champagne served upon boarding, well I almost forgot I was flying at all.
At LAX we picked up the 'Stang - our convertible silver Mustang.
This was a pleasant surprise. We had booked a cheap and cheerful convertible (some sort of Daimler I think) but when we got there were only Mustangs left...which worked out brilliantly! We drove to Simi Valley and stayed a couple of days with my family exploring the sights. I know the main areas of LA pretty well having been there a few times but it was a first for the husband who was surprised to love it as much as he did. It was a real struggle to drag him out of the hot tub. I even had him drinking red wine!! That never happens at home but holiday husband seems to be a new breed. Admittedly, it was a gorgeous chilled Pinot Noir from California which we bought from the producer so even he enjoyed it.
I experienced thrift shopping and antiquing in LA's vintage and antique stores and found a vintage Hermes bracelet for my efforts. See more on instagram : )
And the people were so nice! A standout moment was the professionalism of the concierge at the Beverly Hills Hotel who took one look at my ratty Panama hat and cut-off jeans and promptly steered me towards the casual pool bar, when I had thought we would have a drink in the famous Polo Lounge. It clearly wasn't happening but he handled it so well that I was two mojitos in at the pool before we realised that we had been managed out of the lobby and out into the garden! But Leonardo di Caprio drinks there so I don't feel too bad (although sadly not on the day of our visit).
From LA we drove up the coast to Santa Barbara and stayed in one of the Kimpton range of boutique hotels, The Canary. These guys know how to do boutique hotels.
This boutique hotel group is a revelation. Small and perfectly formed, it was a great mix of style and substance right in the middle of the town. We had wine and cheese tasting on the rooftop bar and we followed that up (on the sommelier's recommendation) with watching outdoor flamenco dancers of all ages at the dance competition held at the Santa Barbara court house. Those are the types of things you just don't figure out for yourself as a tourist and you need the locals to point you in the right direction.
From Santa Barbara we headed to Cambria and stayed on the beach. The pictures we took look like paintings but the sky really was that beautiful. We went wine tasting in the Paso Robles area, mostly in the Opolo winery, where I fell in love with their well known Zinfandel.
The next day we hit the road, roof down and music blaring all the way to San Francisco...which was not what I expected...
San Fran fans won't like this part. I don't really know what I expected but I much preferred LA and the surrounding areas which surprised me. It was my first time there so perhaps I didn't stray far enough from the tourist beaten path. I'll go back and give it another chance I'm sure. We stayed in the Fairmont and had a lot of fun and too many Mai Tais in its hilariously tacky tikki bar The Tonga Room which was built in the fifties by set designers from Hollywood and it has a Disneyesque feel to it. Crammed full of tourists but great cocktails including ginormous Singapore Slings which you rarely see on contemporary cocktail lists.
After three days in San Fran, we got a flight to Puerto Rico with a quick switchover at Dallas. The highlight of our single hour in Texas was the desk attendants on the intercom in a sing song voice telling passengers running late that "y'all best move along else y'all gonna miss your flight".
Puerto Rico was an enforced stop over because the flight time didn't match up to allow us to get a small plane to the BVI the same day. So we turned it into a two day pitstop at the beach and stayed in the Hilton San Caribe, which prides itself on being the home of the original Pina Colada. A couple of pitchers of fresh Pina Coladas at the swim up bar later, and I'd have believed anything they told me.
We wandered into the old town of San Juan and had a great night drinking margaritas and eating traditional Puerto Rican food. Lots and lots of plantains.
The short flight to the BVI was harrowing for a bad flyer but by more objective accounts it was lovely! It’s only a thirty minute flight so you never ascend too high and you can almost see the tropical sealife from the cabin window.
We flew with Seaborne which operates small jets with turboprop engines so they’re not quite jets but also not as small as the dinky little toy planes the other competing airlines on that route fly.
Disclaimer – I’m sure the other airlines such as Tradewinds are absolutely fine and safe. My friend living in the BVI has flown with them and survived to tell the tale each time but she is much braver than me. She was once the only passenger onboard and was asked to sit up in the cockpit and carry the fire extinguisher for the flight’s duration! I’d keel over if that happened so Seaborne was our best option.
The BVI was incredible. It was beautiful. The service was great everywhere we went. The sand is hot under your feet. The sea is warm and a clear turquoise. We ate locally on Tortola a couple of times and drank too much rum. The alcohol is cheaper than the mixers so expect strong drinks! We visited Peter Island Resort for a day on the beach, where the service was fantastic. Our beach hut had a drawstring flag which we raised when we wanted to order a drink or a snack. We watched all of the boats and catamarans moor up and as people swam in we realised that our next holiday would have to be on a boat in the BVI.
I’m looking forward to trying out their spa in January when we return. We had lunch and daiquiris on the beach and then my friend joined us for dinner in the resort’s outdoor fine dining restaurant which, although very pricey, was delicious and again, had fantastic service.
We made our way over to Virgin Gorda for a day too. We rented a small Suzuki Jimny and explored the island’s unspoilt white sand beaches. In the afternoon, we popped into another resort in Little Dix and took advantage of their secluded bay for some pre-dinner swimming and splashing about. Dinner that evening was in Coco Maya on Virgin Gorda, a modern Asian fusion restaurant with a great wine list and serious cocktails. It’s on the beach so we curled up on the beach furniture, drank Prosecco and watched the sun set before eating. It was a real highlight.
It was while sipping mojitos at Saba Rock that we started to form the plan for our return... we googled the cost of a yacht charter at Christmas and texted good friends to see if they'd share : )
Tearing ourselves away from the BVI was difficult but we had the NYC leg (read the shopping leg!) of our trip left so that cheered us up. We stayed in the Empire hotel on the upper West Side which is, of course, owned by Chuck Bass in a fictional universe (xoxo Gossip Girl…).
It’s a high end boutique hotel with a popular rooftop bar and club but the super expensive Wifi let it down.
Happily, there was a Starbucks next door with free high speed wifi, perfect for texting home to check on Ming. We managed to catch up with some friends in McSorleys, the iconic ale house in the East Village (which only serves 2 types of its own beer and certain soft drinks - the floors are spit and sawdust so it's not the place to order anything fancy).
We squeezed in a show that’s been on my husband’s to do list for a while (which I wasn’t expecting to enjoy at all) called Avenue Q. It was crudely hilarious, although I don’t know whether my review of it was coloured by drinking the theatre’s potent in-house vodka cocktail…I think I tipped the snack vendor $20 and made his day!*
Anyway, the misery of flying home was eased considerably by the business class treatment at JFK and the shopping in the airport.
Reviewing our holiday snaps reminded me how fantastic a holiday it was. Half the fun of a holiday, as everyone knows, is in the planning. We are busy planning our return visit to the BVI! On St Stephen's Day we fly to NYC for some post-Christmas shopping for four days and then we head down to BVI where we pick up our 43 ft Jeanneau 439 for the week. I can't wait to catch up with my friend again and happily, two other friends are also coming for the week sailing before they head off exploring the rest of the Caribbean for a month. (Jealous? Me?)
We plan to spend New Year's Eve on Jost Van Dyke island which is apparently a legendary party island that time of year. So, It'll mean packing my case with boots and fur for the NYC leg and squeezing in some bikinis too!
*This is a drunken theme. I'm pretty sure I tipped a bathroom attendant 20 pounds (STERLING!!!) on my hen night in London's Bunga Bunga too. She said she would pray for me!