A Luxury Christmas at Bergdorf NYC

A Luxury Christmas at Bergdorf NYC

Bergdorf Goodman is the grande dame of New York luxury retailers.  Located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th streets since 1899, she is the only New York-centric luxury store left in the city.  All the other department stores have spread their influence outside of New York. (I’m looking at you Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys).  For me, Bergdorf NYC is quintessential Manhattan style, class and luxury.  After all, it was one of Carrie Bradshaw’s favourite stores in Sex and The City.

Christmas at Bergdorf Goodman, an iconic luxury store in NYC

What better way to celebrate Christmas in Manhattan than to check out how it’s being done at Bergdorfs?

Bergdorf’s Christmas Windows

The store windows at Bergdorf NYC this Christmas was all about the sparkle.  Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl would have approved.

Bergdorf NYC

A Swarovski ice cream? Why, of course, darling. No carbs.

Bergdorf NYC

Puss in Boots says ‘You shall make me very rich.”

Bergdorf NYC

Dahling I do hope my pet lion and my handbag dog get along.

Bergdorf NYC

It’s raining diamonds! so much better than raining men.

Bergdorf NYC

It’s so awkward when Grandpapa insists on wearing his pearl bodysuit to dinner.

Bergdorf NYC

If Barbie and her friends had more money, they’d party like this.

Bergdorf’s Christmas Department

The Christmas department at Bergdorf NYC is small but exquisite.  Everything is beautifully detailed with prices to reflect such craftsmanship.

I heard a fair bit of Russian while browsing this part of the store.  Presumably people have so much space they need life size animatronic polar bears and Santa Clauses to fill their Manhattan penthouses.  I love the fact that the Santa Claus statues are in magnificent robes.  No, red velour for these Santas.

Bergdorf NYC santa

I loved the look of these bejewelled velvet tree skirts and matching (!) socks.  One or the other as Oprah would say or it will look too match-matchy.  Unless, of course, that is the look you are going for.

I have a thing for shoes on Christmas trees and fell in love with the gold sneaker ornaments.  My daughter, of course, wanted the gold heels.

Check out these beautiful ornaments in a short movie clip.

 

Visiting Bergdorf NYC

Bergdorf Goodman is located on 5th Avenue on 57th and 58th streets.  You can’t miss it.  It’s a giant mansion at the very top of Fifth Avenue on the side of the street that becomes Central Park.  In fact the near-perfect location was the site for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s home during the Gilded Age.

Next stop after Bergdorf is the Plaza Hotel.  We spent time at Bergdorf’s then had tea in the Plaza Hotel atrium.  My kids know the Plaza Hotel from the Eloise books as well as the movie, Home Alone 2. So mama was happy and so were the kids.  Daddy just suffered along, carried shopping bags and complained about the prices.

This post is linked up with Travel Photo Thursday and Pierced Wonderings.

Pierced Wonderings
The Elaborate World of Arabic Jalabiya Dresses

The Elaborate World of Arabic Jalabiya Dresses

Walking into the Piano Bar at the Shangri La Muscat, I was a little bemused when a man walked over to the lady at the piano and started snapping his fingers at her.  She was playing a rocking rendition of Purple Rain, and it took her a minute to turn her face to him.  She was met with a halo of flash from the man’s camera.

“You could just have caught my attention by simply saying hello!” she said.  Or, waiting for the song to finish and for her to look up, I thought.

The steel magnolia in her voice was immediately recognisable.  A fellow American!  Looking over my shoulder, she immediately broke into a smile at my friend.  It turns out she knows my friend through mutual singer friends.  I can never get over what a small world it is.

Arabic Jelabiya Dress

The Piano Bar @shangrilamuscat perfect way to end the evening with a nightcap.

Pamela, the resident singer at the Shangri La Al Bandr Hotel for the next few months, came over to chat with us when she had her next break.  We were admiring her beautiful Arabic Jelabiya dress, when she invited us to go shopping with her during our stay.  Shopping?  Sure.  I never met a mall I did not like.

Arabic Jalabiya Dresses

Pamela introduced me to the colourful world of Arabic Jalabiya dresses for women.  The Jalabiya for women is similar to a caftan with a high neck and long sleeves.  The male version is a simple white and called a dishdasha in Oman.

What is a Jalabiya?

This blog post has a good rundown on the different types of  outfits women wear in the Arab countries.  Mostly, we as foreigners see the Abaya, the long black outer covering that Arab women wear outside the home.  Women can wear the elaborate Arabic Jalabiya dresses for women-only parties or for attending weddings.  I learned that women and men traditionally are gender segregated at Arab weddings so it would be an women-only event.

Shopping in Muscat Oman for Arabic Jalabiya Dresses

For foreigners living or visiting Arab countries, such as Pamela working in Oman or Kim Kardashian visiting Dubai, it is completely acceptable to wear the Jalabiya outside in public generally.  Pamela has a collection of gorgeous Jalabiyas for work because the outfit is both glamorous and modest.  Of course,  Kardashians manage to make even the Jalabiya look a bit trashy wearing the top low-cut and hiking the hem up.  No surprise there.

Photo Gallery of Arabic Jalabiya Dresses

So here are some photos of the beautiful beadwork and detailing of the Arabic Jalabiya dresses.

Arabic Jalabiya Dress

This design reminds me of a patchwork pattern.

Arabic Jalabiya Dress

Such gorgeous beading

Traditional embroidery instead of glitter and beading.

Traditional embroidery instead of glitter and beading.

Sara Plaza Jalabiya Dress

Built-in jewellery!

Arabic Jalabiya Dress

These dresses are not meant to blend into the background!

Arabic Jalabiya Dress

Even the simpler patterns are quite elaborate.

jalabiya dress

Arabic Jalabiya dress

Arabic Jalabiya Dress

Avenues Mall in Muscat

The Avenues Mall in Muscat is considered the high-end mall in Muscat.  The largest mall in Oman, it contains many European, American and local stores.  For example, I saw Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, The Early Learning Centre and MAC cosmetics.  Note though that the largest mall in Oman is still nowhere near the size of malls in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

Sara Plaza

We were shopping for Jalabiyas at the Sara Plaza store at the Avenues Mall. Sara Plaza seem to have stores throughout the Middle East though.

Arabic Jalabiya Dress

The runway show for Sara Plaza

Unlike Western stores, the outfits are mostly folded and behind a counter.  When you ask to see something, the sales person opens it carefully and holds it for your inspection.  You can flip through catalogs which show the outfits fully before you make your choice as well.  Although an old-fashioned type of service, the customer gets a lot of attention this way.

Arabic Jalabiya Dress

The one downside of this process though?  Having to tell the salesman your size.  On the other hand, these caftans are voluminous because they should be worn loose.  Even then, you would need a much smaller size than you would in a Western sized outfit.  Many dresses have ties that can cinch in the waist, sleeves etc so they are not completely shapeless.

Arabic Jalabiya Dress

Lulu Hypermarket

We also went to Lulu Hypermarket, a megastore in the Middle East which is similar to an American Target or Walmart.  I was able to buy cheap gifts for the kids and their cousins at Lulu. I had never heard of Lulu before Pamela took me to one,  They are a massive operation with many stores in the Middle East and Asia.  No doubt they will make their way to Europe eventually.

Lulu Hypermarket Avenue Mall

Plastic gold bracelets – all the bling you could want!

Visiting Avenues Mall in Muscat

A chance meeting of mutual friends in an exotic location provided an interesting shopping experience which was completely different from our visit to the Muttrah Souk.

We took the Shangri La hotel shuttle to the Avenues Mall.  The Mall is located in Muscat proper on Avenue Qaboos Street.  After visiting the Avenues Mall, we took a taxi to the Chedi Hotel Muscat and the charge was the standard 5 Omani Rial for fares within the city.

This post is linked with Travel Photo Thursday and Weekend Travel Inspiration.

Weekend Travel Inspiration

A Visual Feast at Muttrah Souq in Muscat

A Visual Feast at Muttrah Souq in Muscat

Looking around Muttrah Souq in Muscat, my eyes were drawn to the sparkle of colourful sequinned clothes, the dull sheen of old silver daggers and the brash brightness of tourist tat.  The smell of spices and incense wafted through the air and the low murmur of Arabic voices enticed me deeper into an Aladdin’s cave of ‘stuff’.

Muttrah Souk in Muscat Oman, one of the oldest souqs in the Middle East

The Mutrah Souq located off the Corniche on the Muscat waterfront is supposed to be one of the oldest markets in the Arab world.

Muttrah Souq in Muscat

The entrance by the Corniche

Muscat has one of the world’s biggest natural harbours.  In historic times, it was a convenient port for the trade coming from India and China.

Muttrah Souq in Muscat

Men hanging out by the souq

Muttrah Souq in Muscat

You really can’t tell how large the souk is from the unprepossessing gate.  Inside the souq is covered in timber sheltering you from the sun but also creating a shady darkness.  You never know what you’d find at the next store so, of course, you had to look.  Part of the fun of visiting the souk is not known what you will find.

Muttrah Souq in Muscat

Traditional Omani headgear

Amongst the stores, I spotted frankincense and gold.  I’m sure I would have found myrrh if I had looked hard enough.  We were dazzled by the ornate treasure boxes in gold and silver, the khanjars (daggers) that Omani men wear and the traditional Omani jewellery of the women.

Muttrah Souq in Muscat

Incense wafting

Muttrah Souq in Muscat

I love the detail of this hat.

We did a careful loop around the souk making sure we knew how to get back to the taxi.  There are lots of side streets that branch off making navigating the souk tricky.

Muttrah Souq in Muscat

Omani flags hung from the ceiling

Muttrah Souq in Muscat

As you would expect, we were approached by vendors trying to sell us things. Vendors though were polite and accepting rejection with good grace.  We never got the hard sell though like we did at the Medina in Marrakech.  Nor was the souq a chaotic jumble of tourist entertainment and local shopping that we found at the old marketplace in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt.

Muttrah Souq in Muscat

Men hanging out by the souq

Muttrah Souq in Muscat

The intricately decorated ceiling

Visiting Muttrah Souq in Muscat

The souq is open in the mornings and then has an extended lunchtime closing. It reopens in the evening around 4pm.  I found Muttrah souq in Muscat much more enjoyable an experience than other Arab market places I have visited.  Haggling is expected but, these people are experts.  Don’t be disappointed if they only throw you a pity reduction in prices.

Visiting Akihabara – An Epic Parenting Fail

Visiting Akihabara – An Epic Parenting Fail

Chances are if you are buying electronics in Tokyo you will go to Akihabara which has street upon street of stores devoted to the sale of electrical goods and  cameras.  Akihabara is also a centre for Otaku (geek) culture for those people really into their anime and manga.

some tips for visiting Akihabara with kids

Things to Do in Akhibara

Electronics Stores

I was pretty overwhelmed with the choice of stores of electrical goods.  Many of them cater specifically to the Japanese market and sales staff don’t speak much English.  You really need to know what you want to buy if you don’t speak Japanese.

 electronics district in Tokyo

Check out the store Super Potato! which is into retro gaming.  Although my kids know about Super Mario and Donkey Kong, I introduced them to other favourites from my childhood. Remember Pac Man?

 electronics district in Tokyo

I was drawn in by the Pac Man on Super Potato!

Maid Cafes and Other Dubious Places

Unlike Yodobashi which is located on the east side of Akihabara, many of the electronics stores are on the west side.  Following the crowds towards the west side of the station, the children and I had an eye-opening experience.

Visiting Akihabara the electronics district in Tokyo

No idea who this anime /manga character is

Well, technically, the kids were somewhat oblivious and I went to great efforts to keep them that way.  That was only after we walked into a sex store though.

My daughter was looking at cute fluffy bunny outfits which were right inside the entrance to a store when a horrified sales woman came running up to me.  She was waving her hands no and saying something in Japanese.  Over her head I could just make out a porn film playing on a television screen.  I grabbed my daughter’s hand and told her they only had big girl sizes and walked out.  Big parenting fail.

When you have any number of geeky people in one place, you are going to have places that meet their social needs.  There were quite a few pachinko parlours around.  Pachinko is a Japanese slot machine which people use for gambling because gambling itself is illegal in Japan.

 electronics district in Tokyo

Pachinko, something else for men to do with no social lives

Maid Cafes are where young women dress up as maids and cater to men (and women I hear) who visit.  The men are made to feel like kings in their own home.  Presumably they don’t have wives, girlfriends or significant others  (or at least ones who don’t feel like catering to their egos).

 electronics district in Tokyo

Maids from the Maid Cafes handing out leaflets.

I had to walk all the way around Akihabara station to find Yodobashi Camera.  Quite a few of the store windows had signs for sex toys, blow up dolls and other stuff.  Luckily most of it was in Japanese.  Of course, when things are in a different language, your eye is automatically drawn to the English words.

I was just waiting for a little voice to ask ‘mummy, what’s a dildo?’ Aaack.  I could not walk those streets fast enough.

otaku

Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara

I was told by my friend in Tokyo to go to Yodobashi Camera because I wanted to get a mirrorless camera.  I figured Tokyo would be a great place to buy a new camera because the Japanese love their photography and photographic equipment.

 electronics district in Tokyo

The entrance to Yodabashi Camera

Yodobashi is an enormous electronics store with 8 branches in Tokyo alone.  With nine floors, I felt that anything you could possibly want is there.  We stuck to the floor with the cameras which in itself was enormous.

You should note that all the prices are in yen but the helpful sale staff can calculate the price in US dollars.  Make sure you bring your passport so that you can get a tax refund.  You also need to research your prices because not everything is cheaper in Japan just because it is made there.

I was so frazzled by my inadvertent sex store experience that I opted to have lunch with the children on the 8th floor of Yodobashi.  As you would expect, there is a plethora of choice.  Not only do you have a Japanese cafeteria style place but there are also separate restaurants.  We chose to visit a noodle restaurant where we had an excellent meal.

My Olympus Mirrorless Camera

I was looking for a mirrorless camera for the times I didn’t want to haul the big DSLR around with me.  As much as I love the camera on my iPhone 6, sometimes I needed a more powerful lens. In addition, my iPhone’s memory was filling up quickly with all the photos and videos I took.  So I did my research online and settled on an Olympus OM-D model with a zoom lens.

What do I think of my Olympus OM-D?  My mirrorless camera is better for photos and video than my iPhone 6.  I still love my Canon EOS 6D DSLR with its choice of lenses.  I love the way it feels in my hand and the photos I take with it.

People say that the mirrorless cameras are just as good as the DSLRs. It depends on your model I would think and I did opt for a budget version.  Although my DSLR is still my favourite camera, I’m taking less photos with my smartphone in favour of my mirrorless Olympus.

Visiting Akihabara

Akihabara is massive train station which is served by both JR lines and Tokyo’s subway system. On Sunday afternoons, the main street, Chuo Dori, is pedestrian-only.  Most of the electronic stores seem to be open 7 days a week.

Yodobashi is right across the street from Akihabara station if you use the central exit.  If you have little kids with you, wander the streets at your own peril.  In retrospect, I would have been better off at the Yodobashi in Shinjuku which is a more mainstream part of Tokyo.

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This post is linked up with Weekend Wanderlust, Weekend Travel Inspiration and Photo Friday.

 

 

Visiting Trendy Tokyo in Harajuku With Kids

Visiting Trendy Tokyo in Harajuku With Kids

Thanks to Gwen Stefani, Harajuku became popularised in mainstream Western culture with her Harajuku Girls backup dancers.  Harajuku is a very trendy area in Tokyo which is located in the Shibuya ward.  It runs from Harajuku station right in front of the Meiji Shrine on the edge of Yoyogi Park through Omotesando and their little side streets, including the can’t miss Takeshita Street and Cat Street.  The area is known for both youth culture as well as seriously high-end international shopping.   Only in Japan can counter-culture and luxury culture mix so seamlessly.

We loved the area so much we spent several days roaming through the back streets and even attending the Harajuku Halloween Parade.   I’ve distilled our experience though into something that you can do in one day because you may only have one day for trendy Tokyo and Harajuku with kids in tow.

visiting the trendy Tokyo neighbourhood of Harajuku with kids

Here are some fun options that you and your kids will both enjoy:

Around Ometesando

The Japanese like to think of Ometesando as the Tokyo version of the Champs Elysses. There are a lot of international stores on this street as well as great architecture.  For example, check out the Prada flagship store which was built by a Swiss architectural firm to look like stacked glass blocks.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

The largest Prada store in Japan

The Gyre Mall is another cool building built by a Danish architectural firm where each floor is twisted so that it forms a spiral.  The stores inside also range from luxury such as the Chanel store to trendy concept fashion stores.  It’s also got one of the only two Museum of Modern Art Store outside of New York in the world.  In case, you’re wondering the other MoMA outpost is in Korea.  As I’ve mentioned before, my kids love the MoMA design stores for finding cool gifts.

With children though, the highlight of Gyre Mall has to be located in the basement.  There is a branch of that other New York favourite, Magnolia Bakery, with its scrumptious cakes.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

The children’s store, Kiddy Land, is several floors of children’s delight. It’s got lots of stuff from the popular children’s Japanese characters such as Doraemon and Little Twin Stars.  We found some unique gifts for friends and cousins to take home.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

5 floors of cuteness

The Ometesando Hills shopping mall was designed by Japanese starchitect, Tadao Ando. It’s worth visiting even if you don’t shop in the luxury stores.  The design is built half-underground on a triangular spiral.  I know that makes no sense until you see it for yourself.  Sort of like the Guggenheim Museum, the building is a work of art in itself.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

Amazing architecture at Ometesando Hills

Around Cat Street

There are lots of cafes and stores on and off Cat Street which is a pedestrianised street.  For example, there is an entire store devoted to children’s North Face clothes.  I also loved the vintage clothes stores.  Its quite easy to find because Cat Street dead ends onto Omotesando street by the Gyre Mall.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

Vintage clothes with an added contemporary touch

The first side street that goes off Cat Street at the Omotesando end will take you to a fantastic gyoza restaurant, Gyoza Lou.  It only serves up fried or boiled dumplings but they are delicious!

The Roastery is a great coffee shop with plentiful outside seating where you can hang out and watch the street life.  Of course, while you are watching people, be prepared to have people watch you.  I saw a whole bunch of Japanese people giggling at my son and his friend making faces at each other and mucking around like kids do.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

trendy coffee store and people watching at The Roastery

Beauty & Youth United Arrows is a great Japanese store that stocks lesser-known international fashion. I also liked their range of homewares.

My kids absolutely loved Rainbow Spectrum. This store has got cheapish cool things sort of like the Danish stores, Tiger, but with a Japanese sensibility.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

On a side street right behind Cat Street, you will find the Harajuku branch of R.a.a.g.f (the rabbit animal cafe we tried to visit).  The rabbits were absolutely adorable and the staff very apologetic when we tried to visit on a busy Sunday without an appointment.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

really fat and cute rabbits

The Choosy Cat Cafe right next door to R.a.a.g.f. was less friendly than we expected especially for the uber-polite Japanese culture.  With this sort of sign, I’d be afraid to knock on the door even if I didn’t have the children with me.  By the way, they don’t allow children aged under 13 in this cat cafe.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

You do not want to mess with these cat people.

Around Takeshita Street

Takeshita Street is pedestrianised as well.  The street is easy to find because it is pretty much across the street from the JR Harajuku station.  Be prepared for sensory overload as there is a lot happening.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

Another place you can let your children buy random things without breaking the bank is Daiso which is a (mostly) 100 yen store.  My kids were delighted with the cutesy Japanese erasers and stickers they found.  No way can you get that sort of stuff in England or the USA for the equivalent of 50p.

We had lunch at Wolfgang Puck Express. Not very Japanese I know but the kids were angling for a burger.  Harajuku is also famous for its crepe stores of which there are plenty on the street.  They have plastic displays of each type of crepe variety that are startlingly realistic.

plastic crepes on display in Harajuku

How realistic do these look??

My daughter loved the Wego store. I mean woollen gloves with penguins on them – how could she be expected to live without them?  Of course, it meant we didn’t have to buy anything at the Hello Kitty store which is as pink and girly as you would expect.

a day in trendy Tokyo Harajuku

Why Hello Kitty!

At the other end of Takeshita Street, you will come across a major thoroughfare (Meijii Dorii). When you cross Meijii Dorri, you can continue exploring on Harajuku Street.

My Verdict on Harajuku with Kids

There are so many interesting places to nip in and out of that you will have no problem spending a day exploring Harajuku.  I really enjoyed the back streets and the pedestrianised streets because then the children could explore without my fear they would get run over.  Especially on Takeshita Street, you may want to go on a weekday because the weekends can be quite crowded.

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This post is linked up with Weekend Wanderlust and The Weekly Postcard.

 

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