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Caribbean, Cherie Soleil, Cruises, Tours, USA

Celebrity Cruises Eastern Caribbean: Philipsburg, St. Maarten

The third destination on our Celebrity Eastern Caribbean Cruise was the stunning island of St. Maarten.  It was our favourite day onshore, thanks to our fantastic excursion – the 5-hour Sightsee Marigot and Beach Getaway.

St. Maarten is a unique island, as it has both a Dutch and French side (named St. Martin), complete with different local languages and currency.

Originally discovered by Christopher Columbus, St. Maarten was colonised by the Dutch, French and British, who established salt mines on the island.  They were later exiled by the Spanish, but after the 80 Year War, were able to return and the land was eventually divided between the Dutch and French.

The Celebrity Reflection docked on the Dutch side in Philipsburg and we swiftly set off on our large air-conditioned coach driving through the town and countryside.  Our first stop was close to Fort Amsterdam, boasting spectacular views over Great Bay and Philipsburg.

We spent two hours exploring Marigot, the island’s picturesque French capital.  Marigot’s Rue de la Liberté is lined with colourful sidewalk cafes, fresh seafood restaurants, local shops and an open-air market selling clothes and handicrafts.

Marigot feels unmistakably French with designer stores such as Hermès, Cartier and Longchamp at Plaza Caraïbe, pharmacies selling French skincare brands and a number of quaint boulangeries offering freshly-baked baguettes and tempting pastries.

The town has a relaxed, friendly vibe and is slightly off the tourist trail, so it doesn’t feel crowded.  We had a great time strolling through the town, admiring the colourful Creole houses and pretty gardens.

For a spot of culture, climb up to the historic Fort Louis.  Built in 1789, the fort was ordered by the governor of St Martin and St Barth for Louis XVI of France.  Originally built to protect the harbour warehouses, the fort is perched on a hill above the marina and offers breathtaking views of Marigot and Anguilla.

Marigot Bay is a delightful place to sit and watch the world go by and enjoy the warm, humid weather.

We then drove on through the lush, green countryside to Orient Bay for a relaxing beach break.  On the way there, our driver slowed down so we could spot a number of iguanas basking in the sun.  It was a nice surprise to see so many of them together, all different sizes and shades of green and orange.

Orient Bay is a stunning beach destination with golden powder sand, gentle waves and lush green hills.  The excursion included use of sun loungers and we were offered a complimentary drink of rum or fruit punch from the beach bar.

We took a dip in the sea and walked along the shore, but if you have more time to spend at Orient Bay, you can hire a jet ski.

On the way back, our excellent tour guide shared more facts about the island and took us through some of the residential neighbourhoods.

While Marigot is the place for duty-free designer fashion, Philipsburg’s Front Street is lined with a number of diamond and fine jewellery stores.  The port is also lively and fun with plenty of shops and rum shacks – look out for the bar that makes delicious coconut smoothies.

St. Maarten is such a beautiful island and I highly recommend booking one of the longer shore excursions, so you can explore both the French and Dutch side.  We covered quite a distance to get to Marigot and our tour guide was so knowledgeable about the island and eager to share.

For a more leisurely day, you can relax on Grand Bay beach, within walking distance of the port in the centre of town.

Join Celebrity Reflection on a nine-night Eastern Caribbean Getaway fly/cruise from £1,650 per person (based on two people sharing an ocean view stateroom).

Price includes return flights from London Heathrow, transfers, one night pre-cruise hotel accommodation and a seven-night cruise departing from Miami (Florida) and calling at San Juan (Puerto Rico), Charlotte Amalie (St. Thomas) and Philipsburg (St. Maarten) before returning to Miami for the flight home; meals and entertainment onboard the ship and all relevant cruise taxes/fee.  Price based on 23 January 2015 UK departure.  

For more information or to book, call 0845 456 0523 or visit www.celebritycruises.co.uk 

Chérie City was a guest of Celebrity Cruises 

All photos by Chérie City

Paris, Tours

Vintage Boat Tour of the Seine, Paris

When I stayed at Shangri-La Paris, we spent the first afternoon on a fabulous private cruise along the Seine in a vintage Venetian water taxi, operated by Seine Avenue.

We embarked just a short stroll away from the hotel, close to the Eiffel Tower and got settled in the seats at the back of the boat.  Setting off in style, we were served a glass of Moët & Chandon Champagne and had access to a minibar of soft drinks with snacks and chocolates to graze on.

The navy leather and mahogany wood boat was so cosy inside with a mini library, however in the warmer months, the deck is the best place to enjoy the sights and weather.

The sun was shining and the clear blue sky meant we had a picture perfect view of the Seine and the city’s most spectacular monuments.  It felt so glamorous to have the river all to ourselves and feel the breeze running through my hair.

We cruised past the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and Notre-Dame de Paris and had fantastic views of the Pont Alexandre III, Pont Neuf and Pont des Arts.

The Seine Avenue Venetian water taxi tour is the most elegant, thrilling way to see the city’s best sights from the Seine.  For more information, visit: www.seineavenue.com

All photos by Chérie City

Hong Kong, Tours

Things To Do In Hong Kong

Hong Kong is full of exciting places and activities to immerse yourself in the city’s unique culture and history.  Why not sample authentic Chinese food with a foodie tour or a dim sum cooking class, visit a historic temple or view Hong Kong from its highest point.

Here are some of the best things to do in Hong Kong…

Take the Tram up to The Peak

The Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island, boasting spectacular views over Victoria Harbour.  The Peak Tram climbs the steep incline and it’s lots of fun going past the Hong Kong skyscrapers at sideways angle.  The Peak Tram has served Hong Kong since 1888 and is a busy, popular tourist attraction (you have to move quickly to grab a seat).

The Peak has been Hong Kong’s most exclusive neighbourhood since colonial times, attracting Asia’s rich and famous with its lush green hills and level of privacy.  The Peak Tower features the Sky Terrace 428 observation deck, where you can enjoy breathtaking panoramas.

Visit a Temple

Built in 1847, Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan is dedicated to the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo).  The two gods were originally worshiped by students and scholars hoping to prosper in their exams during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

The petite, red-hued temple features statues of Chinese gods, two elaborate sedan chairs, gold pots of burning incense and large incense coils hanging from the ceiling.  It’s an atmospheric, historic building and a calm haven away from bustling Hollywood Road.

Take a Foodie Tour

Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours are a fun way to spend an afternoon munching around Hong Kong’s affordable local eateries. Discover signature specialities at each stop such as wonton soup, dim sum, BBQ roast pork and steamed rice, sugar cane juice, Chinese tea and egg custard tarts.

The Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tour: Central & Sheung Wan is priced at HK $690 for Grown-up Foodies (age 15 and above) and HK$490 for Young Foodies (age 5-14).

Sail Victoria Harbour by Night

See Hong Kong’s fabulous Victoria Harbour by night with an evening sail on the Aqua Luna.  Operated by Aqua, the high-end Asian restaurant group, Aqua Luna is a beautifully hand-crafted ship, inspired by traditional Chinese fishing junk.

Relax on the upper deck loungers with a cocktail or two and enjoy the dazzling Symphony of Lights with a soundtrack of sultry lounge music and popular Chinese pop songs.

Take a Dim Sum Cooking Class 

Spend a couple of hours learning how to make dim sum with a professional chef at Easy 123 Dining & Cooking Studio at K11 Art Mall in Tsim Sha Tsui.

We visited for a private Dim Sum Cooking Class and were taught how to make deep-fried spring rolls in a squid shape, adorable penguin dumplings and traditional shrimp dumplings.

All of the ingredients are already prepared, so you can concentrate on the fun bits.  The patient, friendly chefs are on hand to correct any misshapen dim sum, so the class really is suited to all cooking abilities.  Once the dim sum are cooked, you can sample your creations or take them home for later.

The Dim Sum Cooking Class costs 400 HKD per person and includes recipes, an apron, ingredients and refreshments.

Visit a Winery

The 8th Estate Winery on Ap Lei Chau Island is the first urban winery in Asia, bringing the world’s best grapes to Hong Kong.  The ultra-cool winery is housed in a warehouse building with neighbouring creative brands and artist studios in an up-and-coming part of Hong Kong.

As well as heavy-duty wine producing machines, the winery also features an atmospheric barrel room for private tastings and a fabulous outdoor garden terrace for parties, events and barbecues.

To produce the wine, grapes are harvested and flash frozen, then shipped to Hong Kong and produced at the winery.  The wine is then left to age in French and American oak barrels.

The 8th Estate Winery hosts special tours and a number of events throughout the year including yoga classes.  When visiting, be sure to leave a few spare hours to visit the nearby Horizon Plaza designer shopping outlet – you won’t want to miss it.

For more things to do in Hong Kong, visit: www.discoverhongkong.com

Cherie Soleil, Cruises, Sicily, Tours

A Day in Trapani, Sicily

On my recent Silversea Mediterranean cruise, we docked for one day in Trapani, Sicily, and what better way to spend a lazy Sunday than at an olive oil farm in the countryside.

Our Panoramic Trapani and Olive Oil Tasting Tour took us on a short tour around Trapani’s harbour.  Our guide explained about the city’s fishing industry and pointed out the Ligny Tower, built by Prince di Ligny in 1671.

We then drove along the salt road towards Paceco to Fontanasalsa, an olive oil farm and charming bed and breakfast owned by Mrs Burgherella.

Walking through the olive trees and bougainvillea, we were greeted in the courtyard by one of our hosts singing traditional Sicilian folk songs with a guitar from a top window.

After short time perking up with an espresso or a glass of chilled mineral water in the orange garden, we were taken on a tour of the olive oil factory and talked through the pressing process.

In the beautiful converted barn dining room, we tasted four different olive oils served with freshly-baked bread and coarse sea salt.

This was followed by a stunning lunch of Sicilian delicacies and local wine.  We helped ourselves to plates of traditional lasagne, tomato and basil pasta, local cheeses, rice salad, roasted vegetables, olive tapenade and caponata.  All of the dishes were tasty and beautifully-prepared, plus we got to try some ice cream made with olive oil for dessert.

While munching away, we were serenaded with Sicilian folk songs and all ended up having a jolly sing-along.  We picked up some bottles of olive oil and tapenade from the small shop before the coach took us back to the port.

I spent a short time wandering around Trapani’s pretty streets and the town’s central beach before boarding the Silverwind.  Trapani was very quiet on a Sunday, so the olive oil farm excursion was a great way to spend the day and a perfect, idyllic Sicilian experience.

Silversea’s Silver Wind departs on 9th August 2014 for a 9-day cruise from Venice to Rome and prices start from $4,450 per person.  Calling at Venice, Koper, Split, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Sorrento and Rome.  For more information and booking, visit:www.silversea.com / tel: 0844 251 0837

Chérie City was a guest of Silversea

All photos by Chérie City

Hong Kong, Tours

Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tour: Central & Sheung Wan

When travelling, it can be difficult to find really good, reputable spots to enjoy tasty, authentic local food.  Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours are therefore a great way to find these hidden gems and sample their signature dishes, without the research, hassle or getting lost along the way.

We took a foodie tour of Central & Sheung Wan on our first full day in Hong Kong, which was a great start to the trip, immersing ourselves in the sights, sounds and smells of the districts.

Our excellent tour guide Silvana showed us how to eat like locals, introducing small independent, family-run eateries that aren’t on the tourist trail.

We arrived to meet the tour group at The L Place at 2.15pm, having just enjoyed a Dim Sum lunch at Duddell’s in Central.  With already full stomachs, we were daunted by the prospect of more food, but luckily the included taster dishes were spread over 3 hours 45 minutes with plenty of walking in between.  The amount of food offered at each stop is generous, so you can make the tour a late lunch or have a very light snack before.

Our first stop was the nearby Tsim Chai Kee Noodle for a hearty bowl of King Prawn Wonton Noodle.  This informal, subterranean canteen is known for its excellent, budget wonton noodles and it attracts a queue everyday for lunch.  It was recommended in the 2010 Michelin Guide and focuses on just six house dishes, including Fish Ball Noodle and Fresh Sliced Beef Noodle.

We were served a large bowl of steamed, silky king prawn wontons and slim noodles in a perfectly seasoned, comforting broth.  It was one of the best wonton noodles I’ve ever tasted and an unbelievable bargain at  just HK $20 (around £1.60).  I recommend making Tsim Chai Kee Noodle part of your itinerary for a light and affordable lunch that will leave you with enough spending money for evening cocktails.

After a short walk uphill, we visited Lung Kee Restaurant for their house speciality, Barbecued Pork Rice.  The tiny, no-frills restaurant is attached to a speciality meat shop, where barbecued duck, goose and pork are sold.  Lung Kee also produces barbecued meat for a number of restaurants in Hong Kong, who favour its slow-cooked, fatty meats.

Lung Kee’s barbecue pork is very succulent and juicy, with a honeyed sweetness on the edges and the plain steamed rice lets the flavours of the pork stand out.  It’s a great place for a quick barbecued meat fix when in Central.

On the way to our next stop, Silvana talked us through the fresh produce at the open market on Gage Street, introducing us to Asian vegetables such as winter melon and locally-popular fish.  We also stopped outside a shop selling dried seafood such as scallops, oysters, abalone and even shark fin (surprisingly easy to find in Hong Kong).  As expected, the smell from the shop was rather pungent and happily there was no sampling there!

By now, we were ready to cool down at Kung Lee Sugar Cane Juice.  Opened in 1948, the old-fashioned, family-run shop serves sugar cane juice fresh from the press and is also known for its turtle herbal jelly.  Sugar cane juice is refreshing, light and very sweet, plus it has an impressive number of health benefits, from aiding digestion to warding off flu.

Feeling revived from the sugar cane juice, we headed to Sheung Wan and walked past Man Mo Temple and the many independent boutiques and cafes.  We visited Tea Studio, a haven for tea-lovers that could easily be missed from the busy street.

Tea master Ivan Chiu offered us a welcome drink of green tea before we had a tasting of different kinds of tea.  He explained the origins and character of different teas and how Chinese people select a tea depending on their body’s needs.  He told us that green tea cools the body, while Oolong is good for digestion and white tea benefits the skin.

He answered all of our tea-related questions and then performed a traditional tea ceremony, which we were all invited to try ourselves.  It was a fun, educational part of the tour and all foodie tour guests are offered 20% off all purchases.  I bought some exquisite Iron Buddha Oolong tea to take home and it came presented in a red box and little canvas tote bag – perfect as a souvenir or gift.

It was then time to indulge again at nearby Dim Sum Square.  We tried a selection of Dim Sum including Har Gao (shrimp dumplings), Siu Mai (pork dumplings), Jaa Chun Guen (spring rolls) and Char Siu Bao (crispy BBQ pork bun).  The Dim Sim was pretty good for a cheap lunch on the go, but I found the sugar-dusted Char Siu Bao a little too sweet.

For a light dessert, we headed on to Hei Lee Cake Shop for a delicious Daan Taat (egg tart), warm and fresh from the oven.  This petite Chinese pastry shop also offers savoury and sweet buns, biscuits and filled pastries that are baked daily on the premises.

The Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tour is a fun, active way to discover Hong Kong’s foodie spots.  The tour leaflet also includes a list of recommended restaurants serving authentic Chinese food to visit at leisure.

The Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tour: Central & Sheung Wan is priced at HK $690 for Grown-up Foodies (age 15 and above) and HK$490 for Young Foodies (age 5-14).  For more information and booking, visit: www.hongkongfoodietours.com

Chérie City was a guest of Hong Kong Tourism Board

All photos by Chérie City

Art, Beijing, Tours

798 Art District – Beijing, China

798 Art District is one of Beijing’s most exciting sights and is a leafy, low-key alternative to the city’s vertiginous skyscrapers and futuristic glass buildings.

Part of the Dashanzi area in Beijing’s Chaoyang District, 798 has a laid-back village atmosphere with quiet tree-lined streets, an abundance of art galleries, intriguing street art, public sculptures, cool terrace cafes and international restaurants.  It feels like the perfect place to come on the weekend for brunch and a leisurely stroll in the sun.  I’d love to say that it’s a hidden gem, but in fact 798 is the third most visited sight in Beijing.

To see the very best of the art district, Bespoke Beijing organised a 4-hour private tour with art expert Sophie McKinnon.  We visited a number of prominent art galleries including the expansive 798 Space Gallery, Long March Space and UCCA (China’s largest privately funded art museum).  Sophie also pointed out interesting street art and told us the story behind 798 and how it exists today.

798 began as an art community in 2001 when artists moved in to the neighbourhood and set up studios in former military factories, including Factory 798 which originally produced electronics.  Many of the galleries have preserved the Maoist slogans and the original features of the factories, creating a unique backdrop for the artworks.

Following a boom period in 2007 when 798 became the coolest, most creative place to be, many artists were priced out of their studios and no longer work there.  However, a handful of commercially successful artists can still be found working from the art scene that they built up from the ground.

As a special part of the tour, Sophie took us to meet artist Zhao Bandi in his studio.  The Beijing-born artist became internationally known for his provocative works featuring China’s national symbol, the panda.  Responding to the rise of consumerism in China, Zhao Bandi turned himself into a brand through performance art, blurring the lines between fiction and his own life.

One of his most controversial works was the Bandi Panda Fashion Show at Palais de Toyko in Paris, featuring models dressed in his signature panda designs representing social groups and issues in China, including the mistress, the corrupted government worker, the beggar and the escort service girl.  Critics lashed out at Bandi for supposedly airing the country’s dirty laundry in a foreign country and disgracing the proud nation, but he remained undeterred.

Bandi was preparing for the premiere of his new film Let Panda Fly when we visited his studio, Bandi Panda House.  Less dividing than his previous work, the film tells the real-life story of creative children encouraged to make their own panda art to raise money for charity.

Meeting Zhao Bandi and discussing the Chinese art scene with him was the highlight of a brilliant art tour.  When visiting Beijing, put the 798 Art District at the very top of your itinerary.

For more information on the 798 & Artist Studio Tour by Bespoke Beijing, visit: www.bespoke-beijing.com

Art, Philadelphia, Tours

Philadelphia Mural Art Tour

A tour of Philadelphia’s fascinating mural art is an absolute must, to get a glimpse of the city’s home-grown creativity.

There are over 3000 murals in Philadelphia, telling the stories of the communities, scenes from everyday Philly life and paying homage to prominent historical figures.

The Mural Arts Program began in 1984 as an initiative to combat graffiti, headed up by then Mayor Wilson Goode.  Muralist Jane Golden reached out to graffiti writers and encouraged them to channel their creativity and energy into painting murals to beautify the neighbourhoods.

Our tour guide Jerry, of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, picked us up in a big silver van outside PAFA for an afternoon of mural spotting.

We visited mural sites in West and North Philadelphia, including many residential areas that are definitely off the beaten track.  The murals we saw depicted the city’s love of baseball, the influence of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and geometric, non-figurative patterns in predominantly Islamic areas.

A particularly touching mural was ‘Alex’s Lemonade Stand’ – a tribute to young Alex Scott who set up a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research at the local hospital before sadly losing her own battle to cancer.

Producing a mural is a dedicated process; the Mural Arts Program receives over 1000 applications per year and just 100 are granted.  Some are financed by donors, however, many are sponsored by corporations giving back to Philly.  I asked Jerry if working with corporate giants affects the grass-roots philosophy of murals, but he had a more straightforward approach – whoever pays, the community benefits from the support.

Once the wall is approved and prepped, murals are either painted directly onto the wall or painted onto parachute cloth in a studio and then transferred onto the wall.  Once the mural is complete, the residents celebrate at all-day block parties with music, food, performances and activities for children.

The Mural Arts Program offers a number of public and private mural art tours, including the guided group tour lasting 2 hours.

For more, visit: www.muralarts.org and www.philadelphiausa.travel

Market, Philadelphia, Tours

Things To Do In Philadelphia

Philadelphia is one of East Coast America’s most vibrant cities, with a remarkably thriving art scene.  Steeped in monumental American history, Pennsylvania’s largest city is full of colonial charm.

Whether it’s tax-free shopping on chic Walnut and Chestnut Street, exploring the cultural institutions on ‘Museum Mile’ or strolling around the quirky, leafy downtown neighbourhoods, Philadelphia has something for all.

There is something honest and unpretentious about Philadelphia and the city has its own strong sense of identity.  With a thrilling dining scene, Pennsylvania Dutch influences and a forward-thinking approach to community art, Philadelphia really is the city of the moment.

Here are a few ‘must sees’ to add to your Philadelphia itinerary…

LOVE Park

LOVE Park (officially named John F. Kennedy Plaza) is the perfect place to chill out in the aptly named ‘City of Brotherly Love’.  At the foot of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the park is home to pop artist Robert Indiana’s iconic Love sculpture, which was first placed there in 1976.  It can be tempting to jump right into the clear blue fountain on a hot summer’s day.

Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell is Philadelphia’s most treasured piece of history – an iconic symbol of American independence, dating back to 1752.  The Liberty Bell was cast in London’s East End at Whitechapel Foundary and was then shipped over to America and placed in the former Pennsylvania State House.

The bell cracked on its first ring and had to be recast twice by local artisans.  Since 2003, the bell has been housed in The Liberty Bell Center.  A part of the leafy Independence National Park, the Liberty Bell is surrounded by historical monuments including Independence Hall, Carpenters’ Hall, National Constitution Center, First Bank of the United States.

Try to avoid peak times when visiting Independence National Park, as there are often queues to view the Liberty Bell.

Reading Terminal Market

Foodies will be in heaven at Reading Terminal Market – it really is that good.  The huge indoor market in the Convention Center district offers fresh local produce and mouth-watering street food, including the iconic Philly Cheesesteak and hoagies.  Try Obama’s cheesesteak of choice at Carmen’s (if you can handle the queue) followed by an ice cream from Bassetts, where the President picked up dessert.

It’s also the best place to sample authentic Pennsylvania Dutch food, as Amish vendors sell their delectable baked goods, gourmet deli sandwiches, farm-fresh juices and dairy products and preserves.

Rittenhouse Square

Rittenhouse Square is Philadelphia’s ‘posh park’, lined with high end restaurants, boutiques and the five star Rittenhouse Hotel.  Luckily, I was in town at the right time to visit the annual Rittenhouse Row Festival, sprawling over six blocks of Walnut Street.  Philadelphia’s best restaurants pitch up around Rittenhouse Square and offer small plates of their signature dishes and street food snacks, such as Kobe beef hotdogs, steak sliders and pulled pork tacos.  I followed the smoke from the grill and ordered the most incredibly delicious burger from Marathon for just $6.

There’s a great, chilled out party atmosphere with live music, DJs and outdoor bars and activities for families inside the park.  It’s a great way to try dishes from Philadelphia’s coolest dining spots with a more modest price tag and no reservations needed.

Italian Market

On the same baking hot Saturday, Philadelphia’s Italian community was hosting its own block party, the annual South 9th Street Italian Market Festival.  There were stalls offering all of the authentic Italian street food you could think of – meatball platters, cannolis, pizza, Philadelphia’s famous Tomato Pie and thankfully…gelato!  I cooled down with a refreshing Limoncello Sorbet.

A visit to the Italian Market is a must for foodies in Philadelphia.  Look out for the original family-run Di Bruno Bros, Isgro’s pasticceria and Claudio Speciality Foods.

Antique shopping on Pine Street

Pine Street is one of those picture perfect, tree-lined streets that make you fall in love with East Coast America.  Known as Antique Row, Pine Street is home to a number of dealers selling fine art, antiques, oriental carpets, rare and new books, furniture and vintage clothing.  It’s the place to pick up a collectible piece or just enjoy a stroll along one of Phildelphia’s prettiest streets.

See The Phillies

Baseball is a big deal in Philadelphia, so why not go and see The Phillies play at Citizens Bank Park.  Grab a hot dog and a beer and watch Philadelphia’s team play, or take a look behind the scenes with a tour of the ballpark.

Philadelphia Big Bus Tour

There’s no better start to a city break than taking a bus tour.  They’re a quick and comfortable way to get your bearings and become acquainted with the main sights, while finding out the history behind the city by local experts.  The Philadelphia Big Bus Tour all the way from the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art to Penn’s Landing with lots of monuments and neighbourhoods in between.  Best of all, the buses are hop on hop off and open-top, so you can enjoy the warm weather.

For more exciting things to do in Philadelphia, visit: www.philadelphiausa.travel

British Airways offer three nights at the 4* Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia from £749 per person based on September 2012 departures.  Includes return British Airways flights from Heathrow and accommodation only.  For reservations visit ba.com/philadelphia or call 0844 493 0758

Films, New York, Tours, USA

Sex And The City Hotspots Tour, New York

Sex and the City is the ultimate guide to New York’s coolest spots.  The TV series has put Pastis, Magnolia Bakery and The Coffee Shop on the international radar and we all know if we’re a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or Miranda.  But would you know your Blue Water Grill from your Buddakan?

Sex and the City Hotspots by On Location Tours tests even the most die-hard SATC fans and uncovers local secrets from the show that SJP and co would never share.

We met the lovely tour guide Emily Sproch at Pulitzer Fountain next to The Plaza and boarded a great big tour bus to begin our 3.5 hour SATC adventure.  Emily is the kind of cool New York girl and fellow blogger that you’d want to have in your gang – check out her blog, Almost Carrie.  Emily had us captivated from the start and she was no shrinking violet when it came to the sex scenes (it’s definitely an adult tour).

The Plaza was a good starting point, as it was where Big and Natasha a.k.a. ‘idiot stick figure with no soul’ had their engagement party and Carrie said those famous words, ‘your girl’s lovely, Hubble’.  We then drove down 5th avenue, known as the ‘Charlotte’ part of town.  Uptown haunts included Bergdorf Goodman where the girls shop in SATC2 and Tiffany & Co, where Trey officially proposed to Charlotte and she said ‘alrighty’.

This was where Emily told us about the major blooper on the the opening credits of Sex and the City.  I’ll leave it up to On Location Tours to reveal the big, glaring continuity error, but it’s unbelievable that I hadn’t spotted it after watching the sequence thousands of times!

We watched short clips on the TV screens while driving past spots such as The Little Church Around the Corner where Samantha lusted after Friar Fuck, the Union Square Dog Park where Charlotte’s dog Elizabeth Taylor got gang banged and Blue Water Grill – the location of Charlotte’s date with the aggressive wasp guy.

Our first stop was the Pleasure Chest, the infamous home of the Rabbit vibrator.  Run by cool hipster guys and filled with the Rolls Royce of sex toys, the Pleasure Chest looked much larger and naughtier on screen.

Our second stop was Buddakan, the chic Asian fusion restaurant in the Meatpacking District where Carrie and Big held their wedding rehearsal dinner.

It was then all about the West Village for half an hour of shopping on Bleecker Street, followed by a round of Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, courtesy of On Location Tours.

We shopped at Marc Jacobs’ cool Bookmarc store and took pictures of Magnolia Bakery, where Carrie and Miranda sat to eat a cupcake and gossip about Steve and Aidan (thus sparking a global cupcake trend).

Luckily for us, New York traffic made the driver take a cheeky diversion, turning left down Perry Street and driving directly past Carrie’s apartment building!  Access to this quiet residential street is usually forbidden to the tour buses, protecting the privacy of the neighbours, but just this once wasn’t a problem.

To wash down the cupcakes, we stopped with a Cosmopolitan at Onieals Speakeasy, also known as Steve and Aidan’s bar, SCOUT.  Researchers for the show spent a lot of time hunting down an authentic New York bar that a craftsman like Aidan would own.  Onieals was a perfect find, as the ornate ceiling is carved from wood.  Apparently, the Onieals sign was accidentally included in a shot in the series, so look closely and you can see it make an appearance.

We also drove past the art gallery where Charlotte worked for many years, Louis K. Meisel Gallery.  In the show, Charlotte left her job at the gallery to have a baby, cure AIDS and glaze a bowl at the Pottery Barn, but this wasn’t exactly the case in ‘real life’.  Allegedly the increasing demands from the gallery, reaching $38,000 per day for filming, put a halt to her creative career.

Towards the end of the tour, we passed Hotel Giraffe, where we stayed the night before.  The SATC connection was that the penthouse featured as Big and Carrie’s apartment in SATC: The Movie 2.  Surprisingly, Hotel Giraffe didn’t mention their involvement in the movie, but perhaps they’re trying to avoid legions of fans pitching up in the lobby.

The last location monument was the New York Library, the venue for Carrie and Big’s planned wedding, before his moment of doubt ended in being bashed by her bridal bouquet.  The tour then ended at the HBO Store in Midtown, where you could buy SATC merchandise as a reminder of the tour.

Other hotspots along the way included Pastis, DVF, the pretzel park, Tortilla Flats, Cowgirl Hall of Fame, Cipriani Downtown, ABC Carpet (where Trey and Bunny test the beds) and Sushi Samba – home to Samantha’s Richard Wright put-down, “dirty martini, dirty bastard”.

The Sex and the City Hotspots Tour was as exciting, authentic, girly and indulgent as I could have hoped for.  It’s an absolute must for SATC fans and an alternative way to see the city.

For more info, visit: www.onlocationtours.com and www.nycgo.com

All photos by Cherie City

Cherie City was a guest of On Location Tours and NYC GO.