Guest post by Hajusuuri
I recently spent 3 weeks traveling around Europe (and technically, one day in Asia). Inspired by Lucas’ account of his vacation, I asked him if he would be open to a guest post by his Reader of the Year. Well, the stars certainly aligned and you will find out why in an upcoming perfume review. So enough of the teaser and onto Perfume & Travel, following Hajusuuri’s Steps!
Cruising: Eastern Mediterranean
Have you ever been on a cruise? Before I went on my first one, I wondered how it would feel being stuck on a ship and having a fixed and limited itinerary. Now with three cruises under my belt, I can unequivocally declare: You cannot beat a cruise to cover large distances and multiple stops – unpack once, live in a floating 5-star hotel with 24 x 7 amenities and travel first class. What’s not to love? This year, I visited Turkey and Greece as part of an 11-day Eastern Mediterranean cruise, my third cruise in 3 years and I have already booked my next one!
Here are highlights from the cruise:
- From the serenity of the Blue Mosque to the frenzy of the Spice Market, such is the divergent nature of Istanbul, Turkey, the only city in the world that straddles Europe and Asia. The view of the city from the Bosphorus Strait was simply spectacular!
- The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as The Blue Mosque, was built over 400 years ago and is still an active mosque. The interior is lined with 20,000 blue tiles, hence the nickname. Our tour guide was very informative and explained the cleansing rituals a Muslim goes through to prepare himself for entering the mosque and praying.
- The Topkaki Palace, normally closed on a Monday, was opened to accommodate travelers from our cruise and I was able to enjoy relative calm while visiting this centuries old royal palace, the harem and 3 rooms of ceremonial objects and eye-popping jewels. I’ll never look at a “pendant” the same way again.
- The Hagia Sophia, built starting 537 A.D., had undergone structural and iconographic transformation over the centuries with changes to the religions it supported. It is in perpetual repair and is now a museum. This was the first time I’ve seen Roman Catholic / Christian icons prominently represented alongside Muslim symbolisms.
- Ephesus is THE BEST archeological site in the entire world. Ephesus, once a busy commercial seaport until it was silted over 3x, is now 6 miles inland. It is the most awe-inspiring pile of rocks. The Terrace Houses were a testament to how the ancient Greeks lived and how sophisticated they were – they had running water way back then!
- In Athens, the grandeur of the Acropolis and the Parthenon were apparent despite both undergoing extensive repairs. I also visited The National Archeological Museum (well-curated) and The New Acropolis Museum with its fabulous display of the Parthenon Frieze.
- Santorini is the quintessential Greek Island with heart-stopping views, nature-cut cliffs, turquoise blue water and blue domed white churches. There were lots of photo ops here!
Perfume Shopping Cruising and the Eastern Mediterranean – the ship had a duty free shop with a sad selection of the same old perfume (time to get a new buyer!). At one of the port stops, I saw a dusty box with the classic LV pattern for €5; ummm, I don’t think so. The Spice Market in Istanbul had a few perfume shops, but the entire venue was too crowded and I left empty-handed.
On My Own: Venice, London and Paris
Armed with Rick Steves’ guidebooks, maps, transportation passes and trusty footwear, I navigated Venice, London and Paris, got lost a lot but managed to get to the desired destinations.
From the time I left the airport on a water-taxi to my entire short stay in Venice, I did not see one car, truck, bus…no motorized vehicles of any kind, which was perfectly fine, were Venice not overrun by tourists…but then again, I was one of them! The weather was absolutely gorgeous, if a bit hot, but it is August after all and I was thankful that it was dry, as I don’t think I could have dealt well with rain and flooded streets. It was very easy to get lost in Venice, as many of the streets look the same with similar stores – all selling some type of Murano glass or snacks and cold drinks.
The Hotel Bauer was a very convenient and comfortable place to call home for two nights. It’s located centrally, just a short walk from historic St. Mark’s Square, and within spitting distance of the high-end stores – Louis Vuitton! Prada! Bottega Veneta! Burberry! Hermes! Chanel!
I visited many of the notable Venetian sights and museums, including St. Mark Square with the throngs of people and pigeons, a zip through St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Correr Museum, Campanile with 360-degree view of Venice and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum (thanks to Portia Turbo’s recommendation). I also walked to the Rialto area, over the Rialto Bridge and its shops.
Perfume Shopping in Venice – Since I did not have much time and the streets were a spaghetti-like maze, I decided to go where my feet led me in between the sightseeing. While I peeped in on several perfumeries, the only one I stopped in to smell the perfumes was Profumeria Franco (Ponte di Rialto, 5334). Profumeria Franco has its own line of fragrance, packaged in gorgeous Murano glass atomizers. Alas, while the perfumes were good, they were not special enough for me to plunk down €125 to almost €300 for a pretty bottle.
Having visited London previously as part of a tour group took the pressure off of the “must do”. This time around, I was the boss of me and made all the decisions. One of the nice things about having no specific itinerary is that you get to decide where to go, what to do depending upon the weather and your mood and remain flexible as you strategize the best time to avoid or minimize waiting time.
Here are highlights:
- The State Rooms of Buckingham Palace are only open for visitors in August and September, when the Queen is out of town. The theme of this year’s tour (and perhaps it’s the same theme every year) is Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. The audio tour was very well done and kept visitors moving along. I, of course, wanted to visit my money’s worth and lingered for as long as I can, marveling at the Royal Collection and architectural details; there’s probably CCTV footage of me caressing some parts of doors and banisters that were not covered by Plexiglas.
- Houses of Parliament was the only site for which I arranged a timed ticket before I left for my trip. With Parliament in recess in August and September, tours provide the only way to peek behind the scenes. Security here was very tight. A word to those tempted to bring a Swiss Army knife (or the like) to, maybe clean your fingernails – don’t; it will just delay your entry and cause you to have to retrieve it at the end of the tour.
- Westminster Abbey is not just “another blasted cathedral”. It is steeped in 10 centuries of English history. With over 3,000 tombs and memorials of kings, queens, poets, scientists, etc., it is also quite possibly the largest mausoleum. Note to self: Attend one of the services next time.
- Tower of London / Crown Jewels – I got there early enough to miss the throngs and I had time to ooh aah and gawk over the ceremonial coronation items, crowns and finally the Imperial State Crown. At the end of the tour, there’s a video of the Imperial State Crown being transported to the Tower as well as the actual cases used. I joined a Beefeater tour (free with admission), a one-hour entertaining tour led by retired officers of the armed forces.
- Victoria & Albert Museum is one of the best decorative arts museums in the world. On this visit, I spent the most time in the Fashion Gallery, Glassware and Ceramics and marveled at the Raphael Tapestry Cartoons. The V&A Café was beautifully refurbished but the food was terrible.
- The Saints Alive Special Exhibit at the National Gallery was a treat for young and old. There were seven interactive sculptures of saints and a memorable scene or event from their life; beware of moving parts and the racket! The exhibit will be there until November 24, 2013.
- YO! Sushi – okay this is not a sight nor is it unique, I just found eating there so amusing I had to include it here. As the name implies, it is primarily a sushi restaurant. You sit around or near the bar with a conveyor belt on which are different colored plates with all sorts of small appetizer-size appetizers, main dish, side dish or dessert. As they pass within reach, you decide if you want to have it as part of your meal and take it off the conveyor belt. You can also order a la carte. Just about everything looked appetizing but I had to be careful so as not to end up £50 lighter and 5 pounds heavier!
Perfume Shopping in London
Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly) – Knock me over with a feather! I went to Fortnum & Mason to buy tea biscuits and was surprised that it is actually a full-fledged department store complete with a PERFUME section on Floor 2! In contrast with Harrods’ Perfume Hall, it was serene and dignified and the SAs did not approach unless requested. The Roja Dove counter was closest to the elevators and as I had never tried any, I had fun smelling several; my favorites were Risque and Diaghilev. Clive Christian was also prominently featured as well as Caron and Atelier Cologne! Amouage, on the other hand, was relegated to the bottom shelf of a freestanding display situated near the back corner. I did not buy any perfume here but will be enjoying lemon curd and chocolate & orange biscuits, while listening to Pomp & Circumstance from my collectible music box biscuit tin. Note to self: must visit again and/or go to Bergdorf’s to smell the best of the rest.
Santa Maria Novella (1 Piccadilly Arcade) – I stumbled upon this store as I was walking down Piccadilly looking for Old Bond St. The store was uninviting, with all the perfumes behind glass and a very bored-looking SA seated behind the counter. The only perfume I tried was Vaniglia. The scent was gorgeous but because it is only available in 100 mLs, I left without purchasing anything.
Ormonde Jayne Boutique (12 Royal Arcade at 28 Old Bond St.) – I actually had difficulty finding this place because I inadvertently read the address as “12 Old Bond St.” and could not believe that it would be located in the upper floor of a drab gray building. When I finally found the tiny boutique, there was no SA in sight but there must be a camera somewhere as she appeared within a few seconds of my arrival! I was able to experience Ormonde Jayne’s Four Corners of the Earth line. I had no intention of buying 100 mLs of anything, especially at the list price of this line. On a lark, I asked if there were travel sizes available of any of the Four Corners and lo and behold, press kit 10 mL travel sprays were available for a reasonable £25 each and this is how I ended up with 3 of them (Montabaco, Tsarina, Nawab of Oudh; I did not purchase Qi as it did not appeal to me). Score!
Harrods Perfume Hall – Overly bright lights, aggressive SAs, I couldn’t wait to get out of it the moment I entered. Enough said.
Waterloo Station – This was by far my favorite Tube station and it happened to be near my hotel. Not only is it bright and clean, it has connections to many rail lines and has all sorts of stores that stay open late. The main level is this humongous space where one has a line of sight from one end to the other. My eyes spied the familiar LUSH green, yellow and black logo and since I had been thinking of sampling the perfumes launched in 2012-2013, I decided to stop by. In a store that is smaller than my bedroom (and my bedroom is not huge), the very nice SA patiently prepared tester rounds of perfumes. I ended up purchasing a 10 mL bottle of Gorilla Devil’s Nightcap.
London Heathrow (Terminal 4) – Just as I was about to give up on finding my special airport perfume, I stumbled upon Rituals, a Netherlands-based Home & Body Cosmetics company. Besides recognizing the brand mentioned by an NST commenter, I found their display inviting. In addition to tester strips, there were accordion style fans sprayed with perfume so you can just wave the fan and get an idea of the how the perfume smells. I know that hard-core perfumistas strongly prefer testing on skin; however, I am not hardcore and that was good enough for me. I ended up with a coffret of Perfume Collection for Men. One last tidbit – according to the SA, Barneys will be carrying the Rituals line at the end of 2013! I’ll be sure to check it out then!
To indulge my inner perfumista, I made a last minute decision to take a Day Trip to Paris from London. I had one goal in mind and that was to leave Paris with a Bell Jar. The Eurostar train from St. Pancras International to Gare du Nord took a little over 2 hours, but because there is an hour time difference, it felt like it took longer.
The highlight of the non-perfume portion of the trip was my visit to Musee d’Orsay. The Musee d’Orsay houses French Art from where The Louvre leaves off in 1848 to 1914. The museum underwent significant renovation 2 years ago and the results are incredible. The Galerie des Impressionnistes on the fifth level was impressive (pun intended).
Perfume Shopping in Paris
Printemps (64, bd Haussmann) – The perfume section on the ground level was bright and airy and empty of customers at noon on a Thursday. The brands it carries are typical of higher end department stores in the U.S. but instead of counters with a collection of perfume brands, the perfumes are actually displayed on the walls, just like at Sephora. There were specialty counters, too, including Guerlain, Amouage, Robert Piguet and Acqua di Parma, among others. Sad to say, the Guerlain SAs were as snooty as could be and they lost a sale. Also, to my surprise, Printemps also carries a small selection of Serge Lutens Bell Jars…but since I was going to visit the Serge Lutens Mothership, I did not waste my time looking at them.
Musee du Parfum (Fragonard Perfume Museum) (9, rue Scribe) – I was lucky to arrive at this quaint little museum at the exact time that an English-language tour was starting. Highlights include a steam distiller, colorful perfume jars, advertising and a perfume organ. The tour ended at the shop (of course!) where we experienced a cornucopia of perfumes. I was not wowed by any of the scents, although the prices were reasonable. The museum is worth a visit even if you don’t take the free tour.
Galeries Lafayette (40, bd Haussmann) – The dome! The dome! This was Art Nouveau taken to new heights. The beauty floor was very classy but the counters were tightly squeezed together. I stopped by Guerlain specifically looking for this year’s limited edition Shalimar Ode à la Vanille Sur la Route du Mexique and the perfume gods smiled on me with the last one available! I had a fabulous lunch at the Lafayette Café on the 6thFloor with a view of Opera Garnier.
L’Artisan Parfumeur(2, rue de l’Amiral de Coligny) – One of the advantages of getting lost is that one discovers unexpected places. Trying to find my way to Serge Lutens at the Palais Royal, my non-existent navigational radar deposited me at L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Flagship Boutique, right next to the Louvre, just reopened after almost 2 weeks of renovation. It is a L’Artisan Parfumeur aficionado’s dream, with all the perfumes lined up for easy access to satisfy one’s olfactory desires. This flagship boutique location is also where Perfume Workshops are held, from a 1.5 hours (€30) Scent Discovery Workshop to the ultimate private 3.5 hours Create Your Own Fragrance Workshop for a mere €370 and you get to take home your own 50mL personal creation! I only spent a few minutes there as L’AP perfumes are easy to obtain in the U.S.
Serge Lutens (Jardins du Palais Royal, 142 Galerie de Valois) – Remember my non-existent navigational radar? I circled half the perimeter of The Louvre TWICE, twice people, despite asking for directions from several people, including a security guard at the Louvre! When I finally found the place, I heard the angels singing hallelujah. For an instant, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. Was the place closed? Everywhere around was a construction zone – all the stores I passed were shuttered and Serge Lutens itself was dark. I then realized that I had my sunglasses on and breathed a sigh of relief when the door opened. The marble interior, with its low, purple-hued lighting, made the space exude a certain aloofness. A circular staircase dominated the center of the room; I would have loved to climb it and see the master himself at work. There were several marble counters, atop which sets of bell jars were neatly lined up behind a tray of labeled pointy test strips dipped and ready to be sniffed. On display inside glass covered cabinets interspersed between the marble counters were the limited edition bell jars. I was hoping to see the Mandarine Mandarin Dragon Bell Jar, but it remained elusive. Despite being the only client at the moment (until another one arrived 10 minutes after me), I found myself speaking in a low voice. Finally, after cycling through all the test strips 3 times (the SA was very patient), I found my Bell Jar – Fourreau Noir!
I hope you enjoyed reading about the places I visited and perfume shopping. I did my best to look up location facts but any mistakes are mine alone. Unless otherwise noted, I took the pictures with a Canon Powershot SD 800 IS. If you wish to use any of the pictures, please contact me.
Thank you, Lucas, for allowing me to share my passions – Perfume and Travel!
Didn’t Hajusuuri have a marvelous trip!? It was a real pleasure to go virtual sighseeing with you!