Christie's is one of two internationally famous auction houses, the other being Sotheby's. Only clients of the auction house seem to be aware of the beautiful and varied works of art you can see at the auction house galleries. Both in the St. James and South Kensington offices you are free to walk in, browse the pre-sale exhibitions with no charge - and, fear not, there's no obligation to buy.
Christie's on King Street holds fantastic modern art, impressionist art and British art sales, as well as countless furniture and jewellery sales.
In South Kensington it's all a little more light-hearted with pop memorabilia, sporting memorabilia, musical instruments, clocks and house sales where you can often pick up good antique furniture bargains.
South Kensington is also famous for its drop-in valuations, so if there's something on your wall, in your attic or basement that you've always wondered about, take it to Christie's for a free valuation.
They're quieter than museums, and somehow much more personal. No ropes or screens to keep you back.
Their website will tell you what's coming up and when. And if you have time, attend an auction - the bigger sales at Christie's are fascinating to watch. Just don't twitch, stretch or fix your hair.
Christie's auction house, King St, St James and Old Brompton Road, South Kensington.
As the door of the room swung open, there it was. The bed. The most enormous bed I've ever seen. Forget the Pelourinho, forget Salvador, forget Brazil even. I just wanted the bed. It was delicious. A great plain of white sheets. I didn't see my boyfriend all night.
To be fair, I was sold on the hotel just with the image of that bed. Yes, there was a pool, and it was in the heart of the Pelourinho, and you could have breakfast at any time. Any time. Four in the afternoon if you so desired. But the bed. There was nowhere else to go. I don't have a bed fetish (well actually I sort of do, is anywhere finer?) but I had slept for two months on the worst mattress, it was as effective as putting a yoga mat on pallets. I'm sure its limp foam still holds the imprint of my discomfort.
Casa do Amarelindo is a French owned boutique hotel, right in the Pelourinho of Salvador. The Pelourinho is the 'old district' of Salvador, now a World Heritage site. It's goes for all your senses - the sounds of samba and bossa nova, the smell of fresh oranges and sandalwood, the coloured colonial houses, the cobbled streets and squares accommodating street peddlers and capoeiristas... it's a fascinating city. You can still breath the dark history of colonial Brazil and its murky past of slavery, but also feel the culture that was ignited as a result of the European and African fusion. The music, dance, religion and food of Salvador are all products of this meeting of cultures.
Casa do Amarelindo is a perfect boutique B&B. It is in keeping with the colonial style, but benefiting from the elegance of it's French owners. It has a fantastic restaurant, two terraces, a small pool (you will need this, even in winter Salvador is hot) and most rooms have a view over the bay. The bay of Salvador is more industrial than the word 'bay' evokes (don't go imagining the Mediterranean riviera) but the view is still impressive.
The rooms are all spacious, not all have the immense bed, you'll have to ask for it! The French owners are delightful, they've really sunk in to Salvador, embracing it, whilst bringing their European standards to the table. They have an instinct for what guests want - hence the all day breakfast offer and the ability to have breakfast wherever you want in the hotel. Also they have double glazing - which you need in the Pelourinho, the music doesn't stop. These touches really make it stand out.
The staff are really wonderful - genuinely kind, always happy to go that little bit further for you. Many of them were involved in the initial construction of the hotel.
Condor Airlines do good cheap rates to Salvador, via Germany, so get onto it. Within hours you could be by the pool, sipping caipirinha, eating gorgonzola and banana toasts, listening to the rhythms of Gilberto Gil. Then you, or two of you, or even three of you, can sleep like octopuses.
The Nicoya Peninsula is on the west coast of Costa Rica, famous for it's beaches and surf. The south of the peninsula is dotted with small surf towns, generally the vibe is typical surf culture, very relaxed and low-key, more rustic than plush.
In Mal Pais I'd recommend Casa Colina. It's great value and good for either a couple or single traveller. I stayed as a single traveller and met some memorable people there. It only has six rooms, all rustic in style, but very clean and a good size. It's owners, Ari & Dave (German and American) are very friendly hosts. Ari will take you horse-riding, Dave runs the surf school, and both make fantastic breakfasts. There's only one table, so all guests eat together which creates a unique atmosphere. It's about a three minute walk to the beach (fantastic surf, ask Dave about where to swim) and five minutes into the small town. There is a plethora of fantastic restaurants - don't go judging them by the furniture ... the food was an amazingly high standard. Ask Ari to book you a massage (there's a place almost on the beach near to the B&B, so you can hear the waves while letting the post-surf lesson aches and pains melt away) and also do the zip wire - it gets you up above the tree tops and gets the nerves a little jangly too.
The beaches are beautiful and not at all crowded. Although don't leave anything unattended. Even flipflops. You'll notice people bury their flipflops in the sand so they don't get permanently borrowed.
Further up the hill from Casa Colina (which literally means 'house on the hill') is the Argentine restaurant which is a perfect sundowner. Spectacular views over the sea and delicious coolers.
Last word - don't go to Casa Colina if steps aren't your thing. Do go if your bottom could do with a little more tone.
San Jose in Costa Rica tends to be a one-night, pass-through, get me out to the beach/volcanoes/rainforest quick kind of place. But, in Santa Ana, which is a suburb of San Jose, there is a perfect boutique B&B to use as a pit-stop while covering the rest of Costa Rica. Owned by Rita and Steve, originally from Michigan, Casa Bella Rita is far enough from the city to relax, but near enough to airports for zipping around.
They have just five colourful and spacious rooms, a small swimming pool and great views, but the key to this place is the hosts. Rita and Steve are like friends of friends in the first 10 minutes. And after that, like your friends. They'll cook for you, take you to dinner, take you and pick you up from the airport, recommend or warn you about local sights.
It's a lovely stop-over for one or two nights, or use as incredibly handy base while in Costa Rica. Nearly all travel goes through San Jose, so there's something special about dropping back into the same place after a few days in the Nicoya or Osa peninsula, or the Caribbean or Central Pacific coasts. Fly NatureAir for a super quick, super cheap way to get around. They are a carbon neutral airline so you will be assuaged of your guilt.
It's not cheap at $100 per night, but if you can work it into your budget then do. I'd be surprised if you found anywhere nicer in San Jose.
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