“WE” are off to London Town…England that is!

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After a very brief few days in LA, it’s off to London to celebrate my 40…ish birthday and check out what’s new in one of my favorite cities in the world! London is very dear to me, I lived in London throughout my youth and went to grammar school at St. George School in Hanover Square where I was made to wear a red blazer, red shorts, striped white & red tie and red hat…I believe that’s where it all went pear shaped! When my father, Ronald Kass, was asked by the Beatles to be President and founder of Apple Records in the early 70′; we all moved to the lovely neighborhood know as Mayfair. My brother and I were very young and started living between Lugano, Switzerland and London. Even after my dad and his, then bride, Joan Collins moved back to LA, I continued my love affair with London for many years up to the present day. Through all these years I’ve cultivated amazing friendships in London that I continue to enjoy immensely and use as an excuse to pay the occasional visit.

I am particularly exited about this leg of the trip because I am using the website Airbnb for the first time (www.airbnb.com) and I’ve rented a lovely 1 bedroom apartment in Chelsea, one of my favorite neighborhood in London. I’ve been hearing about his new way of lodging for some time and I decided to take the leap and try it out; who knows…is this the death of my usual high priced hotel rooms? I’m also exited to fly one of my top 3 airlines in the world: British Airways (www.britishairways.com); This time around, I managed to get a free…ish business class trip with my American Express miles, even though the tax and luxury fee you have to pay on a miles ticket is pretty steep; even so…it’s a hell of a lot better than the standard $8000 plus you have to fork out for this kind of fare! So off i go for my favorite travel routine: cocktails, dinner, 2 movies, sleeping pill, sleep, breakfast and I’m in London! I’m flying the massive Airbus 380 for the first time, so I did my legwork (as I always do before traveling) and researched which is the best floor on this double decker-flying monster and which is the best seat I should get; as usual, I refer to www.seatguru.com to do the job. Top floor, window seat it is!

After a brief visit to the very un-impressive business class lounge at the new International Terminal at LAX, I’m ready to nestle into my fancy little cubical for the next 12 hours. The first thing I notice when I arrive to my seat, is that they are arranged in such a way that the person next to you is NOT facing the same direction as you are, as in all flights, but the opposite way; meaning, he’s next to you and facing you! We’re talking facing faces 2 feet away from one another. Now, I have two problems with this, first of all, I need to face the direction that the plane is flying towards, no flying backwards for my sister! Number two, it’s very uncomfortable and awkward having a perfect stranger so close to you trying not to stare you in the face; of course there is an electronic separator that you can raise once you reach 35,000 feet, which opens up a new set of issues of who will be the first to have the courage to raise the privacy wall. I definitely don’t like this layout at all! I try to break the ice with my neighbor with a few witty remarks, but apparently he was not amused and asked to be moved to another seat! All the better, now I don’t have to stare at “Mr. Humorless” and I can raise the separator without feeling rude. I thought my remarks were quite funny…oh well.

Not a moment after settling into my seat, I hear a voice from the cubical behind me: “Robert, is that you???”. I can’t believe it, it’s my dear friend Bob Semanovich, who just happens to be in the seat behind me…what a laugh! Bob and I go back a long time and I’m so exited to have all this time to catch up with him since we haven’t had a chance to visit in quite a while. Bob is a big shot in the music industry and I am pleased to hear that he is going to London for a big music festival at Wimbledon Stadium that his company is organizing and even more exited that he will give me two tickets to the event…I guess I’ll have to fit that in my very busy London schedule somehow! All right, enough pleasantries with Bob, we both want to pop a pill, sink into our flat beds and sleep our way to London…ZZZZZZZZZ.

 

 

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British Airways’ flying monster Airbus A 380

 

 

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BA’s weird business class layout with facing seats

 

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The very comfortable business class cubicles on the Airbus 380

 

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My surprise traveling neighbor Bob Semanovich

 

We are just about to land and I’m anxious to see my new Airbnb “flat” in Chelsea. After a short 45-minute Uber ride (these people are everywhere!!!) I arrive art the flat to meet Alessandro, the landlord; I am happy to say that this place meets all my expectations; a charming classic English 1 bedroom apartment with lots of light, a lovely terrace for my afternoon tea (that will never happen…) a fully equipped new kitchen and a very comfortable bed. The location is perfect, just in the mix of things and e few Uber pounds away from my social neck of the woods. I settle in, unpack my 15 outfits for my English stay…yes, you need lots of outfits when socializing in London, lots of fashion rules, fashion snobs, mandatory suits or dinner jackets in many places, all rules to which I gladly succumb to…coming from LA where you wear shorts and flip flops to a wedding! In the rush of things leaving LA I did forget a tie and tonight I’m going to the chicest and most exclusive private club in London: Loulou’s, where jacket and tie is a must to enter, so is a membership! Thankfully, my dear friend George Glasgow is a member and has invited me to dinner at this “impossible to get in” new spot.

So it’s off to Jermyn Street, one of my favorites streets in London for shopping; I’ve been coming here since I was a baby with my dad who was very fashion forward and extremely dapper. One of his favorites was Turnbull & Asser, a very old fashion English brand that has been around since 1885. I’m a sucker for tradition so I think it appropriate to honor my father’s memory with a tie from this gorgeous and yes, quite stuffy store. $150 later, I have a tie for tonight; it’s now off to my beloved Fortum & Mason for a little visual stimulation; This iconic department store, as Harrods, is a tribute to England and all that is traditionally English; it’s been around since 1707 (like most everything in this country) and it’s the definition of English high-end shopping. Though I am always so temped to stock up on their amazing tea selection, biscuits, Stilton cheese, patés, etc… this time around, my long travel schedule won’t allow weighing myself up with merchandize, so it’s going to be just a jar of my favorite Blue Stilton cheese and some water crackers for my afternoon snacking back at the Chelsea apartment.

 

 

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Jermyn Street, SW1

 

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Windows at Turnbull & Asser

 

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Side entrance at Fortnum & Mason

 

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One of the many beautiful design features at Fortnum & Mason



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Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly Road

 

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Wine and spirits hall at Fortnum & Mason

 

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Fortnum & Mason’s famous teas

 

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Alright, it’s time to go back for a nap and get ready to meet my dear friend George Glasgow (CEO of G.J. Cleverley & Co., one of the best of bespoke English shoemaking and craftsmanship), for an evening at London’s hottest new private club: Loulou’s. Turns out two good American friends of mine, Michelle and Jason Sheldon are also in London so I invite them along with my British friend Robert Banner to join me at 5 Hartford Place, Mayfair; which happens to be just a few blocks away from my old house on South Street. It’s time to see what all the fuss is about; we enter though the very nondescript side door and into a small reception area where immediately you are asked for your name and membership; after telling the very well dressed gentlemen that I was expected by George Glasgow, we are ushered into the the main salon to sign our names on a book and then directed to the Martini Bar on the 3rd floor where George is waiting for us with Martinis at hand.

Loulou’s has become the hotspot for London’s upper crust; it’s a multi-story townhouse, along Mayfair’s Shepherd’s market. Owner Robin Birley, English businessman and political activist, has transformed this traditional townhouse into several lounges, a drawing room, a martini bar, a library, a cigar room, stunning courtyard, a nightclub and two très chic restaurants all designed by Turkish fashion designer Rifat Ozbek (who’s never designed an interior space before). Robin Birley, is the son of Mark Birley and Lady Annabel Goldsmith, who themselves owned several members’ clubs in London, including the legendary Annabel’s and Harry’s Bar, both of which I frequented as a young lad. Each room at Loulou’s has a different mood and provides a totally different experience. There’s a stuffed giraffe, greeting the guests as they enter the Madagascan Bar on the way to the over-the-top disco room. The who’s who of London are regulars here including the Royal family, Mick Jagger, Daphne Guinness, Kate Moss, me, George Clooney and the list goes on.

By 10 pm the place is packed and it is practically impossible to move, having been in LA for so long, you can’t not notice how everyone, and I mean everyone, is so elegantly dressed in suits and ties, black ties, long gowns and fashion galore…these Brits sure know how to whip it up! Drinks start at $30 a drink so you better be ready for a BIG bill; my favorite is the passion fruit martini! I don’t even dare find out how much dinner costs; then again London is the most expensive city in the world, so if you’re on a budget, you got your work cut out for you!!! My favorite story of the night is when the group “One Direction” came in without being members and arrogantly told the front host: “don’t you know who we are?? We are One Direction and we want in!!!!” to which the host calmly replied: “I’m terribly sorry Sir, but you are not members of the club, so the only direction you’re going is out the door!!!” So British…so Brilliant!!!!

 

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Loulou’s on 5 Hertford Street

 

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My Posse: George Glasgow, Michelle Sheldon, Jason Sheldon and Robert Banner

 

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The Dining Room

 

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One of the two stunning Dining rooms

 

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The beautiful outdoor patio

 

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3rd floor Martini Bar

 

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Basement Bar and night club complete with stuffed Giraffe

 

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The venerable toilet at Loulou’s

 

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The beautiful Madagascan Bar

 

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George is set on showing me every room at Loulou’s, where of course we must have a drink; so 8 rooms later, I’m about to pass out! This place is really fancy so perhaps it’s time to leave before I make a fool of myself. Michelle, Jason, Robert and I have the brilliant idea of walking to Barkley Square for a nightcap at Morton’s…that part is a little blurry but I know I was there because I have a photo to prove it! Thankfully I make it back safely to my Chelsea pad; what a great first night in London!!!! Tootles possums…talk tomorrow!

 

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4AM at Morton’s in Barkley Square for a nightcap…hopefully!

 

At last…Machu Picchu and Cusco

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Today is the day…Machu Picchu!!!! After a lovely hot shower…just kidding; there is no hot water in the house and this is day 3 of no showering; thankfully I still smell pretty good. I pack my bags and off to the Machu Picchu train station to catch the highest elevation train in the world to Machu Picchu. The train is lovely and designed with a panoramic ceiling for maximum enjoyment; and so they should at $180.00 a pop for the 1 hours journey to Agua Caliente (that is of course just for foreigner; Peruvians pay $60…so annoying!!!) www.perurail.com or www.incarail.com. But you can rejoice to the fact that they do offer a cup of coffee and day old sweet bread. On the way there I casually ask Javier if he had purchased the ticket to enter Machu Picchu to which he replies that he tried doing it on line but had no success. Slightly concerned, I ask him to call the ticket office to make sure we can get in and after a few suspenseful phone conversations in Spanish with different offices, it turns out we cannot buy a ticket because they reached the maximum allowed per day! Shock and rage start pulsing through my veins…imagine, I come all the way to Cusco for 3 days just to visit Machu Picchu, I’m on a $180 train ride to the site, gasping for air the entire time and I can’t get in!!!!

Needless to say the rest of the train ride is deathly silent; I contain myself from lunging over to Javier to strangle him. Eventually, my self-preserving instinct that always finds a solutions to all problems, tells me that no matter what, I will find a way to get in; even if I have to bribe a Peruvian for his or hers ticket…I am going in!!!! At last we arrive in Agua Caliente, the semi “shanty town” at the base of Machu Picchu; all right, it’s game time!!!! We walk over to the ticket counter, where there is no line what’s so ever, and with the fear of god, we ask for two tickets for Machu Picchu, to which the teller so very calmly said: “$62 please!”…Javier and I burst out in hysterics after panicking for the last two hours. Apparently there is NO limit of people allowed to the site and there is no problem buying a ticket…ever; we were just given the wrong information. Now it’s time for another ticket counter, this time for the bus ride up the very steep mountain to Machu Picchu: Peruvians 10 Solis, foreigners 80…boooooring!

 

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Finally we’re in the brand new Mercedes Benz small bus to the top; the ride is beyond terrifying with its narrow streets and no guardrails to prevent the very long fall to the bottom. By the time I’m finally at the entrance to the Inca wonder I am a basket case! That is until I cross over a small path that leads to the iconic view that is Machu Picchu; here I gasp over the magnificence of this ancient site, 12,000 feet high in the heavens. Just like at the pyramids of Giza, my breath stops (probably also because of no oxygen in the air…); you can’t imagine how beautiful and majestic this site is. They talk about people’s spiritual exhalations when they see Machu Picchu and I totally understand why. I did not have an out-of-body experience, but I will tell you, I am touched behind believe!

 

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Machu Picchu train

 

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The Iconic view of Machu Picchu

 

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The token Lama…they DO spit!

 

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Javier Millership and Robert Kass in front of the iconic view of Machu Picchu

 

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The amazing carved stones in Machu Picchu

 

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Inca homes in amazing condition

 

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More amazing stonework at Machu Picchu

 

Javier and I start the slow climb to the top of the mountain to get the better view of the Inca ruins; needless to say, I am gasping for air taking all the time I need to climb one step at a time. At some point, a gentlemen in his 80’s skips right by me, totally fine and with no sign of effort whatsoever; he stops and tells me: “Your breathing is too high…slow down young man, there is no rush to get to the top! Ohh and by the way…I’m a doctor!”. Clearly, I am now totally humiliated witnessing grandpa skipping by me as if he was a 20 year old while I’m gasping to make the next step (time to stop smoking!!!). So much is to be said about Machu Picchu, but my blog is less about the history and more about the personal experience, so I’ll let you do your own reading on the millions of articles written about Machu Picchu and I’ll just tell you that it is definitely a one in a lifetime experience that needs to be done if you have the opportunity; no words can describe how awesome this place is. Regretfully, it’s time to leave and make our way to Cusco. Once again, we go down the terrifying narrow street to Agua Caliente where, after a 2 Pisco Sour stopover at the local bar, we stumble on the train to Cusco.

 

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Train ride back to Cusco

 

It’s now 9pm in Cusco and Javier is adamant on going to his favorite Pub in Cusco: Paddy’s (www.paddysirishbarcusco.com), with it’s claim to be the highest Pub in the world at 15,000 feet above sea level (how can you even drink booze when you cab barely breath? I guess I’ll find out soon enough). The town of Cusco, the old capital of the ancient Inca Empire, is absolutely beautiful and charming; here you really feel the lack of oxygen and any movement is a challenge. But nothing will stop these two semi-English lads from going to the pub for a few pints of beer and some Shepard’s pie!!! Another charming fact about high altitude is that you get twice as drunk with anything you drink, so after a few cocktails, Javier and I have barely enough strength to get back to the hotel. Reading back this post it looks like I’m always drinking and drunk, but I assure you, it’s not the case!!!! When in Rome…

 

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Paddy’s Pub in Cusco

 

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Interior of Paddy’s Pub

 

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Cusco charming colonial town square

 

It’s time for bed and Javier chose this centrally located hotel with rooms as large as a she box (literally!!!). Needless to say, I won’t write about this hotel for I would never suggested it to anyone…regardless of its central location! I think Javier was drunk when he booked it! Tomorrow we go back to Lima for the last few days before going back to LA. Where is my oxide tank?

Three day trip to Cusco, Urabamba and Machu Picchio

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It’s another glorious day, waking up to this marvelous view of Lima’s cost from my bedroom terrace! Today Javier and I are going for a 3 day excursion to Cusco, Urubamba and Machu Picchu; I am beyond exited and so ready to experience one of the seven wonders of the world: Machu Picchu. I’ve heard so many tails about people’s spiritual reaction to this sacred place over the years, so I’m eager to see what kind of effect, if any, it will have on Mr. Kass. The morning starts with my usual coffee and ….. carrot cake on the terrace, after which it’s time to pack for the Andes. Instead of doing my usual research that I do every time I visit exotic places, I rely on dear old Javier who tells me that all I need is good walking shoes, jeans and t-shirts…oh and yes, of course, an oxygen tank! Yes dear possums, we are going to an altitude of 15,000 ft. and there is practically NO oxygen in the air. People get altitude sickness and pass out…something to look forward to! So I pack my overnight Pradas with the bare minimum (no fashion statement required in the Andes) and off to the chaotic airport of Lima on a Uber ride…yes, Uber is also in Lima!

The first thing that a foreigner finds out when buying an airfare in Lima, is that Peruvians pay a certain amount and foreigners pay more than double for the same fair…now that’s good PR. So after throwing a tantrum at the LAN airline counter for unfairly being charged so much more than Javier, we make our way to the VIP lounge for an afternoon glass of wine…as one does. While Javier drinks his beer and reads Pinocchio books for toddlers, I do a little goggling on our destination. It’s a quick hour and a half to Cusco, and all I can think about during the flight, is arriving and passing out in the luggage hall for lack of oxygen! I work myself up so much that I am actually in a panic now. Once we arrive and get off the plane, I immediately feel the thin air but surprisingly, I’m ok with it; the only thing that immediately shocks my senses, is how damn cold it is!!! Considering I only packed t-shirts and plaid shorts, I have a feeling it’s going to be a bitch of a 3 days…Alpaca sweater here I come! The other immediate reaction is the constant yarning, which is your body’s natural reaction to a lack of oxygen.

Our driver is waiting to drive us to Javier’s family brand new house in the mountains of Urubamaba, about one hour away from Cusco. Urubamba is a small town in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, located near the Urubamba River under the snow-capped mountain Ch’iqun. It’s now about 7PM and we are starving; according to our driver, there is only one good restaurant in the area: Eltluacatay (www.elhuacatay.com). This surprising gourmet restaurant is very popular with both wealthy Peruvians and “gringos”.  It’s an old home built around a garden set back from a nondescript Urubamba street, and it’s the perfect place for a lovely dinner in the warm, intimate dining room (which has only five tables). The owner is a lovely Italian lady with whom I start rambling in Italian about how cute the place is and how bloody freezing it is! She seats us in front of the fireplace just next to the house cat, who obviously knows where to place to be is. The menu is definitely eclectic and full of Andean specialties, such as quinoa soup, alpaca lasagna, and coca-infused (but street-legal!) gnocchi. We order up a storm and eventually make our way to Javier’s beautiful new retreat.

 

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My “Room with a view”

 

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Two espressos and …….’s homemade carrot cake and we are on our way!

 

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Prada carry-ons and oxygen tank…as one does!

 

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Javier having a beer and reading Pinocchio (He’s still growing up..)

 

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El Huacatay Restaurant

 

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The very homie and charming kitchen at El Huacatay

 

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The super charming 5 table dining room

 

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The house cat sleeping in the best spot in the house

 

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Lovely setting complete with local olives and fresh flowers

 

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Asian crispy shrimp

 

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Potato croquettes with saffron sorbet

 

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Braised lamb with cous cous

 

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Steak with blue cheese and truffled spaghetti

 

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Javier building a fire in the beautiful living room at his home in Urubamba

 

Now the temperature has gone down to 28 Fahrenheit and I am shivering like a leaf in my “Sky Utah” T-shirt. Javier jumps to the rescue and starts a fire in the living room just before I fall unconscious from frostbite, the temperature finally rises and all is good…for now! Oh…did I mention there is no heating in the house besides the one stove in the living room? The next part is even better; I collect every duvet I can find in the 5 bedrooms and retire to my bed fully dressed and with 3 comforters on top of me. To add to the madness, another lovely side effect of high altitude is INSOMNIA!!! Yes, you can’t fall asleep in high altitude…it’s gong to be a long, freezing night! Brrrrrrr