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Hidden Gems.

Leave it to the universe !

It is very easy to get into a habit of following and doing the normal things when taking a trip out – i.e. going to the top 10 where to be seen restaurants where you know the menu inside out. Or staying in the same or recommended hotels. Yes, it becomes a little repetitive, so you really know how your day is going to go. But have you ever just moved out of your comfort zone to explore and go with the flow as if you are leaving it all to the Universe?!

We did our trip to USA just recently, I was invited as Guest of Honour, one of the keynote Speakers at a very worthy Charity - The Bee Foundation - for Aneurysm awareness at their HONEY BASH ball in Philadelphia.

We thought it would be great idea to add a couple more days for my husband and I to have a short romantic break together in New York & Philadelphia.

I must have been to NY over 15 times in my 24 years of working, for work and pleasure, each time we would be staying either near to 5th Avenue’s main shopping area or on the doorstep of Central Park. This time I decided to book us into a small boutique hotel call ‘HOTEL HUGO’ in downtown Soho district. I always love the quirky, hip area of Soho when I had visited before.

My husband likes his comforts and was worried ‘I’m not sure about gong here, how do you know if it’s good? We will be really far out’. I, on the other hand had done my research, it had great reviews and it had a rooftop bar which was one of the top trendy hot spots for budding professionals to hang out after work. The interior design with shiny mahogany finishing almost everywhere, gave it a 70’s retro feel. Each room was small but cosy with all linen marked with ‘HH’ giving it an almost celebrity like personalisation. The restaurant was Italian so it ticked all the boxes! As we arrived and entered I was pleasantly surprised by the very lovely floor to ceiling green wall features, behind the reception and in the main dining area. These walls were full of plants/ leaves trimmed and pruned on a regular basis to look like so perfect. And of course, not to mention the very helpful staff that made us feel cosy at home instantly.

It was late and we ate at the hotel with a fabulous meal recommended by the waiter - pasta with eggplant baked and served in a cast iron dish, Deepak ate what was called ‘Chicken on a brick’ it was a piece of tender roasted chicken placed neatly on a bed of quinoa salsa. In the middle we had a yummy tangy Kale salad with hints of orange segments highlighting a fresh summer taste. We then went to explore the rooftop ‘Bar Hugo’. It had such a cool Mexican vibe, with comfy sofa seating and small colourful tables - fairy lights covering all above, creating a magical ceiling. However, we were just a little tired to appreciate it and we had an early start the next day.

We were both working the following day but before we headed to the office, it was time for some much-loved breakfast. I had visited this beautiful French brunch brasserie ‘Lafayette’ a while before for a quick healthy snack takeaway, so I wanted to revisit and let my dear husband enjoy some great food. I met the owner this time, who said she had been on a yoga retreat and loved to connect with likeminded people, it was meant to be!

We finished work and again I didn’t want to do the normal NY shopping experience. So, we both decided to visit and pay our respects at - Ground Zero and the World trade centre. The experience of this was something else. Seeing the vast void space and the names of all those lost was truly overwhelming. We then walked back to the hotel looking at the quirky shops and cafes along the way. It was so great to be able to do just live life in the moment and be spontaneous. To experience things in our own time without being pressurised into routine or watching the clock is something else. After a rest we asked the hotel if there was a local Italian nearby, (yes, it’s our favourite cuisine!). They directed us to a quaint small place that was in the middle of Soho, walking distance.

We entered a little Italian escape! ‘Palma ‘off Cornelia St. An indoor garden filled with plants, roses, fairy lights - beautiful surroundings. It was as if we were in the heart of a family home, with candle lit steps up the side to a balcony overlooking the courtyard. The staff were so lovely and accommodated our tasting requirements. It did not feel like we were in a capital bustling city of New York. We had been transported to another place and I loved every minute here.

Philadelphia on the other hand was another adventure. We took the train from NY Penn station opposite Madison Sq. Gardens to Philli. I sat on the train and instantly started talking to this young woman opposite, who was a part time actor and we talked about our favourite program Grand designs! Then how Harry Potter has changed lives and simply discussed how life was such a surprise, our journey was instantly over! It was so helpful to connect with someone and enjoy the conversation. Mr Basi on the other hand slept all the way! I needed to sleep before my big appearance at the Charity Ball and wanted to save all my energy now.

I was proud to be ‘Guest of Honour’ and was seated at the front Table 1. I spoke in front of 160 people including many medical professionals, patients, families and carers. I was so proud of myself, I felt good that I could hopefully make a difference by being there and sharing my experiences.

(full speech on the bee foundation Facebook)

The following day, I was up at 5am, and ready, excited to explore Philadelphia!

As we walked through the heart of the city the buildings seemed to remind me of Washington DC, compared the skyscrapers new age of New York, Philadelphia showed a lot of history and I was pleasantly surprised by its colonial ambiance, we then stopped by a brunch café called ‘Chez Ben’ this was attached to the ‘Renaissance’ hotel, Chestnut St. in the old city downtown. Lovely place breakfast and had a cafe counter with quality coffees, fresh juices and buttery pastries.

Another famous (not hidden) gem from this prestige city had to be a visit to the – ‘Benjamin Franklin institute and museum’. The famous leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. He was a legend!

Now we didn’t have time to do both so we visited the institute. My highlight here had to be sitting in the huge 360deg video dome watching the BBC blue planet 2! The experience of sitting in the new age technology was as if we were at sea and could touch what was in front of us. Mr Basi on the other hand got comfortable in the chair and fell asleep again! I didn’t want to miss a thing.

Upon entering back into the streets, we could hear the load music and cheering. It was a huge parade going by – The Peurtorican festival Parade! We joined it and walked alongside, clapping and cheering. The music, cars, motorbikes, costumes was so cultural and exciting to watch.

Mr Basi is an avid Rocky fan and as we walked to the end of the parade - his eyes lit up as he could see in the distance, the famous ‘Rocky statue and steps’. We ran up as if we were in the film, recording it on video, reaching the top and taking in the amazing view – it was as if we had both transported back to being 14years old getting giddy over such a simple thing.

Before heading back as we had an evening flight we ate at a French bistro ‘Pietro’s’ walnut street. This neighbourhood was very cool, chic with surrounding trendy stores and other cafes.

The four days we had were as if we had a 2 week indulgence of amazing adventure. But the hidden gems made it all so worthwhile. Try it and and live in the moment and you never know where it can take you.


Kavita Basi

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