Category Archives: Neither Here Nor There


California Dreaming: Capturing the Essence of Scent-sational Palm Springs

How to Custom-Blend a Perfume that’s like Sunshine in a Bottle

It was a particularly dreary winter’s afternoon in London, with cold winds and grey clouds that conspired to dampen the fledgling flames of holiday cheer. The sort of day when you dream of sunshine and warmer climes, of blue-sky over desert, of a “dry heat” that will bake the blues away. A day that makes you want to book the next flight out — one way, non-refundable — to a place like Palm Springs, California.

palm trees at sunset

Photo Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB

Fortunately, in a sense — or rather, in scents — California had come to London’s Haymarket Hotel. With the help of local perfumier Nicola Barron, the folks from the Greater Palm Springs’ tourism bureau unleashed a localized version of global warming in the form of nine specially-blended fragrances designed to distill the spirit of the region’s nine different cities.

Maybe you know Palm Springs for the celebrity-studded Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

A DJ mans the decks before a huge crowd at Coachella festival. Photo Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB

Photo Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB

Or perhaps you’re more familiar with its super-sophisticated Mid-Century Modern Architecture — the largest concentration of those sleek, contemporary structures in the world.

Sunnylands Center and Gardens. Photo Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB

Photo Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB

Then again, perhaps it’s the spare, haunting beauty of the Joshua Tree National Park which resonates with you.

Joshua Tree. Photo Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB

Photo Courtesy of Greater Palm Springs CVB

Whatever your preference, Barron had blended a perfume to match the mood. But she went one step beyond, working with me to customize my own scent — and she can do the same for you through her workshops at HomemadeLondon.com. (more…)

New Zealand’s Flag Apparently Will NOT be a Kiwi Shooting Lasers from its Eyes

When the government of New Zealand invited citizens to submit designs for a proposed new flag, they probably weren’t expecting a kiwi (the bird, that is) shooting lasers from its eyes—or a rainbow from its backside, for that matter.

"The laser beam projects a powerful image of New Zealand," Gray says of his design. "I believe it is so powerful it does not need to be discussed."

“The laser beam projects a powerful image of New Zealand,” Gray says of his design. “I believe it is so powerful it does not need to be discussed.”

But that’s what they got, and sooooo much more. Approximately 10,300 more wanna-be banners, to be exact(ish).

After months of unflagging (ahem) anticipation, the results are finally in. This week, Kiwis voted on their favourite design. But before “the big reveal,” let’s take a moment to see how the contest shaped up—and review the best of the bizarre designs. (Hang in there. I promise you, it’s worth it).

The initial task of whittling all those thousands of submissions down to a mere 40 fell to “The Panel,” as the official flag deciderers dubbed themselves—anticipating, perhaps, a “So You Think You Can Design a Flag” reality show judged by retired warrior princess Lucy Lawless and down-at-their-furry-heels ex-Hobbits.

Personally, this flag would've got my vote. But that's probably because I designed it--and also, I've just got back from the pub, so my judgement may be slightly impaired.

Personally, I would have voted for this flag. But that’s probably because I designed it–and also, I’ve just got back from the pub, so my judgement may be slightly impaired.

Given the enterprising “anything goes” spirit of this endeavor, I had hoped that the ultimate victor would be selected in a televised cage match, where the participants would not be scored on the merits of their designs, but by their Smaug-slaying skills (or, at the very least, their bikini mud wrestling abilities).

In fact, voters selected what they deemed the best option from a field of five in late 2015, and the winner of that referendum—a triumphant fern—was then pitted against the old flag in a final vote in March 2016.

The fern is nice and all, but can we all just agree that Xena and Gollum would've kicked some serious derriere?

The fern is nice and all, but can we all just agree that Xena and Gollum would’ve kicked some serious derriere?

And the winner is…the original New Zealand flag, first adopted in 1902.

Seriously, New Zealand, you chose this over the rainbow-farting kiwi?

Seriously, New Zealand, you chose this over the rainbow-farting kiwi?

That’s right. The whole business cost $27 million dollars, and absolutely nothing changed.

The competition wasn’t a total waste, however. At least the good people of New Zealand proved they have a winning sense of humour.

So, lest their efforts be forgotten, here are the most, er, “creative” designs, which, unfortunately, will not be waving proudly over New Zealand’s parliament building anytime soon. 

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How it Feels to Save a Life

Michael Bobich doesn’t consider himself a hero. But when he discovered he had the ability to step forward and save someone’s life, he didn’t hesitate.

Michael and Rita Bobich

Michael and Rita Bobich

Twelve years ago, Michael became a living kidney donor.

Today, the recipient is still enjoying the incredible gift of a new lease on life, thanks to Michael’s selfless act.

I hope his story, told in his own words, will motivate others to do the same.

Maybe it will even help us find a kidney for my dear friend Jennifer Hasty.

With her unflagging cheer and irrepressible smile, Jen continues to be an inspiration to everyone she meets, despite her deteriorating health. I’d like to see that smile shine for many decades more.

Jennifer Hasty and her husband, Clint

Jennifer Hasty and her husband, Clint

Right. I’ll let Michael take it from here.

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Chatting with CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenberg about Murder, Mystery and Whisky in London

Whether you want to know where to go to see Scotland Yard’s original evidence and artifacts from London’s most notorious crime scenes–or if you’re curious about the best Scottish single malts to whet your whistle with (something I’d never attempt to say after a wee dram or two)–check out my interview with the world’s most charming Travel Detective, Peter Greenberg.

Travel writer Amy Laughinghouse with "The Travel Detective," Peter Greenberg

We’re probably the only people ever to drink single malt out of plastic cups at the uber-elegant The Goring Hotel in London, where he recorded his show.

As always, he’s got a terrific line-up of guests, but if you only have 7 minutes, you can fast-forward to our chat (<–click here) which begins 1 hour, 13 minutes into his show.

To hear my first interview with Peter, where we discuss the words you should NEVER say in Britain, click here.

To learn more about “The Crime Museum Uncovered” exhibition at The Museum of London, click here.

If anyone out there was wondering, the website ABroadInBritain.com was already taken. D’oh! Guess I’m sticking with AmyLaughinghouse.com. There’s only one of those!

#KIDNEY4JEN: You Could Save A Life

One organ donor can save up to eight lives. One of them could be my best friend.

Jennifer Hasty with her husband and son. #KIDNEY4JEN

Jennifer Hasty with her husband and son. #KIDNEY4JEN

Her name is Jennifer Hasty. She’s one of those people that everyone loves, with an irrepressible laugh that makes you laugh along with her even when you missed the joke, and a huge smile that rarely leaves her face.

She’s one of my dearest friends in the world, and she needs a kidney.

Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer’s kidneys first began to fail years ago. Why? Her doctors think it was due to an infection that she acquired as a teenager while doing missionary work in Haiti. Yep, that’s Jen. While most of us were mooning over posters of Duran Duran tacked to the walls of our comfortable middle class homes, she was volunteering in poverty-stricken communities.

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Get Lost! In the nicest possible way…

sunset over Istanbul_5296

Ditch the itinerary and the check list. Getting lost in a city can be the best possible way to explore it.

“So, what do you like to…do…when you travel?” my mother asked me recently. She posed the question with a slightly furrowed brow, in the sort of dubious tone you might otherwise reserve for quizzing the man next to you on the Tube about why he’s wearing a lime green mankini and clutching a jar filled with human hair and toenail clippings—except, of course, you would never speak to that man, or even look him in the eye. (more…)

Chatting with Peter Greenberg, Travel Editor of CBS News

My first meeting with Peter, March 2014

My first meeting with Peter, March 2014

It was an honor and a privilege (and a heck of a lot of fun) chatting with Peter Greenberg yesterday about my favorite walking tours of London.

This globe-trotting legend and his crew produce a Worldwide Podcast airing from a different location every weekend, in between Peter’s duties as Travel Editor of CBS News and his television appearances.

I’ll let you know when our most recent interview will air. In the meantime, you can check out my last chat with Peter, touching on everything from Scotch whisky to the “F” word. (That would be “fanny,” folks. Be forewarned; it means something very different in Britain than it does in the US!)

That interview starts at 38:30 here:

For more expert travel revelations from around the world, subscribe to Peter’s podcasts here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/travel-today-peter-greenberg/id519899844?mt=2 

For more on London’s top five walking tours, check out my article on LonelyPlanet.com:

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/great-britain/travel-tips-and-articles/exploring-londons-secrets-five-great-walking-tours

 

Ever Wondered How You Would React in an Airline Emergency? Now I Know.

There are a few things that you really, REALLY hope you will never experience on an airplane—and recently, one of them happened to me.airbags first class_5941

I’m not talking about the usual colicky infant (at least one guaranteed on every flight, or your money back), nor the chatty, close-talking seat mate whose entire diet, from the time he was first able to digest solid food, has consisted solely of raw onions and three-day old fish. I’m not even referring to the inconsiderate oaf who reclines his seat so far into your lap that you’re forced to eat your dinner off a tray on his forehead.

No. This was one of the biggies, one of those life-flashing-before-your-eyes moments that makes you wish you had put down your magazine, wrenched the ear phones blasting LMFAO’s “Sorry for Party Rocking” from your waxy canals, and listened to the safety announcements featuring cartoon characters demonstrating the technological complexities and mind-boggling intricacies of the aircraft, such as how a seat belt is not only fastened, but…whoa, duuuuuude!…unfastened. (One can only imagine that if Charles “Survival of the Fittest” Darwin had been called upon to compose those scripts, they would be considerably more concise).

airbag man_5905In short (or rather, in long-winded, round-the-houses-on-a-rusty-bicycle-with-a-slowly-deflating-tire essence), the oxygen masks deployed…about three hours into a trans-Atlantic flight to London, over the dark, fathomless depths of the ocean. (more…)

Saying good-bye to the Butterfly Queen

Normally, I write about travel–worldly adventures and destinations. But today, I feel compelled to write about a different sort of journey, because I want, I need, to honor my friend Michelle Taylor Shutzer. She passed away in San Francisco yesterday, April 9, 2014, after battling Stage 4 cancer for nearly four years.

Michelle in the middle, with my friend Kelley and myself.

Michelle in the middle, with my friend Kelley and myself.

Yes. Stage 4. That’s the “last” stage of cancer, meaning it has spread to more than one organ. That was the state of things when she was diagnosed…yet she lived with it for nearly four more years.

When I say lived, I mean lived, and through her incredible bravery, determination and humor, she showed her friends how to live by example.

I’d known Michelle since high school. She was the girl with the big red hair, the big bold laugh, at the center of our big group of friends. She was larger than life, even then.

Michelle (right) with our friend Katie in high school

Michelle (right) with our friend Katie in high school

But I don’t think I really got to know her until her diagnoses. That’s when she emerged as the Butterfly Queen, head of a devoted butterfly nation, whom she called upon to lift her up. (more…)

Say WHAT? On the Road with Foot in Mouth

New Year’s Resolution: Improve Your Foreign Language Skills–But Beware Those Slips of the Tongue.

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply that your pig is fat. It's just ugly.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that your pig is fat. It’s just ugly.

As a traveller with a love of foreign lands, I’ve often wished for a Babel fish.

This ingenious invention, proposed by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, would enable anyone to understand anything being said around them, no matter what the language.

While I’m waiting for reality to catch up with Adams’ imagination, I’ve turned to Duolingo. Named Apple’s App of the Year in December 2013, this free tool offers instruction in French, Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese and English.

With cartoon-like graphics and cheerful trumpets rewarding every minor triumph, it exudes all the fanfare of a video game, albeit with considerably less violence than most…unless you count the broken hearts that crumble when you fail a lesson.

I signed up for Duolingo’s French tutorial in early January, and so far, très bien. I don’t expect to find myself waxing poetic, Parisian-style, over the collected works of Victor Hugo and Gustave Flaubert anytime soon. But I do think that when travelling in another country, it’s only polite to learn the most basic phrases.

Fortunately, some signs, like this one in Thailand, need no translation.

Fortunately, some signs, like this one in Thailand, need no translation.

“Hello,” “thank you,” “good-bye,” and “another beer, please” (which quickly necessitates the question, “Where is the bathroom?”) will go a long way, baby. And no, speaking English loudly and slowly doesn’t count. (more…)

Fear and Loathing in the Sky—and Why You Should Marry the Girl in the Middle Seat

I have a confession to make. I don’t like to fly. I love going places. It’s just the getting there I’m not that fond of.

That might seem like a strange admission for a travel writer—but then again, maybe not. I mean, the more often you’re required to shoehorn yourself into a seat that wouldn’t comfortably accommodate a malnourished hamster, the less likely you are to look forward to it. If I actually enjoyed crumpling my body into a defeated wad of human origami, I’d take yoga, and at least I’d have the skull-cracking thighs and six-pack abs to show for it.

Luton cowboy_3215.JPG

If ever there were a guy begging to be strip-searched by security…

You’re not even awarded the privilege of painful bodily contortion until you’ve already been through the soul-sapping process of submitting to airport security.

Shuffling sock-footed through the metal detector, grasping at your unbelted trousers to keep them from falling down around your ankles, you still have to run the gauntlet of heaven-knows-where-those-hands-have-been rubber-gloved officers who might randomly pull you aside for a pat-down.

Every time this happens, I’m tempted to ask them to at least treat me to dinner and a movie first…but somehow, I doubt they would be amused. (more…)

Love, Loss & Letting Go On The Road

In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about a few “essentials” I never travel without, but there was one very personal item (yes, even more personal than the nose hair trimmer) that I didn’t mention—a delicate sliver of a silver charm.

On one side, it bears my name. (“Amy,” that is. “Laughinghouse,” as you might imagine, would be a bit unwieldy). The other side is embossed with three hieroglyphics which supposedly signify my name’s meaning. It’s elegant, unusual, and most importantly to me, a gift from my sister, Kimberly.

Kim passed away on June 10, 2009, but wearing that pendant, hooked around my neck on a slender chain, I felt that she was there, seeing the world with me.

My pendant gets an airing at the Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon, September 7, 2013.

My pendant gets an airing at the Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon, September 7, 2013.

Kim with one of her last paintings. She could capture the beauty of a place even if she hadn't been there.

Kim could capture the beauty of a place in her paintings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could imagine her wicked cackle of a laugh, the expressive arc of her eyebrows, which communicated her thoughts like semaphores, and the hilarious stories that she could have woven from even the most commonplace event.

So when I happened to notice the chain dangling, unhooked and bereft of its charm while wandering around the tangled maze of Barcelona’s Barri Gotic quarter one day, I felt the weight of a loss much greater than the actual mass of that feather-light talisman. (more…)

Making a Case for “Disaster Packing”

Tearing it up--literally--in Tenerife.

Tearing it up–literally–in Tenerife.

Being a travel writer, you might expect that I’d be an aficionado of efficient packing, able to cram enough gear for a trek to Mt. Everest in a bag no bigger than a lunchbox. “Just the essentials,” you might suppose—a camera, a spare pair of socks, and a handful of breath mints to stave off Donner party hunger pains and simple chronic halitosis.

In fact, over the years, I’ve become what you might call a “disaster packer.” My suitcase overflows with obscure items meant to slap a Band-Aid (metaphorically and otherwise) on any problem, however improbable, that I might encounter on the road. (more…)

Who am I? What am I? Where am I?

Paragliding over Interlaken, Switzerland.

Paragliding over Interlaken, Switzerland.

“If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” Well, probably, Mom–if I thought it would make a good story…and if I was sure the bungee cord was tied on really, REALLY tightly.

To that end, and to my mother’s chagrin, I’ve paraglided 007-style in the Swiss Alps, walked with lions in Mauritius, swum with sharks in French Polynesia, dangled from chains on Scotland’s Fife Coastal Path, and–my most terrifying challenge ever–taken ballroom dance lessons in London. (Fortunately, that’s the only incident that nearly ended in a bloodbath).

As a London-based globetrotting freelancer (and natural coward attempting to conquer my fears through my travel adventures), I’ve contributed stories to Qantas Airlines’ in-flight magazine, Australia’s Vacations and Travel magazine, The Irish Times, The Scotsman, The New York Post, The Toronto Star, The Toronto Globe and Mail, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, and Virtuoso Life magazine, among other publications.

Beyond travel, I’ve written about historic homes for BRITAIN magazine, and I previously worked as a television news producer in the Cayman Islands, as a freelancer for People and Teen People magazines, and as a regular contributor to Better Homes and Gardens and other architectural magazines while living in the U.S. I also wrote “The Orvis Book of Cabins,” which was published by The Lyons Press.