Monthly Archives: October 2012

Back to School: Bumble and bumble University

I recently got a free blow dry at Bumble and bumble’s hair school, Bb. University, as part of the Bb. U Model Project.  All services at the Bb. U Model Project are free of charge.  Models also receive a $10 product credit for each styling session they attend, so I was excited to not only get a free blow dry, but also Bb. products to try!

Models checking in at the reception desk

Bb. University is located in a large industrial space in the Meat Packing District.  Upon entering, I was impressed by the sleekness of the facilities and the floor-to-ceiling windows, which offered stunning views of the surrounding area.  The school was actually fancier than most salons!

Views of the MPD

In order to enroll in the Bb. U Model Project, potential models must attend a model call, where their hair type is assessed to determine if they are appropriate for upcoming classes.  If so, the models can get free haircuts and/or styles (Bb. University also offers free coloring, but models have to get a free haircut first).

Before

After my assessment, I was offered the Long Layers Razor cut and several styling services such as a Round Brush Blow Dry, Flat Brush Blow Dry, or an Updo.  I opted for a Round Brush Blow Dry, since I usually have my hair blown out with a flip at the end.

Upon arriving for my styling session, I was given a Hairmiles Booklet and one Hairmiles sticker as part of the Hairmiles Frequent Stylers Club, which is an incentive program that rewards models with Bb. product credits once they accumulate enough Hairmiles.

Models awaiting the start of class at Bb. University

At the beginning of the class/styling session, I met with an educator (a Bb. stylist) and my student stylist, Paula, who evaluated and discussed my hair type.  Paula was friendly and also very experienced, since all of the students at Bb. University are licensed hair professionals with a minimum of two years experience (the program is the equivalent of graduate school for hair professionals).  Paula works at an upscale salon in the South and was visiting NYC to attend the two-day styling workshop.

Paula washed my hair, blow-dried it, and then methodically wrapped it in loops and pinned them around my head.  While I have had my hair blown out many times, I have never experienced such an intricate procedure.  The process was longer than I am used to (about 1.5 hours), but at the end result was the most voluminous hair I’ve ever had.

the process

I don’t think the after photo shows just how full and glamorous it was…I felt like I was ready for the Oscars!

After

At the end of the session Paula wrote down Bb. product recommendations for my hair type and notes on how to use them.

The only downside to the Bb. U Model Project is that I had to wait between my assessment and my styling session, since the Round Brush Blow Dry class was not offered for several weeks (however, I did receive emails whenever there were openings for other styling sessions).  On a related note, Bb. U is only open during weekday business hours, so the program works best for people with flexible schedules.

Based upon the price (free!), the professional level of styling, the gorgeous facilities, and the incentives program, I would definitely recommend participating in the Bb. U Model Project.  I look forward to trying more styles and maybe even a cut in the future!

If you are interested in participating in the Bb. U Model Project, please visit www.bbumodelproject.com for more information.  Happy styling!

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Panama – Day 4 – PM: Albrook Mall, the Executive Hotel, Dinner and Belly Dancing at Beirut Restaurant

The bus ride back from El Valle de Antón was unfortunately more hectic than the way there.  The driver sped while talking on his cell phone and I thought about complaining, but the idea of being left on the side of the Pan-American Highway was more frighting.  I was relieved when we finally arrived at Albrook Bus Terminal, on the outskirts of Panama City.  Albrook Bus Terminal is right next to the Albrook Mall, so I crossed the street to check out Central America’s largest mall.

Rhino Entrance

Albrook Mall was gigantic (200+ stores) and safari themed, with all of the wings named after different animals and large animal sculptures at the entrances. There were also guards in safari attire, in addition to guards in bullet proof vests.  As evidenced by the safari decor, the mall was family oriented and had lots of children’s rides and games throughout.  There was also a large fast food court with many American chains.

Carousel and zoo train

Bungee jumping for children

Uniformed guard and safari guard

A small Mac store

I walked the length of the mall to the Koala section where I was told the best stores were located.  The floors and walls of the Koala section were sparkling white and gleaming.  However, the stores were extremely disappointing.  Ninety-five percent of the shops were American and not particularly interesting American companies.  There was Tommy Hilfiger, Brooks Brothers, Banana Republic, the Gap, Converse, Crocs, etc. and while I like some of the aforementioned, I was hoping to see some upscale Panamanian stores or at least Argentinian or Spanish chains.  I had a coffee at Juan Valdez and then headed to Panama City to check into my new hotel.

the Koala section of the mall

Colorful jeans

Typical Panamanian shoes

Jeans!  Jeans! Jeans!

For my last two nights in Panama City, I choose to stay at the Executive Hotel because they had a weekend special and came NYTimes recommended.  The Times mentioned that the hotel was dated and while my room’s furnishings definitely needed upgrading, I found the old-fashion lobby charming.  It reminded me of a Graham Greene novel.  I also loved the balcony in my room!

How Graham Greenesque is that sign?!

Lobby

My room

View from my balcony

View 2 (see the construction crane…typical P.C.)

View 3

The Executive Hotel was in El Congrejo, but several blocks away from my first hotel, the Toscana Inn.  I walked around the area and came across Beirut restaurant, which was mentioned in my guidebook and almost every Panamanian tourist site (the restaurant is so popular, it has an outpost in Albrook Mall).  I was initially disappointed when I saw the outside because it looked so cheesy.  I had read there is belly dancing on Saturday nights, so I asked the host if I could make a reservation for 9PM.  He said he didn’t know if they would have indoor seating for one, but maybe they could find a seat for me on the patio (in the 92 degree heat and humidity, I decided this was not an option).  I went back to my hotel room to change and googled the city’s other middle eastern restaurants with belly dancing (surprisingly, there are at least 3), but Beirut had the best reviews by far, so I decided to give it another try.

Beirut Restaurant

I returned around 9:15PM and the host found a seat for me inside, which turned out to be massive.  The belly dancing had already started and talented dancers rotated through the rooms.  I didn’t recognize a lot of the middle eastern dishes on the menu, so I asked the waitress to make a suggestion.  She recommended the Beirut platter, which she said was appropriate for one.  The platter consisted of many different little plates and was probably much more appropriate for two.

Beirut Platter and rose water

The decor was a little Disney-esque, but the food was delicious.  The only downside was that the music was extremely loud and there was a strong scent of hookah drifting from the neighboring tables (I think maybe the host was doing me a favor when he tried to get me to sit outside).  However, the fumes and blasting music were outweighed by the phenomenal people watching.  Although I ate at several other upscale Panamanian restaurants, this was the first one where the clientele looked almost exclusively Panamanian and the diners were dressed for clubbing.  The food, entertainment and fashionistas made this my most enjoyable meal in Panama City.

Belly dancer

Belly dancer and the chef (check out his pants)

Belly dancer in another room

Belly dancer in gold

Stay tuned for my final day in Panama City!

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Panama – Day 4 – AM: Exploring El Valle de Antón: Hot Springs, Orchid Center, Craft Market, and Lunch at Bruschetta’s

In the morning I visited Los Pozos Termales AKA the hot springs.  I read varying opinions online about the sanitariness of the thermal waters, but I figured for only $2.25 admission, I would leave if it was bad.

Entrance

Walkway

Landscaped grounds

I was the only visitor when I first arrived, although a French family came later.  The pools looked a little sketchy, so I decided to just do a mud mask.  An attendant helped me select the proper mud for my skin type from two different options.

My assistant and the mud buckets

Mud mask

While waiting for the mud to dry, I walked around the grounds, which featured a playground and two mysterious half-egg sculptures.  The attendant showed me that the eggs sculptures can carry whispers if people sit facing the wall and talk into painted dots (similar to a whisper gallery).  I am not sure what this has to do with spa relaxation, but my guess is that it provides entertainment for children while their parents soak in the pools.

Thermal waters

Playground

Whisper-carrying egg

After the mud dried the attendant gave me two buckets of fresh water for washing my face and I attempted to clean up.  When I looked presentable enough, I took a taxi across town to the APROVACA Orchid Nursery and Conservation Center.  APROVACA is the acronym for Asociación de Productores de Orquídeas de El Valle y Cabuyais and is a non-profit dedicated to the conservation of native Panamanian orchid species in danger of extinction.  I was lead on a very informative tour by a retired English police officer/orchid enthusiast who was volunteering at APROVACA for several months in exchange for room and board and orchid care training.

APROVACA

Pretty flowers

Orchids

Orchids for sale!

Lady slipper orchid

A vanilla orchid growing up a tree.

Not an orchid, but very pretty…

After the 30-45 minute tour, I walked back to the center of town to visit the fruit and craft market.  The market had a wide selection of mola (embroidered) artwork at less expensive prices than in Panama City.  I bought several items from a Kuna Indian woman to give as souvenirs to my family.

Fruit market

Entrance to the craft market next door

Kuna Indian woman in traditional clothes

Colorful mola artwork

The most famous activity in El Valle is hiking, but I decided to forgo it since I was traveling alone (note – if I had really wanted to, I would have hung out in my hotel lobby and made friends, but I’m not a huge hiking fan).  Instead I enjoyed walking around the town, which was very quiet and pretty.  Other than school children and gardeners working on the large homes, I didn’t see many people around (most likely because it’s a weekend destination and I was there during the week).

Students on their lunch break outside the local discoteca

Cute coffee shop at the end of the road

After my walk I was planning on taking the bus back towards Panama City and stopping half way to visit the beach town Coronado.  However, it was pouring rain, so instead I decided to stay in El Valle for lunch and then take the bus back to the Albrook mega-mall, on the outskirts of Panama City.  I showered, checked out of my room, and ate in the hotel’s restaurant, called Bruschetta’s.  I ordered the classic namesake dish and a house salad (both were larger than I was expecting, which seemed to be a general theme for the food in Panama).  When it continued to downpour, I ordered a hot chocolate and checked my email (the Anton Valley Hotel was my only hotel that didn’t have internet in the rooms, but the lobby access was enough).  Eventually it stopped raining and I  boarded the bus in route to Albrook…

Bruschetta

House salad

Hot chocolate

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Panama – Day 3 – PM: Arrival in El Valle de Antón, dinner at la Casa de Lourdes

I took a bus from Panama City and arrived in El Valle de Antón approximately 2.5 hours later, via the Pan-American highway.  The bus was an air-conditioned mini-van and cost only $4.50 one way (basically the Panamanian equivalent of Greyhound).  Although I received skeptical looks when I told people I was going to take the bus and was even advised by a Panamanian guy to “lose the pearls and sunglasses,” the ride was relatively stress-free, minus the blasting Spanish music (for the record – I did remove all jewelry and my no name sunglasses beforehand).  There were other women on the bus, but I was the only tourist.  At a few stops vendors got on the bus and sold snacks.  The only thing I found kind of bizarre was that the bus picked up and dropped off passengers on the side of the highway.  The last twenty minutes of the ride up the mountain were extremely windy and nauseating, but it probably would have been just as bad if I were in a taxi.  El Valle de Antón was the last stop and the driver kindly dropped me off right at my hotel.

Gorgeous mountains

El Valle de Antón is the world’s only inhabited volcano and many wealthy Panamanians have weekend homes there.  From the drive up, I was immediately impressed by the views of the mountains, which reminded me a little of the Berkshires.  I was also pleased that the weather was much cooler than Panama City, where the temperature was 92 degrees and humid throughout my stay.

I arrived around 4:30PM and checked into my hotel, the Anton Valley Hotel, which was in the center of town.  The room was rustic, but the staff was friendly and the location could not have been better.  My only issue was that there were some bugs in the room, but the whole town was VERY buggy, so I doubt they could do anything to remedy the situation.  I wore mosquito repellent bracelets on both wrists the entire time I was in El Valle and miraculously managed to leave bite-free (thank you JB for gifting me with these amazing accessories).

My room at the Anton Valley Hotel

Cute towel art

Since it was too late in the day to do any major activities, I went for a walk around the town.  I explored a road called Millionares’ Row, which had lots of large modern mansions, very reminiscent of the Hamptons.  I tried to photograph the mansions, but the angles in the photos are a bit off because most of the homes were surrounded by hedges and large fences.

Pretty house and gate

Another view of the pink sprawling mansion

A very modern mansion

A more traditional style house

Modern mega mansion

Stone-accented McMansion

Cool fence

A more traditional stone gate

Quaint church across the street from my hotel

After my walk, I changed for dinner and took a taxi to La Casa de Lourdes, which is a restaurant located in the town’s most upscale boutique hotel and spa, Los Mandarinos.  The restaurant is in a Tuscan-style villa and is not surprisingly a popular wedding venue.  The restaurant had lovely ambiance and the food and service were excellent.  I would definitely recommend it!

Corn cakes with spicy honey sauce

Creole dish with the largest shrimp I’ve ever seen

Tuscan-style dining

My view during dinner

Posing at the pool

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