Precious Possessions

Strolling around Islington earlier last week, I was walking down Holloway Road with a planned coffee stop at one of the many small cafes that appear every five minutes or so. It was during this intentional detour en route to the nearby Malin+Goetz store for a few indulgent bathroom supplies that my mind wandered to the subject of quality. As the years roll on and I become older (and only slightly wiser), I often find myself trying to walk that fine line between quality and cost when it comes to many of my purchases. Dressed in a mix that spans several price levels between SuitSupply shirt and jacket, tailored Uniqlo wool trousers and Drake’s pocket square, it was perhaps the pair of Meermin on my feet that got me wondering.

For the repeat visitor to this site or my instagram, my preference for this Spanish shoemaker will probably not come as a surprise as I own a few pairs and they often make a shiny appearance. Meermin is frequently mentioned as one of the best value brands on the market and rightfully so, as their Goodyear welted shoes come at a very decent price point with several classic models in their selection. Put This On wrote a fair review of their shoes back in 2012 which also includes a comparison of the Linea Maestro line which is slightly more expensive. It was after having read this review by Juho from The Nordic Fit of his Meermin double monks that I eventually ordered my own, which are still going strong and looking great four years later.
So far, my Meermin shoes seem like they can look forward to the oppressive company of my feet for many years, but with this lasting kind of quality comes other consideration. Should a pair of shoes last me for 10+ years, the question then becomes whether the design and look of the shoe will still be appealing to me at that time. While Meermin’s price point at £155 (incl shipping to the UK) is below many other of same style , it’s still an investment for me and one which I consider with great care before making a decision. After considering several different pairs, I went with the enduring classic of a brown Oxford. As Ben St Georg recently wrote in The Rake on this archetypal dress shoe: “The debate about which style of shoe is the most fundamental, the most essential, the most unimpeachable, is one seemingly doomed to play out eternally, Ouroboros-like. It’s also a debate that misses the entire point – and indeed the joy – of footwear. There are many different and wonderful styles of shoe – each worthy and timeless in their own right, and each with their own time and place. However, if you forced my hand and told me to I had to pick just one for every occasion for all time, it would probably be the Oxford.”
He goes on to note that “a brown Oxford should be considered a foundational item – perfect for pairing with navy, flannel grey and charcoal, appropriate for the office and the weekend.” Inherent in this sentiment is the kind of considerations that most should take into account when building the foundations of a classic menswear wardrobe – starting with the basic, quality items that will work in most occasions, with multiple outfits and will stand the test of time.

Naturally, it’s hard to talk about quality without touching upon the economics thereof. While I would have cherished most of my current possessions as much in my twenties as I do today, there is the inescapable fact that throughout years of studying, I simply didn’t have the income to spend on a proper pair of shoes or a half decent bottle of wine.
Following the economical turmoil starting in 2008, I kept coming across a common thread in articles and websites that touched upon on a shift in many peoples’ priorities from a throw-away culture where everything was bought and discarded with little thought or hesitation to realizing the value of lasting quality. One of these instances that struck a cord with me back then was this little video from 2010 about the brothers behind Billykirk, who talk about their desire to make goods that will last and stand the test of time.
I suppose the point I’m desperately trying to arrive at before the daylight fades and my laptop heats my lap to sub-Saharan temperatures, is that certain things are worth investing in for the long haul. Profound, right?
Perhaps not a bombshell of mind-blowing proportions, yet that fine line between quality, cost and style is something worth considering in building a wardrobe. Case in point, consider the simple price-per-wear of Cleav’s (aka @ignoreatyourperil) Grenson boots which has lasted him an impressive 31 years. If that’s not going to convince you of the value of investing in and taking care of a decent pair of shoes, may the Lord have mercy on your sole.

Flat Whites in Fitzrovia

There’s little doubt that the UK is increasingly shifting from a nation favoring a  stereotypical cup of tea to embracing the dark delights of coffee. Though interestingly, while the average tea consumption is steadily declining, coffee consumption isn’t yet at outrageous level (leave that to the highly caffeinated Finns). However, the culture surrounding coffee is more popular than ever as the coffee shops are a trend in themselves and pop up at an increasing rate and have even replaced the storied pub as the preferred third place of Britons. While I prefer a pint as much as the next guy, my Scandinavian wiring requires far coffee more than beer and I’m also fairly certain my work productivity would rapidly decline if I replaced my daily cups of coffee with ales.
So having an increasing choice of great coffee venues across the city suits me just fine. As I’ve previously touched upon, I like to take a detour via unfamiliar streets as it can give new perspective on a neighborhood and you never know what architectural or cultural gem you might come across. As I recently took such a detour through the streets of Fitzrovia, I was delighted to find the picturesque Old Dairy Cafe, where I could get my hands on a well-made flat white to keep me going through the afternoon and also give me a bit of warmth as London is still fairly chilly this week.

While I’m still refusing to bring out my overcoat in my unfounded belief that spring is just around the corner, I’m managing with my light Drakes scarf and a pair of thicker grey flannel trousers to keep me warm.
From my summer wardrobe, I’ve defiantly brought out my blue washed cotton jacket, which is unconstructed with no lining or padding, which makes it not only casual, but also perfect for spring and summer. I picked up this cherished piece from Chocoolate in Hong Kong when I studied there nearly 8 years ago. Though having just found their site after all these years, I’m afraid items like this jacket is no longer their style – perhaps it never was and I just got lucky. As I like to my color compositions rather simple, I’ve paired the blue jacket with a light blue shirt and a solid brown silk knit tie from SuitSupply, a Drakes pocketsquare and brown double monks from Meermin.
I’ve gotten a lot of use for this particular jacket over the years, but it is also starting to show its age, so I suspect that it won’t be long before I will have to retire it and I am slowly beginning to look for alternatives. When the day comes, I’ll do another post with the final options for consideration, but here are some of the top of my head:

Got any suggestions for a nice washed cotton jacket? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

The Daily Grind

A Monday morning meeting in the City gave me the chance to finally stop by the Royal Exchange Grind – another excellent location for the ever expanding Grind & Co across London. Located on the side of the central Exchange building by Bank Station, it’s probably one of the smaller of their venues along with Soho Grind, but has great high ceilings and large windows, which makes it feel airy and light compared to the crammed Soho location. While the exterior follows the design limitations and rules of the overall building, the interior has a modern feel that fits in nicely with the historical financial setting with plenty of marble and brass detailing.

Filing out of the station along with countless grey and navy suits around me, I had inadvertently conformed to this dress code for the day; though with minor differences. While most of the lapels on parade outside the windows of the cafe were notched, my trusty old SuitSupply jacket features slightly more flamboyant peak lapels and I wore it with charcoal wool trousers with two inch cuffs rather than as a full suit. As my work doesn’t actually require the kind of classic menswear that I enjoy, I like to mix jackets with separate trousers and as a result actually only own two whole suits, but plenty of jackets (I should emphasize that I mean sport coats, not suit actual jackets). I find that wearing separate jackets and trousers somehow strikes a more casual tone than a full navy suit and gives you more options to be playful and creative in your outfits.

Keeping in line with a navy and brown color palette, my striped knit tie is actually a rather old favorite from H&M. It’s not often that H&M does something as classic as this both in terms of colors and width, but this tie has definitely earned its place in my wardrobe after more than 7 years in my rotation. That’s a pretty decent cost-per-wear, if you ask me.
Finally, as I refuse to acknowledge that its still a bit chilly in London this week and therefore forego any coat, I had to layer up with a brown Merino wool cardigan from Uniqlo, while my classic brown Oxfords from Meermin kept me grounded as always.

By The Sea, By Myself

The sun bounced off the water along the highway. Every twist and turn in the road revealed a new look at the Pacific Ocean, where the waves rolled up on the countless beaches and cliffs lining the coast of California.
Driving up along Highway One was the last stretch of my journey, which I had started as a business trip in San Francisco before renting a car and driving off to hike the mountains of Yosemite. With stops in Monterrey, Carmel and Santa Cruz, I wanted to spend my last few days driving along parts of the iconic highway and relax in these picturesque coastal towns before returning to San Francisco and ultimately boarding my flight back home. With the winding coastal roads, frosty hiking trails and hipster coffee shops behind me, I thought wrap up my trip by reflecting a bit about why I believe traveling alone is a very worthwhile experience.

If you’ve followed this blog for a little while, you’ll likely have gathered that I’m fairly used to traveling alone as I often go abroad for work by myself. The same was the case with San Francisco, but this time I decided to finally take some time off and set off to explore California by myself.
Spending more than a few hours is undoubtedly not for everyone; I have friends who would likely give up after half day of solitude and either turn around or simply be miserable for the rest of their trip. So before heading off by yourself, you have to set your expectations for your trip. A common assumption in literature and across hundreds of travel blogs is that traveling alone is a way to discover yourself as you’re forced to deal with new environments, situations and cultures by yourself and thereby learn more about who you actually are. This might be the case for some, but traveling by yourself doesn’t need to a spiritual journey of self-discovery.
There’s no need to go full eat, pray, love here.
So if you’ve never traveled by yourself, you don’t have set out expecting to ‘find’ yourself, but be prepared to at least find out whether you can stand your own company (mine is terrific, by the way). Beyond that, all you really need is a camera, a notebook and enough books to keep you engaged when that stunning evening sky just gets too dull to stare at.

There are clear advantages to being by yourself – you decide own schedule and can do whatever you feel like in the very moment without regards to anyone else. Disadvantages? Yeah, there’s plenty of those too. While hiking in Yosemite was an absolutely incredible experience, walking up a mountain by yourself with no one knowing your location has its risk. Just ask James Franco/Aron Ralston.
Wilderness aside, there are moments that you’d wish you could have shared with your loved ones, but in being by yourself, you’re also forced to stay in the moment and truly experience it for yourself. As mentioned in this recent article on Mr.Porter, traveling alone is no longer reserved for teenage backpackers and lost souls as more and more people undertake trips by themselves in recent years and the travel industry is therefore increasingly catering to this segment. So if you have a bit of bravery and freedom to undertake a trip by yourself, why not start with these eight suggestions.

Should you find yourself in California, perhaps also check out the convenient California capsule collection from Mr.Porter.

(There’s more pictures from the trip on my Instagram feed, so feel free to check those out as well.)

Chasing waterfalls

While I’ve always appreciated time by myself, hiking alone in this landscape is perhaps one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. As I keep moving along the trail, hour by hour, I can allow my thoughts to wander until break in the trees opens up another magnificent view of the landscape, which lends itself to a perfect balance between introspection and letting the surroundings completely pull you into the moment.

After a relaxing evening at the hotel, where I sad with my book and a cocktail by the fireplace and listened to the pianist in the parlor, I got an early start in the morning and drove to the nearby start of the Chilnualna Falls trail. The temperatures had dropped significantly overnight, which meant that the first two hours of the hike was a wonderful mix of warm morning sun and a completely frozen forest floor. At several points, the path brings you alongside the freezing water of the falls somewhere high above. So you occasionally get a reminder of your final goal at the top of the trail and the water almost becomes a comforting companion that disappears for long stretches as you weave in and out of the forest until you can suddenly hear the rush of the water coming closer beyond the next bend.

Needless to say, the final view from the top is nothing less than stunning as you can walk right down to the water just before it drops off the frozen mountain side, so I allowed myself time to simply sit on a nearby rock with the sound of the rushing water in the background and refueled on trail mix and protein bars.
As the season in Yosemite has only just begun and I had gotten an early start, I didn’t actually see another person until I was more than halfway back down the trail and it was likely this complete sense of solitude that made this one of the best hikes I’ve ever had. Naturally, wandering out into nature by yourself with no one aware of your location is not the brightest idea, but the Chilnualna trail is fairly easy and I stuck to the main path the whole way. While this part of Yosemite isn’t as grand as what you’ll find inside the main valley, having the trail to myself on such a splendid morning heightened the whole experience to something I will never forget.

Seasons in Yosemite

A hop, skip and a few hours drive from San Francisco, I find myself a in completely different world in Yosemite National Park and experiencing a landscape unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before.
As I left San Francisco, the weather was as stereotypical Californian as it could be with blue skies and bright sunshine, yet as I approached the rising mountains of Yosemite, I felt an immediate shift in the air. As if I had driven through a portal to another world, a mere matter of minutes after the ascent began up winding forest roads, I suddenly found myself driving right through a snow cloud. Well aware that I had brought neither snow chains nor even winter clothing, I was beginning to wonder whether I’d even make it to the hotel or would be able to hike in these conditions.

As I eventually drove up to the entrance of the Big Trees Lodge past a half-frozen fountain, the snow was as persistent as ever and I was sure that my arrival this early in the season might have been a poorly timed decision. Though, with few people around, I was given a rather good room at the very back of Moore Cottage with a shared bathroom and quickly dropped off my bags and found an extra sweater to layer up with. The hotel consists of several picturesque Victorian buildings with classic white verandas and surrounded by the lush Yosemite nature. There’s only wifi in one little sun lounge at the farthest end of one the of main buildings, so I was fairly glad that I had stocked up on a few books in advance.
Determined to not let the weather keep me indoors, I crossed the nearby river and walked to the pioneer village, which was completely abandoned as the snow continued to coat the roofs of the small wooden houses and the adjacent covered bridge.
Yet, in a shift of weather unlike anything I’ve seen, from one moment to the next, the clouds parted, the snow stopped and the afternoon sun suddenly appeared.

As I made my way back to the hotel, I was told by the staff that as the weather was improving, the tunnel into the main Yosemite valley was now open for cars without snow chains and I figured that I could get in a quick afternoon walk along the mist trail along Vernal fall.
As the first half of the trail is asphalted, it proved an good route to ease into the hiking before reaching the spray of the fall and the steep incline of the cliff side. There were few people on the trail in the afternoon sun, so I had good stretches to myself where I could simply lose myself in the view with the sound of the water coming down nearby.

Standing atop the fall and looking down onto the misty trail below, I can’t help but feel that in the span of a single day, I’ve experienced several seasons within Yosemite and am already falling under its spell. I simply can’t recommend a trip to this natural wonder enough.

Evening at the wharf

When I arrived in San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf was one of the few places that I thought I had a pretty clear memory of. Yet, as I reached the famous waterfront with a clear view of Alcatraz while the sun was setting after another rain shower, it all seemed completely different from the memory that I kept for the past 20+ years.
With neon bathing the wet sidewalks in a moody evening light, the sound of the waves only heard intermittently between pop songs being blasted from colorful and brightly lit tourist and candy shops. As the recent shower and the approaching darkness seemed to cleared the area of tourists and most other people, I was free to stroll along the many restaurants and out to one of the piers, where I could see the lighthouse on Alcatraz blinking at me every other second as the moon began to appear from behind the blanket of overhead clouds.
Eventually, I stopped in for a bite at Cioppino’s where the big neon crab seemed a fairly certain sign that I would be able to dig my teeth into one of the Bay Area’s Dungeness crabs. Grabbing a seat at the bar, I could quietly order myself a pint of local brew and watch the comings and goings at this rather old-school establishment and eventually get my fingers dirty with a delicious garlic roasted crab and creamy mashed potatoes.
So while I may have had to make myself reacquainted with one of San Francisco’s most well-known attractions – sitting there with a mouthful of crab and a pint in my butter-dripping hands, I think it’s safe to say that me and Fisherman’s Wharf are back on track to being good friends again.