Flash sale sites like RueLaLa or Gilt Groupe make it sound like you’re getting the best deal out there, but sometimes you aren’t. Their customer value propositions are that items are scarce and you need to buy fast if you want it (and probably can’t get it anywhere else).

Today I was super excited that one of my favorite designers, Leifsdottir, was going to be on Gilt Groupe. I went to the sale page right at 12 noon and started laughing when I saw a sweater I bought 2 months ago for $64 right on the designers website that was on “sale” for $99 on Gilt. I went over to the Leifsdottir site, thinking that maybe it wasn’t available anymore, but sure enough, it still is and is still $64!

Then I noticed a few other items that were also on the designers site and Gilt, everything cheaper on Leifsdottir.com. I tweeted Gilt about the matter and they replied with:

GiltSupport@lottieeb While we offer great prices on items we don’t always guarantee it’s the lowest out there. We want you to get a deal, so go for it!

Then, they tweeted me this:

GiltSupport@lottieeb Prices r made in correlation2 the designer& if they have clearance on their site we dont know We encourage u 2 purchase from them!

So basically they are using the flash sale to make consumers think that if you don’t buy fast you’ll lose your chance to get an item, but that’s not always the case. Though they don’t “guarantee” the best price, they sure have tried to make their marketing messages imply otherwise. And, they don’t do any market research to see if the designer has the items sold for less? That’s just bad business and poor strategy on their part, first rule of pricing policy guys (any econ professor can tell you that!). Clearly they bought it for a lot less than $99, that said, smart partnership for Leifsdottir who might have made more on the Gilt Sale than on their own site. Bottom line – before you rush to buy at a flash sale, do a little pricing research!

My favorite places to visit are palaces (and large houses if we’re talking USA). I’ve been to my fair share around the globe, and Russia is right at the top in terms of “palatialness.” In St. Petersburg, I had the pleasure of visiting both the Hermitage and Catherine’s Summer Palace. So here we go.

The Hermitage

Right in the center of St. P the architectural ensemble of the State Hermitage, first built by Peter the Great as his residence, consists of the Winter Palace (the former royal residence of Peter and his successors) and a bunch of other awesome buildings that house more than three million works of art and artifacts, from Matisse to Michelangelo and everything in between!

The Winter Palace

We started our power tour in the Winter Palace, admiring the state rooms and baroque architecture.

Entrance Hall, Winter Palace

Throne Room

My favorite room housed a peacock clock, given as a gift to Catherine the Great, once a week they wind the clock and the peacock shows her (his?) feathers, sadly today was not the day.

To get from the Winter Palace to the buildings that house the galleries (started by Catherine the great), you need to walk down a hall modeled after the Vatican, it was like walking to the Sistine Chapel, minus the Papacy!

My favorite painting in the galleries was a Matisse.

And a few Michelangelo’s were chillin’ in the galleries too!

The collection was impressive, but we really only had time to run through the Impressionists. I’ll have to go back!

The Catherine Palace

About 30 minutes outside of St. Petersburg (via metro and mashutka bus) in the village of Tsare Selo (literally “Tsars Village”) lies the Summer Palace complex, a country retreat for the Tsars. The most impressive building is the Catherine Palace, completed in 1756 for Catherine the Great (obvs). It was almost completely destroyed by the Germans in WWII, but prior to the war Russian archivists had managed to document almost all of the palaces details and treasures. As a result, the palace underwent a major restoration, and opened to the public for the first time in the late 1970’s. Some of the rooms are still being restored!

You start your tour in the Great Hall, almost reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and make your way into more and more magnificent spaces including the famous Amber Room, which houses wall panels made completely of carved amber. The original panels are still “lost” but they were reconstructed with great detail and paid for by Germany (paybacks a b&t*h). No pics allowed in the room, so I smartly snapped one outside the doorway. Nyet to that!

Lottie in the Ballroom

Blue things are fireplaces, whatevs.

Amber, no big deal.

My Blue Room looks like this too!

Another section of the palace houses some rooms decorated by Catherine’s son Paul. He and his Momma didn’t get along, so when he had to live at the palace he redecorated, pink and green is an interesting choice, but it was mainly to piss off his Mom the Tsarina.

Hate you Mom, making MY rooms pink!

Other interesting artifacts included these beautiful teacups and the bed of Tsar Alexander III. Originally he used it when he was in the army, but preferred to sleep in it even when in his royal residences.

Do you think the sheets are at least Egyptian cotton?

Find me a set of these to buy! By teatime please.

They were lovely sites, and gave me some great decorating ideas for my palace someday, if you know anyone who specializes in Amber Rooms, do let me know…

When I wasn’t touring palaces or Kremlins my time in Russia was spent visiting a number of companies. My three favorites were a juice factory, a brewery and a cigarette factory.

First off, the word juice in Russian is сок, umm yes, I know what it sounds like, but apparently it’s pronounced “Sok,” that said, the jokes were abundant.

Fittingly, our first factory stop was Multon Juice, started in 1995 it’s the second largest juice company in Russia and was acquired by Coca Cola in 2005. They make 4 different brands of сок’s under various brand names. The high-end brand is called Rich. The plant manager said they named it Rich to appeal to wealthy Russians. Makes sense!

Since they don’t grow many fruits in Russia (as in NONE) they import juice concentrate from around the world (including cranberry!) and mix the juices at their factory in St. P. Before our plant tour we got to sample a few, my favorite was the mixed fruit, sorta fruit punchlike, but not too sweet.

Then we had to suit up, perhaps the most fascinating machine at the place was the “bootie-putter-on-er” (technical name tbd), you stick your foot in the bottom and a cloth bootie snaps on your foot, so cool!

Once suited up we began to tour, they were making apple that day. We saw the whole assembly line, from the mixing machines to the juices being boxed up and prepared for shipping.

The next manufacturing facility we visited was the British American Tobacco Company, yup, your guessed it, they make cigarettes. Among their brands are Lucky Strike and Pall Mall, not cool, but still a fascinating visit. They are one of the largest cigarette manufactueres in Europe and their warehouse is huge. They make every part of a cigarette from mixing the tobacco, to making filters and assembling the cigs. They say that the tobacco mixtures are all “food based” no formaldajyde and any of those other things that are supposed to be in cigarettes, but I don’t really know who to believe. We did get to smell a mixture, and it had a faint chocolate and charcoal smell, hmmm.

We couldn’t take pictures inside, but got to snap a few out front.

Some interesting things I observed are that their is no smoking in the factory (ironic, see pic below), their tobacco is sourced from countries like Malawi, Uganda, India and Cambodia, and tobacco leaf actually smells quite good, sort of sweet. And, lastly, the most smokers are in China (and the Chinese state owned factory has 41% of the Globe’s market share, but all in China).

However, in good news, the worldwide cigarette market is slowly shrinking, wahoo!

A no smoking sign, at the cigarette fac (sing to tune of Alanis’s “Ironic”)

Our last beverage stop was Baltika Brewery, thanks to Russia House in DC I have had the pleasure of sampling Baltica’s products before, so I was supah excited to visit. It’s the largest brewery in Eastern Europe, and second only in size to Heineken (on the European Continent). Carlsberg of Denmark owns an 89% share in the company, so aside from their own Baltika branded brews they also make Carlsberg and Tuborg among others.

Baltika was founded in 1990 in St. Petersberg and has been growing rapidly ever since. They name their beers by number, from 1 to 9 (no double digits yet), my favorites are #7  (a pale lager) and #8 (a wheat beer). They’ve been the market leader in Russia almost since their founding with a 40% market share at press time.

#8, so great!

The tour was fun and our guide was very knowledgable, we couldn’t take pictures inside this factory here either, but the coolest part was the warehouse where men drive around on little trucks and use RFID technology to load cases of beer on trucks for shipment, I could have watched them driving around all day!

At the end of the tour they had a small museum, in Soviet days, when there were no brands, you just got your beer from a truck, filling your own container from home. After perusing the museum the tasting room called… We drank all the brews from 1 to 9 (just a taste of each mind you) and washed them down with Carlsbergs and Tuborgs.

Not BYOB, but rather BYOJ (bring your own jug)

So many Baltika’s, so little time…

Quite a fun way to end the academic part of our trip!

After a bumpy night we pulled into St. Petersburg Station around 8:30am. Being the seasoned travelers we are we decided to take the metro to our hotel instead of hailing a taxi. This was totally fine for some of the people in our group who had packed light, but was a bit of a challenge for CL and I who had rather large suitcases. That said, it was a great workout, and you really haven’t lived until you’ve lugged your LL Bean Extra Large Roller over a snowbank!

Even though we got to our hotel, the Courtyard Marriott Vasilievsky, quite early, our rooms were ready. So after a much needed shower and power nap we headed out into the City Formerly Known As Leningrad. Our first stop was Stolle (which translates to awesome Russian meat pie). We ordered a variety of stuffed breads. I got a mushroom, other got beef, chicken, salmon, herring and even “barberry” which pretty much tastes like cranberry. A perfect lunch, the bread itself is slightly sweet, which really goes well with either sweet or savory fillings.

Our next stop was Nevsky Prospeckt, St. P’s version of say Newbury Street or Fifth Avenue, but on the way we crossed the River Neva, and checked out the Hermitage, the former home of the Tsars after Peter the Great got tired of Moscow and decided to move the capital here. The city consists of over 42 islands, hence many bridges, some of which are drawbridges in the summer. But right now, in March, the rivah is frozen solid!

As we approached the water we spotted the Winter Palace of the Hermitage. This home of the Tsars was built in 1754 by an Italian architect, and remodeled in 1837 to the way it is today, by Catherine the great, but more on that later.


Once we got to Nevsky Prospeckt our first stop was Kazan Cathedral, it looked more Roman than Russian (and it was indeed influenced by St. Peter’s in Rome), and luckily the Reds did not destroy this one.

Next, since we clearly were not tired if churches we went to The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood (awesome name). This church was built from 1883 and 1907 on the spot where Alexander II (the Tsar who freed the serfs, remember sophomore year of HS history?), was killed by the People’s Will Terrorist Group in 1881, hence the name. It was modeled after St. Basil’s in Moscow and really spectacular inside and out.

It also underwent a 27 year restoration, ending in 1997, and what makes it doubly awesome is that the interior is all mosaics.

Yeah that’s not paint, it’s mosaic, I like small colored stones in the shape of Jesus and the Saints, whatevs.

After all that I decided to walk back across the Neva River to visit the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, per the recc of MZ. It was the city’s first museum, founded in 1714 by Peter himself and is infamous for it’s collection of super weird things, like embryo’s with no legs, conjoined fetuses (is that plural or what?) and a two headed fox. Totes weird, I was too grossed out to take any pictures, see MZ’s blog for a few of them.

That night we met up with the rest of the group, who had arrived from the US and went over to the Marinsky Theater for the Ballet. Our show for that night was Анна Каренина (Anna Karenina for those of you who don’t read Cyrillic, gawd). This theater is where Tchaikovsky premiered such ballets as the Nutcracker and Swan Lake, no big deal.

We admired the theater lobby as well as the Tsar’s box, where him and his peeps got to sit when they felt like going to the ballet.


His Box, heehee.

Curtain Call

After a long day, and the death of poor Anna it was time for bed. Tomorrow we’re off to visit some sites of St.P.

For the next 12 days I am going to be in Russia on a trip for school. Before meeting up with the whole group in St. Petersburg, a few people in our group are going to Moscow on our own. We figured we’ll probably only be in Russia once, so why not see Moscow too? So москва (that’s Moscow in Russian) here we go…

Our flight from BOS to LHR was delayed for about 20 minutes because Airforce 1 was also taking off from Boston at the same time, really Obama? You couldn’t wait until my plane left? However, we had a great flight, the plane was basically empty and CL and I each took a row, stretched out and slept! Once in London we got a quick coffee and boarded our Flight to Moscow. Once landed we followed Marc’s explicit instruction on how to get a taxi and off we went to the Marriott Grand Hotel Moscow.

The hotel was just great, and Tiffany had gotten there before us and worked her magic to get us a nice corner suite. It was about 4pm, so there was really no time for a nap before dinner, but fortunately there was a Starbucks right next to the hotel. Yeah yeah, I know, going to Starbucks when you’re in Russia, but this girl wanted her soymilk (and they had it, I win), so about USD $7 later I had a soy latte, pricier than the US, but NEEDED. Then we met up with Elena and Dasha, two lovely Russian girls who a friend put us in touch with and went off to dinner at a steakhouse in one of the business areas of the city. We had some chicken kebabs, homemade beer and veggies, then braved the Moscow metro, one of the largest in the world, and crashed early.

The next day it was time to be tourists. Our hotel was only a 15 minute walk from Red Square, so we headed straight there. Our first stop was Lenin’s tomb, it was supposed to open at 10am, but to our dismay it was closed, no reason why of course, just a “nyet, closed, perhaps tomorrow.” But that’s okay, we just walked on over to the State History Museum and I was the first person of the day to buy a ticket!

State History Museum

Kremlin, whaevs.

Translation: LENIN (Lenin’s tomb)

The museum was filled with everything from fossils to a 14 carat diamond ring (hint, hint, my BATNA is 12 though, I’ll take that) and the building itself was decorated inside to look like different periods in Russians history.

Then we stopped at the small Kazan Cathedral, it was rebuilt in 1993, because the structure from the 1600’s was destroyed in Commie days because it impeded foot traffic during parades, whatevs, in the way, goodbye, nyet.

Kazan Cathedral

Our next stop was some church, recognize it?

It was very weird inside, a lot of little rooms, St. Basil (the office name is actually Intercession Cathedral), is comprised of domes that are actually their own little chapels, hence the little rooms. It actually looked smaller in person than I thought, weird, however, from far away it’s pretty awe-inspiring.

Our next stop was GUM, the old Soviet store that people used to wait in line after line at to just get a pair of shoes or a banana, but now it’s an upscale mall. We walked around a bit to warm up, and had lunch. Luckily the menu was in English and Russian. I ended up with a baked potato topped with some sort of eggplant puree, as well as a salad and a cranberry juice, delish!

GUM

Lunch @ GUM

After lunch we headed to Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It was destroyed under Stalin, cause what proletariat cares about religion, it’s the “opiate of the masses”and the world’s largest swimming pool was built in it’s place. Swimming or church, the choice seems obvious right? But, luckily it was rebuilt in 1997.

Swimming Pool/Cathedral

After churchie we headed next door the Pushkin Museum of Art and checked out their modern collection, which was basically the Impressionists up to Picasso-ish. They had a decent collection that included some good Monet’s, Degas, a Gauguin or two, Cezanne, Renoir and a few others including Van Gogh and Picasso.

Then, Tiffany, CL and I braved the metro back to the hotel. The metro you see, is only written in Cyrillic, no English anywhere. Armed with a map (we knew our stop) we made it back, after asking a few Russians for help. Everyone was super nice, not a “nyet” in sight!

That evening we headed out again with our Russian friends Elena and Dasha. This time to one of Moscow’s first clubs, named Propoganda. The name was fitting as it was pretty basic inside, with exposed pipe and brick. We ordered dinner, a bottle and a half of vodka (for 6 of us mind you) and then hit the dance floor. On the way home we took some “cabs” but after midnight in Moscow any car is a cab, so with help from Elena and Dasha, who rode with us, we got a nice tour on the way home from a Russian literature student who drove us by the houses of Russian authors we didn’t know…

The next morning we got up a little late (no it wasn’t from the Vodka, I swear) and headed over to the Kremlin. I was told that it was hard to get in and the lines would be long, but we walked right up (no line) and got student tickets for half the price! We walked by some state buildings and a cannon, but didn’t see Putin, oh well.

Entrance to the Krems

BOOM!

Then we went into like 69 churches in Cathedral Square. This is the oldest part of the Krems, where they had lots of churches and a Patriarch’s Palace, I’m not too sure what a Patriarch is, but it sounds impressive, right?

Next we hit up the Kremlin Armory, probably the most impressive spot on the trip. It housed treasures ranging from the silver services of the Tsars, to Faberge Eggs (like dank, Faberge DID NOT mess), crowns, and Peter the Great’s boots (that he made himself, impressive), unfortunately, no photos allowed inside.

After that we headed to dinner at a Georgian restaurant per recommendation of the New York Times. The place was called Khachapuri, which is the name of the traditional Georgian cheese bread (their signature dish). It’s basically like a thick crust pizza with just cheese, AMAZING. We also had some dumplings filled with meat, this amazing bean soup, salads, cheeses and kebabs. Basically we just asked the waiter what to order and he brought us a feast, and at about $40 USD a person, not bad at all. Thanks NYT!

Khachapuri and amazing bean dish!

Once finished with dinner we headed back to the hotel, grabbed out bags, and headed to the train station where we boarded an 8 hour night train to St. Petersburg. CL and I shared a cabin, it was somewhat tight with our large suitcases, but we managed to get an okay sleep, though we did wake up a lot due to the bumpy ride. You would think the train would just lull you to sleep, but unfortch it was a bit bumpy, oh well.

All in all Moscow was a great city, no trouble at the tourists sites and the people were not mean at all, stereotypes negated! We can’t wait for St. P.

We were on the I-10 heading to Palm Springs bright and early on Saturday morning (after a stop at Coffee Bean of course). By 11am we reached the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, our mirage in the desert for the next two days. We were able to check into our King Lounge room, filled with mid-century modern furnishings and a “commune blanket” (basically a rag that you could use as a blanket at the o and purchase for $59 upon departure, weird guys) and then hit the pool. The hotel was an old Howard Johnson Motel, that was trendfied a few years ago, they did a great job!

We ate lunch poolside (beef brisket burgers and beer) and tanned away the afternoon. The temperature reached around 80 and without a cloud in the sky and the dry desert weather, it’s perfect. Around 5pm we left the pool and walked around town, stopping at various furniture stores and ending at Yogurt on Tap, a self service fro-yo establishment, amazing. I got berry sorbet with cake batter fro yo, Marc got red velvet and cake batter, you pay by the pound, it’s awesome! Later that evening we met the fabulous Michael and Scott for dinner at an Italian place in Rancho Mirage, they have an awesome food and travel blog and were so fun to dine with.

The next day we hit up Cheeky’s for brunch, it might be our fave brunch spot in the world, we went last year when we were in Palm Springs and were so excited to go back, definitely worth the 30 minute wait for eggs benedict, a bloody mary in a boot, french toast, and a cinnamon roll (you see the roll right on the home page if you click, droooollll).

The rest of the morning/early afternoon was spent at the pool, then came the highlight of the trip. Michael and Scott’s Rancho Mirage house was on the 10th Annual Discovery Home Tour, a charity event to benefit the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, and they were kind enough to give us ticket to this wonderful event! On the tour were six spectacular Rancho Mirage houses, ranging from and Italian Villa to a midcentury-modern masterpiece, a pool with a swim up bar and grotto (cost $700k to construct) and Michael and Scott’s amazing Desert Oasis. Sadly no photos were allowed, but you can see a few pics if you click the link (including Scott and Michael’s Morgan Automobile).

After the tour we went to our favorite Mexican Hideaway, Las Cazuelas, for some tacos and margaritas, a lovely way to spend our last night. The next day at checkout Marc had another celebrity sighting, the Miley Cyrus family, minus Miley (she was getting there later) was checking in. Billy Ray and the wife he recently divorced were both there, cue TMZ. We spent our afternoon/evening in LA, hitting up Venice Beach for dinner due to its proximity to LAX before boarding out flight back east.

(Venice Beach Pier)

Okay, fine, back, sorry I haven’t posted since Q4 2010. Let’s get to it.

Last week Marc and I took a trip to LA to visit our brothers, who both happen to go to USC. When we hopped off the plane at LAX (with a dream and a cardigan of course) we picked up our rental car and headed straight to the LA Convention Center. Marc’s brother had informed us that Barney’s was having its annual sample sale and we had to check it out. After paying $12 for parking we headed into the cavernous exhibit hall that housed the sale. The women’s section was a waste of my time, though we got there about 2 hours after opening there was nothing worth spending my student budget on. Totally picked over. However, the men’s section was great, Marc scored a Paul Smith Blazer and 70% off, that made the parking worth it.

Next we headed to Urth Cafe for a bite to eat, also downtown. They had a great selection of organic soups, sandwiches and salads, as well as outdoor seating. It was amazing to sit outside in the sun and not see snowbanks! I ordered a soup/sandwich combo, that also came with a salad, delish.

Our next stop was dessert, ever since I stopped eating dairy I’ve searched high and low for decent dairy free pastries, and I’ve always wanted to check out Babycakes, a vegan bakery with locations in LA and NYC. The LA location happened to be nearby, so we sped over in our rental Prius and I was just in heaven! We got a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting, a carrot cake cupcake, a frosted cinnamon roll and a banana chocolate chip loaf, OH MY. We ate the two cupcakes on the spot, the chocolate was great, didn’t taste vegan at all, but the carrot was a little dry. The other two items we saved for breakfast the next AM. We loved the banana loaf, but the cinnamon bun just was too cakey. All in all though, for a vegan baked goods, these rocked!

(Vegan Chocolate/Chocolate, MMM)

The day was still young, so we headed over to Robertson Boulevard and hit up the various Kitson outposts, tried to see if there were any celebs dining at The Ivy (none), and stopped in a few of the other stores. Tired out we made our way to the Luxe Sunset Boulevard, our Bel-Air hotel. The place was well decorated and looked a lot like the Sunset Marquis, but unfortunately it was not up to that quality level. We’d gotten a deal on Gilt Group’s Jetsetter, and now I see why it was discounted. The walls were paper-thin, not cool, and they gave us two double beds instead of our requested King, will never stay there again. However, we didn’t let this ruin our stay.

After trying to rest while listening to the room next door’s TV show (no it wasn’t 30 Rock unfortch) and their convos, I met a friend for dinner in West Hollywood. Though Lisa Vanderpump’s resturant SUR was nearby we decided to eat at the Abbey instead, better place to catch up and avoid those pesky paparazzi, gawd, though it would have been fun to dine with her and Pinky, but not Cedric, TRAITOR!

The next morning we woke to the sun and headed down the PCH to Malibu, we stopped at a beautiful beach (I can’t remember the name) and dug our feet into the sand, just a typical Friday. Anyone recognize it?

Then, we lunched at Geoffrey’s (pronounced Joffrey’s, obvs), our Prius was no match for the Maserati’s et. al. in the parking lot. That said, they still gave us bourgeois a great table, the view was amazing, and the food was delish! We even spotted some dolphins as we munched on our tuna tartare.

(Can’t really see our faces, just focus on the view)

After lunch we did some shopping at the Malibu Country Mart and the boys got some overpriced James Perse tee’s and I got some hairspray, exciting. On the way back we braved the LA Friday afternoon traffic, but hey, it beats getting stuck in a snowstorm on Lakeshore Drive, right?

That evening, was perhaps the highlight of the trip, we had dinner at Jose Andre’s Baazar, and wow, bizarre it was. The decor was just crazy and the Spanish Tapas were far from traditional. After being seated at a somewhat normal table (compared to the surrounding ones) we proceeded to order cotton candy foie gras, liquid olives, philly cheesesteaks (puffed bread filled with liquid cheese and a slice of steak on top), sweet potato chips, japanese peaches, caprese salad (a cherry tomato with a liquid mozzarella ball), basically molecular gastronomy at its finest! The place was awesome and I’d recommend you get there ASAP if you’re anywhere near LA.

(The Restaurant)

(Philly Cheesesteak)

(Cotton Candy Foie Gras)

Our next stop was the Roger Room, where we met my friend Alix (read her full review of the bar here), and stood next to John Mayer for about an hour. He’s ugly in person, sorry ladies. We also spotted Zack Galifianakis (he was probably hungover the next day) and the rapper Drake, celeb central and nobody cared, so LA! Aside from the celebs, it was a cool bar, with old world decor and very interesting cocktails. My brother got one with egg-white that had a picture of Hello Kitty in syrup on top (I think they used some kind of a mold). Not pretentious at all, I would def go back.

After all that we decided to call it a night, we were heading to Palm Springs the next day and wanted to get an early start so as to maximize our pool time in the desert!

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