A Girly Weekend in Dublin

As far as European city destinations go, Dublin wouldn’t make my top 5 – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy this city. We headed over for a girly weekend, for my friend Philippa’s 21st birthday, with a few of us flying out from up North and me and Esther flying out of London.

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A definite plus for Dublin, is how close it is to the UK and how cheaply you can see the city and get there. I think the flights cost us £35 each way on Ryan Air which is super cheap and the flight barely took an hour. Our hostel we stayed in was also super cheap as we stayed in a dorm room. I’d recommend hostel dorm rooms to anyone visiting Dublin on a budget and in a group – because the likelyhood is – you’ll end up having the dorm to yourself if you can fill it up. There was five of us, which was perfect as it felt like our own little room. Even better, when we getting ready to go out – it was like those slumber parties you have when you’re growing up when you all gather at someones house to get dolled up. We even managed to share the one bathroom without too much hassle – which is impressive for 5 girls!

What should you see in the city? 

To be honest, we probably didn’t see everything the city has to offer – but we did as much as we could in the little time we had there which was only a couple of days.

But number one thing on your list should definitely be The Guinness factory.  I’m going to write about that in more detail next week, but in a nutshell, this is basically the biggest tourist hub in the city and where most tourists flock to whilst they’re in town. It’s good fun and worth the ticket cost, if only for the trip up to the bar afterwards – even more so if you’re a big Guinness fan.

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Next on your list, should just be enjoying the city.

We didn’t get the best weather (as you can probably tell from the photos!) but the city is still lovely to walk around. Take a walk around the university (where some of the world’s smartest minds once studied) and take a look around some of the churches (especially Christchurch Cathedral), Dublin Castle and all of the cities beautiful cobbled streets. There is a free eBook I found by cheap flights (click here) that has some other suggestions in more detail – so that might be worth having a look at too!

Along all those gorgeous cobbled streets, you’ll find cute cafes, cosy pubs (if you didn’t already get your fill of guinness!) and quirky boutique shops. The Dublin needle is another iconic landmark of the city too found on the other side of the river  – but don’t worry, it’s kind of difficult to miss it!

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When the sun goes down, get dressed up and experience some of Dublin’s famous nightlife. It’s hard to be disappointed by the atmosphere and nightlife in Dublin as the locals are so friendly and welcoming- and if you’re visiting on a Friday or Saturday night, expect it to be packed.

My favourite pub was the one pictured below – where we spent hours listening to an irish band play – with a little bit of dancing too of course! Irish music is so much fun, and it’s a little bit different to what you get in the UK, so make sure you give it a try and get involved in the Irish culture.

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A few other options for your time in Dublin…. 

National Gallery of Ireland (for art lovers)

National Museum of Ireland (for history lovers)

Dublin shopping district (for fashion lovers)

Dublin Writer’s Museum (for book lovers)

Dublin Zoo (for animal lovers)

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What was your favourite thing to do in Dublin? I’d love to hear more recommendations! 

Tips and Advice for Travelling Together as a Couple.

I was always going to travel.

Whether it was on my own or maybe with a friend (or boyfriend as it so happened to transpire!). It was something I always wanted to do, and always planned to do.

Having met Pad 3 years ago and after realising we both wanted to make our travel dreams happen, I felt so privileged to be able to share such a life-changing experience and such an exciting adventure with someone who I loved so much. Not many people get to do that, and now I can’t imagine seeing the world without him by my side.

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But it’s not easy, and travelling does test your relationship unlike any other life-experience or situation can. It’s almost like a pressure cooker for relationships, and we found, even after only a year travelling together, that we managed to cram in 5 years worth of experiences. Our relationship became so much stronger in our year travelling, than it ever was whilst we lived in London, and that is a gift in itself.

So I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while, and offer up a bit of personal advice to other couples planning on hitting the road together. But this doesn’t just apply to romantic couples, I think a lot of this advice (albeit, maybe not every point I’ll make) also applies to friends travelling together too.

1. Be patient.

This is just common sense, but you need to always have patience with your partner and with yourself. Pad and I were constantly with each other 24/7 for around 9 months – and we leant on each a lot. In every day life, you’d probably never spend this much full-on time with each other, so having that patience is really important. Be quick to forgive and don’t linger on things that get in the way of you enjoying your experience together.

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Never forget how lucky you are and where you are. Little things don’t need to matter so try not to blow things out of proportion.

2. Play to your strengths.

Different people have different skills, so make sure you identify these. Pad always keeps hold of our passports of and documents when we take flights because airports stress me out enough, what with my fear of flying. Having to worry about passports and boarding passes on top of that would push me over the edge! On the other hand, I love to plan and organise things – so the majority of the planning and the routes we took, were organised by me months before we even left.

3. Understand and accept that things will go wrong.

When you travel together, the likelihood is, one of you is going to get ill or injured – or whatever else could possibly happen. During travelling I managed to slice open my finger whilst zip-lining, get stomach flu twice and get terrible “I need to sleep all day” jet-lag in more than a few destinations. These things could have ruined the trip if we’d have let ourselves get worried or worked up – but we just let it pass. When I had stomach flu, Pad looked after me so well and I was so thankful to have him there, otherwise I would have been a miserable mess. When I sliced open my finger and got lumbered with a £98 medical bill,  it would’ve been so easy to feel sorry for myself – but Pad made me see the funny side and in the end it was kind of hilarious. Always force the other person to see the bright-side, and keep each other smiling. It could always be worse!

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4. Be a team. 

Leave any selfishness at the door, because it just doesn’t work when you travel together as a couple. If you have a team mentality about your relationship, then things become naturally easy, and suddenly those little problems don’t matter anymore.

5. Find your triggers.

Every relationship has certain triggers which might cause stress or worry or arguments. Saying that, Pad and I are pretty lucky because we very rarely argue anyway. However I would still go out of my way to avoid a situation I know might cause tension. Sometimes it’s as simple as arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare (so you don’t need to rush each other). For lots of couples it’s the financial side of travelling that can cause stress, so make sure you’ve sorted this and budgeted thoroughly before you leave. By doing this, hopefully it will never be an issue, and will never prevent you from having fun.

6. Other couples make great company. 

We travelled with our amazing friends Harriet and Ben for parts of our trip, and they made fantastic travelling companions. Travelling with another couple means you create a nice balance as a group, and it means no one is ever left out or isolated. On a more practical side, it also means when the girls want to go shopping – the boys can go enjoy a pint. Then everyone is happy.

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7. Realise that it’s OK to be different. 

Some days it’s OK to spend time apart. It’s normal for you to want to explore something, and for it to be completely uninteresting to your partner. This usually happened with shopping for us…. I love shopping and bargaining and wandering aimlessly through markets and shops. Whereas Pad could just as happily give that a miss. The moment you realise it’s OK to spend a few hours apart here and there, it’ll take the pressure off. I wouldn’t expect Pad to fake an interest in shopping just for my benefit – I’d much rather he spend that time doing something that makes him happy.

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Pad taking some ‘me’ time

8. Surprise each other. 

Keep surprising each other and keep making those little romantic gestures. Pad surprised me in Las Vegas by booking a Limo to pick us up from the airport, which was wonderful… and it meant so much that he’d thought that far ahead, just to make me smile. Try and keep making an effort too, for example, every few weeks take yourselves out for a nice meal and dress up in your best clothes and treat yourselves.  It can be easy to forget to go on ‘a date’ when you travel together – because you’re with each other all the time anyway. But I think it makes a big difference, and those nights are often the ones you remember the most because they felt special.

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My Favourite Things to do in Beautiful Dubai

I have family in Dubai, so I’m really lucky in that I always have an excuse to visit. Dubai is deifnitely a ‘Marmite’ kind of city – and usually when I speak to people, they have either loved it or hated it.

For me, I love it.

Sure, it’s a very new city, and it is all about the sparkle, the glitz and the glam. But, if you take it for what it is, you can have an amazing time here. There is (believe it or not) culture to be found amongst the skyscrapers and luxury hotels, and there are tons of fun things to do too.

So with this in mind, I thought I’d write about my favourite things to do in the city. Enjoy!

1. Watch the sunset

The sunset is so beautiful in Dubai – and you’ll never witness a sky more orange and a sun so bright as you do whilst you’re in the middle east. Take an entire evening and go sit on the beach as the sun sets into the horizon. It’s magic.

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2. Watch the Dubai fountains

Made by the same guys who did the Bellagio fountains – but on a much bigger scale – I challenge anyone not to be impressed whilst watching them. I cried the first time I saw them (I know – get a life Ellie) because they were just so beautiful, and my favourite song was playing in the background. But anyway, just go watch them.

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3. Explore the shopping malls

 

The shopping malls in Dubai are on a huge scale and you can find just about anything in them, that you would need in life, ever. I could literally spend days in the Pottery Barn they have – it’s so big. In Dubai mall there is ice-skating rink and the world’s biggest aquarium (they don’t do things by half…!) and in the Emirates mall you’ll find an indoor skiing slope. Yes really.

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4. Take in some culture

Many people visit Dubai and stay in the compounds of their hotel – which is a total mistake. Get out and about and you’ll stumble across some beautiful buildings (like the one below). Head into Dubai’s old town and there is even a museum you can visit which will fill you in on all the old-ways of the city. The traditional gold markets and fish markets are also a lot of fun, as is the tiny taxi-boat across the creek (which only costs about 20p).

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5. Visit a water park 

There are plenty of water parks to choose from, but I’d go for either The Atlantis one (because they have DOLPHINS!!) or the Wild Wadi one (because they awesome rides). It’s a lot of fun and a nice break from the city life too. Plus you get to spend a whole day messing about in pools and on slides – which is pretty cool. And Dolphins. Did I mention the Dolphins?!

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6. Visit the Marina

I love the marina because it feels a little separate from other touristy parts of the city – and yet it’s just beautiful and bustling all the time. I love just wandering around during the evening and watching the day turn into night. Enjoy a nice meal outdoors and enjoy some people watching too. 

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7. Hit the beach

During the summer months (June – August) the beach might be a bit unbearable because of the sheer heat (my sister and I almost died once trying to walk for about 15 minutes along the beach in 50 degree heat. This sounds like an exaggeration  but I swear we both thought we would literally melt to death), but saying that during the cooler months when the temperature is gorgeous – the beach is the perfect place to be. Dubai has some amazing beaches, and the sea is calm and clean too – so it’s always a pleasure to swim in it.

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8. THE FOOD!

The Food in Dubai is pretty damn good – what with all the buffets, posh restaurants and lebanese / middle eastern influence. The below is my favourite kind of food to eat in Dubai. Just give me humous, and tabouli. Lots of it. Everyday. For every meal.

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What are your favourite things to do in Dubai? I always love hearing new recommendations! 

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Hostels Vs Hotels in Australia and my Personal Recommendations.

I said it before (and I’m about to say it again)… Australia is the most expensive place in the history of the world. Ever.

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I think the prices in Oz would be a shock to anyone though (even for us) who had been living in Queenstown (NZ) and London (UK) previous to visiting – and both of these are famous for being expensive, over priced cities too.

Still, Australia was a level above even them.

When my boyfriend and I were travelling Australia, we obviously wanted privacy during the evening (dorm rooms aren’t the most romantic setting) – but that can be difficult when your budget won’t always stretch to a nice double room in a hotel. We figured out pretty quickly though, that most hostels in Australia offer private double rooms (with the options of shared bathrooms or en-suites) and at almost half the price of what you’d pay at a hotel down the road.

I wanted to write about this because we found it saved us a lot of money. Sure, hostels don’t have the best reputations (especially not where romance is concerned) but we were so pleasantly surprised with all of the hostels we stayed in – that I think the issue needs clearing up. Staying in a hostel in Australia (and NZ to that matter) isn’t always slumming it – and I would compare a lot of the hostels we stopped in during our time in Australia to a 3* or 4* bed and breakfast or hotel in the UK.

I would recommend anyone travelling Oz to totally embrace the hostel scene (we primarily used Hostel Bookers to find ours, as they have lots of choices), and save yourself all that money – so you can spend it on something like surfing or theme parks or beer. Hostels give you more of a social scene too (that you rarely get in a hotel) and you’ll find that most hostels will have food deals on too throughout the week. At the FlashPackers hostel in Noosa, we had all you can eat pizza for $8 each one night, and a free BBQ the next night. Stuff like that is lifesaving when you’ve begun counting the pennies and when you’re travelling on a tight budget!

So saying that, here are a few of the hostels we loved when we were in Australia:

YHA, Brisbane – amazing view, en-suite bathroom, rooftop swimming pool overlooking city, big kitchen and central location.

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Byron Bay Beach Resort – HUGE BED, hammocks, free shuttle into town, fun restaurant next door, 30 second walk to the beach.

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The Friendly Hostel, Hervey Bay – Homely feel, cosy living room (shared between 3 rooms), kitted-out kitchen, free bike hire, short walk to the beach.

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The Space Hotel, Melbourne – Gorgeous room, Amazing view (see below!), rooftop jacuzzi, modern decor, cheap cafe and bar on-site.

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Flash Packers, Noosa – comfy king-size bed, beautiful en-suite bathroom with rain shower, free surf board hire, gorgeous swimming pool.

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I’d love to hear any hostel or hotel recommendations you may have for Australia – as I’m sure I’ll be back there one day!

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The Best Hotel Views From Our Round The World Trip.

We stayed in some beautiful hotels during our round the world adventure – but the ones that made the biggest impression on us were definitely the ones that had incredible views.

There’s something special about waking up to a beautiful view (I don’t think anyone would disagree!) and when I go somewhere, I’m always scouring the internet for the hotels with the best views. So, I figured I’d put together a list of the places we stopped and the kind of views you can expect.

Enjoy!

New York City – An Air BnB hidden gem

This gorgeous little studio was a 5 minute walk from Times Square, and literally look right out onto The Empire State Building. It might actually have been the biggest bargain of our trip too – especially for how central we were. We knew the view would be great – but I hardly expected it to be as amazing as it was. One night we watched a huge thunderstorm over the city from our window, and it was priceless. I don’t think there are 5* hotels with views as good as this in NYC!

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Hong Kong – Langham Place Hotel

Pad and I both agree this was one of our absolute favourite hotels of the entire trip. We really treated ourselves and it was beautiful! The hotel was located just outside the centre of the city – but that didn’t really matter as we were right by an MRT station. The view was beautiful and looked out over the whole city – which was especially awesome during some big thunderstorms and during the light-show in the evening (which is what you can see below). The hotel even had a rooftop pool too – so you could enjoy this view from pool-side too.

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Bangkok – The Golden Tulip on Mandison

This hotel was another one of our favourites and our bedroom had a huge floor to ceiling window overlooking the entire local neighbourhood. In cities like Bangkok it’s just gorgeous to look out on the busy streets and the hustle and bustle outside, people watching is definitely one of our favourite things to do! They also had rooftop pool with a great views too which I think we used wayyyy to much!

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Kuala Lumpur – The Traders Hotel

We stayed in this hotel for two amazing nights and loved every second. The rooftop pool and rooftop bar were fabulous, and the view from the bedroom (which is what you can see below) was just breathtaking. I’m not going to lie – we literally booked this hotel for the view and the view alone, but the service, location and just about everything else about it was beautiful too.

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Koh Samui (Thailand) – Le Fenix Resort

We weren’t hugely wowed by this hotel, as it lacked a bit on the service side of things. But, saying that, the views were just stunning and really made-up for it’s shortfalls in other areas. I think this is the stereotypical view we all want when booking a beach holiday – so it definitely delivered!

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Gold Coast (Australia) – Mantra Circle on Cavill

We decided to go with serviced apartment when we were in Surfers Paradise and opted for the Mantra Circle on Cavill because of the amazing views it promised. It definitely didn’t disappoint. We loved working from our little balcony overlooking the lakes and I think we sat out there with ciders and beer and watched the sunset, at least 3 nights we were there. But who can blame us?

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Hamilton Island (Australia) – The Reef View Hotel

I don’t need to say much about this gorgeous view. The hotel is famous for attracting lots of birds – so we had at least 10 of these little fellas on our balcony daily. We didn’t get the best weather during our time here – but the views made up for that!

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Melbourne (Australia) – The Space Hotel

This hotel was the biggest bargain of the trip as it was a mix between hostel and hotel, and came with some amazing city views of Melbourne. We were lucky to be given a corner room so got to look out of double the normal views, and the place even had a jacuzzi on the roof terrace!

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Greyhound Australia Review – A Backpackers Best Friend.

When we made the decision to do the traditional backpacking route of Australia, at first I was kind of dreading it because of all the flights involved. BUT, after a bit of research and googling (yay for Google!) I stumbled upon Greyhound coaches and I pretty much knew it was the best option for us.

Basically Greyhound offer a huge network of coaches that run all the way up and down (and across) Australia. Every backpacking destination that is worth going to is covered by these coaches, and you hop on and off as you please, depending on what pass you’ve opted for. We chose a mini-pass, which allowed us to travel all the way from Cairns to Sydney hopping on and off wherever we liked – so long as we only went in one direction (for us, that was down the coast, rather than up).

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Doesn’t it take, like, forever to see Australia by coach? 

OK, so the Greyhound coaches perhaps aren’t the quickest way to see the country – but you save yourself the hassle of airports and flying, and usually (what with checking in your baggage, driving to the airport, etc) even a 1 hour flight can end up taking 4/5 hours…. in which case, you might as well get the coach. The coaches all depart from central locations within each town and city – so you don’t have to worry about getting a $30 taxi ride out to the bus station or bus stop – which is usually the case with airports. In Sydney I think we forked out $60 for a taxi from the airport to the city…! Ouch!

The longest coach ride we did was 12 hours – which seems like a lot, but to be honest it was kind of nice. I stocked up on a couple of cheap movies from iTunes, synced my Spotify so I had lots of new music to listen to – and then just sat back and enjoyed the ride. It’s not like UK coach journeys where you never stop for rests or toilets – the guys at Greyhound are pretty good with stopping frequently for that kind of stuff, maybe once every 3 hours – if not more. I’m not a big fan of coach-toilets (even though there are some on board) so I was pretty glad for the frequent rest stops!

We did two of those very long journeys, one over a full day and one over night. The night time one seemed to go much faster and it was way easier to fall asleep because it was dark outside, it was also much quieter during the night time coach and there seemed to be about half as many people on board. I would recommend in all cases doing the longer journeys overnight, because (trust me) 12 hours feels way shorter when you can’t waste away at least 5 of those sleeping.

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Can you eat on the coaches? 

Of course you can – I think you just need to be respectful of others though. Cold food is best (hot food tends to smell stronger – which might get you a few glances off other passengers!) so stick to things like sandwiches, sushi, pasta salad…. those kinds of picnic foods.

The rest stops are usually for about 20 minutes too – which gives you a chance to get out and stretch your legs, and even grab some food from those garages if you want to. I’d stock up beforehand too as a back-up though, because sometimes the garages you stop at might not have much to offer aside from sausage rolls, meat pies and burgers! Some of them however were serving full on buffet type meals – which was a welcome change!

What are the coaches like for space? 

Not bad actually – I was pleasantly surprised! They were never too busy either, so most of the time Pad and I opted for a double-seat to ourselves. He might be the most loveliest boy I’ve ever known – but I’d still choose to have 2 seats to myself on a 12 hour coach journey…!

Leg room is pretty good (for all you tall folk reading) although this was never even remotely an issue for me as I’m only 5ft2 and I have small legs. I’m usually spoilt for leg room even in the tightest of spots. I got Pad to model the legroom below for you though – he is 6ft with normal legs and his don’t even touch the front seat.

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How do you purchase tickets? 

You can book them online, or call them up, or go into one of their branches (see below) – so it’s pretty easy really. We liked that you could then book each individual journey ahead of time online – which made us way more organised than usual. You do have to do this – you can’t simply turn up and hope to get on a coach. We booked all our journeys about a month ahead of time (being the keeno planners we are) and then we had our full itinerary.

You don’t need to be this forward thinking though – you could probably get away with booking about a couple of days in advance, and there would be seats available  To put it into perspective – we travelled on some of the busiest routes in peak season – and none of our coaches were ever full t the brim.

I would recommend printing a few copies of your ticket / pass out though just to keep handy. Usually you don’t need them – but occasionally drivers would demand to check them and some people were always caught out. So maybe print a few copies out and keep them in your purse and your passport.

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Are the coaches comfortable? 

I think so, especially over the budget airlines. I’d much rather spend 8 hours on a coach that has a reclining seat and legroom, than on a budget airline with neither of those two things. I slept all the way through a couple of our journeys – which was pretty sweet!

Here are a few things I’d recommend taking:

– A big hoody or jumper (the coach can get a little cold in the evening and at night)

– A neck cushion

– Socks! Because you probably don’t want to wear shoes for 12 hours – and your feet will get cold without them.

– Ear-plugs (in case you have a loud talker behind you!)

I don’t really think it matters where you sit on the coach (that’s just personal preference to be honest) but it’s worth grabbing a seat near the front if you don’t have any entertainment with you. Sometimes the drivers will put a film on occasionally – so if you’re near the front you should have a good view of the TV screen.

Overall rating?

I’d give Greyhound 9/10.

We never experienced any problems, and I LOVED not having to get on a plane for a month. The coaches are clean, comfortable and their system is easy enough to work out, and easy to get the hang of. It’s an awesome way to see Australia, and you’ll even meet new people along the way who are working along the same route as you – which is an extra bonus. The only thing I’d change is perhaps the online booking system and making the process a little simpler – but like I said – once you get the hang of it – you’ll be a pro.

The Vatican, Rome… What to wear and when to go: Basically everything you need to know when visiting.

So I’m going to be writing about some of my favourite European destinations over the next few weeks – and Rome is definitely one at the top of that list. I love Rome – all the history and the culture just makes it an absolutely magical place to visit.

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One of the main attractions in Rome (and one you should definitely visit during your trip) is The Vatican. Like many religious sites world-over though, there are often lots of rules and regulations surrounding entry and people usually worry and fuss before their visit, thinking that maybe they’re going at the wrong time, maybe they’re wearing the wrong thing… so on. I know for sure we worried about this aspect of things, so I thought I’d put together something to keep things simple and hopefully tell you everything you need to know.

What time should you visit? 

Places like this are always going to be busy – so you’re not going to avoid queues no matter what time you turn up. Early morning is always going to be packed because not only do you get the keeno-tourists who are up at the crack of dawn, but you also get the school trips. Saying this though, try and avoid The Vatican on the last Sunday of every month because this is known as “free-sunday” and (as anything free tends to do) it attracts big crowds and more people than usual. Sometimes on Wednesday the Pope may be in town – so (if I were you) I would probably try and avoid The Vatican at all costs then too.

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How much does it cost? 

So, as far as I know the price for entering the Vatican (which includes all museums on the property as well) is about 15 euros – which isn’t bad at all – as you could literally explore the area for a whole day. For students, getting into the Vatican is only 8 euros, so if you have a student card take it along and don’t forget to claim your discount.

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What should you wear? 

As The Vatican is a religious site, you need to be respectful when you dress for your visit. Whilst the dress codes aren’t quite as strict as other worldwide religious sites such as The Grand Palace in Bangkok – do be mindful and sensible.

If you stick to no bare shoulders and no bare knees you should be OK in The Vatican (and this applies to men and women) – and that is mainly a show of respect. You can see what we wore below, which might help you in deciding whether your outfit is passable. If you’re ever unsure, just pack a little scarf or shawl in your bag so you have something to throw on incase. Short shorts and vest tops won’t cut it though, so leave them at the hotel.

The best bet, if you’re ever a little unsure, is to pack a spare option in your bag that is way more conservative than the one you arrive in. That way you have a plan if anyone disputes your outfit.

What is there to see? 

LOADS!

The Vatican Museums are fantastic and of course the famous Sistine Chapel is just beautiful (be careful with your camera in here though – as the security guards reserve the right to delete all images from your memory card if they catch you taking snaps!); the museums inside have lots of different sections and things to look at, like I said – it’s enough to keep you busy all day.  A few of them are:

The Pio-Clementino (classic antiquities)

Gregorian Etruscan and Egyptian museums

The Raphael Rooms

The Gallery of the Candelabra

Gallery of Maps and Gallery of Tapestries

St. Peter’s Basilica (which was my favourite part – and I would recommend completely!)

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I’ll be writing a little more about Rome over this week so stay tuned. Let me know if there are any extra questions I can help with! 🙂

My only regret from travelling the world….

Is that I didn’t get contact lenses first. 

I know that’s a weird thing to write about on a travel blog. But I FINALLY got round to getting contacts this week, and I’ve spent the whole week wishing I’d got them sooner. It’s pretty awesome – being given the gift of un-hindered vision – and I literally could not recommend it more.

Before I went travelling, I was torn between two options. Either I got myself some new glasses and some subscription sunglasses for the big trip, or I took the leap and went for contact lenses. In the end I decided contacts seemed a bit drastic – and decided to stick to glasses.

There’s nothing wrong with glasses. Let’s clear that up straight away. I love mine – and have been wearing them on and off for about 8 years now.

When I begun travelling though, they became such a hindrance. In places like Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong (and even Australia at times) when the humidity was super high my glasses would always steam up when we walked outside into the heat, which got hugely frustrating after the first few times! Due to the fact I was always taking photos and videos of ourselves too (and I rarely like photos of myself in glasses) I would always have to take the glasses off when we took a photo. Which I know is a bit vain – but I’m being completely honest and open here.

I think my glasses were in my bra for this photo. Ha.

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It’s also something else to worry about losing – that kind of worry you don’t really have with contacts – because once contacts are in your eyes – they’re not going to get sat on, or left on a bus, or scratched, or get smashed in your bag accidentally. Which seems to be my frequent life-story with glasses.

So basically.

Even just walking around London this week with contacts I noticed how easier life is. As I mentioned, I don’t tend to wear my glasses full-time (usually just for sight-seeing, watching TV, general life stuff that requires me to see things far away).

But now:

I can actually read street signs.

I can read tube maps on the tube.

I can see the numbers on the front of buses before they pull into the stop.

I can see people I know when they’re walking towards me (which is great and avoids those awkward “oh I literally didn’t see you there!” conversations) 

I can watch 3D films WITHOUT having to wear my normal glasses under the 3D glasses. Yes I really had to do this.

I can’t help thinking how much easier having contacts would have made sightseeing, and how much more fun I’d have had  exploring – if I’d have been able to see the world as clearly as I now can with contacts. So yeah, if you’re even considering getting contact lenses – just do it. Especially if you’re considering them in regards to travelling. I would do anything to go back in time and go snorkelling on the great barrier reef with contacts in…. I keep thinking of all the extra things I would’ve been able to see…!

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I guess it’s a good excuse to go and do it all again though right??

 

The Best and Most Beautiful Rooftop Bars in Bangkok

Bangkok might not offer the most memorable skyline (like it’s neighbours Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong) but once you get up high enough – the view is pretty spectacular, as we learnt on our last night in the city a couple of months ago.

We headed up to Above Eleven Rooftop Bar to soak in some views – and it was just magical. I’m a big sucker for a rooftop (especially if there’s a bar on it) so I knew it’d blow me away – but I didn’t quite realise just how much. The thing you don’t realise about Bangkok, until you’re looking down on it, is just how FLIPPING HUGE the city is. It’s massive – and the views span for miles out in every direction.

The nice thing about Bangkok too, is you can head to even the most expensive rooftop bar, and still enjoy pretty reasonably priced drinks and food (because, let’s face it – Bangkok is quite purse friendly). Above Eleven isn’t one of the most high profile bars in the city (mainly because the Hangover wasn’t filmed there…) but for me it was just perfect. Within a 10 minute walk of our hotel, intimate, friendly, not snobby, and plenty of room.

And just look at those views. 

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The bar staff even made up my own cocktail for me when there wasn’t anything I quite fancied on the menu. Which definitely gets them extra bonus points! And it was delicious!

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Here are a few other beautiful rooftop bars to keep you busy during your time in Bangkok: 

Sky Bar

Found on the 63rd floor under the huge dome (made famous by The Hangover) this is the stow stopping favourite rooftop bar. Expect it to be absolutely packed though – so head there off-peak. If you want to witness the sunset from here you’ll have to head there an hour or so earlier than planned – or book a table and eat in the restaurant.

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Vertigo and Moon Bar

Another swish show-stopper, this place is one of the higher priced bars in the city. But it’s worth it for the level of service and the luxury on offer. If you’re after something special and a bit of a treat – this is where you want to be heading.

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The Nest Bar

This bar is actually located right around the corner from Above Eleven (s0 you could easily visit both in the same night!) and is a little quirkier and cute than the others. Instead of luxury – this bar is all about comfort and cosiness, it’s make a great location for a first date or for a memorable occasion. It’s not as high up as the other bars either – probably about half the height – which means you get a slightly different view.

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Let me know which rooftop bars you’ve been to and if there are any others you’d recommend that aren’t here!

If you’re booking your trip soon, I’d recommend the following websites for great deals and prices:

tripadvisor.com (hotels and reviews)

expedia.co.uk (hotels)

agoda.com (hotels and tours)

skyscanner.net (flights)

Finding Authentic American BBQ in London: Red Dog Saloon!

One of the main reasons why I love America so much is the FOOD. All that BBQ stuff, meat, ribs, burgers, cheese – oh my gosh, I am literally drooling on my keyboard as I type.

For me, it’s one of the major things cities like NYC has up on UK cities like London. In fact, ever since we landed back in London, we’ve been seeking out the ultimate USA-style meat restaurant – and that’s how (and why) we found Red Dog Saloon.

Basically, as soon as I saw the menu – I knew we were going to love it. And the initial signs were good when first took our seats too, that this was actually going to be a great success and a genuinely American experience. First off – the staff were super friendly and efficient. This is something that you get everywhere in the States, nothing is ever too much hassle, your drink is never empty and you’re never waiting more than a few minutes for service if you need it.. So yeah Red Dog Saloon just nailed it there.

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But let’s talk about the most important thing. THE FOOOOOD. 

Before I start talking though… Just take a look at the photos I took. Because I think they will be enough to convince you that Red Dog Saloon is worth a visit.

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Pad took one bite of the burger above and proclaimed “This might be the best burger I’ve ever had” which was a momentous moment.

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If you’re the kind of person who likes a challenge – then take on their famous “Devastator” burger. Which is pictured above. Whilst neither of us opted for it (after the chicken wings for starters – I just didn’t feel brave enough!) I couldn’t help but take a cheeky snap of one as it was brought out of the kitchen. I mean… just look at it.

If you were just staring at the screen then for a few minutes, thinking “what does this piece of burger heaven consist of?” then let me kindly elaborate….

3 x beef patties

pulled pork

6 rashers of smoked bacon

6 slices of american cheese

Next time (and trust me, there will be a next time) this is what I’m ordering. And I will finish it like a champion!

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The atmosphere in Red Dog Saloon is great – and is actually one of my favourite parts of eating there. It’s a lot to do with the super awesome staff, but also the buzz that surrounds the place. The atmosphere is fun and young and busy both inside and out because the restaurant actually opens up into the street – which I love.

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Every few minutes you’ll hear a gasp of awe coming from a nearby table as a waiter plonks a Devastator burger in front of them, and then the room will erupt in laughter as everyone else looks on with curiosity as they try to attempt it. They also do a hot wing challenge – and we were lucky enough to witness a group of stags try and attempt that – which needless to say was hilarious.

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So. To conclude. Go here. Eat lots of meat. Be happy. 

Seeing NYC from the air: Helicopter-Style.

For my 21st birthday a couple of years ago, my amazing boyfriend (soppy bit over, I promise!) gave me one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever had. We woke up on the morning of my birthday, and he whisked me off for a helicopter ride above the city I love. It was pretty incredible – so I wanted to share a few of the photos.

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Pad booked it with Liberty Helicopters who are located in Downtown Manhattan at their own Heliport (6 East River Piers, NY NY 10004) who were just great and really made the whole thing really special. In a city where you end up queuing for big activities and day trips – we were pleasantly surprised by how short the waiting time actually was for our helicopter trip.

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I think you can book different lengths of flights, ranging from about 10 minutes to around 30 (booking is something you do have to do though – I remember the lady behind reception telling a couple behind us that they didn’t take walk-ins). Our flight lasted about 20 minutes, so we were right in the middle of the packages they offer.The prices vary hugely – depending on the length of the flight and whether you chose to go private too. We were in a shared helicopter with two other couples – but to be honest I barely noticed them there. When I think back to it – I just remember it being Pad and I.

The views were stunning – I literally cannot emphasise this enough. If you’re someone who loves New York, and you’re looking for something a bit special to do whilst you visit – then I can’t think of anything more perfect than this.

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On your flight you don’t actually fly over the city, but around it instead. You’ll notice that since 9/11 no helicopters are allowed to fly over the city – unless they’re news reporters or television crews. This doesn’t mean you don’t get the amazing views though – quite the opposite in fact. The views are much more epic when you’re seeing the city above from afar – as you really take much more of it in. Just make sure you’ve got your camera and you bagsy the window seat!

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Would I recommend it? Of course I would. It is a short but sweet kind of treat – but oh my gosh – you’ll remember it for the rest of your life. It’s not just the romance of it all and seeing such an incredible landscape from the sky…. it’s also something pretty special to be in a helicopter (because, let’s face it, that’s not exactly a daily occurrence for most of us)!

What would you recommend for people visiting NYC?

 

What I’ve learnt after one year of travel blogging

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Almost one year ago today I started this travel blog. With just over a month to go until Pad and I set off on our RTW trip, we set it up together as a place to keep family and friends updated on everything we were doing. I’m pretty sure, at that time, the only people reading the blog were mainly our Mums.

Since then however, it’s evolved into much more of that.

It became pretty obvious after a few weeks that the blog was really my baby – and Pad took a step back and let me take it for my own. Which I did. It’s changed a lot – it’s grown hugely and become something I’m really proud to own. Writing has always been a passion of mine, as has photography, and it’s great to have somewhere to call my own where I can share those things.

It’s not easy though. I wanted to talk about the things I’ve learnt this year, because there are so many, but also because I think there are often a lot of misconceptions about the blogging world (especially travel blogging) and I wanted to shed some of my own light on them.

So here we go….

It’s an uphill struggle at first.

The first few months, I felt like I was putting a lot of work into the blog, and not getting a whole lot back. Once I realised I wanted the blog to be something more than a place for my Mum to come and check what I was up to (Hi Mum) I was so keen to get other people reading the blog, but wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. This, for me anyway, was the hardest part of blogging. Those first few months when you’re writing great content, visiting amazing places – but no one is reading about it.

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But it will get easier. Be patient.

After the initial few months I noticed my audience getting bigger, and that was so encouraging. This is the stage when you need to really push yourself and see it through. You’ll start seeing your hard work pay off (finally)! Getting to this point was the hardest part, but once you’ve got there you’ll notice that your content is shared more, you’re getting more readers and you’re becoming more social and suddenly you’ll forget about that hard slog in the beginning.

Be prepared for misconceptions.

I think a lot of people who aren’t bloggers (whatever the industry) don’t realise quite how much work goes into blogging and quite how much time it takes up. When I’m not actually doing the travelling, I’ll be writing up the experience, editing photos, doing social media stuff…. It’s very time consuming. A lot of travel bloggers I admire (40 before 30 and The Everywhereist, for example) do their travel blogging full-time, which is an ideal situation for anyone like me, but right now seems a long way off. When I was travelling with Pad, I usually had to schedule a day in every destination to write up what we’d done, edit photos, answer emails and schedule in posts – but of course, that’s all the work you never hear about. So I guess, when people ask me about blogging and tell me how lucky I am, whilst I do agree (I am lucky, I’d never disagree there) I have earned all of this and the opportunities that arise are through a lot of time and effort.

All set up for a night of writing in Sydney.

All set up for a night of blogging whilst in Sydney.

Sometimes all you have to do is ask.

Around 4 months into blogging, I decided I wanted a bit of a return on my investment – so I started contacting brands, hotels and companies asking them if they’d be happy to offer me something in return for coverage on the blog. This made budgeting our trip a whole lot easier (and saved us money) and all I had to do was ask. Who’d have thought? Sometimes the lessons are that simple.  Now I get brands approaching me more than I approach them – and I do have to say no occasionally to offers that don’t quite suit the blog or my readers. But it all started off by having a bit of courage and going after what I wanted. Now, I’m not afraid to ask. Because what’s the worst that could happen? Sometimes you have to take ownership for a situation, and when you do, you might be surprised by how successful you can be.

One of our favourite freebies

One of our favourite freebies

It’s about way more than just writing and taking photos. 

It’s about writing, taking photos, editing photos, SEO, learning WordPress, designing your blog, learning what widgets are, outreaching, online PR, social media… the list goes on.

Learn from others around you.

I mentioned above, a couple of ladies I really admire in the travel blogging world and there are plenty more. Taking inspiration from them is really a big part of developing my own blog. Travel is such a big industry, there is room for everyone, so don’t look at other bloggers like competition – look at them as people you can admire creatively, and who you can make connections with to help strengthen your own blog and your own voice.

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It’s OK to give yourself a day-off.

Sometimes when we were travelling, the last thing I wanted to do was blog. Sometimes it was jet-lag, sometimes it was just being too busy with sightseeing, sometimes I would rather have been sat in the pool (which isn’t exactly lap-top friendly). And that’s OK. It’s a lot of hard work and you’re allowed to give yourself time off.

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You won’t always have something positive to write about. 

As a travel blogger, I want to encourage people to travel and inspire them to. But sometimes (and it has happened a few times during the last year) you find yourself with nothing positive to write about. When we visited Christchurch (NZ) I loved the city, but I was so overwhelmed and effected by how destroyed the city was from the earthquake – that it took me 6 months to finally get my thoughts typed up (read them here). In Patong (Thailand) I struggled with finding anything positive about the location whatsoever… but thought it better to be honest about that, than lie and pretend I’d loved every second. 

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It hasn’t all been written. 

I kind of thought when I first started blogging, that everything had already been written in some way or another, but that’s so un-true. Everything is unique, because no one else is writing about things with your voice or your opinions.

It might not only be travel you write about. 

There are many things I love in life. Travelling is one of them (so makes sense, that I own a travel blog huh?) but Pad and I are also big foodies. I’ve found that when we were travelling the food was something we were fascinated with – and we often looked forward to the most…. so it started to seep into the content of my blog too. But for me travel and food go hand in hand together and it’s all about the culture and tasting different cultures.

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Success is a hard thing to define. 

I’m not sure how you define success in the blogging niche – but I hope I’m on my way. There is still a lot I’d like to do with my blog, but I know I’m moving in the right direction and creating content I’m proud to share and I hope people love reading. I was recently shortlisted by Cosmopolitan as their travel blogger of the year (you can vote here) and that was such a huge compliment and was a really huge step towards what I’m hoping to achieve more of. My blog is relatively new compared to others on the list (there are some amazing blogs nominated alongside me) – so it’s pretty humbling to be on there.

I’m so excited to see what Year 2 of blogging will bring, and I’m already planning all the places I’ll hopefully see and experience along the way. This travel blog is the best thing I ever created, and probably the most time and effort I’ve spent on anything too, and I hope it carries on growing as strong in this next year as it currently is!

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London and Instagram are a match made in heaven.

Now I’m back living in London, my Instagram has taken a bit of a beating…. and I have been absolutely obsessed by Instagramming all the beautiful London-ness and summery-ness. It’s been almost a year since I lived here last – and it’s kind of lovely to see everything through a tourists eye’s again. I missed this place!

Needless to say my Instagram feed has been an endless stream of London landmarks.

Here are a few of my favourites…

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St James Park

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Big Ben and Westminster Bridge from The London Eye

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Big Ben

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Shoreditch

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Shoreditch

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The Shard (taken from Borough Market)

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Notting Hill

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The Shard

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Borough Market Courtyard

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St Paul’s Cathedral taken from One New Change

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Victoria Embankment

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Victoria Embankment

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Camden Lock

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Camden Market

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Camden Bridge

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Tower Bridge taken from Black Friars Station

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The Gherkin

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St Paul’s Cathedral

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St Paul’s taken from Fleet Street

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Shad Thames

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Earls Court

Just looking through this post, you realise just how much London has to offer – which is actually one of the reasons I just adore living here so much. I love how different some of these places are (you could never compare Shoreditch and St James Park!) and yet they are both such fun places to visit and are so very London in their own specific way.

To follow me on Instagram (just in case you fancy even more London photos) my username is ellerosenz 🙂 Say hello!

Where is your favourite place in London? 

We Can’t Much Get Higher Than This: Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Dubai is (and probably always will be) one of my favourite vacation destinations. There are few reasons for this; It’s like the perfect distance from UK (only 7 hours on a plane), it feels miles away from anything British, the weather is amazing and finally, it’s where my wonderful Mum lives.

One of my favourite things to do when I’m in Dubai is visit the Burj Khalifa. We don’t go up to the top every time (that would get expensive) but it’s such a beautiful building, and the area around it is so much fun – with the fountains, restaurants and shopping malls – that it’s always the place I want to go first. As with some ‘sky-high’ viewing platforms (where it’s not really worth the money) I still totally think, even after being up there 3 times, the Burj Khalifa is.

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Why?

First of all – Tom Cruise went there once (is that not reason enough?!) and secondly, it’s the tallest building in THE WORLD. It is the highest you will ever stand on solid ground, without being in an airplane. That always makes me feel a bit awesome, like…

“Holy Cow. I am so high up right now”

The views up there are pretty phenomenal and it’s hard not to stop your jaw dropping when you look over the side of the observation deck. It really puts things into perspective too – suddenly all those sky scrapers that looked so big on the ground, now seem tiny – and miles away from where you currently stand.

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The observation deck itself is very modern too – which means you actually get to enjoy the view and take it all in, the windows are floor to ceiling – which as a photographer I’m always grateful for.  There is an outdoor section (which is open air) and an indoor section, which is kind of nice, because being out in the heat can get a bit full on (especially when you’re that high up) so it’s nice to pop back indoors and cool down under the air-conditioning occasionally.

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When is the best time to visit?

Definitely in early evening / late afternoon – if you time it right (and trust me – it’s worth the extra effort to make sure you do) you’ll be able to see the view in the daytime and then through sunset and into the evening. Each different time of day and each kind of light gives something completely different and magical so, please, if you’re going up there try and time your visit so you can witness all three.

During the night-time you also have the adding bonus of being able to watch the fountains below – something you can’t really see during the daytime light.

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From experience – if you’re wanting to book during this time it’s much better (and WAY cheaper) to book in advance on their website. I think you save around 30% (don’t quote me on that though!) by booking online.

I just wanted this to be a quick informative post – as I think if you’re considering going up yourself – it’s best to just go and experience it all first hand. There is only so much the photographs can do – because when you see the views in person they are that bit more overwhelming. It really is a beautiful view and the sunsets in Dubai (being as stunning as they are) make it even more memorable. For any men reading – this would be a great place to pop the question… in case you were wondering.

As far as attractions in Dubai go, this is one of the best there is and definitely one of my favourites. It’s the world’s tallest building! How is that not impressive?

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Did you enjoy this post or find it helpful? If so I’d love if you could spare a second to vote for me in The Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2014. Just click here to get to the voting site. Thanks a million!

Exploring Christchurch – New Zealand

Our last couple of days in New Zealand were spent in Christchurch, as that’s where our flight to Australia left from. There’s quite a lot I want to say about Christchurch, and I meant to write this post a few months ago, put had trouble fitting it all in. So here goes again.

I had never visited Christchurch before the earthquake 2 years ago, so I had no prior expectations for this city. Pad had visited a few years ago though and had seen the city at it’s best – before the earthquake had hit it. He had told me of this gorgeous little city, with a river running through it and old English-Style colonial buildings, and a great cafe-culture. We had both talked about whether we would go there during our time in NZ, as Pad was worried seeing it after the damage would be a bit sad, seen as he’d seen the city beforehand and loved it so much. But as our friend Hannah lives there – who we really wanted to visit – Christchurch became somewhere we did indeed finally get round to seeing.

Like I said, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew the earthquake had been a big one – but I’ve never visited somewhere after a natural disaster, so I wasn’t sure what the city would be like and what kind of state it would be in. Pad had painted this picture of this gorgeous little city – so in a way I was expecting some reflection of that. Maybe there would be a few buildings knocked down, maybe some parts of town would still be in recovery – but I expected some essence of the original city to still be there.

I was wrong.

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From what I can tell, and from Pad’s reaction as we looked around the city, the entire city has completely changed. I personally couldn’t believe the state of repair the city was still in and how restricted our access to it was. There are parts of the city completely blocked off to the public, I think they were referred to as red zones – where there was still extreme danger.

Buildings were abandoned left right and centre, with entire streets just closed off, empty and left behind. It was upsetting to tell the truth – even for me, someone who has personal connection to the city. I can’t image how difficult it must be for those who have grown up in Christchurch, to see this beautiful city they loved fall down to ruins.

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However the city is undergoing restoration – however slow it may be – and there are parts of the city that are now re-open to the public and provide some uplifting relief from the damage. The pop-up container mall is an example of this, and the bright colours and quirky nature of this, really make it something special. We actually sat down whilst here and got talking to a local security guard who said how much he still adores Christchurch, despite all the damage and loss of business. His optimism was really inspiring, as was Hannah’s – our friend who we stayed with. Instead of dwelling on what’s been lost, it seems the city is excited for what they can now become. Which is refreshing.

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But it’s not just the city centre that was affected by the earthquake, the suburbs of the city were affected too. Hannah drove us around the local beaches nearby, all of which were absolutely stunning – but many of the surrounding houses and towns empty and abandoned. The beautiful houses below positioned in a prime location above the beach, might look perfect from the outside – but most of them are now empty as they are unsafe to live in.

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My favourite part of visiting Christchurch was actually getting out of the city and seeing all the beaches and beautiful views that New Zealand is so famous for, because it really didn’t disappoint. But saying that, I can’t wait to visit the city again in 20 years time and see just how much it has changed and how much it has grown. It’ll no doubt be a long recovery process but the city will be even more amazing once it’s done, Christchurch was clearly a great place to live before the earthquake – so they’re building on strong foundations and I imagine the city will be even more beautiful once it’s all finished once more.

Now for a few uplifting photos… Here is what you can find just a 20 minute drive from the city. Pretty gorgeous, I think you’ll agree!

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Here Are Some Beautiful Australian Beaches. Just Because.

It’s been pretty rainy and cold in London this week so the beaches in Australia have pretty much been where my daydreams have been running off to lately. Here are a few of my favourites that we visited during the last year….

Bondi Beach

Just a 30 minute bus ride from central Sydney, this is one of my favourite beaches. It’s pretty stunning to look at (obviously), but Bondi feels pretty safe and the beach (considering how busy it is) is really clean and well looked after too. There is even a grassy hill surrounding the beach for those who want the gorgeous views but not the sandy feet. Loved it!

Bondi Beach Australia

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Hamilton Island Beach

We didn’t get the best weather when we were at Hamilton Island – but the beauty of the Whitsundays didn’t escape us, it’s hard not to be wowed by the tropical beaches around here, raining or not! It’s stunning. The water here is magical too – like pure turquoise. I’ll be sure to return here one day – because I’m desperate to see it in the sunshine too.

Bondi Beach Australia

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Fraser Island Beach

Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island and has a few magical stories to tell as you drive around. There are fresh water lakes in-land, and even a ship wreck too. As beautiful as the beaches are on Fraser Island though, they’re not exactly the kind of beach you can sunbathe on (what with all the jeeps and 4×4’s zooming past).

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Noosa Beach

Noosa was one of our favourite destinations in Australia and it was actually where we learnt to surf (which we can’t recommend highly enough). The beaches here are stunning, the waters are calm enough to safely swim in (most of the year anyway) and the town and Hasting’s Street are only a quick walk for when you fancy something to eat or drink.

noosa beach australia

noosa beach australia

noosa beach australia

Brisbane’s “fake” beach

Now I know Brisbane gets a lot of stick from travellers, but we loved it – and we especially loved the man-made beach in the town centre. In fact one of my favourite days in Oz was spent relaxing on it. Sure, it’s not the most ‘authentic’ beach experience – and you can’t surf there – but it didn’t take any of the magic away for me.

Brisbane man-made beach

Surfer Paradise Beach – The Gold Coast

Known as the Miami of Australia, Surfers Paradise is very much a party destination for those wanting a beach during the day and nightlife during the evening. I loved the beach here and we spent every day sitting on it, people watching, taking a dip in the sea and sunbathing. Sure, it’s not a secluded beach, but it’s extremely clean, the sand is gorgeous and the water is beautiful.

The Gold Coast Australia

The Gold Coast Australia

Byron Bay Beach

Byron Bay was recommended to me by a few people before we headed over to Oz, so I knew we’d have to spend some time there so I could see what all the fuss was about. It’s stunning. I can’t say anything bad about it being honest. I loved the relaxed vibe, the calm waters, the clean, squeaky sand and the low-key vibe that just seemed to ooze through the whole town. Dogs are also allowed on this beach (unlike many others we’d been to) which made it so much fun – and meant people were constantly talking to each other.

Byron Bay Beach Australia

Byron Bay Beach Australia

Byron Bay Beach Australia

Gibson’s Steps, The Great Ocean Road

I doubt you’d go here for the sunshine or for sunbathing (as it’s pretty remote and pretty southern) but the views from this beach were stunning. It reminded me of the scene in Inception where Leo washes up on the beach. It honestly feels like the end of the world – it’s just beautiful.

Gibsons Steps Great Ocean Road

Gibsons Steps Great Ocean Road

Manly Beach

Another beach right near Sydney city centre (a mere 15 minute ferry ride away) Manly Beach is really lovely and well maintained. For us, we much preferred Bondi – but manly beach is still worth a trip to. The little town has cute little market stalls and a great high street for shopping too – for when the beach get’s too hot.

Manly Beach Australia Sydney

Manly Beach Australia Sydney

What beaches in Australia would you recommend?

Finding the Perfect Sunday Roast in London

As a girl who grew up in Yorkshire – the elusive ‘perfect Sunday roast’ is something I’m always searching for in London! In fact, it has been Paddy and I’s mission for quite some time to track one down worthy of writing about. On Friday night we totally found that place.

May I introduce you to Roast London.

We’ve walked past Roast many times as it actually sits right above one of our favourite London spots – Borough Market. In fact, we’ve actually eaten at Roast’s smaller street stall (found just below the restaurant in the market itself) for lunch a few times, each time afterwards, vowing to each other “one day we must go and eat at the actual restaurant’ with very serious eye contact and firm nods whilst chomping on our pork and apple sauce sandwiches.

So anyway, on Friday night we finally got to try Roast out, and it totally lived up to expectations (yay!).

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It’s pretty hard to miss the gorgeous building, and I’ve well and truly put Roast into my “If I get married in London – this is probably where I want to do it” list. I’d recommend going in the late afternoon / early evening like we did – because you get to really appreciate the beautiful views from the huge windows. We were lucky to have a window seat ourselves and it was lovely being able to look out over the market below and watch the world go by.

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Now onto the important stuff… The food.

All I can say is Wow.

Here is what we ordered to start with:

– Haggis Scotch Eggs (first time I’ve ever tried Haggis… and it was delicious!)

– Courgette Spaghetti

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The scotch eggs were so good, we came straight home afterwards and googled similar recipes to try and make them ourselves. So that’s the weekend cooking project taken care of!

For main courses we ordered:

– Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Roast Potatoes

– Roast Pork Belly and Apple Sauce

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I’m sure I don’t need to go on and on about how good it was (because there is a photo above which does it more justice than words ever could!) but it was yummy. We were already making plans to go back before we’d even left the restaurant.

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So. If you are in London, and looking for a proper-English, proper-delicious sunday roast dinner then go here. I always tell friends from abroad to try a traditional roast dinner when they come to the UK – so now I’ll basically just be ushering them to the front door of Roast.

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My Entry: Capture The Colour Competition

Last year I never got a chance to enter the Capture The Colour competition – because we were way to busy with preparations for our move to New Zealand. But now we’re back in the UK – I can finally enter some of my own photos – so here goes….

YELLOW.

A photo that I’ve always loved, taken at sunset in Dubai with one of my closest friends (yay for self timer!). This part of the world means an awful lot to me as it’s where I was born, and it’s where my Mum has recently moved back to. It’s one thing being British, but I’m also very proud of my roots in this beautiful part of the world too.

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GREEN

This was the view taken from my balcony in Queenstown, New Zealand. I lived there for 6 months – and you can’t possibly imagine how incredible it was waking up to this view every morning. Whilst I think many people would look at this photo and assume it’s meant for the colour Blue – for me it’s the green that makes this image pop. I love all the little green trees and their delicate reflections in the lake below, and of course the huge tree in the foreground. I honestly don’t think you could find a more perfect outlook than this.

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WHITE.

I had a few photos I wanted to use to represent the White category, but in the end this is the one I opted for. This is the Dubai fountains, and every time I visit Dubai I make sure we go watch them at least once. The first time I ever saw them (coincidently – when I took this photo) I cried like a baby, because I was just so overwhelmed by how beautiful it was. I loved watching people’s reactions to them, the absolute awe and magic everyone feels when the water start dancing.

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BLUE. 

For me Blue is the ocean and the sky – and there is no need to be subtle about this colour at all. This photo is one of my favourites that I’ve ever taken, so I had to use it for this competition. I think it sums up the colour Blue for me, the freedom of the ocean and the neverending-ness of the sky. I like that.

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RED.

When we visited one of the floating markets in the Bangkok area, this lady (in the red coat below) took my breath away. She must have been about 85 (+) years old, and there she was, working in a tiny boat, selling fruit and even flashing us a cheeky smile. I was just bowled over by her, and for me she captures the colour Red brilliantly.

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As part of the competition, we also have to nominate 5 other travel bloggers to participate, so here are my nominations:

Samuel from Nomadic Samuel

Monica from The Travel hack

Lauren from Only Chasing The Sun 

Rusja from Roo Around The World

Giulia from Travel Reportage

Local Alternatives to London Tourist Attractions

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So when you’ve lived in a big city like London a long time, you learn to avoid the touristy areas… especially on your time off and during the weekends. It’s not that you don’t like tourists – but sometimes it can make your life a whole lot easier when you don’t need to worry about tripping over suitcases on the tube, and getting stuck behind a family of 8 lost tourists when you’re in a rush.

Anyway, you begin to learn, that locals have their own alternative versions of most things tourist do! So here is my list for London. Handy for tourists wanting to branch out a little, or London locals who want new places to explore!

For a picnic in the park

Tourists go to: Hyde Park

The locals choice: Almost every local neighbourhood in London has it’s own green area or park, so for something a little less touristy and more in touch with normal London life try and find one of those instead. Clapham common is one of the most popular in South London, but if you insist on staying north of the Thames, then Regents Park or Holland Park are great alternatives. If you fancy making that extra bit of effort, Kew Gardens or Richmond park are beautiful and take about 40 minutes from central London on the district line.

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For amazing steak

Tourists go to: Aberdeen Angus Steak Houses

The locals choice: Probably (for me anyway) Hawksmoor. Aberdeen Angus steak houses can be found on every corner in the tourist districts of London, but if you’re after a fancy meal and an amazing steak – you could do so much better! Hawksmoor goes beyond the expected – and I’ve never once had a single thing to complain about after visiting. They go above and beyond!

For a foodie experience

Tourists go to: Borough Market

The locals choice: I love Borough Market but it’s no exaggeration to say it’s one of London’s busiest tourist attractions. Instead head to quirky Brixton Village where you’ll find a slightly more authentic London experience, with some truly great food choices. My favourite? Franco Manca’s Pizza…. the best pizza in south London for sure! If you’re not feeling Brixton, then Chelsea (right outside the Saatchi gallery) holds a weekend food market too full of organic and home-made goodies.

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For Primark

Tourists go to: Oxford Street

The locals choice: OH MY GOD STAY AWAY FROM OXFORD STREET! Instead, go (literally about 10 minutes down the road) to Tottenham Court Road Primark instead. IT’S BIGGER and BETTER and there are about half as many people in there – which means no broken ribs. Wahoo! You’ll even get to try stuff on in this Primark (because unlike the Oxford Street branch) you won’t need to queue up for 40 minutes to use the changing rooms.

For an incredible view

Tourists go to: The Shard or The London Eye

The locals choice: You don’t need to pay loads of money for a breath-taking view of the London Skyline. There is a shopping centre next to St Paul’s cathedral called One New Change, which has a pretty spectacular rooftop terrace (and it’s free to go up there!) which potentially tops both of the touristy views (in my opinion anyway).

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For quirky shopping

Tourists go to: Camden Market

The locals choice: Head to Brick Lane instead of Camden for a more relaxed experience without all the crowds, but with equally quirky shops and retailers. Brick Lane is found in quirky Shoreditch, so you’ll have plenty of places to explore afterwards too.

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For a night at the cinema

Tourists go to: Imax at Waterloo

The locals choice: There’s nothing wrong with the Imax (it’s pretty epic actually!) but it’s definitely a treat and the prices reflect that. For something a bit more affordable (but equally as awesome) head to The Aubin Cinema in Shoreditch (sofas and arm chairs!) or the Ritzy in Brixton… those little independent cinemas are so much more fun than the average!

For dinner by The Thames

Tourists go to: The Southbank

The locals choice: Head out to Hammersmith or Putney for something a little bit more ‘local’ but equally as delicious. Instead of the big food and restaurant brands you’ll find on the Southbank, in Hammersmith and Putney you’ll find traditional pubs and riverside beer gardens. I used to live in Hammersmith and my favourite riverside pub was The Crabtree.

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For London from the river

Tourists go to: A tour company

The locals choice: The Thames Clipper of course! Instead of forking out (probably around £30-40) for a water-tour of London, use the Thames Clipper instead. This boat serves all the main areas of the Thames from Embankment all the way to Greenwich, and even has food and drink on board to purchase! You can hop on and off and even use the balance on your Oyster card to pay for your ticket. Just be sure to avoid using it during rush hours, because this is what many locals use for their commute to work – so it can get pretty busy during peak times!

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For something a bit special

Tourists go to: A West-End show

The locals choice: There are loads of things to do in London and all the west-end shows are incredible, but I’d recommend (for something a bit special) to go to Harry Potter World! Sure, it’s located a bit out of London in Watford Junction, which is why a lot of tourist never make it there, but it’s relatively easy to find and it’s worth the effort!

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Where are your favourite spots in London, when you want to avoid tourists?

Did you enjoy this post or find it helpful? If so I’d love if you could spare a second to vote for me in The Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2014. Just click here to get to the voting site. Thanks a million!

I love Las Vegas. There I said it.

I know this is not very ‘traveller-ish’ of me. 

And for most people, Las Vegas is their one and only idea of hell. But I love it. 

I love the sunshine.

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I love how the whole city feels like one giant resort.

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I love the Bellagio fountains.

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I love the fake-sky.

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I love how every hotel is completely different.

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I love the luxurious hotels – that look like the palaces and castles from Disney movies.

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I love that the shops (and everything else) stay open past 3am.

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I love the buffets.

I love being able to visit 3 countries in one day (Venice, Paris or NYC anyone?)

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I love getting free drinks in the casinos.

I love the many, many, many, many shows.

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I love that the Grand Canyon is only a few hours away.

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I love how easy it is to get a cab.

I love the I love the themed shops and shopping malls.

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I love getting food 24 hours a day.

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I love it that a luxurious suite in Vegas is the same price of a hostel in NYC.

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I love the giant gambling machines.

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I love the limos.

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So yeah.

I love it in Vegas.

There I said it.

 

Things you just HAVE to do in NYC (because I said so)

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 22.53.10I’ve found that usually, when I visit somewhere new,  it’s the personal recommendations that always turn out to be the best fun or the most enjoyable. In fact, when we were travelling, some of our friends recommended some truly awesome things – that we otherwise would never have even heard about. So with that, here are my personal recommendations for NYC….

1. Visit Katz Deli (maybe twice?)

Originally made famous by it’s starring role in When Harry Met Sally, this is our new favourite sandwich shop that we discovered on our most recent visit to NYC a couple of months ago. Oh my gosh, if you like sandwiches and you like meat – this place is going to be your idea of heaven. The portions are HUGE and the food is amazing, but honestly it’s worth going here just for the experience. If you really want to throw yourself in the NYC-locals-deep-end, visit at lunch time like we did. You’ll be dining with people who’ve been eating there for years. Love it. Go once for sure. Go twice if you can handle it!

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2. Get completely lost

Some of the best times I’ve had in NYC is when we haven’t been looking for anything. Pad and I love to just walk when we visit new places – and NYC is the perfect place to get lost in. Take a stroll and put away your map for a few hours. You never know what you might find.

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3. Sit on the red steps in Times Square

I know most local New Yorkers would tell you to avoid Times Square, but both Pad and I love it there. I don’t particularly rate walking through it (it’s far too busy), but I love sitting on the famous red steps with a coffee, just people watching. Pad and I would just sit there, making up stories for people walking past. Weird? Probably. Entertaining? Definitely.

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4. Waste away the hours in Central Park

On a summers day there is no where more lovely than central park, I could spent my entire time there if there wasn’t so much more to do. Make sure you allocate at least a day of your trip to central park though – it’s huge and it’s not the kind of place where a ten minute walk will suffice. Take your time, enjoy lunch on the meadows, play frisbee, eat an ice-cream as it melts down your wrist (true story, very sticky) and just enjoy walking around this beautiful part of the city.

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5. Take an open bus tour

So this is totally cliched and such a touristy thing to do – but what’s the harm. We had this incredible bus tour in NYC last time we were there, who was just (probably) the most hilarious person ever. As we drove up next to another open air tour bus, he told us all to look scared and frightened and he would pretend to yell abuse at all of us from the front of the bus. Needless to say we all played along, and it was absolutely hilarious looking at their faces as they pulled up next to us. Who knows what they thought. It’s also a great place to see parts of the city you might not otherwise have seen.

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6. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

Stunning views. Iconic landmark. A million photo opportunities. This is one of my favourite things to do in the whole world – not just in NYC.

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7. Dine out at Quality Meats

Quality Meats is a pretty fantastic restaurant just near central park. You’ll need to book in advance because it gets busy – and it’s a bit of a ‘treat’ because it’s not exactly cheap…. but it’s totally worth it. Make sure you get a steak. And enjoy!

8. Watch the sunset from the Rockefeller Centre’s ‘Top of the Rock’

A lot fo people opt for The Empire State when they visit NYC, but personally (and I’ve done both) I’d always choose The Rockefeller Centre instead. You’ll get much nicer views from The Top of the Rock because you get to see the Empire State as part of your view. Go there just before sunset and stay up until the sun goes down – it’s something pretty special to watch and pretty unforgettable.

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9. Take the Staten Island Ferry

Instead of booking a private tour boat around and near The Statue of Liberty, you can get the Staten Island Ferry over to Staten Island for free – and get some pretty fantastic views of it that way instead. It’s a commuting boat so you’ll want to avoid it during the early morning and early evening, but during the day time or evening it’s a great thing to do. AND FREE!!

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10. Explore the local neighbourhoods

Greenwich Village is beautiful in NYC and is beautiful to look around. In fact, there are so many little neighbourhoods like this in NYC so make sure you get out and explore them. Brooklyn is pretty awesome too – so take the subway across and explore some of those gorgeous brownstone neighbourhoods too. In the more residential parts of the city, I could get lost in the elegance of the buildings, and I just love all the unique little features they seem to have.

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11. Eat some NYC pizza

At least once during your time in NYC, make sure you grab a slice from a local NYC pizza place. The pizza place opposite our last apartment made the best pizza ever (I’m a terrible travel blogger, because I’ve forgotten the name of it….!) and for $1 a slice you couldn’t go wrong. The entire pizza were about the size of dustbin lids and only cost us $10. Not once did we finish a whole one. Not once. Awesome for breakfast the next morning though.

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What would you recommend to others in NYC? Leave me some suggestions for my next trip 🙂

How Amazing is the Grand Canyon?!

When we managed to squeeze a week in Las Vegas into our US leg of the trip – I knew for sure I wanted to go and explore The Grand Canyon. It’s been one of those things that I’ve always wanted to see, so I knew (even despite the probable hangover I would have) the early morning and long drive out there from Vegas would be totally worth it. And it totally was.

It’s hard to do places like this justice with words (which is why I take so many photos….) but I’ll give it my best shot.

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The drive out to the canyon is long and we left our hotel at about 6am (!!), but compared to some of the drives we did in Australia, it seemed pretty tame. Plus we did our canyon tour with Pink Jeeps, which meant we had majorly comfortable seating too. I remember this one coach we got whilst in NZ, from Queenstown to Christchurch that lasted about 12 hours, and I’m not even kidding the bus was so shaky and horrible I had to buy sea-sickness tablets from a garage along the way. So in comparison, our pink jeep ride seemed preety luxurious  It even had a TV…. not that we watched it – we were too busy staring out of the window!

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The canyon itself is everything you imagine it to be. It’s huge, hot and absolutely indescribable. It was bizarre looking out into the horizon and knowing that this enormous hole in the ground carries on for miles and miles beyond what you can even see. And it’s not just that – it’s the scale of the canyon too – the sheer drops and the cliff faces. I know it sounds silly – but I was expecting there to be fences and tape around the edges so clumsy people (like me) don’t fall off.

But there wasn’t.

Seriously, there is no protection from falling. Which made it dangerous and kind of cool. I did stay way clear of the edge at all times though – because when you are as naturally accident prone as me (I’ve broken both my arms in the past) you just know that if something is going to go wrong, it’s you who will be in the centre of it all. I could even see Pad keeping a beady eye on me whenever I stumbled over around the cliff edges – he knows me too well apparently.

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Our day tour included a helicopter flight down to the bottom of the canyon, and a rover boat ride too which was such a nice break. The helicopter was amazing – and we were lucky enough to be in an odd-numbered group, so scored the entire helicopter to ourselves. Now, I’ve been in a helicopter before (when I NYC, 3 years ago with Pad) and that time I think I was so overwhelmed by the Manhattan skyline that I kind of forgot I was even in a helicopter and hovering way above the ground.

This time, we used the helicopter to descend into the canyon, and (oh my gosh) were we close to those canyon walls. It was definitely beautiful to see the canyon emerge all around you as you glide into it from above – but all I could think was:

“oh please oh please let us land safely and not crash into the canyon wall” 

Pad being the adrenaline junky he is was loving every second though, his little face was lit up like a child at christmas time. He had the advantage of being sat in the front with the pilot too – so I think it was even more thrilling up front, because of the big glass window, you could literally see right down to the canyon floor. Luckily, I had a smaller window that only faced out, rather than out and down.

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This is my “I’m so scared, I might wee myself” face.

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This is Pad, sitting on the very edge. Look how un-clumsy he is. Not falling or anything. 

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One of the most truly beautiful things to watch was actually the cloud shadows, and how they roll across the canyon floor. I tried to capture it in a few of the photos above, but to be honest, it needed a video clip to really convey just how stunning it is. It’s like watching some amazing time-lapse piece, except it’s not – and it’s right there infront of you. The complete darkness of the shadows against the bright orange of the canyon rock is just magical.

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Notice how, even in this ‘daring’ photo I still keep at least 60cm from the edge. Actually during this photo this big gust of wind blew (which is why my hair looks a bit crazy) and I did have a split second where I thought “I really hope I’m stood far enough away. Otherwise this is it”.

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Would I go again? Of course. For me it lived up to all the hype and all the expectations I had. We didn’t bother going on the Sky Walk thing they have there now, because it’s like $30 and you’re not even allowed to take your camera on with you…. (what’s with that?) but you don’t need to stand on some fancy platform to appreciate how incredible a landscape like this is.

Just go and stand anywhere – you can’t exactly miss the view.

 

Getting back to the real-world. With a thump.

I’ve been back in London for about a month now – which is partly why the blog hasn’t been updated in so long (sorry about that!). I still need to blog about our time in the USA and the last part of Hong Kong – put for now I want to talk about being back home.

After 9 months of travelling, we were thrown back into London life, myself with a new job and with a new flat to find on top of that. The flat thing we got sorted pretty quickly luckily. After an intensive morning flat hunting in Balham (and feeling kind of deflating… because everywhere was out of our budget) we took a quick bus ride over to quirky Brixton. The first flat we saw we took, straight away. Right there on the spot.

It’s a cute one-bed place, right opposite the underground station (yay for a short commute!) and it has everything we’d ever need within a 2 minute walk (literally). And yes, that totally includes a McDonalds. And an M&S food.

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The print above I ordered via Printstagram, and honestly it’s the best money I have ever spent. The print is about half the size of me, and now sits in a huge wooden frame in our living room. It has all my favourite travel photos in it – and every time I look at it I can’t help but smile. I needed a reminder of our time travelling (I’m scared I’ll forget all those incredible memories we made!) so this is the perfect thing to have hanging on our wall. Every time I walk past it a different photo will catch my eye – and I’ll get a smile remembering when it was taken.

A bit about Brixton…. 

Brixton is my new neighbourhood.. and so far we’re just loving it. Sure Brixton might not be the classiest London neighbourhood – and quite often it has a bad reputation with people who have never been there. But honestly – right now, there is no where I’d rather be living.

Brixton has a fantastic independent market (with some incredible restaurants and coffee shops), lots of bars, pubs and restaurants, good shopping on the high street, awesome public transport – and an amazing independent cinema, The Ritzy (which I’ve already become a member of). Sure, it’s no Fulham (where I lived before leaving for travelling) but it’s exactly what we want right now, and we love it already.

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Pizza at Frano Manca’s in Brixton market. Best pizza ever? Yeah that’s right.

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Clapham Common (a 5 minute bus ride from our front door). A lovely place to spend those sunny Sunday afternoons. We sat here all Sunday in 25 degree heat drinking cider and reading, and I swear I almost thought I was back in Oz.

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The most lovely part of being home though? 

Being in a city I love, with all the people I love! I think I must have taken it for granted before, but when travelling I really realised how much I missed having friends and family around me regularly. The funnest part of these past few weeks has been catching up with everyone. Late nights with lots of wine. Catching up over drinks after work. Slobbing out with my baby sister (because let’s face it, that’s what siblings are good for). It’s been amazing to see all these wonderful people again! The only problem being – I want to fit everyone in at once, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough days in the week. Or more precisely – the weekend.

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Travel blues?

A little. So yeah, Pad and I have settled back into London life pretty well. It’s amazing to be back. And there is no where I’d rather be right now. But sometimes I do catch myself reminiscing a little too long about the freedom and adventure of travelling. I miss waking up in the morning and having no idea what would happen or what we’d see. And mainly, I miss the ocean and the water. After 9 months of being constantly near beautiful lakes or beautiful beaches – I find myself craving the ocean more than anything else.

I want to feel the sand in my toes. Or the adrenaline rush as you jump into cool water. I miss the beautiful overwhelming feeling you get whenever you look at a horizon that falls over the ocean.

I miss Queenstown too. I miss Queenstown a lot. I miss waking up to our stunning view and seeing those incredible blue waters of the lake outside. But I’m also learning to accept that (for now anyway) it isn’t somewhere we can live longterm, and my romance with Queenstown had to be an amazing but brief one. Because, in all honesty, New Zealand is an awfully long way away. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be going back for holidays. We definitely will.

So for now at least London life is what we’re after, and what we’re loving. 

London is a pretty stunning city to live in anyway – and it still feels like a bit of a novelty being here every day again (proven by how many photos of London I’m currently instagramming…. oopsie). There is nothing quite like the embankment on a sunny day (which luckily, we’re having in abundance at the moment)!

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Enjoying the view in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is every photographers dream. If you love cityscapes, if you love lights and buildings and expansive lanscapes stretching as far as the eye can see, then your camera is going to be permanently glued to your hand the entire time you’re here. I know mine was.

I have to admit, one of the main reasons I was so excited for Hong Kong (aside from Sweet and Sour Pork. Nom Nom) was the chances for photos and the sheer amount of photo opportunities I knew there would be. It certainly didn’t disappoint (I mean how could it!? Have you seen this place?) and I was so happy with all the images from our time there. There are a few…

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These images were taken atop Victoria Peak, a pretty cool mountain peak (name kind of gives it away right?) that is surprisingly high and actually overlooks all the skyscrapers. To get up there you have to go on this little tram, cable car thingy – which Im not even joking – was one of the most worried I’ve ever been on public transport EVER.

It’s basically like a roller coaster (that’s about how steep it is) and you’re pinned back against your seat as you slowly climb the mountain face. But you know how in a roller coaster you’re all strapped in and safe, in this, you’re kind of not. It’s a little tram that’s 50+ years old, made of wood, on a wooden track, with no seat belts or anything. Which is kind of awesome. But at the same time, I had these terrifying mental images of us rolling back down the huge hill… which I assure you would not have been awesome!

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You don’t just get great views from the top of The Peak though, you can get some awesome views from The Avenue of Stars too (blogged about here). We were lucky to have the most amazing view from our hotel room too – The Langham Place in Mongkok. Mongkok is a pretty far out suburb, but still classed as central, and you can get to the business district in less than 8 minutes on the MRT train – so for us it was perfect. We got a beautiful room in a beautiful hotel – which we wouldn’t have been able to afford if we’d been more central.

And there’s no way we’d have got a view this good if we’d been in the middle of the central district….

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Hong Kong Foodie Tour = FOOD!!

Pad and I have always been firm believers in food.

We love food and when we travel somewhere new, we love trying all the local food just as much as exploring the sights and attractions too. We’re lucky to have lots of friends who have the same love of food too – so we’re always searching out random places that were recommended to us. Most of the time is pays off!

This was one of those times.

Hong Kong Foodie Tour

The Hong Kong Foodie Tour was recommended to us by Rob Kerry  one of Pad’s friends. We’d never really done a “food” tour of a city before so it seemed like something cool and new to do one morning whilst in Hong Kong, we love trying out new things so this seemed like an awesome idea. And of course – the food in Hong Kong is so great – so what better way to try even more of the yumminess than have a professional guide walk us round local neighbourhoods?

Our tour lasted about 4 hours and took us from 9am (ish) to 1pm taking us right through from breakfast to lunch. OH MY GOD DON’T EAT BEFOREHAND OR YOU WILL POP. This is a food tour – so you’ll be eating lots. So go with an empty stomach. Our very first stop was in a traditional Chinese cafe and the waitress handed us a traditional Pineapple bun. They were literally the size of my head. This was the first stop and I was already filling up!

Hong Kong Foodie Tour

Hong Kong Foodie Tour

I won’t go over it in too much detail because a lot of the fun is finding out what comes next and what you’re going to try next, but the tour is so great. It’s awesome to go to such a local part of the city (we were the ONLY tourists we saw the entire 4 hours we were out and about) so you’re right in the middle of local life and real Hong Kong. That in itself is kind of special. It’s so easy in these big cities to get caught up in the tourist hype – so it was awesome to go and explore somewhere completely removed from it all.

Our tour guide had loads of information to tell us too about the area, and even the histories of each individual shop and eatery we dined in and stopped at. One had been owned by the same man for 60+ years, and he was sat in the corner of the cafe with a wise little smile on his face, must have been at least 80 years old!

Hong Kong Foodie Tour

Hong Kong Foodie Tour

Hong Kong Foodie Tour

Hong Kong Foodie Tour

Hong Kong Foodie Tour

Hong Kong Foodie Tour

Hong Kong Foodie TourSo was it worth it? Hell yes!

We loved every second. If you want to get and about, experience some traditional, cultural Hong Kong and try some incredible food along the way – you’ll have a blast. You even get a map at the end to take away with you, in case you want to come back later in your trip!

 

Hong Kong Highlight… Avenue of Stars

There is absolutely loads to see and do in Hong Kong (more on all those things later) and one of the top on any travellers list is The Avenue of Stars. It’s where you find all those incredible views and beautiful vistas of the city and it’s an awesome place to people watch, stroll around and just soak it all in. Sure, this isn’t the most authentic side of the city – but as far as views go – this is one of the most phenomenal we’ve seen yet. It’s hard not to be bowled over as you watch the sunset over the skyscrapers, as the lights start glistening across the water.

Hong Kong Avenue of Stars

For the best time to visit, I’d probably go just before sunset (a quick google search will tell you when that is) on a clear day. We got pretty lucky with the day we went – we’d had some serious (bad ass) storms the days before so this was a surprisingly dry day for Hong Kong! If you get there at sunset, you can see the skyline in all it’s glory in daytime and nighttime.

Hong Kong Avenue of Stars

Hong Kong Avenue of Stars

Hong Kong Avenue of Stars

Hong Kong Avenue of Stars

The one thing that really got me about Hong Kong was the sheer size of the place. I always had the impression Hong Kong was a very tall city – but not a vast one. But it’s actually quite massive, especially when you’re looking at it from such a panoramic perspective, as you do from The Avenue of Stars. The city scape literally surrounds you a full 180 degrees across the shoreline. So much so I couldn’t actually fit it all in to one shot.

Hong Kong Avenue of Stars

 

The below photos probably shows about 1/3 of the entire view. Which gives you an idea of the kind of scale you work with here!

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Of course, as with anything – I was waiting for the darkness to settle in. I just love cities like this in darkness – it just makes everything look so much more magical and atmospheric. They haven’t made it completely easy for those of us wanting to get long shutter photos (there is a serious lack of flat surfaces you can rest your camera on) so if you have a tripod make sure you take it, if not you might have to do a bit of sneaky camera balancing. I had mine balanced on Pad’s feet at one point – making him stand completely still until it had finished capturing. Ah, the things you do for love! He’s a very good boyfriend!

Hong Kong Avenue of Stars

Hong Kong Avenue of Stars

Hong Kong Avenue of Stars I think you’ll agree – It’s just stunning!

 

Boats and Bargains – Bangkok Floating Markets

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Although many people will warn you off the floating markets in Bangkok – it was one of our highlights from the whole of Asia – so I’d definitely recommend going and seeing it for yourself before crossing it off your list.

Yes, it is touristy. But behind the tourist glaze, there are real Thai people living their everyday lives, and the culture and essence of the original floating markets from way back when is still there. In short, we enjoyed every second. Sure it was a bit busy and a bit chaotic but that all added to the experience, and trust me, you won’t experience anything like this anywhere else.

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However before I start raving on about how good it was, I should cover a few points which you’ll probably want to know before visiting. We booked a day tour with our hotel, The Golden Tulip (who we really trusted) and who equally warned us about the various scams that happen around the area – and how to avoid them, etc, once we arrived.

I’ll run through some of them below:

– If you’re getting a taxi to the markets (there are a few to choose from, we went with Damnoen Saduak as it’s one of the biggest, and closer to the city than others) then make sure you agree on a certain market and on a certain all-day / return fare. Make sure this is for the entire trip and not per person. Be clear and firm, and drivers may disagree with you once you arrive if you haven’t sorted this beforehand.

– Be firm with the driver, and make sure he drives you straight there. Many taxi drivers will often take you via shops and tailors where they earn commission is you buy anything, so be clear to him that you want to go direct.

– Many drivers will refuse to take you straight to the market, instead taking you to various piers nearby the market instead. Here, people will try to sell you boat rides to the market, claiming it’s the “only way” to get there. THIS IS NOT TRUE. So never opt for these boats. They are often 5x (if not more) the price of the paddle boats you get when you finally do arrive. This is a tourist trap you want to avoid.

– Paddle boats are available really cheap once you finally arrive, so this is really the best option and the nicest one too as it’s much more fun and feels a bit more authentic than an engined speed boat!

– Once you’re finally at the market (all of the major ones are accessible by road, as mentioned above) you’ll notice there are shops on the water (boat sellers) and there are shops in market stalls around the water. Market stalls are always cheaper than boat stalls, so if you really want something for a good price, wait until you’re off the boat to buy it.

– Try not to point at things as you go around the floating market (unless you really want to buy it), as the store owners will take that as an almost-sale and pull you into their shop. Also – never take anything from the shop owners unless you seriously want to buy it. Once it’s in your hands you essentially signed a contract of sale and they’re unlikely to take it back.

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But as long as you’re careful and a bit wary of these scams – you’ll have the best time. The four of us piled into a little row boat and got a mini tour of the market that lasted about 30 minutes. It was great. Sure, it’s a little crowded, and a bit jam packed but seriously – if you take this place for what it is then you’re bound to enjoy it. It’s such a unique experience.

Personally, I just loved seeing all the characters. These women who paddle their boats all day in the heat, are incredible. Some were like 90 years old…. and I just couldn’t help but have absolute admiration for them. The women sell all kinds of thing, from souvenirs and craft items, to clothing and food. Lots of the food is actually cooked right there on the boat.

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You don’t have to be on the boat to buy stuff!

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Another tip? Take light clothing, as being outside for this long can get pretty hot. Obviously, the floating markets are air-conditioned so you’ll want to stay as cool as possible. We took to bringing a little flannel out with us to dab our foreheads when the heat got a bit too hot! Oh, and water! Bring water. Lots of it!

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Have you been to the floating markets in Bangkok? Would you recommend any other tips for people visiting?

Did you enjoy this post or find it helpful? If so I’d love if you could spare a second to vote for me in The Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2014. Just click here to get to the voting site. Thanks a million!