Category Archives: Americas

One week in New York!

Ah New York.  So many things to do!

I really love New York and have spent a lot of time there, including one year as an intern.  I enjoy going back and discovering new things and re-visiting old favourites.  This time, I went for a week with a good friend of mine.  We managed to cover a lot of new and old ground, including Manhattan, Astoria (Queens) and Brooklyn.  Here’s the lowdown of some of the things we got up to!

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Times Square

Things to do in Manhattan:

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Drag brunch at Lips
I’d had dinner with a show here before.  This time I went to the Sunday drag brunch show that includes a meal and unlimited mimosas for an additional $6.  Great funny show and great entertaining drag queens.  Definitely something different to do!  Definitely book in advance.
Check it out here: http://www.nycdragshow.com/drag-brunch

Comedy Improv UCB theatre
My friend booked tickets for a Sunday evening comedy improv session.  I’d been to prepared comedy shows, this was the first time I’d seen live improvisation in action, like on the show ‘Who’s line is it anyway?’.  It was pretty random, with subjects from peanuts through to Disney!  Very enjoyable.
Check it out here: https://hellskitchen.ucbtheatre.com/

Drinks at Off the wagon
I used to love finding ladies’ nights and happy hour drink offers as an intern in NY.  It seemed a little harder to find happy hours that ended after 7pm this time around, but there were a few.  One of them was at Off the Wagon, an old favourite, with half price drinks until 8pm.  A low key dive bar, just the way I like them!
Check it out here: http://www.nycbestbar.com/off/

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Live music at Groove Bar

Live music at Groove bar
For a $5 entry charge on a Wednesday evening, we went to the Groove bar, which was one of my favourite live music places.  We listened to a live group in a packed out bar and were lucky to get seats.  Great atmosphere and always great music.
Check it out here: https://clubgroovenyc.com/index.cfm

Staten Island ferry
Did you know the Staten Island ferry is free??  I didn’t!  Luckily my friend did!  We’d both visited the Statue of Liberty before and weren’t too bothered about seeing her up close and personal again, so the free ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island was a great compromise.  We got to take the ferry from the Whitehall ferry terminal for a great view of the Statue of Liberty.  Ferries run 24/7 and regularly.  Just so you know, there wasn’t much to do at the Staten Island end, we got a coffee and waited for the return ferry.  A friend tells me that there are some shops being built near the terminal so there should be some shopping fun available soon.
Check the schedule here: https://www.siferry.com/schedules.html 

Statue-of-liberty-new-york

Statue of Liberty

Roosevelt Island cable car
So while wandering around, we came across a cable car that goes to Roosevelt Island.  A little investigation showed that it’s run by the MTA so you can use your standard subway pass to take it for the same cost as any other journey.  We went along for the views and to try something new, and I’m glad we did.  Have a look at this cool time lapse video of the view across the city…

Shopping
Of course, you have to go shopping in New York!  There are countless places to shop, but I have two favourites.  One is shopping around Union Square (14th Street) where there is a big DSW (shoes!) and a Burlington’s Coat Factory.  There’s also Barnes & Noble (books), TJ Maxx (discount everything), Old Navy and other places nearby.

Union-square-new-york

Union Square

My other favourite is Century 21.  There are a few of these around, but the one I always go to is the Downtown Manhattan store (Cortlandt Street).  The store is pretty mahoosive and good for a wander around.
You can check locations here: https://www.c21stores.com/stores

Things to eat in Manhattan:

Ippudo
Ippudo is a nice Japanese restaurant with great ramen.  There is a very friendly, lively and buzzy atmosphere here and the food was very tasty.  There a few different locations, you can check them here: https://ippudony.com/

Gyukaku
I LOVED this place.  It’s a Japanese grill place where you order various meat dishes and grill them straight on the table in front of you.  We went to the Times Square restaurant at lunch time on a weekday.  The lunch offers were awesome, including $6 cocktails.  We both ate well and the food was so tasty!  I would have happily eaten here again.  Multiple times…
Here is the website: https://www.gyu-kaku.com/

Have a look at this delicious video…

Xian famous foods
This chain is a low key restaurant serving tasty, and often spicy, Chinese food.  It’s reasonably priced and very unassuming.  More cafe style dining.  I enjoyed my spicy lamb noodles and the iced tea was lovely.
You can see their menu here: https://www.xianfoods.com/menu

Sagaponack
I met an ex-colleague for lunch and she recommended this seafood restaurant close to Union Square.  It’s a very cute and cosy place with great service and a nice atmosphere.  I ordered the seafood paella, which was very tasty.
Here is their website: https://www.sagaponacknyc.com/ 

Sagaponack-ny-seafood-restaurant

Seafood paella at Sagaponack

Things to eat in Astoria:

Astoria in Queens has become cooler and trendier over the years.  There are a lot of new shops and restaurants opening up regularly.

Chip
Don’t come here if you’re looking for a light snack.  Do come here if you’re looking for a hefty fresh gooey cookie.  Chocolate peanut butter cookies were goooood.

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Cookies at Chip NYC

Pink Nori
I know this place has been here (survived) for at least a few years as I came here before.  The photos of the sushi don’t do it justice!  It was very tasty, and we celebrated with happy hour lychee mimosas.

New York City Bagel & Coffee House
New York and Bagels are a winning combination.  I enjoyed my ‘everything bagel’ with cream cheese, and a good chai latte.  We even had breakfast here twice.  My friend enjoyed waffles on one of those mornings.
Here’s the website for the chain: http://nycbch.com/

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Waffles for breakfast

Brooklyn:

We spent one evening in Brooklyn, which started with us walking across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan – a nice 25 minute stroll.  We then took the train to Jefferson Street and walked through part of the Bushwick Collective and saw some of the street art.

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Brooklyn Bridge

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Brooklyn bunny

We met up with some friends at Archie’s for pizza and drinks.  It’s a really nice little unassuming restaurant with great food.  We were lucky to get seats!  Also pretty chilled out and it was nice not to be rushed at all.  We enjoyed a good chat over our food and drinks.
Here is their website: https://www.archiesbrooklyn.com/

 

 

Trip summary

So that’s not even everything that we did or ate, but it is a good selection!  The trip was really jam-packed with a lot of walking and a lot of eating.  New York is a great place for walking around and transport is really convenient.  It was easy to find anything we needed.  As ever, I’m always happy to go back to discover even more about this great place.

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Filed under Americas, Art, New York, Restaurants, Travel

Awesome trip to Austin, Texas

I’ve heard a lot of great things about Austin so I was really pleased when a friend organised a trip there for three of us. We rented out an apartment on www.vrbo.com close to 10th street for three nights.

I was able to book return bus tickets from Dallas to Austin on www.megabus.com for a mere $4.50.

Before we got there, we had recommendations coming out of our ears for all the great places to eat and drink at. It was pretty easy to find places near the apartment and also by going to the popular areas like 6th Street and Rainey Street.

So here are some highlights…

Friday night drinks at 6th street

This street is lined with bars and some restaurants. We started the evening at Coyote Ugly, a classic dive bar with the addition of ladies dancing on the bar who were mildly abusing men, who volunteered to be abused. It was amusing to watch. Good bar with a good feel.

After a few drinks here, we headed down the street and found Pete’s Dueling Piano bar. This was loads of fun with a playoff between various musicians. Music included Backstreet Boys and some good old rap on piano. The atmosphere in here was great.

We drank a lot here… and the rest of the night is lacking a bit of details! However, when we headed out the street was alive, there were lots of food stands and plenty of bars to visit.

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Saturday visit to Rainey Street

We took Uber to Rainey Street and ended up in a fun bar called Unbarlievable. There was a big slide in the back as well people practicing with hula hoops. Food was also pretty tasty and they had cool live music.

unbarlievable-austin-texas

There are more bars and restaurants along this street, we did pop into some. I love that day drinking was completely normal and expected. It has a more mature vibe than 6th street. Both were awesome and they’re both worth a visit.

Tipster free walking tour

I always love a good free walking tour and my friend found this Tipster tour that started at the Capitol. No need to sign up in advance and you can leave a tip of your choice. Our tour guide was very friendly and knowledgeable. She covered a lot of the Austin history. I was surprised that the tour didn’t include any fun stuff like the nightlife, but fortunately my friends and I already had that covered. The tour was a good little walk in the centre of Austin and it was nice to see something other than bars!

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We did see some cool street art, including this lovely picture of Matthew McConaughey!

Food recommendations

We ate very well throughout the trip. Plenty of bbq meat from food trucks and restaurants.

Here are some highlights:

  • Stubb’s BBQ

I was happy to check out the restaurant connected to one of my favourite meat marinade brands. Stubb’s BBQ was nice and busy. The food was good and meaty. The service was a little slow, but the food was tasty so they are forgiven.

 

  • Gloria’s Latin Cuisine

We found this using Google maps as it was close to where the walking tour ended. Gloria’s Latin Cuisine turned out to be a lovely little find. A classy restaurant with really great drink prices, including $2 mimosas! My friend even asked the waitress if it was a typo. It wasn’t… so we had a few. The margaritas were also tasty, as well as the food.

Glorias-latin-cuisine-austin

 

  • Walton’s Fancy and Staple

We were inspired to have breakfast here after hearing that it’s owned by actress Sandra Bullock. Walton’s Fancy and Staple is a really lovely quaint cafe-style restaurant, that also sells plants and flowers. I had the breakfast dish with eggs, toast and bacon that was tasty and filling. The mocha latter was pretty good too. We were all satisfied.

 

  • Voodoo Doughnuts

This was recommended to us and seems to be an iconic place. The line was huge when we got there on Sunday afternoon. We got a few different doughnuts between us, and I have to be honest, we were pretty underwhelmed. The doughnuts were very dry, bready and stodgy, there wasn’t really anything special about them. Fortunately they weren’t stupidly expensive, so we survived the disappointment. I’d say Voodoo doughnuts is pretty overhyped, but if you just want a doughnut with no expectations, then go ahead and join the line!

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Conclusion

We all had a great time in Austin and I’d be happy to go back in a heartbeat. Getting around was really quick and easy (and cheap) by Uber, or if you felt like it there were plenty of electric scooters everywhere you looked. People were friendly and there was a really good vibe there.  Food and drink was easy to find and there are plenty of places to explore.  A great place to visit and hang out with friends!

 

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A weekend away in a luxury villa in Florida. With bowling alley.

An amazing friend of mine organised a long weekend away in an awesome property that she booked on Airbnb.  It came complete with a pool, jacuzzi, arcade room, home theatre, bowling alley, spa, gym, and squash court.

florida-airbnb-luxury-villa

The only agenda was that there was no agenda.  A large group of us (around 15) would just be chilling out there and spending time at the villa as we pleased.  I arrived at Orlando MCO airport on a Friday and met up with a friend who arrived around the same time.  We hopped in an Uber that took about 40 minutes to get to the property in Four Corners and cost about $50.

The house was absolutely stunning.  It was in immaculate condition and just so luxurious…

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florida-airbnb-pool

So basically, we just ate well, drank lots, and had a great time together.  We spent a lot of time at the pool, lovely evenings in the hot tub, fun nights bowling together and we all managed to watch a movie in the theatre.  The house was big enough for it to never feel cramped, and there were enough things to do for all of us to be entertained.

There was something really wonderful about being able to relax and recharge somewhere beautiful with amazing people.  It was really good for the soul.  I loved the jacuzzi in my bathroom and pretty much made use of every amenity at some point.  Very grateful for the opportunity to share such a great experience with my friends.

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If you want to check out the Airbnb listing itself, you can find it here:

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/12783742

 

 

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Filed under Americas, Florida, Travel

Dallas Museum of Art

Free art museum in Dallas Texas

While perusing my Texas guide book, I came across the Dallas Museum of Art. It’s located close to St Paul station on the DART train and the added bonus is it’s free to enter.

Dallas-Museum-of-Art

I didn’t really know what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised. There are quite a lot of rooms, some are very small exhibitions and others are significantly larger. I was impressed by the array of art – from paintings to jewellery and bowls to books. I was also impressed by how global the art was. I saw the works of some very well known artists including Monet, Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo.

Dallas-Museum-of-Art-Monet Dallas-Museum-of-Art-frida-kahlo

This was a really nice couple of hours of looking around at various and eclectic art. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something chilled out to do in Dallas centre.

Dallas-Museum-of-Art-japan

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Six Flags adventure park, Texas

I love rollercoasters so I was completely up for visiting Six Flags over Texas in Arlington. We bought tickets online on the same day to avoid queuing up. The car park seemed pretty full when we were trying to find a spot, but luckily there were hardly any lines for the rides when we got in.

The rides were pretty awesome. I really enjoyed the Batman ride, Cat woman whip and the Superman ride. Even the ‘kiddy’ rides were pretty cool! Spinsanity was also great – except we got stuck for 10 minutes on the way down. Luckily we weren’t upside down so it wasn’t too bad!

It was a hot day, but there is plenty of shade and water fountains around. We bought a refillable drink which was handy to stay hydrated throughout the day. And the Aqua man water ride helped to keep us cool!

We were surprised when all the rides seem to stop at around 6pm… turned out there was a thunder storm looming and I guess lightning and high metal rides are not a good combination. It did start raining and there was plenty of lightning and thunder, at which point nearly everyone started to make their way towards the exits. I’m glad we managed to fit in loads of good rides before nature forced us to leave. I’d go back 🙂

You can check out Six Flags over Texas by clicking here.

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The mind-growing effect of living abroad

I’ve lived abroad a few times in my life.  The first time was when I was 21 years old and worked in New York for a year as an intern.  The second time, I went to live in Agadir, Morocco, for three months.  And the most recent time was in Costa Rica for six months.

The locations and experiences were very different, but there was one thing they all had in common.  The level of personal growth I experienced was phenomenal.  I changed and grew in so many ways that I never would have experienced if I stayed settled and working in the UK.  I’m grateful for all of these experiences that in some way shaped the person I am today.

Having lived in London already, the transition to New York was quite easy.  Especially because everyone spoke English.  Looking back, I realise the largest part of why this experience was so much fun was having a large group of intern friends who were just as curious and eager to explore and enjoy NY as I was.  Having friends to share adventures with is a wonderful thing.  I loved the buzz of life, and knowing my time was limited meant I made the effort to do as much as I could as quickly as possible.  Having to start a new life in another country somehow made me very assertive.  I wasn’t so worried about what others thought of me as before.

Morocco was a completely different experience.  It felt very ‘foreign’.  I didn’t understand any Arabic and I was forced to make use of my school French and develop my language skills.  I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of a less modern world, like buying all of your fresh fruit and veg from a market stall, and appreciated how everyone took the time to relax.  Agadir is based by the beach, a beautiful place, and it’s where I learned the importance of enjoying life, remembering to take things slowly once in a while and enjoy the beautiful views.

Costa Rica is a very beautiful country, and the experience of living there was nothing like what I expected.  Funnily enough, it’s where I learned to enjoy relaxing at the beach properly with friends.  I used to find sitting at the beach quite boring before, but I finally understood the joy of spending hours in and near the sea.  I loved living in Quepos, a little village near Manuel Antonio on the coast, for six weeks.  I adored being surrounded by tropical forests, humming birds and I even had a tear in my eye when I saw a flock of wild scarlet macaws near my home.  It makes me feel so awful when I think of how these beautiful red parrots are only seen in cages around the world.  Being immersed in nature was an amazing experience, as were the horrific thunderstorms I witnessed (from the balcony) in rainy season.  Truly magnificent!

Moving to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, made me appreciate all the things I’d taken for granted about living in London.  I kind of assumed that all capitals across the world were similar to London – international, full of work opportunities and great restaurants!  It turns out that’s not the case.  I found the language barrier to be a barrier in getting to know the locals, another reason to improve my Spanish skills.  I also enjoyed the opportunity to visit rainforests, waterfalls, beaches and volcanoes around Costa Rica.  One of the highlights was visiting Tortuguero and going kayaking for the first time… by myself… with a random dog that insisted on joining me!  It was amazing and I loved ‘adventure dog’, he was awesome.

I learned a lot from my time living abroad.  Living somewhere is completely different to just visiting a place for a weekend or a week.  You get a different feel for the place and understanding of the culture.  I learned that people are kind and helpful, but most of all, I learned that I can rely on myself.  That gave me a lot of confidence in myself – knowing that in a foreign situation you can and will always find a solution for what you need.

I also learned and realised that sometimes you can’t control everything.  Things happen in life, and you just have to go with the flow.  I learned to let go of a lot of my life expectations, and sometimes the distance from ‘home’ also helped me to accept and let go of the past.  Making the effort to step away from your everyday life helps you to see life from a different perspective.  Somehow, travelling and living abroad really helped me to grow spiritually and accept everyone and everything more than before.

Going to new places makes your senses come to life as you have to pay attention to everything around you.  It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and experience different ways of living.

I’m grateful that I’ve had these opportunities to experience personal growth, and I’m aware that this kind of growth would have been very limited if I hadn’t travelled and lived abroad.

I realise that living abroad is usually a huge step, but I highly recommend it to anyone who is considering it.  Most people actively manage their career growth, but I think personal growth is just as important in life, if not more.

 

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Filed under Costa Rica, Morocco, New York, Travel, Wildlife

The Landmark Forum – NY

I decided to attend the three day Landmark Forum course (three and a bit days technically) while I was visiting New York.

Reviews have compared it to a ‘cult’, but I think anyone who has been through it will know that it’s not. It’s just the result of people having major life realisations over a period of just a few days – which makes it pretty exciting stuff so they keep going on about it!!  I think the best description, having completed it, is a course in ‘life skills’.

I didn’t really know what to expect, and the decision to actually sign up was in the spur of the moment.

The whole course takes place in a large room with screens and whiteboards at the front and a speaker who leads throughout. The hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are long: 9am – 10pm with a total of approximately 2.5 hours break per day.  On Tuesday evening we only needed to attend for a few hours.

I felt exhausted by the end of day 1, but strangely energised at the end of days 2 and 3. We learned SO much, more than I had ever expected.  I learned about my own negative patterns with certain people, and as I thought about it longer I was able to spot more patterns with other people, issues that I hadn’t even been aware of. The course encourages you to accept responsibility for your part in negative situations or relationships, and make amends where possible.  It also helps you to put the past in the past for all aspects in life and leave you free to move forward.  It was wonderful to see people on the stage sharing their ‘breakthroughs’. One person called a parent they hadn’t spoken to in 15 years. Other people finally made their peace with horrible experiences from their childhood or adulthood. Relationships on the brink of breakdown were brought back together.  (Sharing is completely optional, and apparently very therapeutic)

I learned a lot and I’m sure it will be having a positive impact on my life and how I deal with people and situations in future.  I’m glad I went and it was a great lesson in self improvement that I won’t be forgetting any time soon!

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