New York for a third time

Last week there wasn’t my usual Thursday postcard because instead of being stuck at home writing about travelling I was actually off doing some – jetting off for four days in New York City.

I’ve now been to New York three times and to be honest, I’m just a little bored of it.

I know, I know, cry me a river.

This time more than any other time I’ve been it struck me that despite all the hype and romance, it’s just like any other city – big, noisy and dirty. And that’s just not my thing. As distinctive as the New York skyline is to see out of your window, I’d rather have some rolling hills, a gentle stream and maybe a couple of sheep.

I was also feeling deprived of history. My favourite holiday activity is a trip to something, anything, with a bit of history – a strange thing for the girl who hated history at school and until she discovered Philippa Gregory couldn’t name more than four English monarchs and definitely no foreign ones. A day out at a castle is a guaranteed vacation highlight. For my holiday to the south of Spain later this year I’m already plotting out the schedule for da trips to the Alhambra in Granda and the Alcázar of Seville. New York, and the USA in general, just doesn’t have many places like that. No Tudor buildings or places where people from history have walked – just a sea of concrete and glass. 

But before you all threaten to throttle me in the comments for being so damn miserable about a trip to the holy grail of city break destinations, I should perhaps segue into talking about my three highlights.

Bateaux Dinner Cruise

This is by far one of the fanciest things I’ve ever done. There were people wearing bow ties for crying out loud. Thank god no one cheesily proposed because it was exactly the kind of place where I could imagine that happening. And for good reason because the champagne was flowing, the food was great, there was live music, the Manhattan skyline and a sunset. What more could you want? I imagine it was hugely expensive (my mum is a bit of a splurger when it comes to holidays) but if you can afford it, do it. And make sure to order the chocolate and salted caramel tart for pudding.

Ellen Stardust Diner

There’s definitely a food theme going on here… Unsurprisingly really when America does have the best food in the whole world. Italy? Pff. You can’t get french toast at 9pm in Italy. Ellen Stardust Diner is, as it sounds, a pretty regular American diner, just off Broadway, serving burgers and fries and milkshakes and all that American goodness. What sets it apart is the waiting staff who are all out of work Broadway actors and they take it in turns to sing while they serve you; a mix of songs from musicals, chart hits and classics (the best of the night was Party Like It’s 1999). It all sounds kind of cheesy and I was a little apprehensive going in – after all, I am British, and this did not sound very stiff upper lip. But it was just amazing. And clearly I’m not the only one who thinks so because we went at 3pm, hardly prime time, and queued for 30 minutes to get in. But totally totally worth it. Don’t bother forking out for Broadway tickets – just eat here every night.

Bryant Park


This is a park with a library in it. I repeat, a park with a library in it. Granted quite a small library but they had enough Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy to keep me going for months. And it’s really pretty with coffee shops (for the necessary food purchases), metal tables,bumbrellas, flowerbeds and an old-fashioned carousel. We visited once on a dreary Friday when it was practically deserted and again at lunchtime on a sunny Monday when it was rammed with office workers escaping their cubicles. And for a moment it made me want to move to London and get an office job, just so I could come and eat my Pret salad with views of the Empire State Building. But only for a moment.

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Postcard from Crovie, Scotland

Most kids when they’re 13 or 14 are being taken on holiday to the Canary Islands, the south coast of Spain or, if they’re really lucky, Orlando, coming back to school with hair braids and amazing tans. Not me. I was traipsing after my parents to various corners of the British Isles.

I can’t imagine I was very pleasant to be with on these kinds of holidays. I was a stroppy enough teenager even without being forced to spend two weeks in the middle of nowhere with nothing more entertaining than pretty views and quaint tea rooms.

My parents choice one year was a tiny village called Crovie, a two hours’ drive down the Scottish coast from Inverness. The village is built on a ledge between the cliff and the sea and is completely inaccessible by car. We woke up in the middle of one night to find the waves were so high they were washing the downstairs windows. It is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. Anywhere else I’ve ever even heard of. A village almost completely untouched by the 20th century.

I think if I went back there now I’d be a bit happier with my lot. Plonk me on one of the window seats with a good book and a steady supply of snacks and I could be fine for days. But even ten years later expecting me to spend two weeks there would be a bit much.

A week attempting to find history in Gumbet, Turkey

My last post about a holiday was titled A Thoroughly British Holiday and that name would suit this post really well too but for completely different reasons. Not a holiday where I did lots of quintessentially traditional British things but a modern day British holiday – fry ups, drinking too much and sunburn.

I spend a lot of time being really proud to be British but not when I think about us on holiday. We really don’t act as good ambassadors for our country. I went to Turkey not even knowing the most basic of Turkish phrases, not even hello or thank you, and I’ve come home no better off. Although I did make an effort to order a couple of what I assume are local Turkish dishes I also drank several cups of English breakfast tea. And aside from one day when we explored the culture and history of the area all the others were spent lying by the pool completely ignoring the fact that we were in an area rich with evidence of one of the oldest and most advanced civilisations of all time.

The last point I can defend myself on because I was desperate to actually go out and see some of what the country had to offer. I’d never been to Turkey before, in fact this was the first time I’d been in Asia (although it didn’t in anyway feel like it and aside from the temperature it may as well have been Brighton). I had all these amazing tours lined up that I wanted to take – to the rock tombs of Caunos (which look like something straight out of Lord of the Rings) and the Pamukkale thermal pools (which are the stuff of bucket lists) but unfortunately the girl I went with is more of a laze by the pool holidaying kind of person. And I left Turkey feeling like there was so much I should have been done, so many things I should now be able to say that I’d seen, when in reality all I have to show for my weeks holiday is a light tan.

    

The one concession to my desire to actually leave the hotel and see some of Turkey was a morning spent in Bodrum. Which when we got off the bus looked exactly like Gumbet but if you knew what you were looking for (which I did) there was some history to be found.

 

The first was something which when I first read about it sounded so impressive I couldn’t believe more people hadn’t mentioned it – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world is right there in Bodrum! Right there in the middle of the town! Why isn’t everyone going to see this? Then I discovered that about 600 years ago it was destroyed to fortify a castle and all that’s left now is a square of ground covered in rubble. But this was ancient rubble so I paid my 20 lira and went in to have a look for myself.

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Ok so admittedly, not the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen, but still, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world! Not something you see broken pieces of every day.

This alone had not satisfied my need for history but fortunately Bodrum also had a castle which turned out to be the third best castle I’ve ever been round (coming in a close behind The Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome and The Tower of London). I had a great time just running around the castle walls and exploring the towers, alternating between pretending to be a member of the Martell family in Game of Thrones and just a big kid in a playground.

  

And inside the castle is the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology including, among other reasonably interesting things, the oldest excavated shipwreck from 1400 BC. And if that doesn’t make your mind boggle then there’s no hope for you.

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Overall I’d mark this holiday a 4/10. The food was good, the cocktails were excellent but six of the seven days were too boring to score it any higher. I’m going to take this as a valuable lesson – before I agree to go on holiday with someone make them agree to my vigorous sightseeing itinerary!

My travel bucket list

About three months ago I announced I was going to start travel blogging as well, in an effort to cover every single corner of the blogging market (or, you know, the more variety of things to write about the less likely I am to get bored). Unfortunately only one travel post ever actually materialized. Mostly because I don’t get to travel half as much as I’d like.

Time to rectify that with some hypothetical travel blogging, the ten places I have to see before I die. Some are highly cultured; some are the travel equivalent of a guilty pleasure. Some are realistic; some would cost more than I care to spend on a holiday. But none are beyond the realms of possibility.

1. TRAIN BETWEEN MOSCOW AND ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

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I used to want to go on the Trans-Siberian Railway but thanks to some not very good reviews and the realisation that once you get to Vladivostok there’s not really a whole lot to do I’ve scaled down my ideas to just the train from St Petersburg to Moscow. Not only are these two cities that I’m keen to visit but there is no more perfect place to read Anna Karenina.

2. PLITVICE LAKES, CROATIA

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This is the most recent addition to the list – I actually only discovered its existence a few weeks ago – but my friend who told me about it says it’s the best place she’s been in Europe (and she has been to a lot of places). And it just looks so pretty.

3. POMPEII, ITALY

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Absolutely the only lasting impression that four years of Geography lessons had on me was a desire to visit Pompeii. I went to Ostia Antica last year which is a similar Roman town (but was preserved by a river rising rather than a volcanic explosion) and that’s just made me even more determined to make it to Pompeii before it’s closed to the public.

4. HOBBITON, NEW ZEALAND

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If I could live in any fictional world it would be Hobbiton. It just seems like the quaintest English countryside where nothing would ever go wrong. Unfortunately, it is fictional, so the second best thing is to visit the movie set.

5. THE GREAT SPHINX, EGYPT

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I’d like to see the pyramids too, but the sphinx especially. It’s just mindboggling to consider how old these things are. I don’t think my mind would be able to process it even standing in front of it.

6. ATLANTIS PARADISE ISLAND, THE BAHAMAS

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Embarrassingly I first started longing to visit The Bahamas aged about 11 after watching the Mary-Kate and Ashley film Holiday in the Sun. But it just looked incredible and like no place I’d ever been before. And the image of this hotel has stuck in my head as a place I just have to go to.

7.ALHAMBRA PALACE, SPAIN

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Another book-inspired entry on this list – it was reading about the early life of Catherine of Aragon in The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory growing up in Alhambra Palace. And the descriptions of it have made me really want to see it for myself. It’s one of the more realistic entries on this list – at only an hour’s drive from the Costa del Sol it wouldn’t even be that much hassle to get to.

8. ICELAND

I’ve actually been to Iceland before… for a half a day. We were supposed to have a whole day as a stopover on our way from Vancouver to London but the plane was delayed, we missed our tour and suddenly we had 4 hours to kill in Reykjavik. And I’m sure I’m destroying my hipster credentials by saying this as it seems to be the city to visit at the moment but I’ve never been anywhere more dull. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t put up with it for a chance to actually see some of the scenery of Iceland. And walk around pretending to be north of the Wall.

9. COLORADO RIVER, ARIZONA

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I’ve been to the top of the Grand Canyon and it was plenty impressive but now I want to go one step further and white water raft down the middle of it.

10. DISNEYWORLD, FLORIDA

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I went to Disneyland Paris as a child but my parents aren’t really Orlando holiday kind of people so I never got to experience the joy of a week of theme parks. I’ve since been to Disneyland California but I don’t think my life will be complete until I’ve watched the fireworks over Cinderella Castle.

A Thoroughly British Holiday

This started as a book blog, then I included baking, took a brief foray into fashion blogging so why not add travel? Now I just need make-up and I’ll have every angle covered. Apart from I still use the same make-up I did when I was 14 years old so I don’t think I’d be very good at that.

Back to travel. I recently spent four days in Kent and had a very nice time and took some (for me) very good photos so I thought I’d write up my adventures.

BODIAM CASTLE

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Picture a castle in your head. That’s what Bodiam Castle looks like. Turrets, battlements, arrow-slit windows and a moat. Just a stereotypical castle. There’s not a lot to actually see once you’re inside as it’s pretty rundown now but it was still a great day out. And the pub at the end of the road (conveniently called The Castle) does a really good Ploughman’s lunch.

THE WHITE CLIFFS OF DOVER

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This is not a place I recommend you go to in March. I know, I did it, I was FREEZING. And because it was an overcast, drizzly kind of day The White Cliffs of Dover were more The Miserable Grey Cliffs of Dover. Even a slice of cake in the coffee shop couldn’t save it.

CHILHAM VILLAGE

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This is about as picturesque an English village as you can get (if you ignore all the cars parked everywhere ruining my photos). There’s lots of little cottages, a church, a manor house (owned by a Ukip fundraiser so we won’t talk about that) and even a proper red post box. I’m not sure why I found that quite so entertaining – we have one at the end of our road – but I went all Japanese tourist while I was there, taking photos of every slightly interesting thing.

CHARTWELL HOUSE

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This house was owned by Winston Churchill and it became clear looking around it that he was not short of a bob (and, according to all the tour guides, rather grumpy). It was beautiful but massive. And there was a studio in the grounds which was as big as the house again. But another great day out – it did help that this was the only day the sun came out and I was briefly warm!

Small Pleasures Week #8

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You know how last week I said that these would always be posted on a Monday from now on……. yeah, didn’t happen. But I have a good excuse as I’ve been off on holiday (only to Kent) and was without internet for two days.

And because I’ve been on holiday it means that this week has been filled with lots of small pleasures. And some medium sized pleasures too.

1. Taking photographs

I am a horrendous photographer. Every photo I take is either blurred or wonky or has my finger in it. But what I lack in skill I make up for in enthusiasm. I titled myself Official Photographer of the Holiday and there was not a moment that went by that was not immortalised as a photo. To be looked back on in years time and think ‘what on earth is that supposed to be?’

2. How old England is

I just love that no matter where you are in the country they’ll be some ancient manor house within an hours drive. We’ve pretty much exhausted the ones near where we live so it was nice to have some variety while we were in Kent. I’d really wanted to go to Hever Castle but unfortunately it was closed the day we were going to go so I didn’t get to swan around pretending to be Anne Boleyn, but we visited Winston Churchill’s house instead which was incredibly pretty.

3. Food

Going on holiday gives you carte blanche to eat whatever the hell you like. So I’ve had some truly humongous meals followed by some truly delicious puddings and I don’t have to feel guilty about it. Wonderful.

4. Pride

Considering it’s only March I’ve already seen three films which I could happily add to my list of favorites – first The Theory of Everything, then American Sniper and now Pride. It’s the true story of a group of gay rights activists who decide to start fundraising to help those involved in the miners strikes. Couldn’t really get two worlds more different. But it’s entertaining and heart warming without being mushy. I highly recommend.

Small Pleasures Week #5

Week #5

1. Afternoon tea

My contract for work finished last Friday and I’ve got a few interviews lined up but in the mean time I get to enjoy having nothing to do. So I’ve done a lot of bookshop browsing, jigsaw completing and afternoon tea eating. Lovely.

2. Going blonde

For years I’ve been wishing my hair was just slightly lighter. I have typical not quite brown, not quite blonde hair which my dad likes to call dirty dishwater blonde (thanks Dad). But this week I decided to stop winging about and actually do something. So with the help of L’Oreal Sunkiss Jelly hopefully next week I’ll have decidedly blonde hair. I’ve used it once so far and I’m convinced my hair’s lighter, but I think I might be imagining it.

3. Holidays

In 198 days I will be jetting off for a week in the sun in Turkey. And I’m already ridiculously excited and considering starting holiday shopping. I’m going with one of my best friends and will be spending a week lying in the sun and eating ice creams and drinking cocktails. Bliss.

4. Leaving presents

Even though I’d only been at the job for a month or so they were kind enough to give me a leaving present. Which I hadn’t been expecting and I was really touched. Especially as these chocolates are delicious! (It’s more than possible I’ve already eaten them all.)

Now how about taking a look at Mani’s Weekly Small Pleasures over at A New Life Wandering?