New York City, baby!

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When I left work on the Friday before my 21st birthday, I never imagined I would by flying 3,440 miles across the world to New York City the next day. After a lovely meal with my family on Friday night, I was woken up on Saturday morning by Alex who wished me a happy birthday and told me he’d made me breakfast. Groggily I rolled over to check the time – 6:30am – why on earth had he woken me up so early?!  I got up and noticed that there was music playing. It wasn’t unusual for Alex to be playing music but the choice seemed a bit odd considering it normally doesn’t differ from Kiss or Capital radio.
“Start spreading the news…I’m leaving today…”
As I started to navigate my way down the stairs, I noticed that each step had a dollar bill on it. Collecting them all as I went, I realised what song was playing – 
“I want to be a part of it….New York…New York”
I practically ran down to the kitchen and asked Alex what was going on and he presented me with my breakfast – Nutella crepes with the letters NYC written on the top in chocolate sauce. I burst into tears for a good 10 mins! I had absolutely no idea and was completely shocked, so shocked in fact that I couldn’t even eat my crepes and that is unheard of! Alex had sorted everything, flights, hotel, visas, attraction passes (http://www.citypass.com/new-york) …he’d even contacted my work and booked the time off in secret. I have definitely found myself a keeper!  As we only had a few hours until we had to be at the airport I started panic-packing, which basically consisted of me throwing my entire wardrobe in a suitcase and hoping for the best! Thank god for Virgin Atlantic and their 23kg luggage allowance!
After an 8 hour flight we landed in JFK, tired but excited. The time difference meant I got to have an extra 5 hours where it was still officially my birthday – result! After collecting our bags we made our way to the taxi queue and were in an iconic yellow cab in no time at all – I resisted the overwhelming urge to tap the roof of the cab and tell the driver to step on it, much to Alex’s relief!  The drive into the city took about 40 mins and then we hit major traffic as we entered Manhattan but we didn’t mind, it gave us extra time to hang out of the cab window with the GoPro!
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We were staying at the Hotel Edison (http://www.edisonhotelnyc.com/) which was in a perfect location – a 30 second walk from Times Square. So after arriving at the hotel, we dumped our bags and headed straight out in search of bright lights and fried food, things we found almost immediately as we entered Times Square. It was swarming with people, both tourists and performers and the atmosphere was electric! After taking in the main iconic billboard and taking a few selfies (priorities!), we proceeded to eat at Bubba Gump – not exactly the most adventurous of options but after a long day of travelling, french fries and a soda were just what we needed!
The next morning we woke up feeling much fresher. The sun was shining as we wandered back onto Times Square searching for an IHOP or Wendy’s to fuel us for the long day ahead.
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Sadly, we couldn’t find either of these so we settled on the next best thing and found ourselves in America’s largest McDonalds! Set over 3 floors and serving an all day breakfast – what’s not to like?! I played it safe and ordered a cheese bagel whereas Alex decided to try something new – a sausage and egg biscuit. It was basically what we in England call a McMuffin but instead of it being served in a bun, it came within a scone! Scones, as in the sickly-sweet cakes you enjoy with afternoon tea. And we wonder why more than two thirds of adult Americans are obese…!
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Alex also has a stack of pancakes here!
The first stop of the day was Central Park. After walking down 5th avenue and looking wistfully into designer shop windows, we arrived at the Plaza hotel which sits just adjacent to the park. The Home Alone films are some of my favourites to watch at Christmas and so it was great to see the hotel all decorated for the holiday season, just like in the movies! We entered the park by the famous rock and so, being the selfie champions that we are, decided to climb to the top to get a view of the city. The view was great and the buildings almost seem like they’ve been photoshopped in behind us in the photos we took. We spent a good hour and a half exploring the park’s many features including an ice rink, a castle and various statues and fountains but could easily have spent more time here. It was lovely and the weather was perfect – the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn an autumnal copper colour which meant everything looked stunning against the backdrop of the silver skyscrapers that gleamed in the sunlight.
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Next on the agenda was the Empire State Building. We followed the map downtown and using the passes Alex had bought, we were able to jump the queue and get the lift straight up to the 102nd floor observatory platform for the most incredible 360′ view of the city. The temperature up there was sub zero and so we were glad that the sun was shining! On the 86th floor there is also a small museum telling you all about the history and construction of the most famous skyscraper in New York.
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Along with passes to the famous sights and attractions, Alex had also booked a tour of ground zero and the memorial through the 9/11 tribute centre.  Every tour is led by guides that recount the events of 9/11 and also share their personal stories as they are all either survivors of the attack, first responders on the scene or families of victims. I’m so pleased we did this tour as it was an incredibly interesting and poignant experience. We both found out so much more information on not just the day itself, but all the hard work that went into the clear up of the site and building of the memorials and new trade centres. I really recommend that everyone who visits New York does this tour and so I won’t give too much away but the memorials themselves are beautiful. The foundations of each tower have been transformed into waterfall features and when you approach either of them you are encouraged to be quiet and respectful, meaning that all that you can hear is the calming and serene sound of running water. After the attacks, trees were planted all around the memorial with the aim that when they grow to their full size, the trees will block the sounds from the hustle and bustle of the city, making it an even more tranquil place for families and friends to come and reflect and remember their loved ones. Our guides were fantastic, both were first responders on the scene and their stories were incredible. We left Ground Zero feeling very moved and grateful to have experienced such an insightful account from the 9/11 tribute centre. Please take a look at their website for more information or to make a donation to a very worthy cause http://tributewtc.org
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After a nice lay-in the next morning we decided to try and book tickets to watch some American sport. From the moment we set foot in the city, Alex was eager to get us tickets to an NFL game. I told him I was definitely up for it on the condition that I could get a foam finger. 💁🏼 so we took the bus to the MetLife stadium in New Jersey. When we arrived we were surprised to see everyone had parked up in their trucks and were all enjoying BBQs and beers – something we found out is called ‘tailgating’ in the USA! Some families were even playing rounders and swing ball around all the parked cars – it was really strange to see! The atmosphere was great and everyone was in great spirits for Game Day. The match was the New York Jets vs the Miami Dolphins and as we were visiting NYC we had to support the home team, so quickly purchased a scarf from the merchandise shop to show our support. We made our way to our seats and settled down with our hot chocolates and popcorn. We were amazed at the scale of the game. Considering it just was an ordinary league game, it was comparable to an FA cup final in English terms! The Jets cheerleaders were out for almost the whole game dancing around and doing impressive acrobatics and for every touchdown that was scored, fireworks erupted into the sky with a bang. It was a brilliant day out, even for me who is the most anti-sport person out there.
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For Christmas I bought Alex a personalised New York Jets jersey

Upon returning to Manhatten, we made our way down to the Hudson River to catch a ferry over to the Statue of Liberty. It was absolutely freezing but we arrived on Liberty Island in no more than 10 mins – me a similar shade of green to Lady Liberty herself! (Me and boats just do not get on!) We took a few photos of the impressive NY skyline from the island and then spent some time FaceTiming home to show our family the view. We took some selfies, visited the gift shop and then headed straight back on the ferry.

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After a busy day and no lunch, we found ourselves making a pit stop in Dunkin’ Doughnuts and joined the queue behind some NYPD cops. They ordered a ‘doughnut and cwwoffee to go please ma’am’ much to our amusement! We decided to walk back via the Avenue of the Americas to have a look at the Christmas lights and decorations – this city certainly knows how to get you feeling festive!

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Alex’s parents had bought us tickets to see Chicago on Broadway for my birthday that evening (jazz hands at the ready!) and so we headed to a pre theatre dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (Alex and I have made it our mission to visit all the Hard Rock Cafes in the world and so far we’re not doing too badly!). After yummy nachos and burgers we walked to the theatre and took our seats. I loved every second of it! The production was brilliant. We left the theatre in the pouring rain but thankfully we only had a 5 minute walk to our hotel as I couldn’t cope with walking any further in my heels after all that jazz! 😉
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Picture taken the morning after our visit to Broadway!
On the morning of our last day in the city we headed to Madison Square Gardens where we had a guided tour of the arena and my foam finger ambition was fulfilled!
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After a tour of the arena and backstage areas we headed to Macy’s to do a bit of shopping. Now let me tell you, shopping is one of my favourite activities but shopping in Macy’s was the most stressed that I felt in my whole time in New York! It’s spread over two buildings meaning you have to walk to a new building if you want another department. It was all too much, so we settled on buying some designer towels for our new home and left pretty sharpish!
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Our last stop of the trip (boo!) was Brooklyn Bridge. It was a pretty grim day weather wise and there was a lot of rain and fog about so the views we had from the bridge were not the best but we got the selfies we could before heading back to the hotel to collect our bags.

Considering I didn’t even know I was going on this trip until a few hours before our flight I’m so pleased we managed to see and do so much on our visit to the Big Apple. When we returned to the UK, Alex and I put together a short video of our time in the city with a very fitting soundtrack (!) – please take a look below and check out my Youtube channel.

 

 

I loved every minute of our magical trip to NYC and Alex certainly made sure I had a 21st birthday that I’ll never forget!

 

M x

Iceland: First Impressions

 

I’m going to start by saying that Iceland was one of my favourite places I visited last year. It was unusual, it was interesting and above all else it was breathtakingly beautiful. We travelled in March as part of Alex’s 20th birthday celebrations and after researching the weather, prepared ourselves   to be very very cold!

We had pre booked a hire car as we had planned on doing a self drive tour around the many waterfalls that feature in the south west of the country, no more than a few hours drive from Reykjavik where we had booked a hotel as a base. So after landing in Iceland the first thing we had to do was get the keys for the car. Finding the hire company proved to be a bit of a challenge but after 20 mins or so of trekking around in the bitter cold we eventually found a representative who gave us a lift to to our little red Hyundai we would use as our main mode of transport for the next few days. We were given the keys, a paper map, an ice scraper and a shovel, 3 of these items were needed almost immediately. The car, as would be expected, was covered in thick ice that refused to budge and mounds of snow surrounded the car making it impossible to drive off if it wasn’t shovelled.


After a good 20 mins, we finally set off to Reykjavik city center. My first impressions of the country on the drive were average. It was icy and there were a few mountains that I could just about make out in the distance – pretty much as expected. We arrived at the City Centre hotel which I can highly recommend as a great place to stay if you’re on a flying visit to the city. Its location is very central and was the perfect base for our stay. We had arrived in the late afternoon so decided to go for a quick walk around to get our bearings. Before long we found ourselves down by the Solfar (or Sun Voyager as it’s also known), a pretty sculpture which is an ode to the sun.

Sun voyager

However we were much more interested in the spectacular view we had over the Atlantic Ocean and Mount Esja. We stopped for what seemed like hours taking photographs on all our different cameras, trying to capture what we could see but no photograph would do it justice. What a view!

pANORAMIC VIEW

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The next day we set off on the only tour we had pre booked through Reykjavik Excursions (www.re.is), the Golden Circle tour. As the hotel manager told us, no one comes to Iceland and DOESN’T do this tour! We also added on an hour’s worth of snowmobiling on the Langjökull glacier. We jumped on the bus and were given a brief bit of history on Iceland and before we knew it we had arrived at our first stop of the day, Þingvellir National Park. This is an UNESCO world heritage site and it’s not hard to imagine why. It was beautiful and we were encouraged to climb to a high point in the park to take photos. We used our GoPro Hero 3+ (a device I couldn’t possibly live without while travelling now!) to take some great selfies but couldn’t spend too long up there as we had both got brain freeze from the barmy -10c weather!

We were then invited to take a stroll down a gorgeous valley from which you could see a great deal of the National park spreading out in front of you.

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Next we were separated into 2 groups, snowmobilers and non-snowmobilers and we got back on a different coach to take us to the Langjökull glacier. On the way we stopped off at a cafe to refuel and wait for our snowmobile instructors to meet us. However this cafe also sat just yards from the mega Gulfoss waterfall, one of the most famous sites in Iceland. So in the hale and wind that was so cold it felt as if it was cutting your skin, we trudged through the ice to see it. We were not disappointed! It was huge and it was one of those moments that made you feel so tiny and insignificant in the big wide world!

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After a few selfies (trying my best to smile but our faces were frozen stiff!) we headed back to the cafe, suited up in snowsuits and boarded a monster truck to take us to the snowmobiles. The monster truck wheels were almost taller than me but I suppose that’s not a hard feat!

monster truck - use this one

Snowmobiling was so fun and I’m so pleased we did it. We attached the GoPro to the back and so got quite a bit of footage. Alex did most of the driving and that was fine by me. I drove the last leg and can’t tell you how many times I almost flipped it at high speed!

Snowmobile

After an hour’s fun we jumped back on the coach for our last stop of the day, the almighty Geysir, Strokkur. When it erupts every 10 mins or so, it shoots boiling hot water up to 70 metres in the air! As we were running slightly behind schedule we weren’t given a lot of time here and were instructed to get back on the bus as soon as we’d seen it. Alex and I were last off the bus as we were sorting out the various cameras we had and so were seperated from the group. Little did we know that it was a good 10 minute walk from the coach and so we positioned ourselves in the wrong place entirely! We set up our cameras to focus on a hole in the ground that seemed to be steaming  but actually turned out not to be a Geysir of any sort, something we found out after seeing the real Geysir erupt a few hundred yards from where we were standing! We wouldn’t have minded if it had not been pouring with rain and several degrees colder than I care to ever experience again!

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The tour was a whole day but totally worth it if you want to see the most famous sights of Iceland.

When we got back to the hotel we were warned of a huge storm that was set to batter Iceland the next day, not great as we had planned to set off in the car to see Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, some beautiful waterfalls we had found in the guide book. They were not wrong about the storm. In our hotel room we had a glass balcony which the storm completely detached from the hotel building and to our complete horror, we watched as it smashed on the ground below our window! However, just as quickly as the storm came in it passed and the sun came out at around 11am. After speaking with hotel staff and checking the Met Office we were told it was safe to set off. It was a very long drive but as usual, Alex handled it brilliantly, even navigating icy roads and snow storms throughout the day as we drove further into the mountains. This was my favourite day of the trip and seeing the waterfalls is without a doubt still one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

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The moment we arrived we were in absolute awe of Mother Nature! We exited the car and for quite a while were the only people there. It was beautiful (even if we did get attacked by hail that was so painful I thought it had cut my face)! You had the opportunity to walk behind this waterfall, something I’m so pleased we did as you had a completely different view of it. We took a few selfies from behind the waterfall and got absolutely soaked as the wind got up. The sound of the water was thunderous and being positioned in a cave behind the waterfall was one of the best experiences so would definitely recommend to  anyone to give it a go. Be warned there is no marked footpath and it was extremely icy so I wouldn’t recommend doing it on your own as it would be very easy to fall right into the waterfall itself (something that very nearly happened to us on a few occasions!)

Skogafoss

We then drove on to Skogafoss which wasn’t too far at all and as we got there the sun appeared, creating a breathtaking view of a rainbow hovering over the waterfall. It was a fantastic sight and even now when I show people pictures they ask me why I’ve photoshopped a rainbow into the photo! It’s completely real and I haven’t even used a filter on it. I can now say I’ve seen the end of a rainbow – sadly no pot of gold was found (even though I promise, we searched that waterfall pretty extensively)!

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On the way back from our waterfall adventure we stopped off at Vik Beach. Vik Beach is one of the most serene places I’ve ever visited. We had the beach to ourselves for a good hour while we took photos and took in some fresh sea air. Vik Beach has black sand and so that was strange to see but somehow made the beach even more beautiful as it contrasted against the blue waves that rolled in and out. The gorgeous photos below were taken using Alex’s DSLR camera – a Nikon D3200.

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One of the last things we did in Iceland was visit the Blue Lagoon. After three days in the Icelandic winter, I was yearning for some warmth and relaxation. We pre-booked a package which included entrance to the lagoon, robe, slippers and dinner at the Lava Restaurant. The restaurant overlooks the Lagoon itself and boasts a menu of fresh fish and ingredients sourced locally from all over Iceland. We enjoyed a lovely meal of Cod and fresh veg as well as a glass of wine each. Leaving the warmth of the changing rooms to enter the lagoon in just a bikini and a robe was, as you can imagine, horrifyingly cold but after taking a few breaths I threw it off and practically jumped into the 38’c geothermal waters where Alex was already swimming around. It was HEAVEN. Along with a plastic cup of wine for me and a beer for Alex, we were also given a mud face mask each which we lathered onto each other’s faces, keen to benefit from the natural healing qualities we had been told about. After I washed it off ,my face felt rejuvenated and healthy, just what I needed after having the cold elements batter it for a few days! After an hour of relaxation we drove  back to Reykjavik feeling very tranquil.

blue lagoon
The only thing we were very unlucky with on our trip was the northern lights. We booked a trip as soon as we arrived that was postponed every night due to heavy cloud cover and eventually we got a refund as it was time to leave. The night after we left, people in Iceland and the surrounding countries were treated to the best and longest display of the lights in over 20 years! We were absolutely gutted but it makes me even more determined to visit Iceland again one day, as if I needed another excuse anyway!!

Take a look at the short video we’ve put together over on our YouTube channel – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvtFC3ffc48

M x