Friday, 12 October 2018

The Beginner's Guide to New York City


Times Square at night and trying to get a shot where a million people aren't walking in front of the camera

After what seemed like a lifetime of counting down to D-day, we finally made it to The City That Never Sleeps, and they weren't exaggerating - it really doesn’t. I have also decided that I won’t be going anywhere cold ever again for a holiday because, despite the deceivingly blue skies and blinding sunshine, it really was traumatically cold.

Our 10-day vacay comprised of all the usual tourist attractions, hunts for blogged-about food spots, nights out, constantly getting lost, and shopping until our feet felt broken. We stayed at the New York Hilton Midtown situated on Sixth Avenue, aka Avenue of the Americas. It was slightly sub-par for a Hilton hotel, but we got upgraded to a huge room with 2 queens, and it was a nice, central location only a few blocks away from Times Square, and down the road from Central Park and the Upper East Side. Residing on the same avenue are Radio City Music Hall, HBO and The Jimmy Fallon Show (had we known earlier, we would have attempted to get tickets). Granted that 10 days is a long time and you can definitely do NY in half of that, we wanted a long, leisurely, un-rushed holiday for our first time ever in America.

The Sights


Top of the Rock and Empire State

Equipped with our heavily researched and planned-out itinerary and City Passes, we were very prepared for all the sightseeing. We also bought a 7-day subway card for travel and skipped out on hailing a yellow cab. Warning: NYC Subway is confusing AF.
Of course we didn’t miss out on the daytime and night views of the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock. Perks of going in March is that it isn't peak holiday month, and both places had basically zero queuing times. Woo. (And downside of going in March is that it is very, very, very cold)

Without saying, the New York skyline is obviously incredible because it is the concrete jungle where dreams are made of after all. We were also lucky that there were clear skies (on the days when there wasn’t a blizzard). Our Statue of Liberty visit ended up being a semi-fail as when we arrived to get the ferry tickets, they'd sold out for the entire day. On our last day there. But we did see it from a faraway distance though, if that counts. Note to everyone: get there when it opens.

NYC skyline from Empire State

Times Square

Times Square is picture perfect - a spectrum of bright colours and dazzling lights at night, and still vibrant against a blue sky, or even a bleak clouds, during the day. London Piccadilly Circus and HK Times Square cannot compare - it is photogenic from every angle. We visited and passed by so many times just because of our hotel's proximity. 

Times Square, again

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met steps is where all my 16 year old Gossip Girl dreams came true. Of course, home to famous art and history, and the annual Met Gala, but I was just stoked to sit outside and pretend to be Blair Waldorf for 10 minutes. xoxo.

Ground Zero

The 9/11 Museum is one of the most haunting and emotional experiences. Even here in person, seeing all the surviving remnants and photos, and hearing all the stories, we cannot fathom the magnitude of suffering that occurred that day.

Broadway

Broadway is a compulsory part of the NY bucket list, so we got tickets for The Lion King at Minksoff Theatre. Apparently, there's some lottery system there where you can get cheap tickets, usually unbeknownst to tourists. As expected, it was a grand production with world class vocals - shoutout to Mufasa and Rafiki. Not a cheap experience, but gotta do everything at least once, aye.

More Times Square

Bethesda Terrace, Central Park

One of my favourite spots (aka Chuck and Blair's wedding venue of choice) because it's so pretty, and the 'Friends fountain' also makes for a nice photo. We underestimated the size of Central Park and kept getting lost trying to find Bethesda Terrace, but well worth the trek! If money were no object, I'd probably want to get married here too.

Koreatown

Taking a break from the typical tourist-y escapades, Koreatown was our little escape for night life because we didn't want to be too far from our hotel. To adhere to our holiday traditions, we booked a two-man karaoke room at Karaoke Duet 35 because we like to pierce each other's ears for two hours straight. Sadly, we ended up skipping out on the 230 Fifth rooftop bar from our itinerary because I caught a horrendous one-day cold and 0° also isn't exactly rooftop weather. We then had to wait until the following weekend to go out and spontaneously chose the On Now bar which ended up being the land of our people. In a turn of events, we ended up making friends at said bar with randomers who introduced us to the R&B Korean hangout club that is Maru. Here we partied until close, then feasted on Korean hotpot and watermelon soju next door at Pocha 32, at 4am, before bidding farewell and parting ways forever. Interesting night.

My Blair Waldorf moment on The Met steps | The Oculus | Central Park in the snow

Shopping


One thing I definitely miss the most about NYC is the shopping. Sorry to my bank account.

Make-Up

Cosmetic shopping at Macy's did not disappoint. There was 15% off on all things beauty, which was the perfect time to stock up on Kiehl's and NARS. In fact, I think I was too sensible and didn't buy enough, in contrary to Izzy who splashed over £xxx (yes, 3 digits) on make-up. Also, no introduction needed for Sephora - it's a beauty paradise and makes you want to buy something just to tote around a black and white striped bag. Stocked up on First Aid Beauty too here because it's my Winter holy grail. Again, I didn't buy too much - namely because I prefer Korean products (that are not at extortionate prices).

Sephora

Clothes

We took a bus to the Woodbury Common Outlet at $33 return from Port Authority Bus Station and the ticket counter is a mission to find, but hello $38 Levi's and cheap Calvins. There was also 80% off Kate Spade so I naturally ended up getting two purses that I didn't need. They also had eye-watering discounts at Michael Kors, and I kind of regret not getting anything there just because 80% basically means it's like, free. We were lucky because it was practically void of shoppers that day, but it was also possibly the coldest day my existence has ever experienced. There is also everything from J Crew and Stuart Weitzman to Steve Madden and AEO, but everything else was cut short because we spent about 3 hours trying to find our perfect jeans in Levi's.

An NYC trip also wouldn't be complete without a visit to Fifth Avenue. Again, I didn't buy too much because I had my shopping fix at the outlet, but also because I went to the Apple Store which is casually open 24/7, and got new phone since it was around £300 cheaper than the UK. BARGAIN. Although unfortunately for me, New York has one of the highest tax rates in the US and the exchange rate has not been in GBP's favour. Thanks, Brexit. Soho is also a cute place to visit - lots of 'American' apartments and stores like Brandy Melville and Glossier.



Food


Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of typical American food and we had a good mix of hits and misses. I must hang my head in shame for having at least 4 days of McDonald's breakfast. Only because we were always behind schedule and it happened to be a few blocks away. Plus it had Wi-Fi. But actually, McDonald's in NYC is even more expensive than in England. Even our Groupon 'deal' for Kikoo Sushi's sushi buffet wasn't cheap. NYC overall is pretty expensive for food, unless you hunt for cheap eats like Vanessa's Dumplings. We also tried the dumplings at Mandoo Bar in Koreatown, but Vanessa's is essentially the same - just cheaper (and less clean).

The Egg Shop | Cha An Teahouse | Sweet Green

I think the Matcha Lava Cake at Spot Dessert Bar was the best dessert I've ever had. Where can I get that in London?! Also had a pretty nice poached egg and quinoa bowl with avocado and goji berries at The Egg Shop, but the portion wasn't huge and I was starving an hour later. Managed to get a table straight away, as opposed to the over-hyped Jack's Wife Freda. We had to wait 50 minutes for brunch there, and the eggs benedict was just average considering we waited so long. Ramen at Momofuku was also another place I found overrated!

I tend to prefer Asian food so Cha An Teahouse was another restaurant we were drawn to from reviews. We were surrounded by oriental interiors and the smell of incense; they also have the prettiest gourmet desserts which we didn't end up trying as we opted for the Japanese lunch set instead which was probably my healthiest meal all week, along with the warm bowls at Sweet Green - went on a whim and it ended up being the best salad I've probably ever had. But my favourite American restaurant of them all probably had to be IHOP. Went to the East Village branch twice for a fry-up and pancakes because we liked it so much. American pancakes with whipped butter are the tastiest and fluffiest clouds of unhealthy goodness that I would let myself succumb to everyday if I could.

Instagrammable Spots


The entire city is photogenic. All you need is a skyscraper and yellow cab in your photo (which isn't hard because they're everywhere) and it already looks good for the gram. Besides all the main landmarks and attractions, the city is riddled with other pretty places.

Broadway looking vibrant even in the rain | Sprinkles Cupcake ATM before a massive queue pressured us | Radio City Music Hall

There are lots of cute eateries and ice cream places riddled around NYC, although unfortunately we couldn't bear to face ice cream in minus degrees weather. Sprinkles on Lexington Avenue for it's Cupcake ATM. It's overpriced for what is essentially just a cupcake, but makes for a cute Boomerang if you're extra like us. Cha Cha Matcha is really insta-worthy - decked out in pink everything. And Sweet Moment in Chinatown has a combination of wooden tables, neon signs and matcha milk teas with cute latte art. eat by Chloe. is another very Instagrammable fast food joint.

Latte art at Sweet Moment | Trying not to get run over in Soho | Cha Cha Matcha interiors

Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO - Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass are also popular and busy. The views on the bridge from Brooklyn direction facing towards Manhattan are also pretty iconic. We also tried to navigate to Brooklyn Bridge Park, but Google Maps failed us and it was so cold that we had to abort mission. We just about managed to find the overly-crowded DUMBO in the afternoon for a few shots before we retreated from the bitter cold. Even in the winter, you'll find girls stripping down to just a tank top in freezing winds for the gram.

Brooklyn Bridge | Bethesda Terrace | DUMBO

Other honourable mentions include The Oculus in Financial District for its architecture, Radio City Music Hall at night and the Flat Iron building.

As I sit here digging out my NY photos, I feel so nostalgic for the Big Apple, despite spending the majority of our time freezing our toes off and hating on the confusingly-designed subway. But there's nothing like shopping and seeing pretty city sights with your best gal. Our next 'shopping' holiday is scheduled for Seoul 2k20, woo.
Bethesda Terrace

Friday, 27 October 2017

when in rome


Behold, the Pantheon

So, I seem to be two seasons behind with my blog posts... But once upon a time, I had the perfect getaway romancing in Rome and over-indulging in gelatos (5 in 3 days, oops). A plethora of architectural landmarks, Rome is home to one of the current seven wonders of the world and is currently probably my favourite European city.


My photo of Trevi which honestly does it no justice

The Trevi Fountain is the most mesmerising and romantic spot in Rome. Although constantly surrounded by flocks of tourists, it is surprisingly tranquil and just so serene. At least two visits are a must - once in the day and once at night. A nice spot to just sit and do nothing but enjoy the prettiness.

My next favourite place in Rome was the Pantheon. It is an amazing, monumental landmark and I was completely in awe - how did they build such a complex and detailed grandeur of a structure thousands of years ago, and it still remains intact?!

The Pantheon sits in a little square adorned with a pretty fountain and makes you feel like you stepped right out of a movie (aka Troy). We managed to dodge the crowds on a weekday and enjoy a quiet wander round, but expect insufferable crowds at the weekends. TV star Minh was also interviewed by Sky News right outside as he told the UK public his insightful opinion of the EU.



The Colosseum | Somewhere that looks like Gringotts | Vatican ceiling

The Colosseum was interesting, albeit eerie - it was a battleground for gruesome deaths after all. We bought a 72-hour transport pass that included entrance into one tourist attraction and used it here. (Watch out for the African men who loiter around here and try to con you into buying their souvenirs though)

Other notable mentions include Piazza Navona, the Roman Forum (although we only drove past this and then completely forgot to actually visit. THE REGRET) and the Vatican, which is a complete maze. We kept getting lost inside and ending up in the same spots, but the Sistine Chapel inside Vatican City has the most amazing, intricate ceiling of all ceilings.



Giolitti | More Giolitti | Fatamorgana

Apart from admiring all the spectacles Rome has to offer, we hunted for popular gelateries like Giolitti and Fatamorgana. Gelato shops are everywhere, but some are overpriced and don't taste that good. Really nothing beats Giolitti though - we went three times and the chocolate gelato was actually one of the highlights of my trip. Can they not franchise it out to the UK :(


Cantina & Cucina | (Overpriced) Pataclava | Bad photography of the best spaghetti alle vongole at Sora Margherita


 Most of our food endeavours were average at best despite rave Tripadvisor reviews. It wasn't until our final pre-airport lunch and stumbled upon Sora Margherita that we had the best, authentic meal. Kinda unfriendly waiters speaking minimal English with no English menus, but my random pick of the spaghetti alle vongole (vongole I later discovered = clams) made up for the previous lacklustre meals and restored my faith in Italian food. We didn't really meet the friendliest of Italians on the trip, but the service was friendliest in Catina & Cucina and tried our first Limoncello shots.

In my pledge to be more well-travelled, I typically wouldn't want to visit a European city more than once, but I'd like to visit Rome again one day (and hopefully find better food places).

Thursday, 7 September 2017

a day in the life of... me

So recently, I felt like I had to write about it because it's such a prevailing issue that dictates my life that I look back and think about how I haven't mentioned it more. Or ever.

For the handful of friends who know - well, you guys already know. And if you didn't know, it's probably because the occasion didn't really arise to talk about it and bring down the mood.

How does one casually drop this into their conversation? I just thought you might like to know that...

I am going blind.

A sentence I never say out loud, in fear of its reality, and because it feels like a taboo. If I don't say it, then it's not true.

Diagnosed as a teenager with RP - a genetic condition and incurable disease with not a lot of background and insight into its progressive nature - it all sounds like the perfect foundation for a tragic drama. Trust me to inherit the faulty chromosome.

Over the years as my sight has failed me and my peripheral field decreases, I face annoyances such as brightness hurting my eyes, having to live in sunglasses ("but it's not even 'bright'"), enduring head rushes every few minutes and complete blindness in the dark. I can no longer function in the outside world on my own without someone's assistance (unless the street is void of people 'cause then woo, no one to walk into). I can no longer get that London job that I always thought I would have when I was younger, because no one is going to hold my hand and take me to the door of my work. I can no longer pop next door to Sainsbury's on my own because the idea of navigating anywhere where there are people is just too stressful. I can just about do a train journey on my own, but then it feels so bothersome that you always have to get someone to meet you at the stop.

The list goes on.

I don't talk about it, not because I don't like talking about it , but because it's very much an awkward conversation topic for the recipient to respond to. Because people don't want to listen to sob stories where they don't know what they can say to make you feel better. And like with any illness or disease, it's the kind of thing normal, healthy people won't be able to fathom because they've never experienced it.

And maybe I am tuned to be acutely aware, but there isn't the same level of sympathy and compassion for the visually impaired as there is for, say, a cancer patient. We are not dying and we are not sick and we are not in physical pain.

Just YouTube Andrea Begley on The Voice for a slew of blind jokes and puns. And whilst John Green romanticised cancer in The Fault In Our Stars between the two mains, the supporting character was dumped by his girlfriend because he went blind. How's that for optimism.

And whilst I power on through the day like I'm fine, mentally I feel very drained. I have felt mentally drained about this ever since I was a teenager and realised that I was not being a hypochondriac about weird things that started happening to my vision.

And it's the little things in life. The little things in life that make you happy, but also the little things in life that bring you down. Like being really good at table tennis and badminton and then never being able to play again. Like how I just want to rest my eyes, but have no choice but to sit in front of a computer screen for 7 hours everyday because that is my job. Like looking at a bunch of colours and then realising that slowly they all look the same when I know they're not. Like the time I accidentally walked into a man and he was so furious, he shouted in my face and called me a bitch. Like the time I walked into the woman who retorted 'ARE YOU BLIND?!' Like the time I crashed into someone else and bruised one side of my face. My life is full of moments that rain on my already-drowning parade. Sometimes it feels like I'm stuck in a nightmare - like one day I'm going to wake up and it's all going to be ok.

But it's not. Because when your sight goes, it just goes. Whilst the doctor tries to reassure and tells me I'm very young still so there's chance that in this lifetime there will be a cure, I also raise one eyebrow to the fact that the hospital I'm an outpatient at are currently funding research and focused on a very specific type of RP "that affects Saudi Arabian men".

But this isn't a pity story. Because pity is the exact opposite of what I've ever wanted. I want people to understand, and show understanding. I want someone to tell me I'm doing a good job. I want to live like my life is normal.

Whilst I'm having a hard time, there's a lot that keeps me going - the rays of sunshine peering through the grey clouds. When my friends take my arm and tell me to mind the step. When I have holiday buddies to travel with. When my boyfriend waits for me at the door of my bus when I get off and takes my hand. When he always tells me "I've got you"...

It's the little things.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

goodbye... forever

Last night I erased your number from my phone.

Sometimes I'm ok when I talk about it, because life goes on. But sometimes when I think about you, the memories choke my throat and prick my eyes. Sometimes I will feel completely fine, but then suddenly I will really miss you, and your voice. Like tonight - a bout of sadness is shrouding me again. And I wonder how long I will feel this way. I wonder how long the grieving process takes...

It's hard thinking about life without you. But the hardest part was seeing you alive and suffering, and frail and weak. I will slowly try to forget those last memories of you, because they were the most painful and you wouldn't want us to remember you like that.

Sometimes I replay that video of you singing Happy Birthday out of tune, because that's the only recording I have of your voice, and I never want to forget how it sounds.

I hope it's nice up there, because it still feels strange and empty without you down here...

Thursday, 2 March 2017

lisbon | portugese adventures


Rossio Square fountain and a nice absence of tourists

I need to stop writing blog posts like half a year after I've been on holiday because I keep forgetting everything I did... Anyway, our 5-day getaway to Portugal (in the Autumn!) was full of sporadic sunshine, typical tourist ventures and Portugese tarts. It was a surprisingly quiet capital and a lot more vacant than I had expected, with a certain quaint vibe that European cities always have (and London is kinda devoid of). Lisbon was fashioned with cobbled sidewalks, grand and intricate landmarks and old buildings.

We stayed at the contrastingly modern Sheraton Lisboa, with its atmospheric lighting, dark, sleek rooms and very naked, glass-paned bathrooms. We also lived off Lidl baguettes and pâté in the mornings because who pays 30 Euros for hotel breakfast?


The best lobster bisque I've everrrrr had | The best bacauhal of the trip | Smoked salmon with capers and Charcuterie board at Artisan Wine Bar

Food is always the highlight and quest on a good holiday. Our ventures included Salsa Rosa Bistro, Artis Wine Bar, Pastéis de Belém, some amazing lobster bisque and bacalhau in I-can't-remember-the-name-of-the-restaurant (but it's on the same Belém road), Manteigaria and probably a few others that I might have remembered the name of if I had only bothered to write this post sooner. And my favourite dinner place Frade dos Mares, a little seafood restaurant tucked off a main street.


Belém | Lagareiro style octopus at Frade dos Mares | Manteigaria

And if there's a Pastéis de Belém vs. Manteigaria debate, Belém wins hands down. Manteigaria wasn't even close. Belém was the perfect amount of sweet. It is Portugal's number one after all. I remember the first time that I had a pastel de nata was in the Venetician Macau and it tasted so good that I'd been nostalgic ever since, and Belém satisfied that completely -throws confetti-


Praça do Comércio | Tram 28 | Jerónimos Monastery

Our checklist:
  • Rossio Square - a huge, ornate fountain with Cirque de Sardine across the road (a tinned sardines emporium)
  • Praça do Comércio - very picturesque, but I almost died from the heat and Attack of the Flies. One flew on my lip, FYI
  • Castelo De São Jorge/St. George's Castle - also land of wild peacocks
  • Jerónimos Monastery
  • The aquarium Oceanário de Lisboa
  • Tram 28
  • Rua do Diario de Noticias - trekked around this ambient area for some restaurant hunting

And that concludes our relaxing, little city break. Next stop: Rome.


Sardines anyone? 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

hello 2017



My 2016 was a whole loada fluctuations of ups and downs. Bad health was ongoing, private healthcare was expensive, a lot of physical pain, some emotional, and continual struggles with inner demons, but I also had a lot of highlights and special moments which flew by far too quickly. It's a shame life has no pause button.

A recap of the good:

• Landed my first proper Marketing job which I love
• Saw Queen Bey on her Formation World Tour
• Visited the bucket list ultimate Santorini
• Went pastel de nata hunting in Lisbon
• Scored the Friday Forty and watched Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
• Lost the title of cat lady heh heh

And because it's the new year, I'm going to attempt some resolutions:
• Exercise at least 3 times a week (not to lose weight, but because I'm unfit af)
• Read a book every month
• Blog at least once a month (quite optimistic this one is)

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

harry potter and the cursed child



After two months of dedicated Friday Forty participation, the prospect of winning tickets for the sold out Cursed Child play seemed pretty bleak. But then after an overdose of Felix Felicis and a bout of luck, we won.

WE WON THE FRIDAY FORTY.

Now most of my friends assume that we got the tickets for free when I say that we won the Friday Forty, but winners actually just get the best seats at reduced rates. £130 seats for only £40! "Oh, wtf. That's not really winning though..." Yes. Yes it is. Bloody muggles.


Sneaky pic. This is how close I was to Voldemort.

We went to Saturday 5th November's showing at the luxe Palace Theatre. Sadly missed Matt Lewis by a day, but hey, can't complain when we got front row seats (and next ticket release is for December 2017, wut).

Without spoiling too much (because #keepthesecrets), I can only say that it was everything and more. Personally, I loved the story because J.K. Rowling is basically my hero and I love anything she writes. Think moving staircases, return of the time turner, flying dementors, spells shooting out of wands and 5 hours of pure magic.

Secretly, I would've liked a Goblet-of-Fire-sized novel and a movie, but after seeing it, a play format makes sense. Can she just keep making sequels forever? I'm just drowned in nostalgia anytime I read or watch HP. I need help.