New York Solo 2017 - Part 2: Shopping Heaven & a Celeb Blow Dry

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I woke up in New York - woohoo! Well, I woke up in my cupboard under the stairs but hey, I was back in the city of dreams ready to take on the day. And first on my itinerary was to shop! Covering ground around West Village and Broadway with different stores as my pit stops meant I would totally have a Carrie Bradshaw-style day, and I LOVE shopping alone. Perusing at your leisure and taking as long as you like is my damn happy place.

Getting ready actually look much longer than needed really as it took some guts to use the shared bathrooms. It also took courage to step out into the quiet West Village and be in NYC. I can't explain it - maybe I was shy! I did feel super self-conscious as I strutted out of the hotel after making sure my bag was packed with my essentials, my makeup was just so, and I'd locked my room properly. The streets really were quiet and still as I walked past huge brownstones.

My first destination was actually Carrie Bradshaw's apartment! Like a pilgrimage, I felt I needed to spend a few moments in the setting of the show that totally inspired this trip, and gain a little positive energy from an iconic spot. There was literally no one there while I vlogged near the stoop, and nearby are the Friend's apartments too! Sadly Central Perk isn't at the base but as I was taking a snap, a fire alarm started going off and a chain of the cutest little toddlers came out of a building, all holding hands. 

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After that adorable encounter I headed for some fuel. Honestly I was still overwhelmed by this entire situation and stepping into the uber cool Jack's Wife Freda was like I was in a hipster dream. I took a seat at the counter as I wasn't quiet ready to sit by myself in a cafe of chatty tables, and ordered a tea. The 'singles at the counter' is quite the US phenomenon as the other solo diners next to you tuck into their eggs and flick through their papers. As I was perusing the menu, a young guy sat next to me and randomly asked if they served alcohol. Then turned to me exclaiming he's seen me on the street and started to chat me up! He looked around 19 so I made small talk and then said I was leaving the next day. After I waved him on his way, the barista and a gent dining adjacent to us were asking if I knew the guy, and it was just one of those bizarre situations that proved I was rather far away from home and who knows what was still to come!

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Nothing on Jack's menu caught my eye actually so I continued down the block to by Chloe. I am so glad I did! This had a light, feminine vibe that welcomed me in and led me to order the best. salad. EVER. This salad. Oh my gosh this SALAD! I still think about this salad. And I still talk about this salad. And I still dream about this salad. OK the last one is an exaggeration but wow, the Kale Caesar is life and I've been meaning to make my own version ever since.


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I chose a window seat for ultimate people watching and absolutely devoured this mix of soft kate, avocado, maple croutons, shitake bacon, almond parmesan and caesar dressing. The entire menu is vegan and natural and just delicious. I hear it's opening in London and I can't wait! I'll need to take a trip.

Overjoyed with my brunch, I continued towards Broadway and hit the shops! Urban Outfitters, Victoria Secret, Nike, Forever 21, basically every shop I came across I browsed and they really were so quiet on this Thursday! This led me nicely towards the Glossier showroom, which means the rather strange exeperience of checking in with a modelesque door lady and taking a basic elevator up to the level that opens right into a small room with products dotted around.

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It was quite busy with mums & prams, or student typed swatching the samples on show. I wasn't in the market for any makeup but I purchased a few skincare bits, packed nicly into those pink bubble wrapped ip lock pouches. It's really fun to be British in New York as everyone you speak to will have a friendly chat and Ireally savoured those moments talking with makeup artists and store assistants as I guess I wasn't talking to anyone else!

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My wanderings took me towards high-end stores and I dared to step into Miu Miu and admired the bags. I was so up for buying one but I'd rather do a little more research so after trying on a few in the mirror, I told the sales lady that I just needed to get my 'boyfriend' in the shop next door, hahaha! Instead of collecting my imaginary bae, I took a cab up to Blo Blow Dry Bar for, you guessed it, a blow dry! I soon realised that spending the hours it takes to sort my own hair was wasted time, and the communal bathrooms at my hotel only warranted minimal time spent using the shared facilities.

This was one of the best decisions I made because the salon was the perfect osmpoloitan escape from the city and my stylist Nathan was a ray of sunshine! A testemony to all of the fantastic people you can meet in NYC, we spent the time discussing his move from LA, his celebrity clients (Hillary Clinton's daughter!), New York life, and he even took a snap for me.

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He was so enthusiastic and kind that I left not only with an awesome blow dry but feeling like I'd made an actual friend. Despite loving my own company and travelling across the world by myself, having that genuine connection on your level made a huge difference in my day.

Hair refreshed, I visited Dough for, you guessed it again, doughnuts, Bath & Body Works for Colgate whitening strips, various Maybelline and LO'real products you can't find here, and loads of snacks as gifts. I'd walked miles and miles by now and it was time to head back to The Jane, grabbing a few HUGE and competely delicious pizza slices on my way home.

I was doing fairly well on the jet lag front as on Thursdays, The Jane hosts the party that I had originally attended two years prior. I got ready and chilled out until a New York friend arrived, and it was rather fun to step into the elevator from my room and land in the club! If I was visiting with friends, it would be super handy to have it as a pre-drinks or all-night party on your doorstep every weekend to make the most of every evening. The old school hip hop and dancing on plush arm chairs or tables was the scene I remembered fondly and we partied for a few hours before I popped back up to my dorm!


New York Solo 2017 - Part 1: Heading to NYC alone!

I've actually been quite nervous to post about my solo trip to New York. The trepidation wasn't around sharing the experience with you lovely readers, but actually to relive the visit myself and put it into words. It was such a learning experience and was as fantastic as it was challenging. But let's start from the very beginning. Why did I go all the way to New York by myself?!

Now some may feel it's quite extreme to travel alone but actually it felt really natural to book up by myself. You know all about my first whirlwind visit to New York in 2015 as I wrote all about it, and it was such an unbelievable experience. The fact that I was actually living my dream was exciting enough, and when it was even more exciting than we had expected, it made it the trip of a life time! We blagged our way into so many exclusive clubs every single night, mingled with celebs, and saw the legendary sights from New Jersey to Coney Island to Brooklyn. It felt damn amazing to bounce down the sidewalk and totally feel the buzz of the city.

I've wanted that feeling ever since. Every other year I end up watching the SATC box sets and imagine myself as Carrie, dashing down the fictional East 73rd Street in $500 heels and a $5 vintage dress, dating the city. And I had the same feeling as I did in 2015. What am I working for? If I am able to jet to my dream destination, why am I not doing just that right now! There may not be  many other times in my life when I can head somewhere solo, and in early 2017 I started entertaining the thought of spending a few indulgent days in the city that offered so much. It actually appealed more to go alone and treat the trip exactly how I wanted, choosing to do just what I pleased. It felt like a personal challenge and almost like a pilgrimage. It also took some of the edge off a group trip as I could book things on a whim and selfishly plan obscure activities such as visiting the Glossier showroom, getting a blow dry or meeting friends. 

Booking the flight was a fantastic feeling. I was on the way! I booked a hotel pretty quickly too as I had one in mind for years. On my last visit, we'd tried to get into the Standard Hotel but the reception said there was a "private party" on. The next night we realised that was just code for not letting any old person in and managed to blag our way in, but that day we literally walked onto the sidewalk and asked a passing group of hipsters if they new a nearby club. We were actually in West Village surrounded by them, but we were clueless tourists and after calling us the Spice Girls, the strangers sent us off to The Jane. A grand brick building on the edge of the Hudson river, we proceeded straight to the rooftop bar and tagged onto a group of British DJs to get past the doorman, before meeting some Wall Street bankers and being directed back to the club in the lobby. Dancing on plush arm chairs in front of grand fireplaces to '90s hip hop was a night to remember!

As I knew it was a hotel and I'd already been there, I felt a pull to the place, and it was one of the top rated hostel-style accommodation options. In New York you're looking at £150+ per night for a cheap hotel room and as it was just me footing the bill, I shelled out £500 for 6 nights at The Jane which meant a teeny room and shared bathrooms. The reviews said they were always spotless and the cabin inspired rooms seemed a safe and secure option for a lone traveller. I was concerned about long corridors in anonymous hotels so wanted somewhere that felt safe enough.

Next was my itinerary, and this step positively overwhelmed me. Planning to see the typical well-known sights is easy but I had already visited them all. I was looking for cool eateries, unique shops and fabulous neighbourhoods. I was actually hoping to catch the Travis Scott tour and coincidentally it did fall during my visit, but I had to weigh up the things I was brave enough to do on my own, and a crazy show pushed the mark. I made lists and lists of things to do, watched endless videos, and tried to group them into areas, but New York is so huge that it really is a challenge to figure out. I prebooked a few things, planned to see a few friends, and left the rest to my lists. I was spending time organising my trip around my own demanding job so I had to leave some decisions to nearer the actual time! Organising every tiny detail yourself means you can't drop the ball on anything, and it does take a lot of attention and care.

I had booked to go in April because during the start of the year, I always get itchy feet. Until spring properly flourishes, the winter months can be so dull and endless, which did mean I wasn't actually feeling super glam and my wardrobe felt a little sluggish. However I made a few purchases after trawling literally every online store I could think of and rammed my suitcase with options.

The night before travelling I remember sitting in bed thinking 'oh my gosh, I'm putting myself on a plane tomorrow and jetting away?!' It was a huge surge of nerves and excitement, and there were no friends to text last minute packing checklists to or ask who was bringing hair straighteners - I was all on my own. My flight was conveniently at 9am so I breezed through the airport in my own world, calmly waiting to board while making sure my eyes didn't leave the departure screens. There's none of the school-trip style comradery you have when you're travelling in a group of besties so that initial excitement is missing, and the flight was a pretty straightforward affair of reading, napping and movie guzzling. I felt a little like I was in a film too, flying mysteriously solo.

It was possible to fly direct from Birmingham to Newark, which meant a shuttle and train into Manhattan. It's a pretty naff airport so I did not feel any NYC glamour yet. When you're in a group you can faff at every turn but when solo, I trust my instincts and journey on, confidentially arriving to Penn Station even though there were some points I wasn't even sure I was on the right train, and jumping in a yellow cab to The Jane. I had finally arrived!

I can't quite say it was the warmest welcome - there were no fireworks apart from those popping in my head as I tried to make it sink in that I was on the other side of the world in the city that never sleeps. The Jane was oddly familiar and after a monosyllabic welcome at the reception, I was shown my room. Or rather, my broom cupboard as it shall now be referred to.

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I did know that the rooms at The Jane are famous for being ship-style cabins, and I thought it would be rather novelty to have my little bunk, but it really was teeny! I tried to capture this in the photos above, as you can see the edge of the bed in both. The mirrored wall could not disguise that I could almost touch each wall with my arms outstretched, and despite there being decent storage under the bed for clothes and a suitcase, there was nowhere to actually be in this room. You were either sitting on the bed looking at the mirror, or lying horizontal on the bed asleep. The window was a stiff A4 sized shutter looking out onto another brick wall. It felt very closed in and was almost an effort to leave this tiny enclosure and burst out into such a huge city. The contrast did have a strange vibe and the hotel itself was very still and quiet. I ventured out towards the bathroom in the central corridors which indeed was always spotless, although the shower room was more of a huge, damp wet room; the kind where you don't quite want to touch anything!

It was around 7pm at home but still mid afternoon in the Big Apple, and my first plan was to head to Times Square and get some serious shopping done as long as I could stay awake. I originally booked a show for that evening but swapped the dates and I couldn't predict how tiring the journey would be, but I was raring to go! I quickly changed in my box room, took a few deep breaths, and walked all the way to Mid Town from West Village, taking in the hustle and bustle of the place. Wow!

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It was grey, hectic and noisy as dusk set in, and I strutted the sidewalks as though it was most natural to be rubbing shoulders with the tourists and commuters heading home. I definitely dropped a few $$$ on Elizabeth and James perfume, face masks, lip masks, and Hourglass Ambient Lighting powder (which I dropped a few months later - gutted!). There's something about swinging that black and white striped bag that is so satisfying!

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I also wondered all of the floors of the Forever21 and hit the beauty section of Duane Reed, though most of the shelves were empty. It was getting dark by then and the noise, car horns and bright lights were weighing down on my tired shoulders. I wasn't ready to face a sit down meal by myself just yet so I hit a deli, bought a delicious salmon Caesar salad and a huge slab of fluffy strawberry New York cheese cake, and hailed a cab back to my hotel. I ate in bed watching TV until as late as I could, but might I say American TV is so bizarre and not so pleasant! You could say British TV is similar as there were ad breaks every 5 minutes but the relentless commercials on various diseases, addiction hotlines and medical side effects were wild. Hindsight learning #1 was that I should have brought my laptop or ideally an iPad and caught up on YouTube or my favourite shows. I didn't really want to do the things I would be doing if I was sat at home, but actually that shouldn't matter while you are relaxing and refreshing yourself to take on the next day's adventures. See you next time for my first full day!


Face of the Night with IT Cosmetics

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If you've watched my vlogs you'll know I can achieve a lot in an hour, even though that does usually mean another 30 mins faffing for heels and ordering the taxi. When it comes to getting ready for a night out, often I have planned my outfits and my makeup look so I can dive in and speedily pack on a lot of makeup. I can't just go with the flow as who knows what kind of pastel, shimmery, smokey eye I could end up frantically rubbing off while my mate is on her way round! I always have an inspiration screen shot or YT video at the ready so I know which colours to pick, and you can see mine below from last weekend.

Any new purchases take centre stage as I'll plan a look around them, whether it's a new shadow palette or liquid lipstick. I received a surprise parcel from IT Cosmetics in the post and have been pondering the products, waiting for the right time to dive in. A morning before work is not the time to experiment, especially when you'll have to wear something throughout the day in unforgiving daylight, but night time is the right time!

The Bye Bye Under Eye Concealer is heeeeavy duty. I usually use the Maybelline Under Eye Eraser which can't exactly be called thin, but IT's offering is the consistency of tacky paint, and a little goes a long way when warmed up with finger taps. That tacky consistency allows it to stretch without you rubbing it away, and welcomes a light dusting of powder over the top to blend with your foundation. This is everything!

 

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Shout out to the Brow Powder too, which is actually a wind up pencil so that's rather confusing. The best this is that it's strong enough to make bold strokes without it snapping, and thin enough to be precise. I don't want to go back to a brush and powder, it just doesn't have the control!

Unfortunately I'm not sure where this inspiration image is from but I didn't quite go as golden or shimmery, so I'll definitely be using this image again over the festive season!

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The Budapest City Break | Day Four: Széchenyi Thermal Bath on Valentine's

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Alas it is the final day of my Budapest trip! I hope I've shown so far how rich with history, fun and charm the city is, all wrapped in a stylish, casual vibe that made us feel completely at home. The apartment continued to be a dream with its spacious rooms and quiet surroundings, and we began the day at our favourite vegan haunt for some much needed stodge after the previous night's 4am finish.

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Hair buns secured and a huge plate of ten delicious and different veggie dishes later, we hopped on the metro for a few stops to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. We'd left this event to our final day as it seemed the most relaxing and effortless!

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We hadn't booked as it was out of season, which meant we took our own towels and flip flops, and headed into the steamy underground group changing rooms. I'd definitely suggest prebooking a cabin room as it certainly riled up any germophobe tendencies! But soon we were stepping out into the freeeeezing air and plunging into the 25 degree baths. 

And it truly was like taking a bath with your mates and a few hundred strangers! I never go swimming and don't even have a bath in my house so being in the water was pretty lush, and we chilled for a few hours. We did jump out to get our cameras for tourist snaps, and diving back into the steamy water was totally satisfying compared to the chilly air! It was Valentine's weekend though so we were mostly surrounded by couples!

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I can see how the night time parties they have at the baths could go totally crazy as sometimes the steam totally fluffed up in the air and you could barely see the person next to you! It was interesting to see a wide range of ages there too and a laid back vibe.

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After our day of relaxing, though our skin was so dried out by the cold air and streamy water, we got dressed up again and revisited the most well-known ruin pub, Szimpla Kert. It was a Friday night so it was more of a party atmosphere, and when we pulled up there was a long queue but it decreased quickly and we soon had £1 glasses of wine in hand!

I've recommended Budapest to so many people; it was the best value city break I've ever had and would suit party goers, history buffs or cute couples. I hope you consider visiting soon too!


Dazzle with The Gracechurch Centre


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Now this is a challenge to get on board with! The Gracechurch Centre tasked me to hunt the stores for the most dazzling items of the season, as sparkles are a huge AW17 trend. So many styles have a holographic sheen, a metallic embellishment, or a few extra gems. Save the dates are already arriving for the December party season and it's time to snap up the outfit before anyone else! I love so much about this season and having a calendar bursting with events that require maximum glamour.

I struck most lucky in Topshop with this rose gold skirt that almost makes you feel like a wrapped present! The textured silver top could be worn over a pretty bralette or tucked into high waist, wide leg trousers or flares. The cute sparkly clutch is a subtle nod to the trend if you're not shopping for a Christmas party outfit just yet. Having something pretty to perch next to your cocktail offers great satisfaction!

I also discovered these classic OTK boots in New Look that feel much more seasonal than a pair of strappy sandals that would freeze your tootsies off. The slit of the skirt shows them off perfectly and of course they'd be perfect when you're heading around the shops after Christmas for the sales!

Bring on the sparkle season I say!

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The Budapest City Break | Day Three: Scary Labyrinth, Vegan Delights and Bob

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I'm 99% sure I already typed up this post but all of the text seems to have disappeared! But alas, onto the third day of my Budapest trip and I do think the cool tone of these photos shows just how chilly it was. Our apartment was right next to Fisherman's Bastion so we walked over and took in the beautiful turrets. All of these sights are totally free to explore, even with the city already being so low cost.

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I do think I look like a green snowman above but it was freezing! We warmed up with a hot drink and made our way towards Buda Castle, until we passed a sign advertising a 'unique and amazing labyrinth' just around the corner. Our intrepid explorer instincts were ignited, though I did feel slightly uneasy as the stone tunnel entrance lead underground via steep steps. A few paces in and a fee of round £5 let you into a mile of tunnels, some pitch black, with random Edwardian party scenes with mannequins at different points... ? It. was. CREEPY! It didn't help that smoke and eerie music was pumped out, and there was a Dracula themed section. Argh! A bunch of potentially German tourists behind us too were making spooky noises as they laughed at our screams. It was hilarious and terrifying at the same time and you can see in my vlog it was more of a Blair Witch-style filming experience. I was glad to finally reach the end!

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After our slight trauma, we browsed the castle grounds, with plenty of epic views, and worked up an appetite for the local vegan restaurant. We had spotted Eden right by our place and there's a hefty menu, but the star is a daily selection of special dishes that you can pick 10 of for around £10. I'm not vegan but my friends are, and this was super tasty despite it looking a little like a plate of slop!

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We snapped the parliament building from across the river and took a trip to a supermarket for pre-drinks (aka prinks) and frozen chips, though we forgot we didn't have an oven at the apartment and ended up pan frying them dry. Yum!

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There are a few larger clubs in a square so we jumped in a cab to one called Bob first and ended up staying there all night! First it was playing salsa music but then it was a load of chart stuff and everyone was dancing; there was no posing or perching at the sides. We were dancing with some guys and all I saw was one of my friends being lifted up by some random boy and then soar through the air like a bird when the guy dropped her! It was so funny but also completely not cool but also we were all  laughing so much. It was another easy, effortless night with so many fun moments. Budapest was a breeze! Every activity was just completely effortless, inexpensive and unique. Let's just not mention that labyrinth! 

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