Travel

My New York 2018 Highlights

One of the highlights of my 2018 was my third visit to New York. When I first visited in 2015, it was literally the trip of a lifetime. Once I had graduated and was earning, it was the very first thing on my bucket list. Two friends and I absolutely pushed 8 days to the limit, packing in sights, sports, nightlife, shows and a few crazy tales we still can't quite believe, including partying with Miley Cyrus. I also visited last year as my first dip into solo travel. I enjoyed the city as if I were a resident there for a few sweet days, doing fashion blogger-esque things and running a constant Carrie Bradshaw monologue in my mind.

Many of my friends are turning the big 3-0 this year (including myself next August!), and the first celebration was in NYC. I had a fantastic week dabbling in the sights and revisiting my favourite places. It was a no-pressure break in the city that positively hums with attitude, energy and magic.

If you are planning a holiday to New York, TravelPlanners have created a tool to help explore the city, which is a huge task to take on once your dream trip is in the calendar. From shopping and sightseeing, to an endless selection of sporting, art and music events, it's hard to know where to begin!

Here are a few of my tips on the types of holidays you can have in New York, and what I loved the most!

 

Sightseeing Up or Down

There are so many attractions and sights to see in Manhattan alone, and I found it was easier to begin with a map like the TravelPlanners tool, rather than a wishlist. Explore the clusters of options around Uptown, East Village, SoHo, Dumbo, etc, and plan your mornings and afternoons in one part of the city so you can hop across to a few places in one area. Despite the handy subway, travelling across town can use up a lot of precious time and can tire you out, so stay in one location and tick off the nearby must-dos in one visit. I loved strolling from The Met to Central Park, or midnight shopping in Times Square after a Broadway show.

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Fashion Blogger Fantasy

A great place to start planning your trip is watching one of many NYC vlogs by fashion bloggers on YouTube, and noting a few key Instagram hot spots. Let's face it, you will want some fantastic snaps to capture your holiday as an everlasting memory. Bring your Instax and perch on the Brooklyn Bridge, grab a green latte in Cha Cha Matcha, pose outside the very pink Pietro Nolita, and channel Blair Waldorf on the steps of The Met. I don't usually condone living through a screen, but being in New York already feels like you're on a movie set, and capturing your own moments in the iconic setting will be treasued long after you fly home.

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Raise the Roof   

All of my New York trips have involved night life, which I never find bloggers talk about. New York clubs are very selective and you can't simply walk into a hot spot - you have to granted access by the scary bouncers. Don't act like a tourist and find a club promotor on Instagram to name drop on the door. Never go without a name! Staying at a hotel with a rooftop bar has the many perks of always being available and easy to attend, and we loved the view from 50 Bowery this year. My favourites are Up & Down, 1OAK and The Jane, and if you get chatting to people inside, you'll be guaranteed to be invited to another party the next night.

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Go Live

While the tourist attractions are so smoothly ran, there's nothing like a live event to add a once in a lifetime opportunity to your itinerary. I loved moshing at a Pendulum gig in Brooklyn, being overwhelmed by The Lion King on Broadway, and cheering on the Yankees in the Bronx. Attending an East Village comedy gig of a favourite podcaster solo with a Dark 'n' Stormy was really liberating.

Eat as the Locals Do

I've never been much of a foodie, but I will take each meal as an opportunity for something significant. Each day we searched Google Maps for a nearby classic diner and loaded up on French toast with a side of eggs, sunny side up, or tuna and swiss grilled sandwiches. Or both! Then for dinner we explored Little Italy for fresh pasta, or grabbed a huge slice of famous pizza at Joe's.

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Take It Easy

The temptation to pack your trip with tourist destinations is almost necessary when there are thousands of things to see and do, but some of the best parts of my latest trip were more candid. When we grabbed a happy hour drink at a local bar and got chatting to the waiter, or getting an impulsive palm reading on the street, or the day I hunted for an eye brow salon in China Town and spent an hour among the hustle and bustle. It doesn't have to always be go-go-go; just take a moment to breathe in the city and enjoy all of the wonders that await!

This post was sponsored.


A City Break in Malaga, Spain

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Take a peek at my Ibiza series and there will be the standout theme of embracing beach holidays for the very first time. For years I just didn't see the pull of bikini shopping, hours of sun lounging, or copious amounts of sun cream. I was much more excited to pack a full makeup bag and step into a buzzing city. However, Ibiza offered such an incredible mix of relaxation and vibrancy that I realised a beach break doesn't have to mean watered-down cocktails by the pool day after day. 

When planning destinations for an August break with two old friends, there weren't many European cities left to choose from! Certain destinations may have been overrun with tourists or couples, and a package break led into that Brits abroad territory that we wanted to avoid. Since our ultimate New York trip of 2015, we know our perfect holiday mix means hitting attractions in the day and lively party spots by night, mingling with locals while also spending that quality time together. After much Sky Scanner browsing, Malaga jumped out for the local beaches, the city vibe and cheap flights straight from BHX. Sorted! 

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A great apartment bargain was secured and soon we were jetting off with cases full of cozzies. We were shown around our apartment by a teenage boy but were very pleased with the two bathrooms and spacious living area, plus French window balconies that opened out above a colourful side street. I love the still vibe that heat can give a city as Malaga is bustling yet chilled.

The first night of a trip is always awkward as you get your bearings and inevitably end up falling into a tourist restaurant with laminated menus. We only had a few cocktails outside at a small bar, enjoying the fact that we were dressed up and drinking on a school night, the Out of Office firmly on! 

Our plans on the first day were to do all of the cultural tours so we could then relax for the rest of the holiday. We visited the beautiful Catedral de Malaga and took the trip to the very top to look out across the entire city, and then trooped up the steep hills right to the top of Castillo Gibralfaro, stopping at the pretty gardens along the way. There are awesome views here and a great excuse to work up an appetite before sampling local tapas dishes at the restaurants dotted around the castle walls. It was so hot that I didn't realise my only option was to completely cover up, so I bought a shawl and draped that over my shoulders so the sun couldn't get me! I'll remember for future holidays that it's just not an option for me to swan around in the sun's rays. 

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We stopped by a local supermarket and enjoyed that precious time in the early evening where you shower, snack and slowly start getting ready. The apartment has a smart TV so we watched about 30 episodes of Friends this holiday! I gave my friends a full contour and highlight lesson in the bathroom - the highlight being that I asked them to 'lay out their kit' and each turned up to the bathroom mirror brandishing one brush and one bronzer - and we headed off to ZZ Pub on foot, as we were so central that we didn't need to grab a taxi anywhere! That coupled with it being so warm really added to the chilled vibe. There was live music on that night so we danced to a rock rendition of Proud Mary and then continued on to a different bar that I have completely forgotten the name of, though I think it cost 50 cents to use the toilets! 

The next day was beach time and we took the 20 minute walk through the city, stopping off at a few shops in the centre to stock up on loads of makeup for that night's second lesson! I'd been warned that Malaga beach has some seriously scorching sand, and we literally hot-footed it over to hire an umbrella and set up camp with our books. My beach holiday mind is changed because it was so lush to feel so warm and relaxed with a perfectly trashy read (Paige Toon's The Longest Holiday, FYI). We cooled off in the cool sea, daring each other to go far enough for your feet not to touch the seabed, and came home totally chilled out and feeling accomplished, despite not actually doing anything all day! 

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That night we didn't actually leave the apartment until around 2am because when our balcony doors were open, the street outside was so lively and packed that we felt like we were already at the party! We made cocktails and gossiped, then headed literally three steps to the local club that was suitably cheesy. We went to another nearby bar too but it was actually my birthday once the clock struck midnight and for some reason, my birthday puts me in a super low mood! Am I the only person that feels super uneasy on their birthday?

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My birthday was equally as chilled though as we lolled on the beach again and had loads of ice cream in the town. Another night of a 5 hour getting ready to go out-out marathon ensued and we once again checked out the local bars, before spending the next few days relaxing after our dawn-til-dusk partying by visiting other local beaches by train further along the coast. Malaga beach has the traffic and city just behind you, whereas further towards Marbella hosts stretches of sand and cool beach bars with epic fruit smoothies. We did take out a pedalo but my fear of deep water coupled with all of our valuables being on the creaky, lurching boat too made me say mayday and literally make a break for the shore! I'm much more at home on the sun lounger with my book and just the sound of the waves in my ears. We also hit the marina/port area at night to dine outside with plenty of sangria.

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While we went to Malaga for a party break, I'd definitely recommend staying further out and just visiting the city in the daytime if you'd prefer the majority of your holiday to be a beach break. If you're looking for a fun trip with a dose of culture and beach time too, I'd say Malaga is the perfect cheaper alternative to Barcelona. Enjoy


New York Solo 2017 - Part 4: Day Clubbing, Aladdin, Comedy & 1OAK

This is the final installment of my solo NYC trip as you'll have to forgive my lack of photos from here on in! I always seem to do this; I'll be the super keen tourist as a holiday begins but once you're totally in the zone, I'm too absorbed in being in real time to pick up the camera. After my eventful Thursday and Friday, Saturday was a totally different vibe as it was again super hot in Manhattan, and West Village was heaving with people. 

I haven't touched on my hotel for a while but it was still as small as ever, and was feeling more and more cramped by the day. The daily routine of the shared bathrooms had become even more of a hindrance as I tentatively checked each day what sort of state I would find it in, despite there being cleaners constantly in there throughout the day. Transporting all of my toiletries each time was getting old and my teeny room served no comfort. The only option was to head out each day but after a few busy ones, I was deflating in energy. If I were at home, I would have spent some still time after hectic days pottering around my room, visiting my nan or chilling out, but the onus of being in NYC is to go, go, go. If I were with friends, you bounce off each other and brighten the mood, but solo travel means its all down to you. 

It would have suited better if I'd have arrived on a busy weekend and then had the quieter weekdays to continue exploring, but this Saturday was bright and bustling, and I could feel the energy crackling outside on the streets. I selected my coolest, breeziest outfit of an off-shoulder crop top and crochet trousers, and headed off into the still heat. I planned to stroll around West Village, Soho and onto East Village, but after browsing a few stores, I headed back to By Chloe for a guac burger, though the line was huuuge. I took it as take out and sat in nearby Washington Square Park amongst the chatting friends, musicians and board games. I would have loved a pal to chat with too, but I chilled with a book and snacked. 

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The day took a wild turn as my friend was at a day party at a club nearby. Yes, essentially clubbing in the day. When travelling solo you need to be much more forthcoming, so I basically invited myself to this and shoved away that little voice that no one likes me! The club was every bit as identical as an evening event, even up to the stern bouncer. I hadn't actually anticipated this and when met with the typical closed barrier initially, I strutted up and declared I was here with the promoter, even though the doormen did ask if I was lost. I was granted access and luckily my friend was at the door waiting to bring us back to a table complete with a bar cart-worth of spirits, girls continuously bringing more out, old school '90s tunes and a heaving crowd dancing as though it was 2am. I'd been to this club last time I was in New York (one of Rihanna's haunts), but it wasn't as busy as today's mass of partiers. Quite surreal to spend hours in the dark club and then emerge into daylight later in the early evening but hey, only in New York! I also took my polaroid camera and found that's a truly easy way to make new friends.

After my completely random Saturday, I had a few tasks ahead of me on Sunday. It was still super warm and I booked another blow dry to save from the horror of trying to sort my own hair out in the communal bathrooms. Waking up and having to gear up and gather your things before you even pop to the bathroom was still rather annoying! I'd had such a lovely experience meeting Nathan for my last blow dry that I booked another with him, even though I wondered if he'd really want to see me. In hindsight, I'm not sure my self belief levels were heightened enough for an extended trip. Sure, I was full of confidence and gusto but also I only had myself to contribute and care for my energy levels, and not having a comforting place to rest didn't help, nor did the silence. When experiencing something new alone, I realised you have to have such an open, strong mind, ready to take hold of every opportunity and assert yourself enough to not get shy or lonely. If you doubt yourself for a second, it's easy to curl away. There's strength in numbers, so you must know yourself inside out and always be highly aware of your needs. It sounds strange, but when you have no schedule, it's easy to get caught up in your battle instead of assessing how tired/hungry/thirsty you are. I put the pressure on myself to go, go, go instead of taking time to chill in a safe space and not feel so swallowed up by the city.

An example at this point was not feeling hungry for breakfast, not being able to decide what to tempt myself to eat, and wandering around until I stopped at an awkward juice bar. It's small, but in those moments when you're flagging, you need that familiar face, that friend to take the reigns, the mood to be lifted by chatter, and the energy to be reset. Booking the blowdry was a great choice as seeing Nathan was like seeing a friendly face and as he did my hair, we got on so well that he gave me his number and invited me to hang with him and his boyfriend if I had any more free time in the city. I texted him after just how his kindness really made the difference to my trip! That's the thing about New York, there's no British shyness - it's very forward!

My mission next that day was to head for Broadway to see Aladdin! Being bustled into the crowded theatre full of tourists and taking a seat alone is quite an odd experience, as though you have lost your friend or are indeed yourself simply lost! I styled it out as I took my circle seat, and got ready for a grand show. This won't be a popular opinion but I wasn't really feeling it! I hoped Aladdin would be a flurry of exotic colours and would dramatically transport you to Arabia, but it felt more like a kid's pantomime with a heavy dose of artificial gloss. The characters were so perfect that it almost took the emotion out of the performance, and as we all already know the storyline, it played out simply. The soundtrack is amazing and I loved the inclusion of Proud of your Boy, but it didn't lift me up, and as I left the theatre I felt drained. I think I walked all the way back to West Village after grabbing some quick food as I had plans for that evening.

I love the Sorry About Last Night gals (if you know you know) and there wasn't a podcast show that night, but Corinne Fisher was doing a stand up comedy show at The Stand in East Village called The Comedienne Project. I was delighted she was in town and had booked the ticket before coming, despite eyeing up the Travis Scott show that night. It's weird but I'd been hoping Travis Scott was touring at the time I was visiting as I'd been listening to his stuff non-stop around the time, but something stopped me from getting a ticket. Going to an insane show alone was potentially a step too far and would have meant I'd really have to fake it in the look-completely-casual-and-normal-while-having-no-friends department, and I knew I could get a ticket from a tout on the day if I wanted to go. I was happy with my comedy show though, and also I still had my dress to wear. The dress. Before my trip, I was searching sites and shops for hours to find great clothes but nothing amazing surfaced until I saw this iiiincredible SCK the Label dress on Naked Dresses. Yes, I own this dress and it's insane. Truly!

As I hadn't worn it yet, I put it on over dark tight skinny jeans with ripped knees, super tall lace-up sandals and threw over a huge, oversized denim jacket that hung around my shoulders, the sleeves pushed up. I hope that doesn't sound too crazy but it seemed to work in some way, looking effortless but slightly revealing this major statement dress behind the casual jacket. Definitely a Carrie Bradshaw moment!

I took a cab east and walked into the comedy club, heart beating but feigning that I knew exactly what I was doing. I think that was the most draining aspect of the holiday - constantly having to appear like you weren't completely clueless, sometimes for safety reasons and sometimes to not look like a bumbling idiot. Maybe I put too much pressure on this, but I was here to live as a New Yorker and not a tourist, or at least appear to be. I was strapped with a wristband and sent downstairs to the basement, where a small stage was surrounded by around ten small round tables. I took a seat against the wall facing the stage so I would lean back and have the view of the room, and observed the cool groups out on a Sunday night. I was there in my extreme plunge dress and high heels, casual jacket slung over, and felt pretty damn cool. In moments like that I did feel in my element, a mysterious solo girl about town. The show was awesome; I've never really watched live comedy and each act was hilarious, especially Corinne, who felt such a privilege to see live after listening to absolutely hours of her podcasts. The show closed up just as my friend messaged me that he was heading to a club that night - 1OAK to be precise, for none other than the Travis Scott afterparty. I was there! I couldn't leave without approaching Corinne and gushing a little, before chatting with some girls in the loos and inviting them to 1OAK too?! They had work but I was seriously feeling great after a few hours of laughter and chill, and jumped in a cab back to my hotel to ditch my jeans, as the club was right around the corner from my hotel in West Village.

I was a gal with a plan as I cobbled my bag together and headed back out into the night - so New York. I met my friend near the club and we walked past a huge queue to the side of the barriers, where the promotor met us and attracted a bouncer to let us in. It was like a military operation. My friend randomly asked if I had my ID and oh noooo, I hadn't packed it! In my haste it had slipped my mind and I felt so stupid! The doors are SO strict in New York, you can't just queue up to a club and walk in even; you have to be invited or on the guest list. True to my luck, I was asked for my ID right away by the bouncer. I shouldn't have really said anything but in those tense few milliseconds of decision, I shook my head loftily in what I thought was my best Made In Chelsea-style, cool girl vibe and said in a posh accent 'In England we don't need ID', looking at the bouncer as though this was a strange foreign occurrence and I was quite outraged and bemused that was being questioned for my ID. I hoped I looked like a cool actress or model or just a somebody and somehow my guardian angel was looking down on me and we were let in. YESSSS!

I was kicking myself but it didn't matter because I was IN! We strutted across the club that two years ago I was in with Miley Cyrus and Rumer Willis at the next table. This club is lit! I was so happy to get in that I bought my friend and I a drink, which ended up being £80. EIGHTY Great British Pounds for two drinks!!!! Luckily I paid by card so I didn't realise this horror until my return, but this club is seriously in the big leagues. What ensued was plenty of dancing, being part of a table that was constantly showered with drinks, and partying until the wee hours.

There was talk of Travis Scott and Tyson Beckford (!!!!!!) turning up but I had already seen another club was boasting his after party and wasn't too concerned about a sighting. However when we spilled onto the buzzing street a few hours later, my friend shouted 'Tyga!' and turned around shouting hey. Yup, it was the Tyga, just strolling down the road! Embarrassingly my friend shouted 'she's a big fan!' about me (I'm certainly not) and my face probably looked like a cross between a freshly caught fish and a deer in headlights. I was pleased to have at least one celeb sighting though!

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I slept into the morning of the next day, and woke to take on my final hours. My flight was the next day so I wasn't so sure what to do. There's of course plenty to do in NYC but I didn't have anything specific on my list, and so I walked the High Line as the entrance was right by The Jane, and sat for a while looking out onto the water, knowing I was soon to leave this crazy place. If it was now I would have listened to music or a meditation, but I was exhausted from the series of events the past days had offered! If I'm going out-out at home, I'll prepare to spend the next day relaxing at home, but my hotel room really was a coffin of despair at this point and being in it for more than 5 minutes felt like it was closing in on me. I did some last minute souvenir shopping and grabbed my final pizza slices, where embarrassingly as I ordered I said 'we'll have a slice of this and a slide of that' and the guy responded 'erm, you're not with anyone...' to my mention of 'we'. I was so without company that I was inventing people at this stage!

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I paid a last minute homage to SATC hotspot Magnolia Bakery (bonus points if you know which episode it was featured  - 'I have a crush!') and spent the evening packing and watching TV with those awful medical/addiction adverts, before bedding down for my final night after a last visit to that damn shared bathroom!

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I was truly ready to go home by the end of the trip and I don't always feel like that on holiday, but this one had me feeling some kinda way! I've reflected on the experience a lot and realised a few things.

I can look back now and see that not having a comfortable base made the difference when I was recuperating from the day or setting myself up ahead of one in the mornings. I didn't think it mattered much before I went, but when you are alone in a big city, you need a place to call your own. I arrived with confidence but it was rather daunting to do everything by myself. Now before another solo trip, I'd make sure I was absolutely hyped up to take anything that came my way. I'd take fabulous outfits, plan a stricter dining itinerary, stock up my hotel with snacks and drinks, keep in touch with family and friends at home more, and book in even more 'people time', whether that's watching shows or hanging out with friends. Eating and going to attractions alone wasn't so fun for me, but going to shows and museums, and of course shopping, was great solo.

I'd probably only take a number of days rather than a week, and I'd go with no expectation or comparison to any other trip, as travel is such a different experience when it's just yourself. I'd choose my seasons wisely and either go for summer vibes or Christmas magic maybe, rather than an in between, generic season.

It was certainly a learning curve! Would you ever consider solo travel? I'd love to hear your thoughts! I hope you enjoyed my posts.


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!


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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The Budapest Trip | Day Two: Free Walking Tour, Terror Haza, Karaoke Wars

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 As I said on the 'gram, are you even a tourist if you don't wear your bag to the front?! Onto day two of my Budapest trip and thinking back, we did so much that day! We'd only had a few drinks the night before so we were up and out bright and early for a free walking tour. Our apartment was on the opposite site of the Danube but we swiftly crossed the beautiful bridge and met the walking group, thinking it was a good opportunity to get our bearings and cover lots of sights in one go. One of the best things about Budapest is that there are SO many free sights and experiences, or it's super cheap. It was February so it was damn freezing and we departed with the group to take on St. Stephen's Basilica and the Parliament building. We were paying more attention to taking photos than keeping up with the group though!

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I wasn't sure whether to include a photo of the Shoes on the Danube but you can read about this moving memorial here. Budapest is cloaked in history and this felt open and significant, ready to reflect on without the tourist crowds around you.

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Despite it ending right by our apartment, we actually snuck off from the walking tour pretty soon! I would say you could plan out a tour yourself as the city streets are clear to navigate and sights are close to each other. It was so cold that it wasn't making sense anymore to be pounding the streets so we hung back and slipped away in search of a hot drink. The town wasn't very bustling but this made our search for a coffee shop rather redundant. In the end we grabbed a chai latte in an average Starbucks before moving onto the Terror Haza, a museum set in a place of great horrors of the fascist and communist regimes. The exhibits are hugely varied and use so many different, creative mediums to tell the story of the time, leading up to an eerie walk through the cells that's scary to think about even now.

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It was time for some fuel and we walked across the city to vegan restaurant Napfenyes to sample giant pizzas. The difference wasn't too obvious but a sprinkle of real cheese wouldn't have gone amiss for me! Dining is so cheap that we could have visited there every day and this cute eatery made for a lovely rest.

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Back to the apartment and onto the night! We joined Tinder purely to ask for local recommendations and made a plan to head towards another ruin pub. The apartment was an absolute delight and we were blasting music, applying piles of makeup and dancing around in pure comfort. This is going to sound ridiculous but half the clothes I brought didn't actually fit! Literally I walked into my friends' room with a dress barely covering my hips, so potentially that winter snacking crept up on me by surprise! Bring it on I say - the only problemo was that I only had limited outfits with me! I'd luckily packed a fair few extras of course. My friend Catherine had packed a set outfit per day but I always find I need so many options to mix and match. I dress on instinct and it strikes fear in my heart to think you might have to wear something that doesn't feel right on the night!

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I had this faithful Missguided midi skirt that looks like faux suede but is actually rather stretchy, and a handy Missguided cropped bralette that may seem off-shoulder, but it actually has sweet straps. My hair was damn curly from the day in the freezing weather so I had to tie a little up to appear somewhat less dishevelled!

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We snapped away on my Instax (the first thing I exclaimed when I saw the size of the apartment was 'this will be amazing for photos!') and had one last drink before heading to the bar. Gozsdu Udvar was an arcade full of cafes and pubs but on a Wednesday it was rather quiet. We dodged a bar with girls dancing on the tables and ducked into Blue Bird Cafe, soon realising... it was karaoke night!! Amazing. I usually hate karaoke but I included Snapchat videos in my vlog below because it was actually completely hilarious. We tapped our request into the iPad (Tribute - Tenacious D) and enjoyed streams of tourists singing everything from Disney songs to Queen in terrible accents, taking it extremely seriously, before complaining our song was taking forever. A traveller told us she had sneakily deleted all of the other requests before hers and that was the only way it played! By now though it was rather late and we just crashed other people's songs! It was such a fun night and didn't matter that we ended up staying in the bar as I've never laughed so much! Look out for my next instalment soon, or check out my vlog below for a sneak peek!


The Budapest Trip | Day One: Apartment surprise and Szimpla Kert

I hope you enjoy reading these lengthy travel diaries as I have two trips up my sleeve - my solo New York whirlwind and my bae-cation with besties to Budapest earlier this year! I created the vlog at the end of this post almost as soon as I returned as I had so much fun documenting this trip. Proving you can make friends as an adult, I've only know Sarah really well for a few years, and it was less than a year ago that I met her friend Catherine, who has a YouTube channel too! No friends have ever really been keen to be in my videos but this time it was constant cameras out!

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So why Budapest? We were looking for a bargain break that wouldn't be too icy and still had plenty of nightlife. Discovering handy flights out of BHX and the cheapest accomodation ever, we booked up pretty sharpish. Planning our Hungarian adventure was straightforward and stress-free too. The sights are clear and readily explained across the net, and a large handful of bars and clubs stood out right away.

We didn't fly until the evening but I did take the day off work to pack and prep. After a log slog in the office, I would not be starting the holiday in the freshest place, right! We booked checked cases for our 5 day trip so I greedily packed up practically every outfit in my modest wardrobe and we ubered off to the airport. We were in the middle of debating drinks and snacks before our flight when it was suddenly called to final boarding, so we hot footed it to the gate and away we went! 

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I'll spare you the rather alarming photo of my sheet mask during the DIY plane facial I created, but soon we were being whizzed through the streets of Hungary by our new favourite cab driver who shared many recommendations. He pulled up to a huge, eerie church cloaked in darkness and announced "girls, this is your home"... before laughing his head off and pulling up to our actual apartment. In a towering stone building with heavy iron doors and winding stone staircases, this was more like staying at an abbey too! We were met by the host and as he showed us around the glorious space, we kept our cool until he finally vacated and we could run around our pad. I cannot believe what money can buy in Budapest! You can see more of our flat in the vlog but the high ceilings, stained glass and major space meant it was Instagram-photo perfection and such a welcoming home. I've only realised recently how your accommodation can really make the difference to a holiday, even if you always intend to be out and about, as your choice sets the scene for the whole trip. The impact feels short lived as soon as you arrive, but the time you spend getting ready for adventures, gearing up for a night out and gossiping in the morning do play a major role in the getaway vibes. From eight girls in a one bedroom apartment in Abu Dhabi, to my recent New York room that could have fit in the bathroom of our Budapest apartment (more on that at a later date!), I've really overlooked the part accommodation has played in the past. I would highly recommend Piano Castle Hill apartments!

It was fairly late but the gals on this trip know how to party right. Within an hour we were dressed, drink in hand, finding the best photo spot and planning our escape. The cab driver had gave us the number of a local taxi firm and that's where we put his first top tip into place. The taxis have a set fare per kilometre so be careful you are not overcharged. You can check the distance on Google Maps and estimate how much you should be paying, plus a small initial charge, so when the driver quoted us literally four times what it should have been, we definitely disputed! Once fairly settled with a shrug from the driver, and despite it being a Wednesday night, we were destined for the best 'ruin bar', Szimpla Kert. Set in the Jewish Quarter a 10 minute taxi ride across the nearby Danube, the ruin bars take up abandoned, sprawling buildings left after World War II and create a maze of a pub-come-club, with walls covered in quirky graffiti, dog-eared posters and arty paraphernalia. With so much personality, you're in a hippy paradise and, quite importantly, surrounded my travellers. We walked into plenty of casual student types dancing up a storm and after a few rum and cokes later, we were too! We did meet some Brits abroad, most memorably a bunch of guys who said one of their dads had paid for everyone's trips, but we side-stepped these pretty sharpish. After a few hours we went in search for a vegan takeaway as I was indeed travelling with two veganistas. Three falafel wraps later and  we were back to our apartment and sleeping soundly. Look out for my post about day 2 soon, but if you want to jump ahead already, here is my vlog! Enjoy watching.


Ibiza in October Diaries #4 | Cala Bassa & Cala Gracio

Onto the last instalment of my Ibiza trip! And gosh, it's so making me ready for another visit. Or a one way ticket to any beach, anywhere, pronto! It was our third full day and we had already watched the sunset at Cafe Mambo, climbed the castle and partied all night. It was time to indulge in one of Ibiza's beautiful beaches and really have a day of relaxation. I can't comment on what they are like in high season but Cala Bassa was top of our list and one of the most popular. I forgot to mention in my previous post that I got chatting to the DJ of our favourite and only night spot, and he wrote a list of recommended beaches. This was high on list so we grabbed a short cab ride, lilo in tow.

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We hit the restaurant first, overlooking the cove beach. Being on the Ibiza coast really does feel like a spiritual experience because you know you could swim around the rocks and discover another beach hidden just around the corner. They're small and natural and rugged around the rocky edges, but the water is clear and once out of the town, there's a lot of forest and countryside.

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We sampled some local sea food and a few cocktails before hitting the sand. I had a new super cute rainbow bikini from Boohoo but again I don't think I'll post a picture here! One friend and I literally leaned on the lilo and floated around in the sea chatting for around an hour. I think I'd love to live by the sea - I'm really a mermaid!

We stayed sunning until around 5pm and hopped on the bus back to San Antonio. I think we grabbed some quick food nearby before heading to our hotel to get ready for the night. It was a Sunday evening but a lady at reception had recommended a local bar that stayed open late all winter and was the place to head to. I threw on a mini dress I hadn't worn in years as you can wear just about anything on holiday with sandals and some bronzer, and we sampled the hotel entertainment of can-can dancers with the other OAP guests. These delights weren't exactly our thing so once over, we trooped out and walked in the rough direction of the receptionist's hand-drawn map, eventually arriving at Habaneros. At least I think that is what it was called - something similar anyway! 

It turned out indeed to be an open pub with pool tables outside and those €5 euro drink offers of a syrup shot and sugary cocktail. A few strawberry rounds later and we were winning a game with the locals, dominating the DJ's request list and rocking back up to the hotel at 5am! It was just like our own private party as it wasn't heaving, but there were just enough last minute holiday makers to make it fun. Definitely our best night so far! 

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We woke up feeling the most delicate of the holiday but made our way to another recommended beach, Cala Gracio. This was much more hidden and serene, where you climb down wooden steps to get to the sand. I grabbed a book and sat on my lilo bobbing around for a few hours! One friend and I rented a boat with a slide and peddled out to the sea to discuss the life back home. Maybe I need to revoke my mermaid status as deep sea freaks me out and definitely got way too choppy at one point, so we peddled back sharpish! 

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As our last night and a sleepy Monday, we scouted local restaurants and stumbled across the pretty bay-side Villa Mercedes. We took an outdoor table in the balmy evening and made the most of their bargain set menu for around €15 for three beautifully presented, light dishes. It was so lucky to end on such a high with a great meal and great wine!

The next day we had a quick yet predictably terrible bite at our hotel and drank tea the colour of dirty water before sadly boarding our flight home! As I mentioned before, the good Hotel Arenal reviews are due to the competition to win a free return holiday based on your review!

Ibiza certainly has a magical air that's unique to any other destination. It does feel mystical and mythical, and the vibes of a summer of partying and sabbaticals meeting on this one island was left in the air, even after the season had completed.  Don't miss my vlog of the whole trip!


Ibiza in October Diaries #3 | San Antonio Beach & Cafe Mambo

I could SO jet off on a beach getaway right about now! These pictures are totally making me dream of summer. It's the third instalment of my Ibiza holiday and our second full day was sunny and warm. Around 25 degrees to be exact! Perfect. We were set for our first beach day, and I just had to go straight to the nearest shop and buy a huge blue lilo. Beach bags packed and hair bunned up, we set off to the sea!

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Our hotel was literally on San Antonio beach so we grabbed breakfast before walking along the sea to a slightly nicer stretch of sand. I imagine this beach is packed full in high season but it was very quiet while we settling onto the sand with a few Coronas. There was a sweet beachy vibe but no lairy groups or pumping music, which suited us fine! It's not the greatest beach in terms of clear water or an absence of litter, and I assume it could be hit and miss at busier times, but a splash in the sea was all we called for. We took some great self-timer shots but I won't share bikini photos of my friends here!

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I'm not even going to share a full-on bikini photo of myself as it felt a little TMI, but the new bikini I took was so lush! I spotted the brand Boho Rose on Instagram and the fluorescent coral hue of this set won my heart. All bikinis are hand made in a stretch, shirred-style fabric that is super comfortable and thick, yet the cut is seriously flattering. With a cool high-cut hip and at least ten different bra shapes to choose from, I'd so recommend this brand! I'd really like an acid yellow set for this summer, or the apple green.

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The day quickly ran away with us and we vowed to be ready for 6ish to catch the sunset at the Cafe Mambo closing party. I had looked at booking a table before the trip but there was a €100 deposit so we chanced it. I wore this PrettyLittleThing set I've had for a few years but never actually wore due to the tiny amount of material it is! It's a wash of minty pastels and so pretty.

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We made the sunset right on time and Cafe Mambo was much more laid back than I had anticipated. We walked straight in and spotted a free table as we queued for the bar. It was only after we ate dinner there too that we realised just how lucky it was to walk right in and get a table for food without a reservation, and apparently we had walked past a huge queue and just strolled right in! I just thought the crowds outside were milling around but it turns out there was some sort of door check and we'd been none the wiser.

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A few more cocktails and the music really got started, but it wasn't quite our style. No matter how long I could spend in Ibiza, house music is just not my jam! We stayed until late and walked back through the West End, popping into a few bars that promised to be absolutely heaving after midnight. A week or so before and the nightlife may have been still alive, but most places were shut by mid October. We were soon back at the hotel of pensioners, getting a few hours sleep before another beach day tomorrow.


Ibiza Out of Season Diaries #2 | Dinner at Eivissa Castle

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It's that time of the year when winter festivities are firmly packed away and you're realising one can never own too many bikinis. Here is the next instalment of my Ibiza trip last year after a breezy flight and first night adventures, and it was our first full day! After leaving the land that was closing down for winter, it felt like we had a second chance at summer as we awoke to blue skies, warm air and the promise of that Ibiza magic. First agenda: breakfast! With only one night down, we passed upon the breakfast at our Hotel Arenal as it was clear it was an over 50s affair. A programme of show dancers and a magician in the evening, plus various OAPs in hotel towels sitting back on plastic chairs, revealed that either the party season had long ended, or we were certainly in ancient accommodation!

The best thing was the proximity to San Antonio beach and we strolled along the pretty much empty sands to a nearby classic greasy spoon with a sea view, right next to a KFC. It's clear San Antonio has every fast food joint you could wish for when you're abroad with the lads, lads, lads, and that was cool with us. As I mentioned in my last post, we really chose Ibiza on a whim and I was so ready for an easy, breezy ride. One of our only planned activity days was to visit Ibiza town so we hopped on a nearby bus and was soon at the capital. 

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A definite upgrade from San Antonio's startling booze cruise advertisements and 2-for-1 fish bowls, the town has a rustic, Mediterranean vibe with pretty pastel apartments and a port untouched by under age tourists. We couldn't help stopping by Pull & Bear and Berksha, and I observed what seemed to be the island 'locals'; those with deep tans, threaded hair braids and tie dyed clothes.

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The first goal was to climb Eivissa Castle for the sunset; the beautiful highlight Ibiza is known for. One of the things I enjoyed the most about this holiday was packing a small case exclusively of bright, summery clothes! Wearing these Missguided flares in Ibiza was the perfect place, and all of my festival floral crowns came in perfectly handy. My legs look freakishly long here due to my lens! 

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It's a surprisingly quick stroll along the cobbles to reach the 360 degree views from the top of the castle. We took in the views during dusk and could truly appreciate we were on such a small drop of an island in the gorgeous Balearic sea. I loved the beauty of a relaxed vibe and not having a 'holiday' in a rushed city with an overwhelming itinerary. 

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We wandered back down towards the centre, where the edges of castle are bursting with charming, open fronted restaurants with chalked menus on wooden plaques leaning against white walls. We chose La Oliva and a few glasses of Spanish wine perfectly complimented the fresh fish on offer. I love quaint restaurants that have beautiful, delicate dishes in a rustic, casual setting.

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I had the sea bass followed by a crème brûlée, which is fast becoming my go-to dessert. Despite the pudding, it was an extremely light and fresh dinner, made even more atmospheric by the falling daylight into a balmy evening of eating and drinking outdoors on the cobbled streets as passersby lazily strolled on. On a city break it's often hard to sift the best restaurants from the tourist-calling, laminated menu offerings that you always tend to plump for. This was such a treat to dine leisurely with friends and enjoy a relaxed evening meal!

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We headed back towards the bus stops, stopping off for one drink along the way as the town had such a perfect vibe. Once returned to the hotel, I experienced another pro of beach holidays. It literally took a shower, quick smoky eye and highlight, a party dress and soon we were ready to head out again and felt great. I wore a Boohoo dress that can only be reserved for a place that you spend most of the time wearing a tiny bikini anyway, as it's literally pants with a few strips of material here and there, and off we went off to the West End! I explained in my previous post but this is essentially the strip of San Antonio, Ibiza's party town. Our hotel was a quick stroll there in the warm evening air, so we arrived to the criss-crossing streets lined with bars raring to go. 

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Unfortunately the bars themselves were not... as in they were all closed. We wandered around, looking right and left for some signs of life or sounds of a bass, until we turned a corner and saw Soho's, the bar we had visited last night! It was their summer closing party (not quite in an epic proportion though) and all drinks were 1€. ALL DRINKS. Despite it being a crowd inside of around 40, the place was filled quite nicely and again we had the mercy of the DJ. A million requests later, the DJ had his hands in the air as Faithless blasted out to our modestly sized adoring crow, and we made friends with just about everyone. Sadly my floor length dress was not the item to wear in a bar that was attempting to drain every liquid in the place as by the end of the night, the hem was literally sodden by about a metre in whatever was on that floor. Nice. I literally left it to soak for about a week before washing it 20 times once I had brought it back home in it's own shameful bag. Never the less, a hilarious night!

And if you can't wait for all of the gossip from the other nights, my vlog is live! Would you consider an Ibiza visit?