Since hitting the big 3-0 I have officially found myself at the stage of life where my entire yearly holiday allowance is spent attending friends weddings which is how a little over a month ago I found myself and the boy headed to New York for ten days of sightseeing, shopping and a Central Park wedding.
I will happily admit that previous to my trip, visiting New York was never particularly high on my ‘must do’ list. Yes I know it’s meant to be one of the best cities in the world and as a Gossip Girl addict and fan of all things Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Blondie related you’d think I’d have a burning desire to visit but for some reason the urge to jet across the Atlantic had never struck me. An invite to my friends’ wedding in NYC however finally gave me the push I needed to ‘cross the pond’ and I’m now kicking myself I never visited sooner as it’s now possibly my new favourite place in the world and I’m trying to figure out how I can justify another trip…
Having debated going down the Air B&B route when it came to accommodation, me and the boy eventually settled on Yotel which was located only a few minutes from Time Square and proved the perfect base for exploring the city. I’d heard nightmare stories of the tiny amount of square footage to be found in central New York hotel rooms but the clever use of space in our ‘Premium View Cabin’ meant that, although compact, it never felt cramped and gave more than enough space to stash away the multiple outfits, shoes, toiletries and books we’d both bought. Yotel’s bar also served a great selection of food, cocktails and craft beer (oh how I miss the happy hour!) which meant we didn’t have to drag our jet lagged asses too far to find nourishment on the first night. The Yotel was also just round the corner from a supermarket which was great for stocking up on yet more craft beer and nibbles as well as fresh croissants every morning.
Although we did a lot of the touristy stuff – Times Square, Top Of The Rock, Grand Central, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (which we definitely needed at least another day to explore it was so big!), Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History, the ‘Ghostbusters’ Fire Station, a performance of Cabaret on Broadway and catching a free gig by the ever amazing We Are Scientists (seriously, those guys haven’t aged in 10 years!), the majority of our time was simply spent wandering around the city taking in the impressive range of buildings and sites it has to offer. We also decided to hit The High Line which is a public park built on top of a former freight rail line which snakes along the West Side of Manhattan and is a great way of getting a slightly more elevated view of the city. I’d thoroughly recommend hoping off at Chelsea Market for great food and even greater jewellery. It’s safe to say we definitely got our money’s worth out of our 7 day Metrocards which gave unlimited use of the subway and made getting around a doddle.
No write up of my NY trip would be complete without a mention of all the amazing food and drink we encountered. Aside from working our way through the US McDonalds’ menu and a good chunk of the Grand Central food court, we also ate and drank in the following amazing places – The Dead Rabbit, Blind Tiger, Hudson Malone, Beer Culture and Flatiron Lounge (fantastic for cocktails!).
Our amazing 10 days has cemented NYC in my heart and this is definitely the start of a beautiful love affair. xoxo
One of the reasons I love my annual trip to Edinburgh so much is that once you’re done with wandering the New and Old Town streets (although I’m not sure you can ever be ‘done’ with that!), it’s a brilliant base should you want to venture slightly further afield and sample the Scottish seaside. On previous holidays I’ve taken day trips to Burntisland (which includes a train journey across the iconic Forth Bridge), South Queensferry (a pretty little town located almost underneath the bridge and location of The Hawes Inn for fans of Stevenson’s Kidnapped), Cramond and Portobello (for amazing chips and ice cream). This year, I decided to visit North Berwick, a seaside town 40 minutes north-east of Edinburgh.
As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I’m a bit of a bookworm with a particular love of Scottish literature so whilst a day trip to North Berwick is worth it simply for its prettiness alone (and the Italian ice cream from Gelateria Alandas on Quality Street), for fans of Robert Louis Stevenson, it’s also the place where he spent his childhood holidays and provided inspiration for Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Catriona (for those with sea legs there are even daily boat trips out to the Bass Rock where the hero of the novel is imprisoned).
For those after a retail fix the main street of the town is packed with charity shops, independent retailers and quirky boutiques and plenty of tea shops to provide refreshment. The town is also home to the Scottish Seabird Centre which has a cafe giving fantastic views across to the Bass Rock (and is somewhere lovely and warm to thaw out should the weather for your trip combine glorious sunshine with the coldest, windiest wind imaginable as mine did!).
A few weeks ago I headed down to Cambridge for a long weekend of enjoying the sunshine and pretending I’m in Harry Potter (yes, I’m well aware that they filmed at Oxford but shh! Plus in order to get to Cambridge I had to go via Kings Cross, passing Platform 9 3/4 in the process!). Since the majority of my holiday budget for this year is going on a trip to New York in October for a friend’s wedding, the remainder of my holiday choices for this year needed to be on the cheap side and, despite its grand nature, Cambridge turned out to be a surprisingly budget friendly option. One advantage of visiting university cities out of term time is that it gives you the chance to stay in halls of residence which if you’re visiting somewhere like Cambridge or Oxford (where I’ve previously had a long weekend staying in halls) usually means staying somewhere pretty posh looking! I booked a double en-suite room at Downing College via University Rooms (which I’d previously used to booked my Oxford accommodation) which worked out at only £5 more expensive a night than a Travelodge AND included breakfast as well as being set in 20 acres of beautiful grounds (you know you’re in Cambridge when you have to walk past a production of Shakespeare to get to your room!).
With so many beautiful buildings and colleges to explore, the majority of my first full day was spent just wandering around the city, taking in the sites and getting my bearings (as well as trying to avoid the masses and masses of tour groups!). With so much to take in and so many little streets to explore, deciding what to do first can be a little overwhelming. Thankfully Cambridge has a plethora of excellent pubs to offer decision making refreshment including The Eagle (where the discovery of DNA was announced) and The Mill which not only offers a great view of the punting on the river but also fantastic food.
On the second day I decided to explore some of the colleges in more detail and made an early start in order to avoid the queues and mass of people at the iconic King’s College. Founded in 1441 by Henry VI, the college and its Chapel are emblematic of Cambridge and although the entry fee might be somewhat steep compared to the other colleges, the access to the iconic chapel and beautiful grounds that it gives you are well worth the money. After King’s, I then stumbled across Clare College which has the most beautiful gardens backing onto the river Cam and is where I spent several hours enjoying the sunshine and watching people punt along the river.
Aside from the colleges, Cambridge has a plethora of museums to visit (including the impressive Fitzwilliam Museum) as well as a great selection of high street shops, quirky boutiques and, every blogger’s mecca, The Cambridge Satchel Company shop! If all the college wandering, museum visiting and retail therapy leaves you feeling wiped out, you can always recover with a relaxing punt tour along the river followed by lunch and people watching at The Cambridge Chop House.
I found Cambridge to be the perfect place for a long, sunny, summer weekend and whilst I’m not sure I would ever have had the mentality to hack student life there (although I can completely understand why some who study there end up with a certain sense of entitlement), I’m more than happy to wander through the perfectly manicured college grounds dreaming of Hogwarts…
Taking full advantage of the brief spell of sunshine we had recently (my legs are still very confused by my lack of tights), me and my sister hopped on a train to spend the afternoon in one of my favourite cities to wander around, York! Growing up in Sheffield, day trips to York were always a staple of summer holidays as the mix of tourist attractions, impressive buildings and outdoor spaces to picnic/ run about pretending you’re a Viking in meant that it had enough to keep even those on the tightest budget amused. Day trips now that our school days are quite a bit behind us still seem to follow a familiar pattern of museum visiting, debating if we’re *really* too old to visit Jorvik and sneaky visits to Maccy D’s but now have the added element of shopping thrown into the mix as the city has a great selection of high street, high end (hello Mulberry discount shop!) and quirky boutiques.
York Minster is a breathtakingly beautiful building that towers over the rest of the city. Its newly refurbished Undercroft charts the history of the city and its inhabitants and for those with a head for heights, I’d also recommend climbing the Minster’s Central Tower to take in the spectacular views.
York has an abundance of tea rooms (aside from the famous Bettys) and on our latest visit we stumbled across Crumbs Cupcakery which is just round the corner from the Minster on College Street (an area which you might recognise from its numerous appearance on TV and film). It not only has fantastic cakes and refreshments but also great windows and outside space for people watching!
One of my favourite things to do in York if the weather’s good is to walk the City Walls which, if walked completely, give a great overview of the city as well as the chance to nosey in on some spectacular gardens and houses. Two of the walls’ four ‘Bars’ which acted as gateways into the city also house museums dedicated to Richard III and Henry VII should your history quota need upping even more.
Aside from the previously mentioned abundance of tea rooms, York also has some great places to eat and one of our recent discoveries is ‘Mr Chippy’ which does amazing fish and chips. With a takeaway branch on Church Street as well as a sit in restaurant round the corner on Swinegate, our York trips now feel incomplete if we don’t end up gorging on salt and vinegary fried goodness!
Hopefully now that we’re in June, summer is just around the corner to give us even more opportunities for trips to this spectacular city. Who knows, maybe next time we will brave Jorvik…
In celebration of World Book Day, I thought I’d bring you a guide to one of my favourite literary cities (in fact one of my favourite cities full stop), Edinburgh! Aside from being obsessed with all things fashion, I’m also a massive bookworm and both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees are in English Literature (hence why I’m always paranoid about spelling and grammar mistakes in my blog posts!).
As my mother’s Glaswegian, a lot of my childhood summer holidays were spent north of the border but visits to Edinburgh tended to be daytrips across to the festival which whilst memorable, never gave a proper chance to explore the city. In the last few years however, largely thanks to deciding to write my MA dissertation on the city and some of its writers, I’ve managed to rectify that and I’m now so in love with the city that I could see myself happily relocating there.
Edinburgh is the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature (as well as its Old and New Towns being UNESCO World Heritage sites) and nods to Scottish writers permeate every inch of the city (there’s even a dedicated Writers’ Museum). Exploring the Old Town with its maze of narrow wynds and closes feels like stepping back in time and helps to bring to life the city written about by Hogg, Scott and Stevenson. The New Town also has its share of literary landmarks from Stevenson’s childhood home on Heriot Row to the more modern pilgrimage site (and fantastic place for a pint) of The Oxford Bar, watering hole of choice for Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus.
Aside from its literary heritage, the city is also bursting at the seams with museums and art galleries to while away any rainy afternoons with my top recommendations being the National Museum of Scotland and the newly refurbished Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Edinburgh’s castle is also a fantastic place to get to grips with both the city and country’s history and for a better understanding of its present (and future), a tour of the Parliament is a must.
One of my favourite ways to spend a day in the Edinburgh is to simply wander around and enjoy the city’s green spaces and amazing scenery. Calton Hill gives spectacular views across both the city and Firth of Forth whilst there can be few things better than looking across the city on a clear day from the top of Arthur’s Seat (it’s honestly not as much of a climb as you might think!). For those who prefer something a bit less strenuous, Princess Street Gardens in the city centre and the Royal Botanic Garden in Inverleith are both lovely places to relax and get lost in a good book whilst The Water of Leith walk weaves through some of the smaller villages which make up the northwest of the city.
If you fancy journeying a bit further afield, South Queensferry (the setting for a lot of Stevenson’s ‘Kidnapped and a spectacular views of the Forth Rail Bridge), North Berwick and Edinburgh’s seaside, Portobello, are only short train and bus journeys away.
Whilst I do try to be as cultured as possible, its impossible to visit Edinburgh without indulging in a bit of retail therapy! The area around Princess Street and George Street is the go to destination for high street shops whilst for something a bit more quirky, Cockburn Street and the area around The Grassmarket in the Old Town are packed with quirky independents. For charity shop lovers, Queensferry Street and Stockbridge are the places to head for some bargain treasure and vintage hunting.
If you’ve tired yourself out from all the walking/ museum visiting/ shopping, thankfully Edinburgh is jam packed with some great places to eat and drink. Aside from the aforementioned Oxford Bar, The Stockbridge Tap in, surprisingly, Stockbridge, has a great range of ales whilst the hard to find but utterly amazing Bramble Bar on Queen Street serves some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. For foodies, Howies (Victoria Street and Waterloo Place) offers seasonal Scottish dishes at prices that won’t break the bank whilst Mother India’s Cafe on Infirmary Street bring a tapas twist to Indian cuisine.
This post only scratches the surface of why the city is so fantastic and each trip always brings a new discovery which makes my heart grow even fonder. For lovers of literature and history, parts of the city are like stepping back in time and it’s impossible to not be affected by the deep regard that the city holds for its cultural heritage and those it inspired. Rather than resting on its laurels however, Edinburgh continues to move forward, promoting both new ideas and the diverse range of writers and historical figures connected to it. It’s a city I love and I hope if you ever visit, you will too!
*Holly’s Edinburgh Reading List Recommendations*
For those of you wanting a place to start when it comes to Edinburgh’s literature, I’d suggest the following books…
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner – James Hogg
‘Justified Sinner’ explores the duality of both Edinburgh and the Scottish psyche and whilst Hogg may not be the best known of Scottish writers, his influence can clearly be seen in the work of Stevenson and Rankin.
Waverley – Walter Scott
With a train station and monument named in his honour, no Edinburgh reading list would be complete without the man who also helped turn Edinburgh into the tartaned tourist destination it remains today.
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
Although this novel is set in London, many have argued that this is merely a thin disguise for Edinburgh and certainly to me, the cramped mix of streets and populace combined again with the strong themes of personal and geographical duality seem more in keeping with Scotland’s capital.
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
You’ve probably all seen the film but the original novel is well worth a read (once you get used to its use of thick dialect) and shows life in the city lived by its underclass.
Set In Darkness – Ian Rankin
Although this is the 11th novel in Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series (and I would urge you to read them all), its focus on the imminent return of the Scottish parliament and the discovery of a corpse bricked up in a fire place at Queensbury House highlights the importance of Scotland’s past in shaping its future and the anxieties of a country not only on the cusp of a new Millennium but also on a new political dawn.