My New York City Guide

Brooklyn Bridge views

We just came back from the most wonderful trip to New York this spring and I can’t wait to share it all with you and relive it in the process. It still feels a little surreal and it might have been a little too close on the heels of our previous trip, but when opportunity presents itself you have to jump!

I approached this holiday a little differently to previous ones and decided to plan as little as possible. Obviously I didn’t want any regrets so I did do some research into what I’d like to see, but we took things as they came on most days. This means more wandering around aimlessly, shopping and stopping for coffee often.

Union Square market blossoms

Food

I made a tick list of all the things I’d love to try when on this trip and it included deliciousness like the famous cronut, bagels (we had multiple), pizza pies (basically just a whole pizza), hotdogs, donuts, Shake Shack burgers and Mexican among others. I managed to tick off most of the things, although hotdog stands ended up being few and far between so we went with fallafels from food trucks instead.

I had the best pizza in little Italy’s Puglia, although the entertainment did make it a little hard to have a decent conversation. Subsequently we also enjoyed some good pizza at Keste Pizza & Vino.

We arrived early-ish for a Domenique Ansel cronut expecting a crazy line, but we only queued for about three minutes and quickly figured out that they now rotate a single flavour each month. Both disappointing and easier to order. The strawberries and cream flavour was amazing but I’m glad we shared.

By this time in the trip we figured we’d have to start cheating if we wanted room to taste everything, so dougnuts for lunch it was. We ended up at Dough Dougnuts at the Flat Iron, which had a decent selection of flavours to choose from despite the original branch being in Williamsburg. We had the Mocha Crunch and Dulche de Leche, of which the latter was my favourite. This is also another treat worth sharing as the donuts are massive.

At Jack’s Wife Freda we tucked in to the famous rosewater waffle and whilst it was delicious, I think I might have appreciated something savoury more at that point of the trip.

 

We literally didn’t have a single disappointing meal, although the Mexican at Tacombi was way too spicy for me and made my eyes water. It is not for the faint hearted.

Our favourite though, much to my purse’s delight, was Shake Shack. The beef burgers weren’t anything special but do treat yourself to the crispy fried Chick’n Shack. The Shake Stack burger with a beef patty and deep fried mushroom is also worth a shout-out and we can’t fault their fries.

Coffee Spots

In sharp contrast to our previous trip to Europe, we didn’t have a single bad coffee on this entire trip. Starbucks was the most disappointing out of the whole lot and that is only because the rest was so great.

We made multiple stops at Eataly for late night coffee pick-me-ups (one of the few places open until 11 at night) and also tried a few other famous spots. Toby’s Estate, Birch Coffee and MUD (try the NY Breakfast special) all were delicious but the prettiest by far were  Old Rose, La Mercerie and Maman. We stopped into many more spots, but unfortunately I can’t remember all the names.

Shopping

Obviously New York is famous for shopping, but with the weak exchange rate luxury fashion isn’t really on my radar. I did find something I loved in Zara, but other pretty clothing stores like Sezane, Anthropologie and Everlane were more for browsing than shopping. But boy is it nice to nosy around and take in all the prettiness. Also don’t be afraid to stop in at one of the many markets as this is a great opportunity to support a local designer and pick up pretty jewellery at a steal.

Beauty shopping is where it is at though! I stopped in Sephora a few times but was disappointed to find the neither of the lighter IT Cosmetics CC creams were the perfect shade. On to where I did spend a tonne – Target, Deciem and Glossier. No stop in New York would be complete without a stop at the pink paradise. It is worth going early though (they open at midday) as they made us queue outside when we arrived a little later. I’ll share all my favourite purchases at a later stage though.

For home shopping West Elm, CB2 and Anthropologie (I could spend hours here) were favourites.

Sightseeing

I’m a massive sucker for ancient buildings, classical architecture and marble. I wasn’t expecting to like New York as much as I did. Whilst the architecture is mostly what you’d expect, brownstones with fire escapes and water tanks, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the city. Although it pretty much is a concrete jungle, the ample parks more than made up for it along with the beautifully curated sidewalks. It might just be because it was spring, but we found the prettiest flowers around each corner and often where you’d least expect it. Corner shops carried the prettiest tulips and peonies were everywhere.

New York Public Library

By the end of our trip the weather took a turn and the days became cooler and rainier, but that didn’t put us off visiting Brooklyn Heights and the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge. Even the rain and wind couldn’t keep us away!

Of course you can’t visit the Big Apple and not stop by Central Park. In our case, we went twice when the weather allowed as it just had such a nice atmosphere. We also caught amazing views from the Jacqueline Kennedy Reservoir.

Bow Bridge, Central Park

Washington Square Park and Madison Square Park were also amazing spots, the latter obviously being our favourite pick with a Shake Shack and view of the Flatiron building.

Museum wise I chose to visit the Metropolitan and MoMA as I have an obsession with art. Both were equally amazing, with the Met offering visitors more than just art. The fifth floor of the MoMA was my personal favourite though as I literally sat in front of Monet’s lilies for several minutes trying to convince myself that it is real. I have it on good authority though that the Museum of Natural History is also worth a visit if you don’t fancy art.

Other favourite spots included the New York Public Library, which is just breathtakingly beautiful and Bryant Park at the back where we watched a free opera performance. I would also highly recommend you attend a Broadway show if so inclined. We managed to find cheaper tickets for the Phantom of the Opera and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

Grand Central station

If given enough time, do read up a little on Grand Central before your visit. It is not only beautiful, it has a very fascinating history.

If you were looking for wonderful areas to just roam and explore I’d recommend TriBeCa (where Sezane is), SoHo and Chelsea. The Upper West Side was another favourite of ours with a lot of smaller bakeries and coffee shops.

Stay

We actually booked an AirBnB for the first half of our stay in Brooklyn and then splurged on a fancy hotel in Manhattan for the last few nights.

Our AirBnB was very spacious and offered great value for money, but in New York location is everything. Catching the metro into Manhattan was fairly easy and cost-effective as we just bought a seven day pass, but we did waste a lot of time on days where we wanted to head home before going out to dinner again in Manhattan. If you are considering a stay in Brooklyn, be sure to look at central Williamsburg if you plan on spending more time in Brooklyn itself.

In Manhattan we stayed at The Evelyn, which was in a great spot close to Fifth Avenue, the Flat Iron building and Madisson Square Park. In general it was just a great area to walk around in. I’m sure when the hotel’s renovations are finished it will become a favourite among many.

Ten full days in this magical city was only just enough to cover most of what I wanted to see and I could have happily spent even more time exploring! I’d love to hear about your favourite city spots.

 

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Lisbon Travel Diary & City Guide

Its been over a month since our return and I’ve only just been able to put all my thoughts in order as this trip was absolutely packed with amazing memories.  Not only did I get to experience the beautiful Portugal, but I also managed to tick Paris off my bucket list (although I’d love to go back!). To be honest, this trip kind off caught me off guard.

Portugal wasn’t ever really on my travel bucket list, but when the opportunity arose to join my husband on a business trip I jumped. Once you start looking into Portugal, you can’t help but fall in love. And now I can give you reasons to visit too!

Despite it being in the middle of winter, we loved each and every second of it including the rainy days spent under umbrellas and nearly blowing away with the wind in Sintra. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s get started at the beginning.

Our week long visit to Portugal started in Lisbon and we were giddy with excitement when we finally made our approach into Lisbon airport. The views were breathtaking as we swooped low over the turquoise waters and felt like we could touch the Padrão dos Descobrimentos before a million red roofs greeted us.

I was initially a little baffled as to which area to stay in, but I’d say our choice of The 8 Downtown Suites in Lisbon’s Baixa area was a pretty solid choice. The staff were very accommodating, friendly and gave us a lot of tips. I’d say anywhere between Rossio square, the Elevador and Lisbon Cathedral can be considered central although I’m sure there are many more lovely areas to stay in.

Our first stop after the long flights was the TimeOut market as we desperately needed to refuel. Although I initially considered it far out, it turned out Lisbon was a lot smaller than it looked on a map, and we were there within 15 minutes for an early dinner. The market is quite similar in concept to Florence’s  Mercato Centrale with a traditional fresh produce market on one side (which was sadly closed due to water damage during our stay) and a selection of some of Portugal’s best small eateries on the other. Be warned though that this side can get crowded with seating becoming a challenge if you go after seven. We stopped by several times during our stay and enjoyed food from the Asian Lab, Pizza a Pezzi and another place dedicated solely to chicken. Another favourite was To B. Burger or not to burger, which as the name suggests, is a lovely burger place.

Praça do Comércio

We can’t start talking about food though without mentioning the pastel de nata, a dessert so innocent yet rich and comforting. Several of these delicious bites were enjoyed during our stay, some are served hot, others with icing sugar and few with cinnamon. It is best described as a mini milk tart trying to be a creme brulee.

My personal favourites were from Manteigara although others in our group preferred those from Pasteis de Belém (eggier, if that is a word!) and Tartine (sweeter). We didn’t have a single disappointing one though and at around 1 euro each you really should decide for yourself!

Castelo de sao Jorge wall

Although there is a lot to see and do in Lisbon, most touristy recommendations centre around beautiful churches, Miradouros (or lookout points) and Belém. I loved the architecture of the Lisbon Cathedral and the striking image of an orange tree against the historic building. Most of the cathedrals and churches in Portugal were ornate and grand, even the smaller ones, but in fear of seeing to many we decided to keep our schedule loose and spend more time walking around and exploring things on our own.

There are several notable miradouros, or lookout points, in Lisbon (Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara, Miradouro de Santa Luzia and Miradouro Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen), but we eschewed them all in favour of the Castelo de Sao Jorge on a clear evening. This Moorish castle dominates the Lisbon skyline and seemed like a good place to admire the beautiful city. The thousand steps leading up were completely worth it though as the castle granted us amazing views over the whole of Lisbon, an excellent vantage points to spot both intruders during ancient times and all the tourist sights today. If possible I’d recommend you head here at the start of your visit as it can help you gain some perspective and make you giddy with the prospect of seeing it all up close. 

Of course we also managed to squeeze in some time for shopping and discovered a few favourites. The street leading off from the arch in Praça do Comércio is home to a few popular brands (Zara, H&M, Pull & Bear and many more) and was very close to where we stayed, but we definitely enjoyed shopping along the Rua do Carmo and Rua Garrett the most. There we spent quite some time in the United Colors of Benetton and got lost in a massive four-story Mango. We also found the prettiest florists and small bakeries along the way. I’d recommend you take one of the many side street to discover some favourites a little off the beaten track.

That is how we stumbled upon A Vida Portuguesa, a shop with a unique collection of locally produced things ranging from predictable tiles and sardines to beautiful beauty products. And talking of souvenirs, it seems you can’t go wrong with a pair of leather shoes made in Portugal. There is a leather shop around every corner, so keep an eye out and don’t be afraid to ask for the price should you see something you like.

If designer brands or window shopping is more your thing, then Avenue a Liberdade seems to be the go to. This tree-lined street stretches out from Praça dos Restauradores, the perfect spot to observe the pink Palacio Foz, and is home to designer brands like Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton and the likes. You’ll also find a Laduree tucked into one of the centres if you want to satisfy your sweet tooth!

Finally, you can’t go to Lisbon without stopping in to Belém and Sintra. I’ll cover the latter in a separate post, but since Belém is less than half an hour from Lisbon it feels natural to include it here. We had three sights on our list, namely the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, Belém Tower and Jereminos Monastery and surrounding gardens, but really it was the pastel de natas that lured us over.

We headed out on a crowded tram that stopped around the corner from Pasteis de Belém  and decided to pick up a sweet treat. Although the line was long, it didn’t take long to get to the front and the pasteis did not disappoint (spoiler, none of them did!) although I do feel they might be slightly overrated. Definitely still worth it though!

From there we walked over to the Jerenimos Monastery where the massive line outside convinced us to first find the two towers. The gardens across of the Monastery were beautifully kept and I imagine it would be a lovely spot to sit and enjoy your pastei on a warmer day, with the Monastery and estuary making for great views.

We didn’t enter the Belém Tower but took in its beauty from the outside. Unfortunately none of our photographs does its scale or the detail on the outside any justice, but it just as you’d imagine.

As there still was a massive line outside the Monastry we decided to rather just enjoy the adjoining church on the right. Here the high vaulted ceilings alluded to what we might have found next door, had we made our way over earlier.

You can’t talk about Lisbon without mentioning the Azelujos, or painted tiles, that adorn most buildings. They really add something completely unique to Lisbon’s architecture and whenever we spotted a building with a unique pattern we squealed with excitement! I do feel though that one of the unsung heroes of Lisbon, and Portugal as a whole, is the cobbled sidewalks. Each features a unique pattern and is like a beautiful artwork.

Although February might not be the best time to visit Lisbon, it helped that this is one of the warmer European cities with temperatures usually hovering between the higher single digits to the low tens. We were also hoping to avoid some of the crowds by going when it is cooler, although we kept holding thumbs for the rain to stay away. We were incredibly lucky with nothing more than a light drizzle in Lisbon.

Lisbon beautiful street

Lastly as my sister-in-law and I explored much of the city on our own for the first two days it is worth mentioning that we always felt safe even after dark. As wary South Africans we  avoided staying out too late and always looked over our shoulders, but even during the quieter and colder evenings nothing ever caused us any concern. Just be aware of the weed (or Hash) sellers who mostly hang around the popular tourist sites like Praça do Comércio and quieter streets after dark. A polite no thanks should send them on their way, but I’d avoid starting a conversation and made sure to grip my bag extra tight.

Lisbon City Guide

Let’s get to the good stuff. If you’re heading to Lisbon soon (lucky you!), make sure to take note of the below:

Stay

  • Baixa Area – The 8 Downtown Suites

Eat

  • To B. Burger or Not to Burger – The best budget-friendly burger and fries served in a cute restaurant. Be sure to try their homemade lemonade!
  • Pizzeria Romana al Taglio – Great takeaway pizza slices offering everything from traditional flavours to more adventurous combinations
  • The TimeOut Market – We loved the Chow Mein at Asian Lab, enjoyed several slices from Pizza a Pezzi and enjoyed a chicken pita from the chicken place. For sweet treats try Santini and Manteigaria.
  • Tartine – We came for the pasteis de nata and stayed for lunch. A good selection of fresh breads and affordable prices.
  • A Padaria Portuguese – A chain restaurant you’ll find all over Lisbon that offers affordable lunches and good chocolate quentes. No need to enter a Mc Donalds, unless you need the loo!
  • Wok-to-Walk – Takeaway stir-fry noodles made to order and enough to share!

Pastel de Nata

  • Tartine – A slightly sweeter variety with an extra flaky pastry.
  • Pasteis de Belém – Slightly thicker custard that tasted more savoury than sweet.
  • Manteigaria – For me these had the perfectly flaky shell and creamy centre that wasn’t too sweet.
  • Basically any place that serves hot pasteis de nata for around one euro! You can’t go wrong!

Shop

  • Avenue a Liberdade – If luxury shopping or window shopping is your thing, this is where you’ll find the Prada and Gucci stores and if you fancy a macaron, stop in at the Laduree.
  • Rua Augusta – Here you’ll find all the chain stores – Zara, H&M, Pull & Bear, Bershka and many more.
  • Rua do Carmo and Rua
  • Garrett – Find larger version of chain stores and a few higher-end brands here along with cute coffee shops and pastry shops.
  • Armazéns do Chiado – A shopping centre on Rua do Carmo and home to the largest Mango I’ve ever been in, Parfois for great accessories and a Sephora.
  • A Vida Portuguesa – For slightly less tacky versions of typical tourist mementos like Azulejos and Ginja. I could have browsed this old-school style store for hours.

Sights

  • Castelo de Sao Jorge – Take in the best views of the city from one of its oldest buildings!
  • Lisbon Cathedral – Don’t overwhelm youself and head straight to the best church in Lisbon. Be sure to walk around it from the outside aswel!
  • Rossio Train Station – A beautiful and interesting building and also a great station to catch the train to Sintra.
  • Praça do Comércio – Beware the drug sellers, but enjoy the beautiful view from the square.
  • Palacio Foz & Praça dos Restauradores – A pink palace and beautiful square. Do you need to know more?
  • Jereminos Monastery & gardens – We didn’t enter as it was raining and there was a long line, so head here early as it is one of the few things I regret not seeing. Luckily the church next door is free to enter, had no line when we were there and is just as impressive! Also don’t forget to enjoy the gardens opposite.
  • Padrão dos Descobrimentos – Located opposite the monastery, this makes a lovely starting point for a walk along the estuary to Belém Tower.
  • Belém Tower – A beautiful tower that used to play an important role in Lisbon during its seafaring days.

If you have any questions be sure to ask in the comments and I’d love to help!

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Planning a Holiday: From Start to Finish

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Planning a holiday is one of my favourite pass times, but if you don’t know where to start it can all feel very overwhelming- after all the world is our oyster! As I work in the travel industry and love travelling (lets forget for a moment that I don’t get to travel nearly as much as I would like too!) I thought I’d help you map out the holiday planning process. Obviously depending on which destination you end up choosing, you might cut this planning part short as there isn’t much to plan and do besides unwind in a beach destination like Mauritius. But if you find yourself overwhelmed with options, here is how I usually narrow it down and get shiz done.

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A Garden Route Sho’tleft

Knysna Featherbed dock

I want to preface this post by saying that I am incredibly devastated at the damage that Knysna and the greater Garden Route has experienced. I can’t personally imagine what it must be like to loose all your personal belongings, everything that has sentimental value to you. On top of that residents had to do a dangerous and uncomfortable evacuation not just of their home, but the general area.

What I do know is that Knysna needs our help to rebuild. Whilst donations help, ultimately a large part of the area relies on tourism for an income. And they need that income now more than ever. Please don’t let the destruction keep you away as the incredibly beautiful area still has so much to offer. There are so many amazing properties available to book in areas largely untouched by the flames. There is no excuse for not visiting. If you need further motivation, please scroll down.

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Life Update

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I feel slightly guilty writing this post, as I have been absent for longer than I intended to be. To be honest, I have completely failed in the blogging department. I haven’t even uploaded some of the beautiful pictures I have to share on Instagram!

I have been busier than usual at work, having taken on extra responsibilities including creating and launching a new website. It has been rewarding, but has also meant that when I finally step into my home I don’t want to see a computer screen! 

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Back in Black in Babylonstoren

DSC_3638 This past weekend was a long one for some and for the rest of us, well we had to work on Friday. That does not mean that we didn’t make the best of Thursday’s public holiday! Ryno and I decided to head out to Stellenbosch for lunch as I hadn’t been there in quite a while. After finding a few of our favourite spots were closed for the holiday, we headed to an old favourite, Java for their chai lattes (a.k.a. liquid pancakes) and pizza.

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Weekend Traditions

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One of our favourite weekend haunts is Ou Meul coffee shop which also happens to be just around the corner from us. As it is always busy, we decided to head over early one morning and grabbed something fresh from the bakery and a delicious coffee. Although the coffee is what keeps us coming back, I was initially drawn in by their decor. The on-trend gold lights really make a statement against white walls with the occasional ceiling rose used in a unique way. My photos don’t do it justice as sadly it was a little dark inside, but it is great for catching up with friends on a rainy day and the croissants and sticky cinnamon buns are our favourite for good reason.

I planned on doing a full outfit post, but as the photos weren’t the best I decided not to share them. I was feeling a little daring and wore denim-on-denim, but to avoid it looking circa Britney-Justin-VMA’s I wore this mid-blue denim shirt with an almost black-blue jean. I kept the rest of the outfit slick with black suede pumps and delicate gold jewellery. For a more dressed up look, I think a red lip would compliment this perfectly!

Make sure to head over early and you might also get fresh-from-the-oven croissant, a must-have for every carb-lover! I think I know what I’ll be doing post-parkrun tomorrow!

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Italy 2014: Travel Journal

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This film documents our visit to Rome, Florence and Siena in Italy during October 2014. This includes some popular tourist sites, features some shoddy camera work from yours truly and a cameo by some of the best travel companions. Italy you were the best!

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Yzerfontein Break

Yzerfontein house 15As you might have gathered from my previous post, Ryno and I took a short beach break just before Christmas. It was the perfect start to my to the holidays and really set the tone for a relaxing week spent with family and friends.

Yzerfontein is a small town along the West Coast, although in recent years it has really picked up and now even sports a local grocery store! My family owns a beach house in the area, so I’m no stranger to the icy sea, but this time around we decided to take along a few friends along and stayed in a cute rental overlooking the ocean (more information here). I think ‘cute’ pretty much sums it up! It is white and wood panelled from the outside and bright and airy from the inside. We scored the top bedroom with a magnificent view of the waves thundering outside. It is the perfect little beach house, with an oceanview braai outside and cast iron fireplace

inside for those cooler evenings. The owner has really done a great job of setting up the place with everything you could possibly need from wood for late-night marshmallow toasting sessions to matching beach towels and everything inbetween. I also appreciated all the festive touches, with at least one in every room!

The West Coast is famously windy, but on the rare occasion that it does quiet down Yzerfontein reveals its real charm. Less tourists means more time to rest and relax with the possibility of having whole stretches of the beach to yourself. If you’re a waterbaby and can brave the cold, then you can’t miss the main beach.Yzerfontein house 4

When you do tire of endless walks along beach, the West Coast National Park (a mere 30 minutes away) is also a must visit. You need to book in advance during flower season, but a small entrance fee will allow you to explore the vast park during the rest of the year. We made a day trip to Preekstoel for a swim in the warm, turquoise waters and now I can’t wait to return with something to float on. It is the closest thing to a tropical islandYzerfontein beach 1

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Merry Christmas

DSC_2325Better late than never, I hope everyone has a very merry Christmas with all their loved ones! In South Africa Christmas means beach breaks and braais (Google it!), so I’ll leave you with this peaceful image from our West Coast break. South Africa is amazing…

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