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A Weekend in York

2 Mar

One gift that the boyfriend and I received over Christmas was a Hotel Du Vin voucher, so we decided to put it to good use last weekend and have a weekend break in York.

After a three hour drive from the Midlands (for which I stayed awake for about 40 minutes!), we arrived at Hotel Du Vin which was based in a beautiful building on the outskirts of the town. We were lucky enough to get the Suite at the top which was amazing; there was a huge king sized bed, a roll-top bath, a chaise-lounge and a long walk-in shower, as well as a proper coffee machine and Bose speakers.

Hotel du Vin, York

Hotel du Vin, York

Me outside Hotel Du VIn

Me outside Hotel Du Vin

Our suite

Our suite

Roll top bath

The walk-in shower

The walk-in shower

After jumping on the bed and Instagramming the room to my heart’s content, we headed out to do some exploring. York is an old, medieval city and we had actually visited during ‘Viking Week’, so there were plenty of casual Vikings walking around adding to the vibe. We started by having lunch at the famous Betty’s – unfortunately there was a huge queue for the main Betty’s (which had a beautiful Easter window display NOM!) so we decided to try the smaller, more vintage Betty’s café down the road. This had more of a ‘granny chic’ vibe about it but a much smaller queue; after waiting for about 10 minutes, we were shown to a cute little table in the back where I ordered poached salmon & prawns on sourdough bread and the bf ordered the chicken club sandwich. Both meals weren’t super special but were tasty and good value, though they were both trumped by the gorgeous caramel egg that I bought from their shop downstairs! Apparently their chocolate is handmade and it tasted SO. GOOD.

Betty's window display

Betty’s window display

My prawn/poached salmon lunch at Betty's

My prawn/poached salmon lunch at Betty’s

Betty's caramel egg

Betty’s caramel egg

After lunch, we spent some time walking around the quaint Shambles streets, full of old, wonky shops, including an INCREDIBLE fudge shop which I would highly recommend, if just for the many free samples! We went inside the Minster, climbed up onto a little castle and toured the city walls before heading back home to freshen up for dinner. We had a drink in the hotel’s lovely conservatory area before heading to eat at Loch Fyne. This is a small chain seafood restaurant with plenty of dinner options for decent prices; both of us chose the option to have a fish of our choice, cooked to our choice, with a sauce of our sauce and two sides, all for £15. After dinner we went for drinks at the cool cocktail bar Evil Eye and All Bar One.

The Shambles

The Shambles

York Minster

York Minster

York castle

Museum Gardens

Museum Gardens

Casual Vikings

Casual Vikings

We started the next day with the hotel’s breakfast – I took full advantage of the ‘Pantry’ table which was piled high with fruit, pastries and most importantly, an incredible home-made sticky fruit flapjack. (I may have sneaked one into my bag too, shh)! After wondering around the town’s markets, we met my bf’s brother for lunch at the pub that he works at called ‘The House of Trembling Madness‘. This is actually next to the smaller Betty’s and is a shop selling all kinds of artistan, rare and local alcohol downstairs with a very cosy, rustic pub upstairs. Though we probably didn’t need anymore food, we decided to share one of their popular platters which came with olive bread, marmite bread, pork pie with black pudding on the top, salad, chicken and duck, amongst other things. Advice: if you want to get a seat, get there early!

Breakfast

Breakfast

The House of the Trembling Madness

The House of the Trembling Madness

 

Our platter

Our platter

After stuffing our faces yet again, we decided to call it a day and head home for another meal with my parents. All in all, a great weekend!

Have you ever been to York? Is there anything else you would recommend seeing?

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Thailand – Phuket, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Samui islands

24 Aug

To finish off our month around Thailand, we ended up visiting some of the islands down south.

Phuket

We started off by flying from Siem Reap to Phuket (via Kuala Lumpa!) and stayed near to Patong beach in a modern hotel called Indigo Patong.  Our room was really big and came with a plasma screen TV and free computer/internet included, which was just as well as we still had food poisoning from Cambodia at this point and couldn’t really leave the room!

DSCF2585Phuket is a crazy place, full of ladyboys, knock off designer gear, loads of clubs/bars and weirdly, lots of people carrying lizards, monkeys and slow lorises for you to have a picture with. It’s definitely a great place to come if you are in a party group, looking for a dirty weekend or wanting a stash of Beats by Dre headphones/Obey caps. 

It gets a little quieter away from the main strip; the beach is beautiful and the restaurants along here are a lot more ‘family friendly’, though a little more expensive than the rest of Thailand.

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Ko Phi Phi

About a 2 hour boat ride away from Phuket is Ko Phi Phi, a beautiful little island with no cars or motorbikes allowed. Accommodation is quite limited on the island; we stayed in a complex called P.P. Casita with a fabulous pool and where you get given your own hut. The huts were quite basic but apparently were one of the best places to stay on the island! The beach comes alive at night and there are often fire shows for free! *Unfortunately my food poisoning was at its worst here so I didn’t get to see as much as Phi Phi as I would have liked, though a shout out to the doctor here who cured me!*

Arriving at Ko Phi Phi

Arriving at Ko Phi Phi

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P.P Casita – our hut

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The walk to our hut

The walk to our hut

DSCF2625DSCF2627Ko Samui

Our final stop was Ko Samui which felt like the most ‘holiday’ destination out of all of Thailand, with lots of rich American families staying at the luxurious hotels along the beach front. It was one of the most expensive places on our trip but for most of our stay we managed to stay in a great, modern hotel called Hotel FX for £12 each a night and which was only about a 15 minute walk to the town/beach. In the town there are plenty of markets to get designer lookalikes, lots of bars and some romantic restaurants along the beach, including a private table in the sea! 

Marc is in a glass box of emotion! Or the bathroom in Hotel FX...

Marc is in a glass box of emotion! Or the bathroom in Hotel FX…

You can just about spot the private table in the sea

You can just about spot the private table in the sea

Whilst there, we hired a motorbike to explore more of the island itself which was super cheap (about £6 a day). You do have to top up the fuel but there are so many shops on the sides of the roads selling ‘gasoline’ bottles which are about 8p! We saw the famous phallic shaped rock, went on a 4 x 4 up to a waterfall and visited another town further down the coast line. If you want to ride a motorbike for the day, Ko Samui is probably the safest place as it is much quieter on the roads than the rest of Thailand.

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The phallic ‘Grandfather’ rock

DSCF2670Samui is an ideal place to stay if you want to head over to a Full Moon party at Ko Phang Nang as there are plenty of boat services that do return trips every hour, though we didn’t get to go as we were still a bit fragile from the food poisoning. We did, however, get to go on an amazing trip to Ko Tao! Ko Tao is a group of protected desert islands/rocks about 1 hour boat ride away and they really are beautiful. We did a package trip which I would definitely recommend; it includes the boat ride over to Ko Tao, the chance to see a secluded lagoon, kayak around the cliffs and snorkel/relax on a deserted beach, with lunch and snacks too.

Kho Thao

Kho Thao

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For the last couple of days, we paid a little bit more (about £20 each a night) to stay at Ark Bar, a huge party hotel right on the beach front with 3 pools. The ‘party pool’ facing the beach does have an Ibiza vibe about it but the amount of testosterone kicking about was quite annoying so we went to the pool at the side which was much more relaxed.

The party pool at 9am

The party pool at 10am

And then it was time to come home! Have you ever been to the islands? How did you find them?


Cambodia: Angkor Wat

24 Aug

After Chiang Mai, we headed over to Cambodia. We got there by flying back to Bangkok and then getting a bus/taxi service from Bangkok to Cambodia, across the border and to our hotel. I would really not recommend the taxi/bus journey across the border! Not only does it take a fair few hours but everything feels slightly dodgy throughout – from paying extra to get ‘quick’ access (which doesn’t exist), and paying extra to get a visa without a photo or paying extra to the guards themselves. The waiting was awful – so many people were all crammed in a little hut for hours in the midday sun waiting to get their visas stamped – so I would personally recommend flying instead. Luckily, we were very happy with our hotel which was called Angkoriana and had more of a resort feel about it, with free internet in the lobby too.

 TOP TIP: If you plant to go this route over the border then bring passport photos with you as it will save money.

The hotel pool

The hotel pool

I have mixed feelings about Cambodia. It felt quite a poor country and everyone seemed desperate for money so it was a real struggle to walk down a street without getting grabbed by adult sellers, begging children and mothers with ‘sick babies’ in their hands. My boyfriend was able to block it out but that could be because sellers/children usually target female tourists more than the men!

 The main strip called Pub Street was really fun with plenty of restaurants, bars and tourists, though as it gets later it gets a little more seedy and dodgy. Also, be incredibly careful where you eat! On our last day there we both got very aggressive food poisoning (from one of the posher restaurants called Red Piano) which lasted for five days and which I would not wish upon anyone! After day number 5 where we could barely stand or keep a cornflake down, we visited a doctor on Phi Phi island who told us we had severe aomebic dyssentry (nice) and gave us strong antibiotics to cure it. So be careful if you go!

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A really cool bar called Angkor Wat?

A really cool bar called Angkor What?

Snake and crocodile cooked in front of you - a Cambodian speciality

Snake and crocodile cooked in front of you – a Cambodian speciality

Amazing ice cream parlour/bakery called The Blue Pumpkin

Amazing ice cream parlour/bakery called The Blue Pumpkin

Even though I didn’t like Cambodia as a country that much, the Angkor Wat temples there were literally amazing. These temples are the main sightseeing pull for travellers and they really do not disappoint. There are about twenty temples that take up a huge area as this used to be the main city in the twelfth century and some are still fairly in tact, despite being centuries old. You can choose from a long tour which sees them all, or a short tour which visits the most interesting/bigger ones – we went for the short tour which was definitely enough as it still took the whole day to get around it! I had two favourites; Angkor Thom which had the ‘many faces of Buddha’ carved into the rock and Ta Prohm, the famous one which has giant trees and roots growing from the rock. I felt like I was in Tomb Raider or Raiders of the Lost Ark!

 Top tip: Take a little umbrella/parasol with you, especially if you burn (like me!), as you will be walking around exposed for most of the day.  

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Thailand – Chiang Mai

11 Aug

The second stop on our Thailand trip was Chiang Mai, a province in Northern Thailand surrounded by jungles and rainforests. This is a good area to go to if you enjoy activities like jungle trekking, mountain biking, elephant riding, white water rafting and bamboo rafting, though there are also opportunities to do relaxing activities like river yoga and authentic cooking courses. (I’m sure I read a magazine which said there are luxury relaxation retreats there too)! 

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We got there via a (very slow) sleeper train from Bangkok which takes 10 hours and has fold down beds which you can sleep on overnight. There are first class and second class options; first class gives you your own private ‘cabin’ with a sink whilst second class puts you on bunkbeds in a long carriage with everyone else, which is much cheaper. We opted for second class and I was really anxious about what it would be like, though I have to say I actually quite enjoyed it! It was a lot cleaner than I expected, sociable and actually quite comfortable. Plus, I peeked at a first class cabin and felt it had a bit of a prison cell vibe about it so I think second class would be absolutely fine for most travellers.  
Sleeper train

Sleeper train

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While we were at Chiang Mai we signed up for a two day jungle trek which included bamboo rafting, a trek to a village tribe, an overnight home stay in a jungle village and elephant riding. What they didn’t tell you was that the rainforest trekking is not a softened ‘tourist’ version but totally strenuous and dangerous! We would literally be scaling across rocks and crawling over rickety bridges, sliding down muddy hills and climbing up forests. It took us about 3 hours of really hard graft to reach the village tribe and though the views along the way were incredible, it was hard to enjoy the experience when it was so tough and sweaty. Plus, the home stay was very basic – no electricity, a pipe for a shower, a squat toilet, blankets on a wooden floor to sleep on etc. Our hosts were sweet and hospitable and cooked a really good yellow potato curry for us but I didn’t get a wink of sleep that night as the jungle was super noisy – we heard monkeys, insects, bats, pigs, hogs, chickens and an annoyingly perky rooster. I was quite pleased to leave and head downhill the next day!
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There we did bamboo rafting (not really worth it in my opinion as you are heading down a slow dirty river with rocks) and elephant riding. The elephant camp was a lot of fun as you are allowed to wander around them at your will and feed/stroke them. I was happy as it looked as if they were being well looked after with plenty of food and cleanliness, though it was actually a bit scary riding them – it turns out elephants are MASSIVE! 
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When we headed back into the town we treated ourselves to a nicer hotel called Roseate which was still only £15 each a night but really good service and a lovely big soft bed! TOP TIP: Take hotel/hostel cards when you can, as you can show them to taxi and tuk tuk drivers who may not always know your hotel off the top of their head. We also treated ourselves to some Western (well, Mexican) food at a really cool Canadian bar called Chiang Mai Saloon which I would recommend, especially for their coffee banana cake. Unfortunately, though Chiang Mai is a lovely area, it felt incredibly quiet – most restaurants and bars were empty all day and all night, which was such a shame as there were so many cute looking places. Maybe this was the time of year we went or maybe it was because most travellers are in the jungle but perhaps don’t spend too much time here if you plan to go. 

Off to Thailand – be back blogging in a month!

4 Jul

Hello all! Tomorrow morning I am up bright and early to head to Thailand for a month so won’t be blogging until I’m back! See you in August!

Thailand

23rd Birthday: Rome

25 Apr

Apologies for not posting sooner but I have been getting over all the walking, wine and pizza from Rome last weekend (and then detoxing and gymming it all off this week)! It was an amazing trip though and I would definitely recommend going if you haven’t been before.

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We arrived on Thursday night and after a quick stop off at McDonalds (we were desperate, OK?!) we walked over to our hotel called Hotel Novecento. This hotel was in a fantastic location; it only took about twenty minutes to walk from the main Termini train station, is just round the corner from the Manzoni tube station, about a ten minute walk away from the Coliseum and is in a lovely quiet, leafy area, perfect for coming back to after a busy day around noisy Rome.

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The hotel is more like a hotel/B&B but I would definitely recommend it to others; not only is it in a prime location but the staff were also all very friendly, helpful, spoke very good English and one even played the piano for us! (That was a bit surreal, I won’t lie). The rooms are quite small but come with big bathrooms and are very clean and modern – ours even came with a lovely balcony with a view over Rome. The breakfasts weren’t great but there are always apples if all else fails!

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Breakfast foyer

Breakfast foyer

 Day 1 – Coliseum, Pantheon and Trevi Fountain

 Our first proper day in Rome was gorgeously sunny so we decided to start with outdoor sightseeing.

Our first stop was the Coliseum which was just as impressive as you would imagine; the entry price wasn’t too bad either as if you are between 18-25 you can get discounted tickets which cost us around 6 Euros each.  The queue always looks long but tends to move quite quickly; we were only waiting for about twenty minutes before we got in and most of the queue was under cover.

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We then walked over to the Pantheon which was also huge and so ornate inside! From there we stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Il Faciolaro which was just down a nearby alleyway full of restaurants offering set menus and lunchtime deals. We shared a meal deal for 9 euros which included a bruschetta, margherita pizza and soft drink but there were plenty of more adventurous options down the alleyway. 

Inside the Pantheon

Inside the Pantheon

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We then walked over to Trevi Fountain which was actually much bigger and beautiful than I imagined but also very busy, especially full of street sellers trying to get you to buy all manner of random tat! This dies down the closer you get to the fountain though. 

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If you throw a penny in it means you will return to Rome one day

After swinging by the artistic Piazza Navona area and then a quick nap at the hotel, we headed out for dinner by the Spanish Steps which seems to be a pretty good area for restaurants. 

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Top – New Look, Necklace – Primark, Skirt – LOVE, Glasses – Ray Ban

Day 2 – Vatican City and Trastevere

 We were told to get to Vatican City early on Saturday morning but we didn’t get there early enough it seemed as we had a boring 2 hour queue before we finally got in at 12pm! Luckily the prices were reasonable again – a normal ticket costs 16 Euros but a discounted student ticket is only 8 Euros. The Vatican City was pretty amazing – it feels like you are entering a totally different realm, almost like a green haven away from the noisy roads of Rome. To get to the Sistine Chapel you have to walk through the Vatican Museum which is amazing – I guarantee you won’t have seen so many statues, paintings and murals in your whole life! The only annoying part was that you were forced to follow the whole route and they wouldn’t let you skip parts or take a different direction – not great when you are stuck behind a million tour guide groups. Luckily, the Sistine Chapel was as breathtaking as you might think, so it made it all worth it. 

The first view when you get into Vatican City

The first view when you get into Vatican City

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We then walked over to Trastevere which was an area recommended to me by someone at work – it is very cool, trendy and seemed to be quite full of ‘creative types’ and not as many tourists. There are plenty of bars here and things really start to get going from about 5pm/6pm into the early hours of the morning. As we were a little early and quite exhausted from the day, we stopped off at a cool wine bar/cafe called Enotica before walking back to the hotel (there is no tube stop – be warned) and getting ready for another dinner at the Spanish Steps. En route we walked past this amazing, buzzing jazz wine bar very near to Barberini Tube Station which was also called Enotica – it was too full to go in but if you go I would definitely recommend this place! 

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A cute, authentic restaurant in Trastevere

Day 3 – Hometime

On Sunday we had to pack our things and have a last little sunny wander round Rome. We got lunch from a good panini place near Barberini Tube Station (sorry, I forget the name!) before eating it at the Trevi Fountain and walking it off around a market near Piazza Navona. Then it was time to say Ciao to the city and head back to the bright lights of London…

Piazza Novana

Piazza Novana

Bye Rome!

Bye Rome!

My hols in Bulgaria and Diamond Hotel review

3 Jul

If you have been wondering why it has been so quiet on the blog recently then I can explain that it was because I went on a Graduation holiday to Bulgaria with my Uni mates! It was the first time I have ever been to Bulgaria and if you are thinking of going then I would recommend it as a holiday destination as it was fairly cheap (around £5 for meals and £1 for local beers) and the nightlife was good (even better if you’re a fan of casinos and stripclubs)!

Bulgaria

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We stayed at a hotel called the Diamond Hotel which is classed as 4*, though obviously as Bulgaria is still both a relatively new tourist destination and a developing country then it is not as luxurious as our 4* hotels are! Saying this, I was impressed by the hotel; our rooms were very big with balconies, cleaned every day by a very sweet maid, and the hotel itself included a shop, internet cafe, games room, 2 bars, a tattoo parlour and a hair/beauty salon! It is also a 2 minute walk away from the main strip and about 5 mins from the beach so in a perfect location. Also, despite it being designed more for 18-30 year olds, it was not overly loud or wild. The only disappointing part was the food as it was very greasy, oily, and the same food each day-gristly rice, dry chips, fatty pork/chicken, bony fish-you get the idea. We had paid all inclusive but as it is so cheap to eat out in Bulgaria I would recommend going self-catering.

Hotel Diamond Bulgaria

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Most of the bars and clubs have drinks deals; our favourite was Central Bar which offered 5 cocktails for £7.50! We spent our last night at Funny Pub as the meals are pretty good quality; my housemates ordered a chicken skewer which was huge whilst I had a tuna salad which cost around £5. However, though it is good value in Bulgaria, it did feel quite unfriendly and unsafe at times. Also, though us girls could get in free nearly everywhere, the boys kept getting short-changed. Plus, everywhere seems to charge you to use the toilet, even if you are a paying customer in a restaurant or have paid to get into a club! A lot of the group seemed to recommend Zante over Bulgaria, so this might be something to bear in mind.