Photography, Travel

New York: my top tips and making the most of a 4 day trip

When my favourite person, Beth, asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding last year – I screamed yes! When she told me it would be in America – I screamed again and then clicked my heels in a perfect musical-worthy fashion!

I was only 18 the first time I visited the States and had just finished college. I was working at camp for the summer (which pays pennies) and traveling on my own. So I knew visiting again this time, I had to make the most of it. I finally had money to spend, was old enough to party and had made friends from my travels (and camp) that I couldn’t wait to meet up with.

My first stop – New York City!

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Objective: See everything in 4 days and still have enough money for 3 other cities.

When to visit:

1. Weather

Low season:

Winter can be beautiful in New York as it gets covered in a frosty magical layer of snow. Personally, I think it looks dreamy, but with snow comes cold and wetness. A dream of mine is to see the Christmas tree at Rockerfeller – touristy I know but a must in my eyes. Best way to sight-see is wear layers, as the same with London, you’ll be constantly in and out indoor attractions and their super warm heating. Visit Uniqlo (my fav) for light weight layers that are easy to stuff in your bag and avoid any backache if you’re spending an hour or two in a museum! I have this in fuschia pink *heart eyes*. Temps average between -5°C and 7°C from Dec – March.

Mid season (aka shoulder season):

Spring means warm-er weather, but you’ll still need those layers. This is a great time of year to visit and avoid peak school holiday times and the expensive hike in prices that comes with it. As it begins to hit June, this is optimal weather in NYC! I have traveled twice to New York at this time of year, and the weather ranges from cardigan weather to short shorts* (optional). It’s also right before the city becomes a sweaty, sticky mess! As it’s still not summer holidays, what better time to make the most of all the outdoor attractions (flea markets, beaches, Central park, hipster food markets…) there are in the city while still avoiding majority of the crowds. Temps range from 7°C to 26°C (Apr – June), and 10°C to 24°C (Oct – Sept).

High season:

Summer in New York. Although I have already been quick to label it as sticky, there is something special about summer there. People come out of shadows where they’ve been hiding from the cold and wet, and here is when you see the city alive and at its busiest! There’s theatre in the parks, rooftop cocktails, ice cream at Coney island, cycling in Central Park, afternoon tea down the most beautiful roads of Manhattan and of course, 4th of July fireworks. Temps fluctuate between 20°C and a toasty 30°C.

2. Sport seasons

Charge!! Add oil!!! #NYMetsgame #firstphotobomb! #nowstalgia

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Another thing worth noting when choosing what time of year to visit – what sports will be on when I’m visiting? Generally speaking, sport seasons in NY tend to be…

Basketball – Oct til Apr

Football – Sept til Dec

Baseball – Apr til Sept

Ice hockey – Oct til Apr

My top tips:

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This however is too friendly..

1. People are friendly, as long as you are super friendly too. Yes, they’ll laugh (or die of shock) when you say please but that’s not how they find out you’re a tourist. Trust me – they already knew – but the please and thank you’s will go a long way. Out of all the places I visited in the States, New York has always been the friendliest/most helpful, contrary to what I’ve heard.

2. People-watch all day long. I don’t know why but New York is made up of the most glamorous, loudest, busiest, hungriest and economically-divided inhabitants I’ve ever seen. It’s also where all the crazies are. And I’m not saying it as an insult, I always have the best time in New York and there’s a reason why everyone wants to live here.

3. Eat everything. You will never be so blessed to be in such an epicentre of good food, go out and try all the classics! Then try all the new foodie trends (hello home of cronut). Watch Man vs Food for inspiration – a must before traveling to any American city.

People are not lying when they say portion sizes are huge! Okay, in New York there is more control that some states, but it’s really true that you can get away with sharing a meal. My friend and I did when we went to Katz Deli (who can eat that much?) which also turned a $20 sandwich into an affordable one. We did find that some brunch-eries served smaller portions than say, a local diner.

4. It’s okay to not plan anything to do for one day and see where the day takes you. New York is one of those wonderful cities that things to do/see just seem to appear. For instance, one trip I reaaally wanted to visit Carrie’s house from SATC, and my friend and I chanced upon a once-a-year-only flea market. While flea markets get a terrible rep in Europe, the ones in New York are actually affordable and I found the most amazing vintage Mulberry holdall from the 80’s (I still couldn’t afford it, but it was a gem nonetheless).

5. If you have to pick one sightseeing tower to visit – pick Top of the Rock. Hands down, don’t even question it.

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Look at that view!

6. If you’re in NYC for more than 4 days, purchase a 7 day metro card. I know it’s $30, but for even 4 days that’s the same price as 3 journeys per day. As a budget traveler, this was a life saver and a valid alternative to getting a yellow cab. Yellow cabs are still affordable compared to London, but it still adds up. Plus, the subway is 24 hrs! Which gives you even more hours to make the most of your pass 🙂

How to plan your trip:

Since I couldn’t really remember much of what I had done the first time I went to NYC, my list of things to do was huge. I was also travelling with a friend, so combined together, both our lists became endless.

I recommend when starting to plan your trip, just writing a quick list of all the things you want to do there and that if you didn’t, it would make you cry. I mean it! The mere thought of it has to make you cry. Great, focus on those things because you then use those to start building your itinerary.

I knew that while in NYC, I had to:

1. Visit the 9/11 memorial

2. Visit the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock

3. Go to a baseball game (didn’t matter which one)

4. Eat at Katz Deli

5. Go to the Natural History Museum

6. Visit a flea market

7. See Carrie’s apartment

I then wrote a list of all the other things I would love to do, followed by a list of maybe activities. I then scoured the internet for 3 or 4 day itineraries and used them for inspiration as well as a guide as to what attractions are near to each other etc.

Here was my ‘final’ itinerary:

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It looks like a lot right? In reality, we didn’t get to do at least 1/3 of the things on my itinerary. But what it did do, was give me inspiration and a guide of where to start, and at least the flexibility to move afternoon’s of activity around if the weather fails you!

What I also love doing (and it seems like extra effort) but I make a note of minimum expected expenditure for each day. If I know entry costs will be $XX for this day, then I am more likely to know how much money to bring each day. I landed back in the UK having spent exactly within my overall budget (as of course I put in a buffer of $300~ to be flexible) and I had done/bought everything I had wanted to without the stress of overspending once I had got home. I also wrote how long it took to get to somewhere from our hotel. Now this is extra geeky, but it was a lifesaver when the weather unexpectedly changed from gloomy to roasting, and I knew I had enough time to run back to the hotel to change before meeting friends later that afternoon.

Another top tip – use Google maps to ‘star’ or save restaurants or attractions. There’s tons of free wifi if you know where to look, and often you can log in to find places nearby that you’ve already looked into visiting.

But that’s my basic itinerary – ask me a question on any of the places I’d visited!

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Food, Life, Photography, Travel

Prague ~ the new Paris

A couple weekends ago, my boyfriend and I were very lucky to spend 3 days in the beautiful city of Prague.

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It is so hard to pick just one picture that embodies the true beauty of Prague. Partly because there are just too many things that we loved about this historic city, but also because my camera lens is pretty crap for landscape photography =_=’

Before we left for our trip I was pretty skeptical about people’s fascination with Prague. I had so many preconceptions about it only being a stag do/cheap beer kind of destination. I was SO WRONG. Yessssss there we’re many groups of drunk guys with the groom-to-be always dressed as a lady (so weird), and hell yes the beer was only £1 (seriously), but Prague was so much more than that. Let me explain.

Food

Food was my biggest fear for this holiday, mainly because I have never been excited over the thought of having meat and dumplings for dinner. Not the scrummy and delicious Asian kind, but the stodgy, food-baby-making bread or potato kind.

So meh.

Luckily for me, and luckily for Alex because I google everythingggg to death, we managed to pick some amazing places to eat.

Lobkowicz Palace cafe

I am a firm believer in not eating at tourist attractions, but sometimes you just gotta eat! £££ 7/10

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Special of the day – Apple strudel, and a parma ham and cheese panini

Grosseto marina

Fancy Italian riverboat style restaurant with views of the castle over the river. A solid 7/10 for the food, but really you come for the views. ££ 9/10

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Saporita pizza and Ravioli con polpetine di pollo e prosciutto

Cafe Lourve

Fancy, art nouveau style 100 yr old cafe where both Albert Einstein and Frank Kafka got their Parisian brunch on. Lunch set menu is only in Czech but very good value. ££ 9/10

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Aperol spritz – everyone was drinking them!

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Classic Sacher – A chocolate cake laced with apricot jam and homemade watermelon ice cream

U Kroka

Our favourite of the trip, this truly is the place to come try Czech Pork Knuckle. Great value and right near the old castle grounds. ££ 10/10

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Roasted pork knee (or knuckle) – this was the portion listed in the ‘Manly’ section of the menu. A dish so filling you didn’t even need sides!

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Roasted duck with apples, red cabbage, homemade bread and potato dumplings

Klasterni pivovar Strahov

17th century brewery restored as a restaurant. Staff were grumpy but food was more-ish, the beer even better. ££ 7/10

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Wheat and ‘Amber’ beer

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Goulash in a bread bowl (tacky I know!) and Sirloin of beef in a cream sauce with cranberries and dumplings.

Things to do

Prague as a city-break is one of those cities where you can always find something to do, whether you plan ahead or not. Despite not speaking any Czech (I reeeeaaally wanted to try) I felt the entire city was pretty much accessible to me – not just because most people we encountered spoke English, but also because there were so many things you could just stumble upon and explore.

Prague castle (Pražský hrad)

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An afternoon can easily be spent on the castle grounds, with plenty of churches and museums to keep you occupied. If you’d rather see just the best bits (as we did) then 200 korunas gets you into St Vitus Cathedral, the grand royal hall, St George’s Basilica and the Golden Lanes. Even if you decide not to explore all of the buildings or wanting to make the most of a sunny day – the views from the castle grounds of the city below are enchanting.

Church of Saint Nicolas

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By far my favourite of all the religious sites, it’s (almost) gaudy gold finishings is what makes it so special. We sat in here for a good half hour just taking it all in (and cooling down from the sun)!

Charles bridge

The tourist destination that I was most looking forward to photographing, the internet has hundreds of pictures capturing Charles Bridge at its most romantic – lamps glowing through a cloak of thick mist! I was so disappointed when all I could see/capture were swarms of tourists and caricature artists – boo!

The John Lennon wall

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Although I’m not particularly a Lennon/Beatles fan, I loved the wall! Insanely bright and AMAZING to photograph!

Wenceslas square

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We didn’t spend much time here but it was worthwhile to go having just been to the communism museum. Not so much because the museum was great but more for being able to put what we had learnt there into perspective. For those who love makeup, they sell Inglot at Debenhams and have a Sephora in Wenceslas square!

Old Town square

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If you’re only in Prague for a weekend like we were, then this is one of the best places to just sit and soak in some Prague atmosphere. Hell yes it’s probably one of the most touristy places you could go (and for many would make you run a mile) but it’s touristy for a reason! A mixture of historical charm (the Astronomical clock, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn) and commercialisation of a touristy hotspots (American students promoting bar crawls, and tours on Segways) we happily paid three times as much for a beer just to soak it all in and people watch! Yay!

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If you walk a few minutes away from the square (and notice the crowds have thinned) this is where you start discovering some of Prague’s best drinking spots – Chapeau Rogue, Bugsy’s and Hemingway bar (my favourite) are all cosy, chilled and cheap!

Riegrovy Sady

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We visited this beer garden during the Germany vs France World Cup quarter-final match where they had set up a big screen with tons of benches and beer/food stands lining the garden. Full of expats, tourists and locals alike, the actual park itself offers yet another place to overlook the city.

Vysehrad castle

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This serene castle and grounds are two minutes away from my top pick restaurant – U Kroka. An impressively tall, fort-like wall surrounds the grounds which makes for an awesome first impression. Couples and tourists line the castle walls, which from up there you can enjoy an entirely different view point of the city, with Prazsky hrad as the crown of the horizon. Further in you come across more locals walking their dogs but I would highly recommended allocating and evening to spend here during your visit.

Peddle boating on the Vltava river

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No messing with the captain. Serious business!

200 koruna (about £5.50) for an hour! Such a bargain and was such a great way to spend our last morning in Prague. Wanting to make the most of ten warm weather while simultaneously avoiding being near other people (haha), we paddle boat-ed up and down the Vltava between the Charles bridge and the Dancing House. We even spotted a few fellow paddle boaters who had remembered to bring beers onboard!

Overall
I loved Prague! Although beach holidays are more my thing, Prague was perfect for a long weekend.

For 3 days we paid:
Flights – £75 p/p return with Wizzair (never again!)
Hotel – £85 p/p for 3 nights at a ‘5 star’
Spending money – £120 p/p

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