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The Journey Begins!

I have loved travelling all my life and enjoy nothing more than the anticipation of heading to a new destination and spending hours trawling travel blogs, TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet guide books getting the itinerary in order!

My love of travel blogs has inspired me to start my own and share reviews and advice on places I have been!

Thailand – Pattaya

In February we went to Pattaya for a week of winter sun – the same week that the beast from the east hit the UK so we missed all that drama! 

We chose Pattaya as we have been to Thailand before – will do a bigger post on that next – and wanted somewhere we knew we would have a nice time. We booked via Expedia – flew with Etihad from Edinburgh and we stayed in the Hard Rock Hotel which was epic. 

Pattaya is much more Westernised and ex-pat themed compared to the parts of Thailand we had been to before. There are a lot of British pubs, Irish pubs etc. but there are still some authentic Thai experiences and great restaurants. 

Attractions:

Floating Markets – the floating markets get some ropey reviews on Trip Advisor but I quite liked it – yes you have to pay to get in and there are some things that are a bit overpriced but it is still a nice place to visit. We wandered around the different stalls / small shops and had a coffee (iced Americano for the win!) and some meat on a stick (you could get crocodile but I just played it safe with chicken). There was lots to see – little shows being performed, people dressed up in costumes, shops offering little crafty items and clothes. Spent a couple of hours here before heading back to hotel. 

Sanctuary of Truth – again this gets quite ropey reviews on Trip Advisor I think mostly due to the entry free of 500baht but we went along anyway. The sanctuary looks 100s of years old but was built in the early 80s and is made totally of wood and no cement or anything. It is right on the waterfront so the views are beautiful. The sanctuary has 2 floors and the structure is really pretty to look at and see the level of detail that has gone into it. We stayed and ate lunch in the restaurant there – some tidy pad thai. 

Walking Street – the main nightlife strip in Pattaya is the walking street but to be honest it is disgusting. It stinks like raw sewage, it’s dirty and full of shady looking stripper places. We only went to a couple of bars right at the far away end just to say we had been! Not a chance were we going into any of the clubs. The bars between our hotel and the walking tour were much better. There was a row of open fronted bars that had really good happy hours and live music and also Soi 7 and 8 are less seedy and more fun to hang out in. 

Restaurants – Two restaurants that really stood out to us were Mai Thai and Jasmin’s Cafe . Mai Thai we went to on the day that there was an alcohol ban as it was a Buddhist day but this restaurant served wine in little mugs so if the police went past they wouldn’t see the alcohol. The food was really delicious and service was really attentive and good. Jasmin’s Café was a bit smaller but was similar in terms of quality of food and service which were both fantastic! Would recommend both for authentic Thai food. 

Rooftop bar – Horizon at the Hilton hotel had the coolest rooftop bar I have been to – the views were breath taking. The cocktails are pricey but we went for happy hour and it was 2 for 1 – I had the dirty martini – very very strong so it’s value for money as they certainly do the job. The hotel itself is beautiful as well – if I was ever to go back I would want to stay there. 

Hotel – saving the best ’til last – the star of the show for our holiday was our hotel. We stayed at the Hard Rock hotel and we just loved it. It was decorated in classic Hard Rock style, very rock and roll themed. Our room was big with good channels on the TV (I like a bit of National Geographic when taking my afternoon nap which becomes a ritual on holiday). One of the highlights was the pool – it was really big with a pool side bar, a rock pool with sand in it for kids and loads of nice comfy sun loungers and cabanas. We hired a cabana – was £15 for the day and included 2 soft drinks and 2 bottles of water plus the staff were more attentive at coming round for drinks orders. The cabana had a wee fridge into and (confession time) we snuck in a few of our own beers and rum into the fridge (oops!) 

Overall – I love Thailand – the people, the weather, the food so I really enjoyed my week here but if you want a more cultural experience then I would recommend the other places we went to – Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Koh Samui. 

USA Part 1 – New York

In August/September 2018 we visited America for 2 weeks. Normally we would book all flights and accommodation separately ourselves but we saw a really good deal on Barrhead Travel (a UK travel agent) Facebook page. We had 4 nights in New York, 3 nights in San Francisco and 4 nights in Las Vegas. We flew with American Airlines and British Airways.

New York: We arrived at JFK in the evening and got an Uber to our hotel . We were staying at the Distrikt hotel which is just next to the Port Authority and 2mins from Times Square. We went out for a walk about – Time Square is so bright at night that it felt like day time. We ended up in an Irish bar for some dinner and a couple of drinks. Bit of a quiet one as we were tired from travelling. 

The next day we were up early and went on the hunt for this bagel place I had read about called “Best Bagel and Coffee”. I had a bacon and egg bagel and iced Americano. This was probably my most popular drink on holiday (and in normal life, even in the depths of Edinburgh winter!) After breakfast, we walked up to Central Park to hire bikes. (https://centralparkbiketours.com/bike-rental/) It was really good value and when we called up to extend our hire for another hour they were really accommodating. 

We cycled around the park for 2-3hours, pausing here and here to see the sights – the John Lennon memorial, the lawn, the Shakespeare garden – and stopped for an iced Americano at the Loeb Boathouse.

After the park, we stopped for a couple of drinks at an Irish bar to cool down. We wandered back to Times Square for lunch and went to a rib place called Virgil’s Real BBQ. I had the BIGGEST shrimp salad I have ever seen in my life. The portions were the stereotypical American super size – and I wasn’t complaining! It was delicious. 

That evening we went to the Plaza for cocktails and dinner. My boyfriend is so clumsy so managed to spill my 25USD Cosmo all over the table. The waitress promptly replaced it which was so nice. The setting for the restaurant and the hotel itself are just stunning. Really enjoyed our experience there and a nice treat to start the holiday. 

The next day we had pre-booked tickets for the World Trade Centre memorial and the Statue of Liberty. I would 100% recommend pre-booking online for both. The queues were ridiculous. I have absolutely zero patience so if anyone reading this is like me, you will thank yourself for pre-booking. 

World Trade Centre: I had visited NYC a few years before when the WTC memorial was much smaller. My mum was actually in NYC when 9/11 happened – she was staying in the Marriott next door and was due to be in a meeting when the first plane hit but her meeting was pushed back an hour – she managed to escape and is totally fine but what a terrifying day. The world will never forget 9/11 and I am thankful each day that my mum managed to escape. Visiting the memorial museum was really emotional. We purchased the audio guide and it is narrated by Robert De Niro which is nice. The audio guide also guides you around the different sections of the museum so you see things in the right order. We spent a good few hours here, walking around and listening to the stories and hearing the different perspectives from people who were there on the day. The museum is mostly in the basement of the WTC area, underneath the memorial pools and it really helps bringing the location to life. The amount of artefacts and items that were salvaged from the events that day is impressive. The only thing I found odd was one woman taking a selfie next to the wreckage of a fire truck. Just don’t. Overall the whole experience is tastefully put together even the gift shop is a quiet affair tucked in a back corner. Would definitely recommend. 

Afterwards we wandered down to Wall Street in preparation of the Statue of Liberty experience. Wall Street is pretty underwhelming but it is cool to see the big stock exchange building. We went to a sushi place for lunch which was tasty then headed over to a seafood grill place and had a drink in the bar before the boat. The only annoying thing about this area is the AMOUNT of people trying to sell you tours. 

Statue of Liberty: Again I would say to pre-book. I did it a few weeks before we left and I couldn’t get the full statue access to the crown level as it was sold out. We boarded the ferry and took the short trip over to the island. The boat and the island give you spectacular views of Manhatten. 

We walked up to the fort bit of the statue (the highest bit we could get to with our tickets) and had a look around then came down and walked the perimeter of the island. There is no avoiding the gift shop and I treated myself to the foam statue of liberty face thing (see pics!). We had a drink at the café and then headed back. 

I think if I went back I would do a guided tour to get some more of the history of the statue. 

That night we went to a Yankees game – they were playing the Detroit Tigers. We got the tickets on resale from someone – was literally 3USD each. Our seats were quite high up but the atmosphere was AMAZING. We had chicken and beers and watched the game for a few hours. Love the music playing and everyone chanting and getting involved. Felt very New Yorker after it! 

On our final main day in NYC, we walked the High Line which was really cool – it is a converted train line which is now a walk way / city garden that runs through Manhatten and conveniently ends just near the Chelsea market. We absolutely loved the Chelsea market – so many fun shops, bars and restaurants. We had a couple of snacky bits from a butcher place and the sushi place and a flight of wine from the bar (would recommend all 3 – Corkbuzz (wine), Lobster Place (sushi) and Dickson’s (meat!) Also had a wee shopping spree in Anthropologie! 

Afterwards we walked to the Friends apartment block – instantly felt like I was on the TV show. Then we walked around a bit more and got an Uber back to the hotel for a rest. For our last night out we went to a steakhouse in Hells Kitchen called K Rico. It was incredible – South American flair and amazing fillet steak. We had a trio of guacamole to start with as well – bacon bits in avocado was an interesting surprise! 

We then went on a little bar crawl through the city to get to the 230 Rooftop bar on 5th Avenue. The views of the Empire State building were stunning. There was a massive queue to get in but the doorman let us jump the line (no idea why and was not hanging about to find out). Had a few drinks and photos then home time.

The next morning, we had to head to airport, Newark this time, for our flight to San Francisco which I’ll talk about in part 2!

Belgium!

My boyfriend and I just returned from a weekend in Belgium. It was in Belgium that I decided I really was going to start a travel blog so it seems fitting it’s the first real post!

We travelled from Friday – Sunday with RyanAir (I say this every time but honestly this has to be the last flight with them) and stayed in the MotelOne in Brussels city centre. (https://www.motel-one.com/en/hotels/brussels/hotel-brussels/ )

The real fun part of the booking was realising that I had booked Brussels Charleroi rather than International. No biggie – booked the shuttle bus to Brussels (Flibco seem to have the monopoly on the shuttle bus situation in Charleroi – https://www.flibco.com/en#/booking ) one thing to watch though is that it doesn’t actually take you to Brussels Central (clearly in cahoots with RyanAir) but it stops at Brussels Midi train station which is 1 stop from Brussels Central. We decided to walk the half hour to our hotel which would have been fine without the suitcases!

We arrived at the hotel and check in was a breeze. Hotel is modern, the bar was heaving which I’ve never really seen in a mid-range hotel bar! Our room was really nice and clean, nice comfy bed!

Day 1: Arrived in Brussels and ditched suitcases and swiftly went for a wander about town. The Christmas markets were opening that night so wandered around and had a look at the stalls. Our flight was at a funny time so we’d missed lunch but too early for dinner so we stopped for a wee snack and drink at Monte Cristo bar and had a cava, beer and 2 tapas (nachos carne and patatas bravas) for €20

Link: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g188644-d14009773-Reviews-Monte_Cristo-Brussels.html?m=19905

We then wandered on and had a snoop in the Irish bar O’Reillys for a Belgian White beer – very continental! Then headed on – found a great wee bar called Time Out which was playing Christmas songs and had really nice Cava (only €4 a glass)

Link: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attraction_Review-g188644-d12137441-Reviews-O_Reilly_s_Irish_Pub-Brussels.html?m=19905

It was quite late by time we went for dinner – we went to a tapas restaurant round corner – we had king prawns, meatballs, bravas and a mini paella to share with some red wine (hazy on the cost of the meal!)

Link: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g188644-d4953440-Reviews-Bar_a_Tapas-Brussels.html?m=19905

Day 2: Leuven!

We got up and had breakfast on the Grand Place – I know it’s the main tourist trap square but it is beautiful! The place we went to was ROASTING hot but the food was tasty (and we came back again the next day!)

Link: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g188644-d1173464-Reviews-La_Brouette-Brussels.html?m=19905

We caught the train to Leuven with the intention of going to the Stella Artois distillery tour. I tried to book online before we went but it was full until 2019 but then TripAdvisor said just to chance getting on a Saturday – no dice. The guy was really nice but there was no space for us on tour so we just went a wander about Leuven, had a really nice lunch – moules frites Belgian style – then another walk about and a Belgian waffle at the Leffe cafe before heading back to Brussels.

Link: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g188669-d3580725-Reviews-L_Etoile_D_Or-Leuven_Flemish_Brabant_Province.html?m=19905

We went for a wee nap before heading out for dinner – we went to Mozart More than Ribs for a steak dinner – another place that was ridiculously hot. It’s so annoying that places go intense with the heat – I hate being hot! The food was amazing though!

Link: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g188644-d14788983-Reviews-Mozart_More_Than_Just_Ribs-Brussels.html?m=19905

Day 3: Brussels!

On our final day we did the Brussels walking tour from Sandemans – we have done so many of these tours on our travels and I think they are the best way to see a city and get some insights from someone local. The tour was really interesting and we saw most of the city centre sites!

Link: http://www.neweuropetours.eu/Brussels/en/home?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIkYHN0tmE3wIVzZztCh3vFwO9EAAYASAAEgIDjfD_BwE

We had our final dinner in Chez Leon on the recommendation of the tour guide! It was hot but not roasting inside. Highlight was the mushrooms on toast!

Link: https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g188644-d694788-Reviews-Chez_Leon-Brussels.html?m=19905

Then it was time to head home 😦

I feel like I’ve posted a lot of links here but I want to share all the places I thought were really good and would recommend to people!

Until the next adventure ✈️✈️