A weekend in Northumberland

A weekend in Northumberland

Northumberland you stole our hearts. It turns out that all it takes for D and I to be happy is a beach, fish and chips, a place of historical interest and a boat trip. (Maybe also a day off work). We visited not one but 2 castles; Alnwick Castle, where much of the first 2 Harry Potter films were shot; and Bamburgh Castle which is just beautiful and overlooks the sea.

Considering we did everything at a relaxed pace we managed to fit a lot in. I really and wholeheartedly recommend taking a boat trip from Seahouses. Apart from seeing some of the beautiful coastline that the UK has to offer, we also got to see some adorable seals and puffins (the smell of guano was a bit ripe though).

Obviously being at the seaside we have to take the opportunity to have some of the best fish and chips we’ve had in a long time overlooking the sea.

We hit the jackpot with our B&B and I wholeheartedly recommend it. The room and bath were beautiful and the owners were so kind. We stayed at the Old Station House just outside of Belford. I could not recommend the place enough.

I think with planning a wedding its sometimes tempting to focus purely on the day ahead rather than enjoying your time as an engaged couple. I’m so glad we took an opportunity to spend time together in such a blissful and relaxed surroundings.

If you’re looking for a relaxed and reasonably priced break in the UK I couldn’t recommend Northumberland (both the coastal area and the National Park) enough.

The Florida Road Trip

The Florida Road Trip

Oh Florida you stole my heart! Our final leg of the trip was preceded by a rather disastrous flight to Jacksonville from Washington DC, but we had a wonderful time in Florida.

We started in Northern Florida at the beaches of Jacksonville and St Augustine, enjoying relaxing on the white sand and swimming in the sea. We followed our day at the beach with seafood dinner at Red Lobster. I’m still dreaming about the dinner we had there.

Other the next couple of days we visited two natural springs. On my birthday we had a wonderful time at the Devil’s Den snorkelling in a fossil cave. The following day we swam, kayaked and ate delicious barbeque food at Manatee Springs. It was great to see the wildlife, but we were both pretty wary of the large snake on the steps to the water.

Following our adventures in Northern Florida we headed to Orlando. I’ll be honest, I wanted to love Orlando but I didn’t. We had a good time there, but it was so much busier and more commercial than Northern Florida. It didn’t really help that I got the worst cold and one of the days I was too ill to do what we had planned.

In terms of the Orlando parks we both loved Islands of Adventure. We somehow managed to go on a day where we didn’t have to queue for anything and we managed to walk straight onto all of the rides. The dream day at any theme park! Be aware though, we both got absolutely soaked on the water rides, down to wringing out our underwear! We also went to Typhoon Lagoon at Disneyland and had a relaxing day at the water park.

On our final day we visited Magic Kingdom. There were some elements to Disney’s Magic Kingdom that I loved – the Castle, the shows and attractions. However, it made me realise I am not really one for crowds and the queues were insane. If I were to go back to Disney I would probably pick one of the other parks to visit – I know its the big one to visit but it was a bit much in the heat for D who isn’t really a Disney fan.

All in all we loved Florida. For those interested we upgraded our hire car to a minivan for the extra space and for the ease of it. (Thank you D for driving!) We stayed in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Palatka, Ocala and Orlando. I wouldn’t recommend driving too much in Orlando; we actually returned our car in Orlando and used the hotel shuttles, the bus services and Ubers.

I know the main draw for a lot of visitors to Florida is the parks but we both really felt that if we had gone straight to Orlando we would have missed out on some really special experiences. Although theme parks are fun, swimming in springs in the sun and walking across beautiful beaches felt pretty once in a lifetime and was exactly what we needed at the time in life that we visited. It gave us the chance to just enjoy being engaged and let life happen for a while.

Also, a final thought for the last of my America posts. Buying premium economy tickets for our flight home was possibly the best £70 per ticket I’ve ever spent.

Washington DC

Washington DC

We had a completely different experience of Washington DC to a lot of visitors as we had a very knowledgeable guide. My friend lives and works in Washington DC and has really made the most of living in the capital city and all it has to offer.

We started our visit at a barbeque restaurant (where I was so excited to eat that I didn’t take any pictures). We continued the next day in this vein with a visit to Old Ebbitt Grill which serves delicious food to diplomats, government staff and locals. The brunch was divine and really set us up for the Monuments Walk.

The whole of Washington DC has been perfectly designed so that everything is aligned, making it straightforward to navigate. I particularly liked the reflecting pool and the Roosevelt monuments. The Monuments Walk is the thing to visit in Washington if you only have half a day to see the most famous sights, including the White House.  I only wish we had been there early enough in the year for the cherry blossom festival.

D and I rounded off our day with a visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Washington has so many amazing museums open to the public for free. If anybody is visiting Washington DC soon my friend particularly recommends the Arboretum.

Good Morning Baltimore

Good Morning Baltimore

Following our visit to Philadelphia we spent the day in Baltimore. We barely had time to drip our bags off before heading to the harbour and the National Aquarium. It was apparently unseasonably hot in Baltimore and we really felt it!

The harbour in Baltimore is pretty beautiful, especially on a clear day. As it was a Friday night everybody was relaxing in the bars and restaurants on the waterfront. If you love seafood, Maryland is the one of the best places to go (especially for the crab cakes).

The National Aquarium was obviously impressive, and we liked looking around all the different habitats and it was well curated. The staff were all absolutely passionate about marine biology and were open to questions from adults and children alike.

Although Baltimore is a friendly city, there are areas where it feels a bit unsafe, especially at night, however the area we stayed in was more studenty and felt very safe.

Embarrassingly I lost our Airbnb keys, making the trip a bit more eventful, but our Airbnb host was so kind about it and we ended the day eating pizza in our quirky apartment.

Before we left we had just enough time to visit the Poe house but not enough time to actually go inside! I would go back to Baltimore as with Philadelphia I felt that we only touched the surface on the city. It had a cool Bohemian vibe in the area we stayed and there was certainly more to explore as Baltimore has a big artists scene.

Beautiful Philadelphia

Beautiful Philadelphia

Following New York we had a day each in Philadelphia in the city; however due to having limited time we made the most of our trip by only having a day each in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

There is so much history in the older American cities. To us Philadelphia felt like a cross between New York and Amsterdam. There’s something very laid back about the city. We started our visit by eating cheese steaks in one of the parks before taking in some of the historical building and seeing the Liberty Bell. We learned something about the early days of American independence, went to an exhibit in the Peale house and toasted our engagement in City Tavern. I’m not 100% sure that everyone in the Tavern really understood our Northern English accents though but we both had some Olde Fashionde drinks which were welcome on such a hot day.

For a slice of foodie heaven we stepped into the Reading Terminal Market. Which made us extremely hungry and would make the biggest foodie excited. The range of food inside that market was exciting and mouthwatering. If you’re in the area is it well worth a visit and it was extremely tempting to fill our suitcases with salami, pasta sauces and cheesecake.

In a total change of scene, we were told of the NFL draft and we followed the hoards of football fans. Although neither of us have any idea about American football the excitement was infectious. We had fun perusing all of the stands and watching the commentary in the sunset. Although it was unplanned to be in Philadelphia for the event it really felt like we were getting a taste of the USA.

In Philadelphia we stayed in an Airbnb, it felt like such luxury to 1. spread out our possessions and properly repack our cases. 2. Have a bath instead of a shower. We barely spent any money once we were actually in Philadelphia as so many of the places to visit are free or very inexpensive. My one regret about the visit was that we couldn’t get a picture near the infamous Rocky steps due to the Football draft, but it was such an experience we couldn’t complain too much.

 

New York and an announcement

New York and an announcement

 

Hello! Its been so long! I must apologise for not filling you in sooner on life, our travels to America and what I’ve been up to lately. The two biggest bits of news:

  1. D and I went on an amazing trip to the USA covering New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Shenendoah, Northern Florida and Orlando.
  2. We got engaged in New York.

New York really lived up to the hype. Growing up the media and friends and family talk about how amazing New York was and truly we had a fantastic time. There’s so much to see and experience, I feel like I could go back and still not do everything I’d love to do.

We stayed in a tiny hotel room in a hotel off 8th Avenue. Apart from the fact that we could only open the cases on the bed, it didn’t really matter as with only 5 days and the whole of New York to explore it was really more of a base to sleep and for that we really only needed somewhere safe with a comfy bed!

 

We walked about 15 miles each day around the city (pack comfy shoes) and did a lot of the iconic things but I think my favourites were:

  1. Watching not one but two musicals on Broadway – we got to see Josh Grobin in Natasha and the Great Comet and we saw the opening night of Bandstand. We actually got engaged on the stage at the Imperial Theatre after watching the Great Comet.
  2. Going to Central Park and seeing iconic places from films and tv programmes.
  3. Seeing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (we love a bit of History).
  4. The shopping. Need I say more?
  5. Watching Twin Forks in Chinatown.
  6. Watching Wrestling in a Catholic School Gym in Brooklyn – although I was so jet lagged I fell asleep for a chunk of the match.
  7. Randomly happening upon Katz’s deli from “When Harry Met Sally”.
  8. The food! Although we didn’t really actively seek out trendy places to eat we certainly ate really well. We ate in a lovely diner, had some wonderful Chinese Food, ate a lot of pizza and had some delicious pizza in a local deli.

 

In summary, a trip to New York really doesn’t have to break the bank. We saved a lot before our trip but some of our top tips for keeping costs down were:

  1. Use the Subway. You can get weekly Subway tickets for about $37 which makes it so much easier to get across the city.
  2. Food needn’t break the bank. We ate in diners, pizza shops, delis and fast food restaurants. We ate hot dogs from a hot dog stand and we ate a lot of fast food. We found that if you eat in the more residential areas of Manhattan or Brooklyn there is a lot of great food. Notably when we went to the Railroad Diner in the East Village the food was fantastic, the staff were so lovely and the portions were so ridiculous we ate at 10am and didn’t need to eat until the evening.
  3. If you want to watch something on Broadway – Google Rush Tickets. We got amazing seats to see Natasha and the Great Comet for under $40 (I forget the actual amounts). I actually cried during the final song, something I had wanted to do since I got into theatre was to see a musical on Broadway. You can usually get Rush Tickets for certain musicals if you buy tickets when theatres open at 10am.
  4. You don’t have to pay the full admission price for the Natural History Museum – it is a suggested donation only.
  5. Plan ahead, we looked a lot of ticket prices before we went and D put together a vague itinerary so we knew what we were likely to be spending that day and took advice from friends and online reviews to determine what we wanted to do.
  6. Don’t feel like you have to have a whole new fashionable wardrobe to fit in with the locals! This won’t apply to a lot of readers but it will apply to some. It is really worth noting that although there are some truly stylish people in New York; Sex and the City is a myth. Being on the Subway a lot we noticed we didn’t really stand out as tourists for dressing how we usually do and like everywhere there is a huge variety in how people dress.

 

If we had just done New York as a short break we would still have had one of the most memorable trips of our lives. I feel like New York was kind to us and we left in a happy bubble, engaged and excited for the rest of our trip.

 

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands

A few weeks ago D and I went on a jaunt to Amsterdam. I think its safe to say our 4 days in the city reflected its vibe really well. We stayed at the Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy, a design hotel that overlooks the waterfront. Within the hotel itself (which is a bit like a maze or like something from a film) there is a chance to explore various art installations dotted around the hotel. But I think given the short duration of our stay I will split the rest of this travel blog into sections.

Getting around: Amsterdam is famous for its cycling, however we actually ended up walking an awful lot so take comfy shoes! There is also a decent and relatively inexpensive tram network which makes the city pretty easy to get around. The train link to the airport is very reliable so getting to your hotel takes only a little bit of forward planning.

Culture: we visited the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. I really would recommend buying tickets for these in advance, particularly the Anne Frank House as they only let limited numbers of people in at once. The Van Gogh museum tells the story of his rather unusual and sad life and his artistic development through a collection of wonderful paintings. Something about being there and actually looking at the texture of the paintings as well as the actual paintings is probably pretty educational for artists of all experience levels. The Anne Frank museum was sad and uplifting all at once. Something about seeing the impact of the holocaust through the experience of 8 people rather than by reading statistics and other historical sources makes it easier to understand on a more personal level. The Anne Frank house has been restored to how it was when they were hiding there and while there are stark reminders of a family who were living in extreme difficulty, it tries to bring home a message of understanding others to try and prevent something on this scale happening again. Anne Frank was a rather wonderful writer and the museum definitely tries to encourage the view of her as a witty, clever but very real girl with her own faults rather that making her seem perfect.

We also had a trip to the Zoo (it was nice to be out in the sun after being inside a lot) and it provided a bit of light relief after being overwhelmed with culture and history. We also stopped by the Sex Museum (it was very cheap) which was as you’d expect. If you’re from Yorkshire and I say it was like the Yorvik Centre but with an 18 Certification you’d understand what I mean but it is extremely tongue in cheek.

Boat trips: you must go on a boat trip. This is a city with canals and you can see so much at a slower pace. There are also dinner cruise options if you’re feeling fancy.

Food and drink: The Netherlands are famous for bakeries and waffles (why do you think I went) and Amsterdam did not disappoint! Lovely cake, lovely stroopwafel. I cannot enthuse too much about it. It is also really inexpensive to eat out in restaurants and there are some amazing options for snacking and street food. Buy patates, you won’t regret it.

In terms of drinking and bars there is really something for most tastes and the atmosphere is really relaxed. Early evening drinking for the win!

Shopping: Amsterdam is amazing for shopping! Take full advantage (unless your debit card was frauded the week before like mine). Also not to be missed – trips to cheese shops, bakieries and the Bloomenmarket.

Where do you recommend we visit next?