Day 5 – Saturday 4th April – The Family Guy Slot Discovery

Saturday was our least productive day of the trip. We started out lazily packing away some of our (okay, my) purchases as the room looked like something had exploded in there. We ended up grabbing a slightly unorthodox breakfast of fun flavoured ice cream at the BLVD Creamery, finally using another chunk of our resort credit. They did have an innovative flavour selection, but the staff would benefit from painting a smile on their faces, they didn’t look to happy to be there!

The afternoon passed away in a bit of a whirl as we walked up and down the strip without much of a plan, casino hopping on our way. We explored the Venetian and Palazzo casino and shoppes, getting majorly distracted by some Family Guy slot machines. These were the kindest machines to me of the whole trip, but I got cocky and started max-betting and it went downhill quickly from there. I try to look upon it as paying for entertainment though, as those bonuses had me giggling!

Along the way we had a browse of Miracle Mile and yet more slots in the Planet Hollywood casino. We couldn’t resist a lunch stop at Earl of Sandwich for lunch, I really wish that chain would come to England. They need to expand the seating area there though; it always seems to be packed full when we drop by. I was disappointed to see they had taken my trusty favourite (the jerk chicken) off the menu but you can’t really go wrong so I gambled on something new.1.jpgBellies full, we headed back to the Monte Carlo pool area on the tram to soak up some more sunshine and relax in the lazy river. It was still party central, and the wave pool was especially full but we just joined in, bopping to the tunes whilst the waves threw us around. I always assumed the Monte Carlo pool area was a lot bigger than it actually is, but it was a nice bonus to have it there for some chill time when we weren’t sprinting about the place!

For some ridiculous reason, I decided that I needed to take Chris to the Wicked Spoon Buffet. His last trip the most high end of buffet choices was the Wynn and I felt he needed to experience a good buffet to cancel out the dodgy ones we’d visited so far. It was a toss up between this and Bacchanal, but as I love the Cosmopolitan we came here. I don’t know why I eschewed another decent restaurant possibility for another quantity over quality experience, perhaps it was too much sun?

Luckily for us there were no queues and we were seated right away. My last visit to the Wicked Spoon was a disappointing one and I wanted to give it one final shot in the hope it had improved over the past three years. It was OK, better than the other buffets but for the price we could have gone somewhere better. Some items were tasty, the fried chicken and Mexican options were good. However these are generally cheap foods so we didn’t get much value for money there!

The pastas, meats and Indian foods were a mixed bag, not that we expect to find much decent Indian food abroad, I think we’re spoilt for choice on this at home. The dessert station was most disappointing though; they looked incredible but were definitely style over substance. Most things either lacked flavour or tasted the same as everything else, just sweet and sugary. I should have known better on this, so this is a definitely a note to self for future trips – no buffets in future except one trip to Bacchanal as I really enjoyed their food.

I spied some more Paradise Fishing slots in the Cosmo afterward, so we stopped to play a while longer – I definitely spent more than double my gambling budget today. Interactive machines are so much more of a game that I easily get carried away, I guess that was their idea! We stopped back in at the lucky cat again, they told me ‘Five is your lucky number’. Nothing particularly exciting there and no prizes!2.jpg

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Day 4 – Friday 3rd April – Dodgy Food Choices and Downtown Shenanigans

I woke up at 7am, still feeling full! I clearly needed to condition myself ahead of time for all of this eating! We had a MyVegas coupon for the Mandalay Bay breakfast buffet that could only be used today. On second thoughts I wish we had sacrificed it, we weren’t really feeling it but for some reason we headed along anyway. The whole MyVegas experience was very much quality over quantity (at least with our choices, which were poor) but we were hoping they couldn’t really screw up a breakfast.

We took the shuttle down to a huge queue, presumably because it was Easter Friday, and once I was inside I had some serious déjà vu! I had been here before, possibly on one of my first trips 7 years ago, and nothing had changed. We were seated next to a table of 6 delightful children who were basically climbing on our table. Their parents were again more interested in gossiping with each other than watching over them.

I remembered not liking this buffet the first time around, but I didn’t realise it was the Mandalay Bay. Even Chris didn’t go wild on the food here, which shows the quality was just bad! The selection was small, and the food had more grease than it did flavour. We definitely wont get wrapped up in the allure of MyVegas next time!

Afterward we had a spot of slot time, Avatar wasn’t kind to me. We planned to visit the Monte Carlo pool but it was still mostly in the shade so we canned that idea, and took the tram down to Bellagio to see the conservatory in daylight. I really enjoyed this theme, very colourful and floral. We meandered around without too much of a plan, we had done most of the sights before on previous trips. I finally found a Paradise Fishing slot inside the Margharitaville casino.

Chris was in the mood for a mid-day slushie so we went to Purple Zebra in the Linq promenade to get a silly cup and fill it with a mix of flavours. We sampled them on our way around too, they were tasty but not particularly strong.

By now the sun had came out, so we strolled back up the strip stopping at the new Bally’s shops that were half open. I tried a free sample of some crazy neon tie-dye looking ice cream which was apparently cotton candy flavoured. It was nice but I dread to think what goes into it to make it that neon!

Today we had no real plan, there were no major ‘must sees’ on our list, this trip was more about eating, shopping, just taking some time out of our manic work schedules. This is one of the main reasons I am disappointed in myself for not taking advantage of the great dining opportunities! We strolled along across the various bridges, people watching on our way until we made it back to our hotel to get changed for the pool.

The sun was still shining and we spent a few hours basking at the pool and relaxing in the lazy river. A short while after it became very Spring Break-y with some ‘busting tunes’ and a ‘booty shaking’ contest! This made me feel a little old! We were like flies on the wall for a while just watching the happenings around us, before heading in to get ready for dinner.1.jpgWe had quite a chunk of resort credit to use (another reason why we didn’t sample all of the restaurants I wanted to) so we headed to the fairly new pizza place ‘100 Degrees’. The pizzas here were kind of a build your own experience, with a subway style ordering system. In retrospect we should have chosen more of a sit down style place and kept this one for lunch. They did have the funky coca cola experience machines so I tried a raspberry diet coke for the first time.

Chris went for the traditional crust which was delicious and freshly made, whilst I chose the thin one which was less appetising, kind of like a slightly stale tortilla wrap. It came out of a packet too – big mistake! It filled a hole and the toppings were nice, but if I went back I would definitely avoid their thin crust offering!

At this point the wind had really picked up so we nipped upstairs to get some jackets and headed to Bellagio to see the fountains. We had seen them many times before but still like to stop by and watch them on each trip. For a different perspective we watched them from the other side, looking out at the strip from the Bellagio. This gave a pretty view of Paris and various neon shapes in the backdrop.

After some serious photo time, we were in need of ice cream. I had read about a place called ‘Ice Pan’ inside Harrah’s where they make your choice of ice cream on a slab in front of you, and it isn’t quite as heavy as regular ice cream. I went for a mango and coconut concoction, which was very good. From here we decided to brave the Deuce and head downtown, somewhere we always like to visit once each trip. We wished we had done this on a car day, the Deuce is painfully slow, but the people watching is does balance it out a little.

Once we arrived I noticed how much Fremont East has livened up since my last trip. I really wanted to finally experience the deep fried Oreos at Mermaids but Chris didn’t like the look of it and there was a giant queue, so we gambled away our pennies instead. They had my old favourite machine ‘Rich Little Piggies’ which I couldn’t resist, and finally I hit a half decent bonus! After my fourth trip to Las Vegas I found myself experiencing the infamous Mermaids bathrooms – definitely a sobering experience!

We mooched around ducking in and out of the retro casinos clutching our tubs of change. Something about Fremont Street is always fun, it’s a bit more raw and edgy which makes a nice contrast from the strip. Also the cocktail waitresses were asking for your drink order before you’d even found a machine and sat down, the opposite to what we had experienced on the strip so far, they had been practically invisible!

Downtown is always loud and the proportion of drunk people seems to be higher, I am not sure if it’s due to there being so many revellers in a smaller space or the cheap drink prices, but everyone was dancing to their own song! We weren’t really feeling a drinking night though so after absorbing the atmosphere for a while we headed to the bus stop. The return journey on the Deuce had it’s fair share of ‘Zoo Creatures’ to entertain us whilst it crawled along the strip back up to the Monte Carlo!2.jpg

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Day 3 – Thursday 2nd April – Bargains, Bad Buffets & Bellagio

We woke at around 8am this morning and had a light breakfast in bed. Fruit loops and American TV, perfect! We decided to venture out to Walmart and Michaels for snacks to take home and to check out the baking supplies. I restrained myself in Walmart somewhat but we were surprised how much Easter themed candy there was. At home we usually get the standard chocolate eggs but we couldn’t believe all the Reese’s bunny’s and egg-shaped everything. This is where my love affair with ‘Peeps’ began.

I stocked up on some baking supplies for my hobby, the selection here is always better than we get at home, thanks to silly rules on colourings meaning our sprinkles are about as bright as a marshmallow. A nice lady even donated me a coupon to get some discount. Every time we visit a Walmart we are in awe of the size of some things, the huge mayonnaise tubs, buckets of ice cream and pillow sized boxes of cereal were just insane!

Our plan was to find ‘Bahama Breeze’ and bring back memories of Hawaii with some shave ice, but we were too early. Chris suggested a trip to Fashion Show Mall (which never happens), so I jumped at the chance. I did a spot of shopping at Victoria’s Secret and Forever 21, and we headed on to Aria where we had another MyVegas reward to use at their buffet.

Looking back on it, I wished I hadn’t used MyVegas, or at least I wished I had used the rewards on something other than food. Our trip was relatively short and I got all excited around the idea of earning these free meals, but in reality I wished we had actually dined at the better places I had researched, and used those tokens on free game play or something else. We also found they were restricting as you couldn’t just freely eat where and when you wanted, especially with our short time, we had to plan to detour out of our way to make use of the vouchers.

As it was Easter weekend, we only had today to use this voucher so it was a bit of a mad dash down there. Thankfully there was no queue so we didn’t waste lots of time getting in. The buffet was OK, but as we had unintentionally clashed with the changeover time they were running out of options and they weren’t refilling dishes. I have visited other buffets in the past and they often had an overlap, but Aria seemed to do the opposite and had quite a barren offering!

The spaghetti and meatballs, tandoori chicken and the cinnamon bread pudding were all very good but the rest of the options were quite tasteless, and the other desserts had no flavour. I have eaten at Harrah’s buffet in the past and would actually rate that above Aria’s, so we weren’t impressed! We did stuff ourselves full of the good stuff (and sampling the bad stuff), so still managed to waddle out of there regretting our willpower.

Chris was in need of a new suitcase and we really didn’t fancy picking one up without the car, so we had a mad dash down to the North Outlet to pick up one we spotted yesterday. We both got distracted in Calvin Klein before making it back out and deciding we had to leave! We went back to the hotel to have a brief rest and try and pack away our purchases so far.1.jpgThis evening we had to return the car, and it was at this point I knew we should have kept it for the duration. I enjoyed getting off strip and having the independence to zip wherever we needed, I wasn’t looking forward to the Deuce but at least the walking would start to balance out the food we were eating.

Our drop off spot was at the Encore so we had a jaunt around the casinos at Encore and Wynn, they had a few funky displays up for Easter including some uber-shiny tulips and a floral carousel which I really liked. Having never been to Vegas this early in the year I was quite chilly and regretted not bringing a jacket. From here we ventured across to the Linq and Cromwell areas which were new to both of us, the promenade here was a funky place and I was thrilled that a Sprinkles had finally made it to Las Vegas.

Bellagio was next on our agenda, where we gambled away $60 fairly quickly in exchange for a single strawberry daiquiri. Not a great deal! The ‘True Blood’ machines robbed me completely, and I was struggling to find my favourite machine from 2012, ‘Paradise Fishing’. We liked the convenience of the tram from here to the Monte Carlo and found ourselves passing through here fairly often. The Bellagio Conservatory looked colourful with it’s spring theme, although we couldn’t see too much detail in the dark. It had gotten really windy and we were increasingly tired, so we admitted defeat and headed to bed.2.jpg

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Day 2 –Wednesday 1st April – A Voyage to Valley of Fire

At 5am I came to life briefly, but managed to snooze in until 6:30am. Today we didn’t mind being early risers as we were heading off to explore Valley of Fire. We swapped a MyVegas code to get a two for one voucher at the Monte Carlo Café. It probably wasn’t the best rated place but we knew it would be a convenient stop for us at some point in the trip, and it was ideal to grab a quick-ish breakfast before our road trip.

I had a stuffed French toast concoction and Chris ordered a humungous egg, bacon and cheese sandwich. As expected for an American style breakfast, both came with a jug of maple syrup and pot of whipped butter. Both meals were quite tasty (of course I sampled both!) and I was glad we took a gamble on this one. We charged it to our room and hot footed it off to the car park to head off on our way.

The first stop for us was Whole Foods at Town Square for our DIY picnic lunch. I almost have to be restrained in this store as I get carried away looking at all the interesting natural and quirky foods. Our Whole Foods in London are just not the same and have way less selection. Armed with some freshly cooked pulled pork, fresh bread, avocado, sweet potato chips, red velvet cake, fresh fruit and salad we ventured on to the interstate.

Typically there had been another accident so we drove at snails pace for a while. One thing we pondered whilst we sat in traffic was why the US has so many adverts for bail bonds and the like, they are completely unheard of in the UK! After a slow start the traffic eased off and we arrived and paid our $10 entry. We followed the map and stopped off at various points along the way.

We climbed rocks, encountered chipmunks and lizards and overheard some rather juicy stories from other visitors chattering away to their companions a little too loudly. The weather was just right here, not too hot and not too cool either. This was perfect for us as we had forgotten sun lotion. The views were very impressive and couldn’t be much further apart from the neon concrete jungle that is Las Vegas!1234After some time exploring we stopped to picnic at Seven Sisters where there was an extended family of chipmunks bouncing around. They were so fast they even freaked me out a bit when they got too close! Our lunch was great, Whole Foods didn’t disappoint as usual. We practically inhaled the red velvet cake! The bread wasn’t so good though, it tasted how I’d imagine an egg carton to taste.

On the return to the strip we took the ‘scenic’ route via North Shore road. It was barren there and couldn’t be further away from your average English roadside view. Unfortunately for us they had picked this time to resurface part of the road and we got stuck in queues and behind ‘pilot vehicles’ for a little too long.

We made the spontaneous decision to head straight for the outlets as it would be easier whilst we still had the car. The North outlets are my favourite (mostly for the Kate Spade), so we headed there and got lost along the way when our sat-nav threw a wobbly fit. We took a less than scenic route through some very non-touristic areas of town! Finally we arrived and I indulged at Tommy Hilfiger, Steve Madden and Kate Spade. Chris even surprisingly had his own little spree in Tommy Hilfiger, buying double than me in there. The outlets were starting to close so we admitted defeat and headed back to the hotel to rest our tootsies and get changed.5.jpgBy now we were feeling ready to call it a night, but forced ourselves to power on. We scrubbed ourselves up a little bit, still lacking in energy and alertness, heading out to the strip as we hadn’t stepped foot on it yet. I took Chris on a little tour through Aria and the Cosmopolitan, both of which were concrete shells on his last visit. I had been drooling over the Holsteins menu a few months prior to our visit so it was only right that we headed there for dinner.

Despite me not even being that hungry, we had our third indulgent meal of the day. I chose the ‘Rising Sun’, a Kobe beef burger with crispy yams, teriyaki sauce and avocado tempura. It was an odd mix but it definitely worked. The sweet potato fries were also worth mentioning – as was the cute décor of funky cows.

There was a woman next to us dining with her child who she completely ignored the entire time. We felt bad for the little kid who was acting up for some attention, climbing all over the place, but her mother was too buried in her phone to notice or care.

Our bill was around $56 before tip which was very reasonable. We had a little stroll around the rest of the hotel afterward and stopped by at the Lucky Cat, a temporary cat sculpture giving out fortunes each day. Mine said something about bacon which made me laugh. We felt it was time to indulge in some slot machine gambling and nipped over to Aria to donate more money to the Wonka, Goldfish, WOF and Super Woman machines. Chris did very well on the goldfish machine but my luck was definitely down – apart from a small win on the Wonka machine I played through my allowance in no time.

The gambling did a great job at distracting us though as it was now 1am and were starting to transition back into zombies. It was time to head to the room via CVS for breakfast supplies, as the huge portions of food three times a day was already becoming a struggle for me, being full all of the time.

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Day 1 – Tuesday 31st March – The Scenic Route to Las Vegas!

We got a steal of a deal to fly to Vegas (admittedly on a slightly unconventional routing) over the Easter holiday in business class with British Airways. There were crazy winds in London which caused a host of big delays, including our incoming flight from Dublin and turned the airport into a shambles. To add to this, Chris had managed to abandon his bag on the previous plane, full of Go Pro equipment, and not realise this until we were in the midst of clearing security!

I then had the noble task of hauling two suitcases and a handbag to our gate when the flight was already basically closing. It had already been delayed waiting for over 100 passengers from a Manchester connection which worked in our favour. Naturally the gate had to be located in the furthest corner of the airport for good measure! I went through the gate not sure at that point if I was headed away for a cheeky trip to Vegas solo.

A few minutes later (although it felt like a month of Sunday’s) along came an out of breath boyfriend. The flight had stayed open for an extra few minutes for him and thankfully he made it on time, despite knocking a recycling bin flying on his route! This tickled me although I felt bad for the poor person cleaning that mess up after him!

The lost property team were absolutely fabulous and after a frantic wait outside the plane doors they delivered the bag at the last minute. On the plane we were seated in 14A & 14B, facing each other. It was a bit of a “first world problem” deciding between facing seats and one of us getting a window, or two seats next to each other but buried in the middle.

I enjoyed my window spot as I had a private little corner with a few windows to myself and the toilet wall closing me off from the rest of the world. I thought the proximity to the toilets might be bothersome but they were no problem and quite convenient to have nearby meaning I didn’t have to disturb anyone to get in and out. It was a very quick dash to the galley stuffed with snacks too which was obviously a bonus!1.jpgThe flight was enjoyable and the seven hours (to New York) passed as a blur of sleeping, eating, reading and talking. The food was definitely a world away from standard plane fare, the steak was very good and the dessert was amazing. The galley was packed full of chocolates, ice cream, crisps, drinks and sandwiches, and there was an afternoon tea one hour before landing.

There were no crazy passenger stories this time around, with the exception of the man opposite us who managed to send his champagne flying in the air, soaking himself and his children and spraying Chris and I a fair bit in the process. We didn’t get an apology and he sat there grumbling to himself with a soaking wet leg. Silly fool!

Despite the crazy winds the flight was smooth and the landing incredibly so – it felt very strange to be landing sat backwards though! Due to the first delay this became a domino effect and we sprinted through JFK to change terminals, with people sending us to the front of the security queues upon seeing our red faces. At this point I was wishing we had flown direct and paid double the fare!

Once on board the third flight we had an interesting neighbour this time. A voluptuous and rather drunken lady was singing away to herself like she was the only soul on the plane! Time to break out those ear plugs! We didn’t expect much for food on this shorter flight but the teriyaki beef was especially yummy. After a short doze the hostess bought around a tumbler glass with two scoops of the most amazing cookie ice cream I have ever had! It was amazing and enough reason to fly that route again soon!

Before long we were landing to the sound of slot machines tinkering away. It felt good to be back after three years for me, and a whopping seven years for Chris. We took the shuttle to collect our rental car at Hertz as we were excited to delve off the strip a bit more this trip. We had a GPS included which made it foolproof! We took the opportunity of stopping at the ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign on our way in, after passing a nasty looking accident with a minivan on it’s side we pulled up at the parking lot.2It was a little busy here but not manic like it often is in daytime. After all of the flying I opted out of getting my face in the shot with the sign! We took in the lights for a little while and decided to cruise up and down the strip in our car, something we’d never done in Vegas before. Yes it was traffic central, but it helped us in our quest to beat the jet lag and stay up until midnight. It was fun to explore it from a different perspective and indulge in some people watching along the way. Vegas is the best for that!

Eventually we made it to Monte Carlo car park (after missing the entrance twice!) and checked in to our room on the 15th floor. Bed was calling us at this time but we persevered and explored the casino floor for a bit, donating some money to the ‘Bridesmaids’ slot machine. Chris also lost his money quite fast so we headed back to the room via the food court as somehow after all the food consumed today, Chris still needed some pizza!

Our room was rather dated – being honest, the rooms we’ve had previously in Excalibur, Flamingo and as one would expect, Planet Hollywood have all been more modern and generally better. The bedding was faded and brown, which seemed to be the theme for the room, but we didn’t care too much as planned to be out exploring most of the time. We slept like babies!

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Day 8 – Saturday 6th December: Last Minute Shopping & A Suitcase Struggle

By this point in the trip I had gotten rather slack with writing up my trip notes, mostly as we had done the key things we planned to do, so often just wondered around the city enjoying happening upon things here and there. This was our final full day before our exit to the airport at an antisocial hour. We headed back to the holiday markets just to enjoy mooching about in them for one last time, and loaded up on a few last souvenirs to take back with us, not forgetting a few bags of peanut butter m&m’s.

As we were right nearby Big Daddy’s diner we settled in there for a bit of a brunch and to warm up our cold fingers. The wifi was a nice little bonus and we checked in for the flight and spent a little while playing with our iStuff. We rather liked this place and the décor inside was fun, it was a good stop off for us whilst venturing from A to B.

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Afterward we spent the remainder of the day without much of a plan, just soaking in the city at a slower pace. The trip started out a mad dash here, there and everywhere and by the end we were just meandering around, people watching and taking it all in. We returned to the room with a Chinese takeaway from nearby whilst we began the arduous process of packing out suitcases.

It became apparent I had bought rather a lot when I had to sit on my suitcase and have Amy help me stuff excess things into the sides just to get it closed. It’s also a rather enormous suitcase to begin with! Once we finally completed the mission we relaxed in the room for an early night as we were leaving pre-4am for our taxi to JFK.

Overall it was a great trip and interesting to see the city in the lead up to Christmas, very different from my previous flying visits in summer time. If I return in the future I will definitely twin it with a return visit to Niagara Falls and throw in some day trips or activities, I’d love to try a pizza making or other cooking class in the city and explore away from the centre of Manhattan a bit more.

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Day 7 – Friday 5th December: Meatball Disasters & Meandering in Brooklyn

This morning was another Froot Loops in bed whilst watching the news experience. We had a lazier morning and headed out around 10ish to Greenwich Village. I couldn’t resist the sweets at Sockerbit and we had a nose around Bleecker and Greenwich streets. I had noted down a lot of restaurants in this area but not a whole lot of sights. I managed to avoid the macaron stores and instead picked up a giant m&m cookie to take home to my boyfriend.

Bantam Bagels was nearby and I wanted to try some of the mini filled bagels. They have a weird card-only policy, which I have never known a restaurant/food place to have before! They let me get a few and pay with the tip jar instead. They didn’t have most of the flavours I saw online, I tried the pizza one which was good, but the vegetable one was quite flavourless.

From here we headed back to the Lower East Side for a mooch around. I picked up a peanut butter doughnut at Doughnut Plant and Amy got more dairy free treats at Babycakes. We sure had a bit of a sugar overload on this trip! We had no real plans this afternoon so explored on foot, stopping at The Meatball Shop for some lunch. This experience was a bit of a disaster and may even beat Ellen’s for the worst meal experience!

We placed our order, Amy clearly mentioned she couldn’t eat any dairy, and I filled out my order (all done on a paper sheet with a pencil). When the food came we were given additional meatballs to what we ordered and made to pay for them (despite me not eating it as I didn’t like the flavour I was given). Amy’s came with cheese on top so we asked them to fix this and were met with attitude. The girl looked at Amy and half spoke-half shouted “For real?!” – we weren’t too impressed!

Needless to say they fixed this, and she was about to tuck in when the manager ran out and said, “Excuse me, but how serious is your allergy, because we have cheese and dairy in the meatballs!” We had already asked this at the beginning and told it was fine by two staff members – they should really know what goes into their food!

By this point I had already got my order in front of me so I had to sit there and eat that whilst Amy waited! I wish I had some balls to just get up and leave but I hate confrontation! The food wasn’t as good as I’d expected – the sauces were tasty but the meatballs had nothing on the ones I’d had at the market previously. I ate as fast as I could and took my friend around the corner to Katz deli for a pastrami sandwich!

Finally after that disastrous meal situation was out of the way we headed to Vivi Bubble Tea for a strawberry slush, which was amazing. At this point we were rather frozen after meandering around in less than stellar weather and fuelling up on frozen drinks, so it was back to the room for a bit of chill out and warm up time.

The plan was either to make the pilgrimage out to Dyker Heights to see the lights or explore a bit of Brooklyn in the evening. As I’d read conflicting reports regarding how many lights would be on display this early in December we decided to explore Brooklyn instead. It was ‘British Weather’, with the fine drizzly rain that manages to soak you without you realizing, so the trip was a rather brisk walk around and we probably would have gotten more out of it if we’d ventured over in daylight.

It was interesting to see the area, and we enjoyed walking around Jane’s Carousel which appeared to be having a private event, potentially a wedding reception, going on inside. We debated stopping for food here but weren’t hungry yet so decided to stroll back along Brooklyn Bridge. It was cool gazing at the skyline lit up from here, and watching the yellow taxi’s whizzing by beneath us. We walked to the subway on the other side and hopped on the subway for some dinner at Scotty’s Diner.

This place sounded quite interesting as I’d read it was a bit of an old school style American diner, with a gigantic menu to boot. Both of which were correct, it was a quirky place and it felt like we’d travelled back in time a bit when we stepped inside. The waiter was quite an odd guy but he did make us laugh. The portions were insane; food was good, not great but definitely large portions for the prices. It’s also worth nothing they’re open 24 hours, in case you have a craving for something specific at 4am, there is a high chance it’s on the menu at Scotty’s.

Tummies stuffed we had a little walk around before subwaying back to Chinatown to watch a cheesy American film and lull us off to sleep.

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Day 6 – Thursday 4th December: Boat Trips, Bridges and Bryant Park

Today we woke at a healthier time, either we were super tired last night or we were finally starting to adjust! I’m not sure if it was the flu I caught but it definitely took longer to adjust this trip than on previous trips. After a speedy shower we had a nutritious breakfast of cake, chocolate and other such junk. (At home I am a lot stricter so was going a bit hog wild on this trip!).

The weather was looking good today so we took advantage and headed out to catch the subway to the Staten Island Ferry. Typically we got a little lost and got there just after the ferry was leaving. The only thing for it was to distract ourselves in the little stores and buy some more nibbles. Before long it was 10:30 and the next ferry was pulling in. We heard a commotion going on and some policemen were escorting an extremely drunk guy off the ferry.

I was hoping there would be an outdoor deck but there wasn’t, so we took a seat and the sun started to come out. We weren’t expecting the ferry to get so jam packed full so we could barely see a thing! I think it was a rookie error taking a seat and not standing by the window. We stood up to get a glimpse and some guy felt sorry for me and let me have his front spot, so we took turns and got some pictures, but in reality we were still very far away. I was grateful my camera had a good zoom!

We had debated exploring Staten Island for a while but seeing as we had good weather we agreed to catch the ferry back and make the most of it. As we walked back to the subway station we encountered a group of excitable squirrels who were launching at us and trying to get into our shopping bags! We had bought (more) pop tarts so I had a feeling they were after those! They really got quite close and were fearless which scared me – I am a wimp with wild animals of any size!

On the metro we decided to stop off at Brooklyn Bridge and walk part way across for some daytime views. Many others clearly had the same idea whilst the skies were clear so it was busier than I expected. We got some nice pictures and chilled out on the bridge for a bit, heading back to explore St Marks Place and get hot dogs.

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This place reminded me a bit of Camden in London on a smaller scale. There wasn’t a lot around that wasn’t food related so we headed to Papaya King for lunch. Our server was really nice chatting away to us and letting us try samples. We weren’t too keen on the papaya drinks and went for hot dog combos with curly fries. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the food, I didn’t expect too much from a hot dog but it was actually really good, and the witty sayings on the walls had us giggling.

Next we headed to the Colombus Circle holiday market which had only just opened, after a brief detour to our room to drop things off. This market was very similar to Union Square and I ended up buying a nice sterling silver ring, some personalized Christmas baubles and a meatball slider with jalapeno sauce from the “Mighty Balls” stall. We spied the Whole Foods inside Time Warner Center and picked up some desserts to take back to the room later.

I had a bit of a wobble and somehow bought a Michael Kors clutch bag whilst we were there as well. It wasn’t the most logical purchase as it is so small, it barely fits an iPhone and bank card inside! We had a quick stroll around the mall but not much else tickled me, except a funny graphic of a snowman in one of the shop windows!

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From there we caught a subway to Rockefeller Centre to see the tree. It was lit now and looked pretty magical, we stood there for a while gawking at it and taking pictures, watching people skating on the rink below. This scene I have seen so many times in films and it never fails to make me feel Christmassy! Everyone was called off the rink but two people, and we were trying to work out what was going on, before he suddenly got down on one knee and proposed. It was so cute, but thankfully she said yes or that could have been very awkward in front of the whole crowd!

We hung around a little longer before giving away our front spot and strolling back to see the Bryant Park tree now that this too was lit up. Today was one of the most festive days, and we just walked around taking it all in. I had forgotten my hat and gloves at home, and now it was getting colder I decided to get some earmuffs from one of the stalls, even though I am convinced they make me look like Minnie Mouse.

Before long it was dinnertime and we walked down to Times Square to find Ellen’s Stardust Diner. We walked the scenic route around the circumference of Times Square but made it there in the end, where we were greeted by a 15-20 minute queue just to get inside, crazy! This wouldn’t have been on the top of my itinerary but my friend loves all that musical, film and stage stuff so I thought she would appreciate a visit there.

Once we finally got a seat our table was in the back corner right by the kitchen, so we were quite far from the action and constantly having the waiters come out with huge plates hovering above our heads! The singers were good, some were better than others, but the food was definitely less than good! It was probably the worst meal of our entire trip. I guess they were busy, but they got my order wrong and forgot to bring the extras we requested.

The food had no flavour and tasted like oven food or a budget ready meal. I had a grilled cheese and it was stuffed full of shiny plastic cheese, no real cheese inside, and the bread unfortunately had no taste at all. Both of our meals came with waffle fries despite requesting something different, and these were very greasy and flavourless.

I should have listened to the reviews and opinions and gave it a miss, but at least we can say we tried it. Based on the quality of the mains, we decided to skip dessert and eat the snacks we had bought for the room instead. We rushed out, caught the subway back to Chinatown, changing at W 4th Street where there were two guys playing music, one on the drums and the other on the saxophone. They got everyone upbeat and bopping along, we decided their performance was better than the Ellen’s experience and gave them some tip money!

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Day 5 – Wednesday 3rd December: The Genitalia Rock Climb Adventure

This morning we both woke up slightly later, and after breakfast in bed we headed to Macy’s for a browse. Nothing caught our eye so instead we explored the shops around 34th and Broadway – lots of high street style shops so healthier on the budget! We passed a K-mart and decided to venture in to see if there was any funky food we could pick up. Wow, it was interesting in here – some strange sights to say the least! It reminded me a bit of the pound shops at home, I did pick up a few snacks but swiftly got in and out as quick as I could!

Over the round I bought a cookie at the 7eleven. It was a standard cookie with pink frosting and sprinkles, probably mass produced and nothing special but it was a-maz-ing! I scoured hundreds of 7elevens afterward hoping to find another but nowhere else seemed to sell them. I must find out what this cookie was so I can find one on my next trip!

By now we were in need of yet more food, and ended up heading in search of Ess-a-bagel for another food to cross off of the list. I went for an “everything” bagel with scallion cream cheese and cucumber, which I munched far too fast and didn’t even get a photo. We had a mooch around the nearby shops and then had to detour back to the hotel to drop off this mornings purchases.

The weather was doing well so we decided to take a walk to the Lower East Side so that Amy could check out a dairy free bakery I’d found called “Babycakes”. We sat in while she munched on a couple of things, all looked and smelled very good, and I was told tasted amazing, but I didn’t sample anything as I planned to check out another bakery nearby. We found Sugar Sweet Sunshine bakery and I opted for a strawberry cake with peanut butter frosting. I have to say I was disappointed – the frosting was nice enough but the cake itself was very dry.

The rain had made yet another appearance so back to the hotel we went to change shoes and pause while we contemplated our next move. Jabbering away to each other we didn’t realize we had rudely interrupted the maid and given her a bit of a fright! We decided to leave her to it and head down to the lobby to have a bit of a wifi break where the signal was stronger.

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Up to date with the news back home, we got swiftly changed and headed out to go to the Sex Museum. We fancied an indoor activity and kept seeing adverts for the “Funland” exhibition on the subway so decided to give it a go. On our way we stopped off at a gift shop called “Memories” where the friendly guy gave us heaps of free stickers because he loved our accent. We both bought a bunch of magnets and stereotypical NYC souvenirs!

The Sex Museum was interesting, and some parts were rather graphic! The Funland exhibit was the most interesting part, it was all quite interactive and we had good fun – it was good to be able to mess around without our big coats and scarves on too! One part was a maze where you had to find certain “parts” shall we say, another was a funfair style race game where you had to race a gold penis to the finish line against your partner (I won!), there was also a giant bouncing castle of, you guessed it, breasts!

Amy managed to get a bunch of not so attractive photos of me flying across breasts of varying colours and sizes! The last interactive game was a rock climbing wall with a twist. Yep – each “rock” was actually an anatomic part! Amy didn’t fancy doing the climb due to her dodgy knee so I had the pleasure, which she found highly amusing when I got stuck and hung off a colourful anus whilst debating my next move!

Finally after several tries I managed to complete the rock climbing wall and we ventured back downstairs. There was a large, well stocked gift shop here along with a cocktail bar if you wanted to hang around. All toasty warm we were ready to head off somewhere else and then to find ourselves some food. We started walking aimlessly before deciding to treat ourselves to a cab to get some cover from the rain.

I remembered ABC Home and Fish’s Eddy were nearby so we visited these, although having a blonde moment I didn’t realize ABC Home had other floors until we had left. In Fish’s Eddy I bought a pig bowl (I have a thing about pigs) and a pale blue egg tray for my kitchen. Two impractical gifts to myself for taking back on an aeroplane!

From here we weren’t far from Union Square, and we wanted to try a BBQ place for dinner, so headed in that general direction to find “Uncle Jimmy’s BBQ”. There were a lot of protests going on in the area due to the local news involving policemen, so we gave that a wide berth.

Jimmy’s was a sports bar place, and there was a game of some sort on. We didn’t pay too much attention to the screens as the restaurant was blessed with wifi! Amy and I ordered a platter of BBQ ribs, brisket, sweet potato fries, tater tots and cornbread. I expect it was probably a platter for one person, but it was definitely enough for the both of us. The ribs were a bit disappointing but the brisket was amazing! The waitress was also really good with the allergy issues and made sure only one of us had cornbread as it had dairy in.

By the time we had finished our food our beds were calling us. The only problem with travelling west is feeling sleepy so soon after eating dinner! The thought of sleeping on a full stomach bothers me a bit. We headed back to the hotel distracting ourselves in a store on the way, and collecting some pop tarts to take home with us. The definitely looked more like dessert than breakfast items – chocolate fudge brownie, vanilla cupcake and red velvet flavours!

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Day 4 – Tuesday 2nd December: A Sombre Morning & A Sing-Song Evening

We woke up at our usual early time and had another breakfast in bed. This morning we were headed to the World Trade Center Museum for 9am entry. In plenty of time we caught the subway there and managed to get perfectly lost! New York would benefit from copying London with some better directions in some places. although maybe it was me and my map reading! Once we finally found our way there amongst the commuters, I had made the school girl error of forgetting to bring our tickets. Luckily after putting my phone on roaming I could pull up the tickets and we had no problems getting in.

Generally I am not one for museums at all, history isn’t usually something I am interested in, but this was completely different. It is odd to have something so significant that’s happened during our lifetime and remembering it being reported on the news and TV. We spent over four hours in there and found it very good, with lots of detail although definitely overwhelming and graphic in parts. I was really surprised by the amount of visitors with kids in tow, not the place for them in my opinion.

It was interesting to see and learn more about, but also quite emotional and intense at times. We liked that there was a memorial center which was separate to the rest of the museum and solely focused on them. Listening to the taped recordings and watching the videos got a bit much though, especially those who were in the second tower, telling family it was next door and they were going to be fine. The photographs of people jumping out were really sobering and upsetting. We were surprised to see that someone from our hometown in Southampton had died in the towers too.

We covered most of the museum, and could have probably explored for longer if we didn’t get so hungry. We didn’t expect to be there so long otherwise we would have had a big breakfast before so we didn’t have to rush. We left to find the rain had kicked off again; we briefly visited the reflecting pools and then tried to find Umami burger for lunch. It was a bit of a wild goose chase and the rain was getting worse so we changed our plans. Originally we were going to take the Statue of Liberty ferry and check out century 21, but instead decided to take the subway in search of lunch.

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We found ourselves in Big Daddy’s Diner, a very American chain place with free wifi and games to play at the tables. They had some crazy milkshakes on the menu including one with bacon in, but I restrained myself opting for the fairly safer option of diet coke. We both went for sandwiches with tater tots. I decided to try sweet potato tots, which were different, although I think the regular were best. Mine was a monsterous ciabatta with grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, caramelized onions and a whole heap of other stuff.

Everything was really good but I was still struggling with the portion sizes as I always do. On our way we stocked up with yet more Christmas candy, making me a bit concerned about luggage space! Next up was FAO Schwarz to check out the Big piano and have a wonder around. The candy was very expensive so we gave that a miss, but the store itself was really festive and pretty to see, once you could escape the hoards of people.

From here we strolled down 5th Avenue all the way to Bryant Park, stopping off at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks and Hollister on the way. I had a wobble and bought more chocolate at Lindt, even though we have this at home there were some funky flavours that have yet to make it to the UK. At this point the city started to look really pretty as the Christmas lights were out in force and twinkling amongst the taxi’s.

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Right on cue the rain came, although it was lighter than yesterday the temperature had definitely reduced. We found ourselves at the holiday market where I was tempted to buy some gel candles as Christmas gifts, but they were glass and I had a feeling they wouldn’t be accepted in my hand luggage. There was an event on here too, with singing and ice skating performances, and a Christmas carol session before the tree lighting.

Amy and I joined in the carolling for a bit, trying not to laugh as we both can’t sing for toffee. The atmosphere was really fun and just so Christmassy despite being right at the beginning of December. Before long our toes and noses were starting to go numb, and we decided to pop back another day to see the tree lit up.

From here we took a walk through Times Square to McDonalds. Yes, I know, this is far from a destination but at that point in time it had all we needed – cheap drinks, free wifi, warm fairly comfortable seating and bathrooms! Much easier than venturing back to the hotel. We sat there for a while for a break, catching up on Facebook and messaging home. The wifi was far more reliable here than at the hotel anyway.

At this point we weren’t quite hungry enough to eat, but didn’t fancy going back to the hotel and being stuck in the same situation as previous nights. I really wanted to try the build your own burgers at The Counter, and when we swang by there was no wait, so decision made. I went for beef with pepperjack cheese, spicy sour cream, grilled onions, jalapenos, cucumber and avocado on a bed of quinoa with a side of shoestring fries. The food was delicious! I loved this idea of a DIY burger, especially as I’m not really a fan of burger buns. I also ordered a strawberry iced tea, which was my most exotic drink of the trip so far!

The food overload had pretty much taken our energy, so we had a very brief walk through the lights before catching the subway back to the hotel, a whole 12 hours after leaving in the morning. This is generally how I like to do things, but it was a lot harder with the rain and cold to not have a brief break during the day.

Our legs were super tired once we got back, we had covered a lot of ground today. I sorted through the various purchases for Christmas and birthdays before relaxing in bed with a new book – the perfect end to a long day!

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