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    The Istanbul Marathon

    Running marathons isn’t everyone’s idea of ‘living like a VIP’ but the benefits include burning tons of calories, toning up your figure and learning just what your body and mind are capable of. Every year, I’ve seen some celebrities do them including Gordon Ramsay, Ronan Keating, Peter Andre, Pamela Anderson and Katherine Jenkins and it makes me feel quite competitive. If they can do it then why can’t I? Also, I like the idea of training for something. The prospect of having to run 26.2 miles motivates me to do a run to practise and if I didn’t have the fear I probably wouldn’t do anything at all. vip-marathon-runners I signed up for Istanbul partly because I go to a running club called London City Runners and learned that 20 cool people from the club were also doing it. However, it was also partly because I like the combination of running and holidaying. At this point, I should probably admit that I have run marathons before (two in London and one in New York) and I loved combining exploring New York with running a marathon. I could party heavily afterwards and consume doughnuts, pizza and cookies without thinking of the calorific consequences. I’ve never been to Istanbul before and I hoped I would end up celebrating  a successful race over meat kebabs in a local venue with wine or champagne and my friends. Well, that’s what I hoped for, but you can’t always control some of the elements when it comes to running marathons so my attitude at the start of the trip could be summer up in one word – nervous! The group from running club was mixed as some people had run 12 marathons while others were running their first. Some expected to fly round in super quick times, while others were just hoping to get round without stopping. That’s one of the things I love about a marathon – anyone can do it and no matter how fast you do it it’s still faster than someone who is too scared to run. If any of you are reading this and think you’d like to try it and potentially combine it with a holiday in Istanbul then this piece will tell you everything you need to know. Let’s start with the travel. I decided to fly out with Atlasjet from London Luton, as the airport is within driving distance of my parents house in Hertfordshire. It’s also home to an Aspire airport lounge, which was just the tonic for my nerves. It’s impossible to feel panicked or stressed when you can wait for a flight in the comfort of a lounge, with a fridge stocked full of soft drinks and alcoholic drinks. You can help yourself to whatever you want, and although I decided to abstain I poured my friend a vodka. ist-lounge

    There’s a great selection of snacks but as I was running, I decided to be healthy and have some fruit with a glass of sparkling water. I just had a couple of pieces, not the whole lot! IMG_8641 At £18.99 for the access, which you can prebook on the Aspire Executive Lounges website, it’s totally worth it. By the time you’ve had a coffee and a sandwich in Pret you’ll have spent £10 and in the lounge you can eat and drink whatever you want and do it with free WIFI on a comfortable chair!

    Atlasjet is a low cost airline, which has operated daily flights out of London Luton since May 2014. The main draw for me was that it was £100 return, which is cheaper than a train fare to Manchester! For this price, I didn’t expect any frills but there was a 25kg luggage allowance and just as much catering as on a BA flight. You could have drinks pre-meal and during meal and they served three courses with meze to start, chicken with rice and peas and a chocolate cake. An hour before the four hour flight landed, we were served tea and cake. The only thing that I missed was in-flight entertainment as there wasn’t even one TV screen inside, but if you pay less than £50 for a four hour flight, you can’t expect to have everything. 6t81KuBERvwHzl_ofXUs2iOJTqMnWJf6jMk6LDdgbM5dKA6Ltc0E74gKU7scHfyT7cTvFJZBJF8cXMggecfNPQNh3ok85suFbA=s0-d-e1-ft

    Above is one of the photos I took of our accomodation. Istanbul has a mangnificent Four Seasons hotel as well as a Raffles and a comfortable Shangri-La hotel, but I wanted a place where I would feel comfortable in my exercise clothes and I could wake up at whatever time I wanted and get back whenever I wanted without feeling under pressure to behave. Air BnB was the answer and three friends and I chose a place close to the marathon finish line in Sultanahmet, which worked out to £80 a night (£20 a night each). It’s the first time I’ve ever stayed in an Air BnB place and the price made me feel wary. Would it be clean? Would it be quiet? Would the beds be comfy? Would the shower be clean? The answer to everything was yes and the owner even left the fridge stocked with breakfast items – juice, water, milk, eggs, cereal and bread. The best surprise was that my bed was twice the size as my bed at home, although the flat owner did like the colour purple :) a1964dbc_original

    The corner sofa was used a lot! We could easily fit lots of my friends on if we were sat up – usually about six of us.  After the marathon, we fit three of us on it, all lying down. I’d definitely recommend the place and the fact you can walk to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and cake shops in less than five minutes. Check out it’s listing on Air BnB here. zoe-apartment

    Now I should probably get on to the main reason I was in Istanbul – the marathon! It’s a busy time for the city of Istanbul as there are three races going on at once – 10km, 15km and 42km (marathon distance). The earlier you register in advance, the cheaper it is. I paid 60 TYL, which is less than £20. To put this into context, the entry for New York in 2015 is $358! You can visit the Istanbul Marathon website to sign up if you’re interested in doing it in 2015. There will be a registration form up on 1 January 2015 and its 60 TYL as long as you register before 30 July.

    So what does the entry fee get you? Firstly, you get you a bib and chip to attach to your trainers to get an official time, plus pre-race gifts from the sponsors of the race including  an Adidas t-shirt and a Tupperware water bottle. The Adidas t-shirt alone looks like it’s worth more than £20. The downside is this needs to be collected from an exhibition centre that is far out from the centre of Istanbul. This is 3 stops from the airport so I would advise booking an early flight so you can tick off the travelling and the race admin in the same day. Here I am with my bag at the expo. It’s a tired smile as I attended the day after I arrived and it felt like it took hours to get there. Don’t do what I did, plan in advance. istmarathon-expo-sign

    Marathon day itself was epic – it felt like it went on forever. If you stay in the Sultanahmet or Taksim areas of the city, you can get a shuttle bus to the start but you have to get on the bus around 7am as the last bus leaves dead on 730am. As a result, people panic to get on the buses and I spent the first half an hour of my race day morning, stood up on a bus, under the armpit of another runner. When the bus stopped suddenly, people trampled over each other. It was worse than the central line in rush hour, which was pretty horrendous. The same atmosphere prevailed at the start. You have to put your luggage on a bus, but nobody knew where the buses were.There are a lot of people to fight your way past to find out where anything is…the start line on the left is for the 15km race and the one on the right for the 42 km start – everyone crams in together! 10736500_10155468931340377_2087117535_o We had to clamber over the carriageways, jumping over road blocks to get to the luggage buses, which really could have caused injuries before the race started. I’m also surprised there were no injuries in the starting pen as there’s a complete lack of organisation. In New York and London, you tell the race organisers what time you expect to finish in and they divide you into places to start the race. In Istanbul, anyone can start wherever they want and everyone wants to be near the front even if they’re not hoping for a good time. This means that as soon as the start guns go off, people are pushing everywhere. You have to have your wits about you. It’s an amazing feeling to run across the Bosphorus bridge, which is normally shut to pedestrians, but the buzz is shortlived as I was focusing more on avoiding other runners and keeping my balance to avoid getting tripped up. 5fa09488-8a25-4b1f-a1ff-34c72ed68ef1

    The highs of the race are:

    1. Good water stations every 2.5km, with sponges so you can throw water over you as well as in you. Some stops also had bananas and oranges and sugar cubes. I expected New York to have these facilities given the massive race entry fee, but as Istanbul is much cheaper to enter it made the refreshment stations more impressive.
    2. Regular time checkpoints so you can look up your split times for each 5K after the race.
    3. A post-race goodybag containing a t-shirt, drinks, a chocolate bar and a good quality medal. (Wine not included!)

    istanbul-medal

    The lows of the race were:

    1. Lack of supporters. It was completely quiet from 2km to 41km. In London and New York, the supporters are encouraging you at every mile but in Istanbul there are only people on the last kilometre.
    2. A dull course. The second half of the race consists of running 7 miles towards the airport along a Coastal motorway and 7 miles back. When there’s no crowds it feels like it’s going on forever.
    3. An uphill ending. The last 2km are uphill, which seems unfair given that we’ve already run 40km! There was also a hill 11km in which lasted almost a kilometre. It was followed by the same distance downhill, but I find running downhill can damage joints, as you’re tempted to use the momentum of the hill, rather than cushion your landing.


    And the end result? I finished in 3 hrs 41. Anything under 3 hrs 45 is termed Good For Age to get you an entry into the London Marathon, so I’m happy that I’m ‘Good For Age’.  I’m also happy that I went with such a friendly group of people. If you’re in the London area and you want an England Athletics affiliated club that only charges £30 for the entire year, check out the London City Runners website.  I’d advise taking a watch if you want to achieve a specific time goal (I used the Garmin Forerunner 10 watch) This is because there weren’t kilometre markings at regular intervals so I relied on my watch to check if I was on schedule for a sub 4 hour marathon. It turned out I was way underneath! opplanet-garmin-forerunner-10-watch-pink-and-white-americas-010-01039-07-main Make sure you get good trainers and practise in them in advance. I learned this the hard way on my first marathon, running in fashion trainers rather than running trainers and suffering a severe achilles injury. Istanbul was the first time I’ve run a race in Adidas Boost 2.0 trainers and the first time I’ve completed a marathon with all my toenails and no blisters. Not one single foot or ankle injury is a real achievement for me and I think the fact that I’ve suffered injuries while wearing different pairs of shoes says something about how much well suited I am to Adidas running shoes. The first time I raced in these shoes I got a PB in a 5K ParkRun. Go figure! adidas-boost1

    It’s important to think about how you plan to fuel your marathon and practise in advance as you don’t want to try anything new on race day. The water stations on the Istanbul marathon course only served water and sugar cubes and this won’t provide all the energy you need for more than 3 and a half hours of running. I experimented with a few fuel strategies before the race but I found I enjoyed the taste (and benefits) of Clif shot gels and Clif shot bloks the most. The chocolate gel was really tasty so I started with that when I was feeling low around mile 10. Then I had a few shot bloks, which were a bit like a more flavoursome version of gummy bears, and I ended up with a double espresso shot to power me through the last 10km. The espresso shot was amazing – I felt invincible afterwards and I honestly don’t think I would have got under 3 hrs 45 without that much needed boost.

    clif

    And finally, I think it’s important to watch your nutrition so you don’t get ill. Before the marathon I wrote about drinking CherryActive and BeetActive  and I think they really helped as well as the Guarana powder and health food bars from Creative Nature Super Foods

    With the marathon out of the way, and no major injuries, I was free to make the most of the eating and drinking in Istanbul as well as see the sights. I visited some places I wouldn’t recommend but I enjoyed:

    Cemberlitas Hammam the-original-turkish Ok, it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but this is a traditional Turkish hammam and completely unlike anything you’ve ever experienced elsewhere in the world. It’s all done on a heated marble bed, which is ideal for post-marathon aching muscles. hamam But it’s not for the shy! You’re given knickers to wear…but nothing else. A local woman will bathe you all over, exfoliating and moisturising you with soap suds so your skin feels soft and clean but my face was just as flushed from the awkwardness at seeing so much nudity as it was from the heat. Boys and girls use separate facilities so it’s not sexual but it is pretty surreal. Visit the Cemberlitas hammam website for more info – at 90TYL (approx £30) for the full experience it’s worth doing once in your life.

    Mavi Melek restaurant  beyoglu-mavimelek This had a lovely outside area for the summer and even the inside felt cosy – like you’re eating in a family’s home. The full London City Runners crowd (more than 20 of us) visited the night of the Marathon and had a set menu. I’m sometimes sceptical when restaurants offer these and also cautious about group dinners when the chef is too overworked to think about flavours. However, they do catering for large numbers well in Istanbul. In the Mavi Melek set menu for 50 TYL a head, approx £15, the hungry group of City Runners feasted on an array of mixed cold starters, warm cheese, meat or seabass and a rich chocolate fondant. The food kept coming out – just what you need after running a marathon! 2006

    Ozi pizza photo-of-ozi-pizza-and As the City Runners crew celebrated hard the day of the marathon, the following day we may have been slightly damaged / hungover. Ozi pizza was just opposite our Air BnB flat and we ordered three of the most cheesey pizzas, heavy on the topping and light on the base, that perfectly hit the spot. Disappointingly they got out order slightly wrong with one of them and we ended up with seafood when we ordered chicken, but I can see why Ozi is rated 11th out of all the restaurants in Istanbul by Trip Advisor reviewers. It’s not somewhere you go for a fancy meal, but if you want comfort food it’s an alternative to the kebabs and kofte that are on every street corner. Don’t let the photos of the pasta and pizza dishes on the menu put you off!

    Hagia Sofia istanbul-hagia-sofia Simply stunning! It’s the oldest building I’ve ever been in, built in 526AD. There’s a fascinating mix of catholic and Islam history plus a shrine dedicated to Empress Zoe. It’s 30 TYL to enter, but you get a real sense of history and architectural awe once inside. zoa-hagia-sofia

    Blue Mosque ist-zoe-mosque This is on every postcard you see of Istanbul so you can’t leave without exploring it closer. Take a head scarf if you want to visit inside or you’ll have to borrow one of theirs. Also, you do have to take your shoes off when inside so make sure you have good socks. Finally, check opening times in advance as the mosque is shut 5 times a day at the Muslim prayer times. It’s pretty spectacular inside! ist-blue-mosque-inside

    Cakes by Sultanahmet tram station MB-TURKEY-Istanbul-032 I always knew Istanbul was famous for Turkish delight and baklava but I never expected the large, creamy cakes. Around the sultanahmet tram stop, there are lots of cake shops next to each other. I ordered the version of giant swiss roll below. It was so wide, there was a profiterole inside. I ate it all and enjoyed every mouthful. ist-cake Grand Bazaar delight-bazaar Yet more sweet treats! However, the Grand Bazaar is mainly the place to buy your tourist souvenirs like local pottery and glassware. Be prepared to haggle and beware of the fake handbags and watches and the sellers heckling you to buy knock-offs. Be strong!   ist-shopping
    A fish sandwich by The Galata Bridge galata-collage Paying 6 TYL (ie £2) for a decent sized sandwich? Get in! This area is full of fishermen casting rods from the bridge above or trawlers going out to see and the result is a sandwich that tastes so fresh it practically swam up to your mouth. I sort of wish I bought two as they wore very moreish, especially when drizzled in lemon juice. As you can tell, I really enjoyed eating in Istanbul!

    Would I go back to Istanbul? Absolutely. Would I run another marathon? Definitely. I am even glad I ran the Istanbul marathon as it made me stronger. I learned how to pace myself to beat the lack of signage and I learned to dig into the depths of my mind to keep myself going when there was a lack of support. As the Istanbul marathon is easy to enter, it’s good if you don’t get a place in the ballot of a big marathon like London or New York plus it’s cheap. If you’ve ever run a marathon in a interesting place please let me know – Tweet me @livelikeavip or email zoe@livelikeavip.com If we’re going to do exercise, we may as well do it in style and have fun, right? Xx

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    Running Like A VIP In New York: Part 1

    I’m a regular visitor to New York. I love the shopping, I love the eating out options (no one cooks in New York), I love the cocktail bars and I love the 24-hour vibe. This is the city that never sleeps and every time I visit I feel like I’m constantly running around. Thinking I should probably put my energy to good use, I signed up to run the New York marathon in 2013.

    There’s so much to say about the experience that I’m writing up the experience in two parts with the first one about how to rest and fuel up in style. The second part will be about where to practise running so even if you don’t do the marathon you can stay fit on holiday.

    PART 1: EATING AND SLEEPING

    To leave New York without seeing The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty in Manhattan would be like going to London and missing out on Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. However, you won’t see any celebrities in the queue for the tourist sights – they have better things to do. So once you have that selfie of yourself in Times Square to plaster over Facebook, please remember that there is more to New York than Manhattan.

    zoe-timesSq2

    There’s more to NYC than this!

    If you want to do New York the VIP way, you won’t find it in any of the guidebooks as once a place makes it into a guidebook it gets packed with tourists. Did you go all the way to New York to hang out with other tourists? I may be the Queen of Showbiz in London, but I don’t have as many connections in New York so I put my words into practise and did my own research. I asked my friends for hotel / bar recommendations and I got over Google to find out restaurants / clubs that celebs were seen leaving. Some of it worked (and I’ve listed these places below) and some didn’t (and I’m not going to dwell on the negatives so I’ve forgotten about it and moved on).

    1)     WHERE TO STAY

    AVOID TIMES SQUARE.  When I was 21 I went to New York with my friends to celebrate graduating from University. We stayed in Times Square and we ate at chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday. At the time I didn’t know any better but looking back on it it’s the equivalent of staying in London’s Kings Cross and ‘dining’ at Aberdeen Angus Steak House. I would never do this! In London, I like places with character.

    TRY THE JANE.

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    I found out about The Jane Hotel through Google, typing in ‘New York Travel Budget Hotel’ and seeing that there was a recent article by Time Out (NOTE – always check the date that an article is published). In the Time Out article  The Jane got 4 stars and I liked the history involved in the building, which was where the survivors of The Titanic stayed in 1912 when awaiting an inquest into the ship’s sinking. The wood-paneled, 50-square-foot rooms are actually called cabins and were inspired by vintage train sleeper compartments—there’s a single bed with built-in storage and brass hooks for hanging up your clothes, but also iPod docks and wall-mounted 23-inch flat-screen TVs (see above). However, what really sold it for me was the location – in the chic West Village, just round the corner from where Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie character had a flat in Sex and The City.

    leafy-street

    As rooms are approximately $99 a night, depending on the season you visit, I was initially sceptical about what I would be getting, but I was greeted by a doorman in a chic uniform and walked into a lobby that looked like it was full of character. Instead of impersonal plastic room key cards, you get a full blown brass keys.

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    Should you be feeling peckish the restaurant is an authentic French brasserie, Café Gitane. However, my favourite room by far was the bar, which is so large it is actually a ballroom.  Full of mismatched chairs, taxidermy and oriental rugs and lit by candles, it’s a midweek hipster hangout and I wouldn’t have to stumble home after one of their insanely strong cocktails. How lucky was I?

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    Yes, rooms are small but how much time do you sit on a sofa on a hotel room anyway? Exactly! I found all I needed was a bed and a TV (and that’s all you get at The Jane). There’s no bathroorm – you share a communal one with three showers per floor –but  they were immaculately clean and there was never any queuing for the shower. Towels for the shower are provided and there are toiletries inside so it is like staying in a hotel with hostel prices. You even get a fresh bottle of filtered water every day, which is more than what you get in a hotel! I photographed the view of The Hudson River from my window and my parents said it was better than their $250-a-night hotel further uptown.  I had the best view, a good TV, friendly staff and a hip bar for next to nothing prices – win, win!

    For more details about price and availability, visit The Jane Hotel website.

    2)     WHERE TO EAT

    This is a very important subject for me because I was in New York to run the Marathon. Therefore it was important to get some good hearty and healthy food into my system pre-race and to indulge in a few carbs. However, when I say carbs I don’t mean pancakes with syrup for breakfast and super-size donuts and giant squidgy cookies type of carbs. That was my reward to myself  post-race. ..so I’ve divided the food part into a few sections:

    (i) Healthy Eats

    Crosby Street Hotel

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    I found out about this through it’s sister hotels in London  – The Charlotte Street Hotel, The Covent Garden Hotel, The Haymarket Hotel and The Soho Hotel – which  are all great places to spot celebs in. If the Firmdale group which owns them can run four consistently good hotels in the UK, I was pretty convinced they could operate one in New York…and I was right.

    The hotel is decorated in a similar style to the ones in the UK – modern, classic and contemporary and full of character. Think bright fabrics, texturised wallpaper and unique sculptures.

    crosby

    However, it manages to be chic yet cosy. And it was the best meal I ate in my entire trip to New York. Three of us runners indulged in a main course and dessert and check out the photos as a partial illustration of how good it was.

    lamb

    Lamb chops with cumin mint scented Satsuma. Tender and moist with a fruity kick from the satsuma

    steak

    Grilled rib-eye, herbed tomatoes and onions – a perfect image of what medium rare should be. The meat was packed with flavour.

    scallops

    Scallops, polenta, caper raisin sauce – large, succulent scallops, served in an extraordinarily rich sauce. Beats the traditional black pudding / pea serving suggestion by miles!

    For sides, we shared sweet potato mash (which we fought over because it was so tasty), hand cut French fries (seasoned with garlic) and fresh spinach. When it came to the table it was so pretty it was like an artwork. We trashed it all quite quickly, which is often the case with delicious food – you can’t get it in your mouth quick enough. But check out how we ended it – three spoons and one of these:

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    Funnel cake with hard cider caramel sauce and black pepper ice cream.

    I ended up running the marathon in the fast time of 3 Hours 36 Minutes and for one of the miles I visualised this cake as a motivation for me to keep going. My thinking was that if I died on the spot, I’d never get another funnel cake, which would have been tragedy!

    For details about price and to make a booking, visit The Crosby Street Hotel website.

    Bianca Italian

    bianca-nyc

    This was my ‘night-before’ meal and if I was on death row, I woudn’t be sad if I was served something like this as my last meal ever. For the price I paid, it was incredible value. Ok, it’s not as fancy as The Crosby Street hotel but it’s hearty and delicious, homely and most dishes are less than $10 (although the catch is that you do have to pay in cash not by card).

    One of my friends and I went for meat ragu with penne while our friend opted for tagliatelle. The portions were huge, making it ideal for pre-marathon carb-loading and the pasta was fresh and perfectly soft, but not too soft.

    bianca-nyc-best-pasta

    Its location in Soho, where some of the New York celebs like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst own apartments means that you may spot a celeb popping in for a quick bite. But everyone is made to feel like a celeb at Bianca’s as they immediately treat you as part of the family whether it’s your first visit of your 50th. This is why the grin on my face is this big after eating there!

    PIC OF ME

    The dining room is homely, a white dolls house and the tables are squished close together so the atmosphere is electric and buzzy. I was told about this by a friend who lived in New York for a few years and she told me it was her favourite Italian in the whole of New York. I can definitely understand why.

    For more details and to see the menu, visit the Bianca website

    (ii) Brunch Treats

    Westville

    westville

    Westville is open all day so you can have sweet potato fries with a lunchtime ceasar salad or an evening-time piece of grilled chicken for healthy yet deliciously tasty restaurant food. We visited the one in the West Village, near The Jane Hotel, but there are branches across the city.

    The one in the West Village is absolutely tiny, you can see the kitchen from all the tables and if you want the toilet you have to walk through the kitchen! But it’s worth it.

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    Sweet potato fries with eggs benedict? Apple pancakes with apple sauce?  Poached eggs with smoked salmon, avocado and asparagus (for just $13)?

    Westville_poached_eggs_special

    After a visit to Westville your stomach will be thanking you. The portions are huge and I sometimes get bored munching through a full plate of food but every mouthful of my eggs and fries triggered involuntary moans of pleasure.

    Visit the Westville website for a full list of locations and a look at the delicious menu

    Pastis

    pastis11

    This is one of THE most popular weekend brunch places. Set your alarm for a decent hour as by bagging a table at Pastis, you’re very likely to see someone very famous walk through the door. It’s run by Keith McNally, who also owns the Balthazaar restaurant in New York (which has also just opened in London) and counts USVogue editor Anna Wintour among one of his closest pals.

    It’s the food and the general Parisian chic ambience which draw the celebs to these places rather than any freebie meal – the celebs go in and pay because the place is cool in its own right. We all had a vegetable omelette with homecooked potatoes washed down with some fresh orange juice.

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    If it had been post Marathon I would have tried the pancakes with berries after seeing a plate get taken to the table opposite me. The next time I go to New York I will be returning to Pastis and I will order the pancakes, unless I go in the evening – when I’m told they do a mean steak frites followed by crème brulee.

    Check out the full menu and some pics of the gorgeous decor on the Pastis website

    (iii) Real Indulgences

    Momofuku Milk Bar

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    The cornflake with marshmallow cookie was mighty tasty but the speciality is a Compost cookie.

    compost-cookie

    This is a mix of graham crackers, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, pretzels and potato chips. Yes, potato chips! This gives it a unique salty and sweet taste, plus it’s crispy and soft in the same mouthful. My only regret is that I only bought one. This is what it looks like, you need to get one to fully appreciate the taste.

    Find out more at the Momofuku milk bar website.

    Umami burger

    Friends in LA keep telling me that Umami is the best burger place ever. So when I heard there was one in New York, I knew it was the place for our post Marathon celebration. After running 26.2 miles, my body craved red meat and quick carbs (in the form of chips).

    brger

    I went for a medium done classic burger served with a parmesan crisp and in a brioche bun with a martini on the side. Slightly sweeter than what I was expecting but it was reasonably priced and just what the doctor ordered. Plus if you’re going out for fancy food every night, sometimes you just need a burger. You can’t get Umami in England yet, so you’ll be one step ahead of your friends.

    Salivate over the menu on the Umami burger website.

    Make sure you add all these places to your New York must-visit list. You’ll have a better experience at these places then anywhere you would find in a guidebook. Enjoy!

    Don’t forget to see my blog post about the best running routes!

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    VIP Travel: A Mini-Break In Cornwall

    How do VIPs spend their weekends? Well, I’m pretty sure you won’t see Victoria Beckham vacuuming the house while David Beckham puts the laundry on. Time off is precious and if you’re constantly at home on the weekends then it’s impossible to ignore the domestic drudgery and truly switch off.

    I’m a massive fan of the mini-break. When your summer holiday feels like a lifetime ago and you may not be getting time off again until Christmas, then all you need to do is add an extra day to a weekend and you have the time available to travel a short distance for some scenery that really doesn’t look like London.

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    I always think the perfect mini-break distance is a trip of between 2 to 4 hours. Any less than this (eg Brighton) and you get the hen do / stag do crowd and a fast-pace of life. The further you go away from London, the more laid-back the people and the more time you have to stop and look around you without having to rush, rush, rush.

    The St Moritz hotel in Cornwall takes  4 ½ hours by train on average, which initially concerned me as too long a distance to travel for one or two nights. However, then I realised the train is a far more efficient way to travel than a plane. A four hour plane journey would involve an hour travelling to the airport either side plus extra time to go through security and passport control. Get on the train at Paddington, eat breakfast, read several chapters of your book, get a coffee and write some emails and suddenly the urban landscape of London morphs into green countryside and before you know it the train is practically travelling in the sea.  (The train tracks are literally on the beach at some parts of the journey).

    St Ives branch line c imagerail.co_.uk_

    Off the train at Bodmin Parkway, I barely had time to stretch my legs before I was greeted by a friendly lady holding the keys to a 4 by 4. This is a complimentary service for all visitors to the hotel meaning you really do leave all your stress at London Paddington.

    With the driving taken care of, I was free to stare out of the window at my first taste of Cornwall. Windy country roads where there was only one street in the village, signs for cream teas, tractors and the unmistakeable smell of the sea…I fell in love with Cornwall at first sight.

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    I have never been to Cornwall in the summertime so I don’t know how it compares, but Autumn is a beautiful time of year to visit. When it’s raining and windy and the waves are lashing onto the beach, it’s completely mesmerising. There’s something completely liberating about wearing warm and waterproof clothes and going out to admire the nature and then returning to the hotel for a warm lunch and a hot drink. At the St Moritz hotel, located between Rock and Polzeath, you don’t even have to go outside to admire the sea. At the Seaside Cafe, I feasted on the biggest king prawns I’ve ever seen served with warm bread and a slice of lemon.

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    As the setting was so beautiful, I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I was warm and cosy and my stomach was satisfied but I saw the words ‘chocolate brownie’ on the dessert menu. I can safely say that the warm cosy feeling grew to a feeling of near euphoria when this gooey brownie, served with salted caramel, came out.

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    I soon discovered that you can be as active or as lazy as you want to be. The hotel is within walking distance of Greenaway beach and the renowned Polzeath surfer’s beach. Nearby is a cycling trail, the camel trail, which is a traffic free 17 mile route alongside an old railway line. The hotel can give you information about where to surf and body board and advise you on jogging routes plus  there’s a fully equipped gym and a heated indoor swimming pool (there’s an outdoor one for summertime too).

    However, there are also amazing bedrooms with gorgeous big beds, powerful showers stocked with luxurious Cowshed products and, depending on what size room you book, most come with a sea view that’s a few minutes walk away. How can a view be a walk away? If you’re staying in a suite then the view is from you balcony but as the King Rooms are garden facing, these rooms come with their own beach hut. I was overjoyed to find a note in my room telling me that my bed was called Lobster, so after I had instagrammed my bed to make all my friends jealous, I weighed up bed vs beach hut and the beach hut won, obviously!

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    Inside there are two benches with cushions, a scrabble board, a monopoly board, some blankets and a lamp. I sat there on my own for a bit, just looking at the sea and feeling a million miles away from all the constant demands of life in London. No laptop, no phone, just me and the view.

    I’d been booked in for a massage so I tore myself away from the scenery to walk to the spa, located in the main building. There are 48 rooms in the hotel, as well as self-catering cottages and it was originally built as a private house after WWII. The main building houses the spa, bar and restaurant while the rooms are in an annexe. This is good as you don’t feel like all the holidaymakers are living on top of each other.

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    Anyway, back to the massage…I may well have walked into the room grumpy at having to tear myself away from looking at the sea. I may well have been sceptical about the pressure the masseuse would be able to give after seeing her petite size and as a runner I’m used to getting sport massages from some powerful people. And I may have been jaded by Cowshed products as I’ve used them before at Soho House and Shoreditch House. All the products are named after a mood then ‘cow’ so ‘grumpy cow’, ‘moody cow’, ‘horny cow’ etc. When the masseuse explained this to me, I may have failed to laugh in the appropriate places as I’d heard the joke before.

    I laid down on the bed, prepared to have a gentle rub down but after a couple of minutes I felt her work out the knots on my shoulders. This lady knew what she was doing. I felt the tension ooze out of my shoulders. My legs, which were in pain from a long run, began to loosen up and I was able to walk out of that massage room a different person. Coated in gorgeous rose scented Horny Cow oil (which smells better than the name suggests) there was just enough time for a quick sauna and steam and a dip in the gorgeous indoor pool before dinner. VIP life or what?

    luxury-holiday-pool-cornwall

    Dinner at the St Moritz is a gastronomic journey. The main restaurant and the seaside restaurant are both headed up by Jamie Porter, a local Cornish lad. With an open plan kitchen, you can watch the man at work. It seems to be a calm, organised kitchen with everyone clear on their task as there was no Gordon Ramsay style shouting.

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    Some of the fish on the menu come from Jamie’s dad’s fishing boat, Sparkling Line. I later found out the menu changes every day, depending on what fish were caught that day.  Just like at the main hotel – where you can be as active or as lazy as you want – the restaurant menu allows you to be as adventurous or as safe as you want. I love trying new things so I went for venison carpaccio to start. The colours on the plate were just as varied as the flavours in my mouth – it was very good. The white stuff is mushroom ketchup. I wish it was bottled up like Heinz as I could eat that with every meal.

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    However, there are also oysters and butternut squash soup and my friend’s Padstow mackerel with chorizo and sweetcorn looked delicious.

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    For main, I chose a fish dish that was served with lobster ravioli (at the top). It was almost too pretty to eat but once I started I finished every mouthful, scraping every last bit of sauce off the plate.

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    But the proof is in the pudding, right? I cannot begin to describe how heavenly the chocolate fondant was, cooked to perfection with a healthy amount of molten chocolate lava oozing out. Perfection!

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    Retiring to the bar with a dessert cocktail, I spent the rest of the evening chatting to my friends and actually listening to their replies. It’s hard to do this in London when there are so many other distractions and things to stress about. The hotel’s bar isn’t rowdy or busy in Autumn but we weren’t the only people in there. I spotted a few other couples that were clearly after the same kind of break as us. Flushed from a glow of healthy Cornish air and a full meal, most couples were looking each other in the eyes as they talked, playing board games or sharing insider jokes. Away from the stresses of real-life it’s easier to remember why you fell in love with a person. You don’t have to nag them to stop leaving towels on the floor or make the bed because there’s someone else to do that for you.

    I don’t know if it was the fresh air, the fine dining or the bed but I slept better than I have done in months. When it was time to return to London, I closed my eyes as the train left the station and made a promise I would be back. Maybe I’ll try it in the Spring next time… Here are a few more photos I took of the Autumnal scenery:

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    For more information about booking and room rates, visit the St Moritz hotel website.

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  • Eight Sun-Drenched Locations To Visit This Summer

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    It might seem a bit pontless to go on holiday to somewhere known for its high temperatures and sunny days during the summer – why not save it for the winter? You could do, but we all know what the British summer is like every year. It’ll rain, it’ll be windy and, even though you might get a few days of sun, it won’t be worth staying in the country for. You’re far better off hightailing it out to the Pacific or Caribbean regions for a couple of weeks (or longer, if you can wangle it) of rest and relaxation

    To whet your appetite and get you going on some holiday ideas, here are eight of the most sun-drenched, bone-meltingly relaxing locations you can visit if you get your act together and get it booked. If you’re concerned about costs (and let’s be honest, some of these options are quite expensive), remember that you can save on your flights by using a flight price comparison tool. Click here for more information about flight comparison, but read the rest of this article first.

    Tenerife

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    Let’s start with the low-cost option to ease you in. Tenerife has been providing affordable holidays for families and couples since the 1890s (you read that right) and as the largest of the Canary Islands also holds the privilege of hosting dormant volcano Teide – because the island’s natural sand is a volcanic black, every tourist beach has been crafted using imported white African sand. With bars, restaurants, Banana Boat and peddalo rides aplenty throughout the island’s resorts, temperatures stay around the 24-28ºC mark during the summer months so there’s ample opportunity to get your tan on.

    Bora Bora

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    At only 11.3 square miles in area, it’s not a massive surprise to reveal that Bora Bora’s main income is from tourists looking to experience a little slice of paradise in French Polynesia. You’d better be comfortable with the water, though – the accommodation of most resorts is based around bungalows that extend over the island lagoon. The bungalows range in comfort level from basic to luxury, and the food is more or less limited to what can be found in the sea and in the coconut trees that are plentiful on the island.

    Turks & Caicos

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    Featured heavily in the second of David Hare’s Johnny Worricker television spy dramas, Turks & Caicos in the Lucayan Archipelago (near the Bahamas) has become a celebrity hotspot in recent years and is perfect for families with young children. Unlike some islands, the waves rarely get above a gentle ripple, though there are obviously sharks and other marine life that can be a problem if you go too far out. Instead of sticking to the main island, why not take a boat out to one of the uninhabited cays nearby for your own private beach experience?

    Hawaii

     

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    Hawaii is the closest to paradise that you can come within the United States. A vibrant island about 2000 miles to the south-west of the American mainland, it boasts a diverse range of natural features including volcanoes, gorgeous beaches and lush vegetation that attract millions of tourists and scientists to its eight main islands. Maui and Oahu are two of the most popular visitor destinations, offering luxury accommodation, authentic Hawaiian activities like luaus, watersports and so on.

    Cuba

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    Cuba’s reputation as a holiday destination is somewhat overshadowed, it’s fair to say, by its controversial political past, notably its status as one of the world’s highest-profile Communist countries following its seizure by Fidel Castro in 1959. It’s a fascinating place to visit as long as you’re not American, though – Havana is still characterised by its 1950s cars and locals that love to have a good time, but you’ve come for the beaches, and those are plentiful. Towns like Varadero are built around resorts which place an emphasis on relaxation and discovering the natural beauty of the island. With a general high of 27ºC in the summer months, Cuba’s perfect for a day of beach relaxation and an evening of mojito-sampling.

    Sri Lanka

     

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    Although the Sri Lankan tourism industry was badly damaged by the physical and psychological effects of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, it hasn’t discouraged companies from investing in it, with a number of new resorts based around the country’s beaches scheduled to open this year alone. From tropical coves to long peninsulas that are all equally perfect for lying in a hammock with a coconut, you’re spoiled for choice – however, as far as specific activities go, you should head to Mirissa for blue whale-watching and Arugam Bay for surfing.

    Brazil

     

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    We all know about Brazil’s beaches – the Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro is probably the most famous in the world – but there are tons of resorts outside the likes of Rio and Sao Paulo that are remote, quiet and so stunning that doesn’t seem fair that one country should have so much beauty on one coastline. It knocks Scarborough and Blackpool into a cocked hat, that’s for sure! Taipus de Fora on the Maraú Peninsula has everything: white sand, blue water, natural pools teeming with wildlife, world-class restaurants and a lining of palm trees providing a classic tropical background to the scene. Stay at the Encanto da Lua and make sure you get a balcony facing the full moon if the timing of your trip coincides with it – at Taipus de Fora it appears larger and rounder than it normally does.

     

    The Maldives

     

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    Tourism has become the primary income of the Maldives despite tourists not really discovering it until the 1970s. Now, though, the country’s unique structure of small, separated islands means that each one has its own resort complex as well as a reef that creates a natural swimming pool and protects swimmers from the sometimes rough waters of the ocean outside the reef. It’s isolated, warm and as full of adventure as you want it to be – now get the surfboard out…or fall asleep in your hammock. It’s your holiday!

     

     

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    How To Fill 24 Hours In Paris…VIP Style

    I don’t think you can truly call yourself a VIP unless you’ve been to Paris. Just walking round the city makes you feel more culturally aware and the moment you step into an art gallery like the Musee D’Orsay or The Louvre and your eyes are hit with an iconic impressionist artwork, it kind of changes the way you look at the world. Also, they party hard in France – at least until dawn – and even if you’re a bit of a lightweight I can guarantee you will stay out longer because you don’t want the new experiences to stop when you go to bed.

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    At the end of this blog post, I’ve listed the cheapest ways to get there from London– by Eurostar or by plane – with prices starting from £69 return. That’s cheaper than a night clubbing in central London and it’s a million times more VIP.

    Thousands of city guides have been written about Paris but I’ve never seen one that explains how to get as much VIP activities as possible packed into 24 hours. So here’s my advice for how to do Paris in style.

    DINING

    Paris is for gourmands – the moment you arrive at the airport or station you can smell fresh French bread. You’re going to need something for lunch, something for dinner and something for breakfast the next day. I suggest:

    La Coupole

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    Perfect for a decadently long lunch, La Coupole has been a Paris institution since the 1920s. This grand brasserie is the epitome of La Belle Epoque. Old photos depict previous guests from the Paris literary, artistic and cultural scene. Edith Piaf. Ernest Hemingway. Pablo Picasso. They all needed to eat and when they did they chose La Coupole. The décor is gorgeous, the food is beautifully presented and it tastes just as good as it looks. The foie gras was sumptuous.

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    For dessert, the creme brulee oozed vanilla and the chocolate fondant was satisfyingly gooey with a rich chocolate kick.

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    La Coupole, 102 Blvd De Montparnasse.  Nearest Metro: Vavin. Visit La Coupole website here.

    La Rotonde

    I was told about this brasserie by a friend who has been a regular for years. If you Google it, you can kind of see why.

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    It has it’s own Wikipedia page. Yes, for a cafe! Pablo Picasso was a regular as his studio was nearby and it was popular with all the best artists of the early 20th century. It’s also very cool that it was a hit with revolutionaries and Lenin and Putin both dined there. Unfortunately it was closed on my visit, but my friend said they do the best pork chops with truffle mash she has ever tasted and she has even dreamed of this mash. I trust her. I want to go back and sample it myself though!

    La Rotonde , Blvd de Montparnasse. Nearest Metro: Vavin. Visit La Rotonde website here.

    Quick Burger

    Fancy a quick dinner on the go? Paris is excellent for fine dining but sometimes you just want to grab and go. Places to go, people to see…but you still need to line your stomach if you’ve got a big night ahead. You’ll find Quick Burger – a tastier equivalent to Burger King – at the larger train stations.

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    Jump off the train on your way to a club and a delicious burger will be with you in minutes for around 3 to 5 Euros – a bargain!

    Visit the Quick Burger website for the menu.

    Crepes

    If you foolishly skip dinner – either because you were busy or you were too lazy to find the Quick Burger – you’re going to get hungry later on. Trust me, there are only so many cocktails at Harry’s Bar (see below) your body can take before you scream out for food.  Even if you have dinner, once you smell pancake batter and warm Nutella you’re going to want to stop.
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    Near St Germain De Pres in the 6th arrondisement, there’s a street called Rue Princesse, which has several street food places that are open late. This means if you want crepes at 2am (like I did) you can. I recommend banana, Nutella and coconut flakes – very decadent!

    DRINKING

    Vin rouge or vin blanc. Champagne or Biere. Just ordering a drink sounds more glam in France. Here’s where to do it:

    Harry’s New York Bar

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    For a pre-dinner aperitif (ie a very strong cocktail) you cannot beat Harry’s Bar, especially if you like vodka martinis. As you can see from the photo above, I do!  Harry’s was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourites and he came to drink the daiquiris, which are also pleasantly strong. The atmosphere here varies  from civilised cocktail-sipping to drunken conversations with new friends over a stiff drink but for the best vibe I recommend staying upstairs by the bar. Downstairs, the table service is more formal – good for a date but not so good if you’re single and ready to mingle.

    Harry’s Bar, 5 Rue Daunou. Nearest Metro: Opera. Visit the Harrys Bar website

    Buddha Bar

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    If you’ve been to the Buddha Bar in London or Dubai then you’ll know how chic this place is. The Buddha bar in Paris was the first in the empire and

    Buddha bar, 8/12 rue Boisay d’Anglais. Nearest Metro: Concorde. Visit the Buddha bar website

    Eden Park Pub

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    After a few drinks, it gets to the stage of the evening where you start wanting to throw off the  formalities, get up and dance and down a Jaeger-bomb (or is that just me?) At this time of the evening, you need to swap the cocktail bars for an open-all-hours place that serves no-frills drinks alongside great music and a large dancefloor. Eden Park is linked to rugby and we all know rugby boys know how to party!

    Eden Park, Rue Princesse. Nearest Metro: St Germain De Pres. Visit The Eden Park Pub website

    CULTURAL ATTRACTIONS

    Musee D’Orsay

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    If you want to leave Paris feeling inspired (and quite frankly, why wouldn’t you?) then you  should mark Solferino. on your Metro map and spend a few hours at the Musee D’Orsay. The reason, I say ‘inspired’ is because I am always cheered up when my eyes spot something beautiful. Sure I might be hungover or stressed by something but when I see a beautiful work of art it cheers me up and I am reminded that life is not all doom and gloom. Art is all about how you look about the world and when I come out a magnificent gallery like this, I feel calmer, more ‘zen’ and I look at everything in a different light.

    Musee D’Orsay. 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur. Nearest Metro: Solferino. Visit the Musee D’Orsay website.

    The Louvre

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    Have you seen the film The Da Vinci code? Then The Louvre needs no further explanation. Alternatively, have you heard of The Mona Lisa? This is where it’s housed. You’ll need a whole day at least to do the louvre properly but if you do only have afew hours then go to the website to see what’s on display then you can plan how to maximise your time. My personal top three is the Mona Lisa (obviously), the ancient Greek statue Venus Di Milo and the Titians (including Man With A Glove because the facial expression is just as enigmatic as The Mona Lisa).

    The Louvre, near The Seine. Nearest Metro: Louvre – Rivoli or Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre station. Visit The Louvre website. NOTE: THE LOUVRE IS CLOSED ON TUESDAYS

    Colette

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    This looks like a futuristic science lab but it’s the beauty hall of a department store. Not just any department store but the best department store in Paris. In London, we have Harvey Nichols, Harrods and Selfridges and in Paris they have Colette. This department store on the Champs Elysee is bigger than Harrods and Harvey Nicks and from the outside it’s as beautiful as an art gallery. You need to visit it at least once in your life, to walk around the beauty hall and smell the fine perfumes before checking out the chic fashion concessions. French women (and men) have an innate sense of style and I find walking round Colette gives me some ideas about what to put together when I’m back at home.

    Colette, 213 Rue Saint Honoré. Nearest Metro: Tuileries. Visit the Colette website.

    STAYING

    Everyone has their favourite districts (arrondisements)of Paris – depending if you want to be close to the party, to the river, to the museums, to the stadium or close to real life. My personal favourite is Montparnasse – the left bank – home to the artistic and cultural movements. You can smell the creative talent on the streets almost as much as you can the fresh bread and sweet pastries from one of the many boulangeries.

    I stayed at the Ibis Alesia Montparnasse, where a room for two including breakfast and WiFi was £82.

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    From the outside it may not look like much but the twin room I had was spacious and clean, the shower was clean and there was a well-lit mirror – perfect for applying make-up. Just opposite, there was a boulangerie , where one of the most delicious mille feuilles that I’ve ever had in my life was 3 Euros. The bakery also sold giant macaroons and mini quiches as well as baguettes – you can eat so well in Paris.

    Ibis Alesia Montparnasse, 147 rue d’Alesia. Nearest Metro: Alesia. Check out Booking.com for the best hotel deals. The Ibis Alesia entry on Booking.com is here.

    TRAVELLING

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    In Paris, I find the Paris Metro is way more efficient than the London Undergound and cheaper too. If you buy a carnet of 10 tickets it will cost you 17 Euros, which works out to 1 Euro 70 a journey, compared to up to £4 for the London Underground. This Metro ticket will get you everywhere – even as far as the stadium –so you don’t need to stress what zone you are travelling in. If you arrive in Paris by Eurostar it’s all you need, but if you come into the airport you will need an extra return tickets, which is 19 Euros 50.

    For cheap flights to Paris, check out Expedia.com. My friend paid £89 for a return trip by Air France. British Airways have sales a few times a year, where you can get flights from £49 each way. Currently they’re £55 each way at BA.com.

    Eurostar is cheaper the further in advance you book. It’s possible to get it for £69 but if you want that, it will have to be a midweek trip. On the Eurostar website right now there is a search facility where you can say you want a £69 fare and it comes back with the times and days that’s available. I suggest doing it as arriving in Paris by train means you get straight to the heart at the cityat The Gare Du Nord without having to mess around at the airport.

    So have I inspired you to go? Am I missing anything off my VIP Paris trips? Tweet @livelikeavip or comment below!

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    How To Visit Istanbul Like Rihanna

    I love shopping, I love clubbing and I love hot weather (which is why I go to Ibiza every year) but I also want to do things I wouldn’t get a chance to do at home when I’m on holiday. I want to try new food and get inspired by beautiful architecture and that’s in limited supply in Ibiza now that I’m used to it.

    If you’ve only got a few days off from work as you’re so busy earning money for your VIP lifestyle , then Istanbul ticks all the boxes and it’s just 3 hours 40 mins flying time from London. Bond films From Russia With Love, The World Is Not Enough and Skyfall were filmed there but I first became intrigued by it last year when Rihanna posted photos of herself at the city’s W hotel after a gig.

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    There were some other photos of Rihanna in the city at the time, including this one of her walking through a local bar. Having wrongly assumed Istanbul was full of historical and ancient things, this bar looks sleek and modern – just the sort of place I’d happily sip a glass of Champagne in.

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    Justin Bieber and David Guetta also performed in Istanbul in 2013, while The Wanted are heading there in March 2014 and Justin Timberlake will be there in May. There’s never been a better time to visit!

    Fans of Istanbul love it for the individuality – it’s the only city in the world where Europe meets Asia and it also straddles the ancient and the modern worlds. The skyline is a glittering ribbon of palaces, mosques, and minarets, but also of sleek skyscrapers, where the restaurant and nightclub scene challenges New York’s or London’s with beautiful people dancing til the early hours. Just my kind of place!

    If you’re planning a trip to Istanbul, this is what I recommend:

    (1) Taking photos at the Blue Mosque…a great Instagram shot!

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    The Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s best sights . I also recommend visiting the Basilica Cistern – a 1,500-year-old building supported by 336 columns and the Hagia Sophia – It was a church, then a mosque and is now a museum; standing beneath its 55m-high dome is a humbling experience. Look out for superb mosaics of Christ, the Virgin Mary and Byzantine emperors  and the Viking graffiti scratched on the balustrade of the south gallery.

    (2) Shopping and savouring the flavours of the Bazaar

    The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. Go by tram to  Sultanahmet or Sirkeci for a real oriental shopping experience.

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    The Spice Bazaar (also known as the Egyptian Bazaar) near Galata Bridge in Eminönü is small compared with the Grand Bazaar, but is packed with excellent delis and shops selling Turkish delight, packs of apple tea, honeycombs, cheeses, dried nuts and fruit, stuffed figs, caviar, coffee, spices, and an incredible range of herbal teas for every complaint and condition.

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    (3) Checking out the prices of designer labels…and enjoying coffee in the mall

    When you’ve had your fill of Oriental design, it’s time to head for the city’s modern malls which cover everything from high-end to high-street. Funky Istinye Park ( istinyepark.com) is a mini village populated by Bond Street-style stores under one roof – with golf carts available to help heavily laden customers back to their cars. It’s huge!

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    Kanyon  (kanyon.com.tr) has everything from Harvey Nichols to Wagamama – but you could be in London.

    (4) Bar-hopping and clubbing

    If you want to be a bit sophisticated, Sensus is a trendy wine and cheese ‘boutique’ a stone’s throw from the landmark Galata Tower, this cellar bar is lined with literally hundreds of bottles of Turkish wines. This is the place to come and try a wide variety of domestically produced wines, few of which you’ll find in the average restaurant, best accompanied by a platter of surprisingly varied Turkish cheeses.

    Leb-i-Deriya is one of the first, and still the best, of the rash of rooftop bars which have swept across the city in recent years. Mellow music, cocktails and a hip, sophisticated clientele. And the views down over the Golden Horn and Bosphorus are just fabulous. For dinner, try 360 restaurant, which combines traditional Turkish cuisine with 360 chef’s modern flair. The views are to die for!

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    Now you’ve lined your stomach, dance it off at Indigo (famous for it’s electro scene) or if you want some style and glamour then Reina, on the banks of the Bosphorus – has two floors of house music and it’s where the Investment bankers and those with money go to party. Dress to impress!

    (5) Sleep off your hangover at the beach

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    Şile and Ağva  are nice long, wide beaches on the Black Sea coast 72 km (45 miles) northeast of Üsküdar. Take Bus 139 (Şile) or139A (Şile & Ağva) from the Harem Otogar.  In summer there are about 27 buses per day in each direction (Harem-Şile and Şile-Harem) on the 139 route starting at 06:30 am, with the last bus returning from Şile to Istanbul at 24:00 (12 midnight).

    There are other beaches too, all within a 90min drive of Istanbul but you’ll need to hire a car to properly explore these.

    (6) Stay in style…relax in your own private villa

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    If you’re staying in Istanbul for a few days you may not have time to do this…but if you want to extend your stay then you’ll find that Istanbul can be as vibrant or as relaxing as you make it. If your schedule is as busy as Rihanna’s and you stay in a hotel in the centre of town then you’ll be constantly on the go. However, chose to stay in a villa on the outskirts of town and you can explore the sights for a day, spend the next day relaxing and go back out when you’ve had time to collect your thoughts and work on your suntan There are amazing real estate villas for sale in Istanbul via Turkey real estate guru Spot Blue.

     

    Essential Info

    Nearest Airport: Airlines including British Airways and Turkish Airlines use Istanbul Ataturk airport, which is 3 hours 40 minutes from London. Low-cost flight operators like Pegasus and Easyjet use Istanbul’s SAW airport.

    Currency: Turkish Lira. £1 = 3.67 Turkish Lira. (Divide prices by 4 to get back to what it is in £’s)

    Tips: Istanbul’s equivalent of an Oyster card, the Istanbulkart saves the hassle of buying tokens (jeton; £1) every time you travel. You save a shade over 30p per journey after loading the card – it can be used on the tram, metro, buses, ferries, funiculars and suburban trains.

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    Ski Like A VIP With Snow Fun Fridays

    Every winter, the celebrities flock to the ski slopes while I’m sat in the UK looking at photos. Normally, I actually try to Live Like a VIP by attending the parties / fashion shows / premieres they go to and occasionally hanging out at a popular beach destination (like Ibiza, baby!) However, I cannot ski. I have never ski-ed. This puts me at a disadvantage when I see Mariah Carey, Elle Macpherson, Cara Delevigne, Prince William and Harry, Seal and Heidi Klum always ski-ing…and now the Kardashians are joining the celebrity ski club.

    kim-kourt-scott

     

    I wasn’t sure this would ever change but recently I got an email from The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, telling me of a new promotion in 2014 ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics. I was actually born in Hemel Hempstead (30 mins outside London on Junction 8 of the M1), I went to school in Hemel Hempstead and yet I had never ventured to this slope. That, and the photo of Kim Kardashian and her family enjoying the slopes in Aspen was all the inspiration I needed. I realised a while ago that if I wanted to Live Like a VIP then I’d need to ski and now it’s cheaper than ever I’m running out of excuses why I don’t learn.

    The new offer is for Fridays, where experienced ski-ers can get 4 hours of ski slope access (between 6pm – 10pm) for just £39 for 2 hours. For the less experienced and complete beginners like me, adult ski and snowboard lessons are £49 for two hours between 8pm and 10pm and you get a complimentary drink in The Lodge apres ski bar afterwards. That’s about the same cost – or less – as what you’d spend on a regular Friday night out plus you learn a new skill and meet a new bunch of people. Since I am really new and I am very badly co-ordinated (I blame the fact I always wear heels and so can’t get the hang of the flat snow boots), I decided I would need a private lesson and because I was at home over Christmas my brother and sister decided they wanted to come along too. Do we look similar to the Kardashians? Well, maybe not exactly but I was impressed with the quality of the hired clothes (available for £6.75 for the kit).

    ski-posing

    At first glance, I’ll be honest and say the snow centre doesn’t look like much. From the outside, it looked like the size of the lodge the Kardashians would stay in when they went to Aspen. But appearances can be very deceptive as when you go inisde there are three floors (including a coffee shop, restaurant and bar, ski equipment hire and two slopes!)

    outisde-the-snow-center

    This is what it looks like inside, with a long and quite steep slope on the left hand side with a ski lift, and the nursery slope on the right hand side. You probably won’t see it this empty though, as it was a popular hangout on the Friday I visited. I mean this in a good way, as the atmosphere was buzzing and people looked happy to be there.

    hemel-snowcentre1

    So what happens? We were told to get there 30 mins before our lesson to get kitted up and we needed every moment of that time. First of all, we rented the waterproof jackets and trousers and then we got our boots and skis. The boots fit on a bit like ice skates. Although they were flat, they were quite supportive around the ankles so I didn’t feel as weird as I expected. Here’s me showing my brother what to do.

    ski-trying

    The lesson started promptly at 1pm and I was very impressed by our instructor Max Rayner. I must admit I did recognise him (he was on the BBC3 show Sun, Snow and Suspicious Parents) but this was not the place to ask about that – it was all about the learning. And learn we did, as Max took things step by step. Even better is he explained what he was making us do and outlined what he hoped we’d be able to do by the end of the session. The goal: a snow plough. This may not sound like much to the experienced ski-ers out there, but I truly am clumsy.

    We started off with the basics to get confidence. When each step was mastered, Max praised us and I appreciated that. One of my friends had never ski-ed before and enrolled at a ski school while on her ski vacation. She ended up quitting after the blunt German instructor made her feel rubbish. Max just reassured us all the way and I think I was harder on myself than he was. Check out my expression in the photo below:

    ski-sulk

    The first thing we did was find our balance by balancing on one ski and sliding around like we were on a child’s scooter. It got us used to the sensation of sliding around on the snow and it showed me that it can be pretty fast once you get the rhythm going. After this I expected to put on two skis but there was more balance work. We stood sideways and climbed halfway up the nursery slope (sideways because we would glide down if we attempted to walk up facing forwards). It wasn’t that easy to balance on one leg while going downhill as I think I was scared of losing control. Sensing this, Max made us do two on each leg before letting us put on the other ski.

    We walked up, sideways, to the top of the nursery slope and he showed us how to turn round in a snow plough until we were facing downhill. If you turn round any other way you’ll start sliding downhill and end up careering into a wall or another group of ski learners. And if you do the turn wrong you’ll end up on your bottom, getting laughed at by your sister!

    ski-fall

     

    Max said I wasn’t the worst ever ski-er, which reassured me a bit, and it made me keep on going. After the fall and being slower to get to grips with the movements than both my brother and sister, I did look at the clock a few times but Max ordered me to climb back up and told me he knew I could do better. And do you know what? I did. And so did my siblings Here’s my brother in that snow plough.

    ski-plough

    After a few goes of the snow plough our hour ended, and despite my earlier clock-watching I was pretty sad about that. I wanted to go higher up and change the angle of my skis so I went quicker. Maybe I could have even practised more snow plough stops and maybe even tried a bit of turning – things that get taught to beginners in the next stage of their lessons…

    I guess that means I’ll have to go back for two hours of lessons on a Friday! Want to join me? Check out The Snow Centre website for details of Fun Friday and everything you need to plan a visit. You can see more photos on The Snow Centre Facebook page or follow @the_snowcentre on Twitter.

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    The Hidden Gems Of VIP Australia

    Often when you think of VIP Australia holidays, the first place that springs to mind is the glorious white sails of Sydney Opera House. But for those looking for lesser known travel gems there are a few places I’d recommend for capturing a little piece of VIP lifestyle. Here’s my top five locations…

     aus

    1. The beaches of Perth:

    Perth is known as the most isolated city in the world. Surrounded by the mining towns and remote deserts of Western Australia, it’s often a city that gets missed out by backpacking tourists (usually travelling the East Coast).

    But the capital city of Western Australia, which was the birth place of Heath Ledger and the city where he spent his first 20 years growing up – and learnt to act, has some of the best beaches I visited in the country.

    21dec04g-1

    Scarborough beach and Cottesloe beach would be my beaches of choice close to the city, but travelling a little further afield Rockingham’s Penguin Island is well worth a visit (and yes, there are penguins there!), as well as the popular coastal city of Fremantle, well known for its brewery (Little Creatures is great for a meal with a few drinks, either for a night out or a ‘Sunday sess’) and as the city of glamorous weddings and vintage cars! Admittedly, the prices of …everything! are little more expensive in Perth, but it’s well worth a visit just to enjoy the laid back lifestyle.

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    Other celebrity VIPs which hail from Perth include Pirates of the Caribbean and The Great Gatsby star Gemma Ward and RomCom favourite and spouse of Sacha Baron Cohen, Isla Fisher.

    isla

    Essential Info:

    Nearest Airport: Perth Airport (18 hours 50 minutes approx. from Heathrow via Singapore)

    Currency: AUS Dollar. £1.00 = $1.82

    Time difference: +8 hours

    2. Melbourne excursions:

    Stylish Melbourne is best known for its cocktail bars and tea rooms. Madame Brussels is my favourite cocktail bar, situated on a rooftop terrace overlooking the city, it’s a unique little bar in that it’s made to look and feel like a garden party. To me it has a look and feel of Alice in Wonderland.

    karl 2

    One of the more popular nights out however, is the Neighbour’s Night – an excursion which runs from all the hostels and hotels I came across. I went along to the Neighbour’s night’s final ‘party’ of the year, where the audience gets to listen and dance to Karl Kennedy’s band, and Karl Kennedy (Alan Fletcher) himself hosts the night, which includes songs and party games/drinking games with several of the shows casts – past and present. Neighbours fans can also use their time in Melbourne to visit the Ramsay Street set, where the soap is filmed.

    karl 1

    Aside from all things Neighbours, Melbourne gives you the chance to get up close to some icons of the film world – namely some of the most well-known movie costumes! The Australian Centre for the Moving Image is in the centre of the city and boosts a collection that includes Heath Ledger’s Ned Kelly armour and fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman’s Moulin Rouge outfits.

    moulin rouge dress

    Essential Info:

    Nearest Airport: Tullamarine, Melbourne International Airport (21 hours approx. from Heathrow)

    Currency: AUS Dollar. £1.00 = $1.82

    Time difference: +10 hours

     3. Using Brisbane as a base:

    Brisbane, in Queensland is a city known for its Southbank beach – a genuine beach in the middle of the city! It also has a good live music scene in the evenings, and some great exhibitions in it’s art gallery, and library! (I actually spent an entire day at the library, which is like a mix of library, community centre, art gallery and museum in one). But one of the things that made this an appealing stop on my tour is that it’s a great base for traveling to the likes of Fraser Island (a little pocket of paradise and a rare place where you can see wild dingoes), the Gold Coast (with its many theme parks) and one of my ‘must see’ attractions; Australia Zoo.

    aus zoo

    Although, sadly, the days of bumping into zoo owner Steve Irwin are of course gone, there is a chance to see his wife Terri and children Robert and Bindi (who’s a big star of American TV) doing their thing at the Crocoseum. Well worth a watch to see the family carrying on his legacy!

    irwins

    Essential Info:

    Nearest Airport: Brisbane Airport (24 hours 50 minutes approx. from Heathrow)

    Currency: AUS Dollar. £1.00 = $1.82

    Time difference: +10 hours

    4. Alice Springs tour:

    If you don’t mind bus tours (which can actually be pretty fun when you’re traveling the outback – nothing like the English countryside bus tours that you expect to be filled with pensioners), Alice Springs to Uluru is a great bus tour. Uluru was formerly known as Ayers Rock, and is one of the icons of Australia as a country. Although when you get there, it is… well, just a rock, for me it was the journey and all it had to offer that was interesting!We stopped of at King’s Canyon – which you may recognise from the film version of Priscilla Queen of the Desert starring Guy Ritchie, and while the film played in our tour bus, our guide pointed out all the pieces of scenery you can see along the way.

    desert

    I know this doesn’t always happen, but making this journey was particularly special for me because we came across three film crews (although that said, the area has been used as the setting for several films due to the fact it is so isolated and devoid of people – bar the odd tour bus). They were filming a reality to TV show to find the next stars of the Priscilla musical; I assume this is the Australian equivalent of the Andrew Lloyd Webber series; Over The Rainbow. Needless to say, it was pretty exciting to see a Priscilla bus being filmed as it came driving towards us – especially as we were mid-way through watching the movie!

    priscilla

    Essential Info:

    Nearest Airport: Alice Springs Airport (22 hours 35 minutes approx. from Heathrow)

    Currency: AUS Dollar. £1.00 = $1.82

    Time difference: +9:30 hours

    5. Jewellery trading in Coober Pedy – Opal capital of the world

    The final destination on my hidden gems list is very fitting of such a description, as it is actual an opal mining town. This is probably the strangest place I’ve ever been in my life, but also the most fascinating. The town, called Coober Pedy, looks almost apocalyptic on first sight – not helped by the fact it has an abandoned space craft from the Chronicles of Riddick left right in its centre (apparently it has been touched be Vin Diesel). There are Hollywood film props and relics left abandoned in several places, as the town is favoured as a film location for the same reasons and Alice Springs. But this places does actually have a population, they’re just underground!

    riddick

    Genuinely, the houses are built underground, but are a lot more impressive than you would expect. The temperature is always right (nice cool relief from the desert sun – but warm and cosy at night so no need for air con or central heating), they’re very private and secluded and building permission is apparently easy to obtain. Not to mention some of them have opals lining their walls (though not always the valuable kind). Even the church in this town is an underground cave of sorts.

    underground house

    Coober Pedy does bring in its fair share of VIP visitors too. It’s streets are lined with entrances to underground jewellers selling the spoils of the risk takers who have traded in conventional lifestyles to take their chances of making their fortunes in mining and panning. People travel from far and wide to trade in genuine local precious stones and Coober Pedy opals – the local pizza shop paying homage to the town’s VIP visitors in a hall of fame. Funnily enough it was in line at that very pizzeria that I literally bumped into Jason Donovan, probably fresh from filming for the Priscilla Queen of the Desert TV show.

    P1050366

    Nearest Airport: International Airport = Alice Springs: 22 hours 35 minutes approx. from Heathrow, Coober Pedy Airport: 55 minutes approx.

    Currency: AUS Dollar. £1.00 = $1.82

    Time difference: +10:30 hours

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    Las Vegas And Mexico

    If you’re flying all the way across the Atlantic to America, you might as well make the most of it to see a couple of areas at once. Live Like a VIP’s Amar Sejpal combined hanging with Lady Gaga in Las Vegas with swimming with dolphins in Cancun, Mexico. If you fancy following in his jet-setter footsteps, these are his travel tips:

    When in Vegas…

    Daiquiris with Lady Gaga

    Itineraries become impossible to follow when you have 9am frozen daiquiris with Lady Gaga (in Madame Tussauds), 1pm gondola rides along the strip and you can’t tell the time inside the casinos, which are air-conditioned and feel the same at 5am and 5pm. Therefore, this article will not give you an hour by hour plan but I am about to tell you there are five things you must visit when in Las Vegas.

    Hyde (5/5)

    The only club in Vegas that opens up its back doors to the landscape of the rest of the strip is Hyde, situated in Bellagio. After being treated to a few drinks by some wonderful PR folk, Hyde certainly lived up to the party scene I was expecting in LV.

    The selections of music from DJ Five help to put in practice ‘stripper therapy’; a segment of a a programme frequently played in your hotel room TVs. Basically this is a nightspot to hit.

    Grand Canyon (3.5/5)

    Grand Canyon 2

    Learning that I couldn’t stomach a stroke of turbulence on smaller aircraft wasn’t how I wanted to experience the Grand Canyon tour. However the captain of Papillon’s tours put the seat belt sign on and flew us across one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon. Located in Arizona, not too far from central LV, the tour offers amazing landscape and history. For example, American Indians still live in and around the canyon and have for thousands of years. And, fossil footprints have been left by more than 20 species of reptiles and amphibians but the fossilised skeletons or bones have never been found in the canyon.

    Grand Canyon

    Coyote Ugly (4/5)

    LeAnn Rimes once sang on the top of the bars of this place, making you feel like making love on a bar top was okay. While I didn’t personally try this, I did however watch boob-shaking women at Coyote Ugly.

    coyote-ugly-large

    Identical to the film, the bar located in Hotel New York New York offers that traditional American bar feel but with cocktails to help you get over your ex-boyfriend i.e. a great fruity vodka mix, namely the Ex-Boyfriend.

    David Copperfield (4/5)

    David Copperfield doesn’t need advertising to put bums on the seats at his show at the MGM Hotel. Aged 57, Copperfield still pins the art of showmanship and magic on stage, giving the audience that exactly right performance.

    A standout trick worth paying a hundred something dollars for is his disappearing car act, making you question whether you’re having a hangover from hell. However pinching me that it was all real was David himself, pictured backstage with me below.

    David Copperfield

     

    XS with David Guetta (3.5/5)

    Living life like Jay Sean (the only comparable Asian male to myself), I was guided inside of XS, at Wynn hotel, where David Guetta was playing. Split into tens of seated booths, XS has a dance floor large enough for groups titling themselves as ‘wolf pack’ and ‘Minaj-esties’; resembling scenes from an urban edit of Grease.

    The club is set in front of a pool that converts into one of the most spacious open-air dance floors on the strip. Inside, the detail of décor is touched with chandeliers, red velvet and leopard print; all very swish and worthwhile.

    And then stopover in Cancun, Mexico…

    With my A-Z map of Cancun and Pesos at the ready, I was ready to haggle in the central markets, eat the most authentic burrito and party with an oversized sombrero. But do that after you’ve done these three things…

    Dolphin Discovery (5/5)

    Dolphin Discovery

    Flipping around with some dolphins is sine qua non/absolutely necessary. Thanks to Dolphin Discovery, I was treated to the Dolphin Royal Scheme, designed to exceed my expectations… and loosely knotted trunks! Me plus two dolphins meant I felt the rush of being pushed by two dolphins at top speed by my feet across the waters. Customers should ensure their bikini panties and trunks are tied firmly as the speed of the dolphins pushing you can cause them to unfasten and fly away. Bar this, another highlight is the dorsal taw, where the dolphins take you through the water as you hold onto their fins.

    Coco Bongo (5/5)

    Okay, so promoters bustle the streets of Cancun, insistent on wrapping a wristband around you. All the while where characters from The Mask, Spider-Man and Homer Simpson come in their tens to take pictures with you and then make you pay for it.

    I recommend Coco Bongo nightclub, which is a popular nightspot. It does exceed your expectation of the regular nightclub. Every 30 minutes a tribute performance of a film or artist will be flown above your head or be thrusting on stage, giving you a club/theatre experience you won’t find anywhere in the world.

    Coco Bongo

    Barter with street vendors or your hotel concierge for cheaper deal.  For here and all clubs in Cancun, you’ll be charged a heavy one-off fee for entrance but then you get unlimited free drinks inside.

    Chichen Itza (4/5)

    Located in the municipality of Yucatan, Chichen Itza is a large pre-Columbian city built by the Mayan civilisation. With the architecture originally built to tuck in a population of 4,000,000, the Mayans logically built the pyramids, stages and game courts to serve the purpose of easy communication and to enrich the closeness of the community.

    Chichen Itza, in translation, means ‘at the mouth of the well of the Itza’. Many Mayans still live here and have incredible stories to share if you talk to them. Including the fact that when babies were born, they would want their babies to resemble the Gods, which are based on aspects of nature. So they would gently and eventually reshape a baby’s soft skull to mirror that the shape of a jaguar or tiger.

    Safe and happy travels!  If you have any travel tips for us or questions about the areas, please comment below.

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    Fiji: A little island home

    Sometimes we all just need a break from the hectic VIP lifestyle. Like celebs; Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson, why not treat yourself this winter to an island retreat in the beautiful islands of Fiji?
     

    Britney enjoying the Fiji island life

    Britney enjoying the Fiji island life

    I visited Fiji around this time last year: island hopping for 7 days on the Yasawa Flyer. The islands I visited were Bounty Island, Korovou and Oarsman Bay, and whilst I loved all 3, if I had to recommend one for VIPstyle, it would be Korovou – for it’s gorgeous natural wood cabin beach villas.

    Fiji
    Arriving via Nadi, island-life is really an escape. If you’re shopping and styling (hair, manicures, facials, etc.) Fiji islands – or at least the ones I visited – are not the place for you. An island retreat here is more about hammocks, beach walks and pampering massages by the sea.

    Fiji (3)
     
    There are of course excursions (largely water-based: scuba diving, snorkelling, exploring water caves and my favourite; a boat trip with an all you can eat buffet lunch, snorkelling, unlimited drinks (including wines and spirits), local-style entertainment and visiting islands; including the one where the Tom Hanks film ‘Castaway’ was filmed (guides can even point out the exact spot where he filmed the scene throwing the wooden mannequin over the cliff to test the rope).

    castaway

    The island where Castaway was filmed

    But I found staying on the islands with amazing hospitality from locals was completely satisfying in itself.

    Bounty
    You are completely catered for (although a cooking lesson in traditional Fijian recipes is sometimes offered), there is a laundry service (although its likely that your clothes to be dried fire-side – so expect them to be returned smelling a little charcoally) and if you make time for locals, they will make time for you.

    Fiji (4)

    Fijian cooking lesson

    ESSENTIAL INFO:
     
    Nearest airport: Nadi (20 hours 45 minutes approx. from Heathrow)
     
    Currency: Fijian Dollar. £1 = FJ$2.92

    Time Difference: +11 hours
     
    Guestlist Tips: The national drink in Fiji is Kava. It is a mark of respect to the local culture and the villagers of any village you should enter to drink the Kava offered on your arrival. However, the taste is not particularly pleasant, so keep a packet of mints handy!
     

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