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  • 5 Things Your Travels Should Be Used For

     

    There are so many reasons to travel. But if you’re wondering why you should carry on going to new places and doing things that you haven’t done before, there are few things to remember. Below, you will find 5 things that your travels should be used for. By reminding yourself of these, you could get some new inspiration and consider new experiences, rather than doing the same things again and again..

    1. Escape

    Simply getting away from your everyday life is a great reason to go away and travel. When you have a life that you don’t feel particularly challenged or excited by, it’s important to get away whenever you can. It gives you a form of release that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get. So, if you are unsure of why you should travel, make sure you keep this factor in mind. It could be just what you need.

     

    1. Exploration

    Exploration can be thrilling and sometimes risky, but it’s something that many people do each year. They head to places that they don’t know, and they delve into what’s there. They explore everything they come across and don’t have much of a plan to fall back. It’s often the best way to see and experience a new place if you have never been there before. And there is so much to explore, so you’ll never run out of places to head to.

     

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    1. Learning New Things

    Learning new things is always good, and it’s not something that you should discount. There are so many things out there in the world that you’ve never done and know nothing about. You could attend Canada Ski Instructor Courses or learn about wild animals by going on a Saharan safari trip. It’s entirely up to you what you learn and how you do it. But remember just how much is out there.

     

    1. Meeting People Who Live Differently to You

    If you’re a people person, meeting people and learning about how their lives differ from your own might provide the main thrill of traveling. It’s always good to learn about other ways of life. It’s important to be reminded of the breadth and variation in the way we all live our lives. And going to another part of the world allows you to see all that with your own two eyes. It’s a great reason to want to travel.

     

    1. Unwinding

    Everyone needs the chance to unwind and take things a little more slowly from time to time. That’s only natural. And traveling allows you to do that. We’re not just talking about sitting by the pool, though. Unwinding and relaxing means different things for different people. For some, there is nothing more relaxing than trekking up an Austrian mountain and enjoying the view at the top. Whereas, others like to lie in the sun and do nothing.

     

    Traveling is a whole lot of fun, and if you haven’t been a big traveler in life up until now, make sure that changes. It could be the best decision you ever make.

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  • Making The Most Of Your Couples Trip

     

    Maybe you and your other half have wanted to go away together for a while. For many couples, it’s healthy to take a little time alone, away from kids and pets, to just enjoy one another and start to feel more connected. While of course you should plan trips and vacations with your children, and even other members of your family, you should never feel like going away just the two of you is the wrong thing to do. Here’s how you can make the most of your couple’s trip:

     

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    Start Planning With One Another’s Strengths in Mind

    When you start planning your couple’s trip, make sure you do so with one another’s strengths in mind. You’ll need to figure out where to stay, what flights to book, and the top attractions you want to see upon arrival. If you enjoy something and your partner doesn’t, you take on that role.

    If you’re still researching Christmas snow holidays for couples and other types of holidays you could take together, it’s probably best to do this together. Once you’ve started planning, you’ll quickly see who was better at what and what you both enjoy doing. This will make the planning process simple and stress free. You must trust one another though; if your partner’s job is to choose accommodation, don’t micromanage them.

     

    Trust, Compromise, And Work As A Team

    You must compromise and work as a team for your trip to go as smoothly as possible. Put your trust in the other sometimes; if they think you go left but you think you go right, consider going with them and laughing about it later if they were wrong. You might just see things you never would have seen otherwise! If they want to go to an art gallery but it isn’t your thing, think about going anyway. You might just enjoy it.

     

    Forget That ‘Perfect’ Narrative

    No couple is perfect, so forget all of the fairytales you see on TV and read about in books. Manage your expectations for your trip so you don’t feel like you’ve failed if you have a disagreement about something. Your trip won’t be perfect, and it probably won’t be the way you pictured it in your head. That’s normal!

     

    Don’t Cram It All In At Once

    Trying to cram everything in can leave you exhausted and feeling like you need another holiday when you return home. Less is more; do the things you really want to do but give yourselves free time to enjoy.

     

    Don’t Take Things So Seriously

    Try not to take things so seriously. Laugh together as often as possible. It’s too easy to take one another for granted too, especially if you’ve been together a while. Don’t snap at them, and make sure you appreciate that they are doing their best.

     

    Taking a couple’s trip could be just what you need to bring you both closer together again, and return home an even stronger team than before. This is the kind of relationship your kids should be seeing! Do you have any suggestions for couple’s trips? Leave them below!

     

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  • Get More Out Of Your Next Holiday By Camping

    Everyone loves going on holiday. There’s just something so brilliant about traveling to a new place and escaping daily life. I’m sure there are loads of you that have been on many cool and amazing holidays. However, I’m sure there are equal amounts of people that haven’t. They’ve been on bad holidays and wanted to get a bit more out of them.

    Well, this article is for anyone that wants to take their holidays to the next level. Today, I’ll be talking about camping. In my eyes, it’s a great way to get more out of your next holiday. I’ll explain why, and give you some camping tips to get you started.

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    What’s So Good About Camping?

    So, you probably want to know why I think camping is so good, right? Well, the following points will provide proof that it’s an amazing idea:

    Saves So Much Money

    The best thing about camping is that it saves you a tonne of money. Seriously, it is so cheap to camp rather than pay for a hotel. Once you do it once, you’ll never go back to your hotel days. No matter where you stay, you’re going to pay a high price for traditional travel accommodation. Especially if it’s during peak holiday season, and you’re staying for more than a few days. With camping, you only have to pay a small campsite fee. Even then, some places are free, depending on where you are. So, you can stay for much longer, and enjoy your holiday even more.

    Reveals Hidden Gems

    One thing I love about camping is that it reveals places you never knew existed. A campsite in a foreign country can take you to a real hidden gem. You may be in a cute corner of the country, and see so many amazing sights and scenes. There’s no doubt that camping takes you places you wouldn’t have gone before. Sometimes, it’s great to get out of the city and explore different areas of a tourist location. So, camping is a great way to do this.

    Introduces You To New People

    Camping is brilliant because you get to meet new people. If you stay in a hotel, everyone tends to keep to themselves. You may get the odd couple of family that engage in holiday conversation. But, when camping, everyone is willing to talk. There’s a sense of comradery around every campsite. It’s like everyone there has a secret bond as you’re all camping. Walk around a campsite and you’ll meet lots of new and friendly people. They might invite you to their tent for the night and sit around a campfire exchanging stories. There’s no doubt that camping is a great way to make friends and create memories.

    So, now you can see why I talk so highly of camping! It’s fantastic, and there are loads of benefits to it. If you’ve camped before, then you know how amazing it can be. But, if you haven’t, then you probably don’t know what to do.

    Bearing that in mind, I have some amazing camping tips to help you get started. Take a look at them down below:

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    Bring A Caravan

    My top camping tip is to bring a caravan. If you own one, then that’s great, you’re sorted. If not, then there are a few options. First, you can invest in one, and it will serve you well for many years to come. Alternatively, if you don’t travel often, renting one may be your best bet. The reason you should get one is because they make things more convenient. You have a space to sleep and to cook things in. It allows you to stay for much longer when you have a caravan.

    Plus, you can attach a tent like structure to the caravan and create an awning. Think of this as a massive porch for your caravan. It gives you extra room, and people can sleep in there if they want. My advice is to find a tarp supply store and get some of it on top to keep the place waterproof. Then, you have the perfect setup for days, maybe even weeks, of fun!

    Find A Campsite With Good Facilities

    Many people think camping is just finding a field and putting a tent up. But, it’s not that at all. In fact, many campsites can have numerous cool facilities. Your task is to find one with the best facilities for you to enjoy.

    An essential thing to look for is a shower/toilet building. If the campsite provides one, then you’re on to a winner. This means you can shower and go to the toilet more comfortably. Granted, you can do this in your caravan. However, it means more effort for you as you have to empty the septic tank. No one likes doing this, so, look for a campsite with showers. Optional facilities include a games room for you to have fun and meet new people. Or, areas for you to play sports like football or basketball. If your campsite has all this, then it’s a dream come true.

    Always Look At Reviews

    My final tip is to make sure you check the reviews of every campsite. For me, if a place has no reviews, then it gets a red flag. I want to stay somewhere that I know will be comfortable and safe. So, head to Google and search for any reviews you can find. Obviously, if something has bad reviews, then it’s advisable to stay away.

    What you’re looking for are reviews that go into detail on the site. Primarily, you want to see people say that it’s safe. Another thing to look for is what everyone says about the other campers. Some sites are known for being quite rowdy, while others are family-friendly. Depending on your holiday, this will be important.

    If you follow these tips, you’ll soon have an amazing camping experience. Now, you can get the most out of your next holiday. Say goodbye to the same old holiday, and hello to something new and exciting.

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  • Planning Your Perfect Road Trip

    When you think of travel, your mind might jump straight to glamorous European cities and white, sandy beaches on idyllic resorts. Of course, these would both give you experiences to remember. However, sometimes the best trips you take are a little more unplanned and rugged. One kind of trip that everyone should try once in their lifetime is an American road trip. If that’s got your imagination going crazy, then here’s how to plan yours!

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    First of all, plan your route and stops well in advance. I know that the classic idea of the road trip is something completely spontaneous. Grab a few essentials, gas up the car, and then go! As romantic as that sounds, it’s a sure-fire way to run into trouble. Talk to the party you’re going with about landmarks you definitely want to see. There’s bound to be more than a few ideas shouted out in this stage. Once you’re done arguing, plot out the definite must-sees on a route that’s going to be easy enough to follow. In this first stage, it’s also a good idea to sort out your accommodation. Planning to hit several different hotels is exciting, but will get pretty expensive. However, if you really want to get full road-trip experience, get a Vermont Country Campers travel trailer and find some spots to park it up. These can be much more comfortable than you may think!

    Although it’s important to have some kind of structure to your road trip, you should also keep your plans fairly loose if you want to get the most out of your trip. When you spend that much time on American roads, you’re sure to come across your fair share of cool little stores and local curiosities. Some of them will lead to amazing experiences. Others will be all hype. However, the secret to having a great road trip is keeping an open mind and going where the wind blows you. Aside from that, days on the road usually means closed roads, traffic jams and if you’re unlucky enough, breakdowns. If something unexpected pops up which means you can’t follow your planned route, don’t stress about it too much! Instead, take your route off the beaten track, have a look around, or just find a more scenic route towards your next stop. Go looking for adventure, and you’ll find it!

    Finally, look for ways to save some money here and there. Road trips are great, but the big downside is that they can get very expensive. I’m sure you don’t want to run down your budget right before you come across some beautiful dreamcatcher you can’t afford! Gas is one of the major ones. Fill up the day before you set off, seen as you already know where the cheapest gas stations are in your area. You can also encourage your party to pack light, improving efficiency. Space is good for all the souvenirs you’ll invariably pick up as well. If you’ve got the facilities, try to cook your own food rather than eating out every day. A little here and there goes a long way!

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  • Running Like a VIP In New York: Part 2

    Do you like to stay in shape on holiday? I feel that if you work out, even just once or twice, it will mean you don’t feel so bad about yourself when you get back home. If you eat and drink too much on holiday with no exercise then you’re going to have to starve yourself and exercise more when you get back and that’s not good for the post-holiday blues.

    I went to New York to run the marathon in 2013 and I found it was really easy to find running routes to warm up my legs in preparation for the main day. Running outside is so much better than a hotel gym and as more and more of us stay in an Air BnB property when we’re away, it’s important to plan ways to stay in shape. If you leave it til you’re out there then you won’t fit it in and then you’ll miss out. Here are my  top 3 running routes:

    (1) Central Park Loop

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    This is a 10K run (approx 6 miles) but if you’re not feeling that energetic then just do half of it? It’s all outside through gorgeous green scenery and if you’ve ever watched movies or TV shows  with locations  in central park (eg When Harry Met Sally / Sex and The City) then this is your chance to relive those moments. Staying in shape has never been so much fun. There are subway stops all round so you can ride to the park, run and ride back to where you’re staying.

    (2) West Hudson River Run

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    The path runs from the Bronx all the way down to Battery Park and is accessible from nearly anywhere. It’s 8.89 miles up and down but just do half or whatever you can manage. If you do it from top to bottom you’ll see the Statue of Liberty, Chelsea Piers, USS Intrepid, art installations, the George Washington Bridge.

    (3) Guided Sports Shop RunParagon Sports (Tues) or Super Runners Shop Group (Weds / Thurs or Sat)

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    If you would rather let someone else plan your route then visit the websites of these sports shops (click through the names above) and you’ll find out how to sign up. The benefit of this is you have a group to run with so you meet new people and it may even help you improve your pace. As most of them are real New Yorkers, you can get their local tips about where to eat and drink after.

    OR if its cycling you prefer the you can sign-up for individual classes at the celebs’ fave spin studio, Soulcycle. You know, the one David and Victoria Beckham are always papped at along with Katie Holmes, Orlando Bloom and Coldplay’s Chris Martin.

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    I visited the one in the West Village, as it was 10 mins walk from my hotel but there’s 11 throughout the city. Visit the SoulCycle website to book and choose a location. They’ll give you cycling shoes so all you need to bring is some suitable exercise kit.

    With all this exercise you deserve afew treats and a good night’s rest! Check out my blog post about where to sleep and eat in NYC.

    PS My tips worked. I completed the marathon in 3 : 36 and here is photo evidence, from  the framed medal and pics I proudly display in my home.

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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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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

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

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    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

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    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.

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    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

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    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)?

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    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

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    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.

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    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).

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    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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    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!

    istanbul-blue-mosque

    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.

    istanbul-spice

    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.

    istanbul-sweets

    (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!

    istanbul-shop-istinye-park

    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!

    istanbul360

    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

    istanbul-beach

    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

    istanbul-flat

    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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    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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