Americas, North, Travel

Gangsters and Millionaires in Miami

Miami, the city of gangsters and millionaires, (or so I am told by the tour guide who delights in telling us about the rum trade that once flourished during the prohibition and points out the house that Al Capone once lived in). Honestly, it seems not much has changed, but both have gotten richer, and better at hiding it.

Miami at times, feels as if you are in South America, with everyone around you speaking Spanish it transports you from the stereotypical visions of America, to a multi-cultural cosmopolitan city in the sunshine. Many tourists forget that Miami is in fact a city, that it has a thriving city life and various neighbourhoods encapsulating local communities and cultures, just like any other major city; London, Paris, Berlin, Delhi, with each varying neighbourhood bringing its unique attraction. Rather, tourists picture the artificial beauty that resides in Miami Beach, the beautiful people, plush hotels and numerous dining experiences on offer, as if Miami beach is a microcosm of all the gloriously rich and gorgeous people in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some gorgeous people in Miami Beach, pruned and permed to perfection, but tourists also flood here in their thousands soaking up the sunshine and perusing the funky vintage shops on Washington Avenue for a good bargain. No visit is complete to Miami Beach without visiting the iconic Ocean Drive. Whether you choose to cycle, drive in a convertible, ride a Segway, roller blade or even wander along, Ocean Drive is a must to experience the relaxed attitude and soak up the Miami lifestyle.

At the end of Ocean Drive, we decided to stop off at Nikki Beach Miami, an international beach club encompassing food, drink, music and entertainment into one. Being frequent visitors to the residence in Marbella, we were intrigued to see how the glamourous Nikki Beach Miami would differ. Apart from the seal like surfers that pounded the waves nearby and the layout of the beach club, it turns out not much differed- you can still expect great service, white sofas in the sunshine and refreshing Mojitos.

If wanting to escape from the bouts of bad weather, wander into The Bass Museum of Art. Whilst I was there, Pascale Marthine Tayou’s exhibit “Beautiful” was running, which was an interesting blend of the museum’s more permanent pieces and his own cultural pieces added into the installation. Each exhibit was unique and does make you question the traditional norms of art and the values of contemporary art, so it is worth a visit.

Another neighbourhood, quite similar to the atmosphere of South Beach and Miami Beach, is one of Coral Grove, as if where those that visit Miami Beach actually reside. Houses and flats are nestled into quiet leafy suburbs amongst parades of luxury shops and quaint cafes on corners and restaurants serving brunch all day. Quayside Marina is wonderful to walk around and spot the various boats calmly bobbing along the horizon, although there is little to do in the quay itself but stretch your legs and breathe fresh sea air.

My favourite neighbourhood in Miami is Little Havana, where visitors feel as if they have been taken to the heart of Cuba. Old men sit in the street and converse about the weather in front of colourful mosaic tiled pathways and natter over a game of dominoes in Maximo Gomez Park, sheltering away from the strength of the wind. As many tourists come to visit Calle Ocho, there are numerous cigar companies lined up to the attention of any smoker that walks past or any tourist that fancies some novelty gifts. Cuba Ocho is an extraordinary bar filled with memorabilia and pieces of history, transforming this quiet watering hole, to a community space filled with art, which is wonderful to explore. Many order a fresh ice cream from the Azucar Ice Cream company or attend a salsa lesson on a Thursday or Saturday at the traditional salsa bar Ball and Chain, that brings rhythms and routines like nowhere else in Miami. If you want a truly authentic Salsa experience, Ball and Chain is the venue to learn some moves and submerse yourself into the music and way of life of Salsa.

Wynwood is also another fascinating area of Miami, originally an industrial district filled with warehouses, these warehouses have been converted into art spaces and craft breweries, the walls adorned with street art to entertain, amuse and engage, and the streets filled with quirky clothes shops. The best way to see all of the street art is to either walk around the entire district (if you have the energy) or hire a motorised golf buggy which allows you to explore the area of Wynwood at your leisure. Expect to jostle for space to gain that perfect picture at Wynwood walls and hip restaurants and art installations are a plenty.

Visiting Miami, home to numerous world famous clubs that are open every night of the week until 6am with my Mum meant; rather than focusing our attention on dancefloors, we focused it on food (which is fine by me!) And just like the variety and quality of clubs, their selection of dining was incredible (sorry New Orleans, Miami beats you on this area).

In Wynwood, Black Panther is known for its fresh tasting coffee carefully selected for flavour from a number of different countries. Order your Peruvian latte or Moroccan tea here and sit out in their leafy gardens soaking up the sunshine with the other hipsters and digital nomads. Coyo Taco is a delicious street food stall where tacos and burritos are sold aplenty (and margaritas are served in their hidden bar too!) Harry’s Pizzeria in the design district also serves wonderful (you may have guessed) pizzas.

In Downton Miami, CVI.CHE is a unique Peruvian restaurant that conjures up fresh seafood with a selection of various sauces perfect for any varying taste bud. Many dishes aren’t for the faint hearted so arrive here with determination to try something new.

At South Beach, there are a number of restaurants along the beach front that are similar in style, selling fishbowl cocktails to please tourists and massive portions of sea food, we ate at Majestic for their Lobster Ravoli and cocktails ironically named South Beach (when in Rome).

YUCA restaurant and lounge is a lovely restaurant in South Beach to go to for both lunch and dinner for traditional Cuban dishes, expect electronic violins to be played whilst you dine on braised soft meat that melts in your mouth.

But my favourite restaurant in Miami, hands down is The Forge. Set in a traditional landmark of a blacksmiths work space, the restaurant has been totally transformed to a glitzy dining experience filled with ornate wood carvings, glamorous chandeliers and oh my the toilets- fit for a toilet queen! Service was attentive and the food was outstanding. Having a NY strip with a sweet potato mash with a dusting of cinnamon layer and served with a side order of creamed spinach with egg was enough to make your mouth water. But then topped off by a blacksmith pie: a cookie crust, chocolate ganache and vanilla custard? I think I may have passed out and woken up in food heaven.

Thanks Miami for making me fat.

Americas, Gigs, Music, North, Travel

The Sound of the Saints in New Orleans

Picture a city that resonates on the sound of live music echoing through the town, the sweet sounds of saxophones and the smooth sounds of soulful tones, colourful historical influences that haunt every street corner and an upbeat welcoming atmosphere, then you have New Orleans.

Seeped with French influences, this city has been fought over for years on who owned this hip swaying, hand clapping, foot stamping city, and it’s really no surprise when you visit and wander around the historical French Quarter. Bright and beautiful buildings house unique art galleries and tacky voodoo shops, you can spot the colonial architecture; the iron clad railings, the shape of the buildings, or the stone paved street names, each hinting at a past that been continued to be brought to life through the eclectic flavours of Creole food, the vibrant festivities of Mardi Gras, and of course, the bands that perform nightly to a heaving mass of enthused and inebriated bodies.

Going for a mindless wander around French Quarter is a must when visiting New Orleans, to soak up the revelling history and magical atmosphere. Big brass bands perform in the street, much to the amusement of tourists, and restaurants and bars are in abundance here. Jackson Square is a useful focal point, bordering the river and French Quarter. Admire the artist’s paintings that hang proudly on the railings and hitch a ride with a horse and cart or pedicab here, for a more informed tour of the place.

Two museums which I really enjoyed was the Cabildo and the Presbytere; both offer a discounted deal when buying one ticket, you receive a cheaper entrance fee to the other. The Cabildo was fascinating as it offered a perspective into the Slave Trade and the Civil War. Shocking facts are merged with portraits of families and materials from the time, highlighting the harsh realities for many African Americans. Napoleon’s famous death mask is stored here as well, which you were able to try on previously, however times have changed.

The Presbytere offers exhibits on the traditional festivities of Mardi Gras, showcasing original designs of costumes as well as props from the past few years. The exhibit gives a real insight into just how long Mardi Gras has been running for and what it means to the people of New Orleans, evoking a community spirit and bringing a sense of unity between all people of New Orleans, and celebrating life and colour too. Another exhibit in the museum is devoted to Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects it had on not only the infrastructure and land, but the local people too. The exhibit is filled with haunting memoirs, videos and photography, highlighting the magnitude of the destruction and the inadequate response of the emergency services to such a large scale disaster. It gave me chills, wandering around and seeing a destroyed violin, the shacks of houses that remained after the hurricane- mainly just wood and bricks, a mess on the floor. But what I also recognised, was the strong resolution and determination that the local people had, in not only helping each other during the disaster, but afterwards as well, supporting one another- physically, mentally and emotionally. Once again, reinforcing the community spirit and being able to see the destruction and devastation in a new light, which highlights even further, the real admirable strength of the people of New Orleans.  

Heading away from town, a popular tourist attraction is to take a traditional steamboat and float along the Missippi River. The boat is the main interest, as there is little to see on the river itself. I do think an evening cruise with a band might be a more enjoyable experience, as taking a two hour boat trip during the day just to purposefully sail on the boat, wasn’t as a unique experience as one might think.

Another similar experience is a swamp visit looking for alligators. We booked our trip with Cajun Encounters, the largest swamp tour operator, and although the river lacked in alligators, the tour guide made up for it with his detailed information and humorous perspective on life. Although we only saw half the head of an alligator dozing on a branch submerged in the river, we did see lots of birds of prey, raccoons and river snails, as well as some stunning natural landscapes of swamps and life by the river.

The other tours promoted throughout New Orleans is the plantation tour, where you explore a traditional Southern plantation or a voodoo tour, where you are taken to popular (or supposed) haunts of the French Quarter and nearby cemeteries, and are told the tales of the practised religion; voodoo. Unfortunately, it is unlikely you will come across a real practising Voodoo priest, rather the religion has been turned into a tourist attraction; with voodoo shops in abundance advertising “legitimate readings” and curses for your enemies. Although interesting to learn about, don’t be swayed into believing all is fact

One of the best ways to full appreciate the New Orleans culture, is by getting immersed into its many restaurants. In the French Quarter, food is largely French Creole and varies from mid range to opulent styles. Try a steaming hot broth of gumbo, rich in flavour and with rice in the middle centring the broth, its a filling dish. Alligator is surprisingly delicious too, savour the local crayfish and a traditional Jambalaya packed full with herbs, spices, and a variety of meats that adds different layers to the dish. We ate at Muriels in Jackson Sqaure, a place with wonderful Jazz on Sunday, Royal House, where the crab claws in a rich garlic sauce are heavenly, Rockafeller Oysters at Antonine’s Restaurant– where the dish and restaurant has been passed down from generation to generation, and where I tried to eat a whole crab deep fried, (yep literally everything, shell included), fried chicken at the classy but cold establishment of NOLA’s, succulent alligator at The Count Of Two Sisters and the mixed Jambalaya at Mr.B’s Bistro

After overeating and gorging yourself on fried or traditionally filling dishes, appreciating live music is next on your agenda. New Orleans is a non-stop party place, really only on a Monday does some local places close, but very rarely. Weekends, the city is filled to the brim with both national and international tourists, and during the week… it doesn’t stop. Speaking to a local pedicab driver, we were told that we were only visiting in the quiet shoulder season. I couldn’t fathom what it would be like in Mardi Gras, with the city having 5 times as many people; the streets literally flooding with visitors and bars heaving with bodies.

Bourbon Street, and all the bars on the street, are mainly created for the sole purpose of the tourists that come here, in their thousands. With drinks such as “Hand Grenade” and “Hurricane”, you can listen to any band and they will most certainly, deliver a decent cover. We found ourselves one night in Fat Catz, listening to a band that played everything from Chic to Black Eyed Peas to please the crowd. Although a fun night, if you really want to appreciate the true culture of New Orleans and experience a new band at the same time, head to Frenchman Street.

Going on the weekend to Frenchman Street will mean it is a lot busier with a much wider variety of bands performing, however going in the week, certain venues are still populated with enthused fans of bands, friendly locals and eager tourists. On the Sunday night, we saw some jazz artists at Bambala, but spent most of our night listening to a sassy soul artist singing with a brass band in Cafe Negril.

American football is a huge aspect of the culture and so if you are planning to head out on a Sunday, keep in mind a weekly football match will occur at 3pm, with countless TV screens in restaurants and bars dedicated to the sport. When we first hit Frenchman Street, community morale was high as “The Saints”, (the New Orleans football team) had just won and were now heading into the next stage of the football competition. For The Saints, and the people of New Orleans, the super bowl hosts more significance than meets the eye, it is more than just a football stadium, but once acted as a sanctuary for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Thus each try was sacred, and match won holds a poignant value, highlighting a success story for a once broken community. Going out on a Sunday after The Saints had won, Frenchman Street was filled with friendly, and very complimentary might I add, fans.

We also experienced Frenchman Street on a Tuesday night; starting off our night at The Spotted Cat, listening to some funky jazz, heading to Cafe Negril for some blues and ending up in The Blue Moon listening to an incredible funk band called Waterseed. I immediately fell in love with the sound of the band; their vocals, and unique style as individuals and as a collective. They were able to create an incredible rapport and collaboration with the audience, and their stylised dance moves really were the cherry on top. After they finished their set, we finished our night in Maison, listening to a live band that created a mish mash of hip hop, and RnB- a powerful and energetic performance.

Being an avid fan of live music (and food), I personally loved New Orleans and would implore anyone to go, just maybe not in Mardi Gras.


Americas, North, Travel

Fall in New York

Fall is the most pleasant season to visit New York. The crowds have dispersed from the searing heat of Summer and the Christmas bargain hunters are still saving up their cents. Leaves begin to fade and transform into tones of deep blood red and bright bursting orange, creating a collage of colour in the tree tops. A cool windy breeze freshens the city, clearing its cobwebs, whilst the clear blue sky and beating sun still tempts New Yorkers to don dresses and reveal skin. It is the last few momentary gasps of sunshine before the depths of winter succumbs to the city, blanketing New York in chill and snow.

The Tip of Manhattan, NYC

Coming on a short whirlwind trip for my Mums birthday meant that I left my large bulky backpack and that lifestyle behind; for a week of lovely large meals, cheeky shopping sprees and the sightseeing highlights of New York. Trying to see the entirety of Manhattan on a short time frame is idiotic. With a city full of gems on every street corner, it is hard to try experience all of it, in one chosen time period. Similar to London, the city is filled with areas that encompass their own style, culture and livelihood. However, as if kids in a sweetshop, my mum and I decided to try and experience our personal highlights of New York, during our stay.

Neighbourhoods tell the real multicultural diverse story that the city has to offer. We previously booked a hop on hop off tour bus that allowed us to easily access areas of Mahattan, whilst learning about the history and growth of the city. Although, traffic in Manhattan is ridiculously awful. Whenever, wherever you are, expect there to be traffic. It could be due to the fact that the lay out of the city is of a grid like structure, creating the environment around you as if to be a giant spreadsheet of buildings. Or it could be the sheer number of people that live on this tiny island, jostling for living and breathing space. Or it may even be the influx of yellow cab drivers, driving bumper to bumper whilst grinning with delight when you compliment them on their country of birth. Either way, expect to wait to travel even the shortest distances. Thus I advise when visiting, to buy a subway pass. Not only is it cheap, but distance time will actually be much quicker and you can experience true New York, as New Yorkers do.

Central Park, NYC

Staying at the southern entrance of Central Park meant we essentially were in the centre of Manhattan, 10 minutes away from Times Square and easily able to venture in any chosen direction of the city. Central Park is a must see whilst in Manhattan. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing as well as the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan life, but it is also the most visited urban park in the United States due to its ever recurring role in a number of major films. Wandering the labyrinth of paths, one can recognise certain scenes from popular movies, as well as notorious landmarks such as Cleopatra’s Needle or Strawberry Fields Forever, in memory of the legendary musician, John Lennon. We hopped onto a tricycle tour which included an interesting running commentary to the surrounding area, however I would recommend walking around the park yourself, to fully explore the natural beauty that is on offer.

Central Park, NYC Central Park, NYC

Harlem is on the opposite side of Central Park and Times Square, and is a happening neighbourhood. Rooted in African American culture, the society is built on the very foundations of community. With resounding roots of jazz, expressive art and delicious food, there is no surprise that Harlem has recently overseen a large over gentrification to encourage more people to visit. Tourists now come from all over to the taste the home cooked soul meals at Sylvia’s, or pay homage to the birthplace of some of the most talented comedians and artists in the world, the Apollo.  Harlem gospel choir tours are increasingly popular on a Sunday, where tourists can embrace the “happy clappy” services leaving their inhibitions behind and joining the fusion of song. Due to the increasing number of tourists that visit, many of the churches (over 400 of them) are specifically used for the sole purpose of tourists, undermining the authenticity of the service. So do keep this in mind when thinking about visiting.

Harlem Entrance, NYC Times Square, NYC

Times Square speaks entirely different volumes to both Harlem and Central Park. Contained in one area, Times Square has transformed neighbouring buildings, which are now disused, to an advertising haven. Adverts hang from all various buildings, some moving, some static, some focus on retail, others on food and drink. Street performers do erratic moves for entertainment whilst others don costumes to gain spare change. The result is overwhelming. A collision of loud brash colours and noise which pinpoints commercialism and marketing to the T. Yes it was a breathtaking sight, but for me, I could not call it visually pleasing. In fact, I found it a bit of an eyesore. I love modernity, the new world and technology, but I can only state if its aesthetically stunning when it creates an effect through innovative ideas or structure, this just indicated to me, the new age of advertising. Of course it is a sight to see, but if similar to me, don’t spend too long here and end up enraptured in this world.

Life from a Hotdog Stand, NYC Shoe Shiners, NYC

Broadway is incredibly close to Times Square and is a large stretch of street that is consumed with theatres displaying various shows to the general public. Catching a Broadway show in New York is a must do, it would be a sin not too whilst visiting. Broadway in New York is the cherry on top of the cake for the theatre world, the stage where all aspiring actors aim to end up on,  after packing their bags and leaving their own worlds behind, to try and succeed in. Whilst visiting, my mother and I saw the performance of “Carole King, The Musical”. Not being an avid fan of musicals, I did expect the worst to be honest. However, this performance was a delight. Revolving around the true story of song writer and musician Carole King and filled with hit songs from my favourite era of all time: the 60’s, made this show a wonderful experience. I do recommend watching this performance if you are a fan of the theatre, musicals, or the 60’s, this production will not let you down.

The View From The Empire State Building NYC

Other memorable sights near Broadway are the Empire State Building and the MoMA Art Gallery. The Empire State Building is the 5th highest skyscraper in the US and is well worth a visit to the top because of its prominence in Manhattan culture, as well as on the skyline. Trying to not run around the door as if Will Ferrell in Elf is hard, but entrance to the top was easy. I advise pre booking tickets in advance which allows you to skip any queues, and leaves some tourists queuing for at least 5 hours. We visited the popular 86th floor, where tourists are herded up and are overwhelmed by the staggering panoramic views of the city. Buildings encompass the skyline, all standing for attention and varying in size and height as if preschoolers lining up for break. The Hudson River snakes through the city, dividing Manhattan from the neighbouring boroughs of New York City, whilst roads lined with bright yellow minuscule cars zigzag around the city. If you pay a little extra, you can visit the full height of the Empire State Building, on the 102nd floor, which allows less crowds, and I am sure, offers a more enthralling experience.

Picasso's Work in MoMA Security MoMA, NYC

Seen as the most influential modern art museum in the world MoMA, I could not surpass a trip to Manhattan without forcing my mum into this well walked building. The museum shares an overview of modern and contemporary art, and whilst we were there, a Piccaso Exhibition was on, which meant I was finally able to see the infamous “guitar” piece, as well as other unsuusal scultpural masterpieces. MoMA also had exhibitions on Andy Warhol’s tin soup work and popular Parisian posters. Although MoMA is a busy art gallery, it is most definitely worth seeing such valued pieces of art.

The Village, NYC

Other neighbourhoods to explore are Hells Kitchen, with its abundance in choice of food and long standing reputation for the home of NYC gangsters, this neighbourhood is interesting to say the least. Pizza slices for a dollar? Come here. Chelsea is an up and coming area, with the industrial landmarks nearby, the grittiness of Hells Kitchen and the emergent of new glossy structures of hip bars, Chelsea is a diverse neighbourhood, and I was told, is where all the cool kids hang out. We popped into the Chelsea Market, a traditional factory that has been renovated to house gourmet food shops and plush designer stores- but without the superior attitude of Upper West Side. Greenwich Village, otherwise known as “the village”, is a suburban neighbourhood we decided to stop by and have lunch in. Filled with sweeping tree lined boulevards and large houses that ooze rustic charm, Greenwich Village is a beautiful neighbourhood to take a stroll through with your pet chihuahua and pretend that you live there. Chic big names brands like Prada, nestle next to quaint houses and vegan cafes, this neighbourhood is for the rich, but not the opulent (that’s Upper West Side duh).

My favourite place in NYC Street Art in Little Italy

However, my favourite neighbourhood in Manhattan has to be, Little Italy. Passing through the manic swarming masses of tourists in Chinatown; I saw the sticky floored restaurants with fluorescent lights, the red beaded hanging garlands, and the large community that push you to to buy their fresh fruit. Chinatown in Manhattan was of no interest to me, yes it was massive, but compared to London or Sydney, it had no charm, and compared to Bangkok’s Chinatown, there was no essence of reality behind the facade for tourists to see. Thus, when reaching Little Italy, I was overwhelmed with joy. Why don’t more cities or countries in the world have a Little Italy? With incredible street art donning the walls and passionate Italian visitors flooding the streets and conversing with restaurant owners, I was swept back into the warm embrace of the country of Italy. Wine flowed, ruddy faced men played the accordion and fresh pasta is served on square checked table cloth, what’s not to like? Neighbouring Soho as well, means that whilst leaving Little Italy behind with a gorgeous home made ice cream in your hand, you can begin to peruse unique shops with pleasure. How content is that?

Little Italy, NYC
Little Italy, NYC

Little Italy

Speaking of shopping, I found fantastic shops in Soho, my favourite haunt for updating my wardrobe. Mixing independent boutiques with the cross section of Broadway street in Soho, meant that you also had access to good quality high end well known brands, such as Banana Republic. My mother and I did shop in and around Broadway and 5th Avenue, where blue boxed Tiffany’s awaits, the gigantic Saks, and the major department store Macy’s are based (which are all by the way, tourist attractions in themselves), however shopping in and near to Broadway is stressful. I say this, due to the gulf of people that swarm the streets whether local or not. Head to Soho to shop at your own pace.

Fifth Avenue, NYC Basketball in the Financial District

The Financial District is at the very tip of Manhattan and is exactly what you would expect from a Financial District. Suited and booted workers buzz around the neighbourhood as if honey bees collecting for their queen, occasionally stopping for breaks in coffee shops and dimly lit restaurants. There is a nice park in the area, as well as the 9/11 memorial is based here, however we mainly used this neighbourhood as an access point to reach Brooklyn. Brooklyn is another neighbourhood of New York City, as Manhattan is one itself, and so is a fantastic way to see more of the state. Quickly, I fell in love with Brooklyn and decided if I ever lived in America, Brooklyn would be where I would be based. The community was of everyone and anyone, all living in peaceful harmony and shouting welcome to us visitors (how sweet, I know) and the area was jumbled together as if a jigsaw, vintage stores and hippie hangouts on one side, antique shops and cheap shawarma eateries on the other- my type of heaven. Our time in Brooklyn was short yet sweet, as we spent most of our time at the Brooklyn Art Musuem, which hands down is my favourite art gallery I have visited in a long time. I know that NYC is filled to the brim with a number of interesting and individual art galleries, but with our time here short, I had to be selective. Unlike the massive gallery at MoMA, the Brooklyn Art Musuem had no lines and allowed you to spend time with each piece, personally connecting and exploring the work that was featured. Art here was shown for a purpose, not just to inspire, but to educate, enthuse and shock. Exhibitions highlighted themes of sexuality, gender equality, and racial equality. This was my type of gallery, and would love any who enjoy the exploration of social themes through the medium of art, to also visit here. You will find it an important element in your visit to New York.

Coffee Break in NYC

Brooklyn Art Museum
Brooklyn Art Museum

The Financial District also offers an important access point to one of the most well sought out landmarks of all time, the Statue Of Liberty. Catching a boat from the tip of Manhattan (arrive before they open as queues are still horrendous) it is easy to pop across to the Statue Of liberty and to be astounded by the sheer size of the lady. Visits can be made to the platform, however visits to the crown must be booked months in advance before visiting. Near is Ellis Island, an interesting historical landmark to trace your ancestors or learn about immigration in Manhattan. A must visit for any native American.

Statue of Liberty with My Mum NYC Statue of Liberty

Food and drink vary in Manhattan dependent on where you are and what day it is. I would advise when visiting, to pre plan where you go each day, trying to limit your time on journeys as much as possible, so you can spend more time enjoying the city. We ate in a number of different places, including myself trying a famous New Yorker hot dog- no it wasn’t as good as it thought, yes it tasted similar to rubber- although two dollars is a bargain! Our favourite places to eat were: Il Cortile in Little Italy (the food as was good as Italy- believe me), Mercer Kitchen in Soho, Morton Steak House (the portions are massive, as they are in most restaurants but here was exceedingly big), Saju Bistro, and Ellen’s Stardust Diner (which is filled with unemployed aspiring Broadway actors who practice singing throughout the evening, which makes a truly enjoyable evening). Meeting with a friend from my volunteering days in Tacloban, (to read more on this click here) meant I spent an evening sipping Manhattan’s at the cocktail bar In The Attic. Watering holes are a plenty, so I would advise, spending as much time as you can exploring Manhattan after dark, as most locals don’t even leave their apartments until after midday!

Brooklyn Bridge, NYC

Judging by how much I have written, you can tell just how much there is to see and do in Manhattan. Be smart with organising your time, and try not to do everything (like us).

Americas, North, Travel

Spotting Celebs in LA

Glamorous and glitzy LA, the city of angels, and the city for the rich and famous.  LA is a beacon of hope for aspiring actors, dancers and entertainers who flock here from various small towns and purge its sprawl of streets, hoping for a shot of fame. An air of excitement and mystery drives the city, shrouding every corner.

For locals, the extraordinary is ordinary. A naked couple walking down a main street? A famous celebrity popping into Starbucks? A dog doing tricks on the boulevard? Locals don’t even blink an eye. Here, outrageous behaviour is encouraged rather than shamed. The city continues to feed and nurture the hungry lust of millions around the world for superstars and funky new fashions- skateboarding and gangsta rap was born here for example, however, where there is success, there is also failure. The glossy veneer of perfection and continuous ambition for the status quo that strive to reach their goal, means for most who work here, dejection and rejection is constantly thrown in their faces. Its a dog eat dog city for dreamers, and being the second largest city in the US, there is much competition. Apart from the obvious connotations that come with the city of LA, its ethnic diversity and diverse population makes one of the world’s greatest international cities, filled with authentic cuisines, interesting neighbourhoods and big sweeping side walks.

I came to LA at the same time as visiting San Francisco– which makes both cities seem even more contrasting to each other. Being 17 and on a family vacation, we did as any other holiday maker would do, and ventured to anything Hollywood related.

We managed to organise a personal tour that contained all the major sights of Hollywood all in one excursion, which meant we were able to fully explore individual aspects of the city ourselves, after seeing the infamous sights. Heading to the Walk of Fame at the start of the trip, we walked down the famous street that is paved by fame and glory. With each step, we took in a new fantastic artist that transformed music, film, TV or the stage. Each step was a reminder of the incredible diverse talent that has walked through Hollywood and mustn’t be forgotten.


Another famous sight on this boulevard is The Graumans Chinese Theatre. The theatre is famous because of the vast amount of premiers that have been held here since 1927, Grammy awards and private functions that have filled these doors with A listers. There are a few souvenirs for fans to take a gander at and you can either choose to take a half hour guided tour in the day, or even watch a movie in the evening here.

Then head to Beverly Hills, where you can gaze at the Hollywood sign and take an obligatory photo in front of it, whilst you are then whisked away on a tour of the homes. For most celebrities, they must live in LA to gain major roles, or until they make it big enough in Hollywood for them to have scripts sent to them, wherever they are in the world (away from crazed fans). During that period of  middle ground, many celebrities live in lush padded mansions in the expensive and exclusive area of Beverly Hills. Here you are able to be taken around to celebrities houses, looking how each differs in style and luxury and waiting in anticipation if someone decides to pop out to grab a bottle of milk. I found this tour quite drab, and dare I say it, desperate. These people want to be left in peace and live their own lives rather have a car filled with foreign tourists stare at their door in excited eagerness. I would really only recommend this tour if you are in fact a massive fan of the celebrities that live here, or enjoy looking at people’s houses.

Feeling flash in LA with my brother

A more interesting attraction in the the Beverly Hills area, and where you are more likely to spot a celebrity (if in desperate need to see one), is Rodeo Drive. Rodeo Drive is a 2 mile stretch of boutique opulent stores that exuberate wealth and glamour in every aspect. Don’t be surprised to see certain stores closed to the public, or snazzy fast cars parked in the street- this means someone famous has gone for a bit of shopping.

We also went to Venice Beach, my favourite area of LA due to the fact it was the least pretentious and the most carefree. Here it doesn’t matter what you have been in or what you look like, its filled with people who live life to the full and want to share with others what their incredible (or strange) talent might be. It is a real experience to walk the famous Ocean Front Walk; where the young generation of LA whiz past you on roller blades with toned athletic bodies and healthy glowing skin, where graffiti and street art swamps the walls and where a dread locked rasta invites you to listen to his tight melodies. From here, it is easy to get to Santa Monica, the light at the end of the tunnel for Route 66. The pier has played many a role in films that have made the big time and it is the city’s most compelling landmark. Come here to be taken back to your childhood with a number of arcades to choose from and a spot of glorious sand to bathe on.

Venice Beach

Whilst in LA, my brother and I went to an obligatory theme park, Universal Studios. It was my first trip to an amusement park that was known on such a super scale and which had an expanse of wealth backing its attractions. The park was well thought out and I loved the rides and interactive attractions that spurred from certain movies and TV shows. Being an adrenaline junkie, I loved this day out. There are a number of other parks to choose from such as Sony Pictures and Disneyland, and if debating where you should visit a park like this, America is definitely the place to do it. Of course here, everything is larger then average, and the marketing, rides and food, holds this true.

Other sights to see which we didn’t get the opportunity to see are: Griffith park, which is a former ostrich farm and is the second largest park within a city, in the USA- and is a great place for picnics with friends or a hike that offers fantastic views of the city. Another sight is the Griffith Observatory which has a wonderful viewing platform to see the entire sky and boasts an incredible show at the Planetarium.

Venice Beach, Cal, USA

As I said before, because of the hybrid communities that live in LA, there is a vast amount and choice in dining in Los Angeles. From traditional American diners,  fluorescent lighted sticky tabled Chinese eateries, Hispanic kitchen like cafes and exquisite restaurants, the choice is yours and just varies depending on your style and budget. As this trip was a family holiday, and a luxurious trip, we dined at tantalisingly tasty restaurants such as Gordon Ramsay’s Boxwood Cafe and the infamous “The Ivy” restaurant (which really isn’t that tasty). Despite this, we did manage to spot two celebrities: Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman, both at separate restaurants (it seems they have a taste for fine dining as well).

We stayed in the incredibly expensive and luxurious hotel: “The Beverly Hills Hotel” which had soft duvets on their comfortable beds- which I could wrap myself up in and lose track of time for days on end, and served sizzling steak and eggs for breakfast. (A little bit different to the 32 dorm room I bunked in Taupo in NZ). Despite the pleasant décor and wonderful breakfasts, the customer service was appalling and one which put my Dad and our family off splashing out for again.