Tag Archives: travels

2016 year in review

Allow me to join the bandwagon of saying that 2016 as a year was just a big ol’ thumbs down. But personally, 2016 was a big year. I finally registered as self-employed and joined the masses as a full-time freelancer and all that that entails. It’s been hard, but fruitful, and satisfying, and I still very much enjoy working for myself. And in terms of travel, well – it was probably my best year yet in that regard too. Jon and I ticked several places off our collective travel bucket list, including a country that I’d been wanting to go for absolute ages. I think 2017 may be a bit slower (I say, when I’m getting on a plane again next week…) but we’ll see how long I can hold off on making a plan to head somewhere new and beautiful.

So in the tradition of my yearly look-back – some of my travels and personal highlights from the past 12 months.

 

January – Playing tourist in London with my friend Joe. I know I go there all the time, but I hadn’t had the chance to play tour guide for anyone in a while, and it was so good to explore one of my favorite cities with one of my favorite people.

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February – For Jon’s birthday I treated him to a fancy weekend away at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. We had an amazing time, which included lounging in the spa, watching the Eurostar trains come in, and indulging in a truly decadent meal (which was quickly followed by a very luxurious and sensual food coma).

juniors chamber st pancras renaissance hotel

We also had a little weekend away in Bristol to surprise a friend for his birthday. A gorgeous city!

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Also Jon took this picture in February, and it still makes me laugh, so here it shall be.

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March – we didn’t go anywhere, but I did buy a paddleboard and made good use of it on the river as the weather slowly (so…so….slowly) warmed up.

paddleboarding in shoreham by sea

April – Jon and I went to Barcelona with some friends of ours to celebrate a few different things – new jobs mostly! We rented bikes and cycled all over the city and ate our weight in tapas.

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barcelona tapas

May – Jon’s Christmas present to me was a weekend away in Cornwall at a gorgeous historic hotel that had great food, fantastic outdoor space, and also happened to be dog-friendly. We already can’t wait to go back. And on the way we stopped off at Tintagel to see King Arthur’s “castle”, and everything was gorgeous in every way.

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tintagel cornwall roadtrip

June – Phew…June was crazy. A three-week road trip of the States can be pretty intense! We did New York City New OrleansAustin – San Antonio (realising I never got around to blogging about it…oops!) – then finally Ohio before heading back to England, much poorer and fatter.

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July – I took a quick jaunt to Paris for a long weekend with some lady friends of mine. The trip was…not the best, for a few different reasons, but it was wonderful for other reasons. And Paris is always a good idea, particularly Paris in summertime.

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August – Finally, a month with nowhere to go! Some friends came down for the bank holiday weekend, we spent time on the beach and went to a cider festival, and English summer was in full, glorious swing!

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September – Another month with no place to go, but this is also the month we got a car, which was intensely exciting. We broke it in by exploring beautiful nature further afield. The Seven Sisters Cliffs were first up.

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OctoberMorocco, a country I’d long wanted to visit. Hot, vibrant, completely bonkers and a great way to spend one’s 32nd birthday.

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November – The year began to wind down, us with it. Things took a turn for the deeply melancholy. Beach walks and outdoorsy goodness happened while the weather cooperated, and many expat Thanksgiving celebrations took place at the end of the month.

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December – Nowhere to go, but lots to do, including finally making it to the ice rink in front of the Brighton Pavilion, and taking what has become an annual walk along the South Downs Way on the last day of the year, followed by a pub lunch.

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Here’s hoping for a better 2017, in all realms.

Three days in New York City

I hesitate to use the word epic since it so rarely is used anymore to describe things that are actually epic by definition, but I’d say a 17 day road trip across 4 American states and 5 major cities ticks all the boxes for epic in my own life, so here we are.

Several weeks ago, Jon and I flew into the hell hole that is JFK International Airport on Wednesday evening, and the heat that greeted us as we walked out of the terminal was like a breath of new life into my cold, damp lungs. We ubered into the city (can we use Uber as a verb yet?) and eventually found our hotel, the trying-very-hard-to-be-trendy W Hotel on Lexington. It was very nice, but the minibar had a Snickers that cost a ridiculous $12 USD so we steered very very clear of that nonsense. The bathroom was pretty much as big as our flat here though, so all is forgiven.

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Three days isn’t really that long, and our trip mostly consisted of eating (shortlist of what was eaten: bagels, ice cream, very bad Italian food, very good tacos) and revelling in time spent with one of my best and oldest friends who now lives in the city and has a fancy job at Christie’s, meaning he’s smack in the middle of Rockefeller Center every day, watching them film The Today Show.

There he is! There we are!

 

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I’ve been to NYC a few times, but Jon hadn’t been since he was a little kid, when his family lived in Connecticut and his dad worked in the heart of Manhattan, commuting in every day and leaving the little Norris fam out in the suburbs. Wandering around with Jon and his fresh eyes was particularly fun, especially as he acclimated his very British self to the streets (and people) of New York. It was like dipping a toe into America before heading straight to the deep end further on in our trip – I always think that NYC is much more European than American in its sensibilities, so it’s a good middle ground on the spectrum.
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There wasn’t much on our bucket list really – we are both big fans of wandering and picking a thing or two to do per day, filling in the rest of the itinerary around that, all very low-key. We only had one full day in the city anyway, but our list included a walk down to Battery Park to take a look at the tip of the island, waving to the Statue of Liberty from afar.

 

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There she is – way out yonder.

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I also really wanted to take a moment at the memorial to the World Trade Center and 9/11. It was sobering, and much more emotional poignant than I could have possibly expected. I think it’s a fantastic space and they’ve done such a good job with it as a place of remembrance. I’m very certain I couldn’t make it through a visit inside though – outside was more than enough.

 

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Walking and eating took up most of our time. It was very very hot and you may be surprised to hear that Jon and I aren’t really used to that sort of thing, living in England as we do. It was amazing just to be outdoors with no need at all for a secret hidden jacket in my bag, but also it was very sweaty and I immediately got sunburned. Worth it.

 

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New York, your parks are too beautiful.

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Bagels were a big draw for both of us. We went to the same place around the corner of our hotel both mornings – a little place called Fresh & Co. It’s a chain in NYC with a dozen or so locations, and I highly recommend it. They have lots of healthy options, including gluten-free bagels and turkey bacon/sausage, but they also do all the regular stuff, and their salads look amazing too. The staff was also delightful.

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Jon ate four bagels over the course of two mornings. He is dedicated to carb loading.

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We just had to walk through the Beaux-Arts beauty that is Grand Central Terminal. We were walking by and you can just stroll right on it, so it seemed like a good thing to do.

 

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Another must visit was the American Museum of Natural History. After a lazy lunch in Central Park (where Jon and his bottomless pit of a stomach ate an entire tray of street meat and rice while I had a cherry ice cream sundae), it was off for a few hours in one of my favorite museums in the world. What a place.

 

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It seems like a building that’s locked in time. I can very easily imagine ol’ Teddy Roosevelt wandering around its halls.

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And there are dinosaurs!
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On Friday morning, slightly worse for wear from a rowdy dinner the night before in the Meatpacking District with a couple of friends, Jon and I had just enough time to down another bagel and coffee breakfast before taking a walk over to Rockefeller Plaza to poke around and take in the hustle and bustle.
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I’ve never seen a building with as many American flags – Saks Fifth Avenue is a pretty patriotic place, apparently.
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And then it was back to the airport for our flight to New Orleans. Three days (really two) could never be enough in that beautiful city, but it was a great way to whet the appetite for the rest of our stay in the US. I can’t wait to go back.

Three days in New York City – A very loose itinerary

(in case you’re looking for a little inspiration)

Day One: 

Check in at the W Hotel

Blockheads Burritos for burritos and margaritas

Day Two: 

Fresh & Co for coffee and bagels and then…the walking begins

Washington Square Park

9/11 Memorial and Museum

Battery Park (then go all the way back up north – could walk along the Highline if you give yourself time)

American Museum of Natural History (leave a few hours for this – also it’s pay as you wish, but only if you talk to someone in person at the till)

Hotel to freshen up, hotel bar for a drink

Dinner at an Italian restaurant that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone because it was both expensive and not good. I think it was called Santina? Then more drinks at a German beer garden nearby.

Day Three:

Fresh & Co for more coffee and bagels

Walking – this time to Rockefeller Plaza

Hotel check out and back to JFK

 

 

 

A quick weekend in Bristol

February is a month full of birthdays when it comes to my friends and family. That, and October. And this year it led to hitting the road and heading out of town for two out of the four weekends.  This is a perfect balance because it leaves lots of time to sleep and rest on alternating weekends, which is important to a lazy sleepy person such as myself.

Our friend Dave turned 30 last week, so we rented a car and hit the road for the 4+ hour drive over to the West Country to surprise him and have a whirlwind weekend in Bristol. I made a playlist and everything! Jon and Dave used to live together at university in Plymouth, and then again in Korea (which is when I met him) and so it was no surprise that the birthday dinner took place at a Dave’s favorite Korean restaurant in Bristol, Surakhan. There were ten of us, and we drank soju and toasted the birthday boy while stuffing ourselves with all manner of Korean deliciousness. Then we hit up a nearby karaoke bar, Lollipop, and sang and drank until we could sing no more. This is essentially how we spent most weekends in Korea, so it made sense to re-enact it in honor of the birthday boy.

ss bristol

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There was Korean beer, which is horrible, but worth drinking for tradition’s sake.

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And I forgot how hilly Bristol is – it’s essentially the San Francisco of England. Good to burn those calories before/during/after a night of drinking though! Leave your heels at home, though.

steep hill bristol

There’s also a fair amount of interesting….statues? Installations? Things? Around Bristol, particularly in the main city center near the docks where we found ourselves. See the first picture above, that giant reflective sphere. And here, a stag beetle!

stag beetle bristol

 

In the morning, Jon and I woke up surprisingly fresh faced (thank tiny baby Jesus for coconut water, I swear by it) and decided to go for a wander around Bristol, mostly in search of delicious breakfast before we had to get back on the road.

 

 

 

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We found a dreamy breakfast – with a beautiful view – at  Spoke and Stringer. Just look at those plates- intensely beautiful. I had the oat pancake with a side of poached egg and a piece of bacon, Jon had their version of an English breakfast.

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spoke and stringer brunch bristol

And the restaurant was inside this lovely building, too.

spoke and stringer bristol

Bristol is in the West Country and has two main rivers, the Avon and the Frome – hence all these boats! It also has amazing architecture everywhere – Georgian, Edwardian, huge Gothic cathedrals, all sorts. It’s beautiful, and walking along the docks is a great way to spend time (particularly if you’re short on it). I really wanted to check out the Georgian House Museum, but (insert sad trombone) it’s been closed since January 1st and won’t open until April 1st. Who does that? Support your local councils people, they obviously need your money so that they don’t have to close for the entire winter season!

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Although we were back on the highway by 3pm, it was a great little weekend, and Bristol always gets a thumbs up from me, any time of year. Maybe next time I’ll actually get to check out a museum or two….fingers crossed.

st pancras renaissance hotel

A luxe birthday weekend at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

Jon turned 31 this month, and his present from me was an ultra-fancy weekend away at one of his favorite hotels in London, the St Pancras Renaissance. And I don’t use the word luxurious lightly – it was, without a doubt, the fanciest hotel I have ever stayed in, and our 36 hour get away was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life at this point. It was wonderful, and a stay there was everything we were looking for, having only viewed its imposing Gothic-Revival architecture from the outside. (Everyone has favorite hotels that they’ve never actually been in, right?)

 

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We stayed in one of the Junior Suites in the Chambers Wing and it was stunning – our room overlooked the Eurostar terminal, which is maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but Jon loves a bit of trainspotting.

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chambers suite st pancras

The hotel has a long and storied history in London, and started life as the Midland Grand Hotel all the way back in 1873. Unfortunately it was built just on the cusp of a load of changes to what hotel visitors expected (for example, people started expecting a private bathroom in their suite, that sort of thing) and it sadly closed its doors in 1935. It sat vacant, derelict and crumbling for years, and was nearly razed to the ground until a campaign in the 1960s found it given Grade 1 Heritage listing. While that saved the building from being torn down, it didn’t mean that anyone had plans for it….so the hotel crumbled some more, this time with heritage-listing protection. Eventually, the exterior was restored at a cost of nearly £10 million in the 1990s (and the Spice Girls filmed “Wannabe”  on the grand staircase in 1996!), but it wasn’t until a full restoration was begun in 2004 that the hotel really came back to life, better than ever. It was officially opened as a 5-star hotel in 2011. And here we are! What I’m saying is, the Spice Girls and I have been in the same place!

st pancras renaissance hotel

You can see I’m a little obsessed. You could fill a book with the history of this place – and they did. And they left it in our room, and I read it. Fascinating!

And here’s the aforementioned Grand Staircase.

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Also, check out this huge radiator. I’m not that tiny, I promise. Victorians, man. You were either living in a Dickensian hovel or in the very lap of luxury, as far as I can tell.

huge radiator st pancras renaissance hotel

Besides taking advantage of the amazing Turkish-style spa, pool, and steam room that’s hidden in the bowels of the building -multiple times, because we wanted to ring every penny out of our stay – we spent a lot of our time hanging out the in the private (oooh la la) Chambers Club. Access came with our room, and the Chambers were accessible through a private staircase as well, so it was a hidden space where they served complimentary food and drinks at all times of day and evening, and the staff were all very, very sweet. They also served up bite-sized macarons and the best tiny scones and jam and tea sandwiches I’ve had.

afternoon tea in chambers club st pancras renaissance

After checking in we had to be led to our room. We were getting antsy waiting for the bellman to lead us – the receptionist had asked us to wait, and we were sure we could just find it on our own – but it’s a good thing we waited. This place is huge, and our room ended up being in the wing furthest from reception, near the clocktower, down a corridor that is truly as wide as our living room at home. Our kind concierge informed us that the hallways were so wide to ensure that the huge bustles of the Victorian ladies who stayed in the hotel in its early years never ran into one another. The ceilings were also deliciously high. I’ve become so accustomed to how small most things are in England that it was astonishing to find ourselves in this cavernous, decadent building, meticulously restored to its former glory.

hallway chambers wing st pancras

Another highlight of our stay was our dinner at The Gilbert Scott Restaurant. Named after the architect who dreamt up this whole dreamy building, the restaurant made me feel as if we’d stepped back in time – it was yet another one of those feelings where I could picture people just like us eating and drinking just like we were 150 years before. No pictures I could have taken would have served it justice, so I’ve included this one from their website.

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steak at the gilbert scott restaurant st pancras renaissance

birthday dinner at the gilbert scott restaurant st pancras
Our stay was mostly about generalized chilling…we sat and laid around a lot, and drank a lot of wine and champagne (birthday!), and hung out in the pool, and I took two bubble baths, which was quite a feat for one overnight stay, but I really miss having a bath! Also they set up a little “bath ritual” for us that included bathtub snacks, a bottle of Veuve, and a golden rubber ducky so I basically had to.

bath ritual st pancras renaissance

In the morning we had breakfast in The Booking Office, which is part of the hotel, but open to the public (and any London-based folk, you should go to it as quick as you possibly can, particularly if you’re taking the Eurostar anytime soon). They had the most amazing buffet, with basically the best version of everything you could want for breakfast. And you got to eat it in a room that looks like this. If you didn’t guess already by the name, this is the actual former booking office of St Pancras railway station, and the bar and buffet is built up against the former booking tills.

the booking office brunch st pancras renaissance

breakfast bar booking office london

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After one last round in the steam room, followed by a swim, we eventually checked out. But we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave just yet, so we whiled away our afternoon drinking cocktails and reading in the Booking Office for another few hours.

drinks at the booking office st pancras

But eventually we had to say farewell to our short-lived life of luxury and go pick up our fluffy monster and eat a takeaway curry with Jon’s parents to carry on the birthday celebrations. Our little flat never felt so small (but I don’t mind, I promise!). We don’t have any more fancy luxury holidays in our near future, and on our train home we took this picture – I feel like our faces make us look like two people who feel like they’ve really accomplished something. Ha! See also: awkward hand clasp. We are INCREDIBLY photogenic.

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And one final thing – people live in the hotel year round! The whole top level is luxury flats. Can you even imagine?? Here’s an article with a fella that lives in one of them. Swoon. Also, no surprise, he’s a banker.

If you’d like to read more about the building, or book a guided tour, you can do that here. I may have to go back for the guided tour!

 

24 hours in Istanbul

On our way out to Oman we managed to book a 24 hour layover in Istanbul – a complete dream, as I’ve wanted to see the city for a very, very long time and this layover business just fell in our laps-normally people fly to Dubai, then transfer to a flight to Oman. Even with such a condensed amount of time on our hands, we were ready to dig into the city and make the most of our fleeting window. The heat was much denser than England and greeted us in a warm cloud as we got off the plane. After sailing through customs (Turkey is now the first stamp in my shiny new passport!) and picking up a taxi, we zoomed along the coast, lights twinkling off the giant ships in the water, and pulled up to our hotel just as a light, warm rain began to fall. It was just after midnight.

The hotel itself fit some vision of Turkey that existed inside of my head that I hadn’t really known was there until we walked into this place . Someone had to turn the lights on to let us in. All decadent materials and gilded frames, but dark inside, staffed by a gruff gentleman in a tie who didn’t waste time on niceties. The key he handed to Jon was massive, brassy gold, weighty in the palm and definitely for use in magical cupboards and abandoned mansions, not to mention our hot room, where the one window lay open out to the city – unfortunately at ground level, which was a bit too dangerous for leaving open despite the welcome breeze it brought in.

Not willing to go to bed and miss out on our one night in Istanbul, I cajoled a slightly sleepy Jon into wandering the streets with me, just for a bit. We went out into the gentle rain, on to the little cobbled lane that the hotel lay on, and after walking up a hill and taking a left, lo and behold, the Hagia Sophia loomed ahead of us, the stunning Blue Mosque staring her down a few hundred feet away. High fives to Jon for his sweet hotel-booking skills!

Istanbul by night

Hagia Sophia at nightBlue Mosque at Night

There wasn’t much to be done at that hour (we weren’t interested in tracking down the late night scene, what with having just the one day in town anyway), so our night creeping came to a quick end so we could catch a few hours’ sleep before an early wake up call.

A wander around the city

In the morning we woke up early to the call of prayer at 5:30am. It was eerie and beautiful, but we weren’t about to wake up at that hour, so we drifted quickly back to sleep. Two hours later, we woke up officially to that same steamy heat, and after a delicious Turkish breakfast (the Turkish bagel is now my new favorite thing maybe in the entire world, accompanied by strangely sour Turkish cream cheese) found that by the light of day our little neighborhood was ridiculously cute. And full of stray cats, and very large stray dogs. And also that everything was closed because it was Eid. Oops. No worries! We could putter. We are puttering types. And things were set to open in the early afternoon, so not all was lost and we could squeeze at least a few things off our list before our 8pm flight to Muscat.

Istanbul

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stray dog istanbul

stray dog istanbul

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Happy Birthday to Me!

berlin beer gif

Enjoy the above gif, taken/produced during my long birthday weekend in Berlin (!!). All thanks goes to a wonderful surprise courtesy of Jon, who burst into the living room with a bottle of champagne last Thursday evening, blasting “everybody dance now”, announcing we were leaving early Friday morning while shouting “birthday weekend begins now!” Busting out his very best dance moves all the while. So many body rolls!

The weekend was lovely, and will be talked about at length soon. But today is my birthday, we’re back in England, Jon is making dinner, and it is gray and rainy outside (autumn decided to arrive, so it seems). Here’s to you, 30. I’m coming for you.