Planning for a Californian road trip…

Matt and I are jumping on a flight tomorrow to Los Angeles for a road trip and camping adventure in California. We are looking to get back to nature with two nights in Sequoia National Park, followed by some city adventures for two nights near San Francisco on my birthday and then onto the Pacific Coast Highway for some sun and surf.  We are following the coastal road all the way back down to Los Angeles stopping off along the Big Sur on the way.

California road trip

We are very excited to be collaborating with campervan hire company Wicked.  You can’t miss their vans covered in cool artwork.  I am looking forward to reporting back about the van and the adventures we have along the way!
While researching the trip I realised that we would be in California during high season and booking campsites well in advance was a good plan as I found that the popular sites especially beach front ones were fully booked a few months ago!  Of course many sites don’t have reservations and operate on a first come first serve basis, but as we are only there for a short time I decided I would book in advance rather than worry about where we were going to stay on the day.  We have done it this way before in Australia and New Zealand though and it was easy peasy to just turn up.
We are staying in a mixture of privately owned campsites, National Parks and State Beach campgrounds.  Privately owned campsites are great for shower and laundry facilities.  National park ones are perfect for going back to basics and being at one with nature, often with limited facilities and sometimes no showers.  The bonus though is that many of them allow campfires, which I really can’t wait for.  The type of van we are using has a ‘kitchen’ in the boot so cooking outside while the sunsets will feel like such a novelty, the weather looks set to be warm and sunny too.
For reserving National Park and State beach campsites I used Reserve America and  Both are good for trip planning and show current alerts in the parks.  One thing I was surprised to learn about was a black bear warning for the campground I booked in Sequoia National Park.  Each pitch comes with a bear proof box and all food, toiletries and anything that has a scent or odour must be placed inside so as not to attract the bears!  I am slightly apprehensive and excited at the same time!  I would love to see a bear but not too close to our van!  Back to the research, Nomadic Matt has some useful blogs on road tripping in America and a good old-fashioned map and Lonely Planet guide to California have also been vital in planning this trip.
Camping essentials:
From previous camping trips abroad I have discovered a few very useful items that are easy to pack and save a bit of hassle on arrival at your destination…
Anti-bac wipes – I’m a bit of a clean freak so these are perfect for campervan cleaning and also good for cheating on the washing up!
Head torch – A very useful camping tool, especially for finding your way to the toilet in the middle of the night…
Re-sealable bags – Good for storing opened food and anything else you might need to store.
Power pack or car charger – A necessity for charging camera batteries or phones on the road.
Tea bags – Being an English girl I need a good cuppa!
Washing tablets – I hate having to spend on things like this when I’m away!
We will be covering around 1000 miles in 8 days; Check back for my adventures, photos and van stories coming very soon…if anyone has any suggestions on places to stop and things to see I’d love to hear them…

An alternative day out in Orlando…

I had a trip with work to Orlando last week, with two nights there and a lovely crew we planned an alternative day out to the usual shopping and theme parks that Orlando is associated with.  Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing more than shopping in America and Universal is one of my favourite theme parks but once you’ve done them it’s so nice to see what else this part of the world has to offer.  So, we hired a car through Alamo and picked it up from the airport.  Collecting our paperwork we were shown in the direction of the parking lot and told to pick a car from the style we had chosen, the keys were already in the ignition of the cars so we made our choice and jumped in!
It might not be everybody’s cup of tea but we headed to Orlando Gun Club to have a go on a shooting range.  This is something I had not done before and it was actually a lot of fun.  We were a bit apprehensive at first but we were looked after and had some tuition to start us off.  We chose our guns; bullets and targets were shown the ropes and then left to have a go ourselves.  It cost around $30 each including tuition.
Our next stop was Kissimmee, I had heard a lot about the area but never visited it.  I have to say Kissimmee is a lot smaller and sleepier than I expected it to be; it was so nice to see a different area of Florida.  We stopped off at the historic downtown area walked a short distance to the lakefront park and had a drink at the 3 Sisters Speakeasy bar.
We finished the day off with dinner at the Cheesecake Factory it is my favourite place to eat in America, and you guessed it they serve a lot of delicious cheesecake!  I had a seared tuna salad with a glass of wine, a tasty and tactical move so that I could fit in dessert!
Next time I visit I would love to go surfing at Cocoa Beach and take an air boat ride through the Everglades, I still have so much of Florida to explore!
If you have any other recommendations on things I should do in Florida I would love to hear them…


Viva Las Vegas!

I visited Las Vegas for the first time last week, what a crazy and exciting place it is!!  Watching the fountains in front of the Bellagio I felt like I was in a scene from a movie!  Exploring all the incredible hotels was a fun experience, where else can you visit Paris, Rome, Venice and New York all in one day?!  I also had heart stopping fun on the rides at the top of the Stratosphere.  These rides are definitely not for those of a nervous disposition!  I love theme park rides but these were amongst the scariest I’ve been on, I guess it has something to do with being dangled over the edge of a building 983ft above the ground!  With incredible views of The Strip and the surrounding area it is worth going up to the observation deck even if you don’t go on the rides.  I recommend jumping on a Deuce bus for sightseeing along The Strip, you can buy a ticket for $8 for 24 hours, bargain!  I also got to see Rod Stewart in concert at Caesars Palace, I grew up listening to his music as my Dad is a big fan, so it was fantastic to see him live and at such an amazing venue too.  I was only in Vegas for 72 hours but got to see and do so much while I was there, the only thing I didn’t get to do was a trip to the Grand Canyon.  This will be the plan for my next visit…

New York – Upper vs Lower Manhattan

I love nothing more than visiting New York in the winter.  It’s a great city to visit in any season but there is something about it in the winter that is just so magical.  I love the Rockefeller Christmas tree, along with all the glitzy decorations and twinkley window displays that adorn Fifth Avenue.
On my most recent trip I arrived on New Years day, what a great way to start 2013!  Having visited a few times before I wanted to spend sometime exploring other parts of the city that I hadn’t visited yet.  So here are my recommendations on different areas to explore in this wonderful metropolis:
Upper West Side:  I stayed at a great boutique hotel called Hotel Belleclaire, only ten minutes walk from Central Park it’s a really nice area.  There are some great grocery stores; I am a total foodie so exploring local produce stores is right up my street.  West Side Market, just around the corner from the hotel and Fairway a short stroll away, were my favourites.  Both had great deli counters, a huge selection of cheeses and a brilliant variety of fresh fruits lined up outside.  Of course this isn’t necessarily what you will have come to New York for but as I’ve mentioned in past blogs I love immersing myself in local cultures and discovering what people eat in other parts of the world.
There are plenty of options for breakfast or brunch in this part of town, my favourite being Viand Café.  With a classical American diner feel this was my favourite spot for a big hearty American breakfast.  A great menu with all your typical American style breakfasts such as buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup, waffles, eggs any style or for a healthier option, granola.  All reasonably priced I can’t think of any other way to start the day in this wonderful city.
A cool place for a drink or meal is the Amsterdam Ale House, it had a really nice atmosphere and pub feel and being British I felt right at home!  The food was superb and reasonably priced with interesting mains such as tuna and bison burgers on the menu, I would describe it as posh pub food and a definite winter warmer.
From our hotel it was easy to walk to Central Park and down to Fifth Avenue.  On the edge of the park on the West Side sits the American Museum of Natural History, its well worth a visit.  Once in Central Park stroll past the lake and the popular Loeb Boathouse restaurant, a nice café to stop off for a coffee and a warm up.
Lower West Side: Greenwich Village, found on the Lower West Side of Manhattan has got to be my new favourite area of New York City. With its trendy village feel, I don’t know why I didn’t visit sooner!  Greenwich is about a ten minute cab journey from Times Square. Being a small suburb it has a slightly quieter feel than the hustle and bustle of central Manhattan.  With lots of boutique shops it kept me occupied for quite sometime, even if it was just window shopping…
Bleecker Street is a perfect place to start exploring, first things first you must head to Magnolia Bakery, their cupcakes have to be the best I have ever tasted!  This popular bakery can get very busy, but don’t be put off by the queue the cupcakes are definitely worth it.
Blind Tiger Ale House (You will notice there is a theme with me here!) is a short walk from the bakery.  With a list of twenty-eight draught beers and a cosy open fire it is the perfect retreat from the cold.  The staff are very friendly and knowledgeable and will happily let you try the beer before you buy.  The rustic dark wood interior and old school cash register give this place a very homely feel.
The beers we tried on our two afternoon visits were: (These may have changed since my visit)
No 28 – Lagunitas Pilsner from California
No 23 – Original Sin Cider from New York (My favourite, I love Cider!)
No 20 – Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA from California
If you fancy a bite to go with your beverages the bar snacks were marvellous and perfect for sharing.  Coconut curry squash ($7) and Cajun Mac & Cheese ($7) were our favourites.
This is clearly a popular drinking establishment with locals and tourists alike. One afternoon I overheard a great conversation between an English couple and a local New Yorker discussing Scotland. The local pronounced Edinburgh in a very funny way, as you can imagine this caused a lot of laughter at the bar!
Murray’s Cheese Bar is also worth a visit, this is a restaurant with a twist, cheese being you guessed it at the centre of the menu, Brilliant!
Brooklyn Bridge: Brooklyn Bridge is on the Lower East Side and connects Manhattan to Brooklyn.  Built in 1883 it stretches for just over a mile across the East River.  It is a lovely scenic walk with views of Central Manhattan; you can see the Empire State and Chrysler Building to name just a few.  Look the opposite side and you can see the Statue of Liberty.  If you like taking photos you can get some cracking shots from here, and the bridge is magnificent.  Wrap up warm though as it is very chilly in the winter.  I was fascinated to see all the ‘love locks’ attached to various parts of the bridge and took a bit of time to look at the initials and messages engraved on them.
The Highline: Located on the west side in Chelsea, just above Greenwich Village sits the Highline, an old railway line that is now a public walkway. Raised above the busy streets, the Highline weaves in between buildings and has wonderful views of the Empire State Building and the River Hudson. Along the walkway there are some interesting art installations, food vendors and benches to sit and watch the world go by. Stop off at Chelsea market for quirky shops and cool restaurants. The milkshakes at Creamline are the best! For more head to my blog post all about it: Walking the Highline in New York…
I have to say there is no competition between the Upper and Lower Sides of Manhattan. Both have so much to offer, if I was going to choose I think my favourite is the Lower West Side.  With its small village feel and boutique shops I would definitely like to stay in this area on my next visit to ‘The Big Apple.’