Thursday, 20 July 2017

Ghosts, Crocodiles and Bourbon Street in New Orleans

I don't really know where to start with New Orleans, I was there for 5 days; 4 with friends and 1 by myself. Anyone thats travelled a bit will know that 5 days is kinda a long time for a city so New Orleans ended up being a pretty slow one. It was a mid way city for me between me ending my adventures on the East Coast and flying out to the L.A to start my West Coast journey. 
It all started the way any New Orleans trip should: Bourbon Street
From Bourbon street I have one photo that i'm not even gonna try and edit and i'll just leave that here think it'll sum up the craziness that ensured after hurricane cocktails, mechanical bull riding and disgusting test tube shots.

Bourbon Street definitely lived up to its name, the atmosphere is electric and we had coincidentally arrived on a Saturday so it was rammed with every type of person you could think of, and yes people really do throw beads down off the balconies. Drinks are a little pricey but they are strong so not many are needed! There are also so many bars to choose from it's kind of impossible to pick, some have live music, some are more clubby and others have weird attractions like the mechanical bull. We stayed out pretty late and worked our way from one end of the street to the other hopping in and out of bars before heading home. 

The next day started rather late for us after the antics of the night before, our AirBnB was a little way out so after getting ready we got an Uber to the French Quarter where we started our sight seeing. We started with the French Quarter market which is full of stalls selling all types of things. We then moved onto to Jackson Square where the St Louis Cathedral stands (below), this cathedral is the oldest active Roman  Catholic Cathedral in the United States. They do have tours however we opted to just go and sit inside for a short time to look at the spectacular architecture. We also had lunch in Jackson Square at a place called Stanleys, we had great sandwiches there with friendly staff serving us and very reasonably priced to say it was so central in the French Quarter.

 Our second night was a lot quieter than our first as we had a swamp tour booked for our second day so we had to be up early. For anyone thinking of visiting New Orleans going out to the swamps is a must, we had the best time! Again we got an Uber there as it was a little way out to the companies base. We where on a boat with around 10 other people and the tour lasted 2 hours. We where driven right out into the swamps and saw crocodiles of every size! Our guide fed them marshmallows to attract them closer so we could see them up close. As he drove us through the swamp he also told us about the history of the swamp people and what living and working there was like.

We also had the opportunity to hold a baby crocodile, now the ethics of this are obviously questionable. You will notice on most boat tours that the croc you hold will have its mouth taped shut for the entire tour but as you can see from the photo below this wasn't the case for ours so I felt slightly better about how this tour ran. I was the first to volunteer to hold it, I wasn't gonna miss out on that, a few of the other passengers where a touch more reluctant but after some encouragement everyone held it.

That night we headed out to Frenchman Street to see some live Jazz music. his is a big part of new Orleans culture. We had barley arrived when a band started playing right in the street and they where amazing! If you want live music this is the street to go to, it was lined with bars all advertising live music. We went to one called the Blue Nile and we weren't disappointed the band didn't just play music they put on a real show and really helped us see that side of NOLA culture. 

The next day was our final full day and we had a few stereotypical things we wanted to do in New Orleans such as ride a ferry across the Mississippi. We couldn't afford a proper steam boat dinner tour  so we opted for the ferry that goes from one side to the other for 2 dollars each! It's pretty short and i'm sure not as exciting as a proper steam boat tour but needs must when it comes to budget. Next we walked a long long long way to see the American Horror Story Coven house from season 3. It was honestly the biggest house I have ever seen it goes on forever!

We then attempted to go to one of the famous above ground cemeteries, Lafayette No 1 but we where too late it had already closed for the day. There was another women wanting to go in to and she suggested we break in, an idea we where definitely not keen on. One because we didn't want to get arrested and two it doesn't feel morally right at all the break into a cemetery...

This all lead us to the highlight of our day - The Night Ghost Tour 
New Orleans is famous for it ghost and voodoo stories from people like Marie Leavou (voodoo queen) and Marie Le Pen (torturous slave owner) the city has a lot of history when it comes to magic. Our guide took us on a 3 hour walk across the city showing us the sites of grizzly murders, suicides, renegade butcher doctors, and much more. 

I don't have any pictures from the as it was mostly ordinary looking buildings and it was the stories that brought them to life. The interesting part of this is that it is a fact that some of the events have happened such as Marie Le Pens torture chamber which was also featured in American Horror Story season 3 so it was really interesting to hear more about it.

Unfortunately the next day was when my friends left me for the rest of their trip, after lunch we said goodbye and I headed to my hostel. India House. It was beautiful. painted bright yellow, there was even a pool which was so welcome in the 40 degree heat. The actual room in the hostel wasn't the nicest a little run down but couldn't really complain, I shared with 5 other girls. The lack of AC however killed me at night. I also made the mistake of trying to walk from the centre to the hostel to save money, I made it but it was so far and so hot. That night I went down to the pool with one of the girls in my room and chatted to some other guest at the hostel but headed up for an earlyish night.

On my last day in New Orleans I got up early to visit a cemetery as we hadn't managed to get into Lafayette No 1, it was really interesting seeing these type of above ground graves and how each family has a different style. But if you are visiting there isn't really any need to allocate a large time slot theres not really much to see in the gave yards.

I spent the rest of my day chilling by the hostel pool, I had check out my room and arranged a airport shuttle so decided it was best to stick around and relax while I had the chance before my crazy West Coat trip started. There was a few people from the night before there so after a phone call to my best friend at home I hung out with them until it was time for me to leave for L.A.

 Do you want to visit New Orleans? What do you think would be your favourite thing to see there?

Monday, 17 July 2017

How to spend 3 days in Chicago

Not long ago I travelled to Chicago with my friends Ellie and Elly (yes very confusing) we had a 3 day trip planned and had booked an AirBnB just outside the city centre. We arrived in Chicago late afternoon so after a trip to the local supermarket to stock up on food we went back to our AirBnB and got cleaned up before heading out for famous Chicago deep dish pizza, unfortunately I can't remember the name of the place. The restaurant was a fair walk but reviews said it was the best place around and they weren't wrong! The pizza was incredible so much cheese covered with fresh tomato sauce and the server even gets the slices out of the pan for you. The servings where so big none of us finished it. After our meal we headed home to sleep off our food babies and get ready for our first full day in Chicago.

On our first day we headed into the city centre using the public train which was at the end of the street, the public transport in Chicago was so easy to use once we'd bought our travel cards. (Work like Oyster cards for anyone that's been to London.) After arriving in the city we wandered with no real plan, out towards the waterfront where we ate the remains of our pizza from the previous night. This lead us to stumble upon Navy Pier. This is a 3,300ft long pier on the Chicago water front, there is a fun fair, several boat tours, cafes, restaurants and much more as well as some stunning views.

That same day we visited the famous Chicago Bean other wise know as The Cloud Gate. This is a massive sculpture, you can walk right underneath it and the reflective surface makes for great photos like mine where you can see the city reflected in the surface. It is situated in the AT&T plaza in the Millennial park which is a beautiful open space in contrast to the city. There are many art exhibitions, sculptures and the Jay Pritzker Pavillian where regular music events are held. The only down side to the Bean is that it is so popular that it was very crowded and as you can see from my photo impossible to get a picture without lots of people in my shot.

That night we headed to downtown Chicago for a free comedy show, before the show we went to a bar just off from the subway and the amazingly friendly bar tenders started our night off in the right way! Typical us turned up late to the comedy show so after getting drinks we missed the first part but what we did see was a hilarious improv show, which included a surprise engagement at the end! (she said yes) We headed back to the bar afterwards and spend the night making great friends with the bar tenders who after adding them on every social network possible invited us to a party the next night.

The next day slightly (very) hungover we headed back into the city to enjoy our last day in Chicago and what a day it was! We headed to the Willis/ Sears Tower Sky Deck (official name Willis but our bartender friend told us off for calling it this and said real Chicagoans call it Sears.) In all honesty I wasn't too keen on going up there, I was on a tight budget and what's one city view from the next right? But I was so so wrong this place is spectacular and I will let the photos below show you why. Here is the link to their website as you can see we also went super touristy and bought Chicago t-shirts. 

The very last thing we fitted into our stay in Chicago was a baseball game! The party we where invited to wasn't really possible for us to get to so we had a last minute change of plans. After living in New York and seeing the Yankees we had caught the baseball bug, not even for the game but for the incredible atmosphere. So we found ourselves some cheap tickets and headed down to the Sears Stadium. Upon arrival we learned that it happened to be Elvis night which apparently meant fireworks, flamenco dancers, Elvis impersonators and sky divers! This really topped of our visit making it a pretty exciting night.

On our last night we also saw the most beautiful sun set over the water and I am honestly in love with the below photo.

Hope this gave you some ideas of what to get up to in Chicago, if you have any more suggestions let me know in the comments! 

Monday, 10 July 2017

Free things in London: Natural History Museum

As you'll know if you've read my previous blogs, my boyfriend has recently move home to London after being at university so over the next few months I will be travelling to London a fair bit.

On this visit we went to the Natural History Museum. Getting to the museum was a bit of a nightmare after all north bound tubes where cancelled so we had to get a train to Victoria station in the centre and walk from there. It took us about 40 minutes to walk, although we saw some amazing London boroughs this way, including Chelsea and the amazing houses and hotels there.

We eventually made it to the Museum and ate a picnic outside as we are on major budgets right now, we then made our way into the museum. Now the reason I initially wanted to visit the Natural History Museum was for the dinosaurs, when I was in New York I desperately tried to get the the Natural History Museum there but never got chance and as you'll know they have a T-rex in their entrance hall and I presumed Londons museum would be similar.

I was however wrong, although we did have a great time there. The main hall was actually dedicated to mammals and there is a massive model of a blue whale that sits above the full length of the hall. It's difficult to actually take in how ginormous the whale is, especially when it is situated next to elephants and rhinos you can really see just how much larger it is than anything else.

In this hall they have all types of mammals from goats, to dolphins and huge elephant tusks unfortunately for me the giraffe wasn't on display which I was disappointed by as they are my favourite wild animal. Although the horse exhibits made up for it as they showed some amazing parts of their evolution. This first room goes on forever, over 2 floors and it is so easy to miss bits if you aren't careful. They even have a scale that tells you how many time more you favourite animal weights than you, 49 of me makes a giraffe apparently.

The next section is a human biology exhibit this part has loads of interactive stations such as optical illusions, machines where you can see hormones moving around the body and computers that test your memory. This room took us the longest there was so much information and we ended up skipping some parts as it was a bit much in the end and we had gone more for the animal skeletons and models rather than human biology.

Next we entered the dinosaur exhibit, this was small but great fun there is a room with a life size moving T-rex which was crazy to watch (if you follow me on Twitter you might have seen a video of it then follow a pathway zig zagging through the displays learning about dinosaurs and their timeline, I was surprised to learn how little we actually know about this part of time and how a lot of the things we know from films and TV is actually guess work. They where a few dinosaur fossils and life size model skeletons which was incredible to see the size that some of these creature grew too.

We where at the museum for about 4 hours and didn't see everything but we where knackered by this point and had seen as much as we wanted too so decided to go home for the day.

The museum was great and I definitely recommend it, theres something for everyone no mater what age and if you like animals then this is perfect. They have so many animal exhibitions such as wild cats, polar bears, whales, lots of elephant, sea life, extinct animals and much more! Then of course dinosaurs which will peak almost anyones interest!

Here is the link to the museum website if you would like to visit:

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Tips & Tricks: Who to fly with in the USA

Now I by no means claim to be an expert but in this post i'll tell you about my personal experience of both short haul internal flights and long haul international flights for the USA.

I myself am British but during my time working at a camp in New York and the subsequent time afterwards travelling I definitely picked up some tips when it comes to flying in America.

All I can say for internal flights is book with Southwest! They are by far the best that I have experienced especially for budget travellers and here's why:

  • No extra charge for baggage - some airlines will be charging $20 plus on top of your ticket price for luggage where as it's completely free with Southwest!

  • 2 pieces of hand luggage - during check in when our cases where way over the weight the lovely check in lady at Washington Baltimore airport informed us we could check our bags, have our rucksacks AND an additional piece of hand luggage! She even went to her locker to grab us a plastic bag for our extra piece. I've never had such great service from a member of staff from an airline before.

  • Free snacks on board - every Southwest flight i've taken has had free snacks, either pretzels or peanuts which is such a nice added bonus for a budget traveller when airplane food is so expensive there was even free water and orange juice. 

  • Flight prices -  in my experience even with all the extras Southwest tend to have the cheapest ticket prices especially if you consider what you'd spend on baggage with other airlines.

  • Frequency - Southwest fly so many places internally and flights are super frequent meaning you can almost always find one with them.

International flights are slightly more tricky and often price is the biggest decider, however when possible British Airways will be my #1 and here's why:

  • The food! - I'm a big foodie and as we all know airplane food is not the best but I have always been impressed by BA's long haul options on my flight from London to NY and San Fran to London I received 2 meals, multiple snacks and as many drinks as I could manage all included with the price.

  • Seats - there's only so much comfort you can get on an 12 hour flight but arriving at your seat to a pillow and blanket as well as a TV in the back of the seat fully loaded with all the latest films, TV and multiple games definitely helps.

  • Now this one is a bit bias but being British, flying with BA is sort of iconic, growing up it was by far the biggest, most well known and fanciest airline so flying BA feels special even if like me you're flying economy!

  • Frequency - like Southwest, BA fly everywhere all the time meaning it's not difficult to find a flight with them, they are also one of the only british airline to offer frequent flyer miles, although this isn't quite as straight forward as with American airlines. It does require you to sign up for a specific credit card.

As I said, my international argument is less fact based and more opinion but I hope this at least gives you a little insight into making you airline decisions and what to expect.

Let me know what your favourite airline is in the comments!

Disclaimer the airlines have not asked for this promotion i'm just a big fan!