Finally! Our month in the USA has arrived and we’re so excited! We absolutely love NYC (who doesn’t?) and when we told my parents we were coming here, mum was straight on the web, searching for cheap flights. Fast forward 10 months and here we are, Sam, me, Mum and Dad all together in an apartment for a week- surely there would be some arguments? Tension? Frustration? Well, surprisingly, not really.
Sam and I flew over to stay with some friends who live out in Westchester for a few days. We had such a great time, eating so much, visiting cute little towns, hiking and hanging out with the ever adorable Valerie, their 1 year old daughter. Josh and Steph have the most beautiful house and gave us so much to aspire to in the future!
Then it was time to head to Brooklyn to meet Mum and Dad Dixon. The apartment we’re staying in is fantastic, it’s just that we’re so far away from tourist central- it’s around an hour to Grand Central and Sam and I quickly realised (reluctantly) that our days of siestas were over. There’s no point in coming back during the day when it would take so long to get back into the city.
Dad has never been to NYC before and it became apparent very early on that his mind was blown. In a good way. I thought his head was going to explode when we got to Times Square. Again, in a good way.
We’ve walked non stop for almost a week, so much that on a night we were exhausted and had to go to bed by 10pm pretty much every night. Obviously we’ve done all the touristy stuff- Empire State, Central Park, Rockefeller, Greenwich, Times Square, UN, Statue of Liberty etc but we’ve also done some really amazing things that, unless friends had recommended them, we would never have considered. We took a tour through the 9/11 Tribute Center, with 2 firefighters who were on duty during 9/11- it was amazing, in a very sobering way and I think was Dad’s highlight of the trip.
We also took a free guided tour of the NY Library- so so interesting and even better after the 3 glasses of wine consumed in the Oyster Bar at lunch.
We spent a day in Brooklyn- Coney Island, Williamsburg (amazing bars,) Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. What an incredible place! Brooklyn is gigantic and we could have easily spent a week exploring it without even stepping into Manhattan. Shamefully we didn’t even get to the other boroughs- there was just no time. We wanted to get upto Harlem on Sunday to see the gospel choirs but again, there was just no time.
Our friend Josh works at Google, so Sam got to go for a tour- he came back incredibly depressed because he doesn’t work there. Just look how happy he is:
One thing we’ve been surprised by is the incredible diversity of NYC- the food (oh god, the food,) architecture, neighbourhoods and open spaces. I don’t even want to think about how much weight we’ve put on- it’s so bloody difficult to say no to anything! From amazing steaks, to yummy brunches to delicious bagels and pretzels, we’ve been so spoilt. Yes it’s pricey, but double yes, it’s worth it.
We did find the 18-20% service a little steep but it’s all about what you’re used to- I think if we had that in HK or London, we’d be used to it too. For the most part, service has been pretty decent so I didn’t mind too much.
Tomorrow, Mum and Dad fly back to UK and Sam and I take the bus down to DC to hang out with the lovely Casey, Dani and Nick, all of whom we met travelling over the past few years.
Sam and I found out last night that Kanye was playing a ‘secret’ gig fairly near to where we’re staying. For about 10 seconds we considered it.
Then we realised it wasn’t starting until 2am.
Kanye, you’re entertaining in a what’s-he-said-now-way, but really, 2am?! No thanks.
So after raving about Bilbao and how much we loved it, Spain has outdone itself with San Sebastian, about 2 hours along the coast. I could go on and on about the architecture and scenery but I’d bore myself as well as everyone else so instead, here’s a couple of photos to illustrate for me:
We were so lucky that the sun came out pretty much as soon as we arrived and only disappeared when we were on our way to the bus station to go to Madrid. It meant we could walk for miles in amazing sunshine, and sit outside in trendy but overpriced cafes. Bliss! We even managed to find a lovely hostel in the middle of the city for a not-exorbitant-price. We stayed at ‘A Room in the City’ and would highly recommend it. It’s basic but we got our own room (complete with awesome bunkbeds) and shared bathroom (surprisngly really really nice) for 30 a night. Impressive when you consider average hotels start at 45 a night. Menu del dia in restaurants came with a bottle of wine- RESULT for backpackers everywhere!
The city is separated into different parts and our favourite (and judging by the crowds, everyone else too) was the old town. Lovely little streets lined with pintxos bars and cute shops, cafes selling calorific looking cakes and great coffee. It was quite easy to get lost in it and we found ourselves wandering for ages. There’s a great coastal walk around the edge of the city too- you can easily walk from one beach to the next in 30 mins.
SS also has some incredible beaches within a few minutes of the hustle and bustle of town. The above photo was taken just 10 minutes from our hostel and was so lovely. It was super hot and we tried our best to get back our bronzed glow from South America but I think we need a few more days!
Key ingredients for a perfect few days away:
Do yourself a favour- make sure you visit San Sebastian.
Onwards to Madrid!
And boy, do we look pasty- we need some sun.
After a few weeks with family in UK and me (somehow miraculously) landing a great job for September, we’re back on the road, somewhat unexpectedly ending up on the northern coast of Spain. It went like this:
Me: Where shall we go?
Sam: Where’s the cheapest place out of London?
Me: Santander. I think it’s in Spain.
Sam: As in the bank? Ok, book it.
And so here we are. We landed in Santander and it was such a nice treat- we didn’t know what to expect, having done no research and (for the first time ever) not having our trusty Rough Guide. It was such an interesting place- long stretches of gorgeous coastline interspersed with cafes and pretty architecture. It took a couple of days for our Spanish to kick back in properly but now we’re back into it, it’s as if we never stopped speaking it.
The hotel we stayed at was a definite winner- super cheap and comfy with excellent water pressure (regular readers will be aware of how Sam feels about water pressure.) After a couple of days there walking our socks off, we took a bus to Bilbao- the only thing we knew about here was that there was a football team (admittedly, only Sam knew this.) Now, this is the most amazing place for a weekend break- after 3 days here we rank it way above Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, Nice etc. We’d recommend it to anyone. Bilbao is seriously impressive. The whole city is so diverse- great architecture, modern galleries, fantastic beaches and the coast only 30 mins away, a great riverfront with so many cafes and bars and, most importantly pintxos.
Northern Spain are big pintxos believers- they’re a kind of tapas type dish which are available in pretty much every bar we’ve seen. On weekends, the locals really go to town and do pintxos crawls- effectively going from one bar to another (morning, afternoon, night, they’re not fussy) to drink and eat these delicious bar snacks. We paid an average of 1.5 euros per pintxos, and they were fantastic. The bar is piled high with them and you just get what you want and pay at the end. YUM!
We’ve walked an unbelievable amount- we feel totally reenergised for travelling and it’s as if we’re starting in Ho Chi Minh all over again. We’re not sure how long this feeling will last but we’re enjoying it whilst it’s here.
It’s been really warm the last few days but today was a scorcher so we took the metro 30 mins out to the coast, to the town of Getxo, to visit the beaches there. As well as spectacular beaches, there was a coastal walk (which Sam begrudgingly came on with me.) Obviously the sun makes everything seem better but we had such a great day and managed to repair some of the damage the UK has done to our fabulous tans.
The only downside to Bilbao is the price of accommodation-no matter how hard we looked we couldn’t get anything for our budget- Peru and Bolivia seem very far away when looking on Hotels.com and Airbnb. However, we did manage to get a lovely hotel for 50 a night- not ideal but it’s luxury for us and we are enjoying it immensely!
Tomorrow it’s off to San Sebastian, about 1.5 hours along the coast for (hopefully) more sun and pintxos. I’m sure there’ll be some culture too but it’s mainly for the sun and pintxos.