A Walk around Birgu

Birgu111A few weeks back I spontaneously found myself heading to Birgu to explore the city by myself. I used to go off on adventures alone at every chance I could get however it has become something that I seldom do anymore, so I decided that this needed to change! As well as wanting to get some exercise and fresh air, the act of exploring at my own pace with nothing but my camera has always been something I revelled in.

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Birgu also goes by the italian name of Vittoriosa and makes up one of the three cities situated on the opposite side of Valletta. The city itself played an important role during The Siege of Malta and was the home to the Knights of St John who made it a capital city way back in 1530.

Today, it still holds onto its charm and is well worth spending a good few hours getting lost in the quaint alleyways (it’s easy to find your way back out though I promise!)

Birgu is a mini city of plentiful character and is kind of how I imagine and wish Malta was everywhere. At the same time it makes me appreciate these places so much more now that many parts of Malta have become urbanised.

To get here from Valletta, simply take bus number 2 or 3 from the bus terminus.

One thing I noted that it was impossible to find an atm to withdraw money which was a shame! I would have needed to take a 20 minute walk into a neighbouring city which normally  I wouldn’t mind but it was downhill and a scorching hot day so be sure to carry cash with you in case there are any artisan markets around (which there was on that day).

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Why we need to go back to New York

StreetsofnycNew York, New York!

Our trip to NYC was jam packed, exhilarating and exhausting. Over the space of those 14 days we walked 190km only taking the subway once and a return train to New Jersey.

It’s impossible to see everything in two weeks. Hell, even a lifetime is a stretch! But we did get a taste of the apple and that just made us want to take another bite. Although we did LOADS (see this for a brief itinerary) there was so much more left to experience.

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Here’s what we’ll try to pack into our next trip (note that there is no if in that sentence!)

  • Ice skating in Central Park
  • Take a trip to the top of the One World Trade Center
  • Staten Island Ferry
  • Coney Island
  • Watch a game at Madison Square Garden
  • Watch another show on Broadway
  • View the skyline from a helicopter
  • Rockefeller Tour
  • Discover more vegan/veggie restaurants and food trucks
  • Spend more time in Brooklyn and Greenwich Village
  • Eat more pizza
  • Watch the world go by
  • Visit the Brooklyn Flea Market and find a bargain or two!
  • Visit more botanical gardens
  • Take the audio guided tour in Grand Central Station
  • Spend a full day in The Met
  • Listen to music in a jazz bar
  • See more street art
  • Fort Tryon Park
  • Museum of Bodies (if the exhibition is still ongoing)
  • See some abandoned subway stations

Ok so it seems like we may need another two weeks after all!

New York, we’re not finished with you yet.

New Yorkers, do you have any tips for getting off the beaten track in the city?

The Journey to a Vegan Lifestyle

Guest post by Lloyd.

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If I were to try and imagine myself at 26 I would never in a million years have guessed I would have stopped eating meat. If my family were to go out for a meal it was always a safe bet that my order would be a big burger, mixed grill or a steak.

Although Simone is a vegetarian it didn’t really have any influence on my own diet to begin with due to the long distance. Even when we were together, if we went out to eat I would order the same meals. However, when it came to making stuff at home I was keen to try cooking up some vegetarian dishes. I was always happy to test new recipes and explore alternative options to meat so I guess it didn’t take much for me to jump feet first into the veggie lifestyle.

I can’t pinpoint an exact time where I made the decision to give up meat for good but the idea certainly developed from the time I watched a documentary film called Cowspiracy. I watched it near the beginning of 2015, but the film has gained a lot more coverage since one Mr. DiCaprio was involved as an executive producer for a new cut of the film later on that year.

It would be very easy to shrug or turn a blind eye to the message the film is putting across but the information really struck a chord with me and has definitely influenced my life choices since watching. The main point I took away from the film was just how drastically our obsession with meat has affected our planet. Now, I’m not posting about this to try and push my personal beliefs onto anyone, but the film is very thought provoking and I strongly recommend giving it a watch.

Luckily for me the change to animal free products and food was incredibly easy thanks to how accessible these were from local grocery stores or online back in the UK. Even though there were plenty of pre-prepared “sausages” and varieties of veggie burgers there is nothing more satisfying than creating a whole meal from scratch, plus – it tastes so much better!

As a starting point those sausages and burgers will be your saving grace. They’re a perfect jumping off point to ease yourself into a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle and are so simple to prepare with a plate of veg, couscous or mixed salad. But it won’t be long until you’re moulding your own burgers or “sausage meat” patties and creating all kinds of culinary delights like stir fries and buddha bowls!

It may all seem like a bit much to begin with, as it is such a huge step. If you were to conduct some research about veganism you may also find it overwhelming to find out just how many obscure ways animal products can be used in your day to day foods and other general ingredients. For example: a lot of companies use bone char during the refining process for their sugars and plenty of wines and beers are processed with isinglass (dried swim bladders from fish).

One of the major issues people seem to have with going vegan is that “there is so much you have to give up” but it needs to be viewed more as an opportunity to expand your repertoire of recipes and take more care with what you’re fueling your body with. So why not create something delicious safe in the knowledge that it’s completely cruelty-free! From personal experience I have cooked a lot more and with so much more variety since changing my eating habits and although there are some traditional dishes with a veggie twist, there are no feelings of nostalgia for those meat eating days.

I can remember at the very beginning my meals were always kept very simple whilst learning more about the lifestyle and finding what worked for me. Breakfasts would generally consist of a toasted bagel with vegan spread or porridge. But you can also mix it up with some smoothies, fruit salad or even some vegan pancakes!

With most other dishes I would cook up a decent sized batch so that there were at least 2 or 3 portions to use for future lunches and evening meals. Those meals would often be falafel, salads and some basic soups and curries.

Nowadays we are a lot more adventurous with our meals and will have a go at pretty much any recipe we find that sounds tasty. Lately we’ve been making a point of working our way through a handful of vegan recipe books we’ve picked up and will have to share our best finds in future posts.

Do you have a recipe or your own story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you too!

We’re off to Barcelona!

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T minus 24 hours until we go for a short city break to the city of Gaudi.

This will be our first time visiting Barcelona and with only three full days we have a lot to fit in. To be honest up until this very moment we haven’t planned a single thing that we’re going to be doing so I’m going to get my research cap on and start searching through my favourite blogs and on Pinterest for (p)inspiration!

If you’re interested in checking out our resources I’ll pop them below too.

The Tourist of Life talks about finding an undiscovered spot in Barcelona

Hand Luggage Only have a plethora of material to get through:

6 Must see Pieces of Architecture by Gaudi in Barcelona

A Local’s Guide to Barcelona: 27 Things You Really Need To Know About Visiting Barcelona

10 Things To Do And See In Barcelona, Spain

The Complete Guide To Visiting Barcelona

Pin the Map Project:

The Top 5 Things To Do in Barcelona

Travelettes:

How to Spend 48h in Barcelona

11 Things to do in Barcelona for free

Barcelona: The Perfect Weekend Getaway

10 Fun Things to do in Barcelona

 

If you have any tips then please do leave a comment!

xo

 

Saying “ciao” to Gozo’s Azure Window

“Azure window fell apparently” was the message I received from Lloyd as I sat anxiously waiting in the dentists reception to be seen last Wednesday.

In that moment I’m sure my heart skipped a beat as I tried to process that information.

It had to be a joke, surely? I opened the web browser of my phone and desperately searched “Azure Window Gozo” in Google but my signal was so low that the page just kept loading and loading without any return.

I informed my dad who was sitting next to me and was met with the same reaction. Blind shock and an empty feeling inside.

I’ve stood in front of the Azure Window in Dwejra, Gozo too many times to count. Each and every time I would take a picture, regardless of whether I had one already. Each and every time we were there it was with different people or different circumstances and so this is why I did.

We looked around the crowded room, clearly no one else had seen or heard the news by this point or it would have been like the Times of Malta comment section in there; a multitude of mostly frustrating opinions and debates. Whilst waiting for an x-ray of my mouth I finally found some signal to read the news article and this is what I saw:

Until seeing this, I hadn’t realised the extent of the loss. The entire structure had been swallowed by the raging seas.

In 2013 studies had shown that erosion was inevitable, but until something like this happens you don’t quite comprehend just how much of a loss it is.

I saw comments on Facebook about how pathetic it was that so many people were upset about the natural occurrence and to that I will just say yes; yes I’m saddened that a natural structure has collapsed and left us with no more photos left to take of its beauty. Yes i’m sad that I won’t be able to take any more friends and family to see the Azure Window again. Yes i’m sad because it is a loss to so many people. It may just be a rock formation but it was a wonderful one. If that makes me pathetic then so be it.

I feel so lucky to have stood in front of its beauty so many times over the years.

Ciao for now x

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Azure Window 1

Azure Window 2

Taking a bite of the Big Apple

foodmenusAs with any venture to a new destination, trying out a variety of restaurants and searching for those hidden gems can be a lot of fun and an experience all of its own.

Having spent two weeks in New York I’d like to think we got a pretty good idea of the “must try” spots within a few block’s radius of where we stayed. And although we did find plenty of delectable dishes, I know that we could go back again and again and still try new, unique places each and every trip.

I’ve compiled a list of spots that I would recommend to anyone who finds themselves nearby, enjoy!

P.S., Sorry for the lack and bad quality photos – Simone usually only remembered to take a photo after she had eaten and by that point it’s not really worth it! Oops.

This was our first “proper” meal out in New York. I had the chana masala sandwich whilst Simone opted for the bowl version of the same name. Having spent a full day on our feet this food was very well received and the hearty portion and explosion of flavours were a fitting reward for the 26,000 steps we’d taken that day!

 

 

We tried the location on 8th Avenue, the upstairs has a huge window with stools along it so you can enjoy your food whilst watching the bustling in the streets; ideal for people watching. We both had the hummus and falafel from the “just hummus” section of the menu, the hummus was lovely and creamy and the falafel was well done, crisp outside and nice and soft inside.

When becoming vegetarian, falafel quickly became a staple food for me. I can always find happiness in a fluffy pitta bread stuffed with warm falafel and a handful of crisp salad – nom.

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When we stumbled across this spot on W 50th Street we were just looking for a quick bite on the way to check out Times Square before the New Year crowds started filing in. We were surprised it was so empty, until we came back outside and saw the barriers had been put up to block access toward the focal point of that evening!

The “create your own plate” provides a wide variety of “Proteins” and sides to create plenty of delicious combos.

The little Beet New York

Apologies, I literally only have a photo of the bag.

 

This restaurant kept cropping up near the top of a lot of “best pizza in New York” lists that we found, so as it was so close, we decided to give it a try. I can definitely speak for the both of us when I say we fully endorse the high ratings!

Getting a veggie pizza right is difficult at the best of times, the ingredients naturally make the base soggier and it can detract from the experience when you spend most of your time scooping toppings back onto your base.

This was not the case (so much) with this pizza. The base maintained a crispness and crunch but wasn’t hard. The sauce/tomato/toppings ratios were spot on so that nothing was taking over each bite and masking the other two. Granted, the price tag on the end of this was more than a lot of the other dishes on this list combined, but, when in Rome…

On the way to check out the Best of NYC cruise by Circle Line we stopped off at this little cafe to warm up before an afternoon on the water. We both had a hot chocolate and some pastry treats. It was a really cosy place and we could have easily spent an afternoon there if we weren’t so tied for time.

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This place is a good pit-stop to grab a snack as you’re walking the streets of the concrete jungle. Pick a base, protein and toppings from their salad bar style layout. More tasty falafel – you can’t go wrong!

You may have noticed in one of my previous posts, we visited this place a few times during our stay and it was always awesome! We kept coming back for the chilled out, pub vibe and that veggie burger with sweet potato fries!

 

I decided to check out Terri’s on a day when Simone was a bit run down and some comfort food was needed. As it’s a vegan friendly menu it’s one of our absolute top recommendations. It also helps that the food is incredibly moreish! Even if you are a die-hard carnivore, you will be pleasantly surprised at the alternatives on offer here. I went for the meatball sub and philly cheesesteak along with a chocolate milkshake. Plus, several milkshakes during the remainder of our stay.

Another amazing restaurant for Indian cuisine. There’s plenty of styles, mains and sides to choose from, trying them all is the perfect excuse to keep coming back! We both chose the feast option from the menu and I would recommend ordering the onion pakora strings as an added side.

Indikitch New York City

I’m almost embarrassed to say that we only discovered Bite because it was near the local “by Chloe.” restaurant. This place certainly deserved recognition on it’s own – be sure to try them both!

There were a wide range of soups, sandwiches, salads and general plates including some vegan and veggie options. On both occasions we tried the soup along with a sandwich each. The middle Eastern vegan ciabatta featured each time and can be ordered as part of the combo option on the menu.

We never saw this place and it wasn’t full – please don’t let the thought of a long wait put you off, though. The service is quick and friendly and the food is absolutely worth it. It’s vegan, they serve sweet potato fries, it’s all reasonably priced and they even do dog treats! The more I think about this place the more I want to go back!

Unfortunately, we only tried four of the mains, but I would be happy if they only had those to offer. The beetroot ketchup and chipotle aioli are both an amazing accompaniment so be sure to fill up a small pot with each of them when you pick up your napkins! I can’t imagine eating anything simpler or better than a bowl of fries and those two sauces.

Our dining experiences

It’s reassuring to know that although it’s a country that loves its grilled meats and fast food, there were a hell of a lot of vegetarian and vegan options to cater to us – as well as any other dietary requirements you can think of.

Everywhere we tried the atmosphere was always warm and welcoming. The staff were always polite, engaging and helpful which was a really pleasant surprise for us and was much appreciated.

As for the food itself we can only hope that similar establishments can really take off over here. The only thing we did notice was apart from Bite, everywhere used disposable cutlery and plates; which can seem like quite a waste. But the washable over disposable debate is a lengthy one and is not something I want to wade in on here!

On a personal note we’ll definitely be trying to replicate some of the dishes we tried and putting our own spin on them!

Let us know in the comments if you have any more vegan/vegetarian food recommendations!

20 things to see and do on your first trip to New York City

Our trip to New York City took a fair amount of planning.

Apart from the flights and the accommodation (which in hindsight was the easiest part of the organising) we had to make the most of our fourteen nights in the Big Apple.

Luckily for me, Lloyd loves the organisational part so coming up with an itinerary which suited us both was a breeze.

There’s SO much to do that seeing everything there is to offer is virtually going to be impossible in such a short timeframe; however there are those quintessential hotspots that everyone should visit at least once.

Bryant Park

Especially at Christmas time to visit the Christmas Market and the free ice rink! You can either join in the fun and end up on your bum (yeah, I like a rhyme) or you can sit on the sidelines sipping hot chocolate from one of the many little foodie sheds in the vicinity.

Site link here

Bryant Park

Central Park

Needless to say, Central Park is a must visit at any time of the year! If you happen to see this park in all weathers like we did then you’re even luckier. The park is huge and lush; full of trees and lakes and all that good stuff that we’re missing here in Malta. It’s a well needed breathing space for the residents living in this concrete jungle. There’s normally a musician or two so take a seat nearby and enjoy the grooves…and if you like what you hear then leave a tip!

Site link here

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The Museum of Natural History

It’s a bit of a tradition of ours to visit a museum or two when travelling. I have to say that this was by far the most awesome natural history museum that I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting (although the NHM in London is an extremely close second). There’s so much to see and do that you may even feel a little overwhelmed by the amount there is to take in. Be sure to wear comfy shoes because your feet will be killing you by the end of a full day here! Oh, and if it’s a rainy day be prepared for the swarm of likeminded tourists who will all have the same idea of visiting a museum too.

Tip: Instead of heading for the main entrance (the one directly opposite Central Park), go to the entrance on the right which is just in front of the Theodore Roosevelt Park – hardly anyone seems to use this entrance for some unknown reason so get there at opening time and there will be little to no queue 😉

Site link here

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Big Bus Tour

We took the uptown and downtown tours on separate days and really I couldn’t recommend it enough. So far, in my experience, the guides you find in New York are second to none; knowledgable, friendly and funny. It gets a bit nippy at the top of the bus so make sure that you bring a scarf to cover your face!

Oh the places you’ll go!

Downtown Loop: Times Square, the Empire State Building, One World Trade Centre, Wall Street & Battery Park etc.

Uptown Loop: Central Park, Harlem, the Museum Mile and the Upper West and Upper East Side etc.

Site link here

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The Met – 5th Avenue

Firstly, the building is incredible. Exterior and interior included. I only wish that we’d had more time to spend there as we had arrived quite late. If only we had skipped the Guggenheim and its pretentious exhibition at the time (sorry, not sorry).

The building holds art spanning over 5000 years and from all cultures and time periods. One day is definitely not enough, let alone the few hours that we had! Favourite areas that we saw were Egyptian and Asian Art (particularly the medieval Indian sculptures <3).

Site link here

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The High Line

One of the many highlights of our trip was walking the 2.33km newly refurbished railroad track which used to carry goods to and from the industrial district in Manhattan way back in 1934. Getting to experience Manhattan in a more serene setting was really quite a welcome experience. It’s so well maintained, full of plants and quirky pieces of art along the way to keep all visitors engaged. You’re above the city, but close enough to still feel a part of it.

Site link here

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Top of the Rock – Observation Deck

One of the best views of Manhattan can be viewed from the 70th floor of the Rockefeller Center and despite the massive amount of tourists this was an experience not to be missed. The views were simply incredible. We visited on New Years Eve and there are few better ways to spend your last day of the year! You suddenly realise just how vast New York City is (Central Park included!)

Site link here

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The Empire State Building

Like the Top of the Rock, the Empire State Building has a view not to be missed. We were fortunate enough to have an amazing view of the Empire State from our hotel room window but going up to the observation deck standing at 381m tall at night time, staring out at the bright lights of New York City was epic and once in a lifetime. Flashbacks of Sleepless in Seattle came into my head; you know the scene where Jonah forgets his teddy bear at the top of the Empire State and he and Sam come back to retrieve it. Low and behold, Annie has picked up the teddy and turns around and they finally meet each other! (I’m such a sap)

Warning: It gets really busy so be prepared to wait a little while if you want to get your instagram pic because there will be a ton of people wanting to do the same!

Site link here

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One World Memorial

I think it was important to both of us to pay our respects for the ones who lost their lives on 9/11. It was a tough one to visit and the day we visited was probably the most fitting as the weather was dire. Inside the museum there is a large space where you can go and sit and listen to recordings of friends and family talk about their loved ones. It’s an emotional experience and I couldn’t help but feel bad for not sitting to listen to them all. We didn’t really take photos of the memorial as it didn’t feel quite right to do so.

One world memorial

The Circle Line Cruise

I have to admit; I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this tour as much as I did. When I saw it on the New York Pass guidebook I kind of skimmed over it but Lloyd thought it would be good so I thought, meh, why not? It actually turned out to be a really nice day. We sat on the outside of the boat feeling very cold for the most part but it was a really great way of viewing the outskirts of the city. The tour guide was informative and possessed a storytelling voice. I could totally imagine him as a grandad reading a storybook to his grandchildren, d’aww! We chose “The best of NYC” tour and we both equally loved it.

You’ll get to see sights such as The Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, United Nations and plenty more.

Site link here

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Madison Square Garden Tour

Lloyd had really wanted to watch a game here but since we didn’t get the opportunity to, the next best thing was the MSG tour which is included in the New York Pass. The tour groups are pretty small, maybe no more than 20 at a time and last about 60 minutes at a push. The guides do rush you through a bit, I guess because there is so much to get to and they don’t want too many groups loitering at the same time but nonetheless it was an interesting experience seeing the timeline of famous faces and sports stars to have performed and played there.

We got to see what a million dollar season ticket gets you and it’s pretty spectacular! We also got to see the locker rooms for the Knicks and Rangers. There was me thinking that they got ready in “high school type” locker rooms [insert rofl smiley]. These guys are treated like royalty! How little I know about sports…

Site link here

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Watch an NBA and NHL game!

Seriously, if you want to immerse yourself in an all american experience then watching a game is an absolute must. I absolutely loved watching both games; though probably the NHL game more because it felt down to earth and family oriented whereas the NBA game felt more like a performance. Or maybe it was because we watched Lloyd’s favourite team Edmonton Oilers play so I was rooting for them to win – which they did!

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Brooklyn Bridge

Standing tall since 1883 when it first opened to the public, it’s one of the oldest bridges not just in New York but in the United States. A notable event which happened just a few days after it opened was a stampede caused by doubts that the bridge would collapse. To quash any doubts, 21 elephants were walked along the bridge to prove otherwise.

Walking across the iconic Brooklyn Bridge is kind of a must for your first visit to the city. and it’s also a really nice stroll so why not?

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn

Not spending more time here is probably one of my biggest regrets and reasons that we must go back again. My first memory of entering Brooklyn is my bag breaking just as we exited the Brooklyn Bridge. Cue me holding my bag to my body as if my life depended on it until we found a new bag to replace it. But walking along the quaint streets was enough to make me want to come back for more. Brooklyn seemed to have a much more laid back feel to it. Maybe next time we’ll get a little Airbnb there or something!

New York Public Library

Millions of books delicately gift wrapped in this magnificent piece of architecture. It’s the quietest space you may find in New York City. It’s a marvel. Enjoy.

Site link here

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Watch the sun set over the Hudson River

On our first full day and after walking almost 20 km, we ended our day with the sun going down over the Hudson. It was perfection.

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Grand Central Station

The station is a beautiful piece of architecture in itself. The ceiling is particularly interesting and almost church-like with its painted ceiling which represents the winter night sky. We were pressed for time so we only had a quick look around. Next time we would definitely take the audio tour to add some more context to our visit.

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Times Square

The epitome of the NYC experience is standing in the middle of Times Square and taking in the bright lights and sounds that surround you.

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Strangely this was one of the only photos I have of Time Square. I think I was just too fascinated by all the shiny lights and screens!

The Statue of Liberty

Get up close and personal with lady Liberty. Although the likes of the Empire State and Rockefeller tower over her, she’s a sight to behold all on her own.

Statue of Liberty close up

Watch a show on Broadway

For our birthday (his 26th and my 30th) we went to see The Lion King and I don’t say this very often but OH EM GEE it was amazeballs! I was practically crying with happiness from the beginning. A definite highlight to our trip.

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Well that turned out to be a long post and that wasn’t even the half of it!

Do you have any tips for places to visit in NYC? I would love to hear from you!

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