Flying with Virgin Atlantic – Premium Economy

In the months leading up to New York we already knew that we wanted a little extra comfort for our trip. It was both of our birthdays (we share the same day!) and it was also my 30th so I was hitting quite a milestone and felt I needed something to remember the day by.

Being that accommodation is hugely expensive in NYC, let alone during the Christmas/New Years period we weren’t really prepared to spend a ridiculous amount on a hotel with a bellboy (our hotel was expensive and nice enough without that) so we looked into the services provided by different airlines flying from Europe.

I think we looked at British Airways, Alitalia and Norwegian before settling on Virgin Atlantic. I’ve always found the flight attendants on Virgin so glamorous so flying with them was going to be a real treat!

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Virgin Atlantic welcome drinks

Welcome drinks include water and your choice of either some champagne or orange juice!

Virgin Atlantic food

Granted, this doesn’t look particularly appetising but it was actually really tasty!

What do you get?

Dedicated check-in area in Departures. I’m not sure this applies everywhere but it did at least in London Heathrow and JFK.

Priority boarding. Personally not a huge deal to me when your seats are already selected (which you get to pick yourself online) however it’s always nice to board the plane first and settle in.

On arrival you’ll be greeted at your seat with a choice of a glass of bubbly or orange juice. Naturally we went for the bubbly on the way out but I decided to take the orange juice for the way back.

Extra leg room – stretch out! So important on a long haul flight and especially for the longer legged of us (not me, ha).

Upgraded dining experience – You won’t find plastic utensils and plates here folks!

In-seat laptop power

There are of course the usual amenities provided to all such as complimentary drinks, snacks, in-flight entertainment (which has a load of great options), blanket, pillow and a pouch with a toothbrush and toothpaste etc. for if you’re on an evening flight.

How much did it all cost?

In this post Lloyd breaks down the entire cost of our trip however the flight alone cost us €1,834 (without including the price of the flight from Malta – UK)

As I said above, this was a special treat for us and the most we collectively have ever spent on a trip but it was something that might be once in a lifetime. My philosophy on these types of things is that we can always make more money. You’ll never have the memories and experiences if you don’t go and do what makes you happy!

What about the food?

When you’re checking in online you can choose your preferences. I went for  the lacto-vegetarian option.

I’m probably going to be alone again when I say this but I love plane food! Maybe it’s just a nostalgic feeling for me or something but I always find the food so tasty and the food served on VA was yummy. You won’t go hungry.

Was it worth it?

Without a doubt, yes! I have always been a lover of airports and long haul flights (does this make me weird? I always get funny looks when I say it). There’s so much to do that before you know it you’ve arrived at your destination. Having the extra comforts (and lets face it, it’s a bit quieter from my experience too) makes the journey so much more bearable if you don’t enjoy flying.

Have you ever flown with VA and what was your experience? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

Budgeting the Big Apple

For our trip to New York we were going during our birthdays and around Christmas time so we did give our budget a little boost to make the holiday that bit nicer.

The first thing to work out was how we would get there and back. Living in Malta made things a little more awkward as we had to juggle the timings around to fit in with flights to and from the island we call home. We basically had 3 options- fly to London, to Istanbul or fly via France, but luckily, there are a number of flights in and out of Heathrow throughout each day and so that was the first decision made.

The one thing I would definitely suggest is you plan well in advance. As someone that enjoys the organisational side of things and to have a plan, this was right up my street – I was chomping at the bit to book and confirm everything around 6 months before the trip!

I’ve included our list of expenses for the trip, bear in mind, this trip was a huge treat for us:

When you look at the total figures it is a considerable amount of money. However, this was over a full two weeks, sparing no expense and fitting in as much as we possibly could.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it took a lot of saving and a big effort to plan everything in plenty of time to ensure we got our absolute money’s worth.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing. I loved our trip and I have nothing but fond memories of our time there. I genuinely would not change a single aspect of what we did for our first trip to New York. Having said that, there were definitely things that could have been done at less expense.

  • To start with, although it is something I’d suggest you try at least once, Premium Economy can obviously be skipped. This can save a few hundred each way depending on flight times.
  • Generally, the further you book in advance, the better.
  • Try booking flights that land early on your first day and leave late on your last in order to maximise your time.
  • Staying outside of Manhattan will significantly reduce your expenses, for the sake of a budget friendly, ten minute bus/ferry trip. Similar hotels the other side of the Hudson can be around half the price of their Manhattan neighbours, with skyline views to boot.
  • Make the most of those $1 slices! Grabbing a slice to tide you over rather than pay $10 for a quick bite can not only help you to feel like a bona-fide New Yorker, but over a whole trip it could save you a nice wedge of cash.
  • Getting to and from the airport you should make use of the incredible New York public transport network (as long as you don’t mind dragging your luggage around).
  • Plan your days well. Remember – it’s a holiday, you don’t need an hour by hour itinerary with designated toilet breaks! However, it helps to consider seeing sites in the same areas and always take queueing times into account. Once you have an idea of what you want to see, take a look at the New York Pass and other options to reduce sightseeing costs.

 

The Monkeys of Gibraltar

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With the amount of photos that I took of the fascinating Barbary Macaques on my short but sweet visit to Gibraltar, I felt like they deserved their own blog post.

Gibraltar is one of the few places where you can see Barbary Macaques in the wild and the only wild population in Europe. Whilst Africa is sadly seeing a decline of these primates; in Gibraltar they are absolutely thriving and it’s clear why, when you see how well they’re looked after by the locals.

Before heading up the rock I was feeling slightly nervous. I’d heard tales of ‘attacks’ and had been told to take care of my belongings because they’re well known for being light fingered! Luckily I had little to worry about. It was early morning and they were docile for the most part – only slightly curious of us but mostly used to having a camera lens pointed at them.

I could have spent the whole day just watching them. So human in their expressions and on the most part, so gentle.

Here are a few photos I took of these fascinating creatures. Enjoy!

You can also check the full post about my short experience in Gibraltar here.

Barbary Macaque Gibraltar

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New York, New York

As a big fan of most things American, heading to the other side of the Atlantic has always been high on my bucket list. I couldn’t wait to ramble around and take in the hustle and bustle of the “capital of the world”.

Our two weeks in New York were an inspiring and humbling experience, living in a city that is and has been home to so many people of all colours and creed, has so much history and has also seen such success and tragedy.

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Our first day was a very early start, thanks to the jet-lag, but our first glimpse of the city fog free was incredibly rewarding!

This post is a little taster of what we got up to during that time and we also thought it would be helpful to include the links for the food spots we recommend. We’ll put up a bunch more posts with a lot more detail in the near future!

26th – I wanna be a part of it…!!! Flight from Malta to Heathrow and then Heathrow to JFK.

27th – Bryant Park + Ice Rink, Macy’s, Times Square, M&M’s World, Central Park, Tavern on the Green, Bethesda Terrace + Fountain, street performers, Rockefeller Ice Rink + tree, sunset over the Hudson, Bombay Sandwich Co. and The StoreHouse.

28th – Bryant Park again, The Hummus & Pita Co., Lion King at the Minskoff Theater and Waldy’s pizza.

29th – Museum of Natural History, Central Park, Argo Tea Cafe, Rockefeller Center and Nintendo store. Home to dry off, The StoreHouse for Veggie Burger – AMAZING!

30th – Museum of Natural History and Domino’s pizza.

31st – Took a look at Times Square before the crowds came (around midday!) Top of the Rock, Grand Central, The Little Beet, Central Park.

1st – Big Bus Tour downtown route, Sim sick so not feeling up for much. Slept it off, Terri’s for late lunch, Indikitch, Flatiron building, Madison Square park and top of the Empire State Building.

2nd – Uptown route Big Bus Tour, through Harlem, museum of the city of NY, Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Izumi sushi and 2 bros pizza.

3rd – Water Taxi, 9/11 memorial and museum, Bento Neuveau for noodles, Water Taxi back via Statue of Liberty, by CHLOE. – amazing vegan food.

4th – Circle Line best of NY tour (sit on the left side as boat circles the island anti-clockwise), Romeo and Juliet Colombian Coffee cafe, Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum, NY Pizza Suprema.

5th – Madison Square Garden tour, NY public library, Maoz falafel, Storehouse again.

6th – High Line, Greenwich Village, FRIENDS building, Little Italy, Brooklyn bridge, Brooklyn, watched Brooklyn Nets against Cleveland Cavaliers (1st NBA game), also first subway journey.

7th- Snow day!!! Bite for late lunch before getting subway to New Jersey for Devils against Edmonton Oilers (1st NHL game).

8th – Last full day… Central Park, 91st Street Garden, Fika for coffee. Packed and ate Chinese food from New Dynasty.

9th – Taxi at 2pm, ate lunch at Bite. Flew home.

 

Exploring the rock of Gibraltar

Up until a few weeks before this trip, Gibraltar had not even entered by mind as a country to visit.

What was there to see really?

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A rock?

Well, yes admittedly you won’t need too much time to explore but it’s still definitely worth a look…especially if you’re a monkey lover!

I actually had an ulterior motive for going to Gibraltar which was work related. Our company was setting up a new team and I went there for a week to help with the transition. Thanks work! Unfortunately as the trip was for business I only had one full day to explore so I knew that I had to make the most of it.

I also knew it would involve the rock and seeing the monkeys!

At 8am, my colleague and I set off with a mission to reach the peak or at least get to the highest point that we possibly could. Getting to the actual rock to start our incline was pretty simple, having said that we did take a wrong turn at the beginning and ended up adding an additional 60-100 stairs to our journey – I really really don’t like stairs!

We started off from the town on the northern side (or to the left of the rock if you’re facing it) and made our way upwards passing Moorish Castle and our very first Barbary Macaque!

Seeing him (I decided it was a ‘him’ called George) sitting there so peacefully immediately put my nerves to rest. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from wild apes but I had heard some stories about some not so good experiences on the rock. People feeding them scraps of food has made them confident and sometimes aggressive. I was half expecting him to leap off of the roof and attempt to steal my camera! Alas, nope. George was extremely cool, calm and in his own chilled out world.

Barbary Macaque

With every incline the scenery became more and more beautiful. That mountain in the distance in Spain looked very inviting.

Gibraltar hike 1

Gibraltar Hike 2

We encountered another friend along the way!

Barbary Macaque Gibraltar

Some other unexpected friends were spotted too. Its ears perked up at the sound of my camera clicking, bless. Sorry bunny!

Rabbit Gibraltar

We managed to find a path to the newly opened Windsor Bridge which is a suspended bridge built over a 50 metre gorge. I’m pretty good with heights but for the faint hearted it might be a little unnerving!

Windsor Bridge 1Windsor Bridge 2

The walk around the rock was surprisingly peaceful despite being such a touristic spot. I guess it was a good thing that we had left so early. It also seemed to have affected the notoriously naughty monkeys which were remarkably calm in our presence. That’s not to say that I wasn’t still a bit nervous. Being in such a close proximity to these amazing animals you realise just how much you are in their territory. They won’t give a damn if you want to pass them by on a narrow stairwell. You wait for them, not the other way around and that was fine by me!

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I arrived nervous and left in total awe for these amazing creatures! I could have watched them for hours.

Photographing Macaque

If you’re stopping by Gibraltar I highly recommend visiting the rock on foot if you’re able to. You’ll have so many more spontaneous and quieter moments with the monkeys than you would if you’re in a tour bus (which are plentiful if that’s the option you’d like to choose). There’s also the cable car to take you to the top which I think would be a cool experience too, especially if you’re not a fan of steps and hills!

St Michaels Cave GibraltarSt Michaels cave

If stalactites and stalagmites are your thing then a visit to St Michael’s Cave is a must. Thousands of years of rainwater seeping into the limestone has turned the rock into this magnificent cave fit for a genie. The light show in the auditorium space really sets the mood and if you’re lucky, there may just be someone with a fantastic voice to resonate around the cave. Don’t Cry for me Argentina sounds pretty epic with cave acoustics, trust me!

The Great Siege Tunnels Gibraltar

Our final stop before making our way back down were The Great Siege Tunnels; a 52 kilometre network of tunnels inside of the rock. Heading in alone felt a little eery. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the soldiers who had lived inside there.

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There’s plenty of interesting information to read inside the tunnels which left my imagination wandering here there and everywhere.

You can purchase a ticket which gives you access to all of the above and more by visiting St Michaels Cave for just a small fee (less than 20 euros).

It may not have been a location on my bucket list but meeting wild monkeys close up should have been. I had an amazing day and if there had been more time I would have ventured up the rock again alone.

Check out Visit Gibraltar for more things to do.

 

New York State of Mind

 

New York City. Gotham. The Big Apple. The City of Dreams. The Capital of the World. The Center Centre of the Universe.

I suppose before meeting Lloyd, I had never really believed I would make it to New York. Not because the lure wasn’t strong. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe I just felt that the USA was way out of my grasp and something to be admired from afar.

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It’s been almost one month since we left and I still can’t shake the thoughts and feelings away.

So much happened in those two weeks.

 

We walked 190km of the city. We celebrated our birthdays – I turned 30 and Lloyd turned 26. We saw in the New Year together for the first time in three years! We saw our first Broadway show (and it did not disappoint); watched our first live NBA and NHL game, walked through Central Park and across Brooklyn Bridge. We saw the twinkling lights of the city from the top of two skyscrapers; marvelled at The Museum of Natural History and The Met. Stood in the Guggenheim bewildered by the so called art of Agnes Martin and wondered if she was some kind of evil genius or if we just simply don’t know what art is (and based on a quick Google search it seems the latter). We journeyed the veins of the city by bus and the saw the formidable Manhattan skyline by boat (twice). We said a short and sweet hello to Lady Liberty – dwarfed in comparison to the skyscrapers but standing strong nonetheless. We took in the views and the art from the Highline and strolled along the Hudson river whilst enjoying a peaceful sunset or two. We froze from the bitter minus temperatures of winter. We got drenched. We struggled through the biting winds during a twelve hour snow storm. We drank copious amounts of coffee (sometimes accompanied by donuts, naturally) and we ate amazing vegetarian food. Every. Single. Day.

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This is so much of what we did but maybe not even half of it.

American Flag

 

We can’t wait to share our thoughts and experiences in our upcoming posts!

 

10 Reasons to visit Brussels at Christmas time

Living in Malta for (nearly) fifteen years has meant (nearly) fifteen years of Christmases in the sunshine. For some people that may be envy inducing but for me it’s quite the opposite. In winter I live for cold weather, warm coats and and cosy nights in watching all of my favourite seasonal movies. You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, Home Alone, The Goonies…I could go on but that’s for another post.

Living in Malta also means that before last year I had never visited a proper Christmas market. Sure, there are some small cabins set up outside of a shopping centre in Sliema but we’re talking about ten stalls.

We’re hardly spoilt for choice…

That may hopefully change one day but until then in order to see a proper Christmas market, sweet goods and all, one has to venture outside of this tiny island.

So we did!

Our main motivation for visiting Belgium was to visit the Christmas Market whilst sipping some mulled wine and eating waffles and we did all of that with gusto. But we also discovered much more!

1. Grand Place

Grand Place

You’ve seen it in all of the travel guides both online and in books but nothing will compare to seeing Grand Place with your own eyes. Take in the majestic architecture, the fine golden details and the cobbled ground beneath your feet. If you’re lucky you’ll also get to listen to a choir.

2. At Grand Place and Sainte Catherine Church they also put on the most fantastic light show every evening between the 25th November – 1st January.

Judging by Visit Brussels this year looks like a real treat! It makes you feel like you’re in a Disney movie when you’re gazing up at the spires of the Town Hall, the atmospheric music in your ears whilst sipping mulled wine. It’s truly engaging and left me with goose bumps.

3. Another pretty obvious one is seeing Mannekin Pis.

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I know that you can see him anytime of the year but you may get to see him dressed up as Santa which would be pretty darn cool.

Did you know that Mannekin Pis has been stolen three times in his life? Poor little guy!

4. Belgian Waffles

Belgium Waffles

I doubt that I need to say much more on this subject. Cover them in whichever delightful sugary goodness you deem worthy and make your soul happy.

5. The comic strip walls

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How many will you find? This fantastically quirky art all has a story to tell and can brighten up even the most greyest of days!

6. The Christmas market

Christmas Market Brussels

With hundreds of stalls overflowing with gifts from the most common to the most eccentric, you’re bound to find the perfect gift! Take it all in whilst sipping on a hot something’ somethin’. Mulled wine, mulled cider, hot chocolate – your choice!

7. The Ferris wheel

Brussels Christmas Market Ferris WheelBrussels Christmas Market Ferris Wheel View

Take a ride on the ferris wheel at night time and see the city lit up. It’s pretty spectacular.

8. The architecture

Brussels architecture

For me, so far in my travels it’s second to none.

9. Belgian frites

Belgium Frites

Thick chips in a cone covered in sauce. You had me at chips.

10. Belgian beer

Belgium Beer

I don’t think that I could end this list without mentioning the beer. With so many types you’re bound to find one that takes your fancy.

Oh and don’t forget to bring back some Belgian chocolate!

I have to say that one of the highlights apart from everything above was seeing a couples proposal underneath the giant christmas tree at Grand Place ♡ I’m a sucker for some romance.

Have you been to Brussels? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!