Monday, 26 January 2015

TRAVEL // AMSTERDAM AT A GLANCE

Myself and a friend recently headed off to Amsterdam for a long weekend - something we'd both wanted to do for a few years now. So many different people had recommended the city to us and although I knew what Amsterdam was obviously most famous for, I also knew that it had a lot more to offer in terms of culture, sightseeing, history and more. There was something for both of us really and we thought going for four nights/five days was the perfect amount of time we needed to explore the city.

Some things I very quickly learned about Amsterdam were that you need to always be cautious of where you are walking or when you are crossing the road because trams/mopeds and bicycles are freakin' crazy (we almost got ran over by a moped a mere half an hour after we'd arrived), other than the different modes of transport, Amsterdam is actually a very safe city for travellers and that people who live there are SO NICE and that finally, you've never really experienced a party weekend like the one you do in Amsterdam.

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This was taken minutes before we almost got run over by a moped. My mum had spent the previous evening warning me about being sex trafficked out of the UK after watching Taken, so we took this photo to scare her a little more...
People don't really think of Amsterdam as one of the most famous places to go party, as opposed to Ibiza for example which offers clubbing and lots of alcohol. Amsterdam offered a more stripped down and gritty - but by no means bad - experience of partying and, well, trying new things. From the legal marijuana to the red light district, there really is nothing like it so it's no surprise that it's so popular among a younger crowd and those hen and stag do's.

It's not really important what time of year you visit either really because let's face it; you're not going to Amsterdam to lay on a beach and try and get a sun tan. But I do think it's important to take into account when you're choosing why you're going there. If you're happy partying and visiting museums then winter is just fine. It's cold, but no colder than what we're used to in the UK.

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We had a little time and some dry weather to explore it's canals but for the most part, I'd definitely love to return in summer to go more further afield when exploring. I'd liked to have had a warm afternoon to explore the city on my own terms but as our itinerary was jam packed as it was, we didn't really miss out by visiting in winter. Some of the things we wanted to do were all over the city so we did manage to take a few strolls around the canals anyway.

Unfortunately because the weather wasn't amazing and my friend had a selfie stick, I didn't manage to take many photos (nearly all our photos are just selfies, ha) but nonetheless, here's my mini guide to the city...


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Outside the Botel!
WHERE WE STAYED
I'd been keeping back some hotel credit on the Hotel Tonight app and since we were budgeting for our weekend away, decided to use this credit. Ideally I wanted to use it for the last night so that when staying in a budget hotel room for the holiday, we had a kind of plush room to stay in for our final night but there was nothing available in our price range for the final night. So we booked into the chic and glamorous Hotel Espresso which was almost right in the centre of Amsterdam for our first night in the city It was right next to Vondelpark, which was out of the way of the partying area but still upbeat enough that it wasn't boring. The hotel was lovely and inviting with free unlimited tea, coffee and milkshake (my favourite!). There was a tram stop pretty much seconds outside of the hotel and it was based on sort of a main road which had a supermarket, a moped rental place and a Dominoes Pizza. I really couldn't fault it and at roughly £38 a night (but £8 with my credit), you can't really go wrong. It was perfect for a girly weekend away but although it wasn't especially romantic, I'd say it was definitely suitable for couples too. The next time I return to Amsterdam, I think I'll definitely be considering staying here again.
Hotel Espresso, Overtoom 57, 1054 HC Amsterdam, Netherlands

We also stayed in somewhere called Botel which was - yep, you've guessed it - a hotel on a boat. On paper it doesn't sound ideal but I was pleasantly surprised. The rooms were basic but warm and even cozy. Although we didn't really take advantage of it, the boat also had it's own bar and kind of party room. It sounds like it was a party boat but in all honesty, although it had that type of atmosphere that told me we could easily knock on any guests door and have a night out with them, it was never really over the top. I mean it wasn't noisy at night or anything like that so even though I'd say it was perfect for large groups just coming to party, I think families would be fine here too. My only small issue was that it was out of the way being that it was across the river which was fine during the day but when we were heading out at night, walking to the dock to get a 15 minute boat ride to then walk to get a tram took it's toll a little in the winter weather when we were dressed to party! We did learn our lesson and dressed up a lot warmer after our first night staying there and I will admit, they did cater very well for the fact that people would be coming back late. They had boats throughout the night and after a certain time they stopped running to our particular port and instead only ran back and fourth between two main ports, but then the Botel provided a shuttle bus in that case which took us literally right to our doorstep. This was a godsend on the cold nights!
Botel, Ndsm-pier 3, 1033 RG Amsterdam, Netherlands


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WHERE WE ATE
There was tons of choice for places to eat in Amsterdam from funky floating Chinese restaurants to pancake houses that looked like the building was part of a funfair. But as we spent a lot of our time on the go and because we were on a budget, we didn't put much thought into where we were eating. I had noted down some cool cafes and restaurants prior but again, they were a little out of the way. So most of the time we grabbed a slice of pizza from a funky pizza joint in the train station or just popped into whatever pub was nearby, but one place we did visit more than once was a cool cafe literally a minutes walk from our hotel across the river, called Ij-Kantine. It was really funky and contemporary, which isn't surprising considering Noord Amsterdam (North Amsterdam, across the river) is a more edgy/scenester part of the city. The prices were affordable and we loved the portions we had for breakfast and lunch - filling but also very yummy and healthy. We could overlook the river too whilst nursing our hangovers and this fast became one of our favourite places to eat during our short stay there.
Ij-Kantine, Mt. Ondinaweg 15-17, 1033 RE Amsterdam, Netherlands

As explained before, we didn't really have enough time or money to eat or stay at all the places we planned to but these are just places we stumbled across of our own accord. A lot of our money went on partying(!) and other things, which I'll talk about in my next blog post all about the coolest things to do in Amsterdam. This is just a mini guide for anyone who might be on a budget like we were!

What do you think? Have you visited Amsterdam before? Would you recommend any of these places or would you visit next time? Let me know!

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Thursday, 22 January 2015

TRAVEL // UNDERRATED UK BASED VALENTINES GETAWAYS

Oh yes, it's almost that time of year again. It's nearly that time when the dreaded 'V' word is on everybody's lips and whether you're single or taken, you simply cannot escape the holiday. I think it's easy to dislike Valentines day when you don't have anyone to celebrate with and it's especially easy to succumb to being bitter about it all but I do think it's important to remember that taken or not, it doesn't have to be a day to dislike. Even if you don't have a Valentines this year, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday just as much as you would if you did have that special someone. I will do a blog post offering some ideas for fellow singletons near to the day, but in the meantime for those of you who are in a relationship and might want to do something special (but also something not too expensive!) you've gotta start planning early.

We all yearn for exotic holidays abroad but over the years, I've found that the UK has plenty to offer in terms of quaint little towns from those that have little to offer but can be terribly romantic when exploring with the one you love, to places that can be exciting with tons of attractions, leaving you with memories you'll never forget.

Here are some of the UK's most underrated places that could be perfect for a long weekend away this February.

And here's a hint - don't feel you absolutely HAVE to celebrate over Valentines Day to make it most romantic. These places can be enjoyed all year round so choosing to visit on any weekend in February will cut your costs down loads as opposed to visiting over the 14th..

BATH
Bath is a really beautiful city that doesn't necessarily mean breaking the bank for a little weekend away. There's tons to offer from spa breaks and a visit to real Roman Bath's, from attractions like Bath's escape room and more. Bath is a lot of fun just to wander around because it's so pretty but it's also very rich in history meaning if you're a bit of a history buff there's probably no chance you'll get bored! There's also a lot to offer in terms of museums and shopping so whatever you're into, you can't really go wrong.
You can grab return train tickets for as little as £56.50 when travelling from London Kings Cross on a Thursday and returning on Sunday evening. The train journey takes about 2 and a half hours.

THE LAKE DISTRICT
The Lake District might not sound that fun - especially for your boy - when you first think about it (I know, it sounds like it's just a bunch of lakes and countryside), but it's very underrated, especially among young couples. You don't have to be old and into bird watching to enjoy an intimate and romantic getaway here. Sometimes exploring around the countryside then snuggling up in front of a warm fire in a cozy cottage can be more fun than you'd ever imagine. The Lake District is also home to some really cute seasidey (I know that's not a real word...) villages and if you visit Lake Windermere you can have a lot of fun renting and attempting to row a boat. The Lake District also boasts some real plush spa's too, some of which have outdoor hot tubs. Just saying.
You can grab open return train tickets for about £108.50 when travelling from London Kings Cross on a Thursday and returning on Sunday evening. The train journey takes about 8 hours - eek! Probably best to drive for this one...

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Exploring The Shambles in York

YORK
I've visited York personally and still believe it to be one of the most interesting and beautiful places I've visited in the UK. It's beyond stunning and when walking around it's narrow and cobbled streets, it's so easy to think you've traveled back in time. In fact, some inspiration for Harry Potter was taken from one of York's medieval shopping areas called The Shambles. There's lots to offer for eating out in York - which is also home to lots of quirky bars - but this really is the place to go if you like your history or if you like anything a little bit different! York has tons of museums, including the amazing York Castle museum - which will take almost a whole day to explore. And if you love your spooky stuff like me then York is definitely worth a visit. You can find the York Dungeons, daily ghost walks & Jack The Ripper Walks and one of the most haunted houses in the country - phew!
You can grab return train tickets for as little as £53.10 when travelling from London Kings Cross on a Thursday and returning on Sunday evening. The train journey takes about 3 hours.

DURHAM
A little further up north, Durham is perfect for anyone who loves their sleepy towns to be picturesque whatever the weather. This city has lots to offer from the beautiful Castle and Cathedral to the bustling shops, both independent and designer. There's also the Victorian Beamish Museum nearby and many of the cobbled streets give way to typical English pubs, the kind that you can spend whole evenings in to avoid the cold. Durham also offers quick train links to Newcastle if you want a more upbeat nightlife.
You can grab return train tickets for as little as £79.50 when travelling from London Kings Cross on a Thursday and returning on Sunday evening. The train journey takes about three hours.

I have also added some suggested train ticket prices, based on a random long weekend in February from Thursday to Sunday, so you can get an average idea of travel costs. This is just me looking at a glance at random times, so there's no doubt that if you looked yourself at different times/dates you could get a much cheaper deal!

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Saturday, 17 January 2015

TOP BUDGET TIPS WHEN BOOKING ACCOMMODATION ON HOLIDAY


As this post goes live I should hopefully be exploring the beautiful streets of Amsterdam - that's if this crazy weather doesn't delay my flight! I've been excited for this for longer than I can even remember, even though it only really became a reality a few weeks ago. I've been telling myself for about three years now that I'm finally going to bite the bullet and book a weekend away to Amsterdam but I simply never got around to it.

When I found out my manager had given me a couple of weeks holiday though (which needed to be used up), myself and my friend Briony decided to go for a long weekend and in a matter of a week or so, the whole thing had been planned and booked. This was only within the last few weeks that we made the decision to go so as you can imagine, it's been a quick process focusing on a tight budget.

The flights simply are not worth mentioning in terms of advice; a flight to Amsterdam takes around an hour or so and has always been (and will always be) cheap. Obviously it depends where you're going on holiday but there's little point in me giving advice on where to find cheap flights.

Accommodation was another matter altogether though. We knew it wouldn't be super expensive no matter where we decided, but we still wanted it to be as cheap as possible whilst still getting a roof over our heads!

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One thing I learned about finding cheap accommodation when booking this long weekend away was that you should always think outside of the box. Our first assumption was to book into a hotel but we soon found there were much cheaper options. Checking into a hostel was our first idea, although unfortunately a lot of people tend to steer away from this idea. I found that hostels in Amsterdam were really cheap and were also exactly the type of thing we were looking for as two young travelers wanting to explore but also have a good time. A hostel sounded inviting because we knew it would mean meeting loads of people our own age with similar interests with us and I also knew that staying in a hostel would mean having a lovely atmosphere throughout the weekend.

We decided against a hostel in the end because we wanted something a little more secure & private for our first time in Amsterdam, but next time we'll definitely be checking into one. Other things we considered was renting a flat for the weekend which sounded very chic and fun! Some of the places we looked at were absolutely beautiful and one place even had a pool! Airbnb was one website that was the most helpful and I found it's app super easy to use too. I think had our budget just been a little bigger, we would have definitely have booked ourselves into one of the plush apartments that were on offer. They weren't especially expensive - the rates were actually very cheap for how lovely the places were - but our budget only really covered places that were quite far out of the centre which wasn't ideal for us.

In the end we decided on staying on a cruise boat! Not only was this one of the cheapest options but it sounds really fun and it offers everything a hotel offers for just that bit cheaper. The rooms are basic but lovely and WiFi is free too. Although staying on a boat probably isn't something that's available at every place you go on holiday, this is just a prime example of how thinking outside of the box and not limiting yourself to booking into a hotel room can save you lots of money and also give you a bit of an adventure!

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Another thing that was really helpful was the app Hotel Tonight. I had £30 free credit left over from when I first downloaded the app and signed up (You can grab £15 free credit too by using my code referral code LJOY9 btw!) and I actually found this really easy to use. It displayed only a few hotels from budget ones to plush ones and made it a lot easier than trudging through pages of results to find one suitable for me. Since I had credit to use, we thought it would be nice to book ourselves into a more plush place for one night of our trip and in the end, our room for the first night right in the centre only cost me £8!

Obviously it's not ideal flitting from hotel to hotel but if you want to explore different parts of where ever your holidaying, it could well work out cheaper to stay in two different hotels for two different halves of your holiday, especially when you take into account different discount codes you can use etc. If you're really looking to save money but can't face staying somewhere bland throughout, you could always pick somewhere super cheap for the first few nights and then using the money you saved for that, choose somewhere a little more plush for the final half of your holiday.

I in no way consider myself an expert on travel but with hoping to get out and about more - if even just in the UK - in 2015, it's important to me to learn how to budget and shop around. I definitely think I did a good job in this case and that overall we've probably saved a good £100/200 pound by mixing things up a bit as opposed to just booking into a standard hotel for our entire stay.

Do you have any travel tips when it comes to booking accommodation? Let me know!

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Thursday, 15 January 2015

MY B-LIST HORROR MOVIE CHALLENGE // NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD


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Watched : Last night
Essential movie snacks : Popcorn
Watched with... : Jasper!
Score out of 5 : 4.5/5


I'd be lying if I'd said I wasn't looking forward to seeing and reviewing this movie the most. First of all it's a classic and has been known to be one of the most influential horror movies of all time. Second of all - zombies. It's all about zombies and we all know how awesome zombies are.

The story line is pretty self explanatory - the dead rise from their graves and a group of survivors try to survive the night by hiding out in a house. It's your typical dead VS the living film (even though it was a kind of new genre at the time of its release) so nowadays, it's nothing new exactly but despite that, it still kept me hooked throughout. 

The acting was a little naff to what we expect these days but even I found myself a little surprised at how graphic it was. Sure, it wasn't blood and guts everywhere like I'd expect if it was a modern film, but I can see why it was quite out there for when it was first released.

I also found that I expected the film to be a little slow in that I kind of expected what would happen but the pace of the film was perfect really. It had a good amount of scares (the tension type as opposed to the jump-out-of-your-seat-type) and the premise was set up really well. The film didn't jump straight into the horror immediately but it didn't leave it too long either.

The ending too was one that I did not expect and I did find myself eagerly awaiting the outcome - this wasn't a film where I could easily predict how it ended for once.

I find it weird that out of all the films I've watched, even though my attention did waver a few times, this is hands down one of the best from this challenge. I can't quite place my finger on what it was exactly, but this film was just really, really good. It was nice to throw a classic in there and I think sometimes we're all guilty of bypassing classic films, expecting them to be boring, and instead going for more modern horror with more scares, blood and guts. But this film was a prime example of how even the old films can be just as scary and to be honest, I'm not surprised really. This film has gone on to influence so many others, that I'd say it definitely helped define zombie horror as we know it today.

Well worth a watch, alone, with a friend, with family...this is definitely a film that everyone has to see at least once.

Also, I finally discovered where the famous 'They're coming to get you Barbara' quote comes from and I can't believe I didn't know that before hand.

The geeky notes part -
  • They’re coming to get you Barbara SO THAT'S WHERE THAT'S FROM
  • Is that the new dr who 
  • He’s not very scary he just looks old 
  • Does this woman ever speak 
  • Whys that dude wearing white pants (he looks so geeky)
  • He’s trying to fight them by hitting them with his hand and breathing all funny what even 
  • Their reactions are really funny haha 
  • Actually had to scream out at one point WHY AINT YOU GETTING IN THE CAR don’t just bloody stand there #idiot 
  • The woman’s screams LOL

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P.S Check out the Halloween tag for more Halloween related posts and further horror movie reviews of this kind!


Monday, 12 January 2015

LOTW // I'M NOT UP AND LIVE BUT I WISH I WAS

Today on the blog I'm featuring a beautiful dress and a Look Of The Week debuted on Christmas Eve and many times since. When I was approached by IKrush to choose an item to feature on the blog, it just had to be this gorgeous tartan print skater dress.

Skater dresses have been on trend since the height of last summer and the trend is still going strong because of the easy to wear shape that suits pretty much everyone. This dress was no different and the skater style of the fit meant it accentuated my shape without clinging to me. Tartan is also a style that has been around for too long to remember and will continue to be popular. On it's own it's on trend and cutting edge but has also been worn to create a more punkier rock chick look too - which is of course why I chose this!

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For a real seasonal look, I just added a belt to the ensemble and paired it with a chunky pair of ankle boots with some fluffy socks. I have since rocked the outfit with black tights and a leather jacket for a much more edgier look and one that I will probably feature on the blog too.

My dad acted as blog photographer this day btw, so apologies for the overly geeky sat-in-front-of-warm-fire-with-forced-smile pose, although admittedly he did do a good job!

I really love this dress and I think it's such a bargain being that it can be worn in so many different ways. The subtle colours work well together without being too in your face, meaning that the outfit can be spruced up easily with different layers and accessories. I look forward to debuting one of my gig looks with this dress another time on the blog.

This gorgeous skater dress can be purchased here for only £16.99. What do you think? Would you rock a dress like this for Christmas or a gig? Let me know!

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