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holiday

thailand
Travel, Wedding

Adventures (and Proposals) In Thailand

Following our trip to China for my brother’s wedding, we took a detour via Thailand on the way home. It seemed such a shame to go so far and only visit one country, and since we’d used our holiday fund to pay for the trip, it made sense to add a holiday on the end.

So, with many thanks to an amazing travel agent who managed to get us everything we wanted at a price even her colleagues couldn’t believe, our next stop was Phuket.

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My first impression of Thailand? It’s hot. I’ve been to my fair share of hot destinations but the humidity levels in Phuket completely blew me away. I couldn’t even lie in the shade without sweating. A pale-skinned girl like me is not made to function in places like that. I felt virtually incapacitated by the heat, and spent most of my time in pool or sea. This was no bad thing, not when you had a pool that looked like this.

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But I would have liked to explore a little more. We could literally manage a few hundred metres in the heat without needed to retreat somewhere with air conditioning. Our hotel was at the top of a hill, and I’d read that it was a short walk down some (very steep) steps to the resort and beach. Let’s just say I only took this short cut once. Going down, fine. Coming up in 42 degree heat when you’re as out of shape as me? Not a good plan. Bikram Yoga ain’t got nothin’ on this! Luckily there was a shuttle bus and plenty of tuk-tuks to get us up and down when needed.

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One thing that did slightly disappoint me was that the food we had wasn’t quite as amazing as I was expecting. While I know the days of 100 baht getting you the best green curry of your life are long gone in a built-up resort like Kata Beach where we were based, I was expecting to find the food tastier and more authentic than the stuff I’ve managed to whip up at home. We had a couple of very good meals and a couple of very mediocre ones. Everything else was just fine. That said, you forgive a lot when a three course meal for two comes in under £25, including a cocktail in a hollowed-out pineapple.

cocktail

Now onto the good stuff, because I don’t for a second want to make it sound like Thailand isn’t an amazing place. We were very lucky to visit when we did – days before the military coup that’s resulted in a 10pm curfew and soldiers on the streets – and I’m thankful for that.

Firstly, there was the snorkelling. I used to have snorkelling lessons as a child and many of my memories of childhood holidays centre around snorkelling trips, so I do have a tendency to judge a holiday destination based on its snorkelling potential. The snorkelling in Thailand was the best I’ve ever experienced. In terms of sheer numbers of fish swarming around you at all times, it even topped the Great Barrier Reef. The variety of sea life wasn’t quite the same (no turtles or rays on our trip) but that didn’t mean a thing. I’m used to surface diving to see all the best stuff. Here you just stayed as still as possible and stared as hundreds of fish swarmed around you. It was incredible.

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Then there was the scenery. You won’t see anything like this in the Mediterranean! Thailand is so green, from the tree-covered hills to the water itself. Obviously one of the best moment was stepping foot on Maya Beach, the idyllic cove where they filmed The Beach. Though it was pretty rammed with people this didn’t take away from how incredible a place it is. And as terrible as the casting of the film was (seriously, read the book!) walking in the footsteps of Leo DiCaprio definitely pleased me.

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For me though, one place in Thailand has a special place in my heart, and that was the lagoon we swam in near Phi Phi Ley.

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That amazing looking place is where my boyfriend became my fiancé, the perfect way to end an amazing trip!

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Travel

If You’re Going To San Francisco…

One of the perks of my job is that I’ve been lucky enough to visit head office in San Francisco a couple of times. It’s such a great part of the job, not just because it means I get to put faces to the names I speak to so often by email and phone, but also because it’s such a wonderful city.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places over the last 30 years, but there are only two cities other than my beloved London I’ve visited and thought “I could live here”. One is Melbourne (which one of my best friends did move to, only adding to this feeling) and the other is San Francisco. The general vibe, the various cultural neighbourhoods, and the thriving tech / media industry all feel very familiar, but you could never say it’s like London. California and England are separated by so much, not just the weather.

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What I like about San Francisco is that it’s stunning in a completely different way to London. There are obviously none of the old buildings we have in London, but the mish-mash of eras (pre and post 1906 earthquake) make it even the most amateur architecture fan’s dream. I couldn’t stop photographing the art deco details, Victorian houses, perfect pastel paint jobs and 50s neon signs, much to the amusement of my SF-based colleagues (what’s a dodgy motel to them is a perfect example of retro Americana signage to me).

It’s also a great city for discovery. Though it has its good and bad neighbourhoods, if you’re staying in the centre of the city you can’t get yourself into too much trouble in the areas within walking distance (so long as you stay north of Mission). I walk loads when I’m in San Francisco and now I’ve ticked off most of the main tourist attractions, I prefer to just go for a wander and see where I end up. But for those who prefer a bit of guidance, here are the five things everyone must do on their first trip!

Five of My Favourite Things to Do in San Francisco

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1. The Inevitable Visit to the Bridge

No trip to San Francisco is complete without seeing the Golden Gate Bridge. There are two ways to do this – over or under – and having done both I definitely recommend taking a boat trip that takes you right underneath. The photo opportunities are insane and you get a really great view not only of the Golden Gate, but also the Bay Bridge and the whole of the city. I took the Red and White Fleet 2 Bridge Cruise – 90 minutes taking in both bridges and Alcatraz. I’d advise you don’t pre-book this. Choose your sailing day based on the weather and just head to the pier to buy a ticket. San Francisco gets more fog than even fictional London, and you’ll want a clear day to see the best of the bridge. If you book for a foggy day it’ll be a waste of your $30-odd.

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2. Shopping and People-Watching in Haight-Ashbury

Haight-Ashbury is the original home of the hippies, full of musical history and a must visit suburb as a young visitor to the city. Though it’s been suitably gentrified since the 60s and 70s, it still has an alternative heart. I think of it as the Camden of San Francisco – definitely worth the visit, but only if you’re prepared to be one of a zillion tourists. For me, the pull is the shopping, from a branch of SF boutique Ambiance where I found a gorgeous dress for $10, to the Bay Area’s only Bettie Page boutique. There are also dozens of great vintage stores (some of which have incredible collections of real turn-of-the-century frocks so delicate you can’t touch them) and vintage inspired lingerie shops that stock hard to find brands like Parfait. There’s also no shortage of cafes and coffee shops for refuelling.

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3. See The Painted Ladies

Sat on the edge of Alamo Park, the most famous examples of the ‘Painted Ladies’, San Francisco’s Victorian/Edwardian pastel painted houses, are definitely worth a look (in fact, you can jump off the bus and snap your photos on the way to or from Haight-Ashbury, as I did). You can walk up just about any street in San Francisco and see beautiful houses but here, at the top of a hill, is where you get the best photo opportunity. As you can see from my photo, I went on a foggy day when the contrast of city skyscrapers behind old-fashioned buildings wasn’t so clear, but if you’re lucky enough to be there when the bay is clearer, the pictures give you the perfect embodiment of all this city is about; the future and the past living together as one.

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4. Take a Cable Car

For $6, you can ride one of San Francisco’s historic cable cars from Union Square up through the hills and down to the edge of Fisherman’s Wharf. Despite the long queues and the fact you could probably walk the route faster, it’s one of those things you just have to do when you’re visiting this city. There are other routes, but this is the one most people take as it goes from one big tourist hub to the other, going right up into the hills on the way (great for dramatic rises and falls). Brave people will stand on the side and hold on to the poles. I must admit, I sat down, held on and aimed my camera!

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5. Eat (and Shop) For Cheap in Chinatown

San Francisco apparently has the largest Chinatown outside of China, and it’s definitely a sprawling area, covering a huge mass of the city just north of Sutter Street. I head here for gifts and cheap buys, as the main road is lined with knick-knack shops sell all the San Francisco souvenirs for a lot cheaper than the shops around Fisherman’s Wharf. There are also lots of Chinese themed homewares, clothes, toys and treats (and a fair amount of tat). The side streets offer a more authentic Chinatown experience; grocers, pharmacists and shops full of exotic looking foods and herbs that you don’t find in your local Sainsburys. But the real reason to head here is the food. It can be a bit of a mixed bag so trust Trip Advisor or local recommendations. But it’s cheap, quick and great if you’re on a budget. Ironically, my Chinese restaurant of choice (thanks, Frommers) is Brandy Ho’s, nestled right on the edge of Chinatown, technically in the more trendy North Beach area. Get the fried dumplings with Sweet and Sour sauce. I apologise in advance to your arteries.

These five things barely touch the surface of what can be done in San Francisco and I will be updating with some more off-the-beaten track ideas, but for those of you planning your first trip, these are my musts for getting the real touristy experience!

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Tried & Tested

Tried & Tested: bonprix Beachwear

It’s time for more holiday photos masquerading as a blog post! bonprix’s Animal Print Maxi (£29.99) from their beachwear range was the perfect dress for Antigua, where the mosquitos and sand flies seemed intent on draining my blood throughout the ten days I was there, even when I was coated in the strongest insect repellent I could find. I ended up wearing my long dresses more than anything else, partly to cover the bites on my legs and partly to avoid getting any more! This dress was great in the heat due to its loose, relaxed shape. I’m still pre-programmed to cinch everything in at the waist and must admit I did add a belt to this one time I wore it, but in 30 degree heat, the floaty, loose shape worked really well to keep me cool and comfy even if it doesn’t make the most of my body shape…

Bonprix beach maxi dressSunglasses: Marc by Marc Jacobs at Secret Sales, Dress: Bonprix, Sandals: New Look

I always find on holiday that I pack loads of trend pieces, but always end up in the loosest, floatiest, most casual styles. After a day of high temperatures, high SPFs, sandy beaches and coconut rum cocktails, the last thing I want to do is squeeze myself into fitted clothes and high heels. Thus this dress was worn more than once with my fab gold-trim New Look sandals (flip-flops with a slingback) while my beloved Topshop Motel printed pencil skirt stayed in the wardrobe the whole trip (I’ll be wearing it a lot when the temperature warms up at home though).

The problem with maxi dresses is inevitably going to be length. I often find they’re either a bit too short or a bit too long, but this one passed the Goldilocks test – it’s just right! I’m 5’7 and it hit me right at the ankle when wearing flats. I love the braided neckline, and the dress is heavier than I expected, so it hangs well. Despite being synthetic (100% viscose) it felt quite cool and airy. All in all, it’s a great little find that will definitely be heading to the beach with me again!

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Disclosure: The dress was a gift from bonprix, but all thoughts are my own and I was not paid to publish them.

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Competitions

Spring / Summer outfit inspiration: casual, party and holiday

I never usually enter blogger competitions, but I couldn’t resist the lure of the Passion for Fashion challenge. The rules are simple: create three outfits for under £200 based around three areas: casual wear, party wear and holiday wear. There’s a blogger judging panel (hi guys! LOVE YOU!!!) and prizes will be awarded for each category, plus a grand prize for the best set. We’re advised to take trends into consideration, and create budget outfits for Spring / Summer 2013 based around the key season looks. I love doing outfit picks and I am the queen of the budget outfit, so most of these come in well under the £200 allowed! My three trends are Global Traveller for my holiday look (encompassing all the ‘boho’ and ‘tribal’ inspired trends floating around this season), Monochrome for my party look (with an added dash of 1920s, Great Gatsby glam in honour of the long-awaited film), and for casual wear, Print-on-print with a slight 50s twist, inspired by my post about cropped trousers the other day, with a touch of off-duty Taylor Swift in her Keds (wha? I’m obsessed with 22 and I don’t care what you think). Here goes nothing…

The Partywear outfit: Monochrome goes Gatsby

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When is this Great Gatsby film going to come out? And will it be worth the wait? I fear not, but I will be watching just for the Prada and Miu Miu dresses and Baz Luhrmann madness. This outfit is my homage to that, and trust me, I’m as surprised as you that a TOWIE alumni could come up with a dress this pretty. High fives, Lydia. More of this, please.

Studded bunny ears headband £12.50 at Topshop
LYDC knuckeduster clutch bag with jewels £22.97 at Amazon
Jewel bauble earrings £18 at ASOS
Lydia Bright shift dress in embellished deco style £75 at ASOS
Rosanna high heeled sandals £35 at Boohoo
Rhinestone cocktail ring £7.50 at Dorothy Perkins

The Casual outfit: Print on print with a 50s twist

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I’m 29 and I’m obsessed with a girl who sings about being 22. This is not going to end well. I love that Taylor Swift manages to wear little dresses with Keds (she’s got a campaign with them) and not look like a fool. I’m not quite there yet, but I would happily team some polka dot plimsolls with Uniqlo’s amazing Celia Birtwell ‘legging trousers’ (that’s capri pants to you and me). Add some more polka dots for luck, and you have my casual look, which actually comes in at under £100. WIN!

Red tee with white polka dots £15 at A|Wear
Celia Birtwell cropped legging trousers £14.90 at Uniqlo
Frankie fringed bag in turquoise £22 La Moda
Champion red polka dot plimsolls £37.50 Keds
Brown leather and gold chain cuff £4.99 at New Look

The holiday outfit – the Global Traveller

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High-waisted bikini, ridiculous sunglasses, denim cut-offs, killer wedges and loads of jewellery. Just add a fake tan and a huge hat and you have my holiday wardrobe sorted. I know there’s no handbag, I am going to pretend that is absolutely deliberate. My virtual holidaymaker is staying all-inclusive so doesn’t need to carry anything!

Crochet square top £45 at Miss Selfridge
Diane double wrap necklace £12 at Boohoo
Tribal print bikini £26 at River Island
G21 Aztec shorts £12 George at Asda
Monochrome Aztec cross strap cork wedges £27.99 at New Look
Tortoiseshell look sunglasses £12 at ASOS
Bracelet stack £18.50 at Topshop

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Gemma Recommends, Travel

A Brit Abroad: My Girl’s Guide to visiting Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a city you either love or hate. I’m firmly in the ‘love’ camp, and could ramble on for hours about how to get the most out of your trip, where to stay, what to do and how to get there. So I thought I’d do just that!

I am well known amongst my friends for my Vegas obsession (I’ve been 8 times). I’m often asked for advice on visiting – especially when it comes to where to stay and where to shop. I felt it was worth a blog post I can direct people to in future – and hopefully this will also be useful to others who fancy a fashionable trip to Sin City. Please bear in mind my last trip was in 2016 so while I’ve tried to keep this updated, some things may be a little out of date – this city moves fast!

Vegas is a city where money rules, and if you really want to make the most of it it’s worth saving up before you go. That said, there are plenty of ways you can have fun without spending big bucks. The first time I went I was 21, living on a shoestring and staying in one of the cheapest hotels on the strip, but I still had an amazing time. The joy of Vegas is there are options for everyone. If you have the cash, eat at Nobu. You don’t? $10 Lobster dinner special coming right up!

But before we talk about what to do when you’re there, how about getting there in the first place?

Travelling to Las Vegas from the UK

If you’re willing to book flights and accommodation together, nine times out of ten I find Expedia.co.uk to be the cheapest option overall. Obviously if you want it all done for you, you can try a holiday company like Virgin Holidays and add in extra stops too. I always try Trivago too as a comparison, and check that flights aren’t available cheaper using SkyScanner. If you’re booking the two separately, most hotels offer great rates direct, so follow your favourites on Twitter, sign up for their mailing list and check out their facebook page for good deals and freebies like meal credits or show tickets. Be aware of any charges you may incur for booking in dollars though – some credit cards will add a fairly large fee for foreign transactions. Plus most hotels add a circa $25 “resort fee” per night when you arrive (though playing the “polite but clueless British person” card can sometimes get this waived.

You can fly to Vegas a number of ways through various transport hubs. I’ve done both direct and indirect flights depending on cashflow. Be sure that if you book an indirect flight you have adequate time to make your connection. On your first entry point into the USA (your connection airport) you’ll need to collect your bags and clear immigration with them before you drop them back off and go to the gate for the Vegas connection. One flight I looked at this year had a 40 min connection time – I can tell you from experience that this is not enough time to run through a big US hub like Chicago O’Hare!

You can also connect in Europe or Canada, but be aware this may mean you may have to clear immigration twice, once as you connect and again when you get to Vegas. This all adds time to your already long journey of 12 – 16 hours.

Now for the fun bit. Once you’re there!

My top 10 Vegas Experiences

1. Stay in the best (or most ridiculous) hotel you can afford

Vegas isn’t exactly short of accommodation options, so you may as well make the most of it. Stay on The Strip! As far as I’m concerned there’s no point staying in a motel miles off the strip, or scrimping on a super-cheap option Downtown if you want the proper Las Vegas experience (unless you like sharks – see number 7 below). Though you’ll have fun no matter where you stay, it pays to pick a strip hotel in the centre of the action. The whole of Vegas life (as a tourist) centres around these huge hotel / casino / entertainment / shopping complexes and you’ll never get such a good hotel room for such a cheap price. There’s a hotel to suit everyone, from tropical decor at Mandalay Bay and The Mirage to rococco excess at The Venetian and Italian glamour at The Bellagio (above). For that reason I’m not going to go too much into personal recommendations. One woman’s dream is another’s nightmare. I do like the Flamingo for its gardens and pool and eye-popping pink, I love the Mirage because I’ve had so many good times there, and I think TI is in a perfect location for a short trip. If you don’t fancy the madness of a themed hotel, a lot of the newer hotels (The Wynn and Encore, Aria, The Cosmopolitan etc) have more of a generic ‘luxury’ feel, with no detail overlooked, and I hear The Hotel at Mandalay Bay is a beautiful option for those with cash to splash. With the exception of Circus Circus and the Stratosphere (too far up) there aren’t really any strip hotels I’d strongly advise against – even a cheesefest like Excalibur has a certain trashy appeal (and a surprisingly good pool complex) if you’re on a tighter budget.

2. Visit the Grand Canyon (preferably by helicopter)

You’ve come this far, you may as well take a day trip to one of the Wonders of the Natural World. If you’re renting a car then it’s a cool drive (possibly taking in a bit of Route 66) to the Canyon. But there are loads of tours from Las Vegas too, and if you’re tight for time one of these might actually work out better. As dramatic as a drive to the rim and skywalk is, I thoroughly recommend splashing out on one of the helicopter tours. Not only is it much quicker (a matter of minutes to the Canyon, rather than the 4 hours it’ll take most coaches) but it’s also one of the most dramatic journeys you’ll ever experience. The flight takes you over the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, and most will then land in the Canyon for a final touch of drama. This kind of trip will cost about $300-$400 per person – I booked my last one through All Las Vegas Tours and had no complaints. I will warn you though – they weigh you and your bags to make sure the weight is distributed evenly for the flight!

3. Shop ’til you drop at the many malls

Las Vegas is a shopping mecca. Everything is represented here, from young fashion stores like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters to designer labels like Chanel and Louis Vuitton. The top shopping destinations were, for a long time, The Fashion Show Mall (Mid-strip, next to TI and opposite The Palazzo), The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, The Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood and the shops of The Venetian. Now you can also add Crystals at CityCenter, a high-end designer shopping mecca that includes Miu Miu, Bulgari and Bottega Veneta, plus the ever-expanding designer shops at Bellagio, Palazzo and the Wynn to the list. These are malls like no other, themed beyond belief. Ever seen a spiral escalator? Head to the Forum Shops and you will. Fancy shopping under the stars no matter the time of day? Try the Miracle Mile. Want to punctuate your shopping with some street theatre or a gondola ride? Head to the Venetian! My top haunt as a girl on a limited budget is definitely the Fashion Show Mall, which makes up for lack of theme with the sheer amount of stores for all budgets, including Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Dillards and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores. You can see me outside the Fashion Show in the pic above, way back in 2004 on my first trip to Vegas!

TIP: When it comes to individual shops, my first stop is always the retro reproduction store Bettie Page Clothing (branches in the Miracle Mile and Forum Shops) for wiggle dresses and polka dots a-plenty in a huge range of sizes. I’ve never been in there and come out empty-handed.

4. Gorge at the brilliant buffets

Photo by bryanh @ flickr

Apparently there are people who don’t like buffets. They think there’s too much choice, a bad atmosphere, the promise of lifelong indigestion. They think that getting up and down all the time for food is annoying, that the food is sub-standard, and that it’s greedy to keep on shovelling it down your throat just because you can.

These people are no friends of mine.

I love a good buffet, and Vegas does them brilliantly. Especially at brunch. I used to be a fussy eater, so a buffet was good because I could always find something I liked. Now I love them because after all those years of not eating stuff, I want to eat it all, but I can only do that if I have very little bits of everything. My favourite Vegas buffets are mostly more expensive ones; The Wynn, The Bellagio, The Mirage. You do get what you pay for. I’m desperate to try Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan on my next trip. Along with many others I also really rate the off-strip treats at The Rio and the good international cuisine at Flavors at Harrah’s. For budget eats that aren’t greasy and lukewarm, you can’t beat a trip downtown for the Garden Court Buffet at Main Street Station. Plan your buffets in advance – you definitely won’t want to eat nothing but buffets for your entire stay. Not only will you go home unable to fit into your clothes, but Vegas is full of incredible restaurants you’ll want to try too. Just promise me you’ll give in to the tack factor and try one or two buffets if you can, if only to get the full Vegas experience.

5. See the dolphins & big cats

photo by Andrew Ressa @ Flickr

When explaining Vegas to non-believers, I usually find that explaining the sheer size and scope of what is available away from gambling is the way to go. Most people usually get interested around the time I say “and one hotel has a ZOO inside it!” It might be a bit of an exaggeration to call it a zoo, but Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage is definitely worth a visit if you want a break from the clinking of slot machines. The secret garden is home to Siegfried and Roy’s big cats (white tigers, white lions, panthers and leopards) plus a few surprises, while the dolphin habitat is a really well-designed home to a family of bottle-nosed dolphins. In true Vegas style it’s a bit over the top but very well done, and definitely worth a couple of hours of your time, if only because it’s one of the only places where you won’t hear the familiar jingle of slot machines!

6. Hit the outlets & shop for bargains

photo by Judy Baxter @ Flickr

My first trip to Fashion Outlets Las Vegas was a revelation. Diane Von Furstenberg dresses for $90 and skirts for $50! A Marc by Marc Jacobs bag for $200 and a top for $40! I could have spent thousands, but each trip I’ve limited myself to only a few purchases. This particular outlet mall is a good 40 minute drive out of Vegas, reached by car or a $15 shuttle from various points on the strip. If you enjoy a designer shopping bargain, it’s definitely worth the trip. I prefer it to the other big outlet chain (Las Vegas Premium Outlets, found north and south of the strip) for the simple reason that it’s in a covered mall that’s air-conditioned, which is a big selling point when you’re in the desert! It’s also the only one with a Neiman Marcus Last Call, where I’ve found 90% of my best buys. If you’re holidaying with someone who’s not a shopper, the outlet is right next to Primm Valley Resorts, so they can head there to kill time if need be. This hotel is worth a look even if you’re shopping – it’s like a Vegas homage to the Hotel Del Coronado from the film ‘Some Like it Hot’. There’s also Buffalo Bills, complete with amusement park, just over the road.

7. Take a trip Downtown

Downtown Las Vegas is the bit you’ll recognise from all those old movies (not to mention the brilliant Swingers). Before huge theme hotels started appearing on Las Vegas Boulevard South, there was Fremont Street, a hotel and casino-filled street in Downtown Las Vegas that earned the nickname ‘Glitter Gulch’. The area has seen better days, but remains a must-see. Head down at dusk and grab the cheapest dinner ever at one of my favourite off-strip hotels, Main Street Station, then take the covered walkway to the California for cheap beers before taking in the Fremont Street Experience free light and sound show on the covered walkway over the main stretch of Fremont Street. It’s really great fun. Pick up your tacky souvenirs here too – they’re much cheaper than the shops in the malls on the strip. If you do decide to stay Downtown, the Golden Nugget Hotel has a big selling point – a heated pool with a water slide that takes you through a shark tank!

The best way to get Downtown is by public transport, just jump on The Deuce bus from anywhere on the strip.

8. Take advantage of the freebies

Vegas can quickly become an expensive place to visit, even if you take advantage of the cheap deals and budget options. But the good thing is there are still a few fabulous things you can do for free, mostly when it comes to entertainment. See flamingos at the Flamingo, the Rio’s Masquerade Show in The Sky, the huge aquarium in the Mirage lobby, or the Forum Shops talking statues to start! For a long time, top of my list was the ridiculous Sirens of TI, which used two mechanical pirate ships moored in the grounds of the resort to put on a live show with Pussycat Dolls-style dancers. Now that’s gone, there’s still the Mirage’s Volcano, The dancing fountains at the Bellagio and the Wynn Lake of Dreams show to keep you entertained.

9. Have a ridiculously expensive night out

pic via XS website

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that Las Vegas isn’t exactly short on nightlife. The coolest club changes with every new opening, meaning the last one I went to is not even worth mentioning now. But they all offer up incredible nights out if you’re young enough to appreciate the atmosphere. I currently have my eye on XS at Encore (above) which has its own pool, outdoor patio and blackjack tables. I’m sure next week I’ll find something else that looks even better. One thing they all have in common is that a night there can quickly set you back a lot of cash, and will undoubtedly involve long waits if you don’t plan ahead. If you want to sit down, you’ll need to book VIP table service which will run into hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars as the night progresses. There are nightlife hosts / concierge services that can organise stuff for you but that too comes at a price. A cheaper option if you don’t mind standing and waiting is to look out for free entry cards around Vegas (try cool fashion stores in the malls, or ask a hotel concierge or taxi driver. There are also touts on the street who’ll hand over a pile of them for a tip. Whichever way you do it, go out for cheaper drinks first, dress up and be prepared for a pricey night. The good news is girls get the best freebies – if you’re a group of ladies together, you can blag almost anything.

If you don’t fancy the huge clubs, there are plenty of lounges and bars that are almost as rowdy. Look for ‘ultralounges’ in your hotel or hunt down the cheesiest bar you can find. My guilty secret for a guaranteed good night out is Coyote Ugly at New York New York. Yes, it’s essentially a box hidden in a corner, made to look like a trashy movie set, and the clientelle is mixed to say the least. But it’s cheaper than the clubs, the naffness makes it fun, ladies are treated well (if you’re brave enough to dance on the bar you’ll get free drinks) and the jukebox has loads of British music on it. I’ve never had a bad night here.

My favourite bar in the entirety of Vegas was Mix, which sat at the top of what used to be The Hotel with the most incredible views (even from the loos). This is reopening in late 2015 as “Skyfall”, attached to a chic new restaurant in what is now the Delano. It’s number one on my list for my return trip!

10. People watch from the casino floor

Photo by TI

If you’re gambling a decent amount and willing to tip, waitresses will circulate and offer free drinks. But this can often be a pricey way to soak up the atmosphere if you don’t win along the way. I’m not a big gambler, which people find odd considering how much I love Vegas, but I hope by now you’ve realised there’s so much more than slot machines in this city! If you’d rather not risk your hard-earned readies, I suggest heading for the many bars / lounges that sit right on or just off the casino floor, where you can watch other people and see how it’s done. On my last trip, bar-hopping these places became a daily routine. My favourites include Breeze at TI, Centrifuge at MGM Grand, Laguna at The Venetian, Eyecandy at Mandalay Bay and Le Cabaret at Paris Las Vegas. There’s also the gorgeous 3-floor Chandelier bar at The Cosmopolitan which serves the best (white) Cosmo you’ll ever drink. This is just a drop in the ocean though – all you need to do is step into a casino and walk until you hit a bar – they all have one and they’re all surprisingly good for watching the world go by.

I feel like I could go on for another ten, there’s so much more I want to touch on. But this post is long enough, and hopefully this gives you a taster of what Vegas has to offer. If you tire of the food, drinks, shopping and tourist traps, there’s always the high-octane thrills (rollercoasters and rides at New York New York, Stratosphere and Circus Circus) the pools and spas, and the hundreds of amazing shows to continue to keep you occupied.

If you’re a Vegas fan too, let me know your top tips below!

Photos are mine unless otherwise credited.

skiing
Misc Updates

Shoots, Skiing, Sunshine and Shopping…

You know how this one goes. It’s been a while, I haven’t been around much, sorry it’s been weeks since my last blog, etc etc. I’ll spare you the usual empty apologies. The truth is I don’t see the point in blogging for the sake of it, which is one reason why you don’t see dozens of new posts here each month. But on top of that I’ve been away a bit recently, and also I’m trying desperately not to get home from work every day and instantly jump on my laptop – not only is it killing my eyes (wrinkles! I have wrinkles at 28!) but it’s doing nothing for my social life either! However, a few things have happened that deserve a little catch-up, so read on for holiday gossip and the first time I’ve worn a white shirt since I left school…

First up was the TM Lewin White Shirt Challenge. Along with a group of other bloggers, I was challenged to style up the classic white shirt the way I would wear it. You can read more about my experience over at Catwalk Queen, but I saved one of the pics for Big Girls Browse as a little teaser! I went for the most obvious hourglass look I could think of!

Following that were the two short trips that make up this year’s Summer holiday (since I’m currently in the process of trying to buy a flat, a big trip away this Summer is just not possible). The first 4 days were spent with my parents in Spain. They’d rented an apartment in Granada, which put us in the rare position of being able to spend one day at a ski resort, and the next at the seaside. Here I am with my mom in our matching headbands at the Sierra Nevada. I didn’t ski – I’m far happier in the bar with a glass of vino blanco!

The day after we hit the slopes, we drove down to the coast and spent the day in Nerja. Here I am taking a very brief dip in the (freezing) Med in what I have to say is one of the best bargain swimsuits I’ve ever come across.

This baby costs £12 from George at Asda – I actually discovered it when the PR team popped one in the press day goodie bag, but I’m definitely going to grab the floral version too as they’re super cheap, the fit is great (padded cups for a bit of shape, control tummy and a ruched panel for a bit of a 50s vibe). The only thing I would say is that the ‘skirt’ section does ride up occasionally if you’re splashing about. But it’s £12 – can’t really complain!

After Spain I was back in work for a few days before I gave Easyjet yet more of my money for a trip to the French Riviera, and with it the chance to tick something off my bucket list – a visit to Monaco! For some reason (blame Grace Kelly and James Bond) the idea of glamorous Monte Carlo has always appealed to me (in fact I love the idea of visiting all the microstates, except perhaps Sealand). We were there for the men’s quarter finals of the Rolex Masters Tennis tournament, a huge treat from my boyfriend’s parents!

After watching Murray lose and Nadal win, we went into Monte Carlo itself to do a bit of exploring. I have to say I felt slightly let down. I was expecting real vintage glamour, but what I got was a lot of posing, boy racers and a crazy street plan that makes exploring the city virtually impossible without an epic guidebook. Don’t get me wrong, the views over the riviera are beautiful, the sea really is an unbelievable shade of azure, just looking at all the boats and cars is entertainment enough (yacht with a helicopter on it, anyone?) and the city is a structural work of genius carved into a mountain with a maze of underground tunnels, it just wasn’t as romantic, warm and welcoming as I’d expected.

Perhaps you just need money to enjoy it? Or maybe they just didn’t like my cat print dress? (Dress from Red Herring, jacket from Supertrash, belt from Primark)

In contrast to Monaco – which I think deserves a second trip after a bit more research – I can’t recommend the south of France enough. We stayed in Mougins, a beautiful old village up on a hill overlooking Cannes, and everywhere we visited during our stay was beautiful. The beach and port at Golfe-Juan, the antique market in Cannes…even the train journey down to Monaco was like an organised coastal tour (it runs along the seafront, going past resorts like Villefrance, Eze and Nice). All this is only an hour and a half from Gatwick, and it gave me a chance to put my A’ level in French to the test (result: j’ai oublié comment parler français).

In between the holidays, photoshoots and work, I also managed to buy some stuff. More on all of these, and a few other new purchases, soon. But I think it’s safe to say despite no big Summer holiday coming up, I’m definitely getting into the Summer spirit. COME ON SUNSHINE!!!!