48 Hours in Copenhagen

We don’t normally celebrate our wedding anniversary – it’s too close to both our birthdays and the start of the academic year, so no really effort is made and we’re both fine with that.

This year however, we thought we should do something special to mark the big 1-0. Our immediate thought – Copenhagen. Our favourite city to spend time in. The last time we visited was back in 2015 when we spent 5 days over Christmas just wandering around with big coats on. This time, we’d have just 48 hours to absorb as much Scandi culture as we could.

We stayed at the Bella Sky again, which was mostly fine. We’re used to the hotel being very quiet, but as we were still in tourist season, it was fit to burst with huge groups of tourists. I don’t know that I’d necessarily recommend this hotel, but it suited us for two days.

So what did we pack into those 48 hours? A lot of walking primarily, and visiting areas of the city that we haven’t visited before. Frederiksberg became our new favourite suburb, but we also had a wander around Amagerbro and the area around the DR studios (‘DR City’ as it’s known).

And we finally crossed the Inderhavnsbroen (Inner Harbour Bridge) from Nyhavn to Christianshavn after watching it being built over many years. We even got to stand on the bridge as it did the crazy opening thing (which surely cannot be safe???) – the middle of the bridge splits open to allow tall ships to sail through. Madness.

We didn’t eat loads of food, but enough to make a blog post about so that will follow, but definitely our favourite new stop for coffee with a view was the Original Coffee at the top of Illums. We went here several times – definitely a favourite new hang-out spot for us. And look at this view:

We of course explored both Illums and Magasin but we weren’t in the city to shop (which is just as well as the exchange rate was a disaster). Just across from Illums on Strøget is Hay House – an interior design wonderland. Two floors of beautiful Hay products, set out like a Danish apartment and almost like a museum. I was in heaven, but again that pesky exchange rate shattered my dreams buying it all. Instead, I just took a million photos so that when I win the lottery, I can re-create Hay House back in the UK.

I did manage to get a small memento however. Many years ago when Husband was on one of his many work trips to CPH, he stumbled across an independent jewellers called Ladyfingers – a shop featuring the work of female jewellery designers. I didn’t ever get a chance to visit on our previous trips, but I finally made it there this time and bought a beautiful necklace from Winberg Jewellery. The shop it situated on Jægersborggade which is an insanely trendy street and such a treat to visit. Wandering down here made for a pretty perfect Saturday afternoon.

In fact, everything we did made for a perfect trip. This was my 5th time in the city and Husband’s millionth, so we don’t feel the need to do all the touristy things. Just walking around, people-watching, and falling in love with the architecture (like the Mountain Dwellings building below) is satisfying enough for us.

Praia D’El Rey Marriott Golf & Beach Resort

If you don’t like photos of beaches and sunsets, this probably isn’t going to be the post for you.

Earlier in the year, I spent a good few weeks trawling through various websites to plan a perfect Portuguese trip. We wanted somewhere not too far from Lisbon, but very quiet with no distractions. I’d initially settled on Cascais or Sintra for a location, but few of the hotels met my criteria (and the ones that did were way out of our budget) plus it seems quite touristy, so I started looking further afield.

And that’s when I found the Marriott Praia D’el Rey. After making sure Husband really didn’t mind the hour drive from Lisbon airport, we booked ourselves into an oceanfront room. This was only a couple of weeks before the trip as we’d left it really late to book so many of the rooms were sold out, but we’d definitely choose oceanfront again.

We’d had a long morning before we checked into our hotel – picking up the car from the airport took two stressful hours which meant we arrived much later than we’d planned to.

But the second we walked into the airy lobby, we instantly relaxed. Paolo at the front desk was amazing, and continued to be amazing over the course of our week. I’ve stayed at a lot of hotels but no one has ever offered the level of service he consistently provided. After promising us one of the best rooms (it really was), he introduced us to his colleague Patricia who told us all about the features of the hotel, and introduced us to my new favourite treat – ginja de Óbidos, a sour cherry liquor served in a chocolate cup. Delicious.

The amazing welcome we received then continued with every member of staff who always greeted us with “Bom Dia” or “Olá”. We had turndown service every night from friendly staff who made sure we had everything we needed, wonderfully attentive service at breakfast – everyone was exceptional.

The main draw for us at Praia D’el Rey was the lack of distractions. We spent every day (bar one) just lying on a lounger on the beach. It was something both of us needed after a busy and stressful few months at work – the opportunity to do nothing but listen to podcasts, read, or just nap was too good to pass up. If you’re looking for an action packed vacation, this isn’t it. The Marriott is on a fairly big resort of houses and a big golf course which is the main reason why people visit, but there really is very little else. There’s one tiny shop about 2.5 miles away – you can get a shuttle, but we decided to walk and ended up not finding it. We instead chose to go the supermarket in Óbidos to stock up on water and snacks but that was a 20 minute drive away so having a car is a must.

The hotel has a few different pools, a gym, a spa, and the beautiful beach. I treated myself to a trip to the spa for an incredibly enjoyable Elemis facial, and they also have the full range of treatments available. I was keen to get back to the beach afterwards but it would have been lovely to spend more time up at the spa.

Within the hotel, there are a few different options for food – we ate at the more formal Emprata restaurant on our last night, and it was incredible. Paolo had requested the best table for us, and we watched the sunset over a beautiful three course meal. My favourite course – my dessert which was inspired by ginja de obidos.

They have a couple of more casual dining options, and of course room service which we had twice because we couldn’t drag ourselves away from our view. We did end up eating at the Contato lobby bar most evenings because we got quite addicted to their tempura vegetables and also just because it was a lovely place to hang out.

The rooms have recently been renovated and have a beautiful beachy feel about them. We had a huge comfy kingsize bed, big fluffy pillows (my favourite), and places to enjoy our room service inside and out. I really couldn’t have asked for anything more. On the Sunday evening, we watched a beautiful Gujarati wedding in the courtyard in front of our room – what an amazing venue to have for your wedding!

When we checked out, Paolo and Patricia came over to say goodbye and to check that we’d had a good trip. They gave us some hints on the best time to visit next time – we could tell it was getting busier as the week went by, and I’m sure it’s even busier now the schools have broken up but apparently October is a great time to visit. It’s so great to know that the Praia D’el Rey is just a short flight away for the next time that we need to get away from our day-to-day lives.

We can’t wait to return. Mostly to eat more Ginja.

The New Forest

When we visited our Texan friends back in November 2018, we knew that the next time they visited the UK, we wanted to return the warm hospitality they extended to us. We got the opportunity to do so a lot quicker than expected, as they would be in London in the middle of March. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet bought our luxurious mansion (you know, the one with multiple guest rooms that’s waiting to be bought when we win the lottery) so instead, we whisked them away towards the south coast, to a Airbnb more suited to hosting friends.

We chose the quaint and cosy 18th century Little Exbury on the outskirts of the tiny Exbury village and very close to Beaulieu. It was the perfect base for exploring the wild New Forest with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and remote location suitable for long conversations around the fireplace as the wind whipped around outside. I didn’t want to leave.

The weather was… typically English so we weren’t really able to show off our beautiful countryside. Instead, we wandered from windy village to windy village, feeling a bit sorry for the wild roaming ponies and donkeys as they huddled together for warmth under the trees.

We visited Beaulieu of course – somewhere I visited once when I was small, and a lot of memories were unlocked as we wandered around the estate. I found the 800 year old abbey and the palace house most interesting; the motor museum less so (although I was less grumpy when I found somewhere to sit), and it was nice to see a little reference to the career my Dad found himself in. We also experienced a remarkable coincidence when we found out that the American side of the Montagu family (who own Beaulieu) were visiting from – of course – Texas!  

We spent far more time in Beaulieu than expected, and after a quick freshening up back at the cottage, we went back to Beaulieu village for some fish and chips at Monty’s Inn.

The following day, we spent the morning at Buckler’s Hard Maritime Museum which was surprisingly picturesque – part of this cute hamlet has been converted into a living museum, with a pub and tiny church. If it wasn’t so wickedly blustery, we could have gone for a nice boat ride but the weather got to us so we took ourselves up to the cafe for a warm drink.I couldn’t let our American friends leave the UK without experiencing my favourite meal of the day – Afternoon Tea. You really are spoiled for choice as there are so many places in the New Forest that offer Afternoon Tea but I decided on Burley Manor, an old manor house in the village of Burley (which I am truly sad to just driven through without stopping – it had two witchcraft shops! I must go back!). I mostly picked this hotel for the deer that graze outside, but it had some pretty good reviews as well which proved themselves to be true. We happily stuffed ourselves full of delicious cake and scones.It was a pretty quick whistle-stop tour of the New Forest, and I hope our friends enjoyed the dramatic landscape, even if it was all a little grey most of the time.

New York in December – Everything Else

Having been to New York on a few occasions now, we have a pretty solid routine, but we do enjoy adding one or two new experiences on each trip.

We were up early enough on the Saturday to get to the Westfield World Trade Center as it opened – mostly because we wanted to get the classic shot at the entrance that everyone gets for Instagram before it got crowded. This was our first visit – the architecture is incredibly impressive but I think I enjoyed the walk through Tribeca more than the mall. We spent very little time here once we’d got our shots, and quickly scuttled up to SoHo for some shoe shopping.

Of course we took a trip up the High Line – we could see parts of it from our hotel room and it frequently looked packed full of people, so we again took advantage of our jet lag to get there early for a gloriously peaceful walk. We saw some beautiful art on this visit – “Agora is a group exhibition that looks at the role of art in defining, creating, and using public space” – and I particularly loved the light installations like Somos 11 Millones by Andrea Bowers (above) and Marinella Senatore’s Give Your Daughter’s Difficult Names (below). It would have been amazing to see them at night.

We had a quick wander around Central Park, but this was peak Christmas Vacation and the crowds were insane. The relative calm of Greenwich Village and SoHo had lulled us into a false sense of security and we completely underestimated how busy the whole of Midtown would be. After battling through the hoards in Central Park, I had the brilliant idea of going down 5th Ave to see the Saks window display – no chance. It was a scrum.

The crowd briefly parted for me to see a bit of the store front, and that was enough for me so we ducked down towards Rockefeller Center. Even crazier idea, as seemingly everyone in New York was also headed this way to see the tree. The last time we saw the tree, it was deserted so to see it so crowded was a little stressful.

We retreated south and spent the rest of our trip in Chelsea and Greenwich, which included stumbling across an insane Christmas tree display, which I think was something to do with The Standard

… and saw some slightly more upscale Christmas decorations on Bleecker Street.

I also found my new favourite store on Bleecker – The Mask Bar, which stocks dozens of Korean sheet masks. It was heavenly and the perfect end to our trip.

New York in December – where we ate

Staying in Chelsea meant we had some of the best eateries on our doorstop, and on at least one of the nights, we spent a good half an hour weighing up options.

For our first night, we walked over to the next block to the Meatpacking District location of Dos Caminos for some amazing Mexican food. The small guac and chips was huge, which made me glad that I only ordered a small plate (chicken taquitos which were amazing). I hit a wall pretty early that evening after our long flight, so couldn’t manage dessert which I’m very sad about as the Mexican hot fudge sundae looks incredible. We really liked the atmosphere in the restaurant and we were really tempted to visit again on this trip.

Our first full day featured a crazy amount of walking (10 miles) and I can’t remember stopping to eat lunch. I do remember wanting to have some kakigōri (Japanese shaved ice) from Bonsai Kakigori in Canal Street Market. I wanted this so much that I made us do something we would never normally do – wait for the place to open. And how were we rewarded? The freaking store didn’t have any ice. WHY!? I’m still angry about it.

After wandering all over SoHo and Greenwich Village, we popped back to the hotel to drop off our shopping, and for Husband to research some shoes he wanted to buy. After buying said shoes, we stopped by Dough Doughnuts on W 19th Street to pick up a snack for later. Although they were very good doughnuts, they weren’t the best doughnuts of the trip…

Dinner that night was just around the corner from our hotel at Bare Burger 8th Ave. Aside from the fact we were sat at high stools (I hate high stools!), this was a great meal, although we ordered way too much and had to waddle back to our room. So good.

Day two featured even more walking (16 miles!!) and again, we didn’t stop for a ‘proper’ lunch, but we did stop for my favourite doughnuts in New York – Underwest Donuts. We found this tiny little store on our last trip and I was overjoyed to eat the most delicious doughnut in such an un-expected location – a car wash!

This was the day we struggled to make a decision for dinner as is so much choice, but I lobbied hard for the Meatball Shop which turned out to be one of the best restaurant decisions we’ve ever made. These guys do meatballs, and they do them well – different types of ball (even meat-free!) matched with different sauces, supplemented by a great selection of sides. I could eat here every day for the rest of my life and not get bored. The staff were wonderful, and helped out with menu recommendations which was definitely needed as it’s surprisingly hard to decide on a meatball combination!

We decided to skip dessert here again – although their ice cream sandwiches were tempting – because I had my eye on a different prize. Chip NYC were in the Gansevoort market when we visited although I think they’ve now closed that branch to move to a bigger location in the West Village. I have never had a cookie like it, and I doubt I’ll have anything like it again. Crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside and just absolute perfection. We visited just before they closed so they only had a couple left – I had Funfetti and Husband had White Chocolate Macadamia but they bake different cookies on different days.

So of course, we had to go back the following afternoon to try more of their menu. I mentioned earlier that I don’t wait for things to open; well, neither do I queue for food. But for Chip cookies, I would queue for an hour. We actually only queued for 15 minutes and were rewarded with warm, doughy goodness (a hot fudge sundae, and a strawberry cheesecake). We found a ledge at the back of Gansevoort Market to perch and try not to make a terrible mess of ourselves with the gooeyness (we failed).

The cookies were a pre-trip home treat, but we had also treated ourselves to a proper breakfast on our final morning – something that has become a bit of a tradition for our final mornings. We had intended to visit Chelsea Market more over the course of our three day trip, but the whole place was constantly over-crowded. Sunday morning was gloriously quiet however, so we stopped by our favourite brunch location – Friedmans. We were a little too far away from our usual location in Hell’s Kitchen, but fortunately they have a small store in Chelsea Market so I was able to order my favourite – eggs with style.

Now, how can I get Deliveroo or Uber Eats to fly over some of those meatballs?

Starbucks Reserve Roastery – New York


I wouldn’t normally review a Starbucks – I will happily admit that I visit Starbucks a lot (they have the best mochas) but they’re all essentially the same and mostly indistinct. However, a Roastery opened up in New York a few weeks before we visited which is very different to the average store so I thought I’d get a blog post out of it!

The Roastery in New York is the fourth store to open globally, with two further sites planned. It’s located next to Chelsea Market on 9th Avenue, right opposite our hotel, so I had assumed we’d visit on a couple of occasions. It’s huge, with many websites reporting on the 23,000 square footage, three separate coffee bars, a bakery, a scooping bar, and plenty of merch to buy. All this, plus the roastery of course – where coffee beans are roasted on site in very fancy industrial equipment.

Every time we walked by it, the queue snaked around the block, controlled by bouncers on the doors. I don’t know if it was because it had only been opened a couple of weeks but it was crazy. However, one morning we were up early and we noticed that there was no queue, so we popped in to see what the fuss was about.

As soon as you get through the heavy wooden doors, I was overwhelmed. There is so much going on, but I saw the main bar directly in front of us, so aimed for that as a place to start. The main bar seems to involve a lot of confusing equipment, but this is where you get your standard Starbucks drinks. They serve Princi pastries which all looked delicious, so in addition to our normal drinks – a latte and a mocha – we added a chocolate brioche and blueberry muffin to our order.

I then had a heart attack when the total came to $28. Holy crap, this had better be good.

Things then got very chaotic as we waited for the drinks, and it took about 15 minutes for them to come out. There are an insane amount of staff milling about (with ridiculous, almost patronising uniforms – think Peaky Blinders meets Get Out) and whilst many people would enjoy the buzz that this creates, it was too much for me. In the time we waited, the place had started to fill up, and we realised that despite the size of the building, there really wasn’t very much seating around. I sent Husband off to see if there was additional seating down at the “Experience Bar” (fortunately there was, and it was quieter).

The Experience Bar is where to go if you want something unusual – glass bottles full of coffee heated by complicated lamps, flights of espresso with different flavours. Above this is the third bar called Arriviamo serving cocktails – this was closed when we visited (understandably as we were there early) but looked pretty interesting, if not expensive.

And of course, there’s a lot of merchandise, although I think they need to pare it back a bit. As mentioned, I visit Starbucks a lot so have a few re-useable cups which are light enough to carry in my purse but I couldn’t find anything like that here – there was a lot of high end products, elaborate coffee kit, even things unrelated to Starbucks, and I found it quite frustrating.

So was our breakfast worth $28? Hell no. I found the whole thing quite stressful, too busy, and entirely unnecessary. The Princi pastries were nice and I’d love the regular stores to start selling them, and Husband noted that his latte was delicious, but my mocha was tasteless and really not worth whatever they charge for it. As we sat with our drinks, a member of staff came around offering sparkling water which got topped up, so that was a nice touch. The furniture was beautifully made, and I lusted after the wooden chairs, and it definitely felt like we were in a more luxurious store, but is all this a good reason to visit?

I don’t understand why people would queue for this store, especially not in the depths of a New York Winter – I just don’t get why you need a bigger and way more expensive version of a Starbucks. I can’t see that the staff from the Google offices opposite would visit this every day (or maybe they would, maybe I’m wrong) so I guess they’re relying on tourists like me visiting for the novelty value.

If you are in desperate need for a Starbucks (and there’s no queue) go in and have a look, but be prepared to spend some $$$. If there is a queue, turn around, cross the road, and get your latte from the regular store opposite. Then sit in the window and shake your head with incredulity at the people willing to queue up for the Roastery, as you sip smugly on your significantly cheaper drink.

New York in December – where we stayed

I love spending time in Greenwich Village and Chelsea, so as we were only going to be in NYC for three days, we treated ourselves to a hotel in the area rather than staying in our usual hotel in Midtown. I can’t remember where I saw it first, but I have fantasised about staying in the Maritime Hotel, pretty much opposite Chelsea Market, for a very long time. The iconic porthole windows, the sophisticated decor – it was my dream NYC location. Once we had booked our flights, I started obsessively scouring the internet to find the best room price, and stumbled across Tablet Hotels who had a great sale on, so my dream was finally being realised.

The first thing that you notice when you get to the hotel is the amazing scent – the lobby area smells beautiful. I don’t know what it was, but every time we walked through, it made me happy. I love a well-scented hotel.

The lobby doesn’t just smell good – it also looks stunning – dark wood, warm lighting, gorgeous furniture. They have a very pleasing aesthetic, very hyggelig. We didn’t get a chance to experience the restaurant just off the lobby during our trip, but it was shortly about to close for renovations so perhaps we should have been visited. The problem is that there is too much choice for where to eat in the area.

We had a standard room (called Superior on the website) which was a pretty average size for New York (by that, I mean small) but that’s just to be expected. Having just experienced exceptional Texan hospitality at The Archer in Austin the month before, my expectations were sky high so the room and service did leave me a little underwhelmed. Perhaps I was judging them too harshly but I just wanted a little more more than what was on offer. I’m hard to please when it comes to hotels.

Those porthole windows though.

I will say that we slept well every night in a very comfortable bed, and I really appreciated the bathroom stocked full of my favourite Co Bigelow toiletries. Every room faces the same way, so you’re guaranteed a good view and we spent ages just watching the world go by. You can see the High Line in the distance which was super helpful when deciding when to visit – Saturday afternoon was rammed, whereas we couldn’t see anyone on it Sunday morning.

I didn’t get any good photos of the room, but they look exactly as they do on the website – that same dark wood and blue colour scheme with really unusual decor on the armchairs. They could easily have gone too kitsch with the theming, but they pitched it just right.

We were on the 10th floor so weren’t bothered by any significant noise. Apparently, on the lower floors you can sometimes hear noise from the club below the hotel but all we heard was classic New York car horns.

Taken from the High Line – I asked Husband to run back to the room to wave at me. He said no.

It truly is in the best area of Manhattan. More blogs will follow which will cover the rest of our trip, but I loved every second of being in Chelsea. Restaurants, shops, nightlife – whatever you’re into, Chelsea has it with the benefit of being away from most of the tourists (Chelsea Market aside, which I still adore but was constantly busy). When I visited NY for the second time in 2015, spending time in Chelsea made me finally “get” the city. This was where I fell in love with it and is the reason why I keep going back. Just sorting through photos is giving me wanderlust again, and I’ve only been back home for three weeks.

Why can’t I live in New York?

Flying on New Year’s Eve

Back in November, I noticed that the prices in the Virgin Atlantic Black Friday sale were good.  Crazy good.  So good that I found myself unable to say no, so booked a little trip to New York for the bit between Christmas and New Year. We initially wanted to go from the 27th to 30th December, allowing us to be back home in plenty of time to go back to work, but we left booking just a smidge too long so the dates we wanted sold out.  Always a good lesson – if you see flights you like, snap them up.

We ended up with 28th to 31st December instead, which meant we’d be flying back home on New Year’s Eve.  It also meant that the return flight was with Delta – not ideal, but we were still able to use the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at JFK so it wasn’t all bad. Both planes were A330s.

We flew out on VS3, departing Heathrow at 8.50.  We don’t live that far from the airport but I still made Husband get up stupidly early so we could get to the Clubhouse as it opened.  I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to get myself a spa appointment this time (like last time where I was left sorely disappointed).  I manoeuvred a sleepy Husband through an empty Upper Class security lane (praise the lord!) and we made it to the lounge about 10 minutes after it opened.  It was so peaceful and empty – I could only see 8 passengers including us – so that spa appointment was mine.  Husband managed to get himself booked in for a haircut as well.  I paid for a manicure which actually wasn’t that great because the product they use is appalling but to their credit, they have now refunded me.  Still enjoyable even if it did start to chip the following day.    

We sauntered down to the gate at about 8am – gate 22 again, which is a pain in the neck to get to as it’s pretty much 15 miles away from everything.  I always seem to get gate 22.  Upper had just started boarding, so we walked straight onto the plane and got settled in.  We had the usual reverse herringbone seats with 1-1-1 configuration, and we had picked 3A and 4A so were facing the back of the middle row.  I’ve read a lot about how people hate the reverse herringbone, but I still enjoy the seat.  This one seemed fairly well maintained, with all the buttons still shiny and new.  I got a purple Herschel amenity kit this time which pleased me greatly (I love purple).

We were served lunch at about 10.30 which felt way too early to be eating a three course meal.  I had the soup which was delicious, followed by the chicken but I skipped dessert as I wanted to get some sleep.

The last time I few Upper Class and tried to sleep, I could not get comfortable. This time was much better and I slept for hours, only waking up when we hit a lot of turbulence and just in time for afternoon tea.

I was a little confused as I thought this was supposed to be the big fancy afternoon tea by Eric Lanlard, so was a little underwhelmed when this arrived on my tray.  This wasn’t quite what I was expecting, tasty though.  

We landed at JFK at little earlier than schedule, but were then stuck on the plane for 30 minutes as they couldn’t get the air bridge to work.  The ground crew moved it to the front, moved it to the middle, moved it back to the front repeatedly for about half an hour.  The captain asked all the passengers to sit back down as he had no idea how long it would take, and at one stage, they were talking about getting old fashioned steps up to the door.  They managed to get it working eventually, and once again having Global Entry got us through immigration quick as a flash.  

On the way back, we left Manhattan a little earlier than planned as it had just started raining so we thought we’d head to the Clubhouse rather than find something to do.  We checked in at the Delta One check in area with a classic grumpy Delta member of staff (all Delta staff seem grumpy), and she advised us where the Sky Club was.  Ha, as if we’d go there when the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse was available to us.

I love the JFK lounge.  It’s so quiet, the showers are amazing, and the staff are generally excellent.  The ability to have a shower and get changed into clean clothes is my favourite thing about using the lounges.  They still have Bumble and Bumble hair products in the showers even though they seem to have got rid of the hair salon from the spa. I had been looking forward to a hair treatment this time round, but had a wonderful 15 minute facial instead. I wish I’d paid for a longer one.

There was one bit of irritation – they’ve put in this god-awful “B8ta” pop-up, and the staff seemed more interested in chatting with the B8ta staff than checking on customers.  We weren’t as looked after as we were in London.

The Delta flight itself was pretty much the same as our Atlanta experience.  The seats were a little old but still comfortable, the staff were welcoming, and I got hammered on two cocktails (I really should know my limits).  It did get incredibly and uncomfortably hot in the middle of the trip, but other than that, fairly uneventful.  Well, after the fun of take-off

This was our New Year’s Eve flight and we were greeted by flight attendants wearing 2019 glasses.  I thought that might be the limit of their celebrations – we were leaving at 7pm EST so I couldn’t figure out when our midnight would be.  One of the staff explained that they shift to London time as soon as the flight starts, so we would be leaving New York directly at midnight GMT.  We started taxiing at about 6.55, and five minutes later, the flight attendants ran through the aisles with party blowers screaming “Happy New Year!” before running back to their seat for take-off.  It was actually wonderful – I had a tear in my eye.  That might have been down to the cocktails however.

We landed in Heathrow earlier than scheduled, managed to get through immigration really quickly, and our bags were the first off the plane so we decided to visit the Virgin Atlantic Revivals Lounge for the first time.  It’s a small lounge but there was plenty of free seats when we got there, with a spa and showers.  If I was going directly to work, this would have been a godsend.  As it was, we were only half an hour from home so we just had a bit of breakfast which was served in no time at all – we only spent about 45 minutes in the lounge in total but it was just what I needed as I hadn’t had any breakfast on the plane.  The spa was tempting, but my bed was calling.

Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

The last stop on our mini-Texas tour was Dallas-Fort Worth, which is technically two cities (or one “metroplex“).  We were visiting friends who live about halfway between the two cities, and they’d very kindly offered to show us some of the highlights.  We only had a day in the area so we definitely only scratched the surface of both locations.

First up, we drove into Fort Worth for some brunch.  I’d seen some good reviews for Yolk in Sundance Square, and whilst it was good, I don’t think it was worth the hour way.  We did get to explore Sundance Square whilst we waited which was very relaxed and peaceful on that Sunday morning.  It was also freakishly cold (again!) so we were pleased to finally get into the warmth of the restaurant.

I loved the neon signs around the area, and there were some very pretty old buildings.

Continuing the old theme, we then drove to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.  I have such little knowledge of American history that I don’t think I understood the significance of the Stockyards, but there once was a lot of cows here (that might be understating some facts).  There still are some cows here who get herded down the street twice a day (we weren’t in time for that), but there’s also cowboys, shops, bars, and a rodeo in the district.  It was fun to wander around and see the wild west – a little cheesy, but fun!

We jumped back in the car and drove the 45 minutes over to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.  When we were asked what we wanted to see, we hadn’t wanted to spend a significant amount of time in Dallas city centre – we figured that it was similar enough to other big American cities that we’d been to, and as we had such a short amount of time, we wanted to do something different.  The Arboretum looked beautiful, and we were lucky enough to visit when they had both their Fall and Christmas displays out.

It was a grey day, but that didn’t stop us spending an hour and a half here, enjoying their wonderful displays.  I can imagine it’d be stunning in the spring.

We then drove around Dallas for a bit, seeing the big skyscrapers and going passed the infamous grassy knoll.  For dinner, we’d asked for something authentically Texan so were taken to the Truck Yard.  This place was amazing – they have different food trucks every day and if I lived in the area, I’d be here all the time.  Husband had some kind of huge chicken sandwich, I had a hot dog, and we sat people-watching as the sun went down.

I really wish I’d taken a photo of the front entrance as it was covered in lights.

On the way home, we stopped at a Dairy Queen (or DQ as it’s called now) for some ice cream – I have always wanted to try DQ ice cream – it’s one of those places that I saw referenced in TV shows as a teen – and it feels quintessentially American to pick up dessert on the way home.

We were so grateful to our wonderful hosts for showing us so much of their cities.  We only experienced a small slice of this huge state, but loved everything.  Maybe next time we go, it’ll actually be warm (yes, I’m still grumbling about this, two months later.  I’m not over it).

Magnolia Market at the Silos, Waco, TX

As much as I would have loved to spend more time in Austin, we had places to go and people to see, so we checked out of the glorious Archer hotel, jumped into our rental car and found our way to the interstate. We were headed north to a little town just outside of Fort Worth which was about three hours away and fortunately, we were to have an uneventful journey. Built-up Austin gave way to huge endless roads and we were able to take it easy and enjoy the scenery.

In my humble opinion, an essential part of any road trip is stopping along the way, so I planned one “quick” stop pretty much halfway – Waco, Texas. Admittedly, the only thing I knew about Waco was its infamy, but when Googling for places to eat, one place was recommended over and over again, so we had to visit to find out exactly what it was.

Waco itself appeared to be a quiet town – as we drove in, we couldn’t really see much going on, and there really weren’t that many people on the roads. We found some street parking next to an (abandoned?) railway line and walked towards two huge grain silos. Husband was incredibly confused – I had promised him grilled cheese for lunch, and now I was taking him to some rusty old silos?

The Magnolia Market at the Silos is quite an abstract concept for people who aren’t familiar with the programme Fixer Upper ie both me and Husband. I had never heard of it before, so honestly much of the visit to the silos was lost on me but for fans of this show, this is like Disneyland. There’s a shop where you can buy merch, food trucks, a lawn area to sit and play on, some more food trucks, a garden store, bakery, and yet more food trucks.

The food trucks were what we were here for and I naively thought we’d just grab a couple of grilled cheeses, take a few minutes to eat them, then be back on the road in next to no time. You know how I said that Waco appeared to be a quiet town? That’s because EVERYONE IN WACO WAS AT THE SILOS. It was crazy, and despite there being about a dozen trucks, the queue for each one was about 20 minutes long.

The Cheddar Box was our chosen truck. Husband changed his mind in the queue and went for one of the Mac Daddies pots – a cup filled with gouda mac and cheese and bacon whereas I stuck with my original plan of a bacon and gouda grilled cheese. And they were definitely worth the wait. After a quick wander around the perimeter, and about 15 minutes of standing about, we had our hot lunch in our greedy little hands.

It still wasn’t particularly nice weather so I was so surprised that the place was as busy as it was. There were so many people on the lawn, and there was no way we were getting into either the store or the bakery as they were rammed. Good for Chip and Joanna Gaines though – they’ve taken two old silos and made them into the place to be in central Texas. People come from miles around to visit this area that used to be… well, nothing!

Unbelievably, we ended up spending an hour and a half in Waco (which really threw off our schedule) without seeing very much of the actual city but I would have regretted not experiencing the incredible grilled cheese so I’m pleased we did stop. I had given serious consideration to visiting the Dr Pepper Museum and really wanted to walk around the centre of the town as well, but we just ran out of time. I’d scoffed at the Waco travel guides that recommend more than a day in the city, but you really do need more time to explore. Especially if you’re going to spend a day solely going to each of the delicious food trucks of the Magnolia Market – what a life goal.

Dr Pepper Museum in Waco