Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d ever remember Vegas with affection. In my conservative, nerdy mind, I didn’t belong there. I’d seen movies and TV shows depicting drunken nights, accidental marriages and the kind of drama I reserved for people on reality TV shows. What would a goody-two-shoes – affectionately nicknamed a Cadbury by her husband for her glass-and-a-half drink maximum and early bed time – do in Sin City?
But, at my husband’s insistence, and begrudgingly I might add, I packed my bags post-wedding and agreed to four days and nights in the city that spawned many a song, dance and hollywood flick, and I survive to tell my tale.
Turns out, there’s so much more to Vegas than I thought, and by more, I mean excess. Excess sparkle, excess fun, excess servings of food, excess shopping. And I lapped the lot of it up. From cheese, bacon and sour cream fries at Great Steak and champagne in front of the Bellagio fountains, to miles and miles of M&Ms at the giant M&Ms store and child-like intrigue at the Rainforest Cafe, it was all there. Not to mention a European-style pastry shop established by World Pastry Champion Jean Phillipe Maury, home to a Guiness World Record breaking chocolate fountain that pours around 2 tonnes of melted white, milk and dark chocolate through glass shells displayed in what can only be described as a work of art.
Everything is on show in Vegas, and it’s easy to be mesmerised.
- Yellowtail: One of the best Japanese places I have ever dined at, Yellowtail at the Bellagio ticks all the boxes: well-priced gourmet Japanese fusion, a fantastic bar and cocktail list, delicious food that’s immaculately presented, reasonably creative and in sizeable servings. Not to mention the impeccable service – and the views of the famed Bellagio fountains. Everything served up was delicious, but it was the tuna pizza with truffle oil that was the biggest taste sensation.
- PBR Rockbar & Grill: Don’t let this sports bar fool you: on appearance, the bull, giant TVs and playmates signing autographs might be more suitable to boy’s night, but if you’re after typical American
comfort heavy food in enormous portions, this is the place to be. From Doritos-crusted Mac and Cheese, to potato skins and mini corn-dogs, its food might as well be served with a southern-drawl, but you can get everything from pizzas to burgers here too. Try one of their large signature cocktails while you’re at it, and I beg of you: go for the Trail Boss Salad – it has everything you could possibly imagine in it: lettuce, cheddar cheese, boiled egg, guacamole, blue cheese, chicken and pork topped off with ranch dressing. It sounds awful, but it was just the ticket to soak up some giant daiquiris and made my all-American experience what it was.
- Show time fun: Break up your nights by checking out some of the amazing shows – there are a few going on at any given time, including the famed Cirque Du Soleil presentations.
- Las Vegas Premium Outlets: The best outlets I have ever been to, thanks to the monumental number of stores ranging from the chain to the luxurious. Where else can you nab a Burberry Trench at half price, and a pair of D&G shoes for $290 on sale from $990? Check out their store directory and save on clothing, accessories, luggage, homewares, technology and more.
- Cool Casinos: Sure, that’s the purpose they might serve, but the casinos offer so much more than gambling. In a single day you can take a visit to Old Roma at Caesar’s Place and dance at Cleopatra’s bard, shop and take in the amazing displays at the Bellagio, take a Gondola Ride at the Venetian or visit Paris on the strip. You can even head back in time and check out the Studio 54 club at MGM Grand or wreak havoc at Trump Towers. But if you do like a bit of a gamble, the Wheel of Fortune pokie was a personal favourite. There’s a Sex and the City one too, perfect for a night out with the girls, and if like me you had a man on your arm, then all the free booze served up by the waitresses to gambling patrons was just the ticket.
New York. Infamous, glorified, desired. The subject of movies, dreams, and music from Sinatra to Jay Z. After spending just over a week in the Big Apple not too long ago, I am not the most qualified person to be writing a travel post. After all, you could live in New York City for five years and still discover well-hidden gems. It’s the city of constant change, and constant discovery. I guess it’s lucky then that I’m not writing for Travel + Leisure but instead chasing the things that make my life bigger, tastier, prettier…the same things that inspire words, or the mojo to write them. And in New York, mojo is on every corner. It’s the thrill of sights like the Chrysler Building and the Statue of Liberty, and yellow cabs and hot dog stands. It’s the joy of $1 pizza slices that taste amazing, cocktails that make you high on life, brunches in sweet neighbourhoods and dinners in fancy restaurants. It’s noise and colour and people and fun and history, all rolled into one. It’s hard choosing five highlights from a city that is a highlight in and of itself, but I’ve rounded up my faves. Just know that there are zillions more where those five came from, because for food, shopping, sights and experiences, it’s the ultimate wishlist destination – and one that will always have you yearning for more.
NYC: MY FIVE FAST FAVES
- Shopping: With more stores than can I could ever fathom, I found NYC to be a shopper’s paradise. Lord & Taylor, Saks, Macy’s, Bendel’s, Bloomingdale’s, Barney’s and Bergdorf’s – all brimming with promotions and delights to draw you in. Make like a local fashionista and shop down in Greenwich Village and Soho, where you’ll find designer stores and cute boutiques alongside fashion-only outposts for department stores like Bloomingdale’s (because who wants to trawl through kitchenware when you can get straight to Marc Jacobs on sale?). That said, the Upper East is worth a visit nonetheless, as is the monumental Forever 21 Store on Broadway).
- Ellis Island Migration Museum: Just imagine all the stories of all the people that had walked Ellis Island. This place is a writer’s paradise. I spent an entire day there absorbing history and tales and adventures and it will forever be a highlight among my travels.
- Florio’s – [This place is closed for the time being, but I couldn’t bear to cross it out] This restaurant is NYC’s Little Italy in the most authentic way you can experience it. Even the guy who greets you at the door looks like a gangsta in his leather blazer and awesome Italian-American accent. Plus, it’s great to visit after a long day around Soho and the Village, and you can always go for dessert at the Magnolia Bakery. When we went there, it was packed with a bunch of cops and firemen (two separate tables), who were quick to point out the A-List celebs who love it, and the fact that it’s very rare to find tourists among the patrons. Apparently it is very ‘New Yorker’. As you can imagine, I felt very smug.
- French Bistros: Just as good as the ones in France, I tell you. Personal faves were Marseille, which was not far from Broadway and perfect before or after a show. It was a lovely intimate venue with delicious pasta and cocktails. But nothing trumps Balthazar, which is still one of the most popular venues in the Big Apple (read: make reservations). AMAZING food and a prestigious (read: snobby French) ambience. On a tight schedule? Make for the bakery next door and load up on tonnes of French treats and pastries. The Madeleines were moreish.
- The quintessential spots: Central Park, Greenwich Village, the Flat Iron building, Katz’s Deli, Times Square, the beautiful public library (even dreamier than it was in the Sex and the City movie)…ok, I could go on and on and on. But I won’t. See them all on the energy from your NYC food staples: bagels with lox and schmears, egg creams in diners, cookies from Eleni’s and other delights bought at Dean & Deluca, Hot Dogs from side carts, roasted chestnuts, Magnolia Bakery cupcakes loaded with icing etc etc. And if you can’t afford to stay at the Plaza, dine there: the hotel’s food hall is expansive and boasts cute little bars serving up small dishes from a variety of cuisines.