Bowery Mural

New York - first taste, Refinery Hotel

Monday, 31 March 2014

at Edinburgh airport
As January turned to February and February to March my excitement levels rose to about 10 on the Angela scale of hysteria!

I bought a new case, I rewrote my lists, I searched Google maps for places close to my hotel and yes, i checked Trip Advisor every other day for new reviews or traveller photos of the hotel.

The day finally arrived and I woke before the sun and set off for the airport for the first part of my journey. Edinburgh to London Heathrow. I was on the busy plane quickly enough and eating a cooked breakfast before most people are on their commute. After just over an hour we landed in Heathrow. I followed the purple signs for my connection. Terminal 5B. Gah! I had to get the little transfer train and my flight was boarding in less than an hour so this meant no browsing at duty free. Boo. But by all accounts, unless you're buying something that is expensive in the first place, you aren't really going to be saving that much money anyway. I went to the toilet then stocked up on juice and two bottles of water for the flight. Always keep hydrated!

Boarding the flight and my heart skipped a beat as I thought "wow my seat is spacious". Nope. I was walking through the business class section. However, I had upgraded to World Traveller Plus so my section was next. I was in an aisle seat on the middle rows of four seats. I like an aisle seat. The plane was packed and once they'd done the counting of heads and safety checks we set off soon enough. About an hour into the flight they brought the meal. A lovely piece of beef, some mash and roast vegetables and a chocolate mousse for dessert. This travelling malarkey wasn't too bad after all! There was plenty of drinks and tea too. Yum. I watched Sunshine on Leith and then a little bit of Filth and before I knew it we were getting a chicken salad sandwich and kit kat for afternoon tea. An hour after that we landed. It was 1.35pm. Phew. It looked lovely outside.

Because we were near the front we got off the flight pretty quickly and made our way to security. I wasn't too long in the security line and lovely guy Sanchez stamped my passport and wished me a belated happy birthday and a great trip. I think I waited longer for my cases than I did for security and started to have a mini panic that they'd been lost. Not to worry as I'd packed an extra t-shirt and jumper and some underwear in my hand luggage. Savvy, me. Soon enough though my yellow case was on the belt and i pulled it off and headed outside into the warm New York sunshine. Breathe it in, breathe it all in...

I debated about getting a ticket for the bus or a taxi, or would I use the Uber service I'd signed up to a few weeks ago. What the heck, Uber it was. This was my fantastical treat to myself after all. What a great service. I arranged my pick up via the app and a minute later I got a text to say my driver was on the way. He texted me himself to ask which terminal, I replied and within 5 minutes a big black SUV was waiting for me across the road. The driver was Walter and he was very lovely. He offered me water and a cable to charge my phone. I was sitting in the back like some sort of minor celebrity, so I thought ;)

He chatted away and told me about where we were travelling through, Queens. He told me where he'd travelled too (he hadn't been to Scotland). We passed two huge cemeteries and pretty soon i caught my first glimpse of the midtown Manhattan skyline. WOW. There's nothing quite like it I've seen yet. I was excited. Five minutes later we were under the east river going through the tunnel. And five minutes after that we emerged into the bustling New York streets, all grid like in their nature. We went up a slight hill. Yes, a hill in New York. I'd never have thought it. Out of the tunnel is pretty much two blocks from the street my hotel was on and i recognised some buildings from Google street view. Yes, I did *that* before setting off, haha.

On arriving at the hotel it was pretty much what i expected. Grand lobby. Gorgeous smelling with their burning of Le Labo candles and really helpful and courteous staff (who were quite young and hip looking). Tip dilemma. When are you supposed to tip the doorman? I had not a clue. How much? Is it a slight of hand thing or openly accepted? argh these were all racing through my mind.
the lobby of Refinery hotel

this theme ran throughout the hotel, keep smiling 
My check in was quick and easy and the young lady was very helpful and friendly. Pretty beautiful too. There's lots of beautiful people in New York! I entered the lift and hit floor 9.
my room
in the lobby outside my room, gorgeous decor
My room looked like it was on the corner of the building. When I opened the door it was exactly like the pictures I'd seen on Remarkable. (For more professional pictures hit that link back there to, my camera and iPhone really can't do it justice).

What I noticed first was the size. Pretty huge for a NY room by all accounts and with tall 12 foot ceilings. The flooring was dark hardwood flooring. Phew, no dank carpet!

To my left through a dark wood and opaque glass sliding door was the amazing fully tiled bathroom with large walk in shower. All brass fittings and black granite wash sink top. Le Labo toiletries were an added bonus, they smelled amazing. There was a window too. If I could design a toilet for my own house, this would be it.
the huge bathroom and walk-in shower

lovely tiling on the bathroom floor

selfie! gorgeous dark hardwood flooring

the legs of the desk, like on old Singer sewing machine
To my right was a desk. The legs were akin to an old singer sewing machine legs (the clothing theme continued throughout the hotel). On the desk was the drinks from the mini bar. Gin, wine, water, whisky, a couple of crystal glasses, an ice bucket and an old fashioned bottle opener in a box.

Then there was the bed! A queen size bed. Now, is that bigger than a UK double bed (?) because when I sank into it, it looked and felt like you could get 3 of me on there comfortably. The linens were white with a grey hessian style blanket as well as a duvet. The pillows were firm enough to hold your head but not brick hard. Next to the bed on the wall was a huge piece of blue artwork with a brass light fitting above. Very stylish. On the wall was a 42" LCD TV with every station you could want.

I had two large windows that had a view of the next streets skyscrapers. I could just about see the needle fro the top of the Metlife building. There was a closet with a safe and ironing board as well as hangers. I could fit my case and hand luggage bag in but i reckon you could easily fit two large cases and a couple of bags in there. In the mini fridge next to the bed was soft drinks and more water, as well as chocolate and wait for this... shortbread, haha. On first impressions I loved this room. I was delighted with my hotel choice.
my view, typical new york

and the bathroom view too
After taking some things out of my case and getting my money sorted it was time for me to head out into the streets of New York... I just knew I was going to enjoy my stay here.

Angela x

Concrete jungle where dreams are made

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Yep. That's right. After many years of talking about going to New York I finally made it there last weekend. AND, IT, WAS, AMAZING! *angels sing from the heavens above*.

Sometime in January my luck turned for the better. Well, I say luck, but you make your own luck in this world I find. But it happened. Before I knew it I was on the BA sale website pricing a return ticket. In two days it was booked. Wowsers! How very spontaneous of me.

Next up was the search for a hotel. Now, although I'm not well travelled I do know what I like, and what i don't like. Large chains aren't my thing. Keep your Best Western's or such like. I wanted small (is anything really that small in New York?), I wanted classy, I wanted somewhere i'd feel right at home in on my very first visit to New York city. Because I, dear friends, like home comforts.

Now my hotel research was already a third of the way there considering I always have or Expedia opened on my browser, just in case a good deal happens to come along, you know. So i'd been planning an imaginary trip to New York for a few years. But now it was finally happening. I'd had a few hotels on my short list so i Googled each one and noted reviews (good and bad) for each one, then i created a spreadsheet of prices and compared them. My research.

I narrowed it down to about 5. Dream Downtown, Ace Hotel, The Nolitan, The Nomad Hotel and Refinery Hotel. The Standard (east village and high line) and the Mondrian were a bit too out of my price range. Actually not by much but they didn't feel right for a solo trip. All very similar in price for a room. Ace was slightly cheaper but from pictures and reviews the rooms looked smaller. Dream Dowtown was a little more expensive for a standard room, and whilst it was in the Chelsea/West Village area it was pretty far from the main attractions on my list. I knocked these both into joint third place. The Nomad was going to be my first choice, i could even afford the king atelier room as seemed to have them on offer. But something drew me to Refinery. It was further uptown, on West 38th Street, two blocks from Bryant Park. There was free wifi. But the piece de resistance was the absolutely wonderful pictures I found on a website called

STOP. Word: I only just found during my research for this trip but I would recommend it if you're looking for real life hotel pictures. Taken from all angles of the rooms you really get a sense of what it'll actually be like. (I hoped!). A bugbear is when hotel website don't give you detailed room pictures, grrr. Anyway, it impressed me. Then I read reviews on Trip Advisor. They all pretty much seemed favourable barring a few grumps but you get that on every one. It's currently sitting at a top 10 position in the best of New York hotels lists.

From the information given it is a fairly new hotel that used to be a hat factory in the garment district area of Midtown in New York. The rooms are tastefully decorated in the 1930's style but with a modern twist. Free wifi throughout. A restaurant attached. And by all accounts an up and coming NY night time hotspot in a rooftop bar with Empire State building views! Phew. I mean i don't drink so the rooftop bar is lost on me but a view, well i'll take a good view over a drink any day.

I uhmed and ahhed for a few days and made my decision. Refinery Hotel it was. I booked it on (book now pay later charge and free cancellation). I got confirmation right away on my phone and a booking receipt in my passbook app. Cool! I then added the booking to my iCalendar. Was this to be the tone set for my trip?...

A few weeks passed and it was time for me to get excited for my trip. I began writing a shopping list in the Notes on my iPhone. I checked and double checked my flight booking. Every two days I would go on to Trip Advisor to read the latest reviews about the hotel - mostly 5 star by the way! Then I got my own personal itinerary together, an itinerary that I planned and that i could unplan if I wanted to because this trip was a solo trip and it was all mine.

When I told people I was going there was gasps of excitement then the question... "Who are you going with?". "On my own" I smiled. Then it came. The look. The look that only a single person gets when they don't conform to the "normal' way of things. I get it all of the time. I call it the pity look. It looks like they're pitying me but actually I pity them because they'd never have the guts to do such a thing as go to the cinema alone, let alone go to New York city by themselves. There, I said it.

Then comes the statement that I get a lot too. I get it when i tell people I don't drink alcohol, I get it when I say I go exploring on my own and yes i got it when I told people I was going to New York alone. "You're very brave". Jeezo. Brave?! what does that even mean in this context? Brave...

I'll tell you next time how brave I was on the trip...

Angela x

Glasgow Photowalk

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

A few Sundays ago I headed to Glasgow not for my usual Sunday cinema trip but for a photowalk and workshop with a bunch of strangers. Standard. This was arranged by Ashley over at Girl With A Camera and since I couldn't go to the first one, I sure didn't want to miss this second one. Armed with nothing more than my iPhone 4S I made my way there.

I was late. Only by a few minutes and only because the queue for the car park was looooong, then i had to catch the underground. But I did make it and they hadn't started yet. Phew. When I arrived there was a room of people sitting in dim light on various shapes of seating, kinda like a house party! I took a seat and waited a few minutes. Then it began...

Ashley welcomed everyone and introduced today's guest, Dan Rubin. Someone I actually have followed in Instagram for a while. Great photos there. He gave a little talk about what we'd be doing, then about some of his favourite photographers, then techy stuff about cameras. Myself and one other person were the only ones using smart phones - iPhones to be exact. Yikes. Everyone else seemed to have huge all singing all dancing camera equipment with them. It was all very interesting though since I am in the middle of deciding which camera to buy and what use i would get out of it. (As is the norm for me, I'll have to go through my 6 month uhming and ahing research and gestation period before i nail the final one down. By which time a new model will be in the pipeline!). Anyway, I felt a little bad for just having my iPhone but then Dan said it doesn't matter what equipment you have, it's what you see that's the main thing - or something along those lines. He put a list of apps that were useful for phones and luckily I had almost all of them on my phone already.

After about an hour of slides and tech talk and pointers about what to talk pictures of we set out on our walk. It wasn't raining but it was dull and grey. No harsh sunlight though which was apparently good. We wandered out into the lane and everyone set about taking their pictures. It was good to see how other people worked and what they wanted to take pictures of. Some were portraits, others were buildings. Me? Well I like looking up. Buildings, skies, clouds, architecture. Portraits are quite hard on an iPhone unless you are able to use your elbows to get to the front. My elbows seemed to be out of action that day...

However, in the lane next to the workshop venue there was an old bike, a worn old crumbling painted door and a great wall. I took one of my best pictures there. What do you think?

I shot this on the VSCOcam app, then edited it later on at the workshop after a few hints and tips from Dan. It's my best picture form the day, or one of them at least. When I uploaded it to the Glasgow Photowalk Flickr group then opened it on my laptop, I loved t even more. The quality is pretty decent for a 3 year old iPhone 4S camera.

We walked around Ashton Lane, the headed to the University of Glasgow and back around in a loop to the workshop venue. I was glad as it was getting pretty cold and my hands were numb from taking pics on my phone. My battery was almost at zero too! Damn you iPhone and your rubbish battery.

Back at the venue we got sandwiches and tea and then were told to each pick about 3 photos to edit. I had a hard job deciding. In the end I opted for the bike shot above and the two below.

Not a bad days work and a great way to spend an early spring Sunday.

Hopefully I can make it along to the next one. And you can too! check out the website.

Angela x