It's A Hell Of A Town

This blog post originally appeared on www.hannahcastleman.co.uk

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After a manic December of gigs, I needed a break - I started my year off with a weekend away in New York. My brother surprised me with the trip for my birthday last May, which was amazing for so many reasons, but mostly because it meant i got to hang out with him for four days straight. We did nothing but eat, walk and talk. Here are some highlights of our adventures across the pond.



Food

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Momofuku Noodle Bar

Momofuku served us one of the best meal’s I have ever had, full stop. This was a dish of roasted carrots with scallions and pumpkin seeds; the flavours were unbelievable. I wish we had time to go back and order everything else we didn’t get a chance to try.


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Arturo’s Pizza & Jazz

We wanted to listen to some live jazz while we were in New York, which is why Joe suggested heading to Arturo’s. There was a pianist playing some classic tunes, but the music wasn’t as much as a feature as we thought it would be. However, the pizza was magnificent. This pizza of dreams was half cheese with olives & garlic (Joe’s), and half no cheese with anchovies, peppers & onions (mine). We were going to order one each but the waiter kindly stepped in and told us that would be ridiculous. He was right; this was the biggest pizza I’ve ever seen.

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My food highlight of the trip was Johny’s Luncheonette, a classic diner with counter service. Joe went for pancakes, and I ordered eggs with turkey bacon and home fries. We sat at the counter and drank a lot of coffee. The food was amazing, but it was the all round experience that made this my highlight.

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Bagels, bagels, bagels.

We stopped by Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Co and Joe’s favourite Ess-a-bagel. I ate four wholewheat everything bagels in three days, which may seem excessive, but I could have eaten more.

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One of the highlights of the trip was Milk Bar - I’ve wanted to visit for ages. I have bored everyone I know with telling them about the diet I’m on to help heal my chronic immune problems; the diet is strictly no sugar but you better believe I broke it to eat a lot of the Birthday Cake. (We also sampled the Crack Pie, Cereal Latte, Confetti Cookie and the B’Day Truffles - don’t judge us.


Sights

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The Staten Island Ferry

On Joe’s to do list was the Staten Island Ferry - it’s free and a great way of getting a bit closer to the Statue of Liberty.

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The Subway

I took the subway for the first time…baby steps.

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We went to The Whitney Museum of American Art to see the Andy Warhol exhibition. It was absolutely amazing, I can’t recommend it enough.


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The High Line

It was -6 degrees, so prettttty cold, but what a way to see the city.

Shopping

I did a small bit of shopping in New York; I’m trying not to buy new clothes as I’m committed to the sustainable & recycled fashion route that I started last year. However, I do believe in buying good quality basics that will last, so a trip to Uniqlo was a must. A trip to New York is also not complete without stopping by The Strand Book Store - I spent about an hour looking at books and managed to restrain myself and only get one. Apart from that, plus a quick stint in Sephora & Uniqlo, Joe and I focused on walking and food, which was exactly what New York is about for us.

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My outfit from Uniqlo, plus boots from Jones that I snagged off eBay a few months ago. This wall was in the Chelsea Cambria Hotel where we were staying.

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Glossier

I wax lyrical about Glossier on a daily basis, and their flagship store was well worth the 50 minute walk from the hotel.

Venice and The VSOE

It’s been just over a week since we boarded our flight to Venice and began a trip of a lifetime.

After we landed in Venice, having raided the duty free make up counters and fallen asleep on our fellow passengers (That was me. I did that.), the lovely Frederico picked us up and took us to our hotel, which was stunning. We decided to take advantage of the time we had in Venice and walked for miles around the city, before deciding to stop for a drink in one of the beautiful sun-filled squares.

A couple of Aperol Spritz’s later, and we’re off to explore some more. Louisa and Steve got very involved in the Venetian Masks on offer on every street, while Anna took some serious photographs - she’s always updating our instagram with her beautiful shots so check it out here, or have a look at her website here.

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We got a relatively early night and woke up in time for a hearty hotel buffet breakfast before spending some serious time getting appropriately glammed up for the adventure ahead of us.

I think it’s fair to say we didn’t really believe that we would be travelling on the VSOE until we got to the platform to check in. It was an incredibly surreal experience; the train is magnificent and you can feel the history surrounding it. We were shown to our two cabins with an adjoining door (slumber party!), with a glass of something sparkly waiting for us. We met Rory, our lovely steward who took amazing care of us, and took a moment to appreciate how lucky we were to be experiencing the VSOE in person.

A warm welcome!

A warm welcome!

Rory, our cabin steward

Rory, our cabin steward

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We performed four sets for the wonderful guests on the train. For two of those sets we played saxophone, and let me tell you, playing a saxophone in an evening dress and high heels in a confined space on a moving train is a WORK OUT. Steve showed the piano a rip-roaring time and it was an honour performing our own songs as well as some classics on board the historical carriage.

We ate a ridiculous number of delicious meals on board; Lunch, Afternoon Tea in our cabin, Dinner, Breakfast in our cabin and then Brunch. Eating amazing food while watching the beautiful views pass by our window was unbelievable! Our dinner on Wednesday night was eaten while going through Austria, Lichtenstein and Switzerland. How often can you say that?! The bar manager, Ignazio, was a true gentleman and made us The Guilty 12, a signature cocktail of the VSOE. He couldn’t tell us what was in it (trade secrets), but trust me, it was great.

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For someone who falls asleep on moving trains as often as I do, falling asleep on the VSOE in our cosy bunks was one of the best feelings in the world. Waking up to a delicious breakfast served in our cabin and enjoying the rest of the journey was magical.

Sitting on the floor of our South West Train from Victoria back to Winchester just reminded us even more how lucky we are! We certainly don't take this job for granted. The whole experience felt like a dream, and we hope that we can return one day soon to perform for the VSOE and all it’s wonderful guests!