Sunset Boat Trip

One of the best ways to get a sense of a place is to have a view of the shoreline. That way, you get to see the whole of the city, wrapped up, postcard perfect, containing everyone as they go about their lives. Split was no different and sailing away from the shore slowly removed the bustle of the city. The sounds faded. Our boat was quiet, and the sound of the sea soon took over.

The outline of towers and buildings set against the silhouette of the mountains in the distance was captivating. We had been promised incredible sunsets and Croatia delivered. I’m a bit of a sunset/ sunrise collector (see here for more pictures from our travels) and this was definitely one of the more memorable.

The further out to sea we traveled, the more the light faded, creating beautiful patterns on the waves. Lights glimmered from the houses on the shore and beach stragglers waved to the boat as we passed.

As the temperature dropped and we sat in near total darkness, the trip back to the city brought burning lights – creating a snapshot of a city brought to life.

Top of the Rock Vs Empire State Building?

Visit New York and one of the questions you get asked is always “did you visit Empire or Top of the Rock?”.

Of course we are talking about the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Building. It seems like people are always talking up the virtues of one over another:

“Top of the Rock gives you a view of Empire all lit up at night”

“You get to do the famous ‘beam walk’ at the Rockefeller” 

“Empire State Building is the most iconic”

You get the point. I have a completely different take on this conversation – why would you want to choose between the two? Yes – both are tall buildings with amazing views; but for me, that’s where the comparisons stop.

The purpose behind the buildings are very different and although they are both Art Deco in style, it comes through in the design in varying ways. Empire has the decadent style that I (and other gamers) have come to associate with the Bioshock games; beautifully ornate but slightly creepy. Rockefeller seems to be less overstated and quietly absorbs the Art Deco touches into a more sleek exterior.

The atmosphere of Empire is one of historic importance, with ushers in costume and rope style queuing systems to fit with the carved ceilings. There was a sense of expectation and entitlement within the building, feeding into the style of the day. Rockefeller however, was different. Giving nods to the history and the working class people involved in the development of the building, it had a much more ‘down to earth’ feel and there was more of a fun element to the visit. In particular, the Skyride (otherwise known as an elevator which looks like it will catapult you through the ceiling, Charley and the Chocolate Factory style) and the Breezeway – where you have your own colourful squares following you across the room as you stand just inside of the observation deck, were lots of fun!

Views of Central Park are incredible from the Top of the Rock in the day time (you won’t see anything of Central Park at night – although the huge expanse of darkness where you know the park sits is also pretty cool, but not particularly photogenic!). Night time from the Top of the Rock will also give you amazing views of Empire, lit up in its full glory.

Empire is something else. All that nostalgia, Hollywood movie screen time and old elegance combine to create an experience that is hard to forget. The views across lower Manhattan are stunning and it’s here that you can put your panoramic photography skills to good use. I challenge you to take a bad photo from the top of Empire – it just can’t be done!

So, if you plan a visit to New York and someone asks you which building you are heading up, or which was better, please give them a sharp tap on the nose from me – there is no comparison; do yourself a favour, visit both and collect experiences that will never leave you.

From the Banks of the Danube River

An alternative view of Budapest

Whilst in Budapest, one of the main things that we wanted to do was to spend some time on the Danube. As Europe’s second longest river, we wanted to take some time to explore properly.

The River Danube

We had travelled to Budapest with a group of us, but had split up for the night to allow some time for the other two people in our travelling party to have a romantic meal out. Therefore, we found ourselves hopping on board a night boat to take a stunning trip down the Danube before meeting back up with our group for a trip to the ruin pubs.

Shoes on the river Danube

The day before we had strolled down the riverbank in the Pest side of the City to take a look at the ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’ memorial. Sixty pairs of shoes, made from iron are lined up on the river side to commemorate the massive loss of life of 3,500 people (mostly Jewish people) who were shot in 1945. After being told to remove their shoes and being shot, their bodies fell into the river, being swept away by the current. It’s a terrible reminder of the worst of humanity and seeing sixty pairs of shoes lined up along the river gives a sense of the scale of the atrocity.

Sculpture memorial for thee lives lost in 1945

The nighttime boat ride was a very different view as we passed the Hungarian Parliament buildings. Brightly shining against the dark night, it was an imposing building, full of grandeur and twinkling lights.

Hungarian Parliament buildings

Chain bridge was magnificent to see in the dark and the sounds of the water rushing past us added to the experience. Illuminated gargoyles standing out in the darkness created a gothic edge to the views.

Gargoyles rising out of the darkness

It was a beautiful way to see a different view of the city and travelling by river always feels much more exciting and exotic than by road.

Have you visited Budapest? What were your favourite experiences?

Mirage, Planet Hollywood and Cosmopolitan: A Vegas Hotel Review

In a change to your regular reading, Wandering Beeb is writing today’s blog instead of Zombie Girl; taking a look at the hotels we stayed at in Vegas. I’m usually the guy behind the camera, so it might be a bumpy ride with me behind the keyboard!

The first time we travelled to Vegas (back in 2010), it was for the last part of a long road trip and we decided to treat ourselves, given that we’d been camping for a fair amount of time (the lack of showers also meant it was better for everyone if we could actually clean up).

During the planning phase of our trip, one of the group who’d already been to Vegas suggested we’d be fine booking a hotel when we get there, rather than planning ahead and he wasn’t wrong – there was lots of choice and at fairly affordable prices. After looking around, we chose Planet Hollywood as our home for the week. At the time it was one of the newer hotels on the Strip (in fact they were still building one of the towers). This meant that the hotel rating wasn’t as high as the more established ones and therefore, nor was the price. We had to wait a little while for a non smoking room to be available, which gave us a bit of time to sample some of the hotel and explore our surroundings.

Planet Hollywood and the Miracle Mile

As we wandered through the casino, we noticed a lot of dancers on tables, so not necessarily the most appropriate hotel for a family. For our party though, this was perfectly fine(!). Being a fairly new hotel, it was very modern and clean. Compared to some of the hotels we’d been to in Vegas, there wasn’t an over bearing smell of cleaning fluid in the carpets making it difficult to breathe (I’m looking at you Treasure Island).

It was an odd feeling to be surrounded by the casino’s artificial light and the smell of tobacco indoors, as we come from the UK where you’re not allowed to smoke in public buildings.

Planet Hollywood also hosts the Miracle Mile; a whole promenade of shops for, you guessed it, a whole mile. Plenty to choose from to cater for most tastes and some really good gear at quite cheap prices – remember to leave space in your suitcase! The pool area, although small, was really relaxed and fun. Music playing and sun shining, it was a really relaxing place to chill out and take in the sun.

The pool area at Planet Hollywood. It had a really relaxed feel, with music and a snack bar. 

When we finally reached our room, it was plenty big enough for four of us to share two double beds, with lots of space to store our gear (including sleeping bags and tent). Throughout the room, there was a celebrity theme, in keeping with the name. Somewhat randomly, one object in particular sticks in my memory: the glass coffee table with Sammy Davies Jnr’s shoes inside. Makes you wonder what other star-studded items were in the other rooms. The pièce de résistance of the room was the view from the window of the Bellagio Fountains across the road. We definitely spent some time watching the water fly from that window. My lasting view of the Planet Hollywood Hotel (at least on that first occasion) was that for the price, we got a good deal. The room was clean, spacious and we had a cracking view to boot.

The second time our group visited Vegas, we took the decision to split up our hotel stay between 2 locations. Once again, we knew we were going to be spending a lot of time camping and so we wanted to treat ourselves at the end of the trip. We booked Planet Hollywood for the second part of our stay (this time booking early online) and (based on prices and other people’s feedback) we chose The Mirage for the earlier part of our stay.

Mirage pool which also had a bar and secret garden!

Walking into the Mirage was much more impressive that walking into Planet Hollywood. There was marble everywhere and a huge fish tank dominated the lobby. It was a very striking entrance and everyone seemed to be fairly dressed up, creating an air of expense. The hotel boasted a much larger pool than Planet Hollywood and their own mini zoo (Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat; containing dolphins, white lions, white tigers and leopards). The room itself was clean (barring one dirty pillow, which the staff changed promptly) and spacious. Despite the attractions and the larger pool, it didn’t quite match up to the Planet Hollywood. It was considerably cheaper for a room in the Planet Hollywood, which was more modern and up to date. The biggest selling point, however, was the atmosphere. Planet Hollywood was far more relaxed. We found the Mirage to be a little pretentious and a bit more of a mixed bag in the make up of the guests (the looks that Zombie Girl’s hiking boots attracted when we arrived were less than favourable).

The third time we travelled to Vegas (I know, we like Vegas, what can I say!!), we had a new member of the group with us and fancied trying somewhere different. On our previous trip we’d seen the Cosmopolitan and Aria hotels being built pretty much opposite Planet Hollywood. The photos looked good and the cost of a joint room in the Cosmopolitan was almost the same as Planet Hollywood. When we first walked in the lobby, we were absolutely blown away.  It looked liked they had spared no expense when decorating as we were greeted by a massive chandelier with a bar on the inside. The sleek, video-screened reception area was eye-catching and there was more than a hint of James Bond elements in the decor throughout the whole building. This was done in a really classy way, using subtle references to 007 rather than an in-your -face approach, which could easily have been cheesy.

Huge value for money at the Cosmopolitan! Desk area, seating and dressing area, bedroom and bathroom – topped off with a balcony view.

The room at the Cosmopolitan was impressive. It was much bigger that we’d previously experienced and definitely had a more luxurious feel to it. The quality of the finish, the classy decor and the excellent sound proofing were all nods to a well designed and beautifully executed hotel room.  On subsequent trips, we have used the Cosmopolitan again and found it to be a stunning room each time. On our last trip, we did splurge a little to ensure that we had a balcony view to enjoy watching the Bellagio Fountains at night and the amazing heat in the day.

Cosmopolitan bedroom with balcony view.

Whilst not as big as a lot of the other casinos, there was still more than enough areas to gamble, eat and shop. The pool was beautiful, with the usual mix of sun loungers and cabanas (although these cost a fair amount – probably only worth considering if you win big on the slot machines!).

The pool area at the Cosmopolitan. 

Overall, places to stay in Vegas vary greatly but it’s really important to get a sense of what you want from your temporary home. Planet Hollywood was great for groups, younger couples and a cheaper, more relaxed stay. The Mirage was much more subdued and aimed at the ‘posher’ end of the market. The Cosmopolitan was luxurious and classy but didn’t feel at all pretentious – for us, it was a perfect blend of classic Vegas and modern sleek. It’s the one that we always recommend to friends.