2017 in Travel

Wednesday, 27 December 2017
2017 has been a really weird year. I knew that it would be a pretty busy one from the get-go but everything hit me a little harder than I expected. But one thing that really stands out to me is the amount of travelling I've done this year. Moving to the US definitely helped make a lot of this travel achievable but I got a pretty decent chunk of Europe covered too. Last year I wrote a blog post where I looked back at 2016 in travel and I've decided to do the same again this year as it's a nice way to look back and reminisce. I visited 14 cities across 5 countries in 2017 which is pretty spectacular.

Inverness and the Isle of Skye, Scotland
My first trip of the year was a quick road trip up north to Inverness and the Isle of Skye. I loved Inverness and would really like to see some more of it. And Skye is just as wonderful as everyone says it is. These two places are excellent for anyone interested in seeing more of the beauty of Scotland.
Blog Post: Inverness Travel Diary


Travel Diary: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Wednesday, 20 December 2017
A few weeks ago I took a road trip with my friends. We drove about 7-8 hours from Connecticut to Virginia for a weekend of nature, hiking and relaxing. After hearing people walk about how amazing Shenandoah National Park was, we wanted to visit for ourselves and found an Air BnB. Our drive down was pretty relaxed. We left around lunch time and made it to the cabin around 9pm after stopping in Maryland for a Five Guys and a Walmart run. Our route also took us through West Virginia so we sang a lot of John Denver. We explored our cabin (which has some really creepy drawings) and caught a relatively early night ready for the next morning. 

We were about an hours drive away from Shenandoah National Park which was where we spent the day. There's one long road through the park called Skyline Drive and we drove up from the bottom stopping at various viewing spots along the way to take in the classic Blue Ridge mountain views. It was a pretty hazy day which really added to the ambience of the place. 



Sunday, 17 December 2017
When I was eleven, I joined my school's Amnesty International group. I spent hours writing letters and sending them across the globe in an attempt to free prisoners of conscience. I argued with classmates over whether the death penalty was moral. I took books out of the library about human rights injustices and spent hours pouring over them, learning what I could about Gandi, Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass. 

The list goes on and on. 

I believed that I would grow up and study philosophy. And spend my university days in study groups debating ethics and morals. (I think what I perceived to be philosophy is actually closer to sociology but I didn't even know that was a thing). I was strong-willed, loud-mouthed and fiercely passionate. 

And well, maybe like all young teenagers, I was also incredibly naive. 


5 Mistakes To Avoid When Visiting Edinburgh (From a Local)

Wednesday, 13 December 2017
Do you ever travel somewhere and afterwards think 'I had a great time but I wish I hadn't done x, y and z'? Sometimes I feel that way and it got me thinking about the sort of mistakes that people would make in Edinburgh. Having lived there for a few years and being raised 20 miles away, I feel like I'm in a pretty good place to give some advice on mistakes that tourists often make that can easily be avoided. So whether you're planning a trip or just like reading travel fails... here we go! 

1. Getting the tram to and from Edinburgh Airport.
Edinburgh's trams opened a few years ago and haven't been met with much happiness from the general public because a) they were expensive and b) the routes appeal to tourists more than they do residents of the city. The trip to the airport on the tram is slightly more expensive than the bus (only £1 but ok) and the journey is the same time. But the buses run 24/7 whereas the trams run only roughly between 6am and 11pm which may not be the best for those early morning/late night travellers. I've heard of people buying a return trip for the trams and then realising that they need to get back to the airport when the trams aren't running and then having to buy another ticket for the bus anyway. 


Sunday Spiel #3

Sunday, 10 December 2017
I'm not going to lie, the last few weeks have been really difficult for me. Social media is a funny thing because whilst it may look like I'm having a fantastic time, I'm probably the lowest I've ever been in my life. There are few reasons for this but I don't want to get into that on social media. But I was at the point where I was considering returning to Scotland. For now, I'm sticking it out and trying to keep on going so I think it's important to focus on the positives. So I thought I'd do another Sunday Spiel where I talk about 10 things that I've been enjoying recently/things that have made me happy.

1. Knowing I'm going home for Christmas soon.
Two weeks today I'll be arriving at Edinburgh airport to spend 2 weeks back at home in Scotland and I cannot wait. Not only will it be fantastic to get to spend time with my family, my parents got two puppies after I left for the states and I'll be meeting them too. I can't wait! Hopefully, I'll make it into Edinburgh a few times too and get a refresher of my favourite city in the world. New York has nothing on Edinburgh's charm - sorry not sorry.


November Reading Wrap Up

Sunday, 3 December 2017
November hasn't been the busiest reading month for me. I think this is mainly because the first book I read was almost 600 pages and quite slow paced, so it took me a while to get through it. I brought my Kindle with me to America and to be honest I haven't used it at all so I'm on a mission to try and finish as many Kindle books before I go home for Christmas and I'm going to leave it in the UK until I move back home in June. This also thankfully coincides with it getting cold outside so that I don't have to make as many frequent library trips. I don't have any wintery/Christmas books lined up for December but if anyone has any recommendations... fire them at me!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I've been on a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie marathon and making my way through all of her books. This novel follows two childhood sweethearts as they both grow up and leave Nigeria for America and England. This is a really slow moving book which I found a little frustrating at times but the writing is beautiful and descriptive. It really captures the feeling of confusion at living in a country that is not your own (even if my own experience doesn't compare to the difference between America and Nigeria). I gave it 3/5 stars as its slow pace struggled to capture my attention. I still think it's a fantastic book, just probably my least favourite from the author. 


Is The New York Pass Worth It?

Wednesday, 29 November 2017
When I visited New York for the first time last summer I didn't know if I'd ever return to the city and wanted to try and see as much as possible. I was recommended the New York Pass by a few people and decided to purchase the 3 day pass for my trip. It definitely wasn't a cheap decision but I was able to get the pass on sale for $203 so I decided to go for it. The pass can get you entry into over 90 attractions around NYC and also allows you to skip queues in some locations (also queue skip options will still have queues because hello, New York). I was able to gain back the monetary value of my pass but I've often wondered if it was actually worth it for other reasons so I decided to put this post together for anyone who may be considering purchasing one. Before we get down to the numbers I just want to discuss what I thought the pros and cons were of the pass.

  • The pass enabled me to skip the queues at several locations which was really handy as New York crowds are unlike any other city I've been to (except maybe New York).
  • The free guidebook and map of New York was really handy for when I wasn't able to use Google Maps.
  • The pass overall saved me money. 
  • I was able to buy my pass on sale and have noticed that they often have sales, so if you're planning your trip in advance it's unlikely that you'd have to pay the full retail price.
  • Multiple bus tours are included in the pass. I didn't do these but they are pretty pricey so if you want to do one it almost guarantees you'll make the money back.
  • I did some activities I wouldn't have initially thought of because of the pass. 


NYC for Book Lovers

Wednesday, 22 November 2017
I am a book fiend. The library has kept me satisfied for the last few months but I found myself feeling some urges.... urges to shop. Urges to shop for books. I suggested that I wanted to do a little book tour of New York and some of my friends were also keen so we found ourselves dedicating a rainy Sunday to visiting some of New York's best bookstores and libraries. We arrive in NYC through Grand Central so we decided to get the subway as far downtown as we were going and work our way back to the train station. And due to timing, we limited ourselves to Manhattan only - although I'm sure some of the other boroughs have some fantastic options!

Our first stop was the Housing Works Book Cafe, a secondhand bookstore and cafe that is run entirely by volunteers and raises money to fight AIDs and homelessness. We were a little hungover so got some coffee/tea from the cafe and sat for a little while before perusing the shelves. I also had a cheddar and spring onion 'biscuit' (scone) which was delicious. I was particularly drawn to their uncorrected proofs section where I picked up two books that are being released soon. The books were both $5 but they actually had some sort of sale on so it was $7 something. I rounded up my purchase as a donation as it's a good cause!


Broadway Review: Waitress

Sunday, 19 November 2017
I absolutely love going to the theatre. I've never been too keen on the cinema but I've always found that the theatre just captures my attention so much more. I can sit in the theatre and stay captivated for hours. Seeing as I have the benefit of living about an hour from Broadway for the next year - I really wanted to make the most of it by trying out some new shows. Whilst a few of the classics are on Broadway at the moment, the first show that I went to see was Waitress. This show has been getting a lot of attention at the moment as Jason Mraz has joined the cast for a few weeks but before he joined the tickets were pretty cheap and we were able to bag some for $45 each.


Recipe: Spiced Apple Muffins

Wednesday, 15 November 2017
Have you ever baked something, expecting it to come out ok, and it actually turns out to be much more delicious than you thought it'd be? That's what happened with these spiced apple muffins. I'd been baking something every week for the weekly GBBO night I've been hosting but one week I realised I didn't have much at home and I really could not be bothered going to the shops to pick up ingredients. And thus my spiced apple muffins were born. My go to muffins are blueberry but as I didn't have blueberries I tried apples instead. Substituting some of the white sugar for brown sugar and adding some spices to give them a richer taste than the usual blueberry muffins.

And they were a total hit. I ate two fresh out of the oven, still warm, moist (lol) and delicious. The perfect little autumnal treat. My friends devoured them at bake off night and I've made them several times over the last few weeks - tweaking the spice until I got it just right. A few of my friends asked me for the recipe so I've decided to share it on my blog. Apples are in season at the moment, deliciously crisp and tart so take full advantage of that and try some of these beauties. So much tastier and cheaper than a pumpkin spice latte!

Why I Deleted 300 Instagram Followers

Sunday, 12 November 2017
A few weeks ago I sat down and spent a considerable amount of time going through my Instagram followers and deleting them. Which for someone who is trying to grow their Instagram following seems like a highly irrational thing to do. But hear me out, there was some method to my madness.

So we all know that Instagram has been a bit of cunt recently. With poor engagement and shadowbans left right and centre it's really hard to remain motivated when you're trying to authentically grow a following. Especially with people getting crazy high follower counts just using follow unfollow bots. It just seemed like every time I checked my account I'd lost 10 followers. I had almost 1'700 followers but over the last few months, I was struggling to hit 100 likes on my photos. And a lot of those likes were coming from hashtags, not actual followers. 

So I have x amount of followers. But only y amount of those are regularly liking my pictures, watching my stories and genuinely engaging with me. So those are the valuable followers. Then x-y = inactive followers. I wanted to delete these followers because I want to feel like the people who follow my account are actual genuine followers.

I went to my Instagram followers and scrolled right back to the beginning and then I went through all my followers and deleted people who fit into the following 4 categories. There's no real way to delete someone as a follower so I had to block people and then immediately unblock them which removes them as a follower. This ended up being about 300 of my followers. 

1. People who haven't posted on Instagram in years.
I've had my Instagram account since it launched on Android and therefore it would make sense that a few of the people who have followed me since they are no longer Instagram users. So if someone hasn't posted a photo since 2014? It's unlikely that they're going to be seeing my photos so what's the point in keeping them around? Having a higher follower number is impressive but if you aren't getting the engagement rates to match is it worth it?

2. Duplicate accounts.
A few people I know have multiple Instagram accounts so I went through them all to work out which ones they were actually using and then deleted the rest. Simple. 

3. Creepy men. 
Bloody hell, I don't think I even realised how many weird men were following me on Instagram. I went through and deleted anyone whose profile looked a bit shifty. Maybe 32-year-olds from Oman are following because they like pumpkin patch photos but to be honest, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with having older men who don't appear to speak English seeing all my photos so... goodbye! I actually got a DM recently from an account I hadn't removed as a follower basically confessing love to me so it just goes to show you never know who's looking at what you put out onto the internet. 

4. Companies/stores who don't interact with my content. 
It seems to be tactic that when some small businesses/stores are starting their Instagrams that they'll follow an absolute tonne of people. I guess in the hope that people will follow them back. Which is fair enough but as I want genuine followers who want to engage with my account and like my photos then that's not for me. If it is an account that's followed me recently then I've kept them but if it's a store that followed me 3 years ago and hasn't liked any photos since then? Goodbye!

And how has it been since then? If anything I've actually noticed an increase in my engagement. I'm now getting at least 100 likes per photos which means that my percentage engagement has actually doubled. But perhaps the biggest difference is in my motivation. When I see my follower count drop I'm no longer thinking 'ah what am I doing wrong?' I think 'ok, that person didn't like my photos and that's ok' and I just want to keep on doing my thing and creating fun photos that I love. 

Would you ever consider deleting Instagram followers?

Twitter @honestlyrussell // Instagram  @honestlyrussell // Pinterest @honestlyrussell

Exploring Washington, D.C.

Sunday, 5 November 2017
When I made my first visit to the US in Summer 2016 I really wanted to visit Washington D.C. However, the travel options didn't work out well for it and so, unfortunately, I had to give it a miss. So it was definitely high on my travel plans when I found out I'd be spending the year in the US. I finally got to go last weekend and it was an amazing experience. Because it's a little further than most places I've visited so far I decided to take the Friday off work so that I could get the most of my time in the city. I arrived around 1pm and had a little wander around before I checked into my hotel. Unfortunately, I had a bit of a migraine that developed on the train so I don't actually have many photos from my first day as I had a little nap at the hotel to try and get rid of it. I stayed at the Embassy Row Hotel which was fantastic and I'll be reviewing it soon.

Part of my inspiration for visiting DC was the opportunity to meet Jess. Jess was one of my very first blogging friends and we've been chatting online since 2012. My first-year flatmate, Meredith, also lives in DC and I hadn't seen her since she finished her year abroad. As they were both busy on Friday night I decided to get a ticket to the DC Improv, a comedy club not far from my hotel. I booked a ticket for the DMV showcase which featured  4 local comics and was really good fun. I used to go to a lot of stand up comedy back in Edinburgh and the night really reminded me of how much I love it. This was a great way for me to spend my first night in DC as I didn't feel awkward doing it alone and getting to sit for a while in the dark is actually pretty great when you're not feeling great. After the show, I took a quick walk around the city and then got an early night. Look how comfy the bed looks! 


October Reading Wrap Up

Wednesday, 1 November 2017
Ah, October, autumn is here and that means it's book reading season. Nothing like getting cosy and reading a good book with a cup of tea. I read a lot of good books this month and again, I've been loving the selection that my local library has to offer. I also completed my GoodReads Reading Challenge for this year - 52 books down already. I was really surprised by this as I've never met my goal so early. I think it's because of all of the graphic novels I've been reading recently. I'm thinking about writing a blog post about my graphic novel recommendations. Let me know if that would interest you!

I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski
Sydney and her childhood best friend, Leela, are off to backpack around Europe for the summer. Sydney has never left the US as she's been living at home to care for her mother who has severe agoraphobia. It's set to be a summer of fun until Leela's cheating ex-boyfriend and his attractive friend show up in London. This book was a lot of fun and it really made me want to go travelling. It was a nice easy read but I felt that a lot of the characters lacked a bit of depth and some of the conversation seemed a bit unrealistic. I did like this book a lot though and it's nice to see some university age characters for once. 4/5 stars. 


Sunday Spiel #2

Sunday, 29 October 2017
Life has been pretty hectic. I've had some amazing trips all over the US and had some fantastic opportunities and experiences. But sometimes I feel like that's really taken over my blog and that I've not written anything about my regular day to day life in forever. So I've decided to write about 10 things that have been making me happy recently so that you all don't think that I spend my entire life jet setting across the US because I a) work 40 hours a week and b) mainly use trains because flights are super expensive here.

1. Updating my blog design.
I absolutely loved my old Water Painted Dreams header but after rebranding a few months ago to Honestly Russell, my blog's just had basic designs that I made myself. I wasn't super keen on them and I finally got around to commissioning a new piece of work. My new header is an abstract art design that the lovely Kelly did for me. I absolutely love it. I had some colours in mind but gave her the freedom to do whatever and I'm totally smitten with the results. I'm maybe considering updating my layout too but for now, I'm happy with this little revamp. 


An Autumnal Weekend in Vermont

Wednesday, 25 October 2017
There's something magical about fall in New England and I knew that I really wanted to get out of Connecticut and experience it up north. And hence this trip occurred. Some friends and I took a little road trip up to Vermont for the weekend to relax, go hiking and immerse ourselves in the true American 'fall' experience. I met them in Hartford and from there it was only two hours or so to drive up. We rented an amazing cabin on Air BnB and despite arriving in the middle of the night on Friday the 13th, we survived! It was totally dark by the time we arrived so we lit our wood burning stove, watched Mean Girls and then fell asleep.


A Visit To A Pumpkin Patch

Sunday, 22 October 2017
At the beginning of October, me and a few friends decided to visit a pumpkin patch. A quick google later, we discovered that there was one in our city, just a short drive away. We headed up on a Saturday afternoon not quite knowing what to expect except that it would be a very stereotypical American experience and the chance to get some good Insta photos (I won't deny doing it for the 'gram). It actually ended up being a great day out. The place we visited was Eden Farms in Stamford, CT. It wasn't huge but it was good to keep us entertained for an hour or two. They had a pumpkin patch, pony rides, hayrides, a maze and a haunted house. Most of these were aimed at children but we had fun being big kids!

There was also a farm store that had fresh produce and homemade chutneys and preserves. I bought some peach preserve which I'm really looking forward to using in some sort of bake soon. I was thinking maybe doing some jam tart style baking with it. I don't really have much else to say about it just that I really wanted to show off these photos, some of which I've shared on Instagram.


Travel Bucket List: Scottish Islands

Wednesday, 18 October 2017
One of my favourite things about Scotland is that there are so many fantastic islands to visit. My family visit the Isle of Arran almost every year. So even though I've spent a lot of time on the islands I've not actually been to that many of them. My trip to the Isle of Skye makes it an even two which is pretty pitiful if you ask me. I'd like to make more trips to the islands so that I can take in the diverse landscapes, amazing beaches and fantastic seafood. These are some of the islands that are on my bucket list. 

The Isle of Bute
The Isle of Bute is also situated in the Firth of Clyde so I'd like to visit this one on a combined trip to Arran. If I remember correctly, there is a small ferry service that connects the two. The island is split by the highland/lowland line as well which is pretty unique and I think it would be a great island to visit without having to head too far north. 

My USA Fall/Autumn Bucket List

Sunday, 15 October 2017
One of the things that I was most excited for when moving to New England was fall/autumn. I'd heard that the leaves changing is so much more vibrant and that the UK just doesn't get autumn quite like the US does. So I've decided to write myself a Fall/Autumn bucket list for all the things that I want to get done whilst I'm here. I've already ticked off a few on this list and that was super fun but I'm hoping to do things like the sports game and smores over the coming weeks. I've also got a trip to DC booked for two weeks so I'm excited to do some exploring there too.


Exploring Dallas

Wednesday, 11 October 2017
Texas is one of those places that seems like a dream, it's shown on tv and movies as wild, fun and hot. But I finally got the opportunity to go there myself. My friend Sarah was doing some work in California this summer and we wanted to take a trip together for Labour Day Weekend- the closest the US gets to a bank holiday. We eventually settled on Dallas as it's between both coasts and our wonderful friend Jessica lives there too. We both arrived at around 3pm on Saturday afternoon and headed straight to our hotel to check in. We stayed at the Downtown Dallas Crowne Plaza Hotel and I've already written a full review. It was a fantastic hotel in a great location.

We chilled in the hotel for a bit as we waited for it to get a bit cooler (Texas heat is no joke) before heading out for dinner. I'd found a place called Twisted Root on Trip Advisor that advertised great burgers and a relaxed atmosphere which was just what we were looking for. I opted for a build your own burger and got a bacon cheeseburger with peanut butter. It was absolutely delicious! The restaurant had a really cool vibe. When you ordered you'd get a card with a celebrity on it and when your order was ready they'd call out the celebrity name and make a few jokes etc. It was fun. I wish I was 21 because this is the sort of place I could see myself getting dinner at then stopping for a few drinks.

8 Free Resources That Will Improve Your Blog

Sunday, 8 October 2017
Over the last five and half years I've tried a lot of free resources and apps that I'd hoped will improve my blogging/photography/social media game. Some have been fantastic and others have fallen a bit flat. Over the last year or so I think I've consolidated my favourites and now use the same resources time and time again. These options are all free and are a great to use to help you produce content and also to share that content with as big an audience as possible.

I had never used Grammarly before but had heard of it through advertising. It was actually recommended to me by the lady who runs the chemistry blog I occasionally write for and I've been using it since about October/November. It's a free spelling and grammar checker then you install onto your browser. It's really good and I couldn't quite believe how bad my grammar actually was when I started using it. Not only does this help me pick up on my mistakes but I also find that it's slowly correcting my bad habits so that I don't make the same mistakes in the first place. It's so much better than the automatic spell checkers that come on browsers and I can't recommend it enough.


48 Hours in Rhode Island

Wednesday, 4 October 2017
Rhode Island is not at the top of everyone's US bucket list. And that's not surprising as it's the smallest of the 50 states. However, it's very easily accessible from Connecticut and therefore was a great place for me to go to with my friends from Edinburgh who are on exchange at the University of Connecticut. We stayed in a town called Warwick but spent most of our time on the island of Newport which is connected to the mainland by a toll bridge. I'm so glad that we decided to make this trip as the weather was absolutely stunning and the scenery was beautiful. It felt very 'New England' and was also a beachy paradise. Despite doing a lot of travelling and being busy, I felt so relaxed afterwards!

My friends rented a car at their university and I got the train from Stamford to New Haven where they picked me up. They were a little later than expected so I popped over to Maison Mathis - a cafe that I visited on my previous trip to New Haven. I had a quick cup of tea and a chocolate and sea salt cookie whilst I waited for them and then it was time to hit the road. 


September Reading Wrap Up

Sunday, 1 October 2017
Another month has come and gone and it's time for another reading wrap up. I read a few good books in August but mostly I read some books I wasn't too keen on. But this means I'm super excited to read some new and exciting books in September. I need another library run soon! I'm also excited for the weather to get a bit cooler so that I can enjoy cosy evening reading. I'm not sure why but it's still extremely hot in Connecticut. I never thought I'd see 30 degrees weather at the end of September!

Drama by Raina Telgemeier
This graphic novel is about a girl who is really interested in producing the set for her school's musical. I picked this up because it looked bright and fun but when I started reading it I realised this is actually written for preteens. That's fine by me as it was fun and heartwarming. This book also introduced LGBT characters which I think is really important. I gave it 3/5 stars. It was ok.

2017 Great British Bake Off Drinking Game

Tuesday, 26 September 2017
Two years ago I wrote my original GBBO drinking game. But as I made it for the 2015 series, it's kind of outdated. I've been using the university's VPN to watch the new Channel 4 Great British Bake Off and honestly - I'm loving it. I was worried about the takeover but it's still the same show we all know and love. But it was time for a new 2017 drinking game with some updates rules! Whether it's an alcoholic beverage or just a cup of tea - sit back, relax, and watch out for these:


6 Weird Things About Life in the USA

Sunday, 24 September 2017
It's now been three months since I packed up my bags and moved to the USA. It's been a fun, crazy, sad, busy, lonely and educational experience. I didn't expect to feel too much of a culture shock but some things have really surprised me so far. I mean... Americans don't know what a fortnight is.... But overall, I've been surprised by my lack of homesickness and how well I've handled everything. Apart from getting sick (that makes me cry for my mummy like a little kid). But I wanted to write a post listing some of the weird things I've encountered since moving here. And I'll hopefully write an update post about my life here if you guys would like that! 

Americans Love Scots

Americans just about lose their shit when you tell them you're from Scotland. They want to hear all about it. My accent back home is nothing special. Here it's an open invitation for strangers to ask me where I'm from. 

Fixed Shower Heads

Oh, my god, these are the worst. You know those fixed showerheads that you find in cheap European hostels/hotels? Those are the norm in the US. Even in people's houses. I just really miss being able to take a really nice shower and being able to adjust the height and angle of the showerhead. It's the little things! 

Grocery Stores

When I lived in Edinburgh I'd do my weekly food shops in small, city supermarkets. Humble Tesco metro, the Nicholson St. Lidl etc. However, in the US supermarkets are huuuuge and the selection is so much wider. I've been here almost 3 months and I still struggle with food shopping. It's really overwhelming and there's so much I struggle to find what I'm looking for. Plus it's generally a bit more expensive than in the UK. But I have learned this: almost anything you want, you can find it in a can. 


I didn't quite realise how eco-friendly the UK is in comparison until I moved here. I've gotten used to avoiding plastic bags in the UK but here they are still free and when you go for your 'groceries' they use an awful lot of them. The cashiers will normally pack your bags for you and unless you step in and say otherwise, they'll sometimes only pack three or four items per bag. And don't even get me started on recycling! The house I live in? No recycling bin! Can you imagine not having any recycling at home in the UK. I feel so guilty about it! 

Fast Food Is So Cheap

Now this one is not a complaint! Fast food and generally - food that's not good for you is so much cheaper than in the UK. Say hello to $1 slices of pizza and amazing taco trucks. Even chains like McDonald's are much cheaper. You can get a 20 chicken nugget meal (yes a 20 nugget meal) for $8. It's not uncommon for people to eat out much more often and tbh when fast food is so cheap and groceries so expensive - it's not hard to see why. 

Drivers Are Kinda Crazy

Now I don't have a drivers license. But holy shit American drivers are not as careful as Brits. To be fair though, this could be a Connecticut thing. I've had Uber drivers tell me they'd rather drive in New York City than Connecticut. People swerve lanes, drive fast and it's scarily common to see people using their phones when driving. And forget yielding to pedestrians - you're on your own.

Love it or hate it, I'm so glad to have this opportunity.

Twitter @honestlyrussell // Instagram  @honestlyrussell // Pinterest @honestlyrussell

Crowne Plaza Downtown Dallas Hotel Review

Wednesday, 13 September 2017
I've just gotten back from the most amazing trip to Texas. I booked the trip about two months ago and have been looking forward to it for weeks. My friend Sarah was doing some work this summer in California and we were looking for somewhere that we could meet up that would be kinda equidistant between the East and West Coasts. Luckily, our friend Jessica just moved back to Dallas after finishing her degree so we thought it would be a great place to go. I wanted to review our hotel, the Crowne Plaza's Downtown Dallas Hotel, as we thought it was great. We found the hotel on booking.com which is my favourite way to find great hotels to stay in. 

The hotel was super easy to get to from Dallas Forth Worth airport, we hopped on the orange train for about 40 minutes and got off at a stop that was a two-minute walk from the hotel. And the ticket only cost $2.50. Definitely, the easiest airport-hotel journey I've ever taken on public transport. The location proved to be fantastic and we were never more than a 20-minute walk from the attractions we wanted to see and restaurants we wanted to eat at. After an easy check-in we headed up to the elevator to check out our room. The room had two double beds which were fantastic as I've been sleeping in a single since moving to the US so I fully appreciated the opportunity to lounge around. 

Tips for Flying Alone from an Anxious Traveller

Sunday, 10 September 2017
If there’s one thing that I seem to have done a lot of over the last few months, it’s solo flying. My first introduction to solo flying was when I went on my big North America trip last year. I flew from Edinburgh to Dublin, Dublin to Toronto, Toronto to Boston, NYC to Manchester and finally Manchester to Edinburgh all by myself in the space of two weeks. Then when it came around to obtaining my US visa I had to make a solo trip to the US consulate in Belfast. When I went to Riga with Becky we flew in from different airports so again was myself for my flight. So I'm pretty aquainted with being alone in an airport and I've realised a few things that really help me.

Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the airport.
One of my biggest worries is missing a flight so I always make sure I have plenty of time to get to an airport. When using public transport I always make sure that I could get the next bus/train if I miss the one I’m intending to catch. I’d rather be early where possible. Most airports recommend arriving 2 hours before your scheduled department time but it doesn’t hurt to arrive earlier at large airports with lots of international flights (JFK I’m looking at you).


Brunch at Greens Eggs Cafe, Philadelphia

Wednesday, 6 September 2017
There have been a tonne of brunch reviews on my blog recently - sorry not sorry. When I was visiting Philadelphia recently the Green Eggs Cafe was recommended to Lila and me by her brother, a real Philadelphia foodie. There are 3 locations but we went to the most central: 212 S 13th Street. We visited around 2 pm on a Sunday morning after visiting the Eastern State Penitentiary. We waited around 15 minutes for a table but there was seating whilst we waited and it gave us the chance to ogle everyone else's food to help us make up our minds. The menu is huge and has so many amazing options.

It took me a while to decide on what I wanted as I was really strung up between ordering salted caramel banana stuffed French toast and cookie dough stuffed French toast. First world problems! In the end, I went for the salted caramel and banana which was amazing. The french toast is made with challah bread, a traditional sweet Jewish bread, which is probably the best bread for it. The three huge slices were layered with creme brulee batter, bananas and salted caramel. The portion sizes at Green Eggs Cafe were huge so unfortunately, I had to take some home. That meant I got to eat this for breakfast the next two days. 

August Reading Wrap Up

Sunday, 3 September 2017
August was a weird month for me. After reading a tonne of books in July, I thought I'd read a lot in August too. But August turned out to be a really busy month for me with trips to both Boston and Philadelphia. Whilst I had free time on the train, I didn't actually read which is usually how I get a lot of my reading done. I hadn't read a single book up until the last week of the month where I did all of my reading. So it may look like I read a lot this month but it was all in the last week of the month. Hopefully, September will be good. My trip to Texas will provide me with 8 hours of flight time plus travel to airports so I wouldn't be surprised if that helps me get a book or two out of the way.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
This is a fiction novel about a young couple from the Middle East who become refugees after their home city is torn apart by war. This is a story about a couple but it isn't really a love story. In this book, portals appear over the world which allows en masse immigration. It discusses attitudes towards refugees and speculates what would happen if there were no barriers to stopping people fleeing war torn and poor areas. The writing was rich, deep and exquisite. It was thought provoking and brutal and I haven't really stopped thinking about it. 5/5 stars, you need to read this book.


48 Hours in Philadelphia

Wednesday, 30 August 2017
My second weekend away since I moved to the US was to the beautiful Philadelphia. I booked it on a whim as it was an opportunity to visit my friend Lila, who did her year abroad in Edinburgh last year. After I booked the trip, I heard a lot of negative things about Philadelphia but I actually really loved it as a city. We managed to do all the things I wanted to in the time that I was there and the city was so beautiful. Despite being a big city, it doesn't feel cramped with sky scrapers like NYC.

I arrived at around 11 am on a Saturday morning after an early morning train. Our first port of call was the Reading Terminal Market - a food market with so many options. I was tempted to try a Philly cheese steak as there were so many stalls selling them but I knew that we had plans to have some the next day. Instead, we had chicken fried rice from a Chinese stall. It was the perfect opportunity to catch up and also fuel ourselves for the rest of the day.


6 Tips for Working With Restaurants as a Blogger

Sunday, 27 August 2017
It's been over 4 years since I published my first restaurant review on my blog how on earth was that so long ago. Since then, I've built up some great relationships with PRs and restaurants and luckily get invited to review restaurants on a semi-regular basis. When I look back at my earlier reviews I'm full of criticism. It makes me think about what I've learnt by reviewing restaurants and how to build up a good working relationship with restaurants and PRs. Which inspired me to write this post for any bloggers who are interested in writing restaurant reviews and establishing themselves more as a food blogger!

Write restaurant reviews that aren't sponsored. 
I'm lucky to get invited to restaurants frequently for comped meals. But it's also important to me that I review restaurants that aren't sponsored. Restaurant reviews are some of my favourite posts to write anyway but including not sponsored reviews on my blog shows my readers that I am genuinely excited about going to restaurants and am thinking of the food and experience. As with any sort of posts - if the only ones you're writing are sponsored it will put people off - readers and potential collaborators. 

Brunch at Comedor, Massachusetts

Wednesday, 23 August 2017
On my recent trip to Boston to visit my dear friend Leda, we had a lazy Sunday morning. After sleeping in and taking a long shower, we headed along to Comedor for brunch. Leda had made us a reservation as she had visited for dinner one night and loved it. This small Chilean-American restaurant is set in a quiet suburban area and is a true gem to the area. We headed along at 11 am and were able to get a great seat outside but still in the shade, it was a beautiful sunny day. I ordered an Arnold Palmer - half iced tea half lemonade and Leda had a honeyed rosemary limeade. Perfect refreshing drinks for perusing the menu. 

The menu was full of lots of classic brunch dishes with fun twists, from smores french toast topped with toasted meringue to scrambled egg tacos. There were a few dishes that caught my eye but I eventually settled on the summer peach grilled cheese sandwich with jalapeno hazelnut aioli. I was intrigued by the combination of ingredients which also included dulce de leche. As this was off of the 'small plates' section I also ordered a side of fries. Which was a good job as despite being delicious it was certainly a small plate. The combination of the salty cheddar with the sweet, caramelised peaches was an absolute dreamy and deliciously moreish. I'm not the biggest fan of jalapenos but the aioli was beautifully tart in a way that contrasted with the rest of the meal perfectly. 


Exploring Boston

Sunday, 20 August 2017
Despite moving so close to NYC, Boston was the city I was really excited about returning to. Last weekend I got an Amtrak train up to visit Leda and enjoy more of Boston's relaxed vibe. I arrived pretty late on Friday night after a delayed train so we didn't get up to much - take away pizza and gins on the porch. On Saturday morning we slept a little late, devoured Leda's mom's amazing pancakes and headed into the city around midday to explore.

Our first port of call was the Boston Public Library, I've been before but it is my favorite building in the city so I just had to go back. The marble decor is absolutely exquisite and guided tours are available as well if you want to learn a little more about the building. The library also has a beautiful, bright courtyard we sat for a little to soak up the sun and the atmosphere. You can actually get married in the Public Library which I'm sure is extortionate but would be an absolute dream. Something tells me I'll return here one day to watch Leda get married.


Serrano & Manchego, Edinburgh

Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging and this is the perfect example. I ate at Serrano & Manchego in May and have only just gotten around to writing my review! I love tapas and luckily there are lots of great tapas restaurants in Edinburgh. Some of my best friends live on Leith Walk and thus this restaurant was the perfect place to meet them for dinner. We met up in the midst of exams and therefore this was a welcomed opportunity to let our hair down and catch up over some yummy food and a pitcher of sangria.

We ordered a large selection of tapas (although several repeat orders of patatas bravas are always required as who doesn't need that in their lives) but started off with a pitcher of red wine sangria. It was delicious and fruity - a classic summer drink. We shared a pitcher between four and managed to get a glass and a bit each, it was great value for money. It went perfectly with their serrano ham and manchego cheese croquettes! 

How to Spend a Day in New Haven

Sunday, 13 August 2017
Like any Gilmore Girls fan - I loved the scenes where Rory attended Yale. A historic and beautiful university. Moving to Connecticut gave me the opportunity to visit the university myself. Yale is located in New Haven, a beautiful city that luckily for me has hourly trains from Stamford. And who did I explore with? My good ol' buddy Leda. Just call us the New England Dream Team. Went with no real plans and just spent the day wandering around the city, eating good food and catching up. 

Leda has visited New Haven before and raved about the ice cream at the Arethusa Farm Dairy so that was our first port of call in the city. I opted for a single scoop of the best mint choc chip ice cream I have ever had. I'm glad we only ordered single scoops as the portion sizes were huge. We wandered from the ice cream store to a nearby park where we sat by a fountain and finished eating. There was some sort of music festival being set up in the park so we sat by and watched that for a while too.  

As I said we didn't really have exact plans but we just wandered around the city, taking in the beautiful architecture. Yale's campus is absolutely stunning. I've been considering trying to come back to the states for my PhD. so I'm keen to try and see campuses whilst I can. I could totally picture myself living here one day so that's really reassuring. It's been a while since I last watched an episode of Gilmore Girls so I can't remember the exact places they used to film but it did feel somewhat familiar. We even saw some wedding photos being taken which was lovely!


Elm Street Diner, Connecticut

Wednesday, 9 August 2017
When I found out I was moving to the US, I took to Instagram to try and find out about things to do and places to eat in my new city. Which was when I discovered the Elm Street Diner. A classic American diner with a huge menu and a drool worthy Instagram account. When Leda was visiting me, I knew that we had to go and try it out for ourselves. We arrived at around 12 pm on a Sunday and waited about 10 minutes for a table - not bad considering this place is an urban legend around Connecticut. It's been voted the best diner and breakfast in the country for the past four years!

Leda ordered an iced coffee and I went for a fruit juice to cool us down whilst we perused the menu. The menu at this place is seriously huge, you could eat there every weekend for a year and not run out of new dishes to try. We'd previously agreed to go as unhealthy as possible and were drawn to the waffles and pancakes. The menu has some seriously crazy milkshakes that looked amazing but we knew we would be unable to finish one so we can leave that for another time. 


The Third Year Reflection

Sunday, 6 August 2017
One of my best blogging and IRL buds, Leda, recently wrote this great blog post about her third year of university. I really enjoyed reading it and it reminded me that I haven't really written anything about my university life in a while. When I was in high school I used to write weekly updates about my life but I've let that fall by the wayside so I don't feel that my blog is as personal as it used to be. So consider this a tribute to Leda's post and a reflection on my third year of university.

Third year has been really fucking difficult in terms of class and I'm not even ashamed to say I've had the worst grades I've ever had this year. Of course, I'd like to have done better but I genuinely don't think I could have worked any harder. Despite not having the grades to show it, I feel a lot more confident in my abilities. Especially with lab work. I'm doing my placement year which is worth the same % of my degree as the third year, so hopefully, I can boost myself up a little with my grades this year. If not, worse things have happened. 


July Reading Wrap Up

Wednesday, 2 August 2017
July has been a fantastic month for me in terms of reading. Since I moved to the USA I've joined my local library and it is fantastic. I don't want to buy books here because I'd have to donate them all before I left and it seems like a waste of money. But the selection of books is amazing. And as I have no academic work to do outside of work I have so much more time for reading so I've read so many books this month. I've also read a lot of graphic novels, the library has loads, which are super quick reads. Not having to pay for the books I read is great and it encouraging me to take more risks with my reading as if I don't like something, it's not as big of a deal.

This is a graphic novel about a girl called Anya who is struggling at school with her self-confidence, her culture and popularity. She ends up meeting a ghost who appears to be helping her improve her life but is everything what it seems? I loved this one so much! It wasn't a very long read but I felt it was the perfect length and it was really impressive how much Anya developed as a character across the story. 5/5 stars. 


The High Line, New York City

Sunday, 30 July 2017
I always love meeting new blogger friends so when I heard that Ellis was coming to visit NYC we arranged to meet up. The irony is that in Scotland we lived about an hour apart but had never met each other but met for the first time in New York City, 3200 miles from home. One thing that I really wanted to do during my first trip to the city last year was to walk the High Line but I never got around to it! Luckily Ellis was also interested in doing this so we met at the closest subway station to the most northernly entrance and walked the whole way down together.

The High Line is an old, unused overground railway line that has been converted into a beautiful public park. The 1.45-mile long park stretches across the top of the city which allows you to walk around and see the beauty of New York without the same overwhelming feeling of the busy streets. We arrived around 10 am which was really nice as we managed to avoid the peak of the summer heat.


4th of July

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

When the 4th of July rolled around, I was really excited to get the opportunity to celebrate it in America. As it's a national holiday here, I even got the day off work. The other interns decided they wanted to go and watch the fireworks in New York. However, I decided to hang back. I've never been the biggest fan of huge crowds and I knew it would be packed. Plus we'd been in the city two days before and I was still absolutely knackered (we'd walked 10 miles in the one day).  Instead, I decided to take a cycle into Greenwich.