Horse Racing in Melbourne and Hong Kong

‘There are other things that I could do, but there’s really nothing that I love as much as horse racing’ – Chantal Sutherland

*A guest blog from my Dad!*

When planning our once in a lifetime trip to Singapore, Melbourne, Canberra and Hong Kong Siobhan and I had two aims really – to see our great friends Greg and Elaine in Canberra and to sample the cultural, culinary and alcoholic delights of the far east and Australia. It was only when booking accommodation in Melbourne that we realised that our visit coincided with one of the great global sporting events – the Melbourne Cup! Not only that, there was racing in Happy Valley Hong Kong while we were there. Being big racing fans, this gave us a unique opportunity to see how these things that we love doing at home are presented on the other side of the world.

The big sporting event of the year for us is the Northumberland Plate, the richest two mile handicap in the northern hemisphere. The Melbourne Cup is the richest in the world. I love the staying races, A five furlong sprint you can see your money disappear in a very short time, at least over two miles you can hope for a bit longer. We had heard about ‘the race that stops a nation’ and this was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed. Tickets were booked online for $A70 each (about £45, very comparable to UK for this type of event).

We arrived in Melbourne the Friday before the race on the Tuesday. Cup fever was already in full swing, there was racing on the Saturday – Derby day, and then the build up to the big day really started. The hotel we were staying in had a healthy number of racegoers staying and we saw them gathering in the bar area on Saturday morning. A short stroll from the hotel and Flinders Street station was teeming with immaculately dressed people of all ages.

Melbourne

A days racing in Australia starts much earlier that in the UK, first race being 10.40 and everything was really well organised, almost as if they had done this before! So we were at Flemington in time for the first race. Crowds were manageable at this time and a seat could generally be found so it was ideal for us to look around, soak up the building atmosphere and see something of the racecourse with the stunning backdrop of the city. The food and drink at Flemington was no more expensive than in downtown Melbourne and in fact very reasonable for an event like this although it doesn’t appear so to locals and it is the fact that the pound has been in steady decline against the Australian dollar for many years now that makes it appear so to us.

Not being familiar with the majority of horses in the race I had decided to concentrate on jockeys that I know. Kerrin McEvoy and Hugh Bowman are Aussies who have both ridden in UK so I short listed them. James MacDonald had won the Northumberland Plate and was riding the favourite, so he went on the list and how could I now overlook Heartbreak City after meeting the traner in the hotel bar a few nights before, so he completed my betting slip. Siobhan, much more conservative, chose Qewy, widely tipped to go well at a big price.

Wins in races 2 and 3 set me up nicely, so I was in confident mood for the big race. As is often the case with these events you seem to be waiting for ever when all of a sudden they’re off and running. The race is very difficult to read until about two furlongs out and a horse makes a break for the line. “It’s Heartbreak City” I said to Siobhan, “COME ON MY SON”, but hang on, there’s another horse gone with him, who is it? I couldn’t make out what the commentator was saying above the din. Agonisingly, Heartbreak City is caught with 50 yards to go and goes down by a neck. Now I like to win a bet, but I confess that I was not totally perked up even when the winner was announced as Almandin – ridden by Kerrin McEvoy. James MacDonald came in third and Qewy fourth so Siobhan and I headed off to the TAB (Tote) with thoughts of champagne. To say that Siobhan took the news that the TAB only pays three places in a 24 horse race well would not be true. I explained to the TAB lady that in UK the Tote would always pay at least four places   and she gave me a look of genuine concern and empathy – or perhaps I misread that. Undaunted, we had had a great day and won enough for it not to be termed expensive.

One week later, it’s Tuesday morning and Siobhan and I are in the Hong Kong Jockey Club Museum. I asked the young man about Wednesday’s racing. “You just turn up and pay $HK10” (about £1!). With a tram fare of about 25p we decided we could just about stretch the budget. Turning up about 20 minutes before the first race the crowds were comfortable. There were food and drink concessions all along the rail and with the lights and the towering city blocks overlooking the course the scene was stunning. We found a seat, had a couple of bets and won a little bit. The public areas were now very crowded. Notwithstanding I went under the stands to make a bet (Race 4 – Sharp Hunter – 13/1). The bedlam that was the betting area was the worst I have ever seen – and I’ve been to Cheltenham on St Patrick’s Day! I couldn’t get my bet on. Never mind it won’t win. Five minutes later and not even the best hot dog I have ever had in my life made up for the fact that Sharp Hunter got up on the line and cost me $HK320!

HongKong

So that was it, two very different racing experiences. The Melbourne Cup was wonderful and in many ways the same as the experience Siobhan and I have each year at the Northumberland Plate. People recreating scenes that have been seen since the middle of the 19th century, dressing up, having a drink and revelling in a sport which is a wonderful spectacle.  Happy Valley I’m not so sure about. It’s not the lost bet, it was only £30, but after initially being very struck with the visual wonder of it all it became obvious that there was very little – if any – genuine love of the sport or the horses. The track is obscured by the concessions so that anyone at ground level or the first few rows of the seats has to follow the race on the screen. I’m not saying I wouldn’t go again but it wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t.

I certainly would make sure I got my bet on in time.

Backstreet Boys – Larger than Life in Las Vegas!

‘Bacstreet’s back, alright and this time they’re appealing to everyone’ – Meagan Morris

Back in the late 90s and early 00s the internet was a scary place, so imagine my parents shock when I tell them I’m taking a train to London to meet someone I met in a chat room so we can hang out and talk about boybands for the day? I’m amazed still to this day they let me go! I’m so pleased they did though because that day marked the beginning of an amazing friendship.

For years Meagan and I have wanted to see the group that made us so close together but for whatever reason could never make it work logistically. When The Backstreet Boys announced they were doing a trial residency in Las Vegas we knew we had to make it happen. Those boys aren’t getting any younger and we didn’t know when we would get the chance again.

It’s hard to review a concert of your all time favourite band with one of your all time favourite people objectively but i’m going to try….

wp-1488767975680.jpg

It was fucking amazing! They were seriously, seriously good. Between the two fo us we’ve seen them live about 11 times and we both agreed that their Vegas show was one of the most professional, polished show they’ve done.

Before I run out of adjectives to describe how amazing they were i’ll give you a run down of what actually happened. They took to the stage just after 9pm after a really cool remix of all their singles/music videos on the large screens, you forget how many songs they’ve released really! And kicked everything off looking dapper in white with Larger than Life. I won’t run through everything song by song (check out the set list at the bottom if you’re interested) but needless to say they got the crowd’s energy up as they went from one up tempo pop hit to the next.

Show highlights for me were As Long As You Love me, which was never my favourite single but they nailed the chair routine all these years later, We’ve Got it Goin On (which is one of my faves) which they updated and mashed up excellently with Bell Biv Devoe’s Poison and the fact that they included 2 of my favourite album tracks Undone and Get Another Boyfriend.

ALAYLM #chairdance #bsbvegas

A post shared by Helen Newman (@honestlyhelen) on

Meagan’s show highlighters were – the montage in the beginning which sounds weird but it got everyone amped for the show. Their version of We’ve Got it On was probably her favourite performance of the night because of the dancing and Shape of my Heart of course which is her all time favourite BSB song. They also came out into the audience and Howie was right in front of us, like touching distance from us, so it doesn’t get much better than that.

QPG #bsbvegas

A post shared by Helen Newman (@honestlyhelen) on

Fans will be aware of the recent voice issues that Brian has been struggling but they all killed it, singing completely live through the whole 2 hour show and Brian in particular sounded better than he ever has. They dancing was also super tight and the 10 dancers that joined them on stage were fantastic. The staging worked brilliantly in Planet Hollywood and there appeared to be no real bad seat in the house. We were sitting at the front of the first ‘normal priced’ seating, directly behind the ‘pit’ and VIP seating (we paid about £140 a ticket if you were wondering) and the view was amazing. It also helped that there were catwalks and walkways coming out into the audience so people further back had a better change of getting a good view

When I was bored in Heathrow waiting for my super delayed flight I did what I swore I wouldn’t do and I looked up the set list ahead of time. I was a little disappointed to be honest. I’ve said from the beginning of time that they never release the best songs off their albums (there’s a blog post in there somewhere) and with only 3 of the 20 strong set list being album tracks, they weren’t singing hardly any of my faves. HOWEVER (and this a big however, I wrote it in caps and everything) Whilst their singles may not be my favourites, there’s no denying their singalongability and their gravitational pull to get everyone in the room joining in and having an amazing time. Which made me have an amazing time, so no set list complaints for me any more!

Rocking our bodies right! #bsbvegas

A post shared by Helen Newman (@honestlyhelen) on

If i were to pick any holes (because the cynic in me jut has to find fault in everything) the second costume change (of which there were 4) bordered into boring territory where they sang too many ballads back to back in my opinion, although I’m  pleased my obligatory I’ll Never Break Your Heart toilet break came early in the show as my $24 Margarita was starting to work it’s way through. It also felt that they were racing through the set list a little bit and didn’t talk or interact with the audience very much. I get it though, they need to cater for everyone, not just fans like us who’d moved mountains to be there, but also for people who were in Vegas anyway and just fancied seeing them on a whim.

They’re just really minor points though and didn’t detract from the show at all. I’ll admit we were both dubious when we found out they were doing a Vegas residency. It felt like it was pretty ambitious for a group for the majority of common folk are only really known for one or two songs. However never under estimate the power of the Backstreet army as by all accounts it’s been a roaring success. Time will tell whether they lose momentum by the end of their run in July and whether it will be extended further, here’s hoping they do, although I’m not entirely sure my credit card could take it!

I really wanted to avoid using this chiche but Backstreet aren’t back, for us, and the majority of the people in the Axis theatre, they never left. Alright!

Set list:

Larger than Life
The One
Get Down
Drowning
Incomplete
Quit Playing Games
Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely
I’ll Never Break Your Heart
Anywhere For You
Darlin
Undone
As Long as You Love Me
The Call
We’ve Got it Goin’ On
Get Another Boyfriend
More than That
All I Have to Give
Shape of My Heart
I Want It That Way
Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)

 

 

Magic Ice Bar – Bergen

‘Let me be the first to tell you, drinking alcohol is the worst thing to do in cold weather’ – Morgan Freeman

Being cold isn’t a natural state for me, I’m like a cat who likes to lie in the beam of sun streaming through the window. However I’ve always for some reason fancied trying out an Ice Bar and am always astounded to find that Ice Bars seem to pop up in the coldest country. We almost visited an Ice bar in Reykjavik and after dragging Dave around the city for 45 minutes looking for it, found out it actually shut 2 years previously. Attention to detail has never been a strong point of mine.

So imagine my joy when it was raining chair legs the afternoon we arrived in Bergen in Norway and the Norwegian chain of Ice Bars Magic Ice was a 5 minute walk from our apartment. We found the bar on a rather dull looking street about a 5 minute walk from the main marina in Bergen and after being relieved for 160 NOK (about £16) each, we donned our ponchos and gloves and took a deep breath before entering the pimped out refrigerator.

dscn3007

Dave’s been to an Ice Bar before in Prague when he was on a stag do so at least had something to compare it to, being my first time however I was surprised at how small it was inside. I think I imagined a full 3 story Wetherspoons (my main frame of reference when it comes to pubs) but just made of ice. Still, I guess that much ice would be difficult to maintain and you’d be forever losing staff to hypothermia.

What sets Magic Ice apart from perhaps other Ice Bars around the world is that it’s actually part Ice Bar part Art Gallery with recreations of some of the world’s most famous paintings as well as original sculptures from Norway’s most renowned ice carvers (if you ever knew such a thing existed).

When we arrived we were the only ones in at the time however as I say, its quite small so that didn’t matter too much. The bar man served our complimentary drinks (a traditional wine and crowberry juice mixture – which was really yummy!) and was super friendly chatting to us about the bar, showing us to the best seat in the house and explaining a little about the bar’s history and the ice sculptures within it. I always love hearing people talk passionately about where they work and who take the time to explain where you are and what you’re seeing.

After our little introduction we were left to sit and enjoy our drinks and have a look around. The Ice art and sculptures really are very impressive as are the little ice seating booths and ice table and chairs (that have sheepskin throws on them to stop your botty getting too chilly!) Our favourite though was the recreation of The Scream by Edvard Munch – much fun was had taking pictures with that one!

You get a maximum of 2 hours in the bar and further drinks are available after your complimentary glass of wine however we probably only managed about 45 minutes in there. The bar prices weren’t the most reasonable and after seeing all the art it does get a little chilly even with the poncho and gloves. I guess if there were more people in or you were having more to drink it would probably keep you warmer, however we had other things to see that afternoon so headed on our way.

As a one off treat I would definitely recommend giving Magic Ice a visit especially if it’s raining and you need to shelter for an hour or so, it’s fun a quirky and they’ve made a good effort in making it a little more interesting than just your bog standard cold room. A session pub however, it isn’t!

Contact Details:

Address: C. Sundts gate 50, Bergen 5004, Norway
Phone Number: 4793008023
Website: http://www.magicice.no

How Expensive is Norway?

‘People moving to Norway has made Norway richer, economically, but also our culture has become more rich in many ways’ – Jens Stoltenberg

I’ve often found along our travels that certain countries get tagged with certain stereotypes that are either unfair or completely untrue. I’ve walked up some pretty steep hills in Holland, I know a lot of very intelligent Americans and I’m even sure I met a funny German once.

Before we flew off to Norway in September 2016 after oohig and aahing about Fjords and Trolls the other thing everyone commented on before we went was how expensive it would be. Problem was it all felt a bit too much like hearsay. No one had actually been who could shed some light on exactly how much things would cost, like someone knows someone who knows someone, who’s cousin’s wife’s gynecologist once went and spent £9 on a beer. The internet also wasn’t all that informative, as when looking for the average price of a pint of beer for example, prices i found ranged from £3.60 to £15!

photogrid_1474827383504

We went to Iceland in 2015, which was pricy, but like London pricy to a Northerner. It was steep but still affordable, so that’s kind of the mindset I was going for when we set off.

So, how expensive really is Norway?

Not to put too fine a point on it. It’s bloody expensive. Here’s a price breakdown for some of the stuff we spent money on while we were there:

  • Two pints of local draught lager – £17
  • 1 frozen pizza from a supermarket – £8
  • Slice of chocolate cake from a take away deli – £6
  • 2 small self serve take away coffees (from a machine) – £5
  • 30 hours in a city centre underground car park – £38

dscn2968

  • 1 slice of cheesecake on a dessert menu – £13
  • 1 footlong Subway sandwich – £10.50
  • 1 pint of lager & 1 large (250ml) glass of wine – £22
  • Entrance into the Bergen Aquarium – £19 each

We tried to save money where we could – by sharing a sandwich in Subway for lunch, staying in mostly self catering accommodation buying food from supermarkets and taking our own duty free drink over so we weren’t spending an obscene amount of money in the pub. But of course we were still on our holidays and we wanted to treat ourselves as well and eat and drink out where it was reasonable to do so.

So there’s a bit of first hand advice at  how expensive Norway really is. If you take one piece of advice away it would be to expect to pay pretty much double what you’d pay in the UK, I have to be honest though, that chocolate fudge cake was worth every penny!

5 Travel Essentials for Every Occasion

‘Beauty, pleasure, freedom and plenty of sleep: these are the hallmarks of a successful idler’s break. Travel should not be hard work’ – Tom Hodgkinson

We’re lucky enough to be mid 30’s DINKies (double income, no kids) and work hard to be able to take ourselves off on holiday a couple of times a year, interspersed with a few weekends away for good measure. As such over the years there are a few travel essentials I’ve come to rely on for any trip away, whether it be 3 weeks in the States  or an over night stay at Ang & Dave’s:

Straightener pouch


I was given this as part of a set a few Christmases ago and it’s become invaluable in my travels ever since. I never realised how much of a bind it was to have to wait for your straighteners to cool down before being able to pack them in your case, especially on the type of holidays we tend to go on where we’re moving on to a different place almost every day. They’re a real time saver. The heatproof lining means you can unplug, pack up and be on your merry way straight away. It’s also.big enough to fit your hairbrush and heat protection spray too. Bonus!

Lancome foundation pot

wp-1476734311038.jpg
My quest for the perfect foundation has been well documented never is a good foundation needed more than when on holiday when you’re likely to be taking lots of pictures and want to look your best. This teeny little sample pot from Lancome is deceivingly small as a little goes a long way and lasts me a good fortnight if not longer. I only use Lancome as an example of course as they seem to be more generous with their sample pots and you can fill it with anything you like.of course. It’s certainly well within the liquid allowance if you only have hand luggage, is a real space saver and means you aren’t worrying about losing or smashing your favourite bottle of foundation.

Ear plugs

1272-of95
I view ear plugs the same way I view insurance; something you get in the hope you never have to use. I’m one of those people who needs complete pitch black and complete silence when I sleep so I take ear plus everywhere I go, sometimes it can be something as small as the hum of the air conditioning unit that keeps me awake a d the last thing you want on your precious days away from work is to spend them tired. My favourite are actually these from Oxford Ear Plugs from Dave’s motorbiking days which you can pick up on ebay relatively cheaply. Pop these little orange bad boys in and they will pretty much guarantee a silent sleep no matter where you are

Black t-shirt


Never ever underestimate the power of a plain black t-shirt. It’s became a staple in my holiday wardrobe over the last few years down to its pure versatility. I live in these £3.50 offerings from Primark on holiday. They can me used as a base layer in the cold, on its own with some blue jeans for through the day, dressed up with a skirt and a statement necklace in the evening and even as a nightie if you forget your pj’s (like I did on our recently holiday to Norway) The same could be said of course for a plain white t-shirt however if you’re as accident prone as me it will have chocolate, gravy or red wine down the front of it within 30 seconds of putting it on.

A good pair of sunglasses

Now don’t get this twisted. When I say a good pair of sunglasses I don’t by any means mean an expensive pair of sunglasses, I just mean a pair that suit you. The most expensive pair I own were £6 from H&m, which is me splashing out! I’m founding member of the blue eyes brigade which means my eyes are really sensitive to sunlight so wear sunglasses all year round. So whether you’re skiing in Switzerland or sunbathing in St. Tropez a pair of sun specs that compliment your face are an M.U.S.T. They also hide a multitude of sins if you’re hungover after a heavy overnight stay somewhere (ahem Ang & Dave’s) and can’t be bothered to put make up on.

What are your travel essentials?

The Adrenaline Diaries

‘Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after’ – Sabaa Tahir

Most of the time our character traits are made up of a culmination of different circumstances, different people who’ve helped mold you or small little lessons you’ve learnt along the way. Most of the time they’re so small and so insignificant that you don’t even realise you’ve learnt something, you just have.

Then there are the rare moments where something truly character defining happens. Where you can pin point the exact moment when your perspective changed and you knew you’d never look at something (or someone) the same way again.

Dave and I have started to refer to this as The Death Slide Theory and I’ll tell you for why. Anyone who knows Dave will know that he’s Mr Adventure, there’s nothing he won’t jump off, jump out of or drive at a ridiculously high speed, the true definition of an adrenaline junky. It wasn’t always that way though.

ad_136135539

When he was around 10 years old he went to a theme park type thing which had a death slide (or drop slide if you’re from America) much like the one above. He went to the top with his dad and sister but over thought it and psyched himself out actually going down. So he went down via the stairs with another girl who didn’t want to do it either.

It’s not the end of the world right? I mean who cares that he didn’t go down the slide? That doesn’t prove anything and no one should be made to do something they don’t want to do. Problem was, he always regretted not going down that slide, and that regret was a worse feeling than any fear he may have felt. So since then he’s spent his life hoying himself off stuff.

Funny story about me, I was the worse kid to say ‘well if Angela jumped off a bridge would you?’ to because i’d be the kid who would turn round and say ‘Angela jumped off a bridge? I’m there!’. I didn’t want to be the boring girlfriend who sat with the coats and bags while he went on all the cool rides at Alton Towers so I found my cajones and joined in the fun. Afterall it’s always better to regret something you have done than something you haven’t, sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and go for it.

The Newman Adrenaline diaries:

Disney & Islands of Adventure (Florida) 2006

DSCF0110

Helen’s zipline off the Tyne Bridge (Newcastle) 2008

Dave’s bungee off the Transporter Bridge (Middlesbrough) 2009

output_cAog05

Rollercoaster at New York New York (las Vegas) 2009

1914113_274027125295_3049460_n

Helen’s zipline in Queenstown (New Zealand) 2013

 

Our joint skydive over the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) 2013

Busch Gardens, Disney & Islands of Adventure (Florida) 2014

Bounce Below and Zipworld (Wales) 2014

Snowmobiling in Iceland – 2015

Airbnb-ing in Oslo

‘They’ve found an elegant way to help hosts make more money and for guests to have authentic experiences. It brings those people together in a unique way’ – Logan Green

It’s not often that I’m particularly picky about where I lay my hat on holiday, I spent the majority of my honeymoon in a campervan FFS (and thoroughly enjoyed it I might add) but when I was reviewing our upcoming trip to Oslo, the Youth Hostel I’d booked us into on Booing.com whilst drunk 6 ,months ago suddenly wasn’t sitting all that well with me. And not because it looked like a prison cell with a view, but mainly because once you added street parking for 24 hours and the rental of sheets and towels, it wasn’t actually all that cheap.

I’d really only heard about Airbnb through hearsay and mainly just assumed it was a fancy facilitator for sofa surfing however after a little research, (googling ‘how many airbnb cutsomers have been stabbed in their sleep’ does count as research ok?) and discovering that you can actually boo whole apartments rather than just a room in a house, it became more and more appealing.

Turns out Oslo is full of people ready willing and able to rent out their swanky apartments for the weekend to tourists like us. We only had a week to get something sorted so choices were probably more limited that if you had more to plan. But we eventually found a lovely little one bedroomed place near the Grunerlokker area of Oslo with free parking, that only worked out at about £20 more than what our jail cell, sorry hostel would have cost.

How it works:

Find a property you’re interested in renting and send an enquiry to the host with the dates you’d like to visit. They email you back with a yay or nay, and if yay usually ‘pre approve’ you as a guest so you can go ahead and pay. Once we’d paid I send another email to our host (Ragna) letting her know what time we were arriving and asking a little more about the parking situation. I’ll admit that waiting for a response once you’ve handed over the cash was an agonising one, after all, what’s to stop her from taking the money and running? However get back to me she did and told us everything we needed to know prior to our visit.

Ragna was there to greet us when we arrived and showed us around. She also let us borrow a map, gave us useful tips on the public transport system and gave us advice on what all the cool things to see were seeing as we were only there for less than 24 hours.

Without a doubt the best part of using airbnb is that it’s self catering. Especially in  Norway (a country where it’s £13 for a slice of cheescake). After hot footing it almost all the way around Oslo in about 5 hours seeing all there is to see, we were relieved to get back to the aprtment with some of the most expensive frozen pizzas we’ve ever bought and some of our duty free vodka and chilled out for the evening.

20160925_091034.jpg

I’m sure that airbnb experiences vary from host to host and I’m sure there are some horror stories to be found however our experience was pretty positive. There are few little things that could make the experience even better however.

For example almost all properties have a mandatory cleaning fee which the price you see in your search isn’t the price you pay. Sometimes the cleaning fee is only an extra £10 as was in our case so it doesn’t alter the price drastically but it can be much more so something to be mindful of. It’s also a little bit awkward staying somewhere that is clearly someone’s actual house. Yes we had clean towels and sheets but you’re very conscious that it’s someone’s home and their personal belongings are everywhere.

Obviously it’s a given that the use of plates, cups, glasses etc is fine, and we made sure we cleaned everything we used however it wasn’t clear whether tea and coffee was ok to use the next morning (so we didn’t just to be on the safe side) so it might be worth ironing all the kind of stuff out with your host when you arrive.

We would definitely use Airbnb again however, in fact we’re booked up to stay in a cottage in Falmouth next August for my cousins wedding through the site and I imagine it’s perfect for a couples city break (most hosts don’t allow stage and hen parties), we’d just make sure we got the coffee situation sored out ahead of time, i’m not a happy bunny without my morning coffee.