Travelling from the Winelands of Portugal’s Douro Valley to the Winelands of Spain’s Rioja

Wine is one of life’s special treats, and I feel like it’s something you appreciate more as you get older. I know that my partner, Pad, is getting more and more interested in the wine he drinks, and we’re both very interested in the history and culture behind the food we eat and the things we drink.

I never really knew “wine tours” were a thing, until I heard of Wines and Tours (I mean, of course I knew you could go to wineries and see where the grapes grow) but the idea of touring such regions and seeing lots of different wineries and experiencing lots of different flavours was completely new to me.

Stepped Douro Vineyards

But if you’re a foodie and you’re enthusiastic about wine and travel, this is basically the ideal holiday. An excuse to take a tour around a beautiful region, sampling the incredible wine on offer as you go. Perfection right?

The company, Wines and Tours, offers a variety of tours from French regions, to beautiful areas of Portugal. The way you can select and combine tours also makes the experience personalised and unique to you.

Here’s what to expect on one of their tours, told by the co-founder himself, Bill Warry…

As you’d expect, port has a starring role in the Wines & Tours three-part trip to the Douro region. We start in Porto, with post-flight relaxation and a Welcome dinner in the luxury facilities of The Yeatman, the famous five-star hotel named for one of the most successful and influential merchant families.

Breakfast at the Yeatman

The hotel’s cellars contain a superbly comprehensive collection of Portuguese wines, and the views of Portugal’s second largest city—with its varied architecture: stately beaux-arts; extravagant baroque; village-style plazas—are wonderful.

In the morning there’s a conducted tour of Taylor’s Port Lodge. This oldest of Port Lodges is just next door to the hotel, and offers the opportunity to learn about the different styles and qualities of port. And the chance to taste a few.

After lunch at Taylor’s Tres Seculos restaurant—which boasts the same top quality cuisine as The Yeatman—we drive to Vinhos Norte, a pristine family winery in the neighbouring Vinho Verde region; Vinho Verde literally means Green Wine, though rather than describing colour, the name suggests the age of the wine. In this region it’s usually designed to be drunk very young. These crisp, fresh wines are mostly whites, but rose and red are also produced.

Understanding wine part-way through fermentation

Wine&boat&stunning scenery

The day’s discoveries are discussed over dinner at a Pombal hotel, and the next morning we visit Victor Marques: farmer, wine-maker and poet. The fabulous barbecues in his vineyards are legendary, and the 20 year old vintage port made by Victor’s father is amazing; quite possibly the smoothest you’ll ever have.

The next day, we take to the river, cameras ready to capture a tapestry of stepped vineyards flanking the river banks, with every bend revealing a scene more beautiful than the last. And along the way, there’s wine to taste.

The river trip takes us to a stone’s throw of the Spanish border, and the final part of the journey is in Rioja country. There, the next couple of days are filled with wine-tasting, food, fantastic company, and raw, rugged countryside; quite different to that of the Douro Valley, but still stunning.

The raw beauty of Rioja

Beautiful Riojan landscape

The whole week-long tour is made up of three different tours from Wines and Tours Ltd; we promote a concept of sequential conducted tours. Essentially, these allow you to choose the length of your wine-tour holiday, and exactly how much you want to taste and discover. 

So why choose one of these tours? And why does it make such a great vacation?

  • It’s different and unique, compared to your usual beach holiday or city break.
  • These areas of Europe are simply stunning. Perfect for a summer getaway.
  • You’ll get to explore different regions, and won’t be stuck in one place.
  • You get to combine your travelling with another passion – wine!
  • You’ll get to meet like-minded people, also interested in travelling and wine.
  • You’ll have an informed guide, and you’ll learn loads.
  • Your guide will take you to the best places and make the best recommendations.
  • You’ll understand wine better, and be told how to handle and study it.

Tranquility at Tua

 

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Beautiful Copenhagen! Photos, Photos and More Photos…!

Last week I was lucky enough to head to Copenhagen for a few days on a business trip… Which was SO EXCITING!! Especially as it was to Copenhagen – somewhere I’ve never been before.

I’ll be honest – Copenhagen has never really been on my radar, but before jetting off I did a little research and couldn’t wait to visit. The company I work for (I do social media and PR for Tiger Stores) are a Danish Design store so I’m always hearing about the Danish culture, and was pretty excited to experience for myself.

Here are my photos!

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One thing I adored about Copenhagen was the quiet, the calm and the cleanliness of it. There aren’t many cars in the city, and almost everyone rides bikes – so the city is very quiet and peaceful compared to London. In the evening it was noticeable how calm the streets were, there was a lack of engines, transport and sirens… it was kinda lovely.

There were so many bikes in the city, I spent a lot of time taking photos of them. There’s definitely something super ‘instagrammable’ about bikes in the sunshine. It’s kind of fun imagining what kind of person owns the bike…

Like this one below, is totally some rich hippy artist. But he has an adventurous side (look at the wheels). And he’s maybe got a new baby or something (because the plants are a bit overgrown – so he hasn’t had chance to cycle recently). 

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The streets and buildings reminded me a little of Amsterdam, which makes sense as apparently a lot of buildings in Copenhagen were built by the Dutch. Some of the streets were simply gorgeous – especially the street with coloured fronts along the waterside.

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Look at my shoes. I <3 them.

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One of the evenings, my colleagues took me out for dinner at an area of the city called Christiania. Christiania is a part of the city which (for want of a better word) is ‘free’ – it doesn’t abide to the normal laws in the city (for example, people sell and smoke weed freely in the area) and the people there are an independent community. It’s like a huge park set around a beautiful lake with homes, cafes, restaurants and market stalls.

The history of the area is fascinating – and it’s an amazing place to visit for the sheer experience of it. There are only a few photos below (as they ask you not to take images once inside the grounds).

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Next up, a few more random photos from the city and just strolling around…

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The city is seriously so gorgeous… These photos are just random shots from here there and everywhere whilst walking around the city – and it seems like everywhere you look there is something else to take a photo of.

I thought the multi-coloured houses would just be located on one street (kind of like Notting Hill) but they weren’t – they pop up everywhere, which is so nice. You’ll be walking along this normal street one second, and the next minute you’ve turned onto an amazing rainbow.

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Oh and CAN WE JUST TALK ABOUT THE PASTRY!?

Holy smokes.

It was good.

My friend Samuel (who was travelling with me) had warned me beforehand how good the pastry was, and I was somewhat doubtful. I’m not a big pastry fan here in the UK – and if I was going to convert they’d have to be something special.

Well, it was. It was squishy, sweet, sticky, crispy, cinnamonny and custardy all in one mouthful. I am literally drooling on my keyboard as I write this.

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And then it was time for home.

I tried to sneak a pastry in my carry-on for Pad, but it got a bit gross so I abandoned it on the plane. Until next time, Copenhagen.

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My favourite European destinations for cheap summer getaways

We’ve had some pretty epic holidays this last year and the year before, so it’s likely this year will be a bit different, as we’ll be choosing locations closer to home.

We’re still planning to get away (I don’t think I could do a year without a holiday of some kind!) – but the places we choose will be much closer to home, most likely inside Europe – where we can grab up some cheap flights – instead of forking out £600-£800 for a long-haul flight.

Here are a few of my favourite places in Europe:

Berlin, Germany

This is actually a city I only visited very recently (Pad and I went to celebrate his 30th birthday). It made such a great impression on me, which I totally wasn’t expecting. Berlin is quirky, modern, but also has history to it too, which is culturally important and fascinating.

The flight only took an hour and a half (no jet lag… yay!) and it’s the kind of place you can head to for a few days over the weekend or bank holiday. I’d go back in a flash, I just loved it there, and it’s actually a great city for the transition period between winter and spring. It’s not really a ‘sight-seeing’ city in my opinion, it’s more of a ‘live like a local’ kind of city… But that’s what makes it so awesome.

And also, Berlin is cheap! Like half the price of London cheap. Bonus points for that. 

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east side gallery berlin

Venice, Italy

I went to Venice last year with my friend (and future bridesmaid!) Harriet. I didn’t really know what to expect – I’d seen photos of the city, and heard all about it – but experiencing it for yourself is totally different.

It’s seriously beautiful. Like “Holy crap, I can’t believe this place actually exists’ kind of beautiful. Most of the time, it feels like you’re walking through a movie-set. The water, the bridges, the courtyards – it’s all just perfection. I went in June and the weather was lovely (hot, but not too hot, you know?) so I think May / June would be a pretty ideal time to visit.

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Rome, Italy

Another Italian city (what can I say, I love Italy) Rome is another city that feels like a movie-set. It has so many recognisable attractions, monuments and buildings – you literally never have the opportunity to put your camera away. It’s been a while since I went to Rome, but I’ve been desperate to go back again – especially because Pad hasn’t been yet and we’d get to explore it together with him seeing everything for the first time.

Rome is another place where you can book a getaway pretty cheaply – flights probably won’t cost more than £250 return, and you could get an AirBnB for your accommodation!

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Paris, France

Paris is so close to London, you can get a ferry to france if you’re driving and want to keep the car with you (perfect if you’re extending the roadtrip beyond just Paris, and you’re exploring more of France afterwards), or if not, you can fly or train it. Loads of choices!

It’s awesome, because within a couple of hours you’re somewhere completely different and in a whole new city. In the last year I’ve been to Paris with Pad, and then with my sister Bekah – and there’s always something new to see and explore. Disneyland is my main reason for visiting if I’m being honest – I LOVE DISNEYLAND.

But, you know, it’s romantic too in Paris. I’ve heard 😉

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St Ives, Cornwall

I’d never really been convinced with UK beach locations, until we visited St Ives last year. I can’t even believe how gorgeous the beaches were – and I wish we had stayed longer than a few days, because I probably could’ve relaxed on those beaches for at least a week or so!

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My photos of The Berlin Wall, taken from The East Side Gallery

One of the main things I wanted to see in Berlin, was whatever remained of The Berlin Wall. It’s a random fact, but the Berlin was first pulled down on the actual day I was born. So that was on all the papers and all the headlines the day my Mum was in the hospital giving birth to me. I guess, because of that early connection to the city and to the wall, it’s always fascinated me and it’s something I’ve always wanted to see, and learn more about.

It’s not actually blindly obvious in any of the guidebooks or tour-books where you can see The Berlin Wall, and yet I knew there must be somewhere you can go to see the remnants of it. However small those remnants might be.

We went to Checkpoint Charlie first where there stands a small piece of the wall – but it wasn’t enough, so I went on Google and tried to find somewhere else in the city. What I saw recommended a few times, was The East Side Gallery in East Berlin. It’s a free, outdoor gallery with a large stretch of the wall itself still standing, and covered in beautiful murals and street art.

It’s quite simply; beautiful, powerful and thought-provoking. 

By far the part of the trip that enjoyed the most, and something no one should miss if visiting Berlin. 

east side gallery berlin

You can see the East Side Gallery in the map below, but it’s kinda that whole road, not just a building. It basically runs right along Muhlenstrabe (the main road) for at least 20-25 of walking.

We got off at the U Schlesisches Tor station (on the U1 line) and just did the quick walk across the river to the east side gallery, which was very pretty… so why the heck not?

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Below are a few photos of my favourite parts of the wall, but all of it was just beautiful. For me, it’s especially beautiful because it’s something that was once so negative and such a point of pain and struggle, that has now been turned into something that represents freedom of expression, and colour and art.

east side gallery berlin

east side gallery berlin

east side gallery berlin

I loved the verse below, sometimes you don’t need the colours and the the patterns, sometimes words are enough to show the power of what the wall now represents, as opposed to what it once represented.

east side gallery berlin

east side gallery berlin

east side gallery berlin

east side gallery berlin

I loved this little verse too.

east side gallery berlin

The image below is one of the remaining walls most famous and iconic parts. In the city they actually sell t-shirts and postcards with this printed on.

east side gallery berlin

east side gallery berlin

east side gallery berlin

east side gallery berlin

east side gallery berlin

east side gallery berlin

Have you been to the East Side Gallery in Berlin? What did you think? 🙂

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Awesome European Cities for a Spring Break

With the winter chill easing off (FINALLY!) and the days getting longer, I’ve been day dreaming about some lovely city breaks. Pad and I are headed off to Berlin soon (yay!) so that’ll be the first city break of the year checked off.

City breaks are our main priority this year, being a newly engaged couple saving up for a wedding – we’re only really planning mini-breaks at the moment, because most of our cash is going towards wedding plans. I’ve also been looking at little cash-saving tips too, like reward schemes and air-miles (etc) which never seemed a priority before – but now seem like the key to organising affordable holidays, and still being able to save for the wedding too.

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When you think about how easy it is to collect points (I literally go in Sainsbury’s EVERY DAY) and how cheap the EasyJet flights are anyway, these little savings can actually help out quite a lot. As a quick summary, every 500 points is worth £2.50, which can quickly add up. What’s more, you can also collect 1 point for every £1 spent when you buy EasyJet flights through their eShops page on the Nectar website.

So then, the only issue is, deciding where to go! Here are some great city destinations to try out…

Berlin

I include this one because I’m actually heading there myself pretty soon. The city is on of Europe’s coolest cities at the moment and after months and months of people telling me how awesome it is – Pad and finally decided to go, I’ve been stalking the Lonely Planet page the last few weeks, and would absolutely LOVE some recommendations if you have any. It’ll be a little chilly around this time of year, but we’ll be walking around, taking in the sights and then enjoying a glass of win in the evening!

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Prague

Another city on my to-do list, the spring atmosphere in Prague is apparently unparalleled, with the city shaking off its last dusting of snow, the architectural splendour really comes into its own. I think it’s my Mum who originally recommended Prague to me. A city break to the Czech capital will mean enjoying Gothic castles and blooming flower boxes by day then mulled wine (a recurring pattern here…!) in friendly bars come nightfall. I’ve also seen some gorgeous photos of the river by night, and can’t wait to take some of my own.

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Moscow

OK, I’d be lying if I didn’t say my obsession with Russian cities comes from watching the movie Anastasia as a child. I was totally swept up in that whole story, and the animated architecture looked just as good as the real stuff (which I googled years later). It’s another place I’d love to visit because of the fantastic photo opportunities, and if you’re brave enough to face the chilling conditions then Spring is a pretty awesome time to visit before the summer crowds hit. The stunning sights including colourful Russian Orthodox Church domes, a wealth of historic churches, and majestic palaces that transport you back to Imperial times all add up to a highly memorable spring break. Just in time as the city starts to turn green.

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Marrakech

If you don’t want to leave the cold for more cold (fair play… sometimes you just need sunshine) then Morocco is one of thoseplaces that seems to have great weather all year round. My family live in Dubai, so I love the Middle East, and I just know I’d love it in Marrakech. It’s kind of a bonus too, that you can get cheap flights (you know, like france/spain cheap) but you end up in a place that’s totally different and totally culturally worlds apart. Visit the atmospheric souks, take in the stunning work of local craftsmen, and travel to the desert for a once-in-a-lifetime camel ride experience.

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Planning Ahead: 5 Must-See Historical Sites In Amsterdam

As I’ve mentioned before in some previous blogs, over the next year or so, I’ll be sticking to mainly short-haul destinations in Europe – to save extra money for our wedding and honeymoon. One of the destinations I’d love to fit in sometime soon is Amsterdam, it’s so nearby and looks so beautiful and quirky – I’m actually kind of disappointed in myself that I haven’t been already!

There’s not really any excuse, it’s like a 30 minute flight. 

I’m going to be putting a few blogs together over the next few months, so I can reference back to them when we actually get round to going to these places, and this blog is all about the historical sites I’ll be scheduling in when we do visit Amsterdam.

Obviously, Amsterdam is known as one of the most enjoyable cities in Europe to visit, largely because it’s viewed as something of an adult playground (like the Las Vegas of the EU? Maybe). But in addition to modern attractions (and by that I mean ‘fun’-brownies and coffee shops that don’t necessarily make their money from coffee)…. Amsterdam is also home to some truly incredible historical sites.

Anne Frank House

Arguably the best-known historical site in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank House is a lasting tribute to one of the most fascinating stories from the 20th century. For those who may have forgotten the specifics, Anne Frank was a young girl in hiding during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the 1940s. Before her tragic capture and death, she maintained a diary about her situation, which most of us will have read at some point during high school. The story always meant a lot of me growing up so this is somewhere I simply would have to visit. The historical site is the house, still standing, where Frank hid and wrote her famous diary. And if it sounds like something of an outdated attraction, consider this: The Times Of Israel reported just a few weeks ago that 2014 was the fifth straight year of record visits to the house (approximately 1.23 million). I think it’s kind of incredible that her story is still living on, and it’s so important too.

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East India House

Known in Dutch as the Oost-Indisch Huis, this is the former headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, a hugely influential trade corporation (of sorts) that controlled Dutch trade with Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Built in the early-1600s and maintained and restored beautifully in the years since, the East India House actually has a strikingly modern design when you consider just how historical it truly is. For me, visiting would be all about taking photos of the beautiful architecture, I love old buildings and seeing old structures.

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Rijksmuseum

This incredible place was first opened in 1885 and remains not only an interesting historical site but a functional and breathtaking museum. Counting only a few attractions among the highlight sights and sounds of Amsterdam, British Airways notes Rijksmuseum right alongside the more modern Van Gogh museum, the floating flower market, and the city’s famous canals… Which definitely makes it worth a visit in my opinion. The Rijksmuseum is as stunning now as ever, featuring an enormous collection of art works from many centuries past, I’ve always had a weakness for art galleries (having studied art all the way through school and college) so I’d love to spend a few hours here. I might not be able to convince Pad to join me, but I’m sure he’d be happy having a beer somewhere nearby!

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Centraal Station

Amsterdam is far from being the only European city with an historic railroad station (London has it’s fair few too – especially since Kings Cross and St Pancras were redone!), but it’s hard to find one with more external beauty than Centraal Station. It opened back in 1889 and oddly enough was designed by the same man who served as the original architect for the Rijksmuseum, Pierre Cuypers. The resemblance between the two is actually quite clear, with the result being that this is one central railway hub that almost looks like a palace on the exterior.

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Canals

And finally, there are the canals, which are probably one of Amsterdam’s greatest attractions. The first few canals were constructed in the 1600s, and the entire network of them is arranged in concentric circles spanning the city, making for a design that is not only beautiful to behold but sensible as well (and efficiency is good!). I don’t think you can go to Amsterdam without feeling overwhelmed by all the canals, and I just know they would be a pleasure to photograph too.  The canals make up so much of the city’s atmosphere that Atmosphere has been referred to by many as the “Venice of the North (and if it’s anything like Venice, it’s sure to be beautiful). According to J Domb’s Travels, the city actually has more bridges than Venice too. Best of all, this is one historical site that you don’t have to go out of your way to visit; you can probably just step out of your hotel door and find one right there.

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Where else would you recommend? 🙂

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Glass blowing in Murano, Venice

Murano is one of the lesser known islands just a 20 minute ferry ride from Venice city centre (and the part known more for its touristy hotspots).

During my trip to Venice with my gorgeous friend Harriet, our hotel was actually located on Murano island (you can more info about the hotel here) so we were lucky enough to spend a proper amount of time exploring this more ‘local’ side of the city.

The one thing Murano is really well known for, is the glass making / glass blowing. You can see it all over the island, there are factories and shops scattered along all the little cobbled streets – selling all kinds of stunning glass creations.

Murano Glass Venice

As I mentioned, Murano is only a quick ferry ride from the main city of Venice – so I’d say to anyone visiting, to dedicate half a day coming over to Murano and really soak it all in.

If you’re planning on buying any glass in Venice, you should definitely ensure you’re buying it from the real island of Murano too – as it’s the only way you can ensure it’s genuine Murano product (and not cheap replica glass).

Murano Glass Venice

As you can see in the photos, the glass products are literally gorgeous. The glass comes in all shapes and sizes, and all kinds of creations, you could spend hours looking through the shops and not stumble upon the same creation twice.

There are tiny ornaments, vases, huge glass animal creations – and even magnificent chandeliers made entirely of glass. It’s really something – especially when you know it’s all been hand made only feet away from the shop you’re standing in.

Murano Glass Venice

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Murano Glass Venice

Murano Glass Venice

And it’s not just fragile bits and bobs – Harriet bought some Murano Glass sunglasses whilst we were there – so there are all sorts of things to find.

Murano Glass Venice

For an easy souvenir to bring home, keep an eye out for the beautiful jewellery many of the shops sell too. I fell in love with these adorable little necklaces. And the slightly more decadent beaded ones below too…

Murano Glass Venice

Murano Glass Venice

Murano Glass Venice

After looking around all the shops, head over to the factory – where you can watch live glass blowing demonstrations, standing little more than a few feet away from the artists themselves.

I’ve honestly never seen anything like it – and it blew my mind. 

I never realised how much skill you had to have and how precise and perfectly these men have honed their talents.

Murano Glass Venice

Murano Glass Venice

The tours seemed to be happening every 30 minutes or so, and we simply had to wait outside the factory (where a queue was already forming – so it was pretty obvious where to stand). It didn’t cost a penny to get in, so make sure no one tries to charge you!

Murano Glass Venice

Also, remember you can get a water bus over to Murano for very little cost – there’s absolutely no need to splash out on an expensive water taxi!

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Luxury in Murano: LaGare Hotel Venice Review

During my recent trip to Venice with my lovely friend Harriet, we were lucky enough to bag a room at the beautiful LaGare Hotel in Murano, Venice. Here you’ll find a review of the LaGare Hotel, its facilities and amenities. Prepare for lots of lovely photos!

The bedroom

I don’t know about you, but the most important part of any hotel I stay in – is always the room itself. I like a room to be clean, modern, with enough space to relax in – without feeling cramped of on top of each other. The room at LaGare Hotel definitely ticked all those boxes. The bed itself was huge and pretty firm (which is how I like it) so I couldn’t have complained in the slightest. It was beautiful!

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

The bedroom area is positioned on a matinée level, which looks over a mini-living room with a TV and big sofa. There are sky-lights on the ceiling, which you can see in the photo above which was a lovely touch.

In terms of storage and space, was plenty of wardrobe space in the corridor, a big safe for our belongings, and a huge bathroom too – which was super modern and well-lit (important on a girly getaway – for make-up and hair of course).

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

Public areas in the LaGare Hotel 

As well as the private space you have inside your room, the hotel is actually really generous in terms of public space too. On our floor there was a gorgeous lobby area (only accessible to guests) which had sofas, arms chairs, and a private art collection of beautiful Murano glass works.

LaGare Hotel Venice review

Then there is the main lobby on the ground floor, which is next door to the hotel bar and the restaurant. In this area you’ll find plenty of sofas, lounges, and books to fill the time. Everything is decked out to make you feel at home. But not you actually home – a fancy, posh, art loving Italian’s home. Look out for all the art work around the hotel too – you can see how carefully it’s all been selected – so don’t forget to soak it all in.

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

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The breakfast

If you’re staying at The LaGare Hotel in Venice, then you might’ve booked a package including flights and breakfast, so you’ll be wanting to know if the breakfast is any good!

I really enjoyed it. It was far from what you’d get at a big major hotel (the hot options were pretty limited, and the selection was small) but there was still lots of choice, and the food that was put out was never anything less than delicious. My favourite was their little Bruscettas – I could’ve eaten about a 100 of those and still gone in for more.

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

The selection ranged from egg pastries, quiches, fried eggs, cold meats, cream cheese, cakes and sweets and fresh fruit. They also had some juice choices, as well as champagne (for breakfast!) which was a welcome start to the day, and just want you want on holiday.

The little breakfast room was light, airy and really nice. Not too crammed full (that’s quite a pet peeve of mine) and there was even an outdoor area too which you could opt for if the weather was nice enough (which it was when we were there).

LaGare Hotel Venice review

Getting around, in and out of Venice 

As you may (or may not) know, the hotel isn’t actually on the main island of Venice. It’s located on Murano – a smaller island about a 15 minute speedboat ride from Venice. The hotel actually offers a complimentary speedboat to get you around – which is amazing – but you’ll need to book in advance as the speedboat only seat around 10 people, and only makes a few trips a day.

I’d recommend booking all the trips you’re wanting to take on your first day when you check in, and then keep track of which trips you’ve booked places on. They have a boat head into Venice in the morning and in the evening, as well as a return trip mid afternoon and evening. They also do airport transfers too – and will pick you up from the airport if you give them a heads up.

The speedboat is below… 🙂 pretty nice right?!

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

The speedboat leaves from a little jetty right outside the hotel (in the photo above) – it’s not hard to find and the staff will always point you in the right direction if you can’t find it!

What amazed me about the whole ‘free’speedboat’ arrangement was that it was free. If you were to pay for a private speedboat in Venice, to and from Murano it would cost you upwards of 100 Euros. So believe me when I tell you it’s a perk worth having!

The photo below is the view you get from their speedboat as you whizz into central Venice. Picture perfect! 

LaGare Hotel Venice review

Public transport around the hotel

As well as the speedboat, there is also loads of public transport options in and out of the city in the form of water buses. There are two routes, the more frequent (every 10/15 mins) takes you to Fte Nove (a main ferry hub on the closer side of Venice island to Murano). Getting off here will require a little bit of walking to get into the main tourist bit of the city, but the ferry itself only takes 15/20 minutes.

The other is less frequent and takes you right into the heart of San Marco (so no extra walking needed). However this ferry comes less frequently and takes much longer (about 45 minutes in total).

So it’s just up to you which you’d prefer. For us, we got the first option on the way in when our feet were feeling fresh and then got the longer ferry back when we wanted a nice long sit down after sightseeing.

For either option – the ferry stations are all within 5 minutes walk of the hotel door – if that. It’s super convenient.

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

I’d recommend staying late in Venice and then grabbing the water bus back to the hotel later in the night, as it means you can enjoy the sunset whilst you travel! We always got a seat too on the ferry, and at night, there was barely anyone on there – so quite a relaxing way to end the day!

LaGare Hotel Venice review

LaGare Hotel Venice review

Overall? 

It was beautiful and impressed me no end. The staff were so friendly and willing to help with every question. They provided us with maps, brochures, recommendations… you name it.

Granted the hotel isn’t actually on Venice island itself, but to me that meant we explored more of the city and actually got to see and make the most of Murano too. It was nice after being in the crowded hub of the touristy areas, to come back to the calm and quiet of Murano island – where real people live and where the crowds barely exist.

I loved using the public transport, but more than that, I ADORED the speedboat bonus – as it meant we got to live and feel like VIPs.

Would I go back? Absolutely. 

LaGare Hotel Venice review r

LaGare Hotel Venice review

If you’re booking your trip soon, I’d recommend the following websites for great deals and prices:

tripadvisor.com (hotels and reviews)

expedia.co.uk (hotels)

agoda.com (hotels and tours)

skyscanner.net (flights)

 

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Revisiting your ‘teenage’ party-holiday destination (and being pleasantly surprised!)

Last weekend I went to see The Inbetweeners 2 at the cinema – and it really made me miss Australia! But, surprisingly, the film didn’t really represent the Australia Pad and I had experienced whilst we were there.

Or maybe we just did a good job of avoiding the annoying ‘gap yah’ travellers…

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For me, Byron Bay was all about peace and quiet, it was one of the most beautiful beaches we’d stumbled across in Australia and we literally just wasted away the days sat on the sand taking it all in.

It got me thinking though, about other popular ‘youth holiday’ destinations that have a bad reputation – but are actually pretty gorgeous once you scratch beneath the surface. One of the places I always wanted to visit when I was younger (and by young, I mean 16/17) was Malaga. And the reason I wanted to visit? The nightlife, the drinking and the potential for matching t-shirts with funny nicknames, and bright green jello shots.

Now, my holiday priorities are a little different! So what is there in Malaga for travellers looking for a holiday with a little more substance?

Well, this Spanish city really allows you to immerse yourself in the life of the locals and see more of Spain than just the tourist trail (delightful as this trail itself may be!).

It’s not all about the bars and beaches once you head out there: the city does actually have plenty of cultural places to visit, not that many of the teens ever get to see them.

Choosing the right time to visit

With around three hundred days of sunshine every year, the Mediterranean climate is ideal for a visit just about any time of the year (but bear in mind that southern Spain can get particularly hot in August). That heat will be nothing if you’re used to Vegas heat or the Middle East but worth bearing in mind if you’re more of a shade person.

You can get affordable flights all year round, I did a quick search here on Thomson and the prices were very reasonable.

Taking in the culture

Once you get out there, there’s a wonderful mixture of history and modern day: the city is a cultural hub and a bustling port town with adorable sights and hip restaurants and bars. You’ll find Roman and Phoenician ruins in the centre of the city, along with a 16th century cathedral with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture all meshed together in one confusing but beautiful building.

Be sure to visit the Picasso Museum, with pieces from his entire career spanning from the end of the 19th century up until his death in the 1970s (this is quite a treat for any art lover) and even those who aren’t keen on the arts can appreciate the magic of seeing a Picasso up close and personal.

No trip to Malaga is complete without a visit to the Alcazaba fortress, which was built in the 11th century and now holds an archaeological museum. On the hill above the fortress, there’s Gibralfaro Castle from the 1300s, which was built to protect the fortress and has amazing views of the city.

Don’t forget to visit the Roman Amphitheatre and La Concepción Botanic Garden, which is considered to be one of the best in Europe.

Eating and drinking

There’s something missing from your trip if you don’t try some Spanish tapas (drooling over my keyboard at the very thought…!)

Malaga boasts traditional tapas restaurants and more modern tapas bars. As Malaga is a seaside city, the seafood is exceptionally delicious. You can eat sardines and prawns which were caught only that morning, so they taste particularly flavoursome. If you want truly fine seafood, try Maricuchi where you can eat freshly caught seafood at tables by the sea.

Where are your teen destinations that you’d like to re-visit?

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Get planning: Prepping for Oktoberfest

I’ve done my summer holidays for the year, so now I’m looking forward to October, November and December and thinking about what I can do during those months. One of the main things (and most well known) has to be Oktoberfest.

Now you have a few options, you can go the whole hog and book flights to Germany (why not?!) or you can find a local celebration, such as the London Oktoberfest celebrations. Either way – you’re going to have fun. And drink beer.

But you already knew that right? 

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So how do you go about getting ready? Well first things first, you need a costume. Yes a costume. If you’re going to do it, do it right.

I found this website Oktoberfest Dirndl that sell more varieties of Oktoberfest themed outfits you could ever wish for. I got a bit obsessed once I’d started looking through all the outfits, because I couldn’t decide which was my favourite, and then I had like 8 different dresses in my basket and it all got a bit sad, because I knew I could only pick one.

Well I could’ve picked two, but I don’t know whether I’d  be able to justify it, given I’d only wear it once a year. 

Here are some of my favourites:

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You need to find a group of awesome people to go with! Whilst you could go on your own, or as a couple – you’ll get the most out of an event like this when you’ve got a big group of friends surrounding you. So send out the invites, make a Facebook group… get everyone jumping on your bandwagon basically. The more people you’ve got the more fun you’ll have.

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What should you book? 

If you’re headed to Germany then getting into the tents is free, and sitting down at the tables is free too. But that’s where it ends! Drinks, food, and any touristy bits you might buy will cost money (and it won’t be cheap).

 

For the London festival, depending on the day you go and the tier of ticket you take – will alter the price. For example, there are VIP tickets, for reserved seating and tables, etc. If you haven’t reserved a specific table – then it may be worth turning up early to make sure you get a good spot!

Remember that there are around 14 different tents to choose from (if you’re going to the original one in Germany) so choose wisely when you arrive! Each tent has it’s own unique feeling and atmosphere, and will serve slightly different food and drink too. For a way more in-depth explanation of the tents, this blog post has loads more info and goes into much more details!

When does the festival actually start?

The original Oktoberfest in Germany begins in September and ends in October (figures, because of the name and all!) on the first Sunday in October, or on October 3, whatever is later. It lasts for at least 16 days.

The next dates are:

  • 2014: September 20 – October 5
  • 2015: September 19 – October 4
  • 2016: September 17 – October 3

Don’t forget about the food! 

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Yes, there is beer! But there is also food! And great food at that! Don’t forget to get your fill of the food, and make sure – for every glass you drink, you’re consuming a little food too. No one wants to end up too drunk that they can’t enjoy the full experience (you did pay to be there after all!) so make it a balancing act if you can.

One last piece of advice…. 

Book your hotels in advance, because the city is full to the brim during the festival! Look for somewhere nearby too – so you’re not having to hail a cab whilst you’re drunk! 😉

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The beautiful windows of Venice, Italy

When I was in Venice recently, I found myself taking more photos of windows than anything else. The windows were just so gorgeous, I couldn’t not. Here are some of my favourites 🙂 Enjoy!

Beautiful windows in Venice

Beautiful windows in Venice

Beautiful windows in Venice

Beautiful windows in Venice

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Beautiful windows in Venice

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Beautiful windows in Venice

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Beautiful windows in Venice

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Did you like the photos featured in this blog post? Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @TheWorldAndThenSome where I post lots more gorgeous photos from my travels!

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Travel myths: 6 lies people tell you about Venice

A couple of weeks ago I went to Venice, and it was brilliant. It’s a beautiful city (feels kind of like a movie set) and there is loads to do and see. But beforehand, I was worried.

Worried.

To go on holiday.

Which is stupid.

But it’s because I’d read up on Venice prior to leaving – I always do read up on a place – and had read all these negative things. Some of these things even made me doubt my decision to visit the city, but when I got there I found I’d been worried for nothing.

Venice grand canal

So here are the lies I’d read about Venice:

1. It’s the most expensive city you’ll ever visit: WRONG

So many travel forums and tour books warned about the price of Venice I found myself getting seriously concerned. But the reality? It wasn’t half as bad as I’d expected. Maybe it’s because I live in London and I’m used to expensive prices, but I’ve also travelled a lot, and Venice wasn’t too bad at all compared to cities like Melbourne, Sydney, NYC (etc). I was told that a meal out for 2 people in the evening would cost upwards of 100 euros… this was way exaggerated.

I never spent more than 25 Euros on an evening meal (and that included a main meal, bread, non-alcoholic drinks, and even a side order in some cases). Granted there would’ve been an extra 10 Euros perhaps if I’d have had a glass of wine – but that’s still pretty reasonable. Remember – people live in Venice too – so the prices won’t be expensive everywhere.

The cost of a bowl of pasta in the average restaurant was like 15 Euros, and the price of a pizza ranged from 9 Euros (margarita) to 18 Euros (if you wanted shellfish or prawns or generally expensive stuff on there). Of course, you’ll pay more if you eat out at the expensive restaurants n the tourist hotspots like Piazza San Marco – and if you choose the luxury restaurants with fine dining – but you’d pay more for that any city in the world.

It’s not just a Venice thing. That’s a hospitality-industry thing. 

I think Harriet paid around 18 Euros for this massive platter of shellfish.

I think Harriet paid around 18 Euros for this massive platter of shellfish. Not so bad after all.

2. You’ll pay shit loads in cover charges and tax at restaurants: WRONG

Before I went I’d read up to be careful about cover charge and tax at restaurants – and that hidden fees were common practise in Venice restaurants. I’d read couples claiming they’d been charged 30/40 Euros on top of their meal cost, just for sitting down at a table, or eating outside in the courtyard. WHERE WERE THESE PEOPLE EATING?  Yes – If you go to an expensive restaurant the cover charge will be more. But that’s because they know you’re willing to pay it. Go to normal restaurants and local haunts and the cover charge is literally a couple of Euros. We paid no more than 5 Euros in total for tax and cover charge the entire time we were there.

When you think about NYC and other cities in the US where you’re expected to tip up to 20% – this doesn’t seem too bad at all. 

Enjoying a beautiful meal near the Rialto Bridge. Total bill for 2 people: 45 Euros.

Enjoying a beautiful meal near the Rialto Bridge. Total bill for 2 people: 45 Euros.

3. The city stinks: WRONG

OK, so there were times when  noticed a slight smell. And there was one evening when we were walking down a very scruffy alleyway (way away from the touristy part of the city) and it got a bit smelly. BUT it lasted only a few metres and then it faded. Maybe it might get worse in the height of summer in August, but I can safely say, that in June when I was there the smell wasn’t noticeable or uncomfortable.

I was dreading the smell (I have an overly sensitive nose and may have been a Spaniel or police dog in another life…?) so I was like:

“ohmygod it’s going to smell and I’m going to hate it” but it honestly wasn’t even noticeable. Sure, you might smell it when you first arrive – but then, just as with anything, it’ll fade away and you’ll get used to. I mean, for heavens sake, people live in Venice – so it can’t be that bad. You wouldn’t voluntarily live in a place that stinks, would you?

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4. Public transport is a nightmare: WRONG 

It’s no where near as bad asI’d read on forums. It might be a little more confusing initially because you’re riding a boat, not a bus, but it’s pretty easy to get the hang of. And you know, if you’re ever confused – just ask someone. People are generally friendly and will point you in the right direction. And if you do get on the wrong boat? Just get off at the next stop and go back in the right direction instead. It’s really that easy.

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Waiting for our bus.

All public transport take s a little time getting used to – it doesn’t matter if you’re in NYC, London, Paris, Rome – it can be confusing wherever you are. Take a few minutes to accustom yourself to it – look out for the major stations such as Rialto Bridge, San Marco, etc – and then at least you’ll know what to look out for and where to aim for.

5. It’ll be swarming with Mozzies: WRONG

I read on a view Trip Advisor forums that the mozzies in Venice are awful because of how much water there is there. I stocked up on DEET, got myself in a fluster (I really hate mozzie bites and seem to react terribly to them) and prepared for the worst.

The good news?

I didn’t see a single mozzie during my time there. Not in the daytime, not in the evening. AWESOME.

6. Taking a Gondola ride is over-rated and over-priced: WRONG

I was watching a TV show a few weeks before visiting Venice, that advised people to give the Gondola rides a miss. Claiming they were over-priced and over-rated. I just don’t understand this at all.

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If you’re in Venice, you absolutely must to a Gondola ride. Because it’s iconic, beautiful, romantic, wonderful and a once in a lifetime thing. Yes it’s pretty pricey (official prices are in the image below) but you can share your Gondola ride with other people for cheaper fares, and daytime rides are less than evening rides, s0 you can save money there too. We booked our ride with Viator in advance too online, and that saved us around 20 Euros.

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So yeah. Venice is great.

I was worried for no reason, and I loved every second. It’s a beautiful city.

It is a little expensive in parts – but any smart tourist with a brain knows how to avoid those areas, and knows how to avoid paying 18 Euros for coffee. It can be done on a budget – I even came home with 40 Euros left over (which was about 20% of the total cash I took with me). Not bad going!

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If you’re booking your trip soon, I’d recommend the following websites for great deals and prices:

tripadvisor.com (hotels and reviews)

expedia.co.uk (hotels)

agoda.com (hotels and tours)

skyscanner.net (flights)

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My next trip…. Is VENICE!

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When I visited Las Vegas last year, Pad and I stayed in The Venetian Hotel and that was when I first fell in love with Venice. Yes, OK, fake Venice. But still, I figured, if I loved the fake version so much, I’m bound to fall head over heels (crazy Notebook love) with the real Venice.

My friend Harriet and I were looking for somewhere to go for a short break in June earlier in the year, and we both brought up Venice a bit tentatively. We both have boyfriends – and I think we were both expecting the other to say ‘I’m sorry – but Venice is reserved for a loved-up couple vacation, not a girls getaway.’ 

Except that neither of us thought that, and both of us wanted to go. And heck, I’ll go have a super romantic weekend away with my BFF and be done with it. So we’re going to Venice and I can’t wait. I’ve always wanted to go there, so it will be a major bucket list item checked off.

Where will I be staying? 

We’re going to be staying at LaGare Hotel, a new hotel (converted from a very old glass factory) just off the main Venice island. I’m kind of excited to be staying in local Venice, rather than touristy Venice, as I think we’ll see a whole different side to the city. It’s a 10 minute boat ride away from the main island, and the hotel offers a free shuttle – so I figure we’re pretty much sorted.

You can see here which island the hotel is located on. See, not too far!

You can see here which island the hotel is located on. See, not too far!

The hotel itself looks pretty stunning, the perfect retreat to go back to after a long day of sightseeing. I’ve got to the age now where I appreciate a nice hotel and a lovely place to come home to in the evening – and (as much as it pains me to say) my hostel days are well and truly behind me. I like comfy beds, big pillows, aircon and a decent hotel bar too much now to give them up. 

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Who are we flying with? 

I big priority for me with this holiday was that I really wanted to fly into Marco Polo airport. I’ve heard the views are pretty incredible when you fly into Venice and I wanted to be able to take advantage of them!

Most budget airlines don’t actually fly into Marco Polo I found (which was a bit annoying), but luckily I found some really affordable Monarch direct flights which were at good times (no 5am wake up call…. phew), and also flew into Marco Polo (yay!). So I got my bargain prices and my Venice view. I can’t wait to get taking photos on the plane.

What will we be doing? 

To be honest, I’m going without knowing too much what’s on offer. I’ve never been before, so I’m excited to just walk around, explore and stumble across some beautiful places. I did a quick Google search to find out what the main tourist places were (see below) as I don’t want us to miss anything crucial – but when I visit cities I love just finding those amazing hidden gems by myself.

Most people who I’ve spoken to have said the same thing really.

The magic of Venice is just exploring, walking around and soaking it all in. 

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It was the same when I visited Rome. Sure, we knew what the main sites were and we knew what the main things we wanted to see were. My favourite moments though, were stumbling across things by accident. It’s more of an adventure that way.

I’ll also be taking my Autographer on this trip (my first time taking it somewhere since I started working there) so I’m majorly excited to get it out and start taking shots somewhere different to London! It’s very quickly become my favourite little travel gadget and I can’t wait to see the incredible shots it’ll take out and about in Venice 🙂 Credit must go to Toby (my wonderful colleague) for the shots of Venice you see below!

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Have you been to Venice and do you have any suggestions or favourite places? I’ll be there for 3 days – so would love to hear any tips or great restaurants, etc. 

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A Very British Christmas

Last Christmas, Pad and I spent the day on Queenstown beach, sipping cider and wearing santa hats (more on that here). Yet the whole time (as amazing as the sunshine was) we couldn’t help but miss the cold, the snow and the British way of doing things (i.e. sitting in front of the TV, having eaten way too much food, watching cheesy movies and getting slowly drunk. And don’t forget the celebratory nap time). 

This year, now back in the UK (and also – now having a newly found addiction to Instagram – something I spent last Christmas without….!) I’ve been talking lots of photos (I’m not exaggerating, this is an awfully long blog post!) gleefully snapping away anything and everything festive. I’m pretty sure Pad is going to be happy when Christmas is over, if only for the reason I won’t be pestering him with my iPhone anymore.

So here is my unofficial ‘Instagram’ guide to a Very British Christmas. 

OK, so the 1st of December rolls around… TIME TO GET A TREE AND A WREATH. I refuse to wait any longer to get my tree up, it has to be the 1st of December. To be honest – if it didn’t seem so keen and weird I would probably put it up in November. We got the wreath from Balham market for £10, and I love it. I’m trying to figure out if I can get away with keeping it up all year round. Because it makes the front door look so lovely

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This is how our tree looked on Christmas Eve, with everyone’s presents underneath, I was so proud of it! We spent Christmas in my new home in Balham, so my mum and sister came over for a couple of days. Pad and I have worked so hard to turn it into a home – and it really felt like the perfect place to spend Christmas.

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How good are baubles?

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Below are some photos of our Christmas dinner. The cooking side of things was relatively stress-free to be honest – as we prepped most things the night before. We’ve never been big fans of Turkey in our family, so we opted for Chicken, Beef and Pork Belly instead. We had mini roasts of all three, so we could just pick and choose.

My little sister was in charge of the roasties, and by ‘in charge’ I mean she was running a army regiment in the kitchen, with absolute precision. As expected, they were a success (big sigh of relief there).

She also managed to get through a record breaking 6 Yorkshire puddings. So good effort all round.

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For dessert we boycotted the traditional Christmas pudding, and went for a gingerbread house instead. It was pretty spectacular.

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Film of choice from Christmas day? Despicable Me of course…. What else!?

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Another big part of our Christmas is family – so we went up North to spend time with family on Boxing day. As with any family, we’re a little dysfunctional in parts, but the love is there. The ‘kids’ of the family (I say kids, but we’re all older than 20 now….!) are all lucky to be a similar age, so there is always lots of talk (and argue) about.

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I’m trying to think of a witty word for “Christmas hat selfies” but nothing comes to mind. Suggestions on a postcard! 😉

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Another lovely part of Christmas is also winter walks! Pad, my mum, sister and I went exploring Greenwich for the day – taking a walk around Cutty Sark, Greenwich Market and Greenwich Park. I’ve been to greenwich a couple of times before – but never had a proper look round the place before then. It’s so gorgeous! Especially the amazing views from the top of the park (for sure worth the big walk up there).

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Love these stunning paper roses from Greenwich market…. Need to remember to go back again and actually buy a few next time.

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Finally, my last ‘christmassy’ thing of the year was my first ever football game! I’ve never been to a match before (like ever) so it was pretty awesome to go watch my boyfriends team play. For him, it’s a yearly tradition, so I was really excited to go to a game and see what all the fuss was about. I loved it!

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Oh take it back. I have one more photo. Here is a couple selfie of our christmas jumpers. Yes, we totally jumped on that bandwagon this year.

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What are your Christmas traditions? What would you miss the most if you were spending Christmas abroad?

Follow me on Instagram here: http://instagram.com/ellerosenz

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Things do to in Paris when it Rains

Pad and I have a habit of getting unlucky with weather.

When we were in Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong and the USA earlier in the year – thunder and rain seemed to follow is around like a bad smell. Occasionally we’d get excited about a blue sky when we woke up in the morning – only to discover clouds rolling in seconds later.

Saying that though, its something we’ve always made the best of. Yes rain isn’t always the most ideal weather type – but most of the time, if you’re somewhere worth being, with someone worth being with – it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or not.

So, back to Paris.

I thought I’d share a few photos of us looking all drenched!

Paris in the rain tip 1: Find someone tech savvy and nimble to take tourist photos for you. The longer you wait for them to take the photo – the wetter you’re going to get!

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Paris in the rain tip 2: When looking for somewhere to shelter from the rain – choose small cafes on back streets, not big cafes right by the attractions. This glass of Coke set us back 18 Euros! 18! Ouch. At least he looks like he’s enjoying it though hey?

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Paris in the rain tip 3: Paris is still very pretty (even in rain) but make sure you remember to whip your camera out whenever sunshine makes a rare cameo during your day.

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Paris in the rain tip 4: When the rain gets really really bad – just go hide in the Metro, and ride the train until the people getting on don’t look wet anymore. That means the rain has probably stopped.

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Paris in the rain tip 5: If you smile in photos – no one will notice the rain, or that you are soaking wet through.

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Paris in the rain tip 6: This isn’t a tip really, just proof that the above tip is in fact true and correct.

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Paris in the rain tip 7: The Sacré Cœur is kind of windy so doubles up your wetness factor (but the view is proper nice). Approach with caution when in the rain, don’t expect your umbrella to keep you safe.

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Paris in the rain tip 8: Wear boots (waterproof if you can). Under all those beautiful autumn leaves are puddles of mud. You have been warned! 
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Paris in the rain tip 9: Book a nice hotel you can run back to when it all gets too much.

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Did you like the photos featured in this blog post? Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @TheWorldAndThenSome where I post lots more gorgeous photos from my travels!

 

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The Beautiful Padlock Bridge in Paris

One of my favourite places in Paris, the Padlock Bridge, is one of those spots you should really try and get down to during your time in the city. Especially if you’re visiting for a romantic getaway with your girlfriend or boyfriend. Yes it is super mushy – but sometimes you have to embrace the romance. You are in Paris….!

You can buy your own padlock to hook onto the bridge from home and bring it with you (might be cheaper!) or you can buy them from the little stalls along the riverbank. It’ll cost you about 4 Euros (I think that’s how much we paid for ours) and they all have markers pens too – for you to write your names on them before locking them onto the bridge.

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Tradition goes, that you buy your padlock, then once it’s locked onto the bridge you throw the keys into the river.

I loved the bridge, and all the lovely couples who were all throwing their keys in the river. This is the kind of thing I love when I’m travelling, it’s a place that really means something – and I loved reading all the padlocks and thinking of all the stories that go alongside them.

I took some pictures of my favourite padlocks I found – but there were so many! I could’ve stayed there all afternoon reading them all. I’d love to make a book of all the padlocks, and have photos of all the couples that match up with them… but can you imagine how difficult it would be to put that together?!

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Here’s our padlock! Maybe in ten years we’ll go back and try and find it again. A good idea (to help out your future self!), is to try and find a padlock that really stands out – and put yours somewhere near there. Then at least you’ll know what to look out for!

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The view form the bridge isn’t bad either so you may as well go take a look (even if you’re not the mushy sort). It’s right next to The Notre Dame as The Padlock Bridge is one of the bridges that connects the cathedral to the riverbanks of Paris, so it’s super easy to find. You could just follow the crowds of loved up couples – and you’re bound to find it that way too…!

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Did you like the photos featured in this blog post? Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @TheWorldAndThenSome where I post lots more gorgeous photos from my travels!

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My first time on The Eurostar!

I’ve never been on Eurostar before, so when they offered me some free return tickets to review it, I couldn’t say no. As someone with a pretty intense fear of flying (I know that’s a bit silly for a travel blogger!) any land-based transport is always a big hit with me. I loved being able to visit another country within a few hours, and not having to step foot on a plane. That alone for me is priceless. So, yes – straight up – I’d definitely use Eurostar again.

Our train left from St Pancras International, which was only 20 minutes on the tube from our flat, so getting there took barely anytime at all. If you’re coming into London especially for The Eurostar, you’re probably going to be going into either Kings Cross or Euston anyway by train – and both are super close to St Pancras. As in, literally a few minutes walk.

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We were only heading to Paris for a couple of days over the weekend, so we got an early train on Friday morning, so that we could make the most of all three days. Our tickets said we had to get there 30 minutes before to leave time for checking in and security, etc, but that’s nothing compared to the 3 hours we would have had to be at the airport in advance.

The check-in process is a little like an airport, but much more relaxed and a hundred times quicker. You then get into this nice waiting area with a coffee shop, news agents and a few food shops. We were in there no more than 10 minutes before our train was called for boarding – so I didn’t really pay it much attention to be honest!

One tip I would give though – is to buy your Metro card for Paris from the information desk here. I think it costs us a tad more £22 for 3 days (per ticket)… but it saved us the hassle of buying them in Paris, and it meant we didn’t need to worry about trying to figure out the zones and stuff. Seen as neither of us speak very good French (albeit I do try my best!) this made everything a bit easier.

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We were lucky enough to travel in Business class on the way out, which was a real treat. It meant we had a bit more space, our own private table and also (the best bit….) free breakfast and drinks! There was a nice little bread role, a croissant, yoghurt, fruit juice, coffee and tea and water. Which made for a nice pick-me up at 7am!

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The carriages themselves did look a bit dated if I’m being brutally honest, but the seats are really comfy and we had plenty of space – so I wasn’t really bothered by that. You’re only one the train for two hours anyway!

One thing that did surprise me was how quick the whole thing was. Both on the way out, and on our return trip – the time seemed to pass super quick. Another nice little perk, was that we were above ground a fair amount (I’d say for about 65% of the ride) so I could use my phone with signal and WiFi. Just remember to pack some magazines or a book for the actual ‘tunnel’ part – because you don’t even have a window view during that part – it’s all black.

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On the way home, back to London, the journey was just as quick but we were in economy class instead. I wanted to try both out so I could compare them, but economy was just as good and didn’t put any kind of dampener on the experience at all. It was just like a normal train ride really, a bit like the big Virgin Trains, but with a little more room.

I actually slept better on the way back because it was more cosy – so it’s all just preference really. Sure you don’t get free food and drink – but you can easily stock up on that in the train station before you set off. And the French station Gare Du Nord has loads of cafes and food shops, so you’ll have your pick of the best to eat on the journey.

Here’s my one bit on unrealistic feedback though: I think it’d be kind of amazing if the tunnel was glass and you could see all the fishys. But it’s not. So never mind. 

Did you like the photos featured in this blog post? Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @TheWorldAndThenSome where I post lots more gorgeous photos from my travels!

 

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I’m going to Paris!

Ever since we got back from travelling in the summer, I’ve been dreaming of our next trip away – and it’s finally all organised which is so exciting! Pad and I are going to head to beautiful Paris for my birthday (9th November) for a few days. I can’t wait – I grew up visiting Paris and France during the school holidays, so it’s a place really close to my heart. Pad has never been to Paris too – so I’m so excited to show him around and see what he thinks.

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I know straight off that he’s going to love the food… so that’s one thing I can count on! What with all the meat, cheese, bread and wine – I can hardly see where you can go wrong!? I plan on eating 4/5 meals a day. You have to make the most of these things…..!!

How are we getting there? 

I didn’t really want to get on a plane again for a while after travelling, so the Eurostar seemed like the perfect option of transport. I’ve never actually used the Eurostar before (so I’m unnecessarily excited for it!) and the idea of getting a train to a whole other country seems so easy and stress-free. I’m hoping it lives up to my expectations!

So where will we be staying? 

The hotel we’ve chosen is called Hotel Felicien and is actually brand new so we’ll be some of the first people to stop there – I think it opened officially a few days ago. It’s located on the Left Bank, and is only a short walk to the Eiffel Tower – which will be lovely (and save our feet when sightseeing!).

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The main thing that attracted me to it was the modern decor and the central location. It’s always nice to have somewhere romantic to come back to during city breaks – because during the day you exhaust yourselves so much walking around all the things to do and see. It’s nice to have somewhere a bit special to come home to. Another thing we quickly noticed after months of travelling together through big cities is you really start to realise just how valuable a central location is! Oh, and there’s a hot tub on the roof!

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What are we going to do? 

I’m hoping…. as much as we possibly can! I want to cram in all the touristy things, but also just take some time to enjoy the Paris culture and the food and the cafe culture too. Here are some blog posts I’ve been reading for inspiration!

http://ideasaroundthecorner.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/a-weekend-in-paris.html

http://mrsoaroundtheworld.com/2013/01/21/a-lux-weekend-in-paris-with-avenuestory/

http://wonderfulwanderings.com/girls-weekend-in-paris-our-itinerary/

http://www.roamingtales.com/2012/05/09/paris-weekend/

I’ll talk more about what we did in more detail after we get home of course! With plenty of photos too – I’m not going to lie – the photos are probably what I’m most excited for! My camera has felt a bit neglected since we got home from travelling.

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I’d absolutely love any recommendations for restaurants, cafes (or anything else really) – so if you have any suggestions please let me know!

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A beautiful sunset in Rovinj, Croatia

I’ve kind of got my heart set on returning to Croatia next summer in 2014 – and it’s not hard realising why after seeing these gorgeous photos from last time Pad and I were there.

We actually visited in Spring rather than summer last time, so we didn’t really get to explore the beaches and jump in the sea (wayyy to cold for that!) what we did plenty of however, was eating out, drinking coffee, eating ice-cream and enjoying watching the sunsets over the ocean.

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For me, Croatia feels a bit magical – almost like a film set? Then, when I started watching Game of Thrones – I was like “ahhh this is totally what Croatia reminds me of!”. It’s feels very old-worldy, traditional and almost secret. We stayed in the town called Rovinj, which isn’t really a hot-spot of UK tourists at all, so because of that we felt like we’d found something a bit special. The main town sticks out into a little peninsula, which is kind of a cross between Venice and Dubrovnik, and we loved walking along the cobbled streets and tiny alleyways.

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Our favourite thing to do whilst we were there was actually something as simple as watching the sunset… but I guess it’s pretty easy to understand why when they are this beautiful! The great thing about Rovinj is actually how many lovely bars and restaurants there are right by the waterside, so there are so many options and choices. Pad was dead-set on trying some of the amazing sea food on offer in the town (I’m allergic to shellfish – so I could do no such thing unfortunately!) and his little face lit up when he saw all the choices on the menus. I’ve included some photos of the food below too – because a good food photo is just as awesome as sunsets, right?!

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Have you been to Croatia? What would you recommend doing or seeing? Any tips would be so appreciated, especially if I do get my wish of heading back there next year! 

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Hotel Review: St Ermin’s, London

We got invited to spend a night at the beautiful St Ermin’s hotel in London, so I wanted to write a little review about what we thought about the hotel, it’s amenities, etc. We were bowled away by the hotel in all honesty – and (to cut a long story short – in case you just want to look at the photos!) I’d recommend the hotel to any tourists visiting the city on vacation.

St Ermins Hotel London Review

St Ermins Hotel London Review

The thing I loved most about the hotel was how traditionally English it felt. I think, if you were visiting the hotel as a tourist from the US, Australia, NZ, Japan, Asia…. etc, you’d really appreciate all the little English details and the decor because I’m guessing that’s what you’d be coming to London for! Why stay in a super modern hotel, when you can stay in something historic and beautiful like this?  The lobby (pictured above) was just stunning and totally had the wow factor… it looked like something out of Disney movie.

St Ermins Hotel London Review

St Ermins Hotel London Review

We stayed in a standard double room, and (as you can see) the amount of space you get is just amazing. This is rare for a central London hotel, so didn’t go unnoticed. I’ve stayed in a few hotels in London city centre before I lived here, and never did I get a room that was this big and airy.

After a year of travelling the world – we had our fair share of hotels and room sizes – and this room is definitely one of the most generous space-wise. We actually looked at the floor plan on the fire-escape map (you know the one they stick on the back of the door?) and our room was surprisingly the smallest on the floor… so the other rooms must feel even more spacious than ours did.

St Ermins Hotel London Review

St Ermins Hotel London Review

There were lots of cute little personal touches too, which I was entirely expecting – as St Ermin’s is a 4* and not a 5* hotel. However, the hotel gives off such a luxury feel, and it really does feel very 5* because of all the details they pay attention too.

This is what welcomed us when we arrived in our room:

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As well as some complimentary fruit….

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A hand written note from the hotel manager….

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And plenty of plug options for international travellers…

St Ermins Hotel London Review

The bathroom gets high marks too. Nice and modern, bright and clean and full of lots of goodies too. Another thing (which is always massively important to me and a girl with long hair!) was the bigger-than-average shampoo and conditioner dispensers. Those tiny little bottles are never enough for me – so this was a pleasant surprise!

Oh and they were White Company too – poshness!

St Ermins Hotel London Review
St Ermins Hotel London Review

St Ermins Hotel London Review

But how does the hotel fare in terms of transport and location?

Well it’s about an 8 minute walk (I timed it….) to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and St James Park. But, saying that, the underground station St Jame’s Park is less than a minute’s walk around the corner which is probably the biggest selling point of the hotel. After a long day of sightseeing, it’s really handy to just be able to jump back on the tube and know you don’t have a trek back to your comfy room.

St Jame’s park is on the District and Circle lines – which is probably the best line to be on for touristy, sightseeing kind of things. You have South Kensington (for all the big museums), Westminster (for Big Ben and the London Eye), Embankment (for gorgeous views and Covent Garden) and Tower Hill (for the tower of London, Tower Bridge, The Shard…. etc).

On top of all that, just look how romantic the hotel is in the evening….

St Ermins Hotel London Review

To find out more about the hotel, you can check out their website here…. www.sterminshotel.co.uk

If you have any more questions about the hotel, just let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them! 🙂

Did you enjoy this post or find it helpful? If so I’d love if you could spare a second to vote for me in The Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2014. Just click here to get to the voting site. Thanks a million!

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My favourite ‘cheap eats’ in London

I love finding those amazingly good-value-super-cheap eats around big cities, so thought I’d put together a post about my current city – London. London is known in the UK (and the world probably!) for being expensive and overpriced, but to tell the truth there are dozens of places in the city you can eat for under £10 (food and drink included) and they’re not even that hard to stumble upon.

Here are a few of my personal favourites….

If you’re in Soho – try out Bi Bim Bap

For yummy asian cuisine at ridiculously cheap prices then Bi Bim Bap is my favourite place to head. The restaurant feels like a quirky cafes, and the service is friendly and quick. Don’t expect to pay more than £10 here for a main course – I think the average price is about £6/7 and the portions are huge. For something a bit fun order the raw beef in the traditional stone bowls, and watch as it cooks right there in front of you – I was gobsmacked the first time I went there and ordered it! The food is just delicious (did I mentioned that already?) and the ingredients are fresh and tasty.

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If you’re near London Bridge – head to Borough Market

For some street food at affordable prices, you can’t really go wrong with Borough market. It’s very cheap (considering how central it is!) and the food is a consistently high standard too. Stick to the street stalls and market venders for the cheap-eats, I’d recommend Roast sandwiches – if you’re patient enough to queue! Thee is also an amazing pulled pork sandwich shop (pictured below) which is always a great shout too.

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If you need a reliable chain restaurant – head to Wasabi

I LOVE WASABI. I know it’s a chain place, but it’s so tasty and so good. I swear, if I could eat Wasabi every day, I totally would. You’re looking at about £5 per meal here then an extra £1 for a drink, if you’re thirsty. The portions are more than generous, and it’s all freshly prepared that day. I’d go for the sweet chilli chicken (drooling….) but they also have cold dishes and great Sushi too.

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If you’re in North London – head over to Camden Market

Camden Market is the quirkier, funkier, busier younger brother to Borough Market. Expect more crowds here, and expect to struggle for a seat! Saying that though, the choice of food is really varied and the prices are very cheap. It’ll cost you about £5 for a meal – maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less – depending on what you have! Camden is best enjoyed in the summertime, when you can sit down by the canal and enjoy the views.

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If you want pizza – head to Franco Manca’s in Brixton

Probably the best pizza I’ve had in London and I know at least a handful of people who would agree with me. I live in Brixton – so that’s the restaurant we visit, but there are also restaurants in Balham and Chiswick too. The pizza is unbelievably fresh and the ingredients are hearty and well put together. I’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for it to arrive too – which is always a bonus! I won’t say much more – the photos will do the talking!

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What are your fail-safe cheap eats in London? Let me know!

Did you enjoy this post or find it helpful? If so I’d love if you could spare a second to vote for me in The Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2014. Just click here to get to the voting site. Thanks a million!

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A Girly Weekend in Dublin

As far as European city destinations go, Dublin wouldn’t make my top 5 – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy this city. We headed over for a girly weekend, for my friend Philippa’s 21st birthday, with a few of us flying out from up North and me and Esther flying out of London.

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A definite plus for Dublin, is how close it is to the UK and how cheaply you can see the city and get there. I think the flights cost us £35 each way on Ryan Air which is super cheap and the flight barely took an hour. Our hostel we stayed in was also super cheap as we stayed in a dorm room. I’d recommend hostel dorm rooms to anyone visiting Dublin on a budget and in a group – because the likelyhood is – you’ll end up having the dorm to yourself if you can fill it up. There was five of us, which was perfect as it felt like our own little room. Even better, when we getting ready to go out – it was like those slumber parties you have when you’re growing up when you all gather at someones house to get dolled up. We even managed to share the one bathroom without too much hassle – which is impressive for 5 girls!

What should you see in the city? 

To be honest, we probably didn’t see everything the city has to offer – but we did as much as we could in the little time we had there which was only a couple of days.

But number one thing on your list should definitely be The Guinness factory.  I’m going to write about that in more detail next week, but in a nutshell, this is basically the biggest tourist hub in the city and where most tourists flock to whilst they’re in town. It’s good fun and worth the ticket cost, if only for the trip up to the bar afterwards – even more so if you’re a big Guinness fan.

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Next on your list, should just be enjoying the city.

We didn’t get the best weather (as you can probably tell from the photos!) but the city is still lovely to walk around. Take a walk around the university (where some of the world’s smartest minds once studied) and take a look around some of the churches (especially Christchurch Cathedral), Dublin Castle and all of the cities beautiful cobbled streets. There is a free eBook I found by cheap flights (click here) that has some other suggestions in more detail – so that might be worth having a look at too!

Along all those gorgeous cobbled streets, you’ll find cute cafes, cosy pubs (if you didn’t already get your fill of guinness!) and quirky boutique shops. The Dublin needle is another iconic landmark of the city too found on the other side of the river  – but don’t worry, it’s kind of difficult to miss it!

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When the sun goes down, get dressed up and experience some of Dublin’s famous nightlife. It’s hard to be disappointed by the atmosphere and nightlife in Dublin as the locals are so friendly and welcoming- and if you’re visiting on a Friday or Saturday night, expect it to be packed.

My favourite pub was the one pictured below – where we spent hours listening to an irish band play – with a little bit of dancing too of course! Irish music is so much fun, and it’s a little bit different to what you get in the UK, so make sure you give it a try and get involved in the Irish culture.

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A few other options for your time in Dublin…. 

National Gallery of Ireland (for art lovers)

National Museum of Ireland (for history lovers)

Dublin shopping district (for fashion lovers)

Dublin Writer’s Museum (for book lovers)

Dublin Zoo (for animal lovers)

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What was your favourite thing to do in Dublin? I’d love to hear more recommendations! 

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The Vatican, Rome… What to wear and when to go: Basically everything you need to know when visiting.

So I’m going to be writing about some of my favourite European destinations over the next few weeks – and Rome is definitely one at the top of that list. I love Rome – all the history and the culture just makes it an absolutely magical place to visit.

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One of the main attractions in Rome (and one you should definitely visit during your trip) is The Vatican. Like many religious sites world-over though, there are often lots of rules and regulations surrounding entry and people usually worry and fuss before their visit, thinking that maybe they’re going at the wrong time, maybe they’re wearing the wrong thing… so on. I know for sure we worried about this aspect of things, so I thought I’d put together something to keep things simple and hopefully tell you everything you need to know.

What time should you visit? 

Places like this are always going to be busy – so you’re not going to avoid queues no matter what time you turn up. Early morning is always going to be packed because not only do you get the keeno-tourists who are up at the crack of dawn, but you also get the school trips. Saying this though, try and avoid The Vatican on the last Sunday of every month because this is known as “free-sunday” and (as anything free tends to do) it attracts big crowds and more people than usual. Sometimes on Wednesday the Pope may be in town – so (if I were you) I would probably try and avoid The Vatican at all costs then too.

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How much does it cost? 

So, as far as I know the price for entering the Vatican (which includes all museums on the property as well) is about 15 euros – which isn’t bad at all – as you could literally explore the area for a whole day. For students, getting into the Vatican is only 8 euros, so if you have a student card take it along and don’t forget to claim your discount.

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What should you wear? 

As The Vatican is a religious site, you need to be respectful when you dress for your visit. Whilst the dress codes aren’t quite as strict as other worldwide religious sites such as The Grand Palace in Bangkok – do be mindful and sensible.

If you stick to no bare shoulders and no bare knees you should be OK in The Vatican (and this applies to men and women) – and that is mainly a show of respect. You can see what we wore below, which might help you in deciding whether your outfit is passable. If you’re ever unsure, just pack a little scarf or shawl in your bag so you have something to throw on incase. Short shorts and vest tops won’t cut it though, so leave them at the hotel.

The best bet, if you’re ever a little unsure, is to pack a spare option in your bag that is way more conservative than the one you arrive in. That way you have a plan if anyone disputes your outfit.

What is there to see? 

LOADS!

The Vatican Museums are fantastic and of course the famous Sistine Chapel is just beautiful (be careful with your camera in here though – as the security guards reserve the right to delete all images from your memory card if they catch you taking snaps!); the museums inside have lots of different sections and things to look at, like I said – it’s enough to keep you busy all day.  A few of them are:

The Pio-Clementino (classic antiquities)

Gregorian Etruscan and Egyptian museums

The Raphael Rooms

The Gallery of the Candelabra

Gallery of Maps and Gallery of Tapestries

St. Peter’s Basilica (which was my favourite part – and I would recommend completely!)

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I’ll be writing a little more about Rome over this week so stay tuned. Let me know if there are any extra questions I can help with! 🙂

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Finding Authentic American BBQ in London: Red Dog Saloon!

One of the main reasons why I love America so much is the FOOD. All that BBQ stuff, meat, ribs, burgers, cheese – oh my gosh, I am literally drooling on my keyboard as I type.

For me, it’s one of the major things cities like NYC has up on UK cities like London. In fact, ever since we landed back in London, we’ve been seeking out the ultimate USA-style meat restaurant – and that’s how (and why) we found Red Dog Saloon.

Basically, as soon as I saw the menu – I knew we were going to love it. And the initial signs were good when first took our seats too, that this was actually going to be a great success and a genuinely American experience. First off – the staff were super friendly and efficient. This is something that you get everywhere in the States, nothing is ever too much hassle, your drink is never empty and you’re never waiting more than a few minutes for service if you need it.. So yeah Red Dog Saloon just nailed it there.

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But let’s talk about the most important thing. THE FOOOOOD. 

Before I start talking though… Just take a look at the photos I took. Because I think they will be enough to convince you that Red Dog Saloon is worth a visit.

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Pad took one bite of the burger above and proclaimed “This might be the best burger I’ve ever had” which was a momentous moment.

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If you’re the kind of person who likes a challenge – then take on their famous “Devastator” burger. Which is pictured above. Whilst neither of us opted for it (after the chicken wings for starters – I just didn’t feel brave enough!) I couldn’t help but take a cheeky snap of one as it was brought out of the kitchen. I mean… just look at it.

If you were just staring at the screen then for a few minutes, thinking “what does this piece of burger heaven consist of?” then let me kindly elaborate….

3 x beef patties

pulled pork

6 rashers of smoked bacon

6 slices of american cheese

Next time (and trust me, there will be a next time) this is what I’m ordering. And I will finish it like a champion!

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The atmosphere in Red Dog Saloon is great – and is actually one of my favourite parts of eating there. It’s a lot to do with the super awesome staff, but also the buzz that surrounds the place. The atmosphere is fun and young and busy both inside and out because the restaurant actually opens up into the street – which I love.

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Every few minutes you’ll hear a gasp of awe coming from a nearby table as a waiter plonks a Devastator burger in front of them, and then the room will erupt in laughter as everyone else looks on with curiosity as they try to attempt it. They also do a hot wing challenge – and we were lucky enough to witness a group of stags try and attempt that – which needless to say was hilarious.

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So. To conclude. Go here. Eat lots of meat. Be happy. 

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London and Instagram are a match made in heaven.

Now I’m back living in London, my Instagram has taken a bit of a beating…. and I have been absolutely obsessed by Instagramming all the beautiful London-ness and summery-ness. It’s been almost a year since I lived here last – and it’s kind of lovely to see everything through a tourists eye’s again. I missed this place!

Needless to say my Instagram feed has been an endless stream of London landmarks.

Here are a few of my favourites…

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St James Park

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Big Ben and Westminster Bridge from The London Eye

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Big Ben

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Shoreditch

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Shoreditch

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The Shard (taken from Borough Market)

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Notting Hill

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The Shard

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Borough Market Courtyard

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St Paul’s Cathedral taken from One New Change

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Victoria Embankment

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Victoria Embankment

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Camden Lock

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Camden Market

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Camden Bridge

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Tower Bridge taken from Black Friars Station

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The Gherkin

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St Paul’s Cathedral

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St Paul’s taken from Fleet Street

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Shad Thames

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Earls Court

Just looking through this post, you realise just how much London has to offer – which is actually one of the reasons I just adore living here so much. I love how different some of these places are (you could never compare Shoreditch and St James Park!) and yet they are both such fun places to visit and are so very London in their own specific way.

To follow me on Instagram (just in case you fancy even more London photos) my username is ellerosenz 🙂 Say hello!

Where is your favourite place in London? 

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Finding the Perfect Sunday Roast in London

As a girl who grew up in Yorkshire – the elusive ‘perfect Sunday roast’ is something I’m always searching for in London! In fact, it has been Paddy and I’s mission for quite some time to track one down worthy of writing about. On Friday night we totally found that place.

May I introduce you to Roast London.

We’ve walked past Roast many times as it actually sits right above one of our favourite London spots – Borough Market. In fact, we’ve actually eaten at Roast’s smaller street stall (found just below the restaurant in the market itself) for lunch a few times, each time afterwards, vowing to each other “one day we must go and eat at the actual restaurant’ with very serious eye contact and firm nods whilst chomping on our pork and apple sauce sandwiches.

So anyway, on Friday night we finally got to try Roast out, and it totally lived up to expectations (yay!).

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It’s pretty hard to miss the gorgeous building, and I’ve well and truly put Roast into my “If I get married in London – this is probably where I want to do it” list. I’d recommend going in the late afternoon / early evening like we did – because you get to really appreciate the beautiful views from the huge windows. We were lucky to have a window seat ourselves and it was lovely being able to look out over the market below and watch the world go by.

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Now onto the important stuff… The food.

All I can say is Wow.

Here is what we ordered to start with:

– Haggis Scotch Eggs (first time I’ve ever tried Haggis… and it was delicious!)

– Courgette Spaghetti

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The scotch eggs were so good, we came straight home afterwards and googled similar recipes to try and make them ourselves. So that’s the weekend cooking project taken care of!

For main courses we ordered:

– Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Roast Potatoes

– Roast Pork Belly and Apple Sauce

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I’m sure I don’t need to go on and on about how good it was (because there is a photo above which does it more justice than words ever could!) but it was yummy. We were already making plans to go back before we’d even left the restaurant.

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So. If you are in London, and looking for a proper-English, proper-delicious sunday roast dinner then go here. I always tell friends from abroad to try a traditional roast dinner when they come to the UK – so now I’ll basically just be ushering them to the front door of Roast.

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Local Alternatives to London Tourist Attractions

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So when you’ve lived in a big city like London a long time, you learn to avoid the touristy areas… especially on your time off and during the weekends. It’s not that you don’t like tourists – but sometimes it can make your life a whole lot easier when you don’t need to worry about tripping over suitcases on the tube, and getting stuck behind a family of 8 lost tourists when you’re in a rush.

Anyway, you begin to learn, that locals have their own alternative versions of most things tourist do! So here is my list for London. Handy for tourists wanting to branch out a little, or London locals who want new places to explore!

For a picnic in the park

Tourists go to: Hyde Park

The locals choice: Almost every local neighbourhood in London has it’s own green area or park, so for something a little less touristy and more in touch with normal London life try and find one of those instead. Clapham common is one of the most popular in South London, but if you insist on staying north of the Thames, then Regents Park or Holland Park are great alternatives. If you fancy making that extra bit of effort, Kew Gardens or Richmond park are beautiful and take about 40 minutes from central London on the district line.

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For amazing steak

Tourists go to: Aberdeen Angus Steak Houses

The locals choice: Probably (for me anyway) Hawksmoor. Aberdeen Angus steak houses can be found on every corner in the tourist districts of London, but if you’re after a fancy meal and an amazing steak – you could do so much better! Hawksmoor goes beyond the expected – and I’ve never once had a single thing to complain about after visiting. They go above and beyond!

For a foodie experience

Tourists go to: Borough Market

The locals choice: I love Borough Market but it’s no exaggeration to say it’s one of London’s busiest tourist attractions. Instead head to quirky Brixton Village where you’ll find a slightly more authentic London experience, with some truly great food choices. My favourite? Franco Manca’s Pizza…. the best pizza in south London for sure! If you’re not feeling Brixton, then Chelsea (right outside the Saatchi gallery) holds a weekend food market too full of organic and home-made goodies.

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For Primark

Tourists go to: Oxford Street

The locals choice: OH MY GOD STAY AWAY FROM OXFORD STREET! Instead, go (literally about 10 minutes down the road) to Tottenham Court Road Primark instead. IT’S BIGGER and BETTER and there are about half as many people in there – which means no broken ribs. Wahoo! You’ll even get to try stuff on in this Primark (because unlike the Oxford Street branch) you won’t need to queue up for 40 minutes to use the changing rooms.

For an incredible view

Tourists go to: The Shard or The London Eye

The locals choice: You don’t need to pay loads of money for a breath-taking view of the London Skyline. There is a shopping centre next to St Paul’s cathedral called One New Change, which has a pretty spectacular rooftop terrace (and it’s free to go up there!) which potentially tops both of the touristy views (in my opinion anyway).

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For quirky shopping

Tourists go to: Camden Market

The locals choice: Head to Brick Lane instead of Camden for a more relaxed experience without all the crowds, but with equally quirky shops and retailers. Brick Lane is found in quirky Shoreditch, so you’ll have plenty of places to explore afterwards too.

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For a night at the cinema

Tourists go to: Imax at Waterloo

The locals choice: There’s nothing wrong with the Imax (it’s pretty epic actually!) but it’s definitely a treat and the prices reflect that. For something a bit more affordable (but equally as awesome) head to The Aubin Cinema in Shoreditch (sofas and arm chairs!) or the Ritzy in Brixton… those little independent cinemas are so much more fun than the average!

For dinner by The Thames

Tourists go to: The Southbank

The locals choice: Head out to Hammersmith or Putney for something a little bit more ‘local’ but equally as delicious. Instead of the big food and restaurant brands you’ll find on the Southbank, in Hammersmith and Putney you’ll find traditional pubs and riverside beer gardens. I used to live in Hammersmith and my favourite riverside pub was The Crabtree.

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For London from the river

Tourists go to: A tour company

The locals choice: The Thames Clipper of course! Instead of forking out (probably around £30-40) for a water-tour of London, use the Thames Clipper instead. This boat serves all the main areas of the Thames from Embankment all the way to Greenwich, and even has food and drink on board to purchase! You can hop on and off and even use the balance on your Oyster card to pay for your ticket. Just be sure to avoid using it during rush hours, because this is what many locals use for their commute to work – so it can get pretty busy during peak times!

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For something a bit special

Tourists go to: A West-End show

The locals choice: There are loads of things to do in London and all the west-end shows are incredible, but I’d recommend (for something a bit special) to go to Harry Potter World! Sure, it’s located a bit out of London in Watford Junction, which is why a lot of tourist never make it there, but it’s relatively easy to find and it’s worth the effort!

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Where are your favourite spots in London, when you want to avoid tourists?

Did you enjoy this post or find it helpful? If so I’d love if you could spare a second to vote for me in The Cosmopolitan Blog Awards 2014. Just click here to get to the voting site. Thanks a million!

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Review: Five Guys Burgers – London

Pad and I are MASSIVE fans of meat.

Most places we visit, the first thing we look out for (not even exaggerating here) is a BBQ place, a steak place or a burger place. Usually we’ll have also harassed friends or family before hand for recommendations, which is how we stumbled across some amazing places such as Quality Meats (NYC) and Hawksmoor (London). Other times we ask taxi drivers, hotel staff or random people on the street (just kidding about that last one). In New Zealand our favourite Rib place in Queenstown was recommended to us by our taxi driver who drove us from the airport to our apartment when we first moved there. I think we returned to that rib place at least once a month.

Anyway – I’m rambling.

Five Guys was a place that we found all by ourselves. We were strolling through Leicester Square on Friday night looking for somewhere to enjoy a few drinks in the sunshine – and I suggested this bar called The Longacre – just off Leicester Square, where we’d drunk a few times at before moving abroad. However when we got there – the bar was gone, and in it’s place was this massive burger place called Five Guys. There was even a queue to get in – wrapping right around the building.

We’d just eaten steak at Hawksmoor, so weren’t about to join the queue and see what the fuss was about. But we agreed to come back the following day to try it out. After all, if people were willing to get in a ‘disneyland’ worthy queue for a burger – I was going to need to find out why for myself.

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Five Guys feels like an authentic USA diner. And after spending 3 weeks there less than two months ago I think I can say confidently they’ve got the vibe just right. It’s busy and bustling but it’s fun and energetic too. They’ve managed to get a great balance. It’s fast food style – but you’re paying more than you would at McDonalds…. though I’d argue it’s worth it.

Two bacon and cheese burgers (with pickles), a medium fries (to share) and two drinks (re-fillable) cost us £26.50. Not bad for a spacious casual-dining experience in the heart of Leicester Square / Covent Garden. Oh, and trust me – the fries portions are so huge – you won’t need a medium one to yourself. We didn’t even finish ours and we were sharing it.

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The burger was yummy, it had good quality meat and squidgy bread, which is my favourite. I hate it when you get a burger and the bread just crumbles around your grip. Pad remarked as we ate:

“This has good structural integrity”  – Yes we are that serious about our burgers.

Saying that – it was no Fergburger. But if you’ve not been to Queenstown (NZ) you won’t quite understand what I mean by that. If you have been there and tried Fergburger you’ll be nodding your head in agreement. And also (maybe) drooling on your keyboard.

For Five Guys, on my burger scale, I think I’d give it 7/10.

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So overall? I’m impressed!

For sure I’d go back. I liked the layout and the ordering system and despite it being busy, we barely waited any time at all for our food to be made. There are plenty of seats (upstairs and downstairs) and you can get re-fillable drinks which is a real rarity in London and a bit of a treat. Plus they have these touch screen drink things – which are totally fun, so it’s worth going to give those a try too.

The burgers are fast food style – but they taste great and it’s an american style diner – so that’s what you’d go there looking for. If that’s what you’re after, something fun and fast – you’ll love it.

Oh and the staff were super friendly too!

Top marks all round.

 

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Getting back to the real-world. With a thump.

I’ve been back in London for about a month now – which is partly why the blog hasn’t been updated in so long (sorry about that!). I still need to blog about our time in the USA and the last part of Hong Kong – put for now I want to talk about being back home.

After 9 months of travelling, we were thrown back into London life, myself with a new job and with a new flat to find on top of that. The flat thing we got sorted pretty quickly luckily. After an intensive morning flat hunting in Balham (and feeling kind of deflating… because everywhere was out of our budget) we took a quick bus ride over to quirky Brixton. The first flat we saw we took, straight away. Right there on the spot.

It’s a cute one-bed place, right opposite the underground station (yay for a short commute!) and it has everything we’d ever need within a 2 minute walk (literally). And yes, that totally includes a McDonalds. And an M&S food.

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The print above I ordered via Printstagram, and honestly it’s the best money I have ever spent. The print is about half the size of me, and now sits in a huge wooden frame in our living room. It has all my favourite travel photos in it – and every time I look at it I can’t help but smile. I needed a reminder of our time travelling (I’m scared I’ll forget all those incredible memories we made!) so this is the perfect thing to have hanging on our wall. Every time I walk past it a different photo will catch my eye – and I’ll get a smile remembering when it was taken.

A bit about Brixton…. 

Brixton is my new neighbourhood.. and so far we’re just loving it. Sure Brixton might not be the classiest London neighbourhood – and quite often it has a bad reputation with people who have never been there. But honestly – right now, there is no where I’d rather be living.

Brixton has a fantastic independent market (with some incredible restaurants and coffee shops), lots of bars, pubs and restaurants, good shopping on the high street, awesome public transport – and an amazing independent cinema, The Ritzy (which I’ve already become a member of). Sure, it’s no Fulham (where I lived before leaving for travelling) but it’s exactly what we want right now, and we love it already.

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Pizza at Frano Manca’s in Brixton market. Best pizza ever? Yeah that’s right.

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Clapham Common (a 5 minute bus ride from our front door). A lovely place to spend those sunny Sunday afternoons. We sat here all Sunday in 25 degree heat drinking cider and reading, and I swear I almost thought I was back in Oz.

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The most lovely part of being home though? 

Being in a city I love, with all the people I love! I think I must have taken it for granted before, but when travelling I really realised how much I missed having friends and family around me regularly. The funnest part of these past few weeks has been catching up with everyone. Late nights with lots of wine. Catching up over drinks after work. Slobbing out with my baby sister (because let’s face it, that’s what siblings are good for). It’s been amazing to see all these wonderful people again! The only problem being – I want to fit everyone in at once, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough days in the week. Or more precisely – the weekend.

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Travel blues?

A little. So yeah, Pad and I have settled back into London life pretty well. It’s amazing to be back. And there is no where I’d rather be right now. But sometimes I do catch myself reminiscing a little too long about the freedom and adventure of travelling. I miss waking up in the morning and having no idea what would happen or what we’d see. And mainly, I miss the ocean and the water. After 9 months of being constantly near beautiful lakes or beautiful beaches – I find myself craving the ocean more than anything else.

I want to feel the sand in my toes. Or the adrenaline rush as you jump into cool water. I miss the beautiful overwhelming feeling you get whenever you look at a horizon that falls over the ocean.

I miss Queenstown too. I miss Queenstown a lot. I miss waking up to our stunning view and seeing those incredible blue waters of the lake outside. But I’m also learning to accept that (for now anyway) it isn’t somewhere we can live longterm, and my romance with Queenstown had to be an amazing but brief one. Because, in all honesty, New Zealand is an awfully long way away. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be going back for holidays. We definitely will.

So for now at least London life is what we’re after, and what we’re loving. 

London is a pretty stunning city to live in anyway – and it still feels like a bit of a novelty being here every day again (proven by how many photos of London I’m currently instagramming…. oopsie). There is nothing quite like the embankment on a sunny day (which luckily, we’re having in abundance at the moment)!

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