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Restaurant Review: Cinnamon Kitchen, Westgate Oxford

Image courtesy of Cinnamon Kitchen

 

A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of reviewing the brand new Cinnamon Kitchen at Westgate Oxford, a multi-million pound shopping development in the heart of the city centre. Perched right on the very top of the brand new development, the trendy Cinnamon Kitchen provides an innovative, authentic Indian dining experience to guests both young and old. Open every day for brunch, lunch and dinner, and owned and designed by acclaimed chef Vivek Singh, Cinnamon’s sleek interior design coupled with its mouth-watering dishes and eclectic menu makes it stand out from the crowd amongst other family friendly restaurants that have set up on top of the Westgate too. Here’s what my friend Katherine and I got up to during my lunchtime treat on a frosty January afternoon…

 

The Location

 

Image courtesy of Oxfordshire Guardian

 

The Westgate is fast becoming one of the most popular areas of the city, and for good reason. The new development has seen an influx of locals and tourists flocking to the area and there’s been a sharp increase in tourism too. As well as being home to the hottest shops and restaurants, the Westgate also boasts a number of bars, a cinema and an indoor mini golf course. Cinnamon Kitchen is perched right on the rooftop, next to a row of trendy restaurants including a sushi place and acclaimed cocktail bar The Alchemist too. Cinnamon’s stylish exterior fits right in with the Westgate’s designer theme and the outdoor garden with trees, plants and seating area (which will be amazing in summer) make it feel like a mini jungle right in the heart of Oxford.

 

The Restaurant

 

Image courtesy of Cinnamon Kitchen

 

This place looks just as good on the inside as it does from the outside, with incredible attention to detail and glamorous décor. The bar is decorated with gold mirrors and reflective white lighting, whilst the dining areas are complete with smooth furniture, vibrant wall art and crisp clean walls. Although not overly big inside, it feels like there is plenty of space between tables and there’s a private dining area too for those looking to dine in peace. There is a ‘show-cooking’ Tandoori grill next to the kitchen, allowing guests to see and smell their food before it arrives at their table, and this really adds to the authentic Indian fine dining experience.

 

The Menu

 

Cinnamon Kitchen lunch menu

 

We were asked to choose from the lunch time set menu, so I can’t comment on the rest of the menu’s on offer, but our choice of food was exquisite and I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking for something different to their usual lunch time routine. Starters to choose from included chicken skewers. smoked haddock and vegetable pastries. For mains you could opt for a butter chicken curry, char grilled sea bass or spiced veal kebab. Desserts could either be in the form of a carrot treacle tart, ginger toffee pudding or sorbet of the day. Our set lunch menu was priced at £21pp for two courses, or £24pp for three courses which I do think is a little on the steep side for lunch, but is well worth the money if you wanted to treat yourself.

 

The Food

 

             

Starter, main and dessert

 

To start, my friend and I both chose the chicken skewers with rose petals, pomegranate and toasted buckwheat which was every inch as good as it sounds, and looked super pretty on the plate too! The rose petal and pomegranate sauce made the perfect dressing with both complementing each other perfectly, whilst the chicken was incredibly soft, tender and tasty too. For mains my friend and I opted for the same again, both choosing a rich butter chicken dish with rice, naan bread and a trio of dahl. Although a little spicy for both our liking (we are such wimps!) the dish was great and super tasty. The trio of dahl really helped with the spiciness and the flavours were amazing. We both agreed that the extra side plate of naan bread was the best we had ever tasted – super soft, flavoursome  bread with cheese all the way through the middle – and we were well and truly full up by the end. For dessert we were treated to a medley of puds as we couldn’t decide what to have and weren’t even sure we could manage to eat anything else! Katherine and I soon devoured miniature tarts, cakes and pannacotta when it arrived though and it was the perfect way to cleanse our pallets and end a wonderful dining experience.

 

 

The Staff

Image courtesy of Cinnamon Kitchen

 

 

Throughout our lunch we were looked after by our waiters Andreas and Rohit who were both fantastic and couldn’t do enough for us. Andreas in particular was so attentive, well-mannered and super friendly. They both made sure we were treated like royalty and made our experience that extra bit special. I met with general manager Leon towards the end of the lunch and it was lovely to gain an insight into how well the restaurant is doing – he told us that they had 60 guests booked in for dinner that night and that they had been busy all week! I’m a firm believer that the staff are the beating heart, life and soul of any business and it is certainly true in this case. Cinnamon wouldn’t be what it is today without their wonderful employees who work tirelessly to ensure every guest leaves full, happy and feeling special.

 

As you can see, my friend Katherine and I had the most wonderful afternoon at Cinnamon and we left with our bellies full and our taste-buds satisfied. The ambience was lively, the staff were wonderful, the food was exquisite and the location was perfect, although I’m sure the rooftop would have been better had it not been so cold out! I would highly recommend Cinnamon Kitchen Westgate Oxford for anyone looking for an authentic Indian fine dining experience, for either an afternoon lunch time treat or an evening occasion. Big thanks must go to all the wonderful staff who helped make our afternoon so special!

NB. I was a guest of Cinnamon’s for the purpose of this review, but all thoughts are of course my own.

 

Katherine and I enjoying our day out!

 

Cinnamon Kitchen at night

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48 Hours in Ljubljana, Slovenia & a Fairytale Day Trip to Lake Bled

 

 

I know I start most of these posts with the same line, but if you’ve been following my blog for the past few months you might remember my travel guides to Warsaw, Prague and Salzburg from my autumnal inter-railing adventure last September that I took with my friend Toni. We spent nine days travelling around Europe and had the most magical time. The last stop of our adventure was lovely Ljubljana, and I think we certainly saved the best til last! This was my first visit to Slovenia, and it’s capital city had been high up on my bucket list for the past couple of years, since the tourist hype from the fairytale Lake Bled found its way on to my Instagram feed. My time in Ljubljana exceeded all of my expectations, and I had the most amazing couple of days which ended my inter-railing adventure perfectly. Two nights/three days was definitely enough time to spend in the city, and I even had time to take a full day trip to Lake Bled and explore some other beautiful areas too including the stunning Vintgar Gorge and the medieval town of Skofja Loka. Here’s what not to miss during your stay…

 

Look out for the numerous city bridges

 

 

As Ljubljana is fairly small, it’s super easy to walk around and it helps that it’s connected by a series of historic bridges in the middle!  Well known for being home to no less than SEVENTEEN bridges, the Slovenian capital is a visual treat and it’s bridges add to its interesting history. My favourite ones were the iconic Triple Bridge, Dragon Bridge and Butchers Bridge too. Dating back to the 1800s and at the heart of Preseren Square – the focal point of the city – the Triple Bridge is the city’s most famous and most visited too. I also loved the Dragon bridge which was built in 1901 with yep, you guessed it, huge green dragon statues at the end of each walkway. The Butchers Bridge is lined with glass walkways giving a view of the Ljubljanica river below, and the support cables either side are decorated with ‘lovelocks’ left by tourists and locals alike. I walked along these bridges many times during my stay to get from one end of the city to the other as they connect the old town with the new town and I found it to be a great way to get my bearings and explore the area!

 

Cross over the Ljubljanica river

 

 

Ljubljana is a modern, up and coming city with cool bars, nice restaurants and plenty of green spaces in between.  If, like me, you love nothing more than wandering around for hours and exploring a new city on foot, you will fall in love with Ljubljana. During the summer months I imagine the streets will be packed with tourists, but during my visit in September it was fairly quiet and we pottered about quite happily. Much like the bridges, the Ljubljanica river is at the heart of the city and its’ one of the most well known features. The city comes alive at night, and the numerous bars, cafe’s and restaurants that are dotted along the riverbanks make it a vibrant place to be no matter what time of year you’re visiting.

 

Climb up to the top of the castle tower

 

 

One of my favourite things to do when exploring a new city is climb a tower, or find a castle, or do BOTH! Luckily in Ljubljana I was able to do just that and discovered the medieval fortress that has been present since the 11th century. The castle was thought to have been constructed in the 15th century, and it’s prominent position on top of a hill enables it to take in some spectacular views over downtown Ljubljana below. After a short walk from the central Preseren Square, Toni and I took the funicular up to the top of the castle fortress where we were treated to stunning views over the city below just as the sun was starting to set. Exploring the castle grounds at dusk was a magical experience, as was catching the last of the sun’s rays as the red roofs shone in a bright orange glow on our first afternoon in Slovenia… Truly mesmerizing!

 

Take a day trip to Lake Bled…

 

 

Despite only having two nights to cram everything in, we knew that no visit to Ljubljana would be complete without a day trip to the most talked about lake in the world right now… the stunning Lake Bled! The wanderlust inducing images that I’ve seen all over social media made me want to visit this place months ago, and I’m soo glad we were able to squeeze in a visit during our time in Slovenia. The wonderful guys at Roundabout Travel booked me on to their full day Alpine Fairytale Tour which sounds as magical as the name suggests. One of the highlights was of course the magnificent Lake Bled which looked incredible against a backdrop of blue sky and yellow sunshine as we enjoyed a warm sunny day in September. Bled was everything I thought it would be and a little trip across to the island on a traditional Pletna made for the most photogenic boat ride I have ever taken. Despite its beauty, Bled was absolutely HEAVING with tourists and their annoying selfie sticks, especially at the cafe at the top of the hill which gave us some breathtaking panoramic views of the lake below. We did however enjoy an ice cream with our view before climbing up to the castle and seeing yet more spectacular scenery. I can see why it’s so popular – it took my breath away every time I looked at it and looked picture perfect from every single angle!

 

…and Lake Bohinj…

 

 

On our Apline Fairytale Tour we spent a full nine hours exploring different parts of Slovenia that you can’t see whilst in Ljubljana alone, and the tour really gave us a chance to see other important areas of the country. There was only six of us, and our tour of the Julian Alps began with a visit to the traditional medieval town of Skofja Loka, elevated 1000ft high and built in between two rivers, where we walked along its cobbled streets and stumbled across its ancient town square. Next up was a stop at Triglav National Park, with its resident glacial lake and mountainous backdrop. I’m gonna be a little controversial here and say that I actually thought this place, Lake Bohinj, was EVEN BETTER than Lake Bled because the mountains surrounding the lake were insane and there was literally no one around and it was so peaceful and beautiful and I just loved it so much. Isn’t it amazing what you can discover when you steer away from the tourist hot-spots and find hidden gems like this?! Our tour guide was amazing – super knowledgeable and really friendly whilst allowing us plenty of free time to explore at our own pace too – thank you Jerry for looking after us during our time in Slovenia!

 

…Oh and pay a visit to Vintgar Gorge too

 

 

As if you needed any more reasons to visit Slovenia than your very own WATERFALL! I had never heard of Vintgar Gorge until I booked on to the Alpine Fairytale Tour and it definitely ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip, not just on our visit to Slovenia. Walking through the Gorge, with it’s caves, bridges, narrow walkways and glorious waterfalls was a truly amazing experience and one I definitely won’t forget in a hurry. You can walk at your own pace whilst following the trail, stopping to take in the scenery and to take a million photos like I did. The walk takes around an hour to complete and isn’t too difficult, just a little hilly and narrow in places but there are plenty of people about and a cafe/shop/toilets at the end for you to make use of. I got the most stunning photos of this place and every now and then I have to pinch myself and remember that I ACTUALLY went there because it was just so beautiful. If you get the chance to visit this place whilst in Ljubljana, please please go – I promise you’ll love it just as much as I did!

 

Where to eat/drink

 

The restaurants along the riverbank come alive at night

 

 

Ljubljana is brimming with trendy bars, cafe’s and restaurants to choose from during your stay and we were certainly spolit for choice when it came to finding some yummy food after a busy day of exploring. After crossing the Dragon Bridge you’ll walk alongside the Ljubljanica river and find numerous places to choose from. There are restaurants from all corners of Europe, most notably Austria and Italy where Slovenia takes lots of food influence from, and we ate in a fancy Italian restaurant one night which was AMAZING. We also found a cute cafe which served traditional Slovenian cakes including apple pie, derived from Balkan influences and one of the most popular dishes in the country. Whatever your tastebuds desire, you’ll be spoilt for choice in Ljubljana.

 

Where to stay

 

Image Courtesy of Cube Central Rooms For 2

 

As my friend and I were inter-railing for ten days we were on a budget and most of our accommodation consisted of hostels/cheap hotels. We were a little limited for choice in Ljubljana as we left it late to secure anywhere and we found there was a huge conference event taking place during the weekend we were there which meant that lots of hotels were already booked up months in advance. I did however manage to find a little gem just a stones throw away from the centre of the city which meant we could enjoy all the sights with the comfort of knowing that everything was within walking distance. Cube Central Rooms For 2 provided exactly as the title suggests – compact rooms for two in an unbeatable central location. This place was neither hostel nor hotel, more like tiny little self catering apartments with shared common rooms and bathrooms. Perfectly formed, despite being super small, and with key codes instead of physical keys, our double room barely had any space for ourselves let alone our suitcases and hoards of clothes, but it was cute and the beds were comfy which is all we really needed. I think the rooms were all full during our stay, but we rarely bumped into any other guests at all and pretty much had bathroom use whenever we wanted it – no queues for the toilet in the middle of the night! If you’re looking for luxury, this isn’t the place for you, but if you just want somewhere to rest your head for the night and enjoy a peaceful residential location just away from the city centre, I would definitely recommend Cube Central Rooms For 2! Thank you to Petra the lovely receptionist for making our short stay so comfortable!

 

As you can see, I managed to fit an awful lot in to my short time in Ljubljana, but I am sure there are many things that I missed and did not get chance to include. If, like me, you’re limited on time I would suggest that these sights are a good place to start. Ljubljana is so pretty and so full of greenery it would be nice to just find a park on a sunny day and enjoy the scenery, but equally it’s great fun for a jam-packed city break and the area has so much to offer. Have you ever been to Ljubljana before, or is it on your bucket list for 2018? Let me know as I would love to hear your thoughts!

Love Jess x

NB. My stay at Cube Central and my tour with Roundabout Travel were offered to me at a discounted rate for the purpose of this blog post, but all thoughts, images and notes are of course my own.

 

I'm currently drafting my #Ljubljana travel guide and it's giving me alllll the throwback feels 😍 The Slovenian capital was the last stop of my interrailing adventure back in September and I think we definitely saved the best til last! Here's the view from the top of Ljubljana Castle with the red roofs, green trees and shady mountains in the distance 🏰🏔 #ThrowbackThursday #VisitLjubljana #Slovenia #ifeelsLOVEnia . . . #travel #bloggers #travelblogger #wanderlust #worlderlust #travelphotography #traveladdict #instago #instatravel #travelgram #inspo #passionpassport #incredibledestinations #tourism #darlingescapes #lonelyplanet #beautifuldestinations #mytinyatlas #icelollyloves #travellover #girlsvsglobe #europe #interrail #girlslovetravel

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Why I’m nervous about turning 25…

 

Happy Blue Monday everyone… Today is officially the most depressing day of the year! The weathers miserable outside, we’re all skint after Christmas and pay day feels like FOREVER AWAY. January is notoriously difficult for lots of people for lots of reasons, but I’ve always been a fan of Jan as its my birth month and I get so excited to have something to look forward to after Christmas! This year though, I feel completely different, and here’s a few reasons why…

So tomorrow is my 25th birthday. The big 2-5. Halfway to 50. Officially in the mid 20s. When the hell did THAT happen?! It only seems like yesterday I was running around in nappies, or running to get the school bus cos I was late, or running out of a club at the end of a night out as celebrated numerous birthdays past the age of 18. It’s true what they say, time goes by so fast, and I notice it more with each year that passes.

 

Why can’t I be this small and sparkly again 😭

 

Im usually excited about my birthday, I am excited about tomorrow as I’ve got an amazing day planned with my friends and family, but the age thing is really getting to me this time round. Last night I had a bit of a rant on Twitter – I was actually crying as I posted the thread – and I got a few things out my system.

 

Head to my Twitter @jessica16_x to see my little rant

 

By the age of 25, I always thought I’d have my life figured out. I thought I’d be married, or at least engaged, and I thought I’d have had my first baby by now. I thought I’d have bought a house, got on the property ladder, put down some roots. I thought all of these things because that’s what my mum did, and my two nans, and my aunties. By the age of 25 they’d all got married and had two kids. They’d bought a house, they had a family, and they were happy. I look at what my mum had and compare it to what I’ve got now and I just feel so incomplete. I don’t fit in to what she did, in fact I’ve never felt further away from it in my life. I’ve not met anyone I want to committ to, I’m nowhere near ready to buy a house and I’m definitely not close to having kids and that’s something that upsets me the most. Anyone that knows me will know that all I’ve ever really wanted to do in life is be a mum, and being so far away from that life at the moment is something that plays on my mind daily.

 

Love you mum – I hope I make you proud 💖

 

All my friends are either married/engaged/in long term relationships. Most of them have bought houses or are renting together and are either expecting children or are parents already. I’m so so different to them and it scares me. Yes I love my little life and travelling has and always will be my passion, and I’m so happy I can just hop on a plane without having to take a buggy or a changing kit with me, but deep down I know all I want is to have the family life my mum had and still has.

 

A lot has changed for us girls in the past 25 years. We have more opportunities now, we work more, we travel more and we see more of the world. I love that, and I’m proud to be born into an era where those things are normal. Looking at what I have achieved in my short 24 years on this planet does make me proud – I’ve ticked so many incredible things off my bucket list, bought 2 cars, built a career for myself and my blog and become a charity ambassador too. I’ve travelled by myself, made friends with strangers, faced my fears and pushed myself to the limit and I’ve done all those things with enormous pride and happiness, but I still feel apprehensive about turning 25 tomorrow for all the reasons I’ve mentioned above.

 

Looking at what I have done, not what I haven’t done, gives me my greatest sense of achievement

 

I think as we near 30 we worry that we haven’t got out life figured out yet – I know I certainly haven’t! I always thought I’d find someone straight away and that I’d live happily ever after, but I guess my fairytale just hasn’t happened yet…

 

So all in all I am looking forward to having a nice day with my nearest and dearest tomorrow, but I’m scared because I just don’t want to be another year older, and another year further from all the things I thought I’d have by now. Does anyone else get the quarter life crisis/ mid 20s anxiety? Quite a lot of you tweeted me yesterday after I had my little Twitter rant and your comments meant so much to me. Let me know if you’re feeling the way I’m feeling right now – it would be nice to know I’m not alone!

 

Love Jess X

 

I don’t know what’s next for me as I enter my 25th year, but here’s to making it an amazing 2018 🌟

 

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Happy New Year! My 2018 Resolutions

 

Happy new year everyone!

Welcome to my first post of 2018! It’s my first post of many for January and, given that we’re celebrating the start of a new month and a new year, I’m kicking off with a traditional resolutions tick list for you! If you read my 2017 resolutions post last January (how has it been a year already since that was published?!) you’ll know that I’m a big fan of making new year’s resolutions, and I do actually stick to them, promise! Last year I vowed to:

  • visit 10 countries (TICK)
  • grow my blog as much as possible (TICK)
  • get a part time job (TICK)
  • start spending more time with family and friends (TICK)
  • spend less time on social media (FAIL) – ooooops
  • stop buying scratch-cards (SEMI-FAIL) – these two were harder than I thought!

I’m really proud that I managed to achieve most of these things within a year, and even more so that I managed to surpass my expectations by visiting 11 countries instead of 10, got a part time job to run alongside my freelance business and then landed my dream full time position and started my career in the travel industry, and grew my blog to the biggest it’s ever been, going on press trips and working with some incredible brands.

All in all, 2017 was a pretty amazing year for me, but as one year ends another one begins and this brings me on to my resolutions for 2018. I’m already thinking ahead to the next few months and am super excited to fill in the empty pages of my new chapter for this new year. Here are my 2018 resolutions…

 

Visit at least 5 countries

 

 

Last year I was lucky enough to visit a whopping 11 countries as I embarked on my greatest year of travel yet as a full time blogger and freelancer, but this year I have annual leave restrictions that I need to be careful of, so that will definitely impact on how many trips I can take! I’ve already got two trips planned and am in the process of planning a third which will take a few weeks to get organised. My first holiday will (hopefully) be an inter-railing trip starting in Paris and Luxembourg and ending in Brussels and Bruges – I’m really excited to go inter-railing for a third time and can’t wait to finalise everything for this week-long European adventure with my sister! I’m then going to be hopping over to Amsterdam and Rotterdam with some of my fellow blogger friends for my third annual Traverse conference and I’m soooo excited that it’s going to be held outside of the UK this year for the first time ever! My next holiday will be a cruise round the Mediterranean taking in the sights of Croatia, Malta, Sicily, Greece and Montenegro. I’ve never been on a cruise before and I’m nervous/excited in equal measures but can’t wait to see how the week unfolds, and I’m going with 13 of my crazy family members, so whatever happens I’m sure it’ll be a week to remember. I’m sure that more last minute trips will pop up over the course of the next 12 months, but I’ll definitely be making use of my weekends off as well!

 

Reach 10,000 followers across my social channels

 

It's the last day of 2017 and I'm reflecting on everything that has happened in my little life over the past 12 months… My highlights include press trips to #Spain #Switzerland and #Germany with my blog, a holiday to #Tenerife and my #European interrailing adventures. 🌍 I celebrated my 24th birthday, freelanced full time, took 17 flights to 11 countries, bought a new car, started my career in the travel industry with my new job, opened a help to buy account to start saving for a house, became a charity ambassador and shared my story with the national newspapers, went on countless day trips, weekends away and nights out with my friends and family and pushed myself to say YES to things and make the most of every minute. 🌟 Sadly I've ended on a low note after losing my beautiful Cassie, but she is in a better place and she'll remain in my heart forever 💖 I'm so grateful that I've got amazing friends and family and am surrounded by love each and every day. 2017 has taught me a lot and has brought me so much, but I'm so excited to see how 2018 will top it and can't wait to see what the future brings. Happy new year everyone, here's to making every second count! 🎉 #2017bestnine #HappyNewYear #2017

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This is going to be a HUGE milestone and I really hope that it’s something I can achieve within the next year. Currently, I have 4200 Twitter followers, 1800 on Instagram, 600 on Linked In and 540 on Facebook, so I’ve got a long way to go before I hit my target of 10,000! I do think it’s going to take a lot of effort and hard work to get it done, but I love a challenge and am determined to make this happen, plus my stats on my media kit are going to look pretty damn good if I finally reach the big 10k!

 

Spend less time on social media

 

 

Ok, ok, so I know this is massively contradictory to my last resolution, but I want to try and spend less time on social media on a personal level, although I want to grow the followers for my blog as much as possible. I have a constant obsession with logging on to my apps, refreshing the news feeds and scrolling aimlessly for hours, consuming irrelevant content about things which mean absolutely nothing to me. It’s something we are all guilty of, but the constant scrolling is what really gets me down and I know I really need to stop. I’ve made a good start by deleting my apps and muting all of my notifications, so now I only get bothered when someone texts or calls me! My accounts are still active but I’m going to try and post less and, in turn, scroll less too. I also want to read more books and so, whenever I get the urge to scroll during the ad break of my fave TV show, or during a quiet 5 minutes on my lunch break, I’m going to read chapters of my books instead and keep my mind occupied on something more productive.

 

Work on new projects for The Pituitary Foundation

 

 

As part of my role as an ambassador for UK charity The Pituitary Foundation, I’m trying to raise as much money and awareness as I possibly can for an organisation which has been hugely important to me since my own prolactinoma diagnosis back in 2011. I became an ambassador last summer and have already taken part in a fun run, national newspaper campaign and a Go Orange event in order to raise awareness of the charity. This year I’d like to step it up a notch and get more involved, take part in more events and raise even more money than I ever have done. My plans include another fun run and Go Orange day, as well as a summer fete and a hike up Mount Snowdon as I aim to challenge myself as much as I can. More details will be emerging when I have them, but for now please wish me luck!

 

Start saving at least £500 a month

 

 

I’ve only been able to do this one since I went back to full time work at the end of last year, but in October I opened a Help To Buy bank account as I aim to start saving for my first house. It’s going to take me a good few years to get a deposit behind me, especially as property prices in my local area are ASTRONOMICAL, but if I can try to save at least £500 every single month then I’ll stand myself in good stead going forwards. Since landing my dream job I’m starting to feel really settled and really positive about creating a stable future for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to stop travelling and I’m certainly not ready to get married and have kids, but I just want to give myself the best future possible and saving lots of money will definitely help me to achieve that.

 

Incorporate exercise into my weekly routine

 

 

Exercise is something I have ALWAYS struggled with, I hated P.E. as a child and my idea of increasing my heartrate was standing at the back of the rounders pitch having a good gossip with my school friends and doing a few star jumps! As I’ve got older my attitude has changed a little, but I still feel faint at the idea of even going in to a gym, let alone doing a full blown workout. I do however really enjoy the gym once I get some blood pumping, but it’s the idea of going that makes me feel really demotivated, and maybe it’s because I’m a little intimidated by all the amazing girls and guys who go and look like their professionals. I’m going to start doing a small workout at home once a week though to improve my fitness, and my core strength. It’s not about losing weight or toning up, I think I just want to feel good about myself again and I know how much exercise can do for your mental and physical health. Here’s hoping I can do at least one workout a week to help with this – plus daily walks too!

 

Grow my blog as much as possible whilst working full time

 

 

I’m hoping to smash this one as I’ve already had a positive start to the year, but the first few months of being back to full time work meant that my blog really took a back seat at the end of last year. I was just so exhausted doing 40 hour weeks, plus 2 hours of driving a day, and didn’t want to do anything other than watch telly and get into bed during my week night evenings, and my weekends were for catching up with friends and making exciting plans. I also lost my beautiful dog Cassie at the end of last year and this had a massive impact on my motivation to do anything productive. If I’m honest, I barely slept or ate, let alone found the time to blog, and it did affect me. I was totally consumed by grief and loss, which is something I had never experienced before. But with the start of a new year comes new positivity and I’m really excited to throw myself back in to my blog and make proper time to publish regular posts, grow my followers and keep up my social media statuses. I’ll probably schedule in one evening a week and one day of the weekend to dedicate time to my blog and I’m hoping to stick to it over the coming weeks.

 

I like to think that these resolutions are all achievable and are all things that are going to enhance my little life over the next 12 months, and I’m feeling more motivated than ever to make this another incredible year. In addition to these resolutions, I’m also hoping to make more time for myself and put myself first. Little things like having a bath, popping on a face mask or reading a book will all help to give myself some well deserved ME time and I intend to do this a lot in 2018. Do you make New Years resolutions? Do you ever stick to them? Here’s hoping I achieve mine – happy new year everyone, wishing you all a successful, healthy and happy 2018!

Love Jess X

 

Happy new year y'all 🍾🍾 #NYE2017

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My End of Year Review: 17 Highlights From 2017

 

Having no regrets is all that she really wants 🌟

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OHMYGOD I literally cannot believe I am writing this. Like how did this year go by so quick? What the hell have I done over the past 12 months? Why does it only seem like 5 minutes since I wrote my 2016 end of year review? I cannot cope with how quick time is flying and how much life is passing me by. I didn’t think I could top 2016, I had the best year of my life to date when I quit my career to travel and become a full time freelancer. Surprisingly though, I think 2017 has been even bigger, ever better and even more amazing than I could ever have imagined. I’ve taken 17 flights, travelled to 11 countries and 14 cities and made memories that will last a lifetime. My blog has grown to the biggest it’s ever been and I’m enjoying countless new opportunities that I could only ever have dreamed of.

Although I’ve had an amazing year, sadly I’m ending it on a low as my beautiful dog Cassie went to sleep and left us just a few weeks ago. She had been poorly for a few months and just couldn’t go on anymore so we had to do what was best and let her go. We are all devastated and are struggling to come to terms with her loss; she has left a huge hole in our home, and in our hearts, and we miss her more than we ever thought possible. My heart physically hurts and I cry every single day, but I know with time it will get easier and I have amazing friends and family to support me. Love you princess, sleep tight my little snow angel. Despite ending on a low note, January – October gave me an incredible 10 months and I’ve found it so hard to narrow down just 17 highlights from my 2017 but I’m going to try and pick my stand out memories… Here goes…

 

I started the new year down in Cornwall – JANUARY

 

Bit late to the party after being on holiday but so pleased to have ended 2016 and brought in the new year down in Cornwall with my beautiful, crazy family. 2016 was my best year to date; I took my biggest leap of faith by quitting my job, travelling solo to LA and launching my freelance business. I road tripped across America, ticking off 30 cities & 23 states (making 52 new friends along the way) and inter-railed around Italy with my sister, visiting three of the most famous cities in the world. My blog turned 2, it underwent a major rebrand and it was nominated for an award. I've been bridesmaid for my best friend, celebrated my cousins wedding and my sisters 21st and have been to V Fest, the theatre and the races. I've made hundreds of new memories with my amazing friends and family and am entering 2017 feeling the happiest I've ever been! Here's to an even better year with many new adventures ahead as I take on Europe during my next 12 months of travel! Happy belated new year everyone, wishing you every happiness for 2017 🌎✈️💖

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After a quiet Christmas at home we couldn’t wait to get away for a break in Cornwall, our favourite UK county, for five days of beach walking, sea fishing and new year festivities. We stayed in a little apartment at the heart of St Ives and enjoyed ice cream on the beach, walks high in the hills and fancy dress and fireworks over the harbour on New Years Eve. We had an amazing few days away and it really started off our new year with a bang.

 

I became a freelancer and worked part time too – JANUARY

 

This is how I feel right now. Today I calculated that I've earnt *almost* as much each month as I was earning in my old 9-5 job! I knew I could do it!!! I've started with nothing and built up my little business all by myself. At times I felt like giving up, like I wasn't good enough, and like I had no right to make a career for myself, but today I've felt so inspired and so pleased that my hard work seems to be paying off. Any doubts that may have been in my mind have now been dismissed and I am SO excited to continue my journey in my new career and see where this takes me! Here's to future success and many more adventures 📝💻✈️🌍 #MondayMotivation #freelancer #bloglife #virtualassistant

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At the end of 2016 I decided to go freelance with my blog and I also set myself up as a social media manager too. I had a handful of clients with steady work each month and I was really enjoying working from home and being my own boss. After a few months though I realised that I missed working alongside people and started to feel incredibly lonely. On my birthday I landed myself a part time job at New Look and this actually turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to me. I started to get into a routine, earned extra money and made so many friends after thriving off that social interaction again. My part time contract meant that I could work as little or as much as I wanted to, which came in super handy for the months ahead when I  wanted to travel as much as I could.

 

I celebrated my sisters 18th birthday – JANUARY

 

 

My little baby sis turned 18 at the end of Jan and we had a wonderful weekend celebrating with our closest family members up in Liverpool. We booked a large table at the gorgeous Titanic Restaurant in the city and then spent the night partying until the early hours. Soph had an amazing birthday and it was so lovely to spent some quality time with our nearest and dearest.

 

I took a winter city break to Copenhagen – FEBRUARY

 

 

My first overseas adventure of 2017 came in February when my sister and I hopped over to Copenhagen for a long weekend. We had wanted to do a winter city break for a while, as it had been two years since our February break to Prague, and the Danish capital seemed to be the perfect place to go. We had an amazing few days wandering around the beautiful Nyhavn Harbour, climbing the Round Tower and finding The Little Mermaid and even popped over to Malmo in Sweden for a day trip too!

 

I wandered around Bratislava and Vienna for 5 days – MARCH

 

 

March saw me take two more trips, and tick off two more countries, as I flew over to explore Bratislava and Vienna with my friend and fellow blogger Lucy. We had an epic 48 hours discovering Bratislava’s Old Town and it’s stunning castle complex before catching the train to Vienna to indulge in its musical history. We then spent two nights in the best hotel I have ever stayed in and were able to visit some of Vienna’s many palaces and impressive buildings along the way – what an adventure we had!

 

I went to my second Traverse conference – APRIL

 

 

After attending my first Traverse conference in Cardiff in 2016, I knew I just had to go back to the 2017 one when details were announced. This time the blogging extravaganza was held in London, right next to The 02 arena, and was even better than the year before. I caught up with Lucy, Seanna, Steve and some of my other bloggy friends and also met the lovely Rachel for the first time, who I have now become firm friends with! Highlights of the conference included the Jet2 opening party at Millbank Tower, a CityCruises boat party along the Thames and the closing party in Canary Wharf with Visit Spain. Oh and the workshops were pretty good too, obvs I didn’t go there just to party 😉 I really interacted with all the brands and speakers this time round after being a little nervous during my first Traverse in 2016 and was lucky enough to be selected for two press trips after meeting sponsors in London. I’ve already bought my ticket for Traverse 2018 in Rotterdam and cant wait to go next May!

 

I went on a spontaneous city break to Sofia – MAY

 

 

After spotting £30 return flights with Ryanair, my lovely friend Toni and I decided to jet over to Bulgaria for a long weekend in Sofia. For both of us, this was the furthest we had gone in Eastern Europe and we absolutely loved exploring a new city, and a new country. We only had two nights there but spent it eating traditional Bulgarian food, taking a free walking tour, hiking up the Vitosha Mountain and admiring the stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Sofia is a really quirky place and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an alternative city break in Europe.

 

I went on my first group press trip to Menorca – MAY

 

 

After my successful weekend at Traverse, I was lucky enough to be selected for my first ever group press trip, Must See Menorca. Traverse teamed up with both the Spain and Menorca tourism boards to put together a fantastic week of conferencing, workshops and excursions. Highlights included kayaking in the crystal clear waters, strolling around the capital of Ciutedella and going to a party in a cave at the fabulous Cova d’en Xoroi. I made so many friends and had the most amazing week getting to know everyone, learning tonnes of new blogging tips and getting to explore new parts of Menorca that I didn’t know existed.

 

I had a girly week with my sisters in Tenerife – JUNE

 

 

After a hectic couple of months of back to back trips I couldn’t wait for a chilled week in the Spanish sun in Tenerife with my sisters by the time June came around. We booked a package holiday with Jet2 and couldn’t have had better service the whole time we were there. We’ve been to Spain fifteen times but had never visited Tenerife and it’s safe to say we will definitely be returning soon. We had an amazing week relaxing on the beach, swimming in the sea and even hiking up an active volcano! Seeing dolphins and whales swimming in the sea was a real highlight, as was being right in the heart of the action on the Las Americas strip and I already can’t wait to go back next summer.

 

I took another group press trip to Switzerland – JULY

 

 

After a relaxing break in Tenerife it was time to get back to my hectic schedule as I headed over to Switzerland for the first time on another press trip, this time with the Nendaz tourism board and with villa rental company Travelopo. Along with four other bloggers I had the chance to stay in a luxurious chalet in the heart of Swiss ski resort Nendaz. I’m pretty sure that a ski resort isn’t an obvious choice when looking for a summer holiday, but we were delighted to showcase this amazing place to a whole new audience. Both Travelopo and the Nendaz tourism board were amazing and put together a fantastic itinerary for us during our week there. We did plenty of mountain hiking (and biking), had a spa day at a 5* hotel, went cheese making in the Alps and climbed 3300m up to one of the highest mountains in the country at Verbier’s Mont Fort. I also spent a couple of days in Geneva at the beginning and end of the week and really pushed myself out of my comfort zone on this trip so it turned out to be one of the best weeks I’ve ever had!

 

I became an ambassador for The Pituitary Foundation – AUGUST

 

 

On a personal level, this is something I am hugely proud of and definitely one of my biggest achievements from 2017. If you’ve followed my blog from the beginning you’ll know that I suffer with a rare condition called a prolactinoma, which is a small, benign tumor in my brain. I’m on medication for life and have regular blood tests, eye tests and check ups with my hospital consultant to monitor my condition, but generally my health is good and I never let anything hold me back! The Pituitary Foundation are a fantastic charity who have helped me enormously since my diagnosis back in 2011 and so I was absolutely delighted when they asked me to be an ambassador for them in August. I said yes right away and couldn’t wait to get involved with fundraising and spreading awareness. My first job was sharing my story online, and I couldn’t believe it when The Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun all featured my story and reached millions of readers. Since then I have shared my story with other outlets and even organised a ‘turn your town orange’ day for Pituitary Awareness Month in October. I’m so proud to be ambassador for such an amazing charity and I can’t wait to work on new projects throughout 2018.

 

I hopped over to Hamburg for the weekend – AUGUST 

 

 

I got invited to another press trip after making great contacts at this year’s Traverse conference and was super excited to be heading to Hamburg with the Visit Hamburg team back in August. I spent two nights exploring the quirky and alternative sights of the city, including taking a street art tour, paddle boarding down the Alster river and attending the annual Vogelball music festival. We also went to an all you can eat ice cream festival which was INCREDIBLE and I spent some time wandering around the shipping port and exploring the old town with its famous Rathaus building too. Although it wasn’t my favourite city, I did really enjoy my first visit to Germany and had a lovely weekend making new friends and creating new memories.

 

I became a real life fairy godmother – SEPTEMBER

 

 

Ahh one of the best things to ever happen to me, I became fairy godmother to one of my best friend’s baby and we had such a lovely day! I’ve known my friend Kath for years, we even moved in together for a few months a couple of years ago, and I was sooo excited when she asked me to be godmother to her beautiful little girl Halle. We had a lovely day at the Church and Halle looked so cute in her little dress. I promise to love you and to look after you forever baby girl <3

 

I took on so many new blog opportunities – ALL YEAR ROUND

 

 

This year was my best year yet for new blogging opportunities and I’m delighted to say that I’ve had them in abundance over the past 12 months. From complimentary flights and week/weekend long trips in Spain, Switzerland and Germany to overnight hotel stays in The Cotswolds and boat tours along the Thames, it’s been an epic year of press trips. I really wanted to challenge myself this year and work on new collaborations with lots of new brands. As well as taking trips I’ve also worked with companies on sponsored blog posts, Instagram takeovers and competition giveaways. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I’ve wanted to be though, and I haven’t just waited for things to land in my lap. I’ve emailed brands, taken part in Twitter chats, created a media kit, networked, attended conferences and really got myself out there in order to be selected for some incredible opportunities that have really helped to grow my blog and make it the best it can be.

 

I inter-railed around Europe – SEPTEMBER

 

 

By mid September I hadn’t been on a trip away since Hamburg at the start of August and was desperate to travel again! When my friend Toni said she wanted to do the same, we knew we had to go on a real stand out trip and inter-railing around Europe seemed to fit the bill nicely! I’ve always wanted to go inter-railing, especially after my rail trip to Italy last year, so couldn’t wait to get planning our trip. After weeks of deliberation, flight/train searching and trying to find decent hotels at a decent price, we decided to do four countries and four cities within nine days. We started in the Polish capital of Warsaw then headed to Prague and Salzburg before ending up in lovely Ljubljana. We had an amazing two nights visiting each city and saw as much as we physically could during our time there. I’d visited Prague before but still loved it and I had a great time in Warsaw and Salzburg, but Ljubljana really stole my heart and I’m so glad we saved the best til last!

 

I got a new car & a new job – OCTOBER

 

 

When my beloved Vauxhall Corsa went to the big car heaven in the sky I found myself needing a new mode of transport and a new salary to support myself. After a year of freelancing and 9 months of part time work I landed on my feet when I got offered a brand new job that I’d had no intention of getting! I was starting to get fed up of unstable freelance income and I knew I definitely didn’t want to be in retail coming up to Christmas, so in September when I emailed my CV along with a generic cover letter to a local travel firm in Cheltenham I had no idea that I’d even get an interview, let alone get offered a job! I picked up my new car at the end of September and a few days later I started my new job as an operations co-ordinator at luxury travel firm Abercrombie and Kent. I work in the villas sector of the business and spend my days writing descriptions and editing photos for our luxurious villas, as well as contacting owners for availability requests and assisting the sales team with their holiday enquiries. My experience of property management from my estate agent days, coupled with my passion for travel through my blog, have helped to land my dream job and I’ve not looked back since I started! I believe that everything happens for a reason, and although having a full time job means I haven’t been able to blog as much, I’ve learnt to appreciate my weekends, use my annual leave wisely and have started saving a lot of money which will be used for future trips and treats for my nearest and dearest… Here’s to being a full-timer again!

 

I saw the most snow we’ve had in years – DECEMBER

 

Six weeks ago we were told the devastating news that our darling Cassie had a tumor in her tummy and she didn't have long left to live. We hoped and prayed that she would get better, that she would get back to her normal self, or that she would at least make it til Christmas. Sadly we don't think our prayers have been answered, as our little girl has been getting worse day by day. We didn't think she would ever see snow again, but this morning when she got up from her bed and walked out into the garden it looked like her last wishes had come true. Cass has always loved the snow and we feel so blessed that she was able to enjoy it for one last time. Soon we will have to make a decision that no pet owner wants to make and our hearts are breaking, but for now we are treasuring every second with our little snow angel and are loving her as much as we have done every day for the past 12 years. We just don't ever want to let you go baby 💔

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Although I am devastated to be writing this because we lost our precious Cassie, I am so grateful that in December it snowed for the first time since 2009 and our darling girl got to play in the snow one last time. Pulling back the curtains and waking up to so much snow was truly magical and, if I closed my eyes for a few seconds, it really felt like I was a child again. My sisters and I were supposed to be going to Capital FM’s Jingle Bell Ball that day, but the snow had meant all trains/coaches from Oxford were cancelled so we had no way of getting there. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we spent the day with our little Cassie giving her so many cuddles, watching Christmas films and telling her we loved her. Although it was her last day with us, and we spent the next few weeks crying uncontrollably every single day, I will always be grateful that it snowed and that she spent her last day being surrounded by love. We miss you so much baby and our hearts are hurting without you. We wish that you could still be here with us, that we could stroke your head or play with your ears or snuggle you tight, but we know that you were in pain and we couldn’t bear for you to carry on. We know now that you are at peace and are looking down on us each and every day, and whenever it snows we will know that it’s you showing us that you love us. Forever in our hearts, princess <3

 

When I take a step back and look at everything I’ve done this year I can’t help but feel immensely proud of myself. I’ve overcome a lot and I’ve made so many life changes in just one year, all of which have made me happier and a better person. Oh and remember those New Years Resolutions I made back in January? I’ve nailed them all. Travel to 10 new countries – tick, I even did 11! Stop looking for love – tick, goodbye tinder! Spend more time with family and friends – tick, I’ve removed toxic people from my life and put my loved ones first! Stop buying scratchcards – semi tick, I buy one every few months but I’m nowhere near as bad as I used to be! I’m quite impressed that I’ve managed to successfully complete the challenges I set myself this year and it just reinforces my belief that, if you want something badly enough, you’ve gotta go out there and get it!

As for 2018, I have no idea what the coming year will hold, but that’s what makes it so exciting. I really love January, I know it’s my birthday month so I’m biased but I love the challenge of starting a new year, totally afresh, and I set myself goals and plans that I aim to accomplish. It really gives me a sense of perspective and helps to get what I really want out of life. Thanks to all of you lovely lot for supporting Journeys with Jessica for yet another year – this little blog will be celebrating its fourth birthday in 2018 and I can’t believe how far we have come! I’ve love every second of being a travel blogger and can’t wait to take you on more adventures with me next year.

Happy new year everyone!

Love Jess X

 

Work Christmas party 🎅🌲☃🌟 #sparklesparkle

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