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A Little Life Update: Why I Took a Break from Blogging

Hi everyone,

I hope you’re all keeping safe and well in these strange and uncertain times. I started writing this blog post back in mid-March, but never got round to finishing it. It’s been a while since I last posted, and a lot in my life/the world has changed since then. I took an unintentional break from blogging at the start of the year, with my last blog post being published back in January, when I talked about my 2020 New Years Resolutions and travel plans for the year ahead. That seems like a lifetime ago now, and I can’t believe how much has happened in the past few months.

I took a break from blogging because, if I’m honest, I felt as though I had lost my way a little bit. After my last trip to Riga in December I hadn’t made any firm travel plans for 2020 apart from a weekend to Scotland in May to attempt to climb Ben Nevis (again!) and an overseas hen do for one of my best friends in June. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love to travel, and how much I thrive off planning trips, booking weekends away and maximising my annual leave, but this year I felt really different. Even before Coronavirus became a global pandemic and started impacting the world, I wasn’t excited about travel this year, and I have no idea why. Last year was my biggest year of travel yet; I spent 6 weeks in Australia, visited Italy three times, spent a week in both Spain and Portugal and took weekend breaks to Scotland and Latvia. I had some of the best travel experiences of my life in 2019, yet when it came to planning my 2020 travels, I just couldn’t seem to get excited about booking any trips. I did get invited on a last minute press trip to Montenegro, which I was super excited about, but this understandably got cancelled due to Coronavirus and so my excitement was short lived!

 

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🚨 CORONAVIRUS 1 – my travel plans 0 🚨 Feeling very sad today guys… I was soooo excited to let you all know that, a few weeks ago, I got invited on my first press trip of 2020 which was amazing news at the time, but is now sadly not 😭 I was due to go to beautiful #Montenegro at the end of April with their amazing tourism board for 5 days of mountain hiking, cave walking and lake swimming around Perast, Budva, Kotor & Podgorica with a group of other bloggers, but unfortunately the trip has been delayed until further notice given the current global crisis we are all facing for the foreseeable future 🌎 In what is sad and scary times for all of us right now I'm trying to be positive and look forward to planning future trips when all of this is finally over, whether that be in 2020 or 2021 ✨ Luckily the trip has been postponed and not cancelled – a great way to help protect all of us in the travel industry at the moment – so I know I'll be in Montenegro sometime soon, I just have no idea when 😩 For now, here's a sunny picture of me exploring #Kotor on my last visit to this beautiful country back in 2018 🇲🇪 Stay safe everyone, let's get through this horrible time together ❤️ #wanderlustwednesday #visitmontenegro #montenegrowildbeauty #gomontenegro #imisstravelling

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I guess without any major travel plans to look forward to, and no other trips to write about, I didn’t really have anything to say on my little corner of the internet, so I took a blogging break which I thought would only last a few weeks, but instead has lasted nearly four months. This is mainly due to me still not having any travel related content to write about, but also of course due to Coronavirus itself. One of the main reasons I haven’t continued to write blog posts is because it doesn’t feel like the right time to be sharing travel content at the moment. How am I supposed to inspire my readers to get excited about travel when we can’t even leave the country?! I feel it would be insensitive for me to write about/encourage travel whilst we are in lockdown but, having said that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing old photos/posts and allowing people to day dream about future trips or reminisce about old ones. I’ve not done that myself yet as I’m still not even thinking about travel, but at some stage I may do.

At a time where Covid-19 is spreading across the world, killing thousands of people, dominating the news headlines and ruling almost every part of people’s lives, I knew it would eventually end up affecting my life too, but I didn’t realise just how much. For my day job, I work at a luxury travel firm in Oxfordshire and Coronavirus first had an impact on my daily life when we were asked to start working from home on 18th March. Adjusting to my new daily work from home life involved walking downstairs instead of driving for my morning commute, wearing a tracksuit instead of office wear and having daily lunchtime walks with my dog instead of with my colleagues!

 

 

On 1st April though I was officially furloughed from work and unable to continue my role at the company, a job which I love so much. I was initially quite sad, but after lots of support from HR, my wonderful manager and my fellow colleagues who had also been furloughed, I started to think differently. I am extremely lucky to be in a position to be furloughed; I will receive 80% of my wages despite not carrying out any work for the company at all, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to return to my role when all of this is over.

A couple of weeks down the line and I’m slowly adjusting to furlough life and everything that comes with it. I’ve read three books, started baking cakes, enjoyed my daily dog walks, started doing gym workouts from home 4 times a week and am trying to fill my days so I keep busy. I’m extremely thankful to have a lovely garden at home which I can enjoy every day, and I’m grateful for this lovely sunny weather we’ve been blessed with recently too! Mentally though I am finding things quite hard. Some days I’m totally fine and can keep busy, but other days I just don’t know what to do with myself. I’m not sleeping very well, I cry at everything (even more so than usual!), I’m really snappy and short tempered and am finding some days hard to keep positive. I guess it’s natural to feel this way with so much uncertainty in the world, I’m just scared that Covid-19 will affect me or my family physically, and I think that’s what I’m feeling anxious about.

 

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I hope you've had a lovely Easter weekend staying at home 🏡 Every time I walk past this gorgeous cottage I want to live there! Haven't been to this little village in #Oxfordshire since we went into lockdown 3 weeks ago, and I can't wait for the day when we are able to drive 10 mins to the next village/town to enjoy a long walk or a pub lunch rather than being confined to our back gardens for the foreseeable future ✨ This easter has been a little different – last year I had just got back from being in Australia – but when all of this is over, I'll look back and be so grateful that I have my family, my health, a lovely home & 2 pretty gardens to enjoy in the sunshine ☀️ Whatever happens over the next few weeks, we must continue to #stayhome ❤️ The world will be waiting for you to visit when we are able to, and the #Cotswolds certainly isn't going anywhere 🌎 . . . #happyeaster #uklockdown #minsterlovell #littleminster #lovethecotswolds #cotswoldstyle #thecotswolds #loveoxfordshire #weloveengland #visitbritain #instatravel #lovegreatbritain #capturingbritain #photosofbritain #loveengland #photosofengland #visitengland #thisisengland #igersengland #igersuk #igersoxfordshire #cotswoldslife #oxford #experienceoxfordshire #oxfordshire #countryside #oxfordshirelife #travelblogger

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I am trying to fill my days though and have things to do so that I can constantly keep busy during the daytime. Last week I enrolled on a course to get my TEFL certificate which will allow me to teach English as a foreign language online to children living abroad, something I can start doing once I’m qualified, and I can fit it around my job when I eventually go back to work too. I’ve always loved English and had been thinking about it for a while, but now I’ve finally got the course it’s given me something to focus on and I actually feel like I have some structure to my day now. I’ve also signed up to be an NHS Volunteer Responder, which I’m really excited about starting next week. I’m hoping to deliver shopping and prescriptions to people who are self isolating and to offer a friendly telephone service to those who are feeling a bit lonely and who want someone to chat to. I was recently in the Daily Mail after a whopping 750,000 people signed up to be an NHS Volunteer Responder too, and I’m proud to be a part of this wonderful community who are ready to help others during these difficult times.

I guess you could say that I’m feeling a bit more positive now. I haven’t really got my travel motivation back, and I don’t think I will until all of this is over and we are able to travel freely again. I think this will take at least 6 months or possibly even longer as I really can’t see us being able to travel again until autumn at the earliest. Eventually I will look forward to planning new trips but, honestly, the first thing I want to do when the UK lockdown ends is spend time exploring my own country. I want to go to Suffolk to visit my nan and cousins, aunties and uncles who I haven’t seen in ages. I want to go to Liverpool to see my cousin Amy who was supposed to get married in May and I want to go and spend time with my nan, grandad, other cousins, aunties and uncles up there too.

 

 

I want to go to Cornwall, the place I have holidayed almost every year since I was born, so that I can be by the sea. I want to go to York to see my friend Rachel who I was supposed to stay with in Scarborough during the May bank holiday. I want to go to Brighton to see my best friend Emily who I was supposed to be seeing this weekend. I also want to just be able to pop into Oxford and go shopping or eat dinner with my friends from home. I miss all of those things, and all of those people, so very much. So before I can even think about leaving the country and planning things abroad, I want to stay right here first!

I’m hopeful that, when all of this is over, I’ll look back and say I didn’t spend 3 months off work moping about and not achieving anything. I’d like to complete my TEFL course, do lots of volunteering for the NHS, continue my new exercise regime and stay healthy. I guess the reason I am writing this blog post now is to have a sort of diary entry to look back on in a few weeks/months time. None of us know what the future holds, but I’m going to try and be grateful for each day and to remember how fortunate I am to be in this position.

So, why am I writing a blog post now I hear you ask? After all this time? Well, the date has something to do with it too. This time last year I had just flown back from Australia, where I had the biggest and best adventure of my life so far. Fast forward 12 months and, not only has my life changed significantly, the world around me has too. That’s a lot to take in, and a lot to think about, so my way of dealing with it is to reflect and look back at all the amazing things I have done, and tp start looking forward to future, happier times too, when all of this is over.

Look after yourselves, and remember, we WILL meet again.

Love Jess x

 

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My 2020 New Year’s Resolutions & Travel Plans

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you had a wonderful time celebrating on new years eve? I spent my night with friends in Cheltenham, dressed in 1920s themed fancy dress and welcoming 2020 in style! I have to say, I have been reflecting a lot on the past year lately, and even the last ten years as we say goodbye to the 2010s and welcome in a brand new decade. I’ve grown a lot in the past ten years, from a shy sixteen year old to a confident, outgoing 26 year old who is grateful for many things in my life. I am grateful to have such wonderful family and friends around me, grateful to this blog for allowing me to have a hobby which I absolutely love, and grateful for the fantastic travel opportunities I’ve had in more recent years.

 

 

As I get older I definitely think you start to appreciate things more, and also start to feel more content with life, rather than constantly wanting more or pushing for things to be better. Don’t get me wrong, I am hugely ambitious and will always want to achieve more things, travel to more places and make more memories, but I don’t feel the need to set myself 10-20 resolutions that are unrealistic and will make me feel like a bad person if I don’t achieve them. With that in mind, I thought I would write down just 5 things I want from 2020, and hope that, by the end of the year, I can achieve all of them and feel content after what I’m sure will be another crazy 12 months for me! Here they are…

 

 

I want to buy a house

 

 

A pretty big ask, but something I finally feel I am now ready to do. I have saved up a house deposit for a number of years now, but kept putting it off to go travelling instead – oops! In 2016 I had just short of £8000, which would have been my share of a deposit, but decided to travel around America instead. A couple of years later in 2018 I had £10,000 but decided to blow half it on the trip of a lifetime to Australia. Do I regret my decisions to travel? Not for one second! But I do wish I’d have kept a bit more money back so I could have started building my savings back up a little quicker! I am however now in a place where I have comfortably saved a deposit and am more than ready to put down some roots here in Oxfordshire and have a little place to call my own. I’m actually going to look at buying with my sister, when the time comes, as we are both in the same boat and it means we can actually afford to buy a house instead of a flat. I’m confident that 2020 will be the year that I finally get on the property ladder, and am excited to help make my dreams a reality before 2020 is over!

 

 

I want to focus on my new job

 

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Working hard or hardly working?! 🌴 I actually took a couple of hours out of my holiday to go and do a site visit at this gorgeous hotel in Vilamoura whilst I was away recently… but it's not a hardship to work when your job is as good as this! 🌎 TBT to wearing a blue dress against a blue sky next to a blue pool 💧 . . . #throwbackthursday #hotelviews #portugal #vilamoura #algarve #europe #holiday #septembersunshine #loveportugal #lovethealgarve #visitportugal #visitvilamoura #visitalgarve #algarveportugal #algarvealive #algarvetourism #algarvecoast #vilamouramarina #vilamouraalgarve #vilamouralife #portugaltravel #portugal_lovers #portugal_places #portugal_photos #europetravel #travelgram #darlingescapes #instatravel #mytinyatlas #anantara

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During a time when everyone seems to be quitting their jobs to blog full time, I’m actually doing the opposite and taking a step back from my blog to focus on my day job. Don’t worry, I will still be blogging regularly and sharing relevant content, travel guides and life updates with you along the way, but I’m not going to be constantly pitching to brands and looking for sponsored posts this year as I really want to focus on my job instead. This is my second full time job in the travel industry and, now that I’ve finally found out what it is I want to do with my career, I really want to put all my energy into making it a success. Working at a luxury travel firm means I am lucky enough to learn all about new product and get to experience some amazing 5* hotels and resorts first hand too, so I can combine my love of travel and content creation and apply it to almost every aspect of my job role. I feel like I’ve finally found what I am meant to be doing with my life and am excited to continue my career in the travel industry over the next 12 months and beyond.

 

I want to travel to 5 countries

 

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🚨My 2019 Year in Review is here!! 🚨 ((Link in bio)) My #topnine photos from 2019, a year which has seen me quit my job, do a travel writing internship at the Sunday Times, have my work published in a magazine, celebrate 5 years of blogging and get myself a brand new job in the travel industry which I absolutely love! 🌎 Not to mention seeing my all time faves Westlife and Spice Girls in concert, as well as watching Robbie Williams and Celine Dion along with 70,000 others in Hyde Park! 💃 2019 has also been my best ever year of travel, after I spent 6 weeks traveling around Australia and a further 6 weeks having holidays and taking work trips around Europe. Highlights include skydiving over Uluru, driving the Great Ocean Road, snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, inter-railing round Spain, riding a gondola in Venice and doing Christmas markets in Riga. 🌟 8 trips abroad, 19 flights and 12 weeks travelling out of 52 weeks of the year, not bad huh ✈️ 2019, I think you might just have been my best year yet! Feeling so full of love and happiness for the past year, and the past decade, and I'm so grateful to have my amazing friends and family around me. I hope 2020 is even better ❤️ It took me 4 hours to put this blog post together – I hope you enjoy reading it! ✨

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I travelled to 7 countries in 2019 and 9 countries in 2018, so have done really well over the past couple of years, but I think that aiming to tick off 5 countries this year is definitely doable. I’m going to be really busy with work and saving up for a house this year, so I think some of my travel plans might have to take a back seat, but that’s not to say that I won’t be going on plenty of little mini trips throughout the year, so am confident I will still visit at least 5 countries! In terms of travel plans, the only thing I have set in stone at the moment is a trip back to Scotland to have a second atempt at climbing Ben Nevis! I am also bridesmaid for two weddings next year, for one of my best friends and one of my cousins, so I have 2 hen do’s to attend which will be lots of fun. I’d like to do a few European mini breaks and I am also hoping to squeeze in a Christmas markets interrailing trip around Poland in December with my sisters. Work sent me on two trips last year and I have only been here for six months, so I am hoping that in 2020 I may get to take a couple more work trips which would be amazing! I’d also really like to explore more of the UK this year, and am planning on heading back to Cornwall for the first time in 3 years which is seriously overdue! I’d also like to go back to York, and head over to Edinburgh and Cambridge for the first time if I can squeeze them in, so I’m hoping for another fun filled year of travel, but don’t think I’ll end up as far afield as Australia this year!

 

I want to start working out three times a week

 

 

I started this towards the end of last year, but then it was December which meant Christmas was coming and I just wanted to spend the entire month eating food and not worrying about exercise! However, I do think January is a great time to start new hobbies/make new promises, so I do really want to start working out three times a week to add some proper exercise into my life. I am not a gym person at all and can’t think of anything worse than running on a treadmill or doing spinning classes, but I experimented with some power walking and dance fitness videos last year and found a couple that I really liked, so I think I’m going to give them another go and try to stick to them this time! I am so unconfident with my looks at the moment, I definitely feel I have put on weight on my hips and stomach and on my face too, which I hate, so I really want to start incorporating exercise into my weekly routine this year so I feel fitter and stronger and look better. Fingers crossed I find a workout routine that works well for me – I also need to get my fitness up for Ben Nevis in May – wish me luck!

 

I want to start dating again

 

 

I’ve definitely lost confidence with dating recently. In fact, my last date was back in January 2019 which is a whole year ago! It feels a bit ridiculous that I’m writing this on my resolutions list to be honest, as I think sometimes things like this happen without thinking, and if something’s meant to be its meant to be, but I also think that you only get out of life what you put in, and I can’t sit around all year waiting for someone to just walk into my life! So I think in 2020 I am going to make a conscious effort to try and get out into the dating world again. I really really hate online dating, but it seems to be the only way that people meet at the moment, as I don’t go out in the evenings that much anymore and I’m always going away/making plans so I think I’m going to find it harder to meet guys if I’m not looking online as well. I don’t want to make promises and say that I’m definitely going to go looking for love and am going to start attending speed dating events or singles nights (as much as my mother would want me to!) but I’m just going to put myself out there a bit more and try to boost my confidence. Let’s see how this one turns out and, who knows, by the end of the year there may or may not be someone new in my life! If anyone knows any decent looking guys who love to travel, please send them my way?!

 

 

No matter what happens in 2020 I am going to try and be more present and content with life rather than getting bogged down with feeling like I constantly have to better myself, or comparing myself to others. I’m going to try not to worry about what everyone else is doing because everyone is different and life should be taken day by day, at your own pace rather than being determined by others actions. I get so upset sometimes worrying that I’ve not got a house or a husband or have had a baby like some of my friends and cousins have. I get upset that it hasn’t happened to me yet, that I’ve been single for nearly six years, that I’m so far away from all of those things happening to me when, really, it’s all I’ve ever wanted in life.

 

Everyone’s ‘decade challenges’ on social media have been filled with people saying that they went to uni, graduated with a degree, met the love of their life, got engaged, got married, bought a house, had three kids, got two dogs and a cat and had countless holidays to Disneyworld over the past ten years, but my decade has been very different to that. I didn’t go to uni, or get married and have kids, but I passed my A Levels, I’ve spent the past 8 years working full time, I’ve bought two cars, I’ve been diagnosed with a serious health condition and become a charity ambassador, I’ve saved up for a house deposit, I’ve travelled to 30 countries and I’ve ran a successful travel blog. My decade looks very different to lots of girls my age, but I’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter, because this is what I’ve achieved in my life, and what I am hugely proud of.

 

 

By the end of the next decade I will be 36 years old (OH MY GOD I WANT TO CRY AT THE THOUGHT OF APPROACHING 40!!!!) and I really hope that, by then, I will have achieved the other things I wanted to achieve this decade. I hope I’m happily married with a couple of kids, a dog, and a nice house and that I still love travel as much as I do now. I hope that I’m still super close with my family and friends, that I’ve still got a great job that will allow me to support my family but, most importantly, I hope that I am happy. Money doesn’t matter to me, only health and happiness. I hope my grandparents are still alive, I hope that my parents are still loving life, I hope that my future kids are healthy. I seem to have gone off on a tangent, and I guess this post has turned into more of a ‘hope for the next decade’ post rather than a 2020 resolutions one, but I’m just excited to see what the next ten years holds for me and everyone in my life. Whatever it holds for you, I hope it brings you happiness.

Happy new year (and new decade everyone!)

Love Jess x

PS. I wonder if I’ll still be blogging in ten years’ time, or if blogs will be a distant memory by then with social media taking over completely?! I bloody hope not!

 

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My 2019 Year in Review

 

Happy belated Christmas everyone!

I hope you’ve all had a fantastic festive season with your friends and family, and that you’ve been well and truly spoilt with gifts, food and fun. I’ve had a lovely few days at home with my family, enjoying Christmas and everything that comes with it. Now that the big day is out the way, I’m looking forward to celebrating a new year, and a new decade, and can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store for me! Before that though, here’s my annual round up of my highlights throughout the year – it was certainly one of my biggest and best years to date! Here’s what I’ve got up to over the past 12 months, and how I got on with my 2019 New Years Resolutions too…

 

January & February

 

I had a great start to the year, with my sister Hannah surprising me with tickets to go and see Disney’s Aladdin on the West End for my 26th birthday! I had a magical day shopping, lunching and indulging in all things Disney with my sis, and it definitely made me want to see more West End shows. I also spent time with my friends, going out for dinner and having a games night in instead of doing a clubbing night out – defo showing my age now! January was also a special month as we got our new puppy Lola, a beautiful little Cavapoo who has brought so much joy to our lives this year. It snowed a lot at the end of Jan and Lola absolutely loved running around in it, feeling the soft white powder beneath her paws – what I would give to see snow again this winter!

 

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That's a wrap! My internship at The Sunday Times Travel Magazine has come to an end 💻 I've had a great couple of weeks learning about the world of journalism and I even got to write an article that got approved and will be published in the May issue of the magazine which means… MY NAME WILL BE IN PRINT! 🗞 It's been a great experience but I can't wait to come home – I'm not sure London life is meant for me as I've spent the majority of the time getting lost and ending up in places I didn't even know existed, and no one smiles or talks on the tube which makes it soooo lonely 😭 Until next time, London, I won't be back for a while! 👋 Ps. Omg forgot I'm there Tuesday to fly to Australia 😂✈️ #whatislife

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February also saw me quit my job at luxury travel firm at Abercrombie & Kent (where I had been working for the past 18 months) in order to take a leap of faith and try something new. I left my job on 15th February and did a two week travel writing internship at the Sunday Times Travel Magazine, learning all about the world of journalism at the News Building in London. I really enjoyed my internship, and even got one of my articles published in the May edition of the magazine, which is probably my biggest writing achievement to date!

 

March & April

 

March and April were my favourite months of the year as I spent them both exploring the beautiful country of Australia, and what an adventure I had! I travelled alone and was away for six weeks in total, going from Melbourne – Sydney and ticking off the likes of the Great Ocean Road, Adelaide, the Outback, Cairns, the Whitsundays, Brisbane and Bondi Beach along the way. I skydived over Uluru, camped under the stars in the Outback, snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef and took a scenic flight over Fraser Island, ticking sooo much off my Aussie bucket list! I made some wonderful friends, who I still speak to now, and had the most amazing time in Australia. It was honestly the best trip I have ever done – I was so sad about leaving and wish more than anything that I could return right this second. Australia – I will be back one day!

 

 

The rest of April saw me enjoy Easter at home with my family and spending time catching up with all my wonderful friends. I headed to Bristol at the end of the month for a charity gala night to celebrate 25 years of the Pituitary Foundation, who I of course am a proud ambassador for. I went with my mum and dad, their two friends and one of my best friends – we had all climbed Mount Snowdon together the year before so it was a lovely way to reunite and celebrate such a wonderful achievement for the charity.

 

May & June

 

May was a great month of travel for me, as I headed to Spain with my sister Hannah to embark on our Spanish interrailing adventure. We were away for 8 nights/9 days and spent time in Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona. We had a brilliant trip and absolutely loved visiting some of Spain’s most iconic cities. I loved Valencia and Barcelona for their beaches, ancient cathedrals and lively atmospheres, but I think Madrid was my favourite out of all three of them as I just loved the history and the authentic Tapas. My nan and grandad and aunty and uncle also came down to stay with us just after we got back from Spain, so it was lovely to spend time with them as I hadn’t seen them since before going to Australia and we had a lot to catch up on!

May also saw me head to the Lake District and Scotland with my mum and dad – we were heading up to climb Ben Nevis for the Pituitary Foundation and had a lovely break away, although my dad sadly broke his wrist whilst we were climbing the mountain so we didn’t make it to the top which we were absolutely GUTTED about! Later on in the month I headed to Cardiff with one of my besties to go and see the Spice Girls which was absolutely amazing and brought back allll the 90s feelings from when I was a little girl growing up! I also celebrated my five year blogging anniversary at the end of the month which is absolutely CRAZY – I can’t believe I am still blogging and am thankful every day for the amazing trips I’ve taken and the wonderful people I have met through my blog, I know for sure that my life would be very different without it!

 

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Happy #TravelTuesday everyone – I'm actually not travelling at the moment (for once) and you know what, I'm actually soooo happy about it! 🏡 I haven't spent more than 2 weeks at a time at home since February and have been on back to back trips since March, taking 10 flights in 3 months, and travelling thousands of miles across Australia, the UK and Europe which has made me bloody exhausted 😩 I know I shouldn't moan because I LOVE my life and I'm so lucky I get to travel so much, but all the constant running around from airport to airport and sleeping in different hotel beds every night has finally taken its toll and I've got so fed up with being on the road that I just want to have a base to come back to ✨ So I'm now totally ready to spend the next three months completely at home, as my next trip isn't until September, and focus on myself, my blog and something else which I haven't told you about yet but I will reveal all soon, I promise! 🙈 For now here's a pic of me loving life in sunny Italia and soaking up the stunning mountain views that were right behind me ⛰

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In June my lovely nan came down to stay with us for a week and it was sooo amazing to spend some quality time with her. We enjoyed lovely days out in the Cotswolds just as the weather was getting good and had so much to catch up on as, like with my other nan and grandad, I hadn’t seen her since before I left for Australia! June also saw me head to Italy for my 4th annual Traverse conference which, as you know, I attend every year! I headed over to Verona for two nights first, ticking off all the sights such as Romeo and Juliet’s Balcony, the Castel San Pietro and the impressive Arena – I really liked Verona and would definitely like to return one day to spend a bit more time there. After Verona I travelled onwards to the city of Trento, in the Dolomites, where the Traverse conference was being held. I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of the region of Trentino and it was great to discover a part of Italy I knew nothing about, all whilst attending my fave travel conference and catching up with my fave blogger friends. At the end of June I also went to see Westlife for the 4th time with one of my besties and it was amazing – I love them so much and am already planning to see them again in 2020!

 

July & August

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New week, new month, new JOB! 😬 Eeeek been keeping this under wraps for a little while, but today's the day I start my brand new job at a luxury travel company in Witney. 🌎 I'm so excited to have swapped a 2hr daily commute for a drive that takes me just 8 minutes to get to my new office 🙈 Instead of finishing at 5:30 and not getting home til nearly 7 I'll actually be home before 5:30 which means I can actually have a social life in the evenings and can fit it around working part time on my blog too ❤️ So excited for my new chapter to begin, after 4 months of travelling and spending way too much money I can't wait to get into a proper routine again and start settling down (kind of 😉) Operation 'Jess is saving up for a house' has been resumed! 🏡 #MondayMotivation #NewJob #NewChapter #WishMeLuck

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July and August were a little quieter for me and I didn’t leave the country once (shock horror!) but I did have some exciting news which was that I started my brand new JOB at luxury travel firm Oxford Private Travel! I was so excited to start working again after 4 months off and was keen to take the next steps of my career in the travel industry. I also swapped a 2hour daily commute for just a 20 minute round trip compared to my last job, and I feel so much happier in my new role, which is much more varied than my last one – I’ve been there six months now and still love going into work every single day. July also saw me head to London’s Hyde Park for their British Summertime Festival two weekends in a row as I saw the legend that is Robbie Williams with my sister and the absolute Queen that is Celine Dion with my mum! I’d wanted to see them both since I was a little girl, and both concerts were absolutely amazing so I will definitely remember them forever.

 

 

August saw one of my friends I met in Australia come and visit me for a couple of nights which was so lovely. She’s from The Hague in the Netherlands so wanted to visit Oxford and do a Cotswolds trip – to which I was her tour guide and host for the weekend! I love the fact that travelling allows you to meet people from all walks of life who you’d never meet otherwise, and for that I will always be grateful as some of my best friends are people I met whilst I’ve been travelling! At the end of August I headed up to Liverpool for my cousins wedding and my nan’s 80th birthday which was an amazing, fun-filled, family weekend with all my nearest and dearest. During the bank holiday weekend I also went to The Big Feastival, an amazing show here in the Cotswolds which is brimming with food stalls, family entertainment and big name artists – I went with my two friends and their little girls and had such a lovely time!

 

September & October

 

September was a great month for blogging events as I headed to London for the inaugural Borderless Live event run by the Traverse team, and then up to Manchester the week after for the popular Blog at the Beach event with Ice Lolly Holiday. Normal travelling service had resumed by the time September came around, as I flew out to Sardinia for my first work trip. We stayed at the gorgeous Forte Village Resort and spent time doing site inspections and enjoying all the facilities that the resort had to offer, but what I loved most was just swimming in the sea and taking in all the beautiful surroundings. The next day after I got home I was straight back to the airport to head on a girls holiday with my friend and two sisters to Vilamoura – it was my first time in Portugal and I was so excited! Vilamoura certainly didn’t disappoint and we had a great week enjoying the glitzy marina, swimming in the sea and checking out the fantastic waterpark. The day after we got back from Vilamoura we went up to Liverpool for my cousins baby shower which was a lovely family filled day.

 

 

October saw me take my second work trip in just 2 months, and my 6th visit to Italy in less than 3 years, as I headed to Venice as part of a travel agent fam trip. I only spent two nights there but had a great time seeing lots of hotels and taking part in excursions including visiting a gondola workshop, seeing the hidden gardens in the city and taking a boat trip over to the nearby islands of Murano and Burano. Despite visiting Venice for the first time back in 2016 (and not falling in love with it as much as I thought I would) I actually really enjoyed my second time in the city and had a much better experience this time round! In October I also took a first aid course (and passed) so I’m now a fully qualified first aider which is great and I also popped into Oxford for an evening with the Pituitary Foundation to listen to Professor John Wass, the founder of the charity, give an interesting speech. I also did a couple of blog reviews at The Botanist, Cheltenham and The Ivy, Oxford which were great evenings out, saw Grease the Musical in Oxford and I went to Brighton with two of my besties for a fun girly weekend!

 

November & December 

 

In November I went to WTM London for the third time, but this time with work rather than as a blogger which was totally different! I had back to back meetings all day and not much free time but still managed to catch up briefly with a few of my fave blogger pals who I hadn’t seen since Traverse in June or Borderless Live in September. November also saw me heading to our local fireworks display for Bonfire Night, and popping into Oxford for my work Christmas party which I had the task of organising and, luckily, a great night was had by all! At the end of November I took my sister Sophie to nearby Blenheim Palace in Woodstock for their annual Christmas at Blenheim event which was even better than last year’s one! The Alice in the Palace was beautiful, the illuminated lights trail was spectacular and we left feeling truly festive.

 

 

At the start of December I attended Sudeley Castle’s Spectacle of Light event in Winchcombe, near Cheltenham, with my sister and parents – we had a lovely festive evening and it was just what we needed to kick-start our December! A week later my sister Hannah and I headed to the beautiful Baltic city of Riga for a Christmas Markets break and we had the most wonderfully festive weekend. I actually won this trip in a competition I entered whilst at Traverse 19 in Trento back in June, which was sponsored by Magnetic Latvia. We had a fantastic time in Latvia and I couldn’t think of a better place to tick off my 30th country, which was a definite travel milestone for me! Of course December has also brought Christmas, a quiet one at home with family this year, and I’m excited to be heading to Cheltenham for a 1920s Great Gatsby themed party on New Years Eve so I can see in 2020 in style!

 

My 2019 New Years Resolutions

At the start of the year you might remember that I set my 2019 New Years Resolutions, and I always love to reflect and look back, so here’s how I got on…

 

Go Veggie for 1 month – SUCCESS – I actually kept this up for an entire SIX MONTHS instead of just for 1 month which I am really proud of myself for. Unfortunately I am still having problems with my tummy, and think that my constant bloating and stomach pains may be something to do with my ovaries instead of being food related, so I am going to investigate this further but I definitely didn’t miss meat at all during my 6 months of being veggie and have only recently started eating chicken in order to get more protein into my diet – I still avoid red meat and don’t eat fish at all so I’ve done really well with this resolution, and it was much easier than I thought!

 

Visit 7 countries – SUCCESS – I managed to tick off Australia, Abu Dhabi, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, Italy (x3) and Latvia during my 2019 travels so I am really glad I was successful at this one! As a travel blogger, ticking off countries is a big deal for me, so I’m going to try and visit as many as I can each year and already can’t wait to see where my 2020 travels take me!

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((Link in bio)) How to spend a day in #Verona 🇮🇹 Back in June I spent a very short time running around Italy's city of love ticking off alllll the sights as quickly as I could! 🌎 If, like me, you're on limited time during your flying visit to Verona, check out my travel guide to make the most of your day in this beautiful city and see some of the top sights including the Verona Arena, Ponte Pietra and Juliet's Balcony 😍 This pic was taken at the top of Castel San Pietro, a hillside fortress which can be reached on foot if you're active, or by funicular if you're feeling tired (like me) and offers some of the best views of Verona ✨ . . . #traveltuesday #travelblogger #travel #travelgram #uktravelbloggers #lonelyplanet #mytinyatlas #darlingescapes #veronaitaly #veronainlove #igersverona #insta_verona #veronacity #veronapictures #italy #italia #igersitaly #italytravel #topitalyphoto #italy_vacations #europe #europetravel #europe_pics #europe_tourist #europe_greatshots #citybreak #citypics #citylife #cityscape

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Read 2-3 books a month – SUCCESS – I have been really good at this one and read a whopping 24 books this year, which is bang on 2 books a month! I am really glad I have been able to do this as I absolutely love reading and have spent more time focusing on this instead of scrolling on my phone, so that’s a definite positive!

 

Take a leap of faith – SUCCESS – I was really vague about this when I set this resolution at the start of the year, but it was because I already knew what it was, I just couldn’t tell you as I hadn’t given in my notice at work! This year, my leap of faith was to quit my job and travel around Australia, and I did exactly that! I’m really proud of myself for pushing myself out of my comfort zone, leaving a job I was unhappy in and travelling the other side of the world on my own. Life is too short to be unhappy, so take a leap of faith and follow your dreams before it’s too late!

 

 

Reach 10,000 social media followers – FAIL – I tried this one last year and failed, and sadly I didnt manage to achieve it this year either. I’m now on 9344 followers across all social media platforms, so I’m not a million miles away, but I would have loved to reach my 10,000 milestone in 2019. Ah well, maybe next year I will finally get this one!

 

Make time to meditate – FAIL – Bad news, I didn’t get this one either, but it’s because I am so flipping busy all the time I never have time to sit down and meditate! I have obviously spent more time reading books this year though, so I’m taking that as a positive and not worrying that I haven’t meditated because you can’t do everything, right?!

 

What I want from 2020

 

If I’m honest I’m really not sure what I want from 2020. This year surpassed all my wildest dreams as I travelled for 13 weeks of the year, got a new job which I absolutely love, spent time with family and friends and saw some incredible concerts which I will remember forever! I’m just grateful to have had a really wonderful 12 months after a difficult 2018. The only thing I really want to achieve is to buy a house – I’ve wanted to move out for a while and have finally got a decent deposit saved up, so I’m confident that 2020 will be the year I finally get on the property ladder! Other than that though, I just want to continue taking little trips throughout the year and hopefully I’ll get sent on some more amazing work trips too!

I will most likely write up my 2020 New Years Resolutions in January so will share them with you when I’m ready and have thought more about what I want to acheive from the year ahead. Until then though, I hope you’re all still enjoying the festive period and that you have a happy and healthy start to 2020. Happy New Year everyone – thank you as always for reading my little blog, I love that I can still share my life updates with you five years after starting Journeys with Jessica – long may it continue!

Love Jess x

 

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Lush green mountains, sunny blue skies and glorious countryside views, this is what I love most about the beautiful #LakeDistrict ⛰ I didn't go abroad until I was 8 years old and spent many half term holidays up here with my sisters, so Lakeland is a huge part of my childhood and I have fond memories running up and down hills, chasing sheep in fields and having fun with my family ❤️ One year we even ended up getting lost on a mountain when my mum thought we were following yellow arrows on stones and sticking to a proper pathway but it turned out to just be yellow MOSS that she was following and we had been going round in circles for 8 hours!! 😂 A phone call to Mountain Rescue got 3 kids, 2 adults and 1 dog back on the straight and narrow but it took us forever to get off that bloody mountain and I never wanted to see another one for weeks after that 🙈 Luckily I started to love them again as I got older, and now they hold a special place in my heart and help me to appreciate all the natural beauty we have right here in England 🇬🇧 Do you have a silly travel story? I'd love to hear them on this chilled Sunday evening! ✨

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How to Spend a Festive Weekend in Riga, Latvia

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I returned from my last trip of the year (and the decade, which sounds WEIRD!) after visiting the beautiful Baltics for the first time with my sister. We spent a festive weekend in Riga exploring the cobbled streets of the Old Town, wandering around the gorgeous Christmas markets and enjoying some traditional Latvian food which made for a fantastic weekend getaway before the madness of Christmas was here! I actually won this trip as a competition prize from Traverse Events and Magnetic Latvia when I was in Italy attending Traverse 19 in June, so it was a great way to end my wonderful year of travel and made a change from heading to sunnier climes! Here’s what I got up to on my festive weekend in Riga, and what I’d recommend you do there too…

 

Check out the Christmas Markets

 

With not one, not two but THREE Christmas Markets dotted around the city, it’s not hard to see why you’d opt for a fantastic festive weekend in Riga. The biggest (and best) ones are located in the Doma Laukums (Cathedral Square) and are breath-takingly beautiful. Situated right in front of the impressive Cathedral, the wooden markets are decorated in traditional European style and sell everything from mulled wine and hot chocolate to gingerbread houses, sweets and hog roasts. Christmas music fills the air, with live folk dancing and carol singing occurring daily, and there’s often real snow falling from the sky as Riga is notoriously cold in December! The entrance arch, with Christmas trees and twinkling lights lining the opening really makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into a scene from Narnia, and its such a magical place to walk around at any time of day, but especially in the evening when the skies are dark and the lights are out in force! Take a walk over to the Esplanade to check out one of the other markets, located just in front of the striking Nativity of Christ Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church which is free to enter and definitely worth a visit. At these markets you’ll find stalls selling similar products and a real life rabbit village (yes, you heard me right) where super cute fluffy bunnies are kept in a huge pen complete with Lego houses, toy buildings and more. What a place!

 

Try traditional Balsam at Black Magic

 

 

 

I had heard lots about Balsam before my festive weekend in Riga and knew that it was a ‘rite of passage’ when visiting Latvia, so where better to try some for ourselves than in Black Magic, a beautifully medieval café/bar which was a former apothecary selling all sorts of lotions and potions back in the 1700s, and in particular black Balsam which was used to treat ailments and made from 24 different ingredients. Inside, the lights are dimmed and you are served by candlelight – choose from a range of delicious chocolate truffles, cakes and sweet treats, all made from the traditional black Balsam, or just order shots or cocktails of it at the bar if you’d rather taste it that way (and if you’re made of strong stuff!) If, like me, you’re a bit of a lightweight, I would suggest ordering a hot blackcurrant drink with Balsam as it’ll warm your cockles slowly and allow you to taste it a little more gently than just ordering a hard core shot which is full of alcohol! Black Magic was a hidden gem and even had a secret room behind a bookcase which you pushed open to enter – I had read a few blog posts recommending this place and I can agree that it is definitely worth a visit during your festive weekend in Riga! 

 

Wander around the Old Town

 

 

Probably our favourite thing to do during our festive weekend in Riga was simply just to walk around the Old Town soaking up the festive spirit in the air and admiring the historic buildings that were dotted around. I felt the cobbled streets and red coloured buildings were reminiscent of Prague and other European cities, but Riga is much smaller and I felt had much more character too. Whenever I visit somewhere new I always make a point of learning as much as I can about its history, so we paid a visit to the War Museum and the Museum of Occupation, both of which gave a fascinating insight into Latvia’s history. I was absolutely shocked and saddened to learn that Latvia has only been ‘unoccupied’ for 50 years of its 800 year history after the city was founded in 1201, and it was very moving to read stories of occupation from older times, as well as more recent times in the Second World War, right up until Latvia was listed as Independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. The House of the Blackheads is well worth a visit if you are interested in learning more about this – the building was destroyed in World War Two and only reopened in 1999, so it is literally only 20 years old and the restoration is remarkable. Tickets cost just 6 Euros for entrance to all parts of the House, including the original cellar and the grand ballroom.

 

Climb St Peter’s Church Tower

 

I have climbed many a Church Tower in my time, and have seen some epic sights from up high whilst on my travels, but the views that greeted me from the top of St Peter’s Church were truly breath-taking and really made our festive weekend in Riga extra special! Taking an elevator 123m up to the top made a welcome change from climbing god knows how many hundreds of steps I usually have to tackle when taking part in this kind of thing, but the views at the top were one of the most rewarding I have ever witnessed! You could see for miles in every direction from the top of the Church, and we were able to spot the red roofs of the buildings below, the blue waters of the Daugava River in the distance and the various landmarks and sights that make Riga so special from up high. Tickets cost 9 Euros but they are definitely worth it for the incredible panoramic views you get from the top – just don’t forget to hold on to your hat as it is ridiculously windy up there!

 

Have lunch at the Centralais Market

 

 

We did this on our last day once we had seen all the sights so that we could spend a bit more time and really enjoy our visit to the Centralais Market! Brimming with food, drink, arts and crafts stalls, as well as fantastic places to sit down and eat lunch/ dinner or have a drink at the bar, the Centralais Market was a great place to warm up from the cold and while away a few hours. We wandered around the stalls, tasted some samples of cheese and other yummy delights and enjoyed lunch from one of the food stands – delicious potato rosti’s with amazing toppings which were sooo good! I think in the evening this place really comes alive and is a great place to party, but we were just happy to find somewhere warm for a few hours and enjoy some fantastic food during our festive weekend in Riga!

 

Where to stay

 

We stayed at the Wellton Riga Centrum Hotel and Spa during our festive weekend in Riga, located on Kaleju Iela, just opposite the Galerija shopping centre and within striking distance of the centre of the beautiful Old Town. Café’s, bars, souvenir shops and supermarkets lined the streets surrounding our hotel, which were super handy and being just a few minutes’ walk in any direction from the Old Town meant we were in the perfect location for being able to get around and see all that the city had to offer. The train station was just a 10 minute walk away, as was the nearest bus stop which served the 22 line, making it super easy for getting to/from the airport (tickets can be bought on the bus for just 2 Euros each way!) I think there are 3 Wellton’s in Riga, and I would highly recommend the one we stayed in as it had a fantastic Spa which was sooo needed after a busy day of sightseeing in sub zero temperatures! Our room was clean, spacious and modern and breakfast was served until 11am which was perfect for us as we struggled to wake up early what with the 2 hour time difference from the UK and the lack of daylight that saw the sun rising much later than we were used to!  

 

Where to eat/drink

There are an abundance of quirky restaurants, bars and cafes in Riga serving a mixture of traditional Latvian food and modern, Western menus as well as chain restaurants including Costa and TGI Fridays if you like your home comforts! Classic Latvian dishes include stewed sauerkraut, potato rosti’s, meats marinated in rich sauces, soups served in bread bowls, dark rye bread and of course the famous Balsam which Riga has become so well known for. We chose to eat our evening meals at traditional restaurants during our festive weekend in Riga, including the legendary Folkklubs, one of the most popular places in the city which serves classic Latvian dishes alongside live folk music as you dine! I would highly recommend Folkklubs on Peldu Iela for an authentic Latvian dining experience, but be prepared to wait ages for a table, and even longer for service as the place seems to be super busy every night of the week! For something more modern, head to OGLE restaurant near the House of the Blackheads where you’ll be treated to pizzas, pastas and dishes from the woodfired grill as well as delicious cocktails at great prices.  

 

As you can see, my sister and I had a magically festive weekend in Riga and we came home feeling full of Christmas spirit! I would highly recommend visiting Riga at any of time of year as it is super interesting to learn about its history, see its beautiful landmarks and indulge in its traditional Latvian food, but all of this is heightened at Christmas, so December is a definitely a great time to be heading over there. Have you spent a festive weekend in Riga before? Or have you got plans to head up to the Baltics any time soon? Vilnius and Tallinn are next on my bucket-list, so I’m sure I’ll be planning trips there for 2020 very soon – send me allll your travel tips please!

NB. I won this trip as part of a competition prize with Traverse Events and Magnetic Latvia with no obligation to post. All words and photos are of course my own.

 

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A Festive Evening in the Cotswolds at the Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light

 

 

On 1st December I was invited along to Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire to experience their Spectacle of Light event which had a special Peter Pan theme this year. Located in Winchcombe in the Cotswolds, just a 30 minute drive from nearby Cheltenham, Sudeley Castle boasts a history spanning 1000 years and its onsite chapel is the burial site of Queen Catherine Parr, sixth wife to Henry the Eighth, where her marble tomb resides. Sudeley Castle dates back to the 1200s, but the current structure was built in the 15th century, with its ruins and gardens being well looked after and kept to an incredibly high standard. Recognised as a Grade II listed building and an internationally important structure, Sudeley Castle is one of the few castles left in England that is still a residence and is only open to visitors on certain dates throughout the year, with the family’s private quarters totally closed to the public.

 

The lights  on the Castle

 

The Peter Pan laser display

 

The Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light is now in its fourth year and it seems to be getting bigger and better with each year that passes. The Peter Pan theme this year was really well put together, with character appearances from Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and Pan himself, as well as a light/laser display in the main courtyard. The beautiful castle and its ruins are lit up in the night sky, whilst the stunning gardens are adorned with dazzling lights, water fountains and sparkly props designed to make them look extra special.

 

The Castle ruins all lit up

 

The sparkly fountains

 

Wonderful music from Peter Pan fills the air, and you can follow the illuminated trail the whole way around the castle. I particularly loved the way the Castle was lit up with different colours, the way the fountains were glistening with sparkly lights, and the positioning of the big illuminated star that made it a great place for taking those all important Insta shots! We really loved the illuminated lights trail and the Peter Pan theme, but I do think that there was a distinct lack of Christmas music which would have made it feel more festive. Having said that, I think the music that was present did add to the Peter Pan theme and perhaps Sudeley are aiming for the event to be more about the storybook feel rather than just churning out the Christmassy sounds of Shakin Stevens on repeat!

 

More illuminations with the Castle in the background

 

Enjoying a mulled wine on the terrace

 

Every evening the Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light has six entry time slots from 4:45pm onwards. A typical visit to the Spectacle lasts around an hour to an hour and a half, but you can spend as little or as much time onsite as you wish! I went with my parents and my sister and we spent around an hour there in total as we stopped to enjoy a mulled wine on the terrace, bought some little presents from the gift shop and were taking lots of photos as we wandered round.

The Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light runs on selected evenings until 30th December 2019, so be sure to book your tickets promptly as slots for the final days are filling up fast with Christmas just around the corner now! It is best to book your tickets in advance, as they are a little more expensive on the gate. Advance adult tickets cost £16.50 whilst child tickets are £9.90 with under 3’s going free of charge. Make sure you turn up at the correct entry time as stated on your ticket though as tickets are only valid for that time and are not transferable.

 

Sparkling lights in the Castle gardens

Sparkling lights in the Castle gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a wonderful evening at the Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light and it certainly got my December off to a festive start! I’m so lucky that living in the Cotswolds means places like this are right on my doorstep, and I definitely need to make more of an effort to visit them throughout the year, rather than just at Christmas! Have you been to the Spectacle before? I would love to know what you thought of it!

NB. My tickets for the Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light were gifted to me and my family for the purpose of this review but, as always, all words and photos are of course my own.

 

The star of the show!