Posts

,

Pisa travel guide, one of Italy’s most iconic cities

 

 

Picture perfect Pisa; the gateway to Tuscany, the icon of Italy and one of the most famous places on the planet. Best known for its historic leaning tower, Pisa is a must see when visiting Italy and you only need to spend a few hours there to fully appreciate this tiny city. I spent half a day there whilst on my recent trip to Florence and here’s a step by step timeline of what I got up to during my visit…

 

10am – Catch a train to the city

 

 

As we were staying just outside Florence, we actually flew into Pisa airport (way cheaper than flying into Florence!) and got a train from the airport straight to Pisa Central Station, leaving our luggage in the lockers there. We wanted to do Pisa in the day before heading to our hotel later on that night and it was so doable. You can hop on a people mover from Pisa Airport to Pisa Central (€1.80 per ticket) and you’ll be in the centre of Pisa in no time. If you’re coming from Florence, trains run from Santa Maria Novelli station every hour, and from other Italian cities like Rome, Milan and Verona very regularly too.

 

11am – Head straight to the Square of Miracles

 

 

Once arriving at Pisa Central Station you can either walk 20 minutes to the Square of Miracles, the plaza where all the monuments are located, or you can hop on a bus which will drop you off right at the front of the entrance. It was super hot when we visited and, as we were limited on time, we were a little lazy and got the bus. It would have been nice to walk along the river and see a bit more of the rest of the city, but I don’t think we were missing out on too much to be honest. Once you get to the plaza you’ll see everything you want to see…

 

12pm – See the iconic leaning tower

 

 

Wander through the archway at the front of the plaza and… voila! The iconic leaning tower of Pisa – one of the most famous monuments on the planet and a striking symbol of Italy. Marvel at it from the ground, or climb its 296 cobbled steps for a true bucket list experience – just make sure you book tickets online beforehand (you get allocated a time slot) as the queues are INSANE and slots are sold out regularly.

 

1pm – Enjoy pizza and gelato in Pisa

 

We spent time wandering around the plaza and then enjoyed a spot of lunch on the grass right next to the leaning tower. One of my favourite things about Pisa was actually just sitting in the sun and people watching! We saw hundreds of tourists and people taking SO. MANY. SELFIES! (myself included) but it was fun, and it’s gotta be done when in Pisa, right?! There are a few cafes/sandwich places selling overpriced pizza/pasta/ice cream and there’s a McDonald’s just outside the plaza (obvs) – food isn’t great on the plaza but it’s convenient and it’s a quick fix after a busy few hours of sightseeing.

 

2pm – Walk around the Cathedral for free

 

I’d recommend heading here first to pick up your free ticket as you get allocated a time slot and can plan your day a bit better if you get everything done first and then do the cathedral visit at the end, or get an early time slot and do it first so you have free time afterwards. Both the exterior and interior of the cathedral is built in a Romanesque style which is truly stunning and well worth a visit – I loved walking around and soaking up its 1000 year old history! The baptistry is also worth a visit too; you can buy a combined ticket to visit all buildings (the cathedral, the baptistry and the leaning tower) which is excellent value for money.

 

3pm – Head out of town and onwards to your next Italian destination

 

 

By now you’re probably fed up of the hoards of tourists and the hundreds of tripods/selfie sticks/self timing cameras that have been spoiling your view or stopping you from getting your Instagram pics. By the time I was done with Pisa I really wanted to get away from it and retreat to somewhere a little quieter, so we hopped on the bus and went back to Central Station ready to head onwards to Florence for our impending weekend stay. It may be short and sweet, but half a day in Pisa sure is plenty!

So there we have it, my travel guide to spending half a day in Pisa. As you can see, we spent just 4 hours in this city and it really was enough to see everything that we wanted to before heading back to Florence.  You can of course spend as little of as much time as you want in Pisa, but there weren’t many hotels/restaurants dotted around other areas of the city as pretty much everything is centralised around the Square of Miracles. I don’t know if I’d go back – now that I’ve done it I don’t see any need to, but I’m so glad I visited and I’d recommend a day trip to Pisa to anyone looking for a stop off during an Italian interrailing adventure, or as a day trip from some of the major city break destinations. Have you been to Pisa before? Let me know what you thought of it!

Love Jess x

 

,

A Travel Guide to Bruges: The Beautiful Belgian City

 

If you’ve been following this blog, and my social media channels, for the past few weeks, you’ll know that I’m STILL posting content from my recent European inter-railing adventure which took place over the Easter holidays, and I had the best time running around with my sister! After 2 nights in both Paris and Luxembourg, we were so happy to arrive in Bruges for our third and final stop, and we certainly saved the best til last! Despite both of us visiting Belgium before, neither of us had been to Bruges and we couldn’t want to explore this chocolate box city. Here’s what we got up to during our time there, and what I would recommend you should definitely see if you only have a short time there…

 

Climb the Bruges Belfry Tower

 

 

One of the most iconic buildings in the entire city, the Belfry Tower is a sight not to be missed when in Bruges. Built in 1240 and packed full of history, the Belfry is certainly an interesting climb to say the least! Standing 272ft tall, with fabulous views from the top over the Markt Square below, the Belfry climb was the first thing my sister and I did when we arrived in the city and it was a great way to kick-start our time there. The climb is by stairs only (366 steps to be precise) and is super steep so please take extra care if you have difficulties walking and make sure you wear the right shoes! You pass the large bells on a couple of floors whilst making your way to the top and it is super windy right at the top, despite being slightly closed in, so take an extra layer if you need it.

 

Take a boat ride around the canals

 

 

I knew my sister and I just HAD to take a boat ride during our time in Bruges, and this really was a great way to see the city from a different perspective. We had wanted to do a boat trip along the River Seine in Paris a few days earlier but didn’t get time, so this was a worthy second best and really made our trip that extra bit special. It’s a very obvious thing to do and one of the most popular attractions in the city, but I love embracing my inner tourist so was happy to lap it up. You can hop on a boat from just about anywhere in Bruges, and each one can take you to different canals but I imagine most companies take guests to similar areas each time. The cost was around €8pp for a 20-25min ride which was a steal and a fraction of the price of what it would have been in Paris, but obviously a very different experience too.

 

Learn about the history of chocolate at Choco-Story

 

 

If you’re anything like me, the main reason you’ll be visiting Bruges is to get your hands on allllll the Belgian chocolate, and let me tell you, this place certainly does NOT disappoint in that department! With chocolatiers, chocolate café’s and chocolate stands at every turn, Bruges is a coco lovers delight. The city even has a museum dedicated to the history and origins of chocolate, from the humble cocoa bean to the lavish truffles we love and know today. Check out Choco-Story as a fun thing to do when it’s raining or cold outside – we did this on our last morning as it was a little chilly and it was a great indoorsy thing to do, plus it was super interesting to learn all about my favourite food, and there were plenty of tasting opportunities along the way. The museum is laid out over multiple floors and is really interactive, with videos, games and a souvenir shop as well as a live demo at the end!

 

Wander out towards the Bruges windmills

 

 

City breaks can often be a bit overwhelming, especially in a small place like Bruges where everything is fairly crammed in and the streets are filled with tourists at every turn. On our last day, the sun was shining and we’d pretty much ticked off everything we had wanted to see and do, so my sister and I took a 20 minute stroll out of the city and found the Cruise Port which is where all the large ships and cruise liners dock when visiting Bruges. Just opposite the port was a large green park boasting numerous windmills, also known as Molino de San Juan, and they were certainly a sight to behold! It was so lovely to wander round the park, admire the windmills both from afar and up close, and perch on top of the hill for a spot of people watching. One of the hills is quite high and you can see lovely views of the river/port and the Belfry spires in the distance. The windmills themselves were actually closed when we went, but I think you can go in them during the summer months for a small fee. Spending a couple of hours at this place was a great way to end our time in Bruges, and we left feeling refreshed after spending some time away from the hustle and  bustle of the city centre.

 

Enjoy Belgian frites in the Markt square

 

 

Where better to find a true taste of Belgium than at in the Markt Square? The focal point of the entire city, and the prettiest place to stop and watch the world go by, the Square is home to a number of restaurants and shops as well as the famous Belfry Tower and some museums too. My sister and I took great pleasure in devouring some of the tastiest, saltiest, crispiest fries we’d ever had and took some time out to chill and enjoy the ambience of the square, with its horse drawn carriages and ornate buildings dominating the area. We also did the same with Belgian chocolates, Belgian waffles and just about every other kind of Belgian food we could get our hands on! No visit to Bruges is complete without a visit to the Markt Square, and it’s not hard to see why.

 

Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood

 

 

There are many Churches in Bruges, and the city is well known for its ornate religious buildings, but the Basilica of the Holy Blood is definitely its most famous. History tells us that Thierry of Alsace brought a red-stained cloth to the Basilica after the 12th century Second Crusade, and the cloth was said to have the blood of Jesus Christ on it. The cloth has been held in a secure vial since the Church was built in the 1100s, and thousands of visitors have either seen it or been invited to the altar to pray whilst holding their hands over it – whilst not touching it of course. A service is carried out every day at 2pm inviting church goers to witness the cloth and I think this age-old tradition will continue for centuries to come.

 

Getting Around

 

 

As it is fairly small, Bruges is best discovered on foot, and making your way around the cobbled streets is definitely the best way to explore this ancient city. I loved strolling down the old fashioned streets lined with shops, café’s bars and restaurants, and really got a feel for traditional Belgium by discovering Bruges in this way. You can of course hop on a boat like we did to explore a little further afield, and to see the city from a different perspective, and we saw lots of cyclists too if you enjoy getting around by bike. I would say walking is your best bet though, as it is so compact and you can see as much or as little as you want to whilst you’re there.

 

Where to Stay

 

 

We had splashed out on accommodation in Paris and Luxembourg so knew we needed to tighten our belts a little by the time our Bruges stop came around. Luckily, we found an Ibis located in the heart of the city centre which was absolutely perfect for us and catered to our every need. A steal at just €140 for 2 nights, the Ibis Brugge Centrum was clean, comfortable and just what we wanted. Walkable from the train station and every attraction in the city, the hotel enjoys a fantastic location and offers guests brilliant value accommodation. We particularly liked that our street facing room had a view of a gorgeous cobbled road (super quiet and quaint) and we felt that we were right in the middle of the action as we were just a 5min walk from the main square and close to all the main city landmarks. I would definitely recommend the Ibis for those looking to stay in the heart of the city.

 

Although super small, Bruges is packed with history, charm and culture and is up there with one of the best European cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting! I loved my stay so much that I am already planning a return visit, but this time for Christmas Markets to see the main square all lit up and sparkly! Have you ever been to Bruges before? Let me know what you thought of it, I’d be keen to hear all your travel tales!

Love Jess x

 

,

My Travel Guide to Paris, The City of Love

 

Ah, beautiful Paris, the city of light, the city of love and one of the most famous cities on the planet. Prior to my visit to the French capital on my recent inter-railing adventure, I had only ever been to Paris once whilst on a day trip from Disneyland. Although I whizzed around trying to see as much as I possibly could, it’s such a huge city and I found it so hard to fit everything in. Luckily this time round I had way more time to spare and managed to see pretty much everything I wanted to during my time there. Here’s what I got up to on my Easter weekend visit…

 

Stroll along the River Seine

 

 

One of the prettiest parts of Paris is definitely the River Seine. I walked alongside it during my last visit and couldn’t wait to see it on a sunnier day, taking a gentle stroll along the many bridges and spend some time people watching. Given that we were staying at Saint Germain, we were perfectly positioned to access the Seine and walked alongside it each morning to get to and from the city and our hotel. Why not grab a chocolate crepe and devour it whilst walking along the river? You can’t get more Parisian than that!

 

Visit The Notre Dame Cathedral

 

 

This was my second visit to the Notre Dame and it was even more impressive than I had remembered. We spent a good hour here on Easter Sunday, listening to the bells chime and admiring the incredible architecture from every angle. It was sooo busy though and the queue to get inside was ridiculously long, so we came back to the cathedral a couple of days later and managed to walk straight in – it seems 9am on a Tuesday morning is a good time to beat the queues! Inside it was even more amazing than I had remembered and the stained glass windows truly were a sight to behold.

 

Discover the Hidden Passages of Paris and visit Montmartre

 

 

Prior to my visit I was contacted by tour company Triple (formerly known as Local Guddy) asking if I would like to review one of their many European tours, all ran by locals in their respective cities. As I was going to be in Paris, I wanted to discover a different side to the city and picked a tour that was a little less obvious and one that covered more than just the standard touristy sights. After scrolling on the Triple website, it was the Hidden Passages of Paris tour, run by local teacher turned guide Lucien, that jumped out at me immediately. Running for approx. two hours (€30pp) Lucien was to start at the Royal Palace of Justice before taking us to some of the ancient hidden passageways (old buildings and arcades that used to connect different districts of the city) which are now used to house an abundance of restaurants, cafes, hairdressers, shops and bars. As there were only two of us on the tour, it was super informative, yet informal, and we really got to know some different areas of Paris that you won’t find in the guidebooks. Lucien was a fantastic guide, very knowledgeable, and friendly too – nothing was too much trouble. As there were just the two of us we actually finished the tour early, but instead of walking away and leaving us to it, Lucien asked if there were any other areas of the city we wanted to see and he gladly walked up to Montmartre with us when we expressed our interest in visiting this area. He accompanied us up the steep hill to the top of the Sacre Coeur where he left us to carry on with our day. Lucien was fantastic and Triple were great at being on call if I had any queries in the lead up to the tour. Thank you to both Lucien and Rebecka at Triple for a wonderful tour that turned out to be one of the highlights of our Paris trip!

 

Wander through the Luxembourg Gardens

 

 

The Luxembourg Gardens were a pleasant surprise to both my sister and I – we had no idea they were so close to where we were staying in Saint-Germain and they were a real hidden gem. The weather wasn’t particularly warm during our trip, but luckily we did have sunshine for a few hours when visiting the Luxembourg Gardens. A series of outdoor gardens linked with bridges, fountains, ornaments, trees and lots of beautiful flowers made this place look like heaven on earth. There is a small onsite café serving drinks, cakes and snacks making it the perfect place to enjoy some much needed respite after a busy day of exploring. Paris can often be a little overwhelming at times as it’s streets are so busy, so taking a stroll around these beautiful gardens is a lovely way of slowing the pace down a little.

 

Stop off at The Louvre

 

 

Home to the largest collection of art in the world, the Louvre is the most famous museum on the planet and one of the most iconic buildings in history. Located in the 1st arrondissement on the right bank of the River Seine, the Louvre is home to almost 40,000 objects dating back centuries ago. It is perhaps best know for housing the world-famous Mona Lisa portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci. Receiving over 8 million visitors each year, the Louvre is undoubtedly popular and it is highly recommended that tickets are bought online rather than just showing up on the day! We didn’t actually go inside the Louvre as the queues were insane and we hadn’t booked tickets, but to be honest we were limited on time and would rather have spent our days in Paris outside than in. It is worth seeing from the outside though, and getting a selfie with the all important pyramid is a definite bucket list item.

 

Ride up to the top of Montparnasse Tower

 

 

This was something I was soo excited about doing as I LOVE rooftops and had climbed the Eiffel Tower last time, so when the lovely team at  Euroventure kindly gifted me two tickets (€17pp) I was so grateful and jumped at the chance to see the Parisian skyline from a different angle. We chose to go at dusk, at around 7pm, so that we could see the skyline both in the light, and after dark once the sun had set. Located in the 15th arrondissement, just a 20 minute walk from our hotel in Saint-Germain, we found the tower easily enough and it is ENORMOUS at an impressive 210m high! Upon arrival we took a short ride up in the elevator and found ourselves at the top of the tower where we were met with the most amazing panoramic views over the city. There is a café/bar on site and this actually became the place where we stopped for dinner after realising we were far too hungry to go wandering around an area we weren’t familiar with in search of some much needed food. A short staircase climb took us to the very top of the tower, which was open air and home to a number of sofa’s, chairs and large seating areas as well as another bar which is open in high season. The views from the very top of Montparnasse Tower were absolutely breath-taking, and it was the perfect place to watch the sun go down, as well as to spot the Eiffel Tower lighting up after dark when it sparkles on the hour, every hour each day from 7pm. A magnificent experience and the most delightful way to end our last night in pretty Paris.

 

Getting around

 

 

I know this is super touristy, but in my opinion the best way of getting around is jumping on a hop on, hop off bus and relaxing on the top deck whilst the driver takes you around to admire all the sights. There are a number of different companies to choose from and we picked Big Bus Tours Paris, just because their stop was nearest to our hotel and we saw them driving around the streets more often than some of their rival companies. A little on the pricey side, our tickets were €36pp for a 1-day ticket. Looking back I would have preferred to do a little research and get a better deal as we saw tickets with CitySightseeing for less than that for a full 24hr ticket, but hindsight is a wonderful thing! We stayed on board for the majority of the two main routes, the red line and the blue line, which gave our little legs some much needed rest whilst we hopped on and off at whatever sights/areas took our fancy. As Paris is so huge, I do think that taking an open top bus is the best way of getting around and an audio commentary was a great way of seeing the sights without wasting too much energy! We did use the metro to get to and from the train station which was handy and super cheap, otherwise we tended to walk to the other places when we weren’t using the bus tickets.

 

Where to stay

 

 

During our time in Paris we stayed in the lively Saint-Germain area which was the perfect place to base ourselves for our 2 night trip. There are sooo many places to stay in Paris, some better than others, and I did struggle at first to find somewhere as a base. With so many options it can be a little overwhelming, but after a friend recommended the Saint-Germain area for its trendy jazz scene and its close proximity to the River Seine (5 min walk away), I knew that was definitely where I wanted to be. Saint-Germain isn’t too huge but there are plenty of bars, café’s, shops and restaurants to visit during your stay. There are plenty of choices for hotel options but we picked the beautiful Hotel de Seine, conveniently located on Rue de Seine, right opposite a pharmacy and a few doors down to a little green grocers where we bought fruit and pastries each morning for breakfast. You’re right in the heart of the action, a stone’s throw from the busy entertainment district and just a 5 minute walk from the nearest metro station to connect you to the rest of the city. The hotel was beautifully decorated in traditional Parisian style with comfortable bedrooms, lavish bathrooms and a cute reception/breakfast area. The staff were so friendly and helpful, especially when our ongoing train to Luxembourg got cancelled because of the SNCF train strikes – reception lady was on hold for ages and was great at being a translator for us! I would highly recommend Hotel De Seine for anyone looking to stay in the heart of Saint-Germain when visiting Paris.

I really enjoyed my time in Paris, even if it did feel super busy and crowded during our visit. I think because we went over Easter weekend it was just so packed and way too touristy, but I did enjoy being at the Notre Dame on Easter Sunday as that was definitely a bucket list moment for me. Yes it was busy in the city, and yes it sometimes isn’t as pretty as it looks with it’s dirty streets and smelly subways, but overall I did enjoy my time there and feel like I saw everything I wanted to see. I’m not sure if I would go back purely because it didn’t totally blow me away, and because there are sooo many other cities I want to visit, but it’s gotta be done at least once in your life, right?! In the words of Audrey Hepburn, Paris is always a good idea.

Love Jess x

NB. I was invited on the Hidden Passages of Paris Tour with tour company Triple, and I was a guest of Euroventure’s who kindly sent me up Montparnasse Tower. Both experiences were gifted to me for the purpose of this review, but as always all thoughts, comments and photos are of course my own.

 

, ,

How to plan your European interrailing trip on a budget

 

 

Last month I took my first trip of 2018 as I went inter-railing round Europe (again!) with my sister. After inter-railing round Italy together back in 2016, we were super excited to be back on the road again, but this time exploring three countries in a row: France, Luxembourg and Belgium! We’d planned the route fairly quickly and, once we decided that we wanted to use the Eurostar to get there and back, had chosen our starting point as Paris and our final destination as Bruges, so just had one stop in between meaning that Luxembourg was the obvious candidate! Getting to and from the UK and each city was extremely easy, and both stress and hassle free. My sister and I organised every aspect of the trip before we left and we managed to get a week-long stay, including transport to and from the Eurostar stations, national and international trains plus six nights’ accommodation in 3-4* hotels for just £437pp! We had given ourselves a budget of £600pp for the entire week and well and truly smashed it. I like to think I’m quite good at getting a bit of a bargain, and this trip was certainly a steal. Being the geek that I am I’ve even worked out all the individual costings for this trip and included them in my total  pricing breakdown below. Want to know how I got a week’s inter-railing trip for less than £500pp? Let’s find out…

 

UK transport

 

 

Obviously this one depends on where you’re based, and I am lucky to live in Oxford so am very close to London, but our capital can be reached easily by most of the UK’s major cities, which makes getting to St Pancras Eurostar Station very accessible. We were travelling on Easter Sunday which may have slightly put the prices up, but usually a one way ticket from Oxford to London costs around £10 per adult, and is cheaper for me as I have a young person’s rail card. The Eurostar tickets themselves, from London – Paris and from Brussels – London were pretty reasonable and each journey was less than £70pp return. Have a look to see which trains are cheapest/most expensive on the day of travel as you could save a lot of money by going later in the day, or earlier on in the morning, or even the day before or after if you’re really flexible and want to get the best deal possible!

Costings:

Oxford – London return train – 1x adult, 1x rail card holder = £28.90pp and £19.05pp

London St Pancras – Paris Gare du Nord one way train – 2x youths = £65pp

Brussells Midi – London St Pancras one way train – 2x youths = £53.30pp (don’t forget your ticket should state that departure is from any Belgian station and includes onward travel between cities ie if you’re staying in Bruges and need to get back to Brussels Midi for your departing train, the journey between Bruges and Brussels is included in your ticket price, you don’t need to buy an additional ticket).

 

International trains

 

 

Sadly we were hit by the dreaded SNCF train strike during our time away – they had only just started and it caused havoc! Our train from Paris to Luxembourg was cancelled and, because it was bank holiday Monday, none of the phone lines were working and no one on the website online chat/social media pages were able to get back to me. Luckily we were able to use our existing ticket free of charge on the next available train which was only 3 hours later than our scheduled train, but if that one had been cancelled I don’t know what we would have done! I would recommend downloading the SNCF app for live updates to your train as this came in handy when the website crashed! All other trains ran smoothly though and international train travel is so enjoyable for me as I love the scenery between cities and the excitement when I pass over the border into a new country! My top tip is to book your trains as far in advance as possible for the best rates, be flexible on timings, and don’t forget if you’re under 26 you qualify for youth prices.

Costings:

Paris – Luxembourg international train (direct) – 2x youths = £25.61pp

Luxembourg – Bruges train (change at Liege) – 2x youths = £29.14pp

 

Accommodation

 

 

We picked some fantastic hotels for our trip and it made such a difference to have somewhere cosy and warm to come home to after a busy day of exploring. I knew the cities we had chosen weren’t the cheapest on earth and so we would have to use a significant amount of our budget to cover the cost of accommodation, but I think we did well considering we got 6 nights for under £600 which is just less than £300pp for the entire duration. I usually look at private rooms in hostels to keep costs down, but actually we found hotels that were still within our budget and so decided to spend a little bit more in order to get maximum comfort and security during our stay. Being a travel blogger, I usually reach out to hotels and offer my services (writing a review/promoting on social media) in exchange for a discounted/complimentary stay, however sadly I didn’t find any hotels that were free on my dates that were able to collaborate with me on this occasion which was a real shame. I did expect this though as we went over Easter weekend and the kids half term holidays, so be careful when you choose to travel if you are trying to pitch to hotels!

I am a big advocate of using online promo codes/vouchers to book hotels though and my travel hack when booking accommodation would be to book using Expedia. I have used them for years and never had a bad experience! For every hotel I booked I was able to find a 10-15% off voucher online (literally just Google Expedia promo code and one usually always comes up!) and also received up to 200 nectar points for each booking which is another bonus for me. I’ll be talking a bit more about the hotels I stayed in over the course of the next few weeks as I will be putting together individual travel guides to each city, but I wanted to keep this post purely about the costings/planning of an inter-railing trip so hopefully these tips will come in handy when you’re looking to book something!

Costings:

Hotel De Seine, Paris – 2 nights = total £246 = £123pp

Hotel Parc Belle Vue, Luxembourg – 2 nights = total £204 = £102pp

Ibis Hotel Brugge Centrum, Bruges – 2 nights = total £140.98 = £70.49pp

 

Activities/optional tours

 

 

Luckily as a travel blogger I am able to reach out and pitch to tour companies/excursion brands in order to enhance my trip and book some much needed add-on’s. On this occasion I was lucky enough to work with tour company Triple and holiday company Euroventure whilst in Paris. I went on a guided tour around the secret passageways of Paris with Triple and went up the famous Montparnasse Tower with Euroventure and both of these experiences really enhanced our stay. Again I will be writing about both tours in more detail when my Paris travel guide goes live. I also worked with the Luxembourg Tourism Board whilst I was exploring their beautiful capital city and was offered complimentary visitor cards which enabled us to make use of free public transport, free museum entry and discounted entry to a range of other attractions which really helped our budget in a city which is quite expensive! Where possible, pitch to brands in order to keep costs down – you’re probably going to be writing about them for your blog anyway, so you may as well get something in return for it. Obviously we did more tours/trips whilst we were there, but here are the ones we pre-booked/pre-paid before we left and what they cost/saved us in money…

Costings:

Montparnasse access for 2 adults, Paris = £17pp – GIFTED to us by Euroventure

Guided passageway tour for 2 adults, Paris = £30pp – GIFTED to us by Triple

Luxembourg card for 2 adults, Luxembourg = £17.50pp – GIFTED to us by Luxembourg Tourism

 

Total breakdown

 

 

Transport: £284.55 (£142.28pp)

Accommodation: £590.98 (£295.49pp)

Extras: £129 (£64.50pp) if we hadn’t been kindly gifted them.

GRAND TOTAL = £437.77pp – still would have been under £500pp even if we had paid for the optional extras!

So as you can see, there were lots of different elements to this trip which did make it add up, but everything was kept at a relatively low cost, which definitely helped to stick within budget. Obviously we had additional spending money for food/drink, other excursions and attractions we wanted to visit, and this was covered by the euros we used for spends. When planning an inter-railing trip like this I would definitely take into consideration the time of year, dates of travel (ie try and go mid-week where possible) and try to book transport as far in advance as possible. As you can see, even with a train strike, we were still able to travel to our intended destination and it didn’t affect our holiday too much, but having as much planned in advance really helped to take the stress away from what was otherwise quite a hectic trip. We had a brilliant week away and I can’t wait for my next adventure… inter-railing is definitely my favourite method of travel and I hope this might inspire you to take a similar trip in 2018!

Have you ever been inter-railing before? Get in touch – I’d love to hear your train tales!

Love Jess x

 

,

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

A post shared by Jess Buck|JourneyswithJessica (@jessica16_x) on