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Top 10 Tips for First Time Cruisers In Their Twenties

Doing the Titanic pose all by myself cos this Rose doesn't need a Jack in her life 😎 I've been home for just 24 hours and I'm already missing being at sea 🌊 Words can't describe the amazing experience I had on my first ever cruise 🚢 I was so nervous before going as I suffer so much with travel sickness (ironic as I'm a travel blogger) but luckily I was absolutely fine and kept well the entire time! It's only now that I'm home I'm suffering with motion sickness despite being back on land! What is THAT all about?! 😩I think it means I need to book another cruise asap, I'm a total convert now and loved waking up in a new place each day, but my favourite thing was spending hours looking out at the blue waters, with nothing but the ocean staring back at me 🐬 Can I go be a mermaid again please? #cruiselife #titanicpose #takemeback #marellacruises

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

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months you’ll know that I booked the holiday of a lifetime a year ago, way back in August 2017, and have been banging on about it ever since! My mum’s 50th and my grandad’s 80th birthday’s had to be pretty special, right? So when 12 of us decided we wanted a mega family holiday to celebrate these two milestones, a cruise was right at the top of our list, although it may not be the obvious holiday choice for me as a young 25 year old! I made no secret of the fact that I’d never been on a cruise before, and that I suffer with horrendous travel/motion sickness everywhere I go, so volunteering for a cruise may have seemed plain stupid, and I was very nervous prior to travel. My nerves were short lived though as my first cruise experience was absolutely INCREDIBLE! I travelled with TUI on their Marella Celebration ship and loved everything about being at sea, from waking up in a new destination each day, to watching glorious sunsets every evening from the top deck, feeling the wind in my hair and gazing into the blue waters below. It really opened my eyes to a new way of travelling, and completely dispelled the myth that cruising is ‘only for old people (!)’. If, like me, you’re in your twenties and are a little nervous about taking your first cruise, hopefully this blog post will help to put your mind at rest as I talk you through what to expect from your first experience at sea, and share some top tips to help you prepare for your holiday.

 

Dress for all occasions

Whatever the weather, and whatever the time of year, you’ll still need to take plenty of clothes for your cruise holiday, especially if (like me) you change outfits three times a day when you’re away! I packed as if I was going on a beach holiday as it was mid-end August and 30-33 degrees in most places we visited, so took tonnes of tops, shorts, skirts, playsuits, swimwear, sandals etc etc. You can generally wear whatever you like during the day, but I know dress codes vary in the evening depending on which cruise liner you’re travelling on. Marella Cruises are very laid back with their dress code, so I just took party clothes and all the ladies I saw wore dresses each evening out, whilst the men were in trousers/jeans and a top/shirt, but I saw lots of men wearing tailored shorts in the evening too. We had one ‘formal night’ which wasn’t that posh and, although lots of women wore long dresses (not ball gowns) and the men wore suits, not everyone did and you certainly didn’t have to. It can get a little chilly up on the deck when you’re sailing at night, so take a light cardi with you if you’re planning on heading out on top, otherwise the climate depends on where you go but I found the Med in August to be super warm even at midnight!

 

Plan your time in each port

I wish I’d done more of this so I could have maximised the time I had in each stop, but looking back I just kinda went with the flow and enjoyed not being super organised during my first cruise. I am SUCH a planner so I really should have thought this through more, but I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do in each destination until I stepped off the boat after docking. Before you travel you’ll get sent a detailed itinerary of your route, and suggested excursions/things to do in each port. I didn’t pay much attention to this until I was actually on board, which was a mistake as often with the excursions you needed to book up to 48hrs in advance, so by the time I thought about booking a trip it was often too late. I did however come across lots of local tour companies that can be found ashore and their trips are often cheaper than if you were booking through the cruise ship directly, so you can save some pennies but just make sure you’re back in time before the ship departs for the next stop! I was travelling in a group of 12 and not all of us wanted to spend loads of time in the ports, so we tended to get up early to watch the sail in (a must if you love sunrises!) and then had breakfast on the deck before getting off the ship around 10, exploring the port for a few hours and then heading back to the ship for a late lunch and an afternoon of sunbathing. I would have been more adventurous and spent more time in each port if I’d have planned my time properly, but it was quite nice to get a taster of each destination and then spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the best of what the boat had to offer –  it was a holiday and not a sightseeing trip after all!

 

 

Look up the entertainment on board

Obviously each ship/cruise liner varies, but Marella Cruises offer a fantastic selection of on-board entertainment both in the daytime and in the evening. We loved the relaxed and friendly atmosphere round the pool areas, which was created by the musical trivia, pub quizzes, bingo and various other games that were played throughout the day. If you decide not to get off a the port and just spend time on the ship instead you’ll find you’re never short of something to do. On our day at sea I was worried I was going to get cabin fever and would be bored but it was actually really nice to spend some time sunbathing, exploring parts of the ship we hadn’t seen yet, and swimming in the pool. I even booked a spa day for my mum and I which was soooo needed! Other liners will undoubtedly have plenty of things to see and do whilst on board, and the evening entertainment is usually fantastic, with Broadway theatre shows, duty free shopping, live music and casinos aplenty. Most cruise liners offer top notch entertainment, with high quality dancers, singers and actors etc so you needn’t worry about planning your evenings whilst on board.

 

Take limited cash

I wish I had known this before I travelled, but every day is a learning day! I took 300 euros with me for my trip and only ended up spending 200, which is pretty good going but I stupidly thought you could only pay in local currency, and didn’t realise that you set up your account when you first arrive on board as everything is operated using a cashless system. This is great if you’re not wanting to take large amounts of cash abroad with you, and I know most cruise liners operate in this way. Your account is open from the minute you dock to the moment you disembark the ship at the end of the holiday, and can be used to buy drinks at the bar, items in the shops and photos in the lab. I loved this idea, but as everything I bought was in pounds, I didn’t realise that when I wanted to settle my account at the end of the trip in cash, paying euros meant that I lost out on the exchange rate and ended up paying more than I needed to. You can pay in pounds in cash or by using your debit/credit card, and in hindsight I kinda wish I had done that as my bill came to £167, but I wanted to get rid of my euros and ended up spending €216 which is a huge difference when you compare the two currencies side by side. Either way I knew I wanted to get rid of my cash euros, but next time I will just take small amounts of cash and use it for spending in the ports, rather than using it to pay my bill, and will pay that off using pounds instead. Hopefully this tip will help you guys to avoid the mistake that I made!

 

Opt for an all-inclusive food and drinks package

Packages vary with different cruise liners, but I would 100% recommend booking an all-inclusive food and drinks package for your first cruise. Most packages can be purchased before travel, or you can upgrade during your trip, but Marella Cruises had a reasonable rate for their packages, and ours was actually included within our price as we got a special group deal when booking a year in advance. The best thing about an all-inclusive package is that you don’t have to get your wallet out and pay any money for drinks/additional extras during your holiday. I mean, I know you’ve kinda already paid for it before travel, but soft drinks, cocktails and beers etc all add up, and I loved drinking as much as I wanted each day without feeling like I was spending any money. If you don’t drink a lot then maybe the package isn’t worth it, but drinks on their own were around £5-£8 per drink, so even if you have 2-3 a day the cost soon adds up! I loved the feeling of not spending physical cash when I was on-board, and will definitely opt for the all-inclusive package next time I go cruising.

 

 

Stick to adults only cruising

A no-brainer for us, as we were travelling in a large group of 12, and I was nervous enough about getting close to the edge of ship without worrying about 8 million children running around! I really loved the chilled out vibe of our Marella Cruise, and I think it really helped that there were no children on board. Queues at food stations and the bars were generally not as long, and all entertainment/trips were geared towards adults not kids meaning everything appealed to us. I would advise booking an adults only cruise for your first one just because everything is much more laid back, and I can imagine kids running around the deck is quite annoying! Not to mention the fact that I’d never have got in the pool if there were kids in it! Adults only, for the win.

 

Be aware of the tipping policy

Again, every cruise-liner is different, so check with your travel agent about this before you go, but tipping is either included or not included on-board and it is best to be prepared before you travel so you know what to expect. I think more expensive liners like Princess and Royal Caribbean operate a tipping policy, but on our Marella cruise we were told that all tips are included within your package, so there was no need to pay extra. We did however receive outstanding service from our waiters and cabin cleaners during our trip and, because we were a group of 12, we wanted to give them a little extra to say thank you. This is completely optional though and not compulsory at all given that all tips are included with Marella cruises.

 

Don’t use your phone when you’re at sea

This is probably the single most important piece of advice I can offer. If you’re from the UK and have a phone tariff which allows EU roaming (most of us do) you absolutely MUST turn off your data roaming whilst you’re at sea, otherwise you’ll incur charges for using your data. And the charges are extortionate, trust me! To be honest it is best to just turn the phone off so as not to incur charges from sending/receiving texts and phone calls too. Whilst you’re at sea your phone will run on a maritime tariff which is stupidly expensive! I just used my data when I was at port each day then switched my phone off in the evenings, but if you want to take pictures and use the rest of your phone you can do that just make sure data roaming is OFF! Seriously, my aunty got charged £52 for a 7minute phone call whilst we were at sea. Just don’t risk it guys! There are usually wi-fi packages you can purchase but these can be expensive and often they are low-speed, so I wouldn’t say they are particularly worth the money. Save that Facebook status til later and enjoy a social media detox, that’s what I did!

 

 

Work out which room type is best for you

Inside cabins, outside cabins, balcony cabins, deluxe balcony cabins, suites and luxury suites; the options are endless when cruising, and there are room types to suit all on board! Whether you’re a solo traveller looking for a single room, or a couple needing a double, there are plenty of room types to choose from, and inside and outside cabins differ in size and type too. I really didn’t want a room which felt too confined/claustrophobic as it was my first cruise, so I chose an outside cabin with a porthole. I would have liked to be higher up on the ship, but to be honest being on deck 1 (the lowest) didn’t actually bother me. Having a porthole was nice as it was great to have natural light and have a look when we were sailing, but sometimes I closed the curtain over the window so if it came down to price and there was a significant difference, I actually wouldn’t mind having an inside cabin! Almost everyone in our party had outside cabins (twins/doubles) apart from one who had a balcony at triple the price! I have to say, it was so lovely to see it and my aunty and uncle loved waking up and sitting out on their balcony first thing in the morning, but you’re hardly in your room when you’re cruising so, personally, I really don’t think they are worth the money especially when the decks can be reached in just a few mins and you can be outside in no time! There really are options to suit everyone though, so it’s worth finding out what room types are on offer before you book.

 

Don’t worry if you get sick – you’re in good hands!

I was sooo nervous about my first cruise because I get so sick when I travel, but luckily I was absolutely fine the entire time! Sea-bands work a treat for queasiness by the way, I suffered with that a little but wasn’t actually sick at all during my holiday, I felt worse when I got back on land! If you do get poorly though, fear not because there is a pharmacy and doctors on board, so you’ll be well looked after if you’re in need of some TLC. As bugs and illnesses can spread very quickly on board a cruise there are sanitizing stations at almost every area, both in and out, so please make sure you use these whenever you can to minimise illness and to have a happy, healthy cruise!

 

I could go on forever with the amount of pointers I could share from my first cruise as a twenty something girl, and nothing quite prepares you for your first time at sea, but I hope this post gives you an idea of what to expect as a first time cruiser (whether you’re in your twenties or not), and offers some tips to make the most of your holiday! I absolutely loved my time away and will be posting a full review of the exact itinerary I took with Marella Cruises so you can see where I went and what I got up to. Have you ever been cruising before? Or have you never been but have got one booked? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and do let me know if you have any other questions that I haven’t covered as I would love to try and help!

Love Jess x

 

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A travel guide to Rotterdam, the quirkiest city in the Netherlands

 

Back at the end of May I headed to Rotterdam for a long weekend of fun, adventure and travel blogging as I made my way to my third annual Traverse conference which was being held outside of the UK for the very first time! Anyone who knows me will know how much I LOVE Traverse, and how I think it is still the best travel blogging conference on the planet. After catching the Eurostar from London and spending half a day in Amsterdam, I jumped back on the train and headed towards Rotterdam where I was based for 3 nights and spent lots of time exploring this quirky city. Obviously most of my weekend was dominated by the conference, but I still spent a lot of time wandering around Rotterdam and ticking off the main sights, so I really got a feel for the city and absolutely loved my time there! Here’s what I got up to, and what I would recommend you should see if you’re heading there any time soon…

 

Wander around the Markthal

 

 

This place is amazing and is definitely one of the biggest attractions in Rotterdam! Home to hundreds of food and drink stalls and plenty of arts and crafts stalls too, you’ll find everything you need under one roof! The architecture of the building is incredible too, with its unique shaped structure and it’s mirrored roof, the Markthal is definitely a sight to behold. Opened in 2014 and located right in the middle of the city, just round the corner from the Maritime Museum and the pretty harbour, the Markthal is a great place to while away a few hours and indulge in some bargain hunting. It’s also a good way of tasting some of the local Dutch delicacies that are on offer too!

 

Marvel at the Cube Houses

 

 

This was probably my favourite thing in Rotterdam, and definitely the most colourful! The quirky Cube Houses are actually a series of 38 interconnecting flats/apartments which have become a  bit of a tourist attraction in their own right. Residents living on site are often greeted by hoards of tourists wanting to take a selfie with the bright yellow cubes in the background, and one resident has even opened up his doors as a museum allowing visitors to wander around inside during his opening hours.. money making genius I say 😉 Designed by architect Piet Blom, the Cube Houses are fast becoming Rotterdam’s hottest attraction and their outlook on to the stunning marina  below make them even prettier.

 

Party at the Witte de Withstraat

 

 

The busiest street in Rotterdam, and definitely the most lively, the Witte de Withstraat is the party capital of the city and home to hundreds of bars, café’s, shops, restaurants and hotels making this the perfect position for visitors to base themselves at the heart of the action. This place is busy enough during the day, but it really comes alive at night. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the huge array of restaurants to pick from, all serving authentic Dutch dishes at very good prices. I found Rotterdam to be fairly cheap and didn’t spend an awful lot of money during my time there, which is always a bonus when you’re on a budget! This place was definitely the most atmospheric part of the city, and I was glad we were able to base ourselves there for the duration of our stay. The train station was just a 10 minute walk away, as was the big attractions including the Markthal and the Cube Houses, so this street is well worth checking out whilst you’re in Rotterdam.

 

Walk across the Erasmusbrug Bridge

 

 

Designed and completed in 1996, the 802 metre long Erasmusbrug is a combined bascule and cable-stayed bridge which connects the north and south parts of Rotterdam. The second largest bridge in the Netherlands, the Erasmusbrug was named after an important Christian renaissance humanist who was known as the Erasmus of Rotterdam. Crossing the Nieuwe Maas, a distributary of the Rhine River, the bridge can easily be driven over or walked across and is quite an experience. Views of the river below are stunning, and crossing the bridge is a great way to explore both the northern and southern parts of the city in a short amount of time. It took a good 30 minutes or so to walk across the bridge though, so be prepared for a little hike whilst you’re en route!

 

 

Where to stay

 

 

Luckily I won a competition with Traverse so my accommodation was totally gifted to me for the duration of my 3 night stay, but I would whole-heartedly recommend the King Kong Hostel if you’re looking for somewhere fun to stay. It is very budget friendly and in a great location, right in the heart of the Witte de Withstraat and within walking distance to just about everywhere in Rotterdam (10 mins from train station). The hostel has a crazy monkey theme running through it, with cages on the walls, bananas on tap and King Kong himself painted on the outside. The rooms were clean and the beds were comfortable – we stayed in a dorm room for 3 and we had our own toilet, sink and shower room. The only thing I disliked was that the walls were quite thin and it was so hot we just had to open all the windows but it was soo loud outside that I could barely sleep – Rotterdam is a party city and most of the bars opposite and next to us were open until 6am!! Make sure you grab some earplugs from the front desk as this helped me eventually drift off. A really cool place though and I’m so glad I stayed here, but if you want a little luxury check out the Marriott and Hilton hotels near the train station.

 

My 3 nights in Rotterdam were a bit of a whirlwind due to back to back busy days and long nights of partying whilst at Traverse 18, but I really threw myself in to it and had such a great time. The sun was shining for our bank holiday weekend which made it even better, and really showed the city off as everything looked so beautiful in the sunshine. The Eurostar from London was suuuper easy and it was great to be just a short train ride from Amsterdam too – I would definitely recommend visiting both cities whilst you’re in the Netherlands, they are so close so it would be rude not to! Rotterdam was really hip, quirky and offered plenty of things to see and do for all ages. Now that I’ve been I probably wouldn’t return as I would like to concentrate on seeing other areas of Holland, but this place is most definitely worth a visit! Have you been to Rotterdam before? I would love to know what you thought of it!

 

Love Jess x

 

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A Little Life Update: More Than Halfway Through 2018

Hi everyone,

I can’t believe we are well in to August now and are more than halfway through the year… when the hell did THAT happen?! It only seems a like yesterday we were welcoming 2018, and seeing as we’re the other side of the middle of it, I thought now would be a good idea for me to give you a little life update and reflect on everything that’s been happening in my world over the past 8 months. There have been lots of ups, a few downs, and plenty of things in between to make it a little more interesting. Here’s a little round up for you…

 

I climbed Mount Snowdon

 

 

Back in June I took on one of the biggest challenges of my life as I climbed the highest mountain in Wales for a very worthy cause. As some of you may know, I am a proud ambassador for The Pituitary Foundation, a little known charity who offer help and support to patients like me who suffer with pituitary related illnesses and long term medical conditions. You can read more about my condition, and how it impacts my life, on this blog post. As an ambassador for the charity, I am often asked to take part in events, and raise awareness for the charity and for the conditions that affect thousands of people without many of us even knowing. I gladly signed up to the Snowdon event, along with my parents, their friends, and one of my best friends too. Our little team of 6 joined a bigger team of 56 and on 22nd June we all hiked the biggest mountain in Wales. It was an amazing day, with the weather making it even better, and it was hands down one of the most challenging, most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. Together we helped to raise over £23500 for the Foundation which is an absolutely PHENOMENAL amount of money and I know that everyone at the charity have been overwhelmed with people’s generosity. We’ve already planned Ben Nevis for next May and I can’t wait to do a challenge like this allll over again!

 

 

I travelled to 5 countries

 

 

Since the beginning of the year I have been lucky enough to take 3 European trips, visiting 7 cities in total, and exploring 5 countries. I kick-started my 2018 travel with a week-long inter-railing trip to Paris, Luxembourg and Bruges over the Easter period, then headed to Pisa and Florence for a long weekend in April, before spending my bank holiday weekend in Rotterdam and Amsterdam at the end of May. Given that I haven’t left the country for 3 months now, I am welllll overdue my next trip and am excited to say that this time next week I will be on my first ever CRUISE! Now that I’m 25 I’m officially old, right? 😉 We’ll be setting sail from Dubrovnik before heading to Valletta, Sicily, Kefalonia and Kotor before finishing up back in the Croatian capital. If you have any tips for a first time cruiser please send them my way, I suffer with horrendous travel sickness (yes, ironic as I’m a travel blogger) so I’ll need all the help I can get!

 

I appeared on a dating show

 

 

So this is super random and not travel related at all, but last month I appeared on a dating show produced by Heart FM and it was SUCH a fun experience. I applied for their new show ‘Traffic Island’ where couples across the county were match-made with each other and asked to pair up. I was selected and matched with a guy called Joel; it was a totally blind date and I was told nothing about him other than his name and age! I had never gone on a completely blind date before so I thought I’d give it a go – I have nothing to lose and I love dating, so why not?! However, just an hour before the date I was told by the presenter and producer that Joel wasn’t turning up and couldn’t make it – I was fuuuuuming as I’d spent ages getting ready but I agreed to go and meet the show team anyway. Halfway through my interview, Joel turned up after all (to which I replied ‘YOU’RE LATE’) and we were left to enjoy what was left of the date! It was a really cool experience, and something I would definitely do again as it gave me a lot of confidence. Sadly Joel actually turned out not to be who I thought he was (aka a genuine guy, WHERE ARE THEY ALL?!) so I am back in the dating game but hey, another lesson learnt! You can watch the video here… cringe!

 

 

I’ve spent time trying to figure out exactly what I want from life

 

 

At the start of the year I didn’t think my life would take the direction it has now, but then life would be boring if it was straight forward, right?! Sadly my position at work is being made redundant, and I am currently in the process of deciding whether or not to take a new role in the company, or whether to just move on and look for something different. Or maybe I should just leave and go travelling and try the whole full-time blogging thing again. My mind is soooo blurred at the moment and I have no idea what to do for the best, but I am hoping that I get some clarification over the next few weeks and can decide what to do with the next chapter of my life. Part of me wants to secure another role as financially I want to be in the position to look at buying a house in the next couple of years, but the other part of me is yearning to just escape, run away from the 9-5 office routine and jump on a plane to Australia to live my life and enjoy being young and care-free. Everyone I have spoken to has told me to do the latter, but I really do want to be a grown up with a house sometime soon. We’ll see what happens, but for now I am just taking things in my stride and trusting fate to do its thing for me. Things always work out just right in the end.

 

So despite the best part of 2018 having come and gone in what feels like only a couple of weeks, I would say I’ve had a pretty crazy start to the year and can only see it getting better from now until Christmas – even though I don’t want to think about the C word right now! Next week I am off on my first ever cruise which will see me tick 5 countries (and 3 new ones) off in one week, and I’ve also got some family events and some UK trips planned too. I’ll be sure to do a 2018 round up at the end of the year so will reflect more then, but for now happy summer everyone!

Love Jess x

 

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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

 

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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.