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Travel Guide to Valletta, Malta: Europe’s Capital of Culture 2018

 

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Good morning beautiful Valletta! #VisitMalta

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Listed as 2018’s European Capital of Culture, Valletta is a lively city brimming with history and culture and it has been on my bucket-list for the past few years now. I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit Valletta during my recent Mediterranean cruise and, as it was my first time in Malta, I was super excited to wander around and couldn’t wait to explore. Malta actually turned out to be my 25th country and it was an amazing place in which to celebrate this achievement! I literally only had a day in Valletta which wasn’t nearly enough time to experience it all properly, but we did do quite a lot in our short time there, and we got a good feel for the city during this time. Luckily, I had my trusty Marco Polo Malta guidebook with me which really helped us plan our time and make the most of the few hours that we had to spend there. The book covers the entire areas of Malta and Gozo, but there’s a fantastic detailed section of the capital city, along with maps, photos and plenty of recommendations of things to see and do in Valletta, which was super helpful. If, like me, you only have a day to visit this pretty place, this is what I recommend you do there…

 

Take a glass elevator up to the Barrakka Gardens

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((link in bio)) A #Travel guide to #Valletta 🇲🇹 I got to visit this pretty city during my #Mediterranean cruise last summer and it was one of my highlights of the entire trip! 🚢 We spent our day in the Maltese capital wandering around the cobbled streets, checking out the enormous harbour and admiring panoramic views from the city walls 😍 I used my trusty @marcopologuides book to navigate myself around Valletta and it was an absolute God send! We found the cutest restaurants and bars after following recommendations from the book and the street maps came in super handy 🙌 Come and find out what I got up to whilst exploring 2018's European Capital of Culture, and it just happened to be my 25th country too! 🌍 . . . #ad #wanderlustwednesday #travelblog #travelblogger #bloggersofinstagram #girlslovetravel #visitmalta #marcopolo #travelbloggersofig #instatravel #travelgram #darlingescapes #mytinyatlas #cruise #europe #malta #igersvalletta #igersmalta #lovemalta #maltaphotography #maltagram #vallettamalta #lovevalletta #citybreak #cityscape #europetravel #europe_pics

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Once we had docked and left the ship we headed towards the general direction of the city centre and stumbled across a modern looking lift that connects the Grand Harbour with the Barrakka Gardens. I had spotted this place in my Marco Polo guide book and really wanted to visit, so we bought our tickets (€1 each) and headed up in a glass elevator towards the top exit. Installed in 2012, the elevator is 58m high and, within a matter of seconds, we arrived at the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Home to fountains, flowers and war memorials, both the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens are a beautiful place to wander round and, as the Upper Gardens are the highest point of the city walls, they make the best place from which to marvel at the 2000 year old Grand Harbour below. For the past 500 years, Valletta’s guns protected the harbour from naval attack, and there is now a daily operation, the Saluting Battery, which is one of Valletta’s most famous attractions, and possibly the oldest Saluting Battery that is still in operation. Every day at 12 noon, soldiers begin a ritual and cannon fire can be heard and seen over the Grand Harbour as a mark of regulating peace across the city. I’d recommend getting to the Gardens early to get your spot for the Saluting Battery as it gets super busy and you’ll be pushed to find a decent spot much past 11.45am!

 

Visit the historic Fort Saint Elmo

 

 

Separating the Grand Harbour from the smaller Marsamxett Harbour, Fort Saint Elmo is a star shaped fortress that is perhaps best known for its role in the Great Siege of Malta back in 1565. After the 40,000 strong Ottoman Empire tried to invade the island in May 1565, a garrison of over 8000 soldiers and 700 Maltese men stood strong and resisted for four weeks until the Ottoman’s eventually took over St Elmo, but at the loss of 8000 of their men. The Ottoman’s then set their sights on St Angelo and, in August 1565, Malta saw some of the bloodiest battles of the Holy War. By September, the Ottoman troops finally started to retreat after losing thousands more men, and the Great Siege ended on 8th September 1565. This day became one of the most important dates in Maltese history and marks the founding of the capital city of Valletta, named after Grand Master Jean de la Valette, who was buried in the city three years later. Nowadays, Fort Saint Elmo is home to the National War Museum and offers a fascinating insight into its history as a working fortress, as well as pretty harbour-side walks along the sea.

 

Marvel at the Grand Harbour

 

 

As we were on a cruise we got to see this from the best view possible, whilst sailing in and out of the fantastic port during our visit! The Grand Harbour is truly stunning, and was one of the biggest ports we visited whilst on the cruise. There are loads of ships lined up that dock regularly and, after being in use as a natural, working harbour for over 2000 years, this place proves that Valetta really is the gateway to Malta and the rest of the Mediterranean. If you’re not on a cruise and want to see the harbour from land, head back up to the Barrakka Gardens for incredible panoramic views over the waterfront and fortifications below.

 

Go shopping down the high street

 

 

As a former part of the British colony until it gained its independence in 1964, Malta has a distinctly British feel to it, particularly in Valletta, which made us lot feel right at home! Our lovely Queen Elizabeth remained the Queen of Malta until the country became a Republic in the 1970s, and there are still a huge number of British ex-pats that still live and work in the country. Valletta was one of those cities where I instantly felt safe, and where I could easily navigate my way around, probably because the locals were so friendly and everything is sign posted in English which helped – there was even a bright red British post box right next to the tourist information centre! Walking down the main street felt like walking down any of our Great British high streets back home. There were tonnes of designer stores and well known retail shops including New Look, La Senza and even Peacocks – my own local high street doesn’t even have one of them anymore! Although it felt weird walking round all the normal shops like I do at home, it was interesting to see how our British culture is received abroad, and how similar Valletta is to some of our British cities, minus the gorgeous waterfront location and it’s fabulous city walls of course!

 

See the Triton Fountain

 

 

I had spotted this landmark in my Marco Polo guidebook and was super keen to see it during my visit to Malta as I love anything to do with mythology and legends! Located right near the City Gate of Valletta, Triton’s Fountain is one of Malta’s most recognisable and most important Modernist landmarks. Completed in  May 1959, the fountain comprises of three bronze Triton’s (Greek gods/Mermen also known as messengers of the sea) holding up a large platter, balanced on a seaweed base filled with water. The fountain is used as a stage for shows and national celebrations and each of the Mermen’s faces can be seen from the City Gate. The water and the Triton’s symbolise Malta’s links to the sea and were said to be inspired by the little-known Turtle Fountain in Italy’s capital city of Rome. When we visited there were lots of other monuments and art displays located in the central plaza where the fountain is based. I think this was to do with the Capital of Culture events that have been running across Valletta throughout 2018, so this really added to the area and the plaza was a really lovely place to stop for a drink or some food and marvel at the sculptures that were present.

 

Discover the stunning cathedrals

 

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St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta #VisitMalta

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Valletta is brimming with churches and cathedrals as it is quite a religious city, so I was in my element as one of my favourite things to do when exploring a new city is to wander round it’s many saintly buildings. Most of them were displayed in the Marco Polo guidebook, but the ones which caught my eye were the impressive Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, and the pretty Saint Paul’s Pro-Cathedral. St John’s is the most famous, with an elaborate design, 9 individual chapels, 2 tall bell towers and a stunning altar adorned with statues and Baroque style decoration. Built between 1572 and 1577, St John’s is a Roman-Catholic Cathedral and is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Nowadays the Cathedral is one of the most visited attractions in the city, and is well worth a visit. St Paul’s on the other hand is an Anglican Church and is built in a fantastic Neo-Classical style which dates back to the 1800’s. The spire from the top of the building is one of Valletta’s most recognisable landmarks rising to over 200ft, and it’s Corinthian columns make it look similar to the Pantheon in Rome. A pro-cathedral is a church with cathedral status but is not the main cathedral in the city, which is why St John’s is more famous in Valletta.

So as you can see, I didn’t have much time at all, but still managed to fit in plenty of things to see and do in Valletta during my quick visit there. I really loved the honey coloured buildings, cobbled streets and fantastic buildings that are dotted across the city, and it’s history and culture was fascinating too. The fact that it was right on the water front made Valletta appeal to me even more, as I love the idea of a city break on the sea so you can still get your fix of the ocean whilst wandering around and exploring a new town on foot. I really want to return to Malta to see what the rest of the island has to offer and I would like to take another day trip to Valletta too in order to see more of this stunning city. Have you been to Malta before? The Marco Polo Malta & Gozo guidebook really helped me to plan my trip, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to visit this country too!

Love Jess x

NB. This post was sponsored by Marco Polo, but as always, all words and opinions are of course my own!

 

 

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A Travel Guide to Cheddar Gorge, Somerset

 

 

 

Despite having visited Somerset a few times before, it took me until the ripe old age of 25 to visit Cheddar Gorge for the first time, and my first thought upon arrival into this pretty village was… WHY ON EARTH HAVEN’T I BEEN HERE BEFORE??!! I visited Cheddar for a festive getaway with my family last week to see out 2018 and welcome 2019 in style. We stayed at Cheddar Woods Resort and Spa, located about a 5 minute drive (or a 20 minute walk) from Cheddar Gorge. Our resort was in the perfect location from which to explore some of Somerset’s best loved highlights including Wells, Axbridge, Weston Supermare and the Mendip Hills. We had a lovely 4 days relaxing in our lodge on the resort and seeing some of the nearby area, so I thought I’d put together a travel guide for you all as I’d love to start sharing some more UK content on my blog! Here’s what we got up to, and what I would recommend you see during your time in pretty Cheddar too…

 

Visit the Gorge and Caves

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((Link in bio)) A travel guide to Cheddar Gorge, Somerset 🧀🇬🇧 🌟 If walking, caving, rock climbing, hot tubbing, cheese tasting and pub lunching sounds like your kind of thing, you will feel right at home down in Cheddar Gorge. 😍 I spent the last few days of 2018 indulging in some fresh air and taking part in some outdoor activities whilst spending quality time with my family before seeing in the new year from our little cabin in the woods. 🏡 This post tells you all you need to know about pretty little Cheddar, and what you can expect from your trip there too. Have you ever been before? I'd love to know what you thought of it! 🌏 #VisitSomerset #LoveSomerset #Somerset #IgersSomerset #Cheddar #IgersCheddar #CheddarGorge #VisitEngland #VisitBritain #LoveGreatBritain #England #UK #BBCBritain #UKPics #GBPics #England_Insta #WeLoveEngland #Travel #TravelBloggersofIG #Wordpress #NewPost #Travelgram #InstaTravel #InstaGo #GirlsLoveTravel #DarlingEscapes #TravelPhotography #DarwinEscapes #CheddarWoods #WeekendAway

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The main attraction, and the main reason for most people’s visit, is the wonderful Cheddar Gorge and Caves. With over 500,000 visitors per year, this exhibition is listed as a world famous Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is Britain’s biggest gorge. Dramatic cliffs reaching a depth of over 450ft and eerie caves filled with pre-historic stalactites make for a fascinating discovery, and the interactive audio guides make it easy to navigate yourself around the caves. We loved Gough’s Cave and the Aladdin’s Caves as both were truly stunning and filled with ancient stalactites and stalagmites! Your ticket price includes access to the caves as well as entrance to the Museum of Pre-history (located opposite the caves), Jacob’s Ladder, the interactive Dreamhunters exhibition, and the cinematic Beyond the View experience. We did all four of the individual experiences and really enjoyed them – it took us around 4 hours to do everything, but you could spend as little or as long as you wanted on them! We particularly liked the Dreamhunters exhibition which allowed you to walk through Cox’s cave and follow the story of early man as he battled through the ice age some 1.2 million years ago.

Open all year round (apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day), tickets for Cheddar Gorge and Caves can be purchased on the gate or online in advance – save 15% off your ticket price if you book online! The full prices are £19.95 for adults, £14.95 for kids and under 5s go free.

 

Climb Jacob’s Ladder

 

 

Included as part of your Cheddar Gorge and Caves ticket, climbing Jacobs Ladder is an absolute MUST when you’re in Cheddar. It’s a steep 274 steps to the top, but if you can make it that far, the views of the surrounding Mendip hills and the famous gorge below are well worth the climb. I would recommend stretching yourself that little bit further (just 48 more steps!) and climbing up the Lookout Tower too if you can manage it. Sadly it was closed for refurbishment when we went, but I’ve heard the panoramic views from the top are INCREDIBLE! The clifftop walk at the top of the ladder takes you on a 3mile loop around the top of the caves and is not for the faint hearted, but the views and fresh air alone are totally worth it; on a clear day you can see across the gorge and surrounding countryside for miles!

 

Walk around the Mendip Hills

 

 

Walking/hiking is one of my favourite things to do, especially when I’m away, so I’m pleased to report that Cheddar Gorge has a number of walks and trails that you can follow to keep your legs exercised during your trip. We did loads of hikes around our resort as there were nature trails and woodland walks to follow, and we also did a big loop around Cheddar Gorge itself too. The clifftop walk that can be completed after climbing Jacob’s Ladder will give you some stunning views of the gorge and surrounding countryside below, but I really enjoyed wandering around the Mendip Hills as well. The natural stone walls which make up the gorge are fascinating to look at, and to walk around, but beware for the free roaming goats that can be found dotted around the caves!

 

Buy some famous cheddar cheese

 

 

Taking its name from the village, Cheddar cheese originates from Cheddar itself and is famous the world over, with records of cheese making in the village dating back to the 12th century. The caves in Cheddar Gorge have historically been used to mature the cheese, and this is still something which is in use today. The caves provide the ideal humidity and steady temperature for maturing the cheese and a section of the Gorge exhibition at Gough’s Cave will tell you all about this method. Cheddar cheese traditionally needs to be made within 30 miles of Wells Cathedral in order for it to be classed as official Cheddar from Somerset. Today you can buy Cheddar cheese in just about any supermarket in the world, but you’ll only find the best of its kind down in Cheddar village. There are lots of little shops and cafés in the village selling the cheese, and I’d recommend heading to The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company, the only cheesemakers left in Cheddar, where you can go along and watch the various stages of the cheese being made and enjoy some free tasters too!

 

Where to stay

 

 

We had booked to stay at Cheddar Woods Resort and Spa, which is a Hoseasons site located just a 5 minute drive from Cheddar village. As a family of 5 we sometimes struggle to find accommodation big enough for us all, and now that we are all adults we like having our own rooms. As separate hotel rooms can be notoriously expensive, we opted for a shared lodge and found this to be the perfect solution. We stayed in a 3 bedroom Axbridge Premier Lodge with a hot tub (it was amazing – well worth the extra money!), private decking with outdoor seating and a parking space. Although Hoseasons are often known for being overrun with kids, we didn’t actually find this to be a big problem during our stay (despite staying over the New Year’s period) and found there were plenty of couples and groups of adults staying too. The site itself was equipped with a restaurant and bar serving food and drinks almost all day. There was a games room with a bowling alley and snooker corner as well as a well-stocked shop selling all the essentials. There was also a spa and gym on site with a large heated swimming pool, sauna and steam room. We booked massages each and enjoyed these on the morning of New Year’s Eve before spending a couple of hours in the gym and pool area and making the most of our last day of 2018! There were plenty of activities for the kids that could be booked and the daily schedule looked so fun – I wanted to be 10 years old again! The grounds were stunning too, with most of the lodges offering views of the surrounding Mendip Hills, and there were woodland walks dotted around the site, as well as a tennis court/football pitch and a trampoline/aero ball section too. I’d definitely recommend this place for anyone looking for a base from which to explore the best that Cheddar and the rest of Somerset has to offer.

 

Where to eat and drink

 

 

Cheddar is home to an abundance of cute little pubs, cafes and shops all waiting to make you feel welcome. The village itself is pretty small and you can walk from one end to the other in around 15 minutes. As we visited the Cheddar Gorge and Caves first we parked there and started in that area, making our way through the streets and along the river, before ending up at the waterfall which was at the other end of the village. We passed several café’s, the most famous being The Lionrock Tearooms which can be found directly opposite part of the Gorge which is known as the Lionrock due to its striking resemblance to a rock that looks like a lion! The cute Mousehole Café caught our eye as it looked like something out of Disneyland, and we were also told that the Waterfall Café is a hit with tourists too due to its riverside location. We were looking for somewhere that did a traditional Sunday Roast after working up an appetite climbing Jacob’s Ladder, so chose the White Hart Inn which was located in a small area known as The Bays, right at the bottom of the village. There were plenty of places to choose from though and you’re certainly not going to be spoilt for choice for somewhere to eat here in Cheddar!

 

We had such a lovely few days down in Cheddar and it felt amazing to say goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019 whilst on holiday and away from home. If we’d have had more time we definitely would have visited the nearby towns of Wells and Axbridge as both looked picturesque and well worth a stop, but we chose to make the most of our time on the resort rather than driving around or venturing further than we needed to. I’d really recommend Cheddar Woods Resort and Spa for all ages, particularly if you’re travelling in a group, as there was so much going on that you barely needed to leave the resort! I feel like I did everything I needed to in Cheddar Gorge though and I’m not sure I’d go back, but I would definitely stop off to visit Wells next time I am passing through. Have you been to Cheddar Gorge or other areas of Somerset before? I’d love to know what you thought of it too!

Love Jess x

 

My 2018 Year in Review

 

 

I’m pretty sure I say this every single year and you’re probably going to be bored of hearing it by now, but let me just say it anyway… How the HELL are we at the end of 2018? Like seriously, HOW? I feel like I blinked in January and then when I opened my eyes we had skipped straight to December. It is beyond crazy how fast this year has gone! I always like to take some time at the end of each year to reflect on how the past 12 months have gone, so I’m going to do a little round up for you. 2018 has not been a particularly good year for me to be honest, I have found it really tough and, at times, I have really struggled. In the past 12 months my dog has passed away, my grandad has died, my nan went into hospital and we very nearly lost her, my best friend has been in and out of hospital battling a serious health condition, and I was told I was being made redundant from my current role at work. On top of all of that, I found myself in hospital twice after becoming quite seriously ill, and just last week my dad was rushed into hospital after doctors found a blood clot on his lung. Yep, it’s safe to say that this year has been pretty damn awful, so it comes as no surprise that I’m not feeling particularly enthusiastic about putting together my end of year review. There were some good times though, don’t worry, I will try not to be a Negative Nancy for this entire post 😉 I had some incredible highs and I’ve managed to travel to some more brilliant places, but sadly most of these have been overshadowed by the rubbish lows that have happened this year. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that 2017 was such a fantastic year for me, and I put together a ‘highlights’ type post for my end of year review, but this year I just didn’t feel like I had ’18 highlights from 2018’ so thought I would just do a generic round up instead. I’ll also be discussing how I got on with my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions, so here’s everything laid out bare for you, including the good, the bad and everything else in between!…

 

January & February

 

 

The first part of the year was probably the worst for me. Just before Christmas we said goodbye to our beloved Westie Cassie, who had been our family pet from a pup, and we were still finding it really difficult to come to terms with losing her as 2019 started. I did celebrate my 25th birthday in January though, and this kind of felt like a turning point for me, and a bit of a milestone in my little life. To be honest I was really apprehensive about turning 25, I always thought I’d have my life figured out by the time I reached this age. I thought I’d have a house and kids and a husband, just like my mum and my nans did, and the fact I didn’t have any of these things made me reaallly sad, so I felt like a bit of a failure. I got over it though, and made myself realise that things are so different nowadays, and that I should be proud of the things I HAVE got, not what I haven’t got. February was a pretty quiet month, I spent most of it at home seeing friends and training for Mount Snowdon, which I was due to climb in June. I also spent a weekend in Essex seeing my nan which was really lovely, especially as she became poorly in March.

 

March & April

 

 

 

The start of March wasn’t too exciting, but I had a great end to the month as my sister and I went on a European inter-railing trip together and had a brilliant week away. We spent the Easter weekend in Paris before heading on to Luxembourg and Bruges where we had a really lovely time exploring new cities and enjoying allllll the French/Belgian food and drink. Sadly a week after we returned from our trip we received the devastating news that our grandad had passed away after a long battle with Dementia. It didn’t necessarily come as a shock to us as he had been unwell for some time, but that still didn’t prepare us for the grief that we would feel in the days and weeks to come. 2 days later, my nan was taken to hospital after she had heart problems. Fortunately my dad was with her and paramedics were on the scene quick enough to help her, but I was convinced that we were going to lose both my nan and my grandad within a matter of days. It was horrendous but my family were amazing and we got through it together. It’s still hard even now, 9 months on, and I think about my grandad all the time, but I know he is at peace, and I hope he would be proud of who I have become. At the end of April I took my little sister on her first city break as we went to Pisa and Florence for a long weekend. I was lucky enough to win a raffle prize at work and got to stay in one of our amazing villas which was a fantastic experience, and this little break away after a tough few weeks was sooo needed. We had a great time visiting the famous Leaning Tower and enjoying all that Florence had to offer, so it definitely took our minds off the sadness that had been happening at home.

 

 

May & June

 

 

 

May saw the date for my grandad’s funeral, which was a really difficult day, but we remembered his life in our own special way and made it a celebration. The sun shone and it was a really hot day – he would have loved that, he absolutely lived for the heat and warm weather! I wrote a poem which I read out at the service; at one point I didn’t think I would be able to do it but I found the strength from somewhere and was able to deliver. We cried a lot, but we got through it, it was the perfect send off for an incredible man. Unfortunately a week later I ended up in hospital myself as I had an unexpected haemorrhage and suffered from some external bleeding. It was really scary and I had no idea what was happening, but the doctors who looked after me were brilliant and I was back home later on that evening. A week later I was back to my usual self and spent the bank holiday weekend running around Amsterdam and Rotterdam whilst exploring Holland for the first time. I was in the country to attend my 3rd annual Traverse conference in Rotterdam but was glad I tagged on a day in Amsterdam at the start too – I was reunited with one of my fave travel buddy’s Rachel and we had a blast! At the end of June I took on my biggest challenge yet as I set out to climb Mount Snowdon with 55 others as part of a fundraising event for The Pituitary Foundation, the charity I am extremely proud to be an ambassador for. We had the most incredible day and ended up raising over £25,000 collectively which is an absolutely AMAZING achievement. The climb was one of the highlights of my year and I’ve already signed up to do Ben Nevis next May… wish me luck!

 

 

July & August

 

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#HappyBirthdayNHS – Thankyou for being a constant source of support and comfort to me over the past 25 years with my many illnesses and ailments from a baby to an adult. 🏥 Thankyou also for looking after me these past few days when I was found passed out in the disabled toilet at work (so classy) and taken into A&E on the back of an ambulance 🚑 A nasty bout of gastroenteritis made me extremely ill after a 39degree temperature, an abnormally high heart rate and 8 hours of vomiting left me dangerously dehydrated 😩 Couldn't be more thankful to be out of hospital and back in my own bed! Lots of rest and fluids have been prescribed, I've just eaten my first meal since Monday, and the anti sickness meds are working a treat – massive thanks to all my work friends who were there for me when it mattered most, and my mum n dad for coming to stay with me 💖Hoping to be on the mend so I can watch the big game tomorrow 🙏 #NHS70 #SoGrateful #GetMeBetter

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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

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July brought us a heatwave AND the World Cup which was the best combination for us Brits! What a rollercoaster us footy fans had as we watched our team get to the semi-finals of the biggest sporting competition on the planet. My summer evenings were spent watching the games on big screens down the pub and dancing on tables when we scored! July also so me heading to London with my mum to watch Michael Buble in concert (our fave) and my lovely nan came down to visit for the first time since my grandad passed away so it was great to spend some quality time with her. Unfortunately a few weeks later I became unwell again after I passed out at work and was taken to hospital on the back of an ambulance – I had suffered from a nasty bout of gastroenteritis and had no idea what was happening to my body, but again the NHS staff at my local hospital were amazing and I was back to normal a few days later. I also went on a blind date that was set up by Heart Radio a couple of weeks later, and that was certainly an experience!! August was the month I was most looking forward to this year, as I was due to set sail on my first ever cruise with 12 of my family members and I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for a holiday! We had an absolute blast exploring 5 countries and 7 cities over 7 days as we visited Croatia, Montenegro, Greece, Italy and Malta. I totally fell in love with cruising – it has definitely opened my eyes to a new way of travel and I already can’t wait to book my next one!

 

 

September & October

 

 

 

My mum celebrated her 50th birthday in September and we had an amazing day out in London, taking her to Kensington Palace to see the Princess Diana Exhibition (her  idol) before heading over to the Sky Garden with incredible panoramic views over the city below – she had a brilliant day out and it was so nice to spend some quality time together as a family. At the end of September my best friend and I took a spontaneous road trip to Bournemouth to celebrate the last weekend of summer. We were so lucky with the weather and spent 2 days enjoying the beach, the pier, the arcades and everything else in between. It felt so nice to have one last ‘holiday’ before autumn came and it made me realise how beautiful some parts of the UK really are when you get the right weather! After leaving Bournemouth we headed over to Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door for a day of hiking between the two and I was sooo sad to leave this pretty part of the world so am already planning to return next summer. October brought colder weather and some family time as I spent a weekend in Liverpool at my cousins baby shower, it was my last chance to see her and bump before she was due to pop in December, and we had a really lovely weekend. I also had lots of fun over the Halloween weekend as I fulfilled my life-long dream of becoming a mermaid (well a fancy dress one) as I hosted a spooky themed party at my house. By the end of the month I was ready for allllll the fireworks show as I looked forward to saying goodbye to October and hello to November.

 

 

November & December

 

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So today, after four long years of blogging, I had a career highlight when Journeys with Jessica was given its very own stand at WTM – the biggest travel conference in the entire world! 🌍 I was selected as one of 120 travel bloggers to come and showcase what it is that I do and how my blog works. I had brands approaching ME, not the other way round, and I met and spoke to tonnes of people who had a genuine interest in my blog and wanted to know more about me as a person too. 🎉 I ended up staying an hour longer than I was supposed to because I was talking way too much to too many people and having way too much fun! I've learnt so much today and I've never felt prouder of my little blog 💖 Here's to the next 4 years of blogging, adventures and even more fun! Thanks @wtmlondon for an amazing day ✨#WTMLDN #travelblogger #London

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I was fairly busy in November, with fireworks events and lots of autumnal fun with friends. I headed to London to watch Ed Sheeran and Olly Murs in concert – they were amazing – and stopped off at Westfield for some shopping. I did grown up things like submit my annual tax return and move some money around in my savings – I’m putting away a decent amount of money from my wages each month so that I can look to buy a house in the next few years, which is overwhelming, stressful and exciting all at the same time! Probably the single biggest thing I did in November was attend WTM London, where Journeys with Jessica was given its very own stand for the first time ever! I had such an amazing time at the biggest travel conference in the world and learnt so much, as well as getting my blogging mojo back after a few months of feeling like I didn’t really belong in this industry. I was invited along to the VIP press launch of Christmas at Blenheim at the end of the month and took my mum with me for a wonderful evening of festive fun. December isn’t over yet but so far I’ve done work parties, theatre evenings, nights out and Christmas  markets. We are off to Somerset for a new year’s break with the family next week so, although we are having a quiet Christmas at home, I’m really looking forward to ending 2018 and starting 2019 on a high.

 

 

My 2018 New Year’s Resolutions: How I Got On

 

Visit at least 5 countries SUCCESS – I managed to get myself to a whopping NINE countries this year, which is almost double what I set as a target so I am really pleased that I’ve done so well on this one. My cruise made it super easy as I actually visited 5 countries in just 1 week, and whilst I was out there I hit my 25th country as well which was an incredible feeling! Roll on the next 25!

 

Reach 10,000 followers on social media – FAIL – Sadly I didn’t reach the big 10k this year, but on my last count I was up to approx. 8700 followers across all platforms, so I am so close yet so far! This is a goal I will try to re-aim for next year, but I’m not going to put pressure on myself to reach it by a certain time frame; what will be will be!

 

 

Spend less time on social media – SUCCESS – I feel like I’ve done quite well at this one this year. I obviously do still spend a lot of time online in order to promote my blog, but I wanted to cut down on scrolling and wasting time being unproductive, and I definitely think I’ve done that. Turning off all my notifications have helped, and I’ve set a time limit of 25mins per day on each app which has made an improvement too, so it’s small steps but I’m definitely going in the right direction!

 

Work on new projects for The Pituitary Foundation – SUCCESS – I am so proud to be an ambassador for this fantastic charity, and 2018 was the year I really challenged myself and put more effort into this. Climbing Mount Snowdon with Team Pituitary was one of the biggest achievements of my life, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a pituitary patient! Roll on Ben Nevis next May!

 

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🏃‍♀️WE DID IT! 🏃‍♀️ What an amazing day!!! 33000 steps, 4000 calories burnt, 18 kilometres walked and 7 hours long! One of the best things I've ever done, and definitely the hardest thing I've ever done, both physically and mentally. 🏔 Didn't think I would make it up to the top at one point but these amazing people got me through!! Couldn't have wished for a better group of people to climb #Snowdon with, and am hoping we've almost smashed our fundraising target! You can still donate if you want to 😘 Collectively our group have raised over £22000 so far for @pituitaryfoundation which is INCREDIBLE!! My illness gets me down sometimes, but when events like this bring people together I wouldn't change it for the world 🌍 https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jessica-bucks-team

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Start saving at least £500 a month – SUCCESS – I’ve been super strict with my finances this year, so much so that I’ve now got over £10,000 in savings to my name which is something I am immensely proud of! The main reason I am saving is because I want to buy a house in the next couple of years, but I also plan to use some of that for travelling and taking some more trips throughout 2019 because you only live once and mortgages are boring 😉

 

Incorporate exercise into my weekly routine – SUCCESS – I have got better at this as the year has progressed, and am proud that I am now working out three times a week compared to doing virtually nothing (other than walking for an hour each day) at the start of 2018. Don’t get me wrong, I still HATE the gym but I do my workouts from home so that I can overcome this, and I don’t work out to lose weight, I just do it to feel good about myself.

 

Grow my blog as much as possible whilst working full time – FAIL – I kinda feel I haven’t done this very well this year. Yes my followers have grown and I have taken on new opportunities etc, but I haven’t been on a single press trip this year and, in my eyes, that makes me feel like a failure. I see bloggers left right and centre being paid to go on trips and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous, but I guess nothing right has come up for me this year. WTM felt like a turning point as I got my blogging mojo back and definitely felt more inspired after making new contacts, so I’m looking forward to seeing how things go in 2019 for me.

 

What I want from 2019

 

 

Not sure where to start with this one, but what I do know is that I want 2019 to be my biggest and best year yet. I want to travel more, learn more, and be more spontaneous. I kinda played it safe this year as I struggled to come to terms with feelings of grief and uncertainty, but I really want to start next year differently and I want to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’m not sure where life will take me next year, but I’m currently setting some plans in motion ready to make 2019 really special. I’ll probably write a separate post in January with regard to my 2019 New Year’s Resolutions, but I am trying not to make too many promises to myself as I get older and as I learn to be more content with life. I’ll see what happens over the coming months, but watch this space for lots of new things coming soon to my little life, and to Journeys with Jessica!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year – thanks, as always, for continuing to share this little square of the internet with me – your support has been invaluable this year!

Love Jess x

 

 

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Christmas at Blenhiem Palace: The Most Festive Place in the Cotswolds

 

 

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to the VIP press launch of Christmas at Blenheim, an exclusive event being held at beautiful Blenheim Palace in the heart of Oxfordshire. Located in Woodstock, just 10 miles from the city of Oxford, Blenheim Palace is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country, and is open all year round. As the Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, tourists gather in their thousands every year to explore the house and it’s stunning grounds. As a local Oxfordshire girl I’ve been going to Blenheim since I was around 5 or 6 years old, and have been an annual pass holder many times. Blenheim is the perfect place for a family day out, a dog walk or just for a lazy stroll around the lake on a Sunday morning. The market town of Woodstock is worth a visit too, and I always pop in to some of the little shops, pubs and café’s when I’m stopping by – The Black Prince is a firm favourite of mine! The festive Christmas at Blenheim event was first launched back in 2016 and I can’t believe I haven’t visited until now! I’ve been wanting an excuse to attend so, when I was invited to the VIP press launch, I just couldn’t resist bringing my mum along for the ride and getting us both into the Christmas spirit. Here’s what we got up to, and what you can expect from your visit to Blenheim this Christmas…

 

 

The Great Court

 

 

Upon arrival we were taken into the Orangery for a welcome drink and a speech by the CEO of Blenheim before mingling and enjoying some festive nibbles. The Orangery is part of the estate I have never been to before, but it is decorated beautifully and is host to regular events at Blenheim, as well as being used as a restaurant serving evening meals, lunches and afternoon tea. Between the Orangery and the gift shop, with the small café inside, lies the Great Court. This is the starting point for the festivities of Christmas at Blenheim and is home to food stalls serving Bratwurst sausages and gourmet burgers as well as yummy churros and delicious donuts too. Opposite the food stalls you’ll find a helter-skelter, a carousel and a couple of other fairground favourites; tokens for which can be purchased at an additional cost. The Great Court looked super pretty all decorated in sparking lights, and got us feeling festive the moment we walked through the entrance archway.

 

The New Christmas Markets

 

 

A new attraction for 2018, the New Christmas Markets are located right in the middle of the main courtyard, just in front of the palace itself. Lined with lights and Christmas decorations, the markets sell every kind of gift you can think of, from cheese, chocolate and wine to portraits, bath products and pets toys. My mum and I spent some time wandering around the markets before we did the Cinderella exhibition and it was really lovely to see so many stalls set up all selling lots of fab gifts. We then sat down in the outdoor seating area (which was actually pretty small given that there were so many stands!) and indulged in a traditional German Bratwurst. The smells of the meat cooking, mixed with the smells of the sweet treats on sale, made our mouths water and I can see how people really get into the Christmas spirit whilst visiting this section!

 

The Fairytale Cinderella Experience

 

 

Another new attraction for this year, the Fairytale Cinderella Experience was something I was really looking forward to seeing as I am a TOTAL Disney Princess 😉 Upon entrance into the main palace you are greeted by Christmas tree after Christmas tree, glittering with lights, bows, flowers, stars, anything you can think of that is slightly sparkly is waiting for you in the entrance hall! We said hello to one of the staff members before heading off on the Experience. I’ve been to the palace many times so know what all the rooms are like, but the sheer amount of twinkling lights and decorations made it so much more magical and they have really done a fantastic job of making the palace look extra special. Each room is decorated with props and clothing from a certain character from Cinderella, so you have Prince Charming, the Wicked Stepmother, the Ugly Sisters and then lovely Cinderella herself right at the end, with a gorgeous display of her dresses illuminated against a back drop, and the stunning glass slipper encased in a glass box! There are of course some of Cinderella’s friends dotted throughout the trail and I think you are supposed to count the mice in each room along the way, but I was totally distracted by the sheer beauty of every room that I totally forgot to count! I was really impressed by the Cinderella Experience and I do think it is worth the money to pay extra and see this exhibition whilst you’re at Blenheim for the evening… it was truly magical!

 

The Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail

 

 

This was what we had been waiting for, the main reason I wanted to attend and the focal point of the entire event, the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail was the last stop on our itinerary for the evening and it certainly didn’t disappoint! I had seen so many photos online which looked amazing but, if I’m honest, totally didn’t do the place any justice, and it doesn’t really look as good until you see it in person. But let me tell you, it is well worth being surprised and seeing everything up close and personal as every single section is just incredible! You’ll be taken on a winter wonderland and lead through a variety of different areas including a tunnel of lights, a majestic waterfall, a sea of flowers hanging from the trees and a singing statue in the middle of the lake. The lights, the animation, the music, everything is seriously spectacular and I could have done that trail over and over again. It takes around an hour to complete the trail, maybe a little longer if you have small kids who want to run around and take everything in, and there are some muddy paths and steep hills in places, so be careful if you’re bringing the buggy. The trail was the best part of our entire evening and I would recommend that everyone does this part of Christmas at Blenheim as it’ll leave even the Scrooges amongst us feeling full of festive cheer!

 

 

As I’m sure you can tell from the insane amount of twinkly lights and Christmas trees, I had such a fantastic time at Blenheim for this event and it really got me feeling festive!  Everything from the Great Court to the Christmas Markets looked absolutely stunning, and the attention to detail on some of the décor was second to none. The brand new Cinderella Experience was better than I thought it was going to be, and I can see this being a real hit with kids and adults alike – especially if they’re visiting the Palace for the first time. The real crowning glory though was of course the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail which totally blew me away. Every single section was expertly decorated, with the music, lights, silhouettes and props looking incredible from every angle. I honestly had the most magical time at Blenheim and I really can’t wait to go back again next year! Have you been to Blenheim Palace before? And have you been at Christmas time? Let me know what you thought of it, and I would love to see all your festive photos!

Don’t forget to head to the Blenheim Palace website to purchase your tickets for this event, but be patient as it is hugely popular. I spoke to the CEO of the Estate when I was at the press launch and he told me that a whopping 82,000 tickets had already been sold before the launch night had even started, so get yours here if you want to book your preferred dates! Tickets cost £36pp for combined entrance to the Cinderella Experience and the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail, whilst tickets to just the Lights Trail cost £26pp.

Love Jess x

NB. Big thanks to the fab teams at Flamingo PR and Blenheim Palace for hosting me on this wonderful event! My tickets to Christmas at Blenheim were provided to me complimentary for the purpose of this review, but all thoughts, words and photos are of course my own.

 

 

 

 

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WTM London 2018: How To Survive the Bloggers Speed Networking Event

Hi guys,

So last week I attended World Travel Market (the biggest travel exhibition show on the planet) for only the second time in my blogging career, and what a whirlwind of a day it was! After my first visit back in 2016 left me feeling pretty overwhelmed, I was understandably feeling anxious ahead of my second visit. Set in London’s ExCel centre, WTM is the biggest and best travel show of the year, with thousands of people from all corners of the industry attending across the three day period. You’ll find everyone from bloggers and journalists to travel agents and tourism boards all hoping to meet new faces, catch up with old friends and of course do some business networking. Last time I visited I wrote a blog post sharing my top tips on how to survive your first time at WTM, which gives an insight of what to expect from the exhibition, so I hope some of you found that useful! This time though was a very different visit for me as I was lucky enough to be selected as one of only 120 bloggers to take part in the digital influencers speed networking event, so I was very focused and determined to walk away from WTM with some new business as a result of my visit. Here are my top tips on surviving the Bloggers Speed Networking and how to get the most out of your valuable time there…

 

 

Choose the right category upon registration

 

This is probably the single most important piece of advice I can give to anyone looking to take part in the speed networking. Upon registration you will be asked to provide some information about yourself and your blog and will then need to select which category you feel you fit into best (solo, group, family, adventure, budget, luxury etc). I found this quite tricky actually as my blog is so varied and I do a little bit of luxury travel, a little bit of adventure and a little bit of solo sometimes, so I could have slotted in to a few of the categories, but I settled on adventure as I felt this suited me best. When I arrived to set up my stand I was sooo glad I chose this category as they are listed A-Z (I didn’t realise this til I got there) and adventure is on the front row meaning you get to see all the prospective brands and PRs queuing to approach you before they actually arrive at your stand. I was also listed on the print out brochure on the first category as adventure was right at the start, so I definitely think I got more footfall as a result of this, but I do think it would be great if the organisers put a little bio or a line or 2 about your blog on the print out brochure so brands looking can find out more about what you do before they approach you, rather than just having a name to go on!

 

Dress to impress

 

Wandering around WTM is overwhelming, stressful and completely exhausting, and I would definitely recommend you wear something comfortable on your feet as you will rack up the FitBit steps in no time! However, it is important to remember that you are in a working environment, meeting people from all areas of the industry who want to do business, so looking the part is key to making a good first impression. I’m not saying you need to wear a dress and 6 inch heels, but pop on a blazer and fix your hair so it looks presentable. I treat my time at WTM as if I am going for either a work meeting or a job interview and like to look my best – there are also lots of photo opportunities so it doesn’t hurt to take pride in your appearance!

 

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So today, after four long years of blogging, I had a career highlight when Journeys with Jessica was given its very own stand at WTM – the biggest travel conference in the entire world! 🌍 I was selected as one of 120 travel bloggers to come and showcase what it is that I do and how my blog works. I had brands approaching ME, not the other way round, and I met and spoke to tonnes of people who had a genuine interest in my blog and wanted to know more about me as a person too. 🎉 I ended up staying an hour longer than I was supposed to because I was talking way too much to too many people and having way too much fun! I've learnt so much today and I've never felt prouder of my little blog 💖 Here's to the next 4 years of blogging, adventures and even more fun! Thanks @wtmlondon for an amazing day ✨#WTMLDN #travelblogger #London

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

 

Visually represent your blog

 

As it was my first time doing the bloggers speed networking I really didn’t know what to expect and had no idea what was included with your stand upon set up. I didn’t know if your business card or logo would be printed and attached to the stand, and I didn’t know if there would be a picture of me on it or not. I took some chocolates with me as a way to break the ice if I needed to, and so my stand didn’t look totally bare, but I also spent some time printing out A4 media kits and taking plenty of business cards too. Business kits are an absolute must at networking meetings so always remember to take more than you need! I’m also glad I printed out my media kits (x50) as it really helped me to talk potential clients through my blog. My media kit is very clear and concise, with important notes including audience demographics, social media statistics and a brief bio about me and my blog. This, coupled with my laptop on display, allowed me to visually showcase my blog to everyone I spoke to at the speed networking. I think they found it really useful that I could make a point and then back it up with imagery, or facts, and liked the fact that I was able to show some of my most popular blog posts on my laptop screen in front of me, rather than just talking about something and not actually having anything physical to show them. I would 100% take a laptop with me if I ever took part in the speed networking again, and business cards/media kits are a definite too.

 

Show that you’re confident (even when you’re not!)

 

Confidence is an attractive trait, but it doesn’t come natural to everybody. At places like WTM it is important to have your business hat on, but you also need to be yourself. Being yourself is the only thing that makes you unique, and that makes you stand out. You are representing your blog and, in some cases, this might be your entire business, but don’t forget that your blog is something personal and something that represents YOU, so don’t be afraid to show your personality and inject a bit of passion in to your meetings! I took a few notes as a cue card, and had my blog on my laptop screen so I could scroll and show people what it looks like, but to be honest it felt so natural once I’d had my first or second meeting I just kept talking and interacting and I think this was because I so relaxed and was completely myself which made me feel so much more confident!

 

 

Be active on social media

 

I know it can be really hard to try and keep up with social media whilst you’re physically at an event, rather than posting about it afterwards, but I always find I get the most out of my events when I keep up with current news from the hosts and post live ‘real time’ updates. Twitter and Instagram stories are my go-to platforms when posting live content, and my notifications on Twitter tend to go through the roof when I engage with people whilst I’m actually on-site. I met up with a few fellow bloggers at some of the Traverse Events talks on the WTM Global Main Stage because I’d seen their whereabouts on social media, and I even set up 2 meetings with brands on the day purely because they had seen my tweets and wanted to meet me, so I told them which table I was on at the bloggers speed networking and they then came to find me! I know it can be difficult to spin so many plates, but I strongly believe that being active on social media before, during and after the event made it a real success for me. Lots of companies ask you to take part in online competitions throughout the day too, so make sure you’ve got your power pack handy and tweet away whilst you’re there!

 

 

The speed networking gives you a chance to have one-on-one time with various travel brands, including tourism boards, hotels and PR companies, and is the perfect way to meet people and make new contacts. Sometimes it really is who you know, not what you know, in this business so making important connections at events like WTM is absolutely vital! Overall I really enjoyed my time at the bloggers speed networking, so much so that I ended up staying over an hour longer than I was supposed to because I was too busy chatting away… oops! I genuinely feel I made some fantastic connections at this event with real people and real brands who took a real interest in me and my blog. I’m already hoping to do it again at next year’s WTM and would highly recommend it to anyone looking to take the next steps in their travel blogging career.

Have you been to WTM before? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!

Love Jess x