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Tex Mex, Creole or All-American? Comparing the flavour of three Southern cities…

 

Over 12 months ago, when I embarked on my trip of a lifetime across the US of A, I was set to visit 23 states in 28 days; a mean feat for someone who had never left Europe before! Aptly named The Grand Southern Adventure, I knew most of my escapade would be spent discovering some of the best cities that the south had to offer, and knew that it’d be an adrenalin fuelled few weeks, and a real foodie haven too. Three of the cities on the trip really stole my heart, and not just because of their lively atmospheres and their colourful history. Spending two nights each in Orlando, Dallas and New Orleans gave me a chance to delve a little deeper into their charm, although I’m pretty sure I barely scratched the surface of these cities during my short time there. I enjoyed my few days in those places so much that, when the wonderful team at Trip.com asked me to take a look at the foodie history behind each city, I jumped at the chance to do a little more digging… Here’s how the three of them compare…

 

Dallas, Texas

 

The sun shining down on Dallas

 

The Texan powerhouse and one of America’s most famous cities, Dallas should be at the top of everyone’s bucket lists, and for good reason. Home to an enormous aquarium, along with a zoo, museums and memorials, Dallas is one of the liveliest cities in the deep South. Sadly, it’s also perhaps best known for being the site of President John F Kennedy’s assassination and has a memorial and museum dedicated to his untimely death. Whilst you’ll find large chunks of America’s history down in Dallas, you’ll also find it’s a complete foodie haven and a fantastic place for indulging in that iconic Tex-Mex cuisine.

A mouth-watering mix of Anglo and Mexican-Indian infusions, invented by Mexican immigrants in the late 1800s, Tex-Mex fast became one of the most popular dishes in the state of Texas, and across the rest of America and the world too. Although the main ingredients of the cuisine remain the same; think nachos, enchiladas, fajitas, burritos, chilli and tacos, the dishes have largely evolved over the years. It wouldn’t be right to devour some good ole Tex-Mex food in Dallas without a frozen margarita in hand though – it’s where it was first created back in 1974, and is still a hit with locals and tourists alike today. If you’re looking for the perfect hotel from which to base yourself on your next visit to this Texan city check out Trip.com’s best hotel deals in Dallas.

 

New Orleans, Louisiana

 

The fairy-tale that is Jackson Square

 

Positioned right on the Mississippi River, near the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans is a Louisiana city packing a big punch. Nicknamed the “Big Easy,” New Orleans is famous for its crazy nightlife, fantastic live-music jazz scene and its eclectic cuisine. At the heart of the city you’ll find it’s French Quarter, the oldest part of the city and perhaps its most interesting. Jackson Square is the focal point of the district, complete with a pretty Church, manicured courtyard gardens and horse drawn carriages, making it look like something out of a fairy-tale. The biggest event on the calendar is of course the Mardi Gras parade, a winter carnival with show-stopping costumes, live music and fun filled street parties. New Orleans, and indeed the rest of Louisiana, is however best known for its delicious Creole cuisine; a spicy style of cooking which brings together a mixture of flavours from a whole host of different cultures including Spanish, Indian, Caribbean, West African and Latin American.

Invented in NOLA back in the 18th century, classic Creole dishes include fish and meat soups, shrimps in sauce, rice in gravy, baked chicken, red beans and smothered pork chops. The most popular dishes are gumbo (shrimp, chicken and sausage stew served with rice) and jambalaya (meat and vegetables mixed with rice). For dessert, Creole cuisine offers something for everyone, but NOLA’s most iconic sweet treat is the classic beignet – deep fried choux pastry served with powdered sugar on top and a café au lait (coffee with milk). Visit the world famous Café du Monde down in the French Quarter for the ultimate beignet experience. The café is open 24 hours all day every day and only has four items on the menu: dark-roasted coffee, white and chocolate milk, hot chocolate, freshly squeezed orange juice and, of course, the classic beignets. Whatever your foodie preferences, NOLA caters for all tastes and you’ll be sure to want to take a taste of Creole home with you when you leave the city! If you’re in need of a place to rest your head for a few hours after spending all night ‘dancing in the streets’ check out Trip.com’s best hotel deals in New Orleans.

 

Orlando, Florida

 

The happiest place on earth…

 

Nestled between the Atlantic ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, the sunshine state of Florida is one of the most visited areas in the whole of the USA. With hundreds of miles of coastline and a population of over 20 million, Florida is a tropical paradise with gorgeous turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. In particular, Orlando is famed for its designer shopping malls, vibrant seaside resorts and of course it’s enormous theme parks. Nicknamed the ‘Theme Park Capital of the World’, Orlando is home to the Universal resorts, Sea World, Discovery Cove, Legoland, Gatorland, Epcot and the most famous resort on earth, Walt Disney World. Cuisine is Florida is just as famous, with their iconic oranges – you’ll find them everywhere you go – as well as their Cuban inspired mojito’s and of course their very own key lime pie.

Cuisine found in Orlando is typical of All-American dishes and, whilst it mainly consists of fried chicken, French fries and just about any kind of fried food you can find, there are dozens of signature dishes too. Frozen yogurt, or Fro-Yo as Floridians affectionately call it, is super popular over in Orlando, and is much needed during the exhausting heat and tropical temperatures that remain in place all year round. Alligator tail is also a popular dish in the city, deep fried and served with hot sauce and a heap of ranch dressing on the side. Perhaps the most famous piece of Floridian cuisine though is the mouth-watering key lime pie. Invented by ship salvager William Curry in the sunshine state back in the 1800s, Curry became Key West’s first millionaire and his legendary dish is still a hit today. Need somewhere to stay during your holiday with Mickey and Co? Take a look at Trip.com’s top hotel deals in Orlando.

 

NB. This post is brought to you as part of Trip.com’s Underdog Cities campaign but all words and photos are of course my own.

 

So food is pretty BIG in Dallas

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Travel Guide to Warsaw: 48 hours in the Polish capital

 

 

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Warsaw for the first time, and it was my first ever visit to Poland too! Warsaw was the first stop on my recent inter-railing adventure with one of my best friends, and it was the perfect city from which to kick start our time in Europe. Warsaw is brimming with colourful buildings, cobbled streets and tonnes of history, and with so much to see and do it was impossible to get round everything in just 48 hours, but here’s my tips on making the most of your short time in this amazing city…

 

Take a FREE walking tour

 

 

I really love free walking tours and feel they are the best way to discover a new city for the first time, especially if you only have a couple of days and want to squeeze in as much as possible! The free Old Town Walking Tour in Warsaw begins right underneath Sigismund’s Column and departs every day at 10.30am. Our tour guide was so friendly and really gave us an insight into the history behind Warsaw, going into particular detail about the horrendous destruction of the city during world war two. The two hour tour passed by a number of points of interest and within that time we saw pretty much every important landmark there was to see in the historic Old Town, and got to make some brilliant photo stops along the way too.

 

Wander round the Old Town

 

 

If, like me, you only have a couple of nights in Warsaw I would definitely recommend basing yourself in the old town as I think this is the most popular area of the entire city. With its historic cobbled streets, vibrant market square and a vast array of colourful buildings, old town Warsaw is a UNESCO world heritage site and is best explored on foot meaning everything can be seen within a day or two. I really enjoy visiting cities that have a small historic centre, particularly if I’m pressed for time, as it means I can really immerse myself in the atmosphere and soak up the culture at the same time too. Don’t forget to climb the clock tower just opposite Sigismund’s column for spectacular panoramic views of the castle square below, and a visit to the famous mermaid statue is a MUST too!

 

Walk along the Vistula River

 

 

After a busy day of sightseeing I love nothing better than venturing a little out of the city and just taking a gentle stroll along the river. Warsaw’s old town is so compact that it was nice to explore a little further afield and see other parts of the city that were completely new to us, and the views from across the river were pretty stunning too! A wander along the Vistula will take you to Warsaw Zoo, Park Praski and the quirky neighborhood of Praga, which was the location for the award winning film The Pianist.

 

Visit one of the many museums

 

Warsaw is full of interesting museums to visit, containing everything from war and jewish history to music, science and modern art. I do think it’s difficult to find the time to visit museums if I’m on a super short city break though, so I don’t tend to put them at the top of my list, but there are so many in Warsaw that I just HAD to include them in my guide! We actually wandered around the Museum of Warsaw, which is located in the archway/city gate just behind the iconic market square, and found the history so interesting. Another must-do is the Uprising of the Jews and the Palace of Culture which is somewhere I really wanted to head to but sadly we ran out of time!

 

Where to eat/drink

 

 

There are a variety of restaurants in the old town, most of which serve a mix of traditional Polish food and popular European dishes too. We chose to eat at a local restaurant called Zapiecek on our first night as it was just a few doors down from our hostel and served amazing pierogi (dumplings) which are a traditional Polish dish. Serving a variety of mains including everything from pork and chicken to salmon and sausage, Zapiecek restaurants can be found dotted across Warsaw and are a must visit when looking for somewhere to eat in the city. Other restaurant recommendations I received, but sadly didn’t dine at, were Magda Polka in the Castle Square, and Michelin starred U Fukeria which can be found in the market square, just opposite the famous mermaid statue.

 

Where to stay

 

 

During our time in the city we chose to stay at the super cool Oki Doki Hostel, one of the only original pre war buildings left in the city. The location couldn’t have been more perfect for us as we were right in the middle of the old town with a number of shops, bars cafes and restaurants within a few minutes walk. We were staying in a private double room on the third floor with our own en suite bathroom. The beauty of staying in a private room is that you pay hostel prices for hotel standards and this couldn’t have been more true for our stay at Oki Doki. The communal areas including the kitchen, garden and breakfast place were kept very clean and tidy but were also great places to hang out and meet fellow travellers. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Oki Doki Hostel to anyone looking for a comfortable stay at a fantastic price right in the heart of Warsaw’s old town. Special thanks must go to Agata for making our stay so wonderful!

I could have spent at least another two days exploring everything that Warsaw has to offer, and even then I still don’t think I’d have scratched the surface! Considering Warsaw lost pretty much everything during World War Two, the defiant spirit of this city is incredibly powerful and shines through its core. Have you ever visited Warsaw before? I’d love to hear what you thought of it!

Love Jess x

 

 

September Newsletter

Happy 1st October!

One of my favourite months of the year is now upon us, and I can’t quite believe that we have just three months left of 2017! How the HELL did that happen?! I’ve had a whirlwind of a summer and been fortunate enough to travel to some amazing places, but now I’m looking forward to winding down a little bit, swapping sunny days for cosy nights in and embracing all things autumnal before our long cold winter inevitably hits. September has been another crazy month for me, I went on my interrailing adventure visiting 4 countries and 4 cities, and have also bought myself a brand new car and started a brand new job! Here’s what’s been happening over the past 30 days…

 

I became a god mother for the first time

 

 

I’m sooo proud to announce that I am now (fairy) godmother to beautiful little Halle, daughter of one of my best friends! The christening took place a few weeks ago now but it was so lovely and Halle looked so adorable. I was so honoured to be asked to be her godmother, it’s something I’ve never had the privilege of doing before and I cried as soon as I was asked! I promise to love you and look after you forever little Halle bean <3 xx

 

I went interrailing around Europe for ten days

 

 

Last weekend I got back from one of my biggest trips of 2017; I interrailed around Europe for 10 days with another of my best friends and we had SUCH an amazing trip! We flew to Warsaw to start off our adventure, enjoying walking tours, traditional Polish food and learning about its war history along the way, before heading over to Prague for our second stop. It was my second visit to the city and I fell in love with it even more than I did the first time. We partied until the early hours, wandered around the biggest castle complex in Europe, and spent time gazing in awe at the beautiful Old Town Square.

 

 

Our third stop was the stunning city of Salzburg, home to strudel, sacher-torte and of course, the Sound of Music film set. We took the funicular up to the top of the castle complex where we were treated to incredible panoramic views over the entire city below, and then sang our hearts out on the wonderful Sound of Music Official Tour. The fourth and final stop of our interrailing adventure was the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, somewhere that had been on my bucket list for such a long time. Again, we took a funicular up to the top of the castle to watch the sun set, then spent time wandering around the cobbled streets and meandering along the river. Our last full day was spent at the nearby Lake Bled, which seems to be top of everyone’s go-to lists at the moment! We had the most amazing trip and I wish we could go back and do it allll over again!

 

I treated myself to a new car

 

 

Last month my lovely little corsa gave up the ghost after 5 short years of us being together and I was totally gutted!! Sadly a bust head gasket meant that we had to part ways, so to cheer myself up I treated myself to a brand new, 67 plate Vauxhall Adam and it has definitely put the smile back on my face! After a month of having no car I’m fully embracing being back behind the wheel and am loving whizzing around in my new purchase.

 

I started a brand new full-time job

 

 

Most people think getting a new car is a big enough event for one month, but not me, I only went and got myself a brand new job too! After 18 months of travel, 12 months of freelancing and 9 months of part time work, I felt the time was right for me to have a new challenge and ease myself into a career in the travel industry. As much as I’ve loved blogging and travelling almost full time over the past year and a half, I realised that I needed to catch my breath, slow down and build a career in the industry I am hugely passionate in. I’m by no means settling down, and I’ll still be making the most of my weekends and annual leave by traveling as much as possible, but for now I’m really excited to have a new challenge and am looking forward to becoming a Villa’s Coordinator at a luxury travel firm in Cheltenham… Wish me luck!

So that’s how my September went… How did yours go? I’m hoping to have a quiet October where I can save some money, spend some time with my friends and family and just enjoy being at home for the next few weeks. Weirdly, I don’t actually have any new trips coming up which is kind of a strange concept for me, but I just want to settle in to my new life and see how things go. You know me though, I’m pretty sure I’ll book some kind of spontaneous getaway before 2017 comes to an end 😉

Love Jess x

 

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Why it’s ok not to be ok

 

I’ve had a tough week, a really tough week, and some things have happened in my personal life which have made me quite upset. Things happen every now and then which upset me, and what do I do when I’m upset? I write. I write and write until I’ve got everything off my chest, and until I start to feel better.

Some of you may think it’s odd to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard in my case, but writing is therapeutic for me and does wonders for helping me feel better about myself. This week I’ve realised that I haven’t felt truly happy for a long time, but I’ve realised that it’s ok not be be ok. Here’s something I wrote a few weeks back that might explain how I’ve been feeling lately…

Why it’s ok not to be ok

I’m writing this from my bed. I’m in bed on a Saturday afternoon. It’s almost 4pm, and I’ve achieved nothing today. I woke up in a bad mood; if I’m honest I went to sleep in a bad mood too, but I have no idea why. I went to do the food shop, had an argument with my mum, felt even worse than I did before, came home and got into bed. Got out my phone and started scrolling through social media, looking at everyone’s seemingly perfect lives. Wondering how that girl I went to school with was lucky enough to find a guy that dotes on her, gives her the world. Wondering how she was lucky enough to have a beautiful little boy. Wondering what I did wrong because I don’t have those things. Or wondering how couples that have been together seven years are still together and still just as loved up now than they were back then.

 

          Being alone, it’s what I’m good at

 

Everyone around me is settling down; they’re all in long term relationships, or they’re married. They’re having kids or buying houses. They’ve got their own dogs or cats or they’ve got jobs which they’ve been in for years and have built successful careers. Then I look at what I’ve got, and what I’ve not got, and I feel this overwhelming sense of not belonging. I don’t fit in with that life; I’m not married or going to be married any time soon. I don’t have a baby, as much as that’s all I’ve ever wanted. I don’t have a successful career or dress smart to go to work or wear heels whilst making the commute. I don’t have all of those things, but I’m starting to realise that that’s ok. It’s ok not to have your life figured out, it’s ok that I don’t have all those things my friends have. What I do have is opportunities, opportunities for things to change, and memories, lots of wonderful memories, lots which I’ve created all by myself, without the need for anyone else.

 

                    Being oh so reflective

 

I’ve travelled to 19 countries, many of them on my own. I’ve quit a secure, well paid job for a life of uncertainty and excitement, all because those are the things I thrive off. Future me is worried about things financially, wondering how I’m going to buy a house when the average property price in my local area is £300,000 and I’ve barely scraped together £5000 in savings. Future me is worried I’ll get to the age of 30 without finding love, and without finding love how can I have all those things I’ve dreamed about? Like becoming a mum, or buying my own place. Having a garden and playing with the dog. Future me is worried about all of those things, and sometimes I wish I had a crystal ball to peer into my life in 5 years time and see what it’s like, how things are going, and if I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve.

But then present me tells me to stop it. Tells me to stop thinking so far ahead, and to stop worrying that I’m not doing all the things my friends are doing. While they’re sat at home during the weekend I’m off gallivanting across the globe. I’m on one of my many European city breaks having the time of my life. Or if I’m home for a while and want to go on a spontaneous night out, I can do that too. I don’t have to arrange a babysitter or worry about money, I’m doing whatever I want and can enjoy myself as much as possible. Present me tells me it’s all going to be okay. She tells me to stop crying when I’m feeling down – I know I can’t help it sometimes, I do suffer with mild bouts of depression and when those days come, they’re so hard to get over. It’s like I can’t push past the darkness that consumes me, despite knowing that people all over the world are suffering with illnesses or dealing with tragedies, and then I try to get my life into perspective and realise that it’s not really that bad. Despite sometimes being far from happy, I’ve realised that it is ok not to be ok.

 

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

 

Before I started writing this post I was in bed at 4 o clock on a Saturday afternoon, as you know, and I’d just fallen asleep. I’m not sure why I fell asleep, although I have been exhausted lately. I’m working 2 jobs, 3 if you count my blog as a job (which it totally is). I’m doing long days, random shifts, and I go at a million miles an hour. Before I fell asleep I was bawling my eyes out, crying like a baby, sobbing into my mums arms while she lay on the bed next to me stroking my hair. And you know what the stupid thing is? I don’t even know WHY I WAS CRYING. I have nothing to be sad about, I couldn’t even give my mum an answer as to why I was upset. But she knows me, she knows I have my down days and she knows how to help me get through them. I love you mum, I don’t know what I would do without you, and I’m sorry I take things out on you.

Maybe I was upset because I’m wondering what the hell I should do with my life. I quit my job to travel and become a full time blogger. I set up my freelance business because I wanted to work from home, and because I wanted the flexibility to go on trips, travel more without being restricted to annual leave, and to take on new experiences that a 9-5 job wouldn’t allow me to have. It’s been just over a year since I made that choice, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I’ve had an amazing year, travelling to 10 new countries, exploring new cities and new destinations, something I would never have done if I had been at my old job. I’ve taken a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, hopped on a gondola ride in Venice, got to the top of one of the highest mountains in the Swiss Alps, and spent 4th July partying in NYC. I’ve done all of these bucket list items, and it’s given me some incredible memories that will last a lifetime.

 

Sometimes I don’t realise how lucky I’ve been

 

I’ve done some amazing things, and visited some amazing places

 

Six months ago I got a part time job at a retail store to give me more money, and to meet new people, as well as to stop the loneliness that I was enduring after going freelance. That job has helped me so much, both financially and mentally, but I’ve got to a point where I’m now wondering what on earth I’m doing there. Why am I working night shifts, early shifts, doing overtime, moving boxes, piling bags onto shelves that I can’t reach, and for what? A measly £7 an hour. It’s minimum wage. I’m surely worth more than that? I thought by the age of 24 I’d have my whole life figured out…

But then I remember that it’s not going to be forever, that I’ll figure out what it is that I want to do. Whether that’s to get a new full time job, or to really make a go of turning my blog into an income. I don’t know what the future will hold. Looking back, I’ve come such a long way over the past year, even the past 2 years. Things have changed so much for me, and it’s a good thing, it really is. Most of the time I’m happy, and I really am happy, but sometimes I’m genuinely not ok. But that’s fine, I accept and understand that now. Today I am not ok, but tomorrow I will be, and suddenly I stop and realise that, every now and again. I truly believe that everything in our lives happens for a reason, and that’s how I know that, sometimes, it’s ok not to be ok.

Love Jess X

 

Having the summer of my life road tripping across the States

 

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Oxford Castle Unlocked: A fun-filled day out for all the family

 

                                                             Going down the steps from the top of St George’s Tower

 

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending Oxford Castle Unlocked, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire city, and perhaps one of the oldest too! With history dating back to the 11th century, this 1000 year old castle was largely destroyed by the English Civil War and, by the 18th century, it had become Oxford’s local prison. Home to some of England’s most notorious criminals, and still in use right up until 1996, Oxford Castle has now been turned into a major hotel, but part of the site has been opened up to the public to offer the full prison experience. With it’s original motte and bailey hill, real underground chambers from its prison days, and the magnificent St George’s Tower still in place, Oxford Castle oozes history, charm and sends shivers down the spines of those that visit… Here’s what I got up to during my time there…

 

The History

 

                                       Just one of the inmates at Oxford Castle Prison

 

This partly ruined Norman medieval castle is one of the oldest in the country, and was believed to have been built in the year 1071 according to the Abingdon Chronicle. The instruction of the castle was ordered by William the Conquerer after he granted extensive land in Oxfordshire to the baron Robert D’Oyly. The castle played a key part in British history during the 12th and 13th centuries, where it was attacked and seized many times. Between the 14th and 17th centuries, the castle was starting to be used as a prison, instead of being seen as a royal residency, although it was never officially given this title. By the time the 18th century had started, it was being used as a full working prison and remained that way right up until its closure in the mid 1990s.

 

The Guided Tour

 

                                                          With our lovely tour guide, Alastair!

 

Our tour guide, Alastair, brought the prison to life and really gave us an insight as to what it was like for inmates living in those cells all those years ago, and for those imprisoned in more recent times too as it was only closed down in 1996! Each room/corridor/level of the prison had a story to tell, from the trial of Mary Blandy (she was on trial for poisoning her father) to the escape of Empress Matilda (the cousin of King Stephen). Alastair, and all of the other tour guides, did a wonderful job of telling these historical stories in a way that captured your imagination, really immersed you in the atmosphere, and made you even more interested in the castle than you had been before you walked through the door.

 

The Location

 

                                                                                                   The gorgeous castle building

 

Situated in the historic Castle Quarter, Oxford Castle can be found just off the main high street in the centre of the city. At the foot of the new Westgate development site, and just next to the Seacourt Park and Ride bus stop, the Castle can be easily reached by bus, coach, train, taxi, or on foot.

 

Useful Information

 

                                                                        The entrance to Oxford Castle Unlocked

 

The castle is open daily, with tours starting between 10am and 4pm. Admission prices (£10.95 per adult, £7.75 per child) include a guided tour and access to St George’s Tower, the castle hill and the exhibition. There’s also a gift shop and cafe on site too. Booking ahead is advised due to increased demand. Parking is available nearby either at one of the many pay and display car parks in the city, or one of the 5 park and ride car parks that operate excellent services every single day.

My time at Oxford Castle was truly enjoyable; I loved learning about the history of somewhere so important to England, and with it being right on my doorstep too I felt like I was completely immersed in the experience. Our wonderful guide. Alastair, was so fantastic in portraying his character (Daniel Harris) and delivering the history of the castle in such a fun, interactive and informative way. A big thank you to Alastair, Robin, Ellie and the rest of the Oxford Castle team for looking after us during our visit – we had so much fun!

Love Jess x

NB. My day out was provided by the Oxford Castle Unlocked team but, as always, all opinions, words and photos are of course my own.