Aladdin the Musical

Aladdin the Musical West End review

I might be late to the party, but I’ve finally seen Aladdin on West End! I was a little heartbroken when Disney replaced the show at the Hyperion in DCA, so when it was announced that it was coming to London, I knew it would be worth seeing. Matthew bought the tickets for my birthday months ago, and I’ve been patiently waiting and avoiding spoilers like no tomorrow in preparation for last weekend when I stepped foot into the Prince Edward Theatre!

‘Come for the houmous, stay for the floor show’

Something that made me really happy from the outset was the theatre itself. While I do love a big theatre, the Prince Edward seemed a lot more intimate, and the view from our seats was brilliant.

I’m a huge musical theatre fan, so there’s nothing I love more than that moment when the bands starts playing the opening number, and the compilation of classic Aladdin songs got me so excited for what was coming, and then the Genie appeared and the show began!

I should have known that the show would contain more songs than what’s in the animated classic, but they took me a little by surprise! If I’m being totally honest, I found them a bit hit and miss – I loved Babkak, Omar, Aladdin and Kassim and High Adventure, while Proud of Your Boy and These Palace Walls were a little bit meh, although that may be just due to not being able to hear the words particularly well!

That being said, I tend to measure how good the music is based on my goosebumps, and I had them right from the get go! Of course, the whole Friend Like Me scene was without a doubt the best number of the whole show, with Trevor Dion Nicholas absolutely blowing the whole audience away! I loved all the inside jokes, the Disney parodies and amazing dance numbers, and it had me in stitches at the same time as my jaw being on the floor.

‘Even the poor people look fabulous’

From the outset, the staging and the costumes blew me away. There was so much detail and everything was so sparkly and bright without being overwhelming, and the Cave of Wonders.. WOW. Also, can we talk about that magic carpet? Literally all I’ve done since seeing it is come up with theories for how that thing worked because OH MY GOSH.

Really, I just can’t stop raving about how good this show was, it was well worth the wait! It was witty and full of magic and everything hoped it would be and more, and I cannot recommend going to see it enough!

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7 Things I Love About the WB Studios Tour

 

While the UK is devoid of our own Harry Potter theme park, we Brits seek some solace knowing that as well as being the setting and home of Harry, JK and the magical world that we have all madly fallen in love with. It also means that we have the WB Studios tour – the home of the world we fell in love with in the movies

I first visited the Studios in 2012, when it opened, and last weekend I finally got to go back, having bought tickets for Matthew’s birthday present, and being back surrounded by the magic reminded me of all the things I love about this ultimate HP fan destination!

1. That opening bit

SPOILERS! The moment when you’re sat in the introductory theatre, and suddenly the screen disappears and you’re at the door to the Great Hall. JAW DROPS.

2. Neville’s cardigan

Is there anything more iconic than in the last film when Neville appears – no longer chubby and bumbly – wearing that knitted cardigan and ready to kick some Death Eater butt? You can see that cardigan like 4 feet away.

3. Trinkets EVERYWHERE

Literally every table and glass cabinet is crammed full of the teeny tiny props that you forget about when you think back over the movies – I could look for hours!

4. The Weasley clock

As well as the self-knitting scarf and the self-washing pot in the Weasley’s living room, I’m always drawn to the infamous family tracking clock, which is forever one of my favourite quirks of that family.

5. Buckbeak

Who doesn’t love a Hippogriff? Well, other than the Malfoys.. The animatronic magical beast makes me so happy!

6. Diagon Alley

On my first trip I spent ages looking at all the tiny details in the shop windows, and the signs and the brickwork – the detail is just phenomenal! I also love how small it is, because you can really imagine it being crammed with witches and wizards bustling around broom-shopping.

7. That scale model

Last week I was a little upset that there was scaffolding over part of the castle so Matthew couldn’t appreciate it in all its glory, but its just so perfect! In the films you can never really get a clear idea of the layout of the castle, only seeing little sections at a time, but its so stunning being able to see it as a whole.

I mean, these are just a few of the incredible experiences at the tour, and I love how the studios are still developing to include more of the parts of the film – the addition of the Hogwarts Express since my first visit was really cool!

Its such a fun day out for all, and if you’re not travelling by car, its really easy to get to using public transport – we got the train from Euston to Watford Junction, then hopped on the tour bus that runs directly from outside the train station for just £2.50 for a return!

Ever been? What did you think?

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Places I Never Knew Existed in Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris

In the last 18 months, I’ve been to Disneyland Paris 4 times, and there’s nothing I’ve loved more on the last few visits than just exploring the little nooks and crannies. There’s been a lot of refurbishment within the last year, so almost every time I’ve been, there’s been some sort of scaffolding somewhere, but somehow on my visit last month, I discovered a bunch of places that in the previous 3 trips have never registered before!

Toad Hall Restaurant

Admittedly, I think I often skip past the back part of Fantasyland between Peter Pan’s Flight and Curious Labyrinth, but to not notice a WHOLE restaurant feels like quite an oversight on my part! It looks so cute as well, definitely one to try on my next trip.

La Chaumière des Sept Nains

Ok, I knew this shop existed because its right there in the middle of Fantasyland, but I’d never been inside before, and it has the whole Snow White cottage inside it! I only went in to escape the bitter cold, but I was so happy to discover this little gem!

La Confiserie des Trois Fées

Another place that I’ve probably walked past 100+ times, but aside from the little hanging sign outside, I never actually knew there was anything inside. Its a cute little sweet shop with adorable stained glass windows!

La Boutique du Château

I’m probably always too busy looking up inside the castle to notice the Christmas shop on the right hand side..

Toilets

This probably sounds like the weirdest thing to say, but I hardly ever notice toilets in DLP. Besides the ones by Phantom Manor and the one by Pinocchio’s in Fantasyland, I’ve never really spotted any others! Now I know there’s the ones by Bella Notte, and the ones by the entrance of Frontierland, but they don’t really stick out!

Am I the only one who’s never noticed some of these things?

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Hand Luggage Only Toiletries

Hand Luggage Only Toiletries

Have you ever booked a flight with a budget airline, only to gasp at the additional cost of checked baggage? When it comes to a weekend break, it hardly seems worth the additional £30-40 when you could fit all your clothes into a holdall or backpack.

The inevitable problem with that though? Toiletries. There’s nothing worse than getting pulled aside at security because you forgot to place all those liquids into a clear plastic bag, or worse yet, packed something over 100ml and now you’ve gotta wave goodbye to your bottle of conditioner or deodorant.

Sure, you can overpay for those little miniatures from the supermarket, but you’ve still got to fit all those little bottle into that tiny 20x20cm plastic bag, so here are a few ideas for reducing your liquid content while still packing everything you need.

Toiletries

Shampoo bars – I swear by shampoo bars day in day out, but they really come into their own when you’re travelling because not only do they take up a fraction of the space, they also last so much longer and hello, no liquid!

Roll-on deodorant – ditch the aerosol and opt for a solid version of your deodorant to save on smelly situations. You could even pack some dusting powder for extra freshness!

Tooth-not-so-paste – while I know many people who would never ditch their regular toothpaste for anything, Lush do a wide range of non-paste options, such as Toothy Tabs or Tooth Powder, both of which leave your teeth feeling clean and fresh, but without the worry of your liquid allowance.

Solid soap – rather than carrying shower gels, pack a bar of soap and sud yourself up the old fashioned way!

Makeup

Lipstick over gloss – it might seem silly, but just switching from a lipgloss to lipstick means one less thing for the clear plastic bag

Utilising samples – I collect sample products like they’re going out of style, for the very purpose of saving space when I’m going away. Perfume samples, foundation, moisturiser, anything I get from magazines or Feel Unique Pick’n’Mix gets put into a little basket which I raid when the time comes for me to pack.

Wipes – as much as I hate using face wipes, if it saves me having to pack a bottle of micellar water and a bunch of cotton pads, then I’ll make that sacrifice for a few days.

For me personally, I’d rather make a few changes from my regular products in order to save myself worry when I get to the airport!

Do you have any tips for travelling hand luggage only? Share them in the comments below!

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Disney’s Newport Bay Club Hotel

Disneyland Paris Newport Bay Club

There is something about nautical inspired hotels that just does it for me. In Walt Disney World, I’m obsessed with Beach Club Resort, and its a total dream for me to stay there one day. At Disneyland Paris, Newport Bay has always had my heart, and last weekend I finally got to stay there for the first time since I was a toddler!

I had intended to save money and stay at Santa Fe or Cheyenne, but when I phoned to book they didn’t have availability for my dates, and with thanks to my annual pass discount, I managed to snag 2 nights at Newport Bay for 60% off the usual rate – WIN!

Disneyland Paris Newport Bay Club

Disneyland Paris Newport Bay Club

Disneyland Paris Newport Bay Club

The hotel is enormous, and I’ve never really properly appreciated the size until I was stood in front of it. Following the recent refurb of the hotel, everything was so pristine and pretty! I had a standard room, which had two of the cutest double beds I’ve ever seen, complete with not so hidden Mickeys and nautical cushions, and I loved the wallpaper with the adorable porthole designs, and all the furniture was designed to look like trunks. I also squealed just a little when I looked out the window and could see over the lake.

Disneyland Paris Newport Bay Club

The hotel also has its own gift shop, located just off the reception area, and two restaurants on the ground floor. I had breakfast included, which was a buffet of both hot and cold breakfast items. While I didn’t use it, the indoor pool was open, located by the side of the lake, and understandably, the outdoor pool wasn’t! What I did use, however, was the fitness centre. It was fairly small, but there was plenty of equipment available, and its open 24hrs, so I could go down first thing in the morning before breakfast, and I had the place to myself! Its also got lovely big windows, and also looks out over the lake.

I had a lovely stay here, and the staff were wonderful! If my trip had been longer, I’d definitely have spent more time exploring the hotel and testing the facilities, but I guess that means I’ll just have to stay there again..

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Disneyland Paris Day 2

Disneyland Paris selfie

Now I’m not normally one to toot my own horn, but I absolutely bossed extra magic hours this morning! One of the first people into the park, first in line for Chip and Dale, then got though Pluto, Goofy and Pooh within half an hour and they were all adorable.After wandering Main Street and Fantasyland for a bit, I stopped off in Market House Deli to warm back up, then as I was heading back towards the castle, I saw a lady in a Meeko hat, so obviously I had to check every shop on Main Street to see if I could find it. With no luck, I figured it would probably be in Adventureland, so I got into the queue for Meet Mickey in the run up to 10am. Well the queue said 10 mins, but it was at least half an hour waiting before I got to hang with the boss.

At that point, I ducked out of the parks for a little bit and went back to the hotel to do some work for a little project I’ve got coming up, before heading back to the Disneyland Hotel to meet up with Mitch. There were a few characters in the lobby, so we hung out there for a bit, and then went to meet Pluto and Goofy in Frontierland. Pluto was extra excited to see us which was so lovely!

Next we headed into the Studios to hunt more characters, but really just ended up people watching for a little while, then a quick photo with some Stormtroopers before we started queuing for Moana!!!

Moana

Moana was everything I wanted her to be, it was so perfect. We talked about Pua and Samoa and wayfinding and had the biggest hug and I felt so happy! We then wandered back into the Disneyland park, where I grabbed a few sweet treats before settling down for Magic On Parade.

Post-parade we stopped in Discovery Arcade for some warmth and a sit down, then I left the group and headed over to Frontierland to meet up with Nancy from Le Ears, and she managed to sneak me into her Fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain. HOLY DISNEY that ride was worth the long refurb! It was so long and so good!! It was also freezing as it was dark out and I couldn’t feel my face but the ride well and truly made up for it!

Disneyland Paris Tower of Terror

I had the tough decision between Dreams and Star Wars Galactic Celebration for the evening show I could see, but given that I’ve seen Dreams loads, I opted for Star Wars, after inhaling an Earl of Sandwich. Studios was practically empty, so I was really happy I decided to go as it was so much less stressful than trying to watch Dreams on a crowded Main Street. I loved the show – it felt a little disjointed at times but I was watching the French version so I may not have understood the flow. The graphics were awesome and I loved having the characters on stage as well for a little extra touch! It was also so much easier to extricate myself from the park at the end, rather than being herded like cattle out of DLP.

It’s been a really wonderful weekend, and I’m so happy I came out and got to see so many lovely people. Now to get another early-ish night before flying home in the morning and straight onto a late shift at work!

Disneyland Paris Day 1

Bonjour! Today has been such a long day, but it’s been worth it! I was up at 4.30am to get to the airport, and after minor delays to my flight, followed by waiting for the Magical Shuttle in -5C temperatures, I was finally on my way to the parks.

Disneyland Park Paris

Despite being early, my room was ready when I arrived at Newport Bay so I ran straight up to my room – which is beautiful and looks over the lake! – dumped my stuff and skipped into the parks, where quite promptly I bumped into Cara and the gang. They offered for me to hang out with them for a bit, but as soon as I found out that Mitch and, more importantly, Donald were in the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel, that’s exactly where I was headed.

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After some character meets and hanging out with friends, my stomach was growling due to lack of any form of lunch, so I headed back into the parks solo, got some food on Main Street and watched the Frozen Royal Welcome, before starting an epic trek of photo taking through the park.

Yes, those are icicles on Skull Rock. It is that cold.

Yes, those are icicles on Skull Rock. It is that cold.

I met back up with Mitch behind the castle for some outfit photos he promised to take for me, then we waited outside Auberge to see what princesses would come out, and hit the jackpot with Belle, Aurora and Cinderella and Charming, got photos with them and then nabbed a spot for Magic on Parade.

Parade was extra special, having not only Belle and human beast walking behind the princess float, but also Aladdin and Jasmine and Ariel and Eric! We were all totally amazed and excited and it made the whole day feel more magical. After the parade, Mitch and I run our little frozen feet over to meet Mickey before it closed.

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A quick dinner at Hakuna Matata, and my tiredness was really setting in, so I headed out of the park, and back to the hotel via World of Disney. Just gonna chill out for a little bit, then get an early night ready for a full park day tomorrow!

My DLP Weekend Bucket List

So SURPRISE! I’m going to Disneyland Paris this weekend!

Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant

It was all very spur of the moment; my friend Nancy from California is coming to Paris for a few weeks and she’ll be in the parks that weekend, so I’m so excited to get to see her as its been over a year! There’s also going to be a load of people I know in the parks over the same weekend, so it all kinda fell into place!

And while it’s just a short weekend visit, there are a few things that I’m hoping to do, and here they are:

  • Explore Newport Bay Club – I had every intention of saving money and staying at Santa Fe, but Disney couldn’t fit me in over my dates, so I sorta upgraded myself to Newport Bay.. I haven’t stayed there since I was a kid and its such a pretty hotel I can’t wait to be there!
  • Meet Moana – I just HAVE to meet this beautiful new princess!! Its no secret how much I fell in love with everything about the movie, and seeing her will be an absolute dream!
  • Enjoy Season of the Force – I’m really excited for all the Star Wars stuff that’s going on at the moment, including the Galactic Celebration show in Walt Disney Studios!
  • Outfit shoots – is it really a Disney trip if I haven’t planned outfits?! I’ve got two Disneybounds that I’m really looking forward to wearing and taking photos in the parks so I can feature them on here in the next few weeks.
  • Hanging out with beautiful people – as well as seeing Nancy, I can’t wait to hang out with some amazing people who I know will be around, like the beautiful Amy and Cara, and also the fabulous Mitch!
  • Playing with my camera and new lens – I’m using this trip as a way to test run my new telescopic lens for my Sony A5000 so I know its good enough to take to Florida with me next month!
  • Eating Mickey shaped food – cos if you don’t do that, are you even in Disney?
  • Ride Big Thunder Mountain – after its been closed FOREVVVEERRRR, BTM has finally reopened, and while I imagine the queues will be ridiculous, I’m hoping to be able to get to ride it once over the weekend!
  • Surround myself in magic – I’m just really looking forward to being back in the parks for a few days and having as much fun as I can!

Be sure to follow my Twitter and Instagram for live updates from my adventures!

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My February Park Bag

What's in my WDW park bag

I’ve never written a post about what I actually carry with me when I’m in the Disney parks, and seeing as I now have the most adorable new park bag – this pastel beauty of a backpack from Pack the Magic – I’m after any excuse to show it off! I usually carry a much bigger backpack, and find myself filling it with all sorts of rubbish that I never actually need or use, so I’m challenging myself to keep a more minimalist approach on my trip in February.

First off, I ALWAYS carry a notebook. This isn’t just a park thing, I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go, but on Disney trip I’ll have copies of all my booking references and timings in my notebook just in case, and its also handy in case I feel the need to jot anything down – blogger problems. Another absolute must is, of course, my camera. I’d normally have my SLR, but in the interest of keeping things light, I’m taking my new-ish Sony A5000 compact, for which I’ve ordered a telescopic lens for parade shooting. I’m finding it hard to get used to, what with preferring to use the viewfinder rather than display screen, but its a fab little camera and I look forward to playing with it more

Inside my magical backpack, you’ll also find my bag of pixie dust. This will have anything from makeup to painkillers and plasters, spare hairbands and suncream – whatever might be needed at a moment’s notice! I also like to keep my passport to hand, just in case I need any ID, as thanks to the wonders of Magic Bands, I don’t need to carry my purse at all, saving me the hassle and worry of losing it.

Finally, the last few bits of tech to keep the magic going! My powerbank can be a godsend should I ever be caught out without charge on my phone or camera, and I try to always remember a spare memory card just in case anything should happen to the other, or y’know, I fill it up with parade photos..

What’s in your park bag?

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Visiting Hobbiton

I can’t get over the fact that its been a whole 2 months since my trip to New Zealand! It was an incredibly special trip for many reasons, but one of the best things about NZ for me is that its the setting for one of my all time favourite stories, The Lord of the Rings. Better yet, staying with Matthew in Hamilton meant we were less than an hour’s drive from the most spectacular set from the movies: Hobbiton.

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

I’ve really struggled to choose photos for this post, I took so many – the set is beautiful! What you see hear is what was set up for the Hobbit movies; the original LotR Hobbiton set was stripped down at the end of the filming, leaving just white wooden fronts to the holes, but when it was rebuilt for the latest films, they decided to keep it in all its glory, and its maintained daily by a team of staff. All the vegetables in the patches are grown seasonally, with the exception of potatoes, so everything you see is real!

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

The only way you can visit the set is by an official tour, where you are guided around Hobbiton and bombarded with amazing facts about the films, and no little detail is missed. You can join one of these tours from three locations: The Shire’s Rest, which is at the entrance to the farm location, the information centre in Matamata, or from Rotorua. If you start your tour at The Shire’s Rest, there’s a great little cafe to feed hungry hobbits, and a fab gift shop full of souvenirs. The tours leave here most frequently, every half an hour, whereas its only every 45 minutes from Matamata, or twice a day from Rotorua.  The group sizes are around 20-30 people, but you definitely don’t feel crowded at all cos there is so much to see!

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

While it is a walking tour, you get the opportunity for a little rest with a visit to the Green Dragon – there’s even a drink included with your ticket! You can have a sit down in front of a real wood fire, befriend Pickles, the local cat, or you can even dress up like a hobbit for photos, should you wish.. All the drinks available (3 alcoholic and 1 non-alcoholic) are brewed specifically for the Inn, so there’s nowhere else in the world you can get them!

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour

And did you know you can get married here, while tours are going on, how crazy is that?!

Every Lord of the Rings fan needs to visit here, so if you’re ever in the area and in need of a brew of the brave and true, you know where you can get it from..

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DIY Travel Memory Frame

I’m a crazy sentimental person; I keep all kinds of silly things that remind me of certain places or days, and this is multiplied by a billion whenever I go on an amazing trip. These items will normally end up stuck to the fridge, or on a noticeboard, a great talking piece when people come round, but only occasionally glanced at the rest of the time, so when I came back from my recent trip to New Zealand, I knew I wanted a way of being able to keep the memories so that they didn’t end up as fridge fodder.

Taking inspiration from the lovely Kayley (@kayleymills89 on Twitter), I set about creating a shadow-box style collage of my trip!

DIY Travel shadow box fram

I used a Ribba frame from Ikea, but any deep photo frame would probably work. What goes in the frame is entirely up to you – they’re your memories! I’d already had some of the photos from the trip printed by Sticky9, and saved my boarding passes and tickets to places we’d visited, so I set about arranging these on the backboard of the frame and made sure I was happy with everything before sticking them down, then trimmed any overhanging bits.

DIY Travel memory box

Inside the frame, I stuck the little penguin USB stick that we got as part of our penguin experience, and added some confetti from my birthday present. I also bought a few stickers from Redbubble, and used the New Zealand silhouette sticker on the outside of the frame.

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Pop the backdrop into the frame, and voila!

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I’m so happy with how it turned out, and I definitely think I’m going to be making this a holiday tradition from now on! And if you love this idea but don’t fancy making it personal, check out Sammie’s Autumn inspired shadow box tutorial here!

How do you keep your holiday memories?

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Things to Do in Bournemouth in Autumn

Despite often classifying myself as a travel blogger, a person who writes about places, I’ve never actually written a post about my hometown.


Famous for its award-winning beach, Bournemouth is an obvious destination during the summer, but just because we’re waving goodbye to the days of dipping our toes in the sea and deciding its far too cold to go any deeper, it doesn’t mean we’ve gotta sit around twiddling our thumbs until the sun makes another warm appearance next year.

Molly’s Den

Molly’s Den is a cornucopia of hidden gems under one enormous roof. Its an antique shop, vintage fair, art gallery and furniture showroom all rolled into one, kinda like an awesome indoor flea market. With its cute little coffee shop and endless maze of stalls and stock, you can easily turn a trip here into at least a half-day’s entertainment.

The Big Smart Quiz at Sixty Million Postcards

Every Sunday evening, grab a bunch of know-it-all friends and head down to 60MPC for the Big Smart Quiz at 8pm. Get down there early to snag a good table, order amazing burgers and think of a witty team name, and you’re all set for an awesome chilled and sometimes super-tense night where you could walk away with a wad of cash if you win!

Visit the penguins

If you are still heading in the direction of the beach, stop off at Bournemouth Oceanarium to meet its newest residents, 10 Humboldt penguins who joined the oceanarium gang in 2015.

Take a trip to Moors Valley

Put on some wellies and wrap yourself up for a day of leaf crunching and tree-top-trailling! Pack a picnic or treat yourself to a hot meal from the cafe while you warm back up from your outdoor adventuring.

Go to the beach anyway!

Just cos its not 20C+, doesn’t mean the beach is any less beautiful, plus its a lot quieter! Ok, so you don’t have to strip down to a bikini and lay out on the sand, but its a pretty, peaceful walk and sea air is good for you!

Fancy a day out?

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Three Months of Long Distance

Full story here

Hobbiton selfie

Each time I write one of these posts, I’m a little amazed that a whole month has past since the last, and that’s kinda cool. This month has obviously been a little different from the previous two; its been the best and the worst.

When I say the best, I am, of course, talking about my trip to New Zealand. It was a whole week of being together – the most amount of time we’ve ever been together – and it was perfect. We spent the first few days in Auckland, where we visited the zoo and sealife centre, ate an amazing curry and had a great night out at this little comedy club, before driving down to Rotorua, which was unfortunately where my jet lag really kicked in, so we ended up spending a lot of time watching tv in bed while I napped! We did get to do the luge though, which was a lot of fun and we got to see some stunning views of the area.

After Rotorua, we drove to Hamilton via a jet-boating experience in Taupo, and I finally got to see where Matthew is living and working which was pretty cool. He had to fly one day, which meant I got to have a lazy day of writing, reading magazines in bed and watching funny daytime TV, but we had the evening together so we went to watch Secret Life of Pets and had a Nandos – NB: New Zealand Nandos is not as good as UK Nandos! Monday was Hobbiton day, which was really awesome and I’ll be doing a separate post on that soon, and then Tuesday we headed back to Auckland for a penguin experience at the sealife centre (AMAZING), then spent the day walking around the docks and finished up at the Sky Tower to watch the sunset before driving to the airport. I won’t go into the details of that, but it wasn’t easy to say goodbye.

Since getting home, we’ve had to get back into our previous routine, which has honestly been harder to adjust to than the first time. With weather issues slightly hindering his training, its going to be a little longer until Matt is home, and that’s been difficult for me to get my head around, but I can’t change that so instead I just have to keep looking forward.

From the other side of the world, training for Matthew is really ramping up as he prepares for his first progress test; he’s moving on from the basics to more complex flights, introducing more techniques and more detailed planning, and despite weather recently, NZ is heading into Spring/Summer, so it will be better soon, and the more flights he completes, the closer he is to coming home.

Here’s to the next month flying by!*

*All puns intended.

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China: Chengdu Panda Research Base

If you go to China and you don’t see pandas, did you even go?

Chengdu Panda Research Base

But while a lot of the major city zoos in China do have panda enclosures for you to see your favourite black and white fur-pals, if you want a truly incredible panda experience, Chengdu Research Base of Panda Breeding is where you need to be. The base is in the north-east of the city, and about a 20 minute (£5-6) taxi trip from the city centre – probably the easiest way to get there!

Chengdu Panda Research Base

Chengdu Panda Research Base

First things first (quite literally!), to get the best experience you need to arrive early – about 8am – as that’s when the pandas are most active, before the midday heat drives them indoors to sleep! Its often quieter then too, so its a win win.

Chengdu Panda Research Base

Chengdu Panda Research Base

As well as adult pandas, the base has a group of yearlings, which are really fun and cheeky, and love playing together, and two delivery houses: Sunshine and Moonlight. In the Sunshine Delivery House, you’re a pane of glass away from tiny newborns in their incubators, ranging from the teeny pink babies to those developing their fur. Its a walk-by set up, so you can’t just stand and look at them all day, but their asleep pretty much all the time so you’re not missing out on much action!

Chengdu Panda Research Base

Chengdu Panda Research Base

If you’re looking for adorable action, head over to the Moonlight Delivery House as this is where you can see the babies and mothers interacting together. I could have watched them for hours! This is best visited between about 9-10am; the keepers tend to clean out the indoor enclosures at this point but the cubs are still in there and they get really playful with the keepers! After the cleaning is over, the mummies are let back in and playtime continues until everyone’s so exhausted that its nap time again!

Chengdu Panda Research Base

While the classic black and whites steal most of the attention, there are also red pandas living and breeding in Chengdu. The delivery house was closed during our visit due to the number of expecting mothers needing privacy, but we could still do the walk-through of the red panda forest; they can be pretty hard to spot but they’re so cute!

Chengdu Panda Research Base

Chengdu Panda Research Base

And if you too want to make like a panda and have a rest away from the heat of the day, there’s Panda Cafe! This cute little setup involves comfy sofas and stuffed toys, and serves a multitude of cold and hot drinks, including smoothies and milkshakes.

Adult entry to the centre is 58RMB, which is about £8 – a total bargain and worth every penny!

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My Travel Confessions

I was born with the travel bug, and I’ve been super lucky to be able to indulge my wanderlust frequently ever since, so I’ve got almost 22 years of confessions to share with you lovely lot today, uh-oh!

SONY DSC

If I’m nervous about having to order in a different language in a proper restaurant, sometimes I’ll just find a McDonalds

I did this more than I care to mention on my European road trip, partially due to fast food cravings and cheaper meals for my tight budget, but mainly to save myself the embarrassment of cocking up an order in a language I’m barely proficient in

I also love hotel room picnics

This is something we’ve always done as a family; I have memories of us hitting up 7/11s or Walmarts and getting the weirdest selections of snack food known to mankind before going back to our hotel and pigging out while playing card games.

I rarely bother to learn the language

I’m the worst. I might learn hello and thank you, but really if I try any harder than that I just make a fool of myself

I don’t place my bags in the overhead compartment

I’m a strictly under the seat in front of me kinda gal. I’m not being difficult – it always fits – its just that if I’ve packed something in my hand luggage, 9/10 times its because I want to be able to have it with me for the journey, so what’s the point in putting it over my head, then annoying everyone around me to get it down?

I think four wheeled suitcases looking stupid

You know those ones that people wheel along next to them and it remains upright? I just think they look silly.

I go mad on a breakfast buffet

If a hotel has a buffet breakfast, I will get my money’s worth out of it. I’m talking 2/3 courses of breakfast..

I will never not be a little nervous going through airport security

I’m just terrified of a Bridget Jones moment where unbeknown to me I’ve been smuggling something illegal without realising it. I’m exaggerating of course, but I once had an incident with a forgotten pen knife and it was mortifying.

I can be a brand snob

Unless I’m really strapped for cash, I’ll generally choose a better known company over a smaller, cheaper equivalent – especially with flights! I know that a plane is a plane, but I’d rather pay a little bit more for Virgin or BA, instead of taking a chance on a budget flight.

Duty Free doesn’t bother me that much

I know loads of people who get so excited by the thought of shopping duty free at the airport, but I tend to just march through without so much as a second look, unless I’m looking for something specifically.

Do you want to confess anything?

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Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel

There is nothing that makes a Disney trip more special than staying in a Disney hotel, and Hong Kong’s Hollywood Hotel is pretty special!

It’s the lower budget of the two Disney hotels at Hong Kong Disneyland, with another currently under construction, but oh my gosh is it beautiful!

Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel

As the name suggests, the hotel is theme is old school Hollywood, from the art deco style of the building itself to the hotel reception and every other little detail from the piano shaped swimming pool and neons.

Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel

Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel

Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel

Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel

The hotel has two restaurants, Hollywood and Dime – a quick service style diner – and Chef Mickey, a huge buffet which the boss himself visits at breakfast, and there’s also the Studio Lounge bar which shows movies on a big screen in the evenings. There’s also, of course, a souvenir shop in the reception area!

The huge garden area is home to the outdoor pool complete with a slide for the little ones, and there’s a small playframe tucked away in the palm trees and greenery.

Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel

Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel

The Hollywood theme continues into the rooms – I love the wall art of Mickey and Minnie! – and the beds were so cosy! There’s a mini drinks area with a kettle and ice bucket (ice machines down the corridor!) and there’s an area for hanging clothes but no proper wardrobe, and depending on the side of the hotel your room is on, your view is absolutely stunning across the gardens and the bay!

The hotel has shuttle buses that run frequently to the park transportation centre, each one of which is decorated to reflect a ride or land in the park. Sometimes the buses are shared with the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, but they’re so close together that it doesn’t really take too long to get back from a day in the park!

Aren’t Disney beds always the comfiest?

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Haidilao Hot Pot Restaurant, Beijing

This is a fun little story.

So it was one of the first nights we were in China, and we were in Beijing with no idea what restaurants were near us, so we did what all good tourists do: we turned to Trip Advisor, and lo and behold, #4 on the top restaurant list was literally just down the road, so off we trotted.

We come to the shopping centre that the restaurant is listed in, and take the escalators up and up until we eventually found it on the eighth floor..

Beijing Haidilao Hot Pot

It looked good, but when we arrived there was no English menu available for us to look at, so we decided to just take a chance and we lead to a table with a giant hole in the middle.. The staff were really friendly, but there only seemed to be one person who could speak a little bit of English, so ordering was interesting, especially considering we still didn’t really seem to know what was going on!

Here’s the deal: that hole in the middle of the table is filled with a big bowl of a soupy-stock, split into two halves for two different flavours. We were advised which options were spicy, so we opted for the mildest two: tomato and mushroom. This bowl is heated through the table, and bubbles away in front of you.

Beijing Haidilao Hot Pot

Next up, you pick what you want to go into your stock. We did this purely from the pictures in the menu, choosing beef, prawns, glass noodles, spinach and other veggies, and these are then brought to your table raw for you to add to the stock of your choice to cook yourself!

Beijing Haidilao Hot Pot

Beijing Haidilao Hot Pot

That’s right, you’re totally in control over what’s bubbling away in the hot pot! Because its so hot, most things take less than 5 minutes to cook, and then you have the fun task of attempting to scoop it out into your bowl without pouring soup all over the table – which I did every time.. They clearly knew we’d make a mess as they brought us aprons to wear and hairbands!

Haidilao Hotpot

Haidilao Hot Pot

The whole experience seemed really daunting at first, especially with the stress of understanding what it was we were ordering, but it turned out to be so much fun and the food was delicious! And how much did the bill come to for all of us? £20.

Interested? Check out the listing on Trip Advisor here!

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Walt’s Cafe

On our first night in Hong Kong Disneyland, we decided to venture across to the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel for a little nose around and a spot of dinner, and we ended up in Walt’s Cafe.

Walt's Cafe

Like the hotel, Walt’s Cafe was incredibly classic in its styling, with wooden wall panelling and framed photos of Walt and his magical life on all the walls; it felt fancy and homely at the same time, like Walt could be sat at the table next to us. The waiting staff were so friendly and attentive, we were given stickers and our water glasses were never empty – we felt really looked after, it was lovely!

I ordered a sandwich – I can’t remember exactly what it was called, but I got to choose three fillings from a list of options! – and my mouth dropped when it arrived..

Walt's Cafe

Yes, those are double stacked sandwiches!! It was so delicious, but I could only manage about two of the monster sandwiches and a handful of chips before feeling ready to burst, and as we were determined to still order dessert, the best decision seemed to be to share!

Walt's Cafe

Yep, share the cutest dessert platter I’ve ever seen! Each of these little mousse type cakes was a different flavour: Pooh was mango, Mickey was chocolate and raspberry and Stitch was blueberry – yum yum yum! It was a really nice meal, and a definite must-do if you’re staying in the Disneyland Hotel, or have time to visit it!

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The Ultimate Six Park Comparison

I’m not gonna lie, the fact that I visited all six of the world’s Disney parks within a 13 month period is probably one of my greatest life achievements, and I’m fully aware of how lucky I am to be able to have visited them at all! That said, there is a question that comes with this achievement which I hate: ‘what’s your favourite park?’.

I hate picking favourites, end of, but this is one I will never ever be able to answer, because every park is different and there’s no way they can be judged on the same level, so instead I’m gonna break down the park pros and cons, and hopefully give a proper and fair analysis!

Disneyland, California

Disneyland California

  • Number of parks: 2
  • Park yays:
    • Compact area – its only about 100m between the two parks, with Downtown Disney right outside
    • Lots of nearby offsite hotels, and easily accessible on foot
    • Plenty of random character interaction opportunities
    • Large Downtown Disney area including branded stores like Sephora and Lego Store
    • While temperatures can vary, rain is very rare!
    • Current shows and parades include: Mickey and the Magical Map, Frozen the musical and Fantasy Faire, Soundsational Parade
    • Parades and nighttime shows in both parks
  • Park nays:
    • Not many direct transportation options from LAX
    • No dining plan
    • During off-peak times, some performances and parades get cut-back to weekends only
  • Why this park is special to me:
    • Disneyland was the first park I visited as an adult, so with the exception of vague early childhood images, all my first proper Disney memories were made in Disneyland. It also makes me so happy knowing that this was Walt’s park, and this is where he walked and where the whole Disney park legacy began.

Walt Disney World, Florida

Walt Disney World

  • Number of parks: 4 plus 2 water parks
  • Park yays:
    • The most advanced Disney parks, with features like Magic Bands, Fastpass+ and My Disney Experience
    • So many entertainment options – something for everyone!
    • Amazing transportation links, including Magical Express to airport
    • Dining plan is great value for money
    • Current shows and parades include: Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo the Musical, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasmic, Festival of Fantasy
    • So many resort options!
  • Park nays:
    • Parks can get really packed during busy periods
    • So many strollers..
  • Why this park is special to me:
    • WDW is the ultimate Disney experience. If you stay onsite, you are completely encased in the magic, and reality and problems disappear!

Tokyo Disneyland, Japan

Tokyo Disneyland

  • Number of parks: 2
  • Park yays:
    • Local guests are so polite and considerate
    • Hardly any strollers or scooters
    • So many unique areas (basically the whole of DisneySea!)
    • Best merchandise of any Disney park!
    • Designated train station for transportation into Tokyo
    • Everything is clean and well kept
    • Current shows and parades include: Happiness is Here, Electrical Parade Dreamlights, Fantasmic
    • No Downtown area, but has Ikspiari, a large shopping centre with restaurants and Disney Store
    • Monorail link between the two parks
    • Lots of rare character meeting opportunities
  • Park nays:
    • Not many cast members speak English, and most shows are done in Japanese
    • Rather than Extra Magic Hours, guests staying in Disney hotels only get to enter the parks 15 minutes before other guests
  • Why this park is special to me:
    • Tokyo was my first Eastern Disney park, and I was just blown away with how much I loved it. DisneySea is just such a unique park, definitely one of  my favourite parks of all time, and I live for the merchandise!

Disneyland Paris, France

Disneyland Paris Spring 2016

  • Number of parks: 2
  • Park yays:
    • Designated train station for links to airport and Eurostar
    • Good range of hotel options, both on and offsite
    • Current shows and parades include: Mickey and the Magician, Frozen Singalong, Disney Magic on Parade
    • Lots of seasonal events eg. Swing into Spring and Halloween
  • Park nays:
    • Guests don’t stick to designated smoking areas
    • Walt Disney Studios park doesn’t have as much going on as Disneyland
  • Why this park is special to me:
    • DLP is my local park, I’m an annual pass holder, and I’ve made so many recent memories here, including my 21st birthday and my first Disney trip without my family back in April. I think the park has come such a long way in recent years and I can’t wait to celebrate the 25th anniversary next year!

Hong Kong Disneyland

Hong Kong Disneyland

  • Number of parks: 1 (for now!)
  • Park yays:
    • Designated train station for easy access from the city
    • While still being fairly close to the city centre, the area feels very secluded
    • Most cast members speak English really well
    • Current shows and parades include: Paint the Night parade, Festival of the Lion King, Mickey and the Wondrous Book, Flights of Fantasy
    • Fun twists on classic rides
    • Depending on the time of year and day of the week, the park can be really empty!
  • Park nays:
    • No offsite hotels nearby
    • Local guests use umbrellas for shade, so it can be hard to watch parades
    • No Downtown Disney area
    • Fastpasses only available for a few rides
    • Merchandise was quite expensive compared to other Asian parks
  • Why this park is special to me:
    • Hong Kong was the last Disney park I visit on my six park adventure, and I fell in love with it. I love how similar the park is to Disneyland California; its so pretty and classic!

Shanghai Disneyland, China

Shanghai Disneyland castle

  • Number of parks: 1
  • Park yays:
    • So many incredible new rides
    • Located really close to Pudong Airport, and also has a designated station on the city’s underground tube system
    • Disneytown is ride next to the park, and you can use the second entrance at the end to re-enter the park by Tomorrowland
    • Current shows and parades include: Tarzan the musical, Mickey’s Storybook Express, Captain Jack Stunt Show Spectacular
    • Just the most beautiful castle!
  • Park nays:
    • Local guests aren’t very into queuing, and lots will push past
    • Quite a bit of rubbish around the parks
    • Queues for Fastpasses can be longer than queues for some rides at times!
    • Currently still very much in a trial stage, with some technical problems still occuring
  • Why this park is special for me:
    • Being able to visit a brand new park within a month of opening was so special for me, and the experience was totally magical.

Wow, I really struggled writing this; I hate finding negatives in things! I’ll probably come back to this a million times and change and add things when they spring to mind!

What do you love about the parks you’ve visited?

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An NZ Update!

Hello lovely people!

I’m super jet-lagged and it’s about 5.30am but I just wanted to check in to let anyone who’s interested know that I am safely in New Zealand, yay!

Yesterday, which I think is still English Wednesday when this gets posted, was my first full day and Matthew took me to Auckland Zoo – you know how much I love zoos!

We got to see all the usual suspects – meerkats, giraffes, penguins etc – but also were lucky enough to see one of the red pandas, and also catch a glimpse of a kiwi, and I loved every second of it!

I’m still needing to nap to cope with the tiredness, but after a quick afternoon snooze we went out for dinner at this amazing Indian restaurant, then went to a comedy club for the night which, with the exception of one of the comedians, had me in stitches the whole time!


Tomorrow we’ll be doing some more fun stuff in Auckland, then driving down to Rotoroa, and although I won’t be updating you day to day on this trip (but there’s plenty of other posts going up daily!), I’ll might drop another update in a few days time!

Now I’m gonna try and go back to sleep..

The Great Wall of China

One of the real highlights of my recent trip to China was definitely The Great Wall. This might sound a little cheesy or predictable, but prior to actually visiting The Wall, it didn’t really hold any interest for me; it was something that I kinda felt just had to be done, and I did not expect to be blown away by it.

But I was.

The Great Wall of China

If you’re staying in or around Beijing, there are a few different section of the walls nearby, but my sister had heard from a friend that the quieter and least tourist-y area was Mutianyu, so that’s where we headed. The easiest way to get there is to hire a driver with a car, which costs around 500 yuan, or £50, which can take up to four people; this may seem like a lot but its almost 2 hours drive away and you’ll appreciate the air-conditioning, plus there’s no having to wait for buses!

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

After buying tickets from the information office, shuttle buses which run every 10-20 minutes will take you some of the way up the mountain, where you then get two options for getting up to the wall. Option number 1: you can walk the series of steps and slopes up the steep mountain side, or option number 2: cable cars whizz you up! And once you’re on the wall, you’ll just be blown away..

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Wall runs as far as the eye can see, over the peak of the mountains and beyond. Some parts are flat while others are crazy steep, and I suddenly understood why its such a challenge when people walk the wall for charity!

 

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Mutianyu is one of the best preserved sections of the wall, and I would thoroughly recommend giving it a visit if you’re in the area. Plus, if you don’t fancy the cable car back down, you’ve got the option of a toboggan back down to the shuttle buses!

Is China on your travel bucket list?

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Not So Long Distance..

Read back on this story here


So you know how just over 2 months ago I was crazy enough to dive into a long distance relationship with a guy I’d only been on two dates with? Well that’s nothing compared to what I’ve done now..

Guys, I’m going to New Zealand. A week today.

Now I will admit that this wasn’t as spontaneous as I just made it sound; I booked the tickets a few weeks ago after weeks of pleading with my boss to give me the time off work, so it was a little bit orchestrated, but by my standards its way last minute! It will also be a relatively short trip (stupid work!) as despite being gone for 9 days, two days are lost in travelling, but a week is better than nothing, and I think if I had to go another two months my head might just explode! Eeeekk!

But a little closer to home, it really doesn’t feel like a whole month since I wrote the last instalment of this tale; the time has flown by!

As well as around 35 hours (yes, I did the math) of FaceTime and FaceTime audio – that’s just in the last month – we also had a cute little Whataspp movie date where we watched Mulan together, which was just something a little bit different and fun, plus its one of Matthew’s favourite Disney films!

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This month has been really difficult for me at times, but its been so much easier knowing that even from the other side of the world, Matthew is there for me through it all, and now I’m just so excited to be able to be there with him, even if just for a week.

Wish me luck guys!

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Things to Know Before Visiting China

If you’re planning a trip to China, here’s a pretty comprehensive guide of things you might want to know before you go!

The Great Wall of China

Visas

Like many countries, you need to obtain a visa before travelling to China. The process involves filling out a pretty detailed form and sending it off with your passport, or you can go direct to the Chinese Embassy in London. Once you’ve got your visa, you’ve got 90 days in which to enter the country, and the visa only covers you for 30 days once you’re there!

One thing you’ll need to have sorted before applying for your visa is accommodation for the entire duration of your trip; you have to have full details for your application, and if you don’t then you’ll get rejected!

Transportation

Most of the major cities within China – Beijing, Shanghai etc – have excellent subway systems, which cost pence compared to the London Underground. You can pay per journey by selecting your final destination, and your ticket covers any line changes you’ll need to make to get there, or you can top up a pass.

If you’re considering hiring a car for your trip, let me give you a piece of advice: DON’T. The roads are absolutely crazy, with every driver in it for themselves! Driving through red lights is totally normal, beeping is constant and lane markings are more like guidelines..

Compared to a lot of places, taxis in China are real cheap! While some cities require taxis to have a meter by law – guaranteeing fair charging – some places, like Beijing, don’t, and you’ll need to agree a price with your driver before travelling. DO NOT settle for the first price they give you, even if it does seem fairly reasonable – you can haggle prices right down!

Oh, and those 9 million bicycles in Beijing? Yeah most of them are motorised now, but that doesn’t stop them from riding up onto pavements or the wrong way down the street.

Toilets

Even in big tourist areas, most public toilets are not western; yes, you’ll need to squat over a hole in the ground. Some places may have one or two western cubicles, but often you won’t be provided with any toilet paper, so you’re best carrying plenty with you at all times just in case!

Social media and VPNs

Think you’ll be able to go without social media during your trip? Great, you won’t be able to get on it anyway! Chinese internet blocks pretty much all social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc – and anything Google based, to name a few things. You can get around this by pre-purchasing a VPN, which routes your signal through a different country, allowing these servers to work no problem, but actually going without for a little while is a nice break! Hong Kong, however, is totally fine!

Language

Do not expect everyone to speak English, or even always understand our letter symbols. Try and print out a few key phrases in proper Chinese characters, and any hotel addresses, as this will save you a lot of time and confusion!

General tourist stuff!

  • A lot of tourist attractions discounted entry for students, so if you have student ID then its worth asking!
  • Queuing is not done very well – there will be people pushing in!
  • Umbrellas are used to protect from sun as well as rain, so everyone carries them pretty much everywhere
  • Selfie sticks are also everywhere!
  • Some places, including some tube stations, require security bag checks on entry – not unlike going through airport security!
  • Tourists can be a novelty for some, so you might find you’re approached and asked for selfies and photos! Some people don’t even ask though, I had my picture taken slyly on trains and in the street..

China is such a fascinating place, would you ever visit?

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Hong Kong Disneyland – Day 1!

I am so happy today guys! Not only am I in Hong Kong Disneyland, but I’ve finally completed one of my biggest bucket list moments – visiting all of the Disney parks around the world – and I’ve done them all in the last 13 months!

Hong Kong Disneyland

Hong Kong Disneyland is beautiful too! While it may be the smallest park, it is so pretty; it’s very much like Disneyland California in style and appearance, complete with baby Sleeping Beauty castle at the end of Main Street. It’s also so quiet!!

We got into the park just before opening at 10, and were able to see the rope drop by the castle, before going straight to Tomorrowland for Hyperspace Mountain – hello 5 minute wait! From there, we literally walked onto Buzz, then went back down Main Street for a Mickey waffle kinda breakfast.

Mickey waffle

Tummies full, it probably wasn’t the most sensible idea to go straight to Grizzly Gulch for the Mine Train – a slightly more extreme Big Thunder Mountain – but it was a 5 minute wait so we did it anyway! You’re probably getting a sense of how quiet it is now..

With Mum feeling a little delicate after waffles and rollercoaster, we took a quite walk through Toy Story Land and Fantasyland on our way to the Storybook Theater for the first performance of Mickey and the Wondrous Book. I was hoping for something spectacular, and I was so happy with it! It was like a cross of Mickey and the Magical Map (Cali), Forest of Enchantment (DLP) and had a very small amount of Frozen, making it just the right balance of everything! I love all Disney shows, but that was definitely a top contender!

Mickey and the Wondrous Book

Next stop was Its a Small World – a ride that was lacking from Shanghai, and by the time we came off that, it was time to make our way back to the castle for the 10th anniversary show. It was basically a marching band and Mickey and the gang having a little dance in front of the castle, but it was quite sweet. In desperate need for air con, we took a quick walk through some shops before heading to Festival of the Lion King in Adventureland. The show was a little different to its Florida counterpart, in that it was more of a narrative of the Lion King story, but it was still fabulous and the performers were amazing!

Hong Kong Disneyland 10th anniversary

Now coming up parade time, we shot across to the castle and hid in some shade for a little while, then found a spot for Flights of Fantasy! The parade actually uses the same music as Disneyland’s Soundsational parade, just with a few word changes, so I felt right and home! There must have been some minor malfunction as half way through all the floats stopped and they invited kids to dance with the performers, but it was up and running fairly soon. I’ve found parades both here and Shanghai tend to be a bit shorter than the Western ones, which is a shame because I love parades, but they’re definitely no less spectacular!

Cooking a little, we caught the train from Fantasyland back to Main Street – incidentally the longest queue we’ve been in all day – and ended up in Animation Academy to learn how to draw BB-8. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t very good at it. Having not eaten lunch, we were pretty hungry now, and looking at the map, Royal Banquet Hall seemed like an excellent choice. It had everything from burgers and pizza to sushi and dim-sum, so of course I had a bit of both!

Mystic Manorimage

From dinner, we did Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, then Jungle Cruise and Mystic Manor all in fairly quick succession, and then another galactic mission with Buzz. We also headed over to Star Wars Command Post with the hopes of seeing Chewbacca, but it wasn’t his meeting time so instead we went back to Fantasyland to watch Philharmagic to kill some time before finding a spot to camp out for Paint the Night.

After loving PtN in California back in January, I was so excited for this, and as soon as it began I felt the magic of it. Again, it was a little shorter than its American cousin, but no less fun and spectacular – although sitting on the ground to watch it felt like being stone baked! With not long to the fireworks, we stayed on Main Street and tried to chill out; it’s hard to do in 30C heat.

The fireworks were fairly short and sweet, but I really enjoyed the tribute to Mulan; Shanghai didn’t seem to acknowledge their national princess much so I was happy to see Hong Kong making an effort! I am now totally pooped, and ready for a good nights sleep before tomorrow’s adventure!

I’m blogging from China!

Well hey there, you lovely lot! Have you missed me?

Of course you haven’t, because I made sure there’s been plenty of other stuff for you to read while I’m away, but I just thought I’d check in and let you all know I’m still alive!

Due to the strict Internet restrictions in China, I’m not able to get onto Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, but luckily I don’t seem to have any issues with WordPress so, while I’m gonna keep it short and sweet, I’m just gonna share a few photos of the places I’ve visited so far!

I’m currently in Beijing, and so far have visited..

The Forbidden City!

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

Tian’Anmen Square!

Tian'Anmen Square

Eaten crazy but amazing local food!

Haidilou Hotpot restaurant

The Great Wall of China!

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China

Summer Palace Gardens!

Beijing Summer Palace

Beijing Summer Palace

Safe to say, there’s been a lot of walking!

I’m so excited to share more details of some of these amazing places with you when I get home, but that’s all for now folks! Hopefully I’ll be checking in with you next from Shanghai Disneyland!!

Lottie 🙂

Tokyo Disney Throwback

Exactly one year ago to the day, I stepped foot in Tokyo Disneyland for the first time. You can read my trip diary here, but today I thought it would be fun to share some of my unseen photos!

Tokyo Disneyland Station

There’s a slight upset among some Disney fans because Tokyo Disneyland doesn’t have a classic Main Street USA when you enter the park, replaced instead with the World Bazaar. The World Bazaar is a lot like Main Street in a lot of ways, just covered with a kind of greenhouse roof, and decorated with lanterns and flags.

Tokyo Disneyland balloons

Tokyo Disneyland World Bazaar

It does make the walk down towards the castle feel a little longer, and take a little bit of the focus away from the beautiful Cinderella castle, but its so interesting to walk through something a little different from Main Street USA

Tokyo Disneyland

First thing in the morning, you’ll get to meet quite the collection of characters at the end of the World Bazaar. My favourites by far were Bernard and Bianca from The Rescuers – so tiny and adorable! I’ve never liked Gideon and Honest John that much, but they seemed to like my camera!

Tokyo Disneyland Partner Statue

I just love statues in Disney parks, don’t you?

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo DisneySea is a park like no other – quite possibly one of my favourite Disney parks of all time! It is totally unique and packed with amazing attractions and the most perfect tiny details, and I could walk around there all day without going on a single ride and still feel amazed by everything.

Tokyo DisneySea Tower of Terror

Unlike its Western cousins, the Tower of Terror in DisneySea isn’t sponsored by The Twilight Zone, and therefore has its own unique design and the story behind the ride is different – no spoilers, but its still as scary!

Tokyo DisneySea

There’s also a full-sized cruise ship docked in the park!

Tokyo DisneySea

If you’re a little mermaid fan, you HAVE to visit DisneySea just for Mermaid Lagoon. From the outside, you see the beautiful underwater city of Atlantica, just as it appears in the movie, but once you enter and journey under the sea (yes, you really go down!) you can play among the fishes til your heart’s content! Its a great place to avoid summer heat!

Tokyo DisneySea

You should also watch out for street rats in Arabian Coast – a practically perfect replica of Agrabah!

Tokyo DisneySea

Hmm.. I wonder where the imagineers got inspiration for this one..

Tokyo Disneyland Hotel

And I’ll just leave you with this absolutely stunning sunset over the Tokyo Disneyland Hotel!

I’ve got all sorts of Tokyo Disney posts, from trip tips to dining reviews, be sure to check them out here °o°

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China Trip Itinerary!

Well guys, today I’m getting on a plane and starting another crazy adventure, and because I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to update you on the trip while I’m away, I just thought I’d share a rough little plan of where we’ll be and when!


So tonight we fly out, and this is where we go from here:

July 11th – Arrive in Hong Kong, then catch another flight into Beijing

July 12-15th – Exploring Beijing and surrounding areas, before getting a train to Shanghai

July 16-18th – SHANGHAI DISNEYLAND OMGGGGG!!! Then we fly to Chengdu

July 19-22nd – Exploring Chengdu – which will involve lots of pandas! – before flying back to Hong Kong

July 23-26th – We’ll be staying in Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel for the duration of our time in Hong Kong, but probably only do two days in the park, and then get the train into the city on the other days. We leave Hong Kong on the 26th, and after a 12 hour flight, arrive back in the UK only six hours later!

And then I’ll be back!

I’m hoping to be able to post my Disney diaries live, but I don’t know how reliable the internet will be in some parts of China, so if I don’t manage it you’ll hear all about it when I get back! I’ve got content scheduled for while I’m away, so there’ll be plenty for you to read in the meantime!

Smell ya later England!

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Hotel AmicitiA

I’m dipping into my travel archives a little bit to recommend a truly unique experience for anyone looking to do Amsterdam on a budget!

If the thought of a regular hostel doesn’t quite float your boat, then the answer is simple: float on a boat at Hotel AmicitiA! Permanently docked right in the city centre, this hotel on water is the ideal location for tourists looking to cram as much of ‘Dam’s sights and culture in as possible, while also being part of the culture itself!

Hotel AmicitiA

The boat has two decks; the upper deck being a communal area with a few kitchen-y bits like a microwave and cutlery, and also a stocked fridge of drinks that has an honesty-box style donation pot. Its cosy and a great place to spend evenings playing games or utilising the free wifi. I spent a rainy afternoon curled up in an armchair, reading, writing and watching the world go by; I had the whole place to myself and it was perfect! There’s also a few toilets and access to the outside deck.

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The rooms make up the lower deck of the boat, accessible only by a very narrow flight of stairs – worth bearing in mind if you have large suitcases! Each cabin sleeps two people in built-in bunk beds, and also has a little sink and a bit of storage. They’re small, but if you’re spending all your time in your cabin then I think you’re doing something wrong, ha! At the end of the corridor, there are showers and toilets; they’re pretty small and the water pressure was a bit dodgy at times, but they do the job.

The hotel has a slightly unusual set-up when it comes to staff; for the duration of the day, there’s no staff aboard, and access to the boat is by a door code, with room keys left out on the desk in named envelopes. If you have any problems, there’s a contact number – I actually had to call it as I was having a problem with the door code and they were really helpful! The owner is around in the morning for breakfast, which is a Dutch/continental style buffet, and this is when you can sort out payment (cash only!) and checking out.

Overall Pros:

  • Great city centre location – right outside NEMO
  • Nearby underground public car park – I think I paid about €12.50 for 24 hours
  • A short walk from the train station and ferry terminal
  • Super rustic and full of character
  • Great for backpackers
  • Facilities like free wifi, microwave

Overall Cons:

  • Not really suitable for families
  • All bunk beds
  • No staff around during the day
  • Showers were a tad unreliable
  • Not ideal if you can’t stand swaying a little while trying to sleep!

I honestly loved this hotel; I know there were a few flaws but I had such a lovely relaxed time on the boat that I really didn’t mind the dodgy showers and small cabin. It was just such a unique and fun experience, and I would 100% recommend it to backpackers and budget travellers!

Would you sleep on a boat?

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Long Distance Travel Must-Haves!

Its less than 10 days now until I leave for my trip to China, and being the uber-organised person that I am, I’m practically packed already!

Yes, I know it sounds a bit crazy, but getting stuff together early highlights any issues – clothes that need washing, discovering something has a hole in it etc – so you don’t have to rush around the night before your flight!

I’m also a bit of a packing pro; having been lucky enough for travelling to always be a big part of my life, I’ve learnt from many mistakes and gained a lot of wisdom over the years, and I’ve found especially for long distance holidays, there’s always a few key things that make the cut for every trip.

Long Distance Travel Must Haves

A super comfy romper

If I know I’ll be boarding a long haul flight, this is an absolute must. I can be a real fidget on flight, especially when I’m trying to sleep, so not having to worry about pulling things up, down and round while I move is ideal, and wearing something a bit baggy means I don’t overheat or freeze. Also, whether its a playsuit or a jumpsuit, you’ll generally find it pretty easy to adapt to difference climates depending on where you’re jetting off to!

This year, I’m wearing this Stitch & Pieces beauty!

Sunglasses

Would you believe that until 2014, I never ever wore sunglasses.. Four-eyes problems right? I finally decided to spring for a pair of nice prescription Ray-Bans for a trip to Florida, and its probably the best decision I ever made; I mean, its easy to pick up a pair of sunglasses anywhere, but not so easy if you’re blind as a bat like I am! Even if you’re unsure on the weather where you’re headed, it can’t hurt to be prepared!

Basic First Aid and Personal Products

We’ve all got our preferences when it comes to this sort of thing, so I’m not gonna give you a full run down on what I bring, but its always worth bringing your essentials, should you need them for any reason – painkillers, antihistamines, creams etc – and although they’re not hard to find in local pharmacies, I always bring plasters and blister plasters.

Girls, also don’t forget to do your period maths before your trip; I know we don’t like to think about it, but what’s worse: having to pack a handful of tampons or being caught out abroad?

Socks

This is something that I’ve learnt from my dad: you can never have too many pairs of socks. My sister and I used to resist this, but as we’ve got older and wiser, we’ve realised he really does know best! Yes, I know sometimes sandals and flip flops seem like the best footwear, but comfortable shoes and socks will always win out – I’m a Converse All-Star kinda gal!

Hairbands

Waist-length hair does not always travel well! Generally I’ll always have a hairband on my wrist, with about a million more in my suitcase, including scrunchies and headbands, so that I can get my hair out of my face for travelling, and also keep it under control should the climate be against it!

Is there anything you can’t travel without?

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More Disney Plans!

I very much doubt that me announcing more Disney trips is much of a shock to my regular readers anymore, but I just love sharing my plans with everyone!

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Now I’ve already shared my big plans for this year, including Shanghai, Hong Kong and Disneyland Paris, and with this year already packed with magic, I’m now starting to sort my 2017 adventures!

Brace yourselves.

I have already booked Walt Disney World for February with the lovely Sarah from Belle’s Moments, eek! We’re going to be staying at Port Orleans Riverside for 10 days to coincide with the Princess Half Marathon weekend, where I’m hoping to be doing the Glass Slipper Challenge – 10K Saturday and half marathon Sunday! I say hoping because race registration doesn’t actually open until next month, which is actually when I’ll be in China so fingers crossed I can get it sorted ok! So that’s one trip down..

Keeping on the race theme, in May I’m hoping to be able to go out to Disneyland for the Tinkerbell Half weekend, so that I can run the Pixie Dust challenge, and also qualify for my Pink Coast to Coast medal – fingers crossed that stays on into 2017! Right now nothing for this trip is planned; my parents might join me but it all depends on their plans for the year, but I’d love to go out for a week and maybe do Universal Studios out in LA too!

That’s it, right? NOPE

Hello September, hello Disney Cruise Line booking! Once again I’ve booked with Sarah for the 7 night Mediterranean trip, and what’s even more exciting than going with her is that another one of my absolute favourite people is booked on the same cruise with her family, so its going to be the most fun! I have done a cruise before, but not a Disney cruise and I think there’s gonna be a stark comparison between my previous cruise memories and this one! Sarah is a Disney cruise pro, so I’m hoping she’s going to show me the ropes, and I’m really interested in all of the stops we’ll be making on the way!

Three big trips, yay!

I also have my Disneyland Paris annual pass now, so I’m hoping to visit there a few more times this year and next, including the Halloween Soiree this year!

EEEEEKKK °o°

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Disney-bound again!

Its been a while since I’ve done a chatty post, and all of a sudden I realised that I haven’t really told you lovely lot about the fact that this summer..

WE’RE GOING TO SHANGHAI AND HONG KONG DISNEYLAND!!

Little Green Men Mochi from Tokyo DisneySea

Little Green Men Mochi from Tokyo DisneySea

Those of you who follow my Disney antics a lot will know that this means I will have completed one of my life goals of visiting every Disney park, and I’ll actually have done all of them within the space of 13 months which is pretty incredible!

So we’ll be out there for two weeks, spending 2-3 days in Shanghai Disneyland (hopefully onsite!), as well as visiting some of the amazing sites of China, then finishing up with 2-3 days in Hong Kong Disneyland before flying home. My sister is currently travelling out in Asia (and taking after her little sister by blogging it), and our trip is coinciding with the end of her adventure, so she’ll meet us out there and fly home with us.

Shanghai will have been open for about a month when we get there, so hopefully they’ll have sorted any issues that they might find by then, although it’ll still obviously be PACKED with people, which is why we’ll be spending a few days there even though its only one park. I am SO excited to see that beautiful castle!

It’s going to be incredible and I can’t wait to share it with you all!

On another exciting note, at the end of April I’m going on a semi-spontaneous trip to Disneyland Paris!

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I’ve been wanting to visit DLP for Spring for a while now as everyone always talks about how much fun and how pretty it all is, and I definitely didn’t want to miss out on Forest of Enchantment, so when I realised how many of my lovely Disney friends are all going to be out there in the same week, I suddenly found myself booking the Eurostar..

I’m going out on the evening of the 27th, and staying at Santa Fe with a few of my Disney girls who arrive the day before me. Originally we were going to stay offsite at the Kyriad, but with Ellie’s AP discount, it wasn’t much difference to stay at Santa Fe so we thought why not! As well as Swing into Spring, I’m also really excited to buy an annual pass as Ellie is going to sponsor me, and I can’t wait to see so many of the lovely people who are going to be out there with me!

Have you got any Disney trips coming up? °o°

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RunDisney 2016: The Final Checks

We leave tomorrow. WE LEAVE TOMORROW.

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In 4 days time we’ll have finished our first race, 6 until our second. This time next week we’ll be celebrating the end of the first week at the Cool Down Party. ISN’T IT CRAZY?!

I wrote my first RunDisney post on January 28th 2015, and since then I’ve written 38 training updates, and it all comes down to the next two weeks. This is insane. Can you tell I’m excited?

This week was for tapering, the word that most runners simultaneously love and hate; the cutting down of training run distances to prepare your body for an upcoming race. As per usual, we ran three times this week: a 5k, a 7k, and another 5k, which we did today. The next time we run will be in Florida!

So we’re all packed, or at least I am at this stage in the day. Four running costumes, plus spares, and one pair of running shoes, because I only trust one pair of my shoes at the moment! I’ve got a roll of Dynamic Tape and spray for my knee, Dad’s stocked us up with painkiller gels galore, and of course I’ve packed probably too many pairs of Mickey ears, which means I must be ready!

Tomorrow is going to be crazy long, starting at 5am UK time with a 4 hour coach journey, a 9 hour flight and finishing in EST, so we will be categorically pooped by the end of it all, but I’ll be in Disney World and it will be 100% worth it.

If you didn’t catch it yesterday, you can read our itinerary here to see what we’ll be getting up to, and I’ll be live blogging every day! You can also keep up via Twitter, Instagram and I’ll be streaming some of our trip on Periscope, so be sure to follow me @lottiedoesdisney!

Are you ready for the fun to start? I AM

°o°

My Disney Trip Itinerary!

You know who I love? Disney lovers.

My Disney friends just get me; instead of the classic ‘you’re going to Disney again!?’ that I get from my colleagues and non-Disney friends, whenever I’m getting ready for a trip, I know I’ve got a team of people that are just as excited for what I’m going to get up to as I am, and that always makes me so happy.

If you’re one of these people, you’re awesome.

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So given that I leave on Monday, I just thought I’d share our rough plan for our trip:

Monday 4th – arrive in Orlando, check into Port Orleans French Quarter. It’ll be quite late and we’ll be exhausted, so probably dinner and bed, maybe a quick trip to Disney Springs!

Tuesday 5th – Magic Kingdom day, starting with the Keys to the Kingdom tour, and ending with dinner at California Grill.

Wednesday 6th – Animal Kingdom, then over to ESPN Wide World of Sports for the Run Disney Expo where we’ll be picking up all our race packs, eek!

Thursday 7th – RunDisney WDW 5K at 6am, followed by a day in Epcot with lunch at Teppan Edo

Friday 8th – Hollywood Studios, and an early night..

Saturday 9th – RunDisney WDW half marathon at 5.30am, yikes! We’ll be recovering with lunch at Beaches and Cream, then heading into the Magic Kingdom to celebrate our first week of races being over!

Sunday 10th – start the day with a recovery swim, then spend some time in Disney Springs for the Run Disney Cool Down Party. We’re gonna need some down time!

Monday 11th – after a day of rest, Monday we’ll be attempting the Four Park Challenge, wrapping up with a Fastpass for Illuminations at Epcot!

Tuesday 12th – a bit of Epcot in the morning, and over to Hollywood Studios for the afternoon, finishing with Fantasmic!

Wednesday 13th – we’ll be saying goodbye to WDW in the Magic Kingdom, before we head to the airport for our flight to LAX. We’ll be arriving pretty late again, and checking into the Paradise Pier hotel in Disneyland.

Thursday 14th – we’ve got to go to the RunDisney expo to pick up our race packs and park tickets before we go into Disneyland!

Friday 15th – breakfast on Main Street USA, then we might hop across to California Adventure.

Saturday 16th – RunDisney Star Wars 10k first thing, then more park time!

Sunday 17th – RunDisney Star Wars half marathon, and we’re done with all our running, YAY! The rest of the day will probably be spent in California Adventure, and I’m hoping we can meet up with my lovely friend Nancy in the park! To end our trip, we’ve got a dinner booking at Ariel’s Grotto and preferential seating for the World of Color show!

Monday 18th – as we’ve only got a 4 day park ticket, today will be for outlet shopping and hitting up Walmart before our flight home in the evening, then Tuesday we’ll be back on British soil..

  I’M SO EXCITED!!!

I’ll be live posting the whole trip, hopefully everyday, and don’t forget to keep up with me on Twitter (@lottiedoesblog) and Instagram (@lottiedoesdisney)! I’ll also be trying my hand at Periscope (@lottiedoesdisney), so give me a follow for our live streams!

°o°

Top Tips for Road Trips

When I was planning for my European road trip, I thought I’d check Google for top tips to see what handy advice the internet would give me, so I was massively disappointed when the top results were massively wishy-washy, so much so that I can’t even remember half of these ‘great’ tips. So having done it all for myself, today I’m sharing some advice that could help you, whether you’re travelling alone or with company.

1. Spring for public car parks

In some places, public car parks can be stupidly expensive, but depending on whereabouts you are, and if like I did you’re leaving valuables in your car while you’re off exploring, its definitely worth paying a little extra for the protection of a ‘proper’ car park, rather than a dodgy little side street.

2. Split your money up

Its a good idea to have your cash in a few different places; you never know if you might lose your bag, or worse.. I had the majority of my money in cash for my trip, and while I did also have a credit card, I didn’t like to use it! I actually kept my money split in pockets in my notebook, to keep my tight budget, and only put what was needed into my purse for each day. I also kept a separate little coin purse in my car to pay for parking and any tolls along the way.

3. Pack food and drink, and take advantage of ‘free’ meals

No road trip is complete without snacks, but if you’ve got some long drives ahead, its handy to keep a little more than the usual amount, especially to save the cost of pricey service station food! If you’re staying somewhere that offers included meals, like breakfast, be sure to take full advantage and load up!

4. Know and set petrol limits

If you don’t know already, find out how far your car goes on a tank of petrol. Ignore the supposed miles per gallon, because so many variables can affect that, go out and do a proper test. For example, I found out that one bar on my fuel gauge would last me around 50 miles, or an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how I was driving. Once you know that, set yourself a limit on when to refill. After one worrying night drive where I was running seriously low with no petrol stations nearby, I always filled up when I dropped to 1/4 of a tank to be safe!

5. Prepare for tolls, or plan around them

There are more toll stations than you might think out there, and they all add up! I was lucky enough that my road atlas had toll roads marked, and my satnav also knew where they were, so I could choose a route without them, but be warned, avoiding toll roads can make your journey a lot longer!

6. Get breakdown cover

Its pretty self-explanatory; you don’t want to be caught out at any time, let alone in a foreign place where you don’t speak the language. Lots of companies offer cover to suit the duration of your trip.

7. Know your own limits

Personally, I found driving long distances a lot easier than I thought I would, especially given a lack of experience, but I still had my limits. Try and avoid the mentality of ‘I’m sure I can drive through the night’ or ‘once I’m behind the wheel I’ll wake up a bit’, because the fact is you’re only human, and there’s nothing wrong with needing a break.

8. Embrace the unknown

Turning down a wrong street will not mean you’re going to disappear off the face of the earth. Getting lost is all part of the adventure, just stay calm, get your bearings, and have fun!

9. Know your speeds

Wherever you are, make sure you know the speed limits, and be wary of any speed cameras that might be hidden. Also double check whether limits are in mph or km/h, and be straight on the conversions!

10. Fully prep your car

Get it serviced, pack spare oil, bulbs, a petrol can etc, and be sure to check if there are any legal requirements where you’re going. For example, for most of Western Europe you have to be carrying a safety triangle, breathalysers, a high vis jacket, and headlamp deflectors for relevant cars. It also helps to have a torch, blanket and first aid kit!

I hope these few nuggets of wisdom can help a few of you have an equally amazing road trip as the one I had, and if you haven’t read all about my trip, check it out here!

xo

Disneyland Paris: Blue Lagoon Restaurant

In any Disney park, Pirates of the Caribbean is a classic ride, and in the Disneylands (California, Tokyo and Paris), if you look out on your journey round the waters, you’ll find yourself in the middle of someone else’s dining experience!

And what an experience it is; you’ve gotta eat here!

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We had a reservation for dinner on my birthday at 5pm, so it was before the main dinner rush and we almost had the place to ourselves. It has such atmosphere: the low lighting, boats floating by, a slight buzz in the air..

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And the food? Well I think it was the best meal I had in DLP!

Because of the dining plan we were on, we had a set menu to choose from. I skipped my starter (because I was still a little full from lunch!) and went straight for the main of Colombo Chicken, which was beautiful!

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The chicken was perfectly cooked, with crispy coconut flakes that added a fab crunch, and the sauce was smooth, creamy, and not too spicy, which for me is ideal. It was served with a mound of rice that complimented it really well, and the portion size was great.

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Dessert was a show in itself; creme brulee that the server lit in front of us to toast the top layer of sugar and wow, wow, wow was it yummy!

If you’re looking for a great place to eat on your next trip, this is the place to go!

°o°

Booking Sites and Me

You’ve all seen the adverts; the web is now saturated with sites offering you the best of the best deals when booking hotels, from fancy to bargain basement!

When I started planning my Europe trip, one in particular stood out for me, and that was Booking.com. The ad shows people becoming more and more awesome having booked their hotels through the site. Booking.com? Booking.YEAh! Well I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

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Because my trip was going to be super flexible, I started by only booking my first night in France. I entered where I was going, and let the site take me from there; it ranked the search options by popularity, made suggestions on nearby places that might be cheaper, and had detailed information on each hotel from parking to check out times. I was genuinely amazed with how easy it was, and best for me was that I was getting great prices. There are daily deals, no booking fees, and with most places, you don’t pay a penny until you check in! Cancellation fees vary, but its normally free to cancel your reservation, so long as you do it in a timely manner.

I booked the majority of my hotels through Booking.com, but because its such a popular site, some places book up really quick, and where I was booking mainly last minute, in one or two places there was nowhere in my price range, so I had to look elsewhere.

Booking.com made my travels really straight-foward, and the app was just as easy as doing it online!

When I did have to look elsewhere, I turned to hotelscombined.co.uk. This site compares all the travel comparison sites, including Booking.com, Trivago, Lastminute.com etc, as well as hotel groups like Best Western and Marriott. Once you put in your travel details, it not only brings up all the available hotels, but also all the prices from all the sites, highlighting the best deal. Once you’ve chosen the deal, it directs you to the site offering the deal, and you book through them. In a few cases, it told me Booking.com had the best deals, so I went back to them.

One thing I will say about Hotels Combined is that sometimes it took me to foreign booking sites, which were obviously in a different language, and I didn’t feel comfortable booking through them, so at times I decided to pay a little extra to book through a more familiar site.

So that’s how I booked all my hotels on my trip, and I must have done something right, because I didn’t pay more than €60 to stay anywhere! Sure, I did stay in some cheapy little places, but some places were really great value for money, and honestly, if there was a bed and a hot shower, I was pretty content!

Do you have any favourite booking sites?

Travelling Solo

The most common questions I’ve had when people have asked about my recent European road trip are all to do with the fact that I did it by myself. There have been a lot of ‘weren’t you scared?’ and ‘didn’t you get lonely?’ and ‘but you didn’t really do it all by yourself, did you?’, so today I just want to talk a little bit about what it was really like.

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Firstly, with the exception of my birthday weekend in Disneyland Paris, and my last day, yes, I was 100% unaccompanied on my travels. I did all the planning and all the driving and all the adventuring by myself, and that was exactly how I had planned it. Not only was it about doing it for myself, but being alone also gave me so much more flexibility in terms of being able to go wherever I wanted and do whatever I wanted. It also meant I only had myself to worry about; if anything had gone wrong, I wouldn’t have to stress about the safety of another person, or have another person stressing around me to make things worse.

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Now it also meant I was a lot more efficient. I’m a fast walker, and don’t tend to hang around too much, so not having anyone around to slow me down resulted in me spending a lot less time on certain things: museums, general wandering around etc, so I found myself travelling through places a lot quicker than I had intended. When I had planned the trip, I thought I would easily be able to fill days just ambling around towns, taking in sights etc – which I could do in some places, but not everywhere – so I quickly had to change strategies, instead spending more time (and money) on museums and other attractions. I also had to change my own mindframe a little; slowing my walking pace, learning to enjoy sitting in cafes and keeping my brain a little busier at times.

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Yes, I did feel nervous and a little scared at times, but this always went away. I’m a hugely anxious person at the best of times, so rocking up to motels late at night or parking in side streets did have me a little worried, but for me it was a huge comfort having my car. Not only was it a home comfort having my own car instead of some rental, but it also meant that if for any reason I had felt unsafe anywhere, I could have just upped and moved onto the next place, and if something really awful had happened, I could have just driven home.

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Lonely? Sure, a little bit sometimes. It was especially bad the day or two after my family left, but I kept in contact with a lot of people while I was away; I texted my mum pretty much every day, and had Facebook and Whatsapp to keep up with friends in the evenings when I had wifi. The truth of the matter, though, is that I’m quite happy with just myself for company, and I knew that when I planned the trip. Generally, I kept my day packed with activities, then enjoyed peaceful evenings of reading and writing, or watching cheesy local television!

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As for the driving, it was actually considerably easier than I thought it would be. I maybe even enjoyed it! Before this trip I’d never driven more than maybe 2 hours in one go, yet I threw myself in at the deep end with 3+ hour drives most days. Car time pretty much meant singing along loudly to CDs and conversations with my satnav, while forever keeping a close eye on my petrol gauge! I could not have done the trip without a satnav, even though I did buy a regular atlas too, and the truth of the matter is that driving was probably when my brain was most pre-occupied, and I had some incredible views!

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But really the greatest part of doing this trip solo was the feeling of empowerment, not just during the trip, but also going back into real life. At times, I felt like I could do anything, and the cool thing was, I could! I changed my plans a few times, ate what I wanted, went where I wanted, even if at times it meant worrying about my budget a little. I found places I loved, sometimes completely by accident, and I could enjoy and appreciate them without needing the approval of others to do so.

Part of me still can’t believe I really did it, and I’m so proud of myself for it. (And I don’t feel silly about feeling proud of myself). I’ve come home with new found confidence, and a whole new perspective, and I would 100% recommend doing something like this to anyone, at least once in your life. You’ll discover the world, and discover yourself.

Adventure is out there!

xo

Friday Favourite Five – My Europe Highlights

Aaannd I’m back to regular scheduling!

I would say you’ve heard the end of my European adventures, but I’m afraid that’s just not true because I’ve got a few more related posts up my sleeve, and as its Friday.. Wanna hear my favourite moments of my trip? (I am, of course, leaving Disneyland Paris out of this)

1. Mont St Michel

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This was always going to be a big part of my trip; its no secret how much I love Tangled, and being on the real site that inspired the most beautiful fairytale kingdom was really magical for me.

2. Neuschwanstein Castle

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Another from the bucket list, I truly fell in love with this castle, and seeing it in all its beauty truly made a difficult day a lot easier. I’d love to go back and see the inside!

3. Geneva

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I really wasn’t expecting to be blown away by a city rather than a landmark on this trip, but I had an amazing day in Geneva, and while I don’t think my heart could cope with driving the city again, I’d 100% return for a city break.

4. Chateau de Chillon

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This beauty was another place that I was looking forward to on this trip, but as well as living up to expectations, I was really impressed with it as a tourist destination; the access and information provided made it well worth the trip.

5. Amicitia

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I know it seems silly to choose a hotel as a highlight, but staying on a real canal boat in Amsterdam was great. I loved curling up in the cosy common area, and despite the small cabin, it was a real experience!

Lottie Does Europe: There and Back Again

Well good readers, thus ends my grand adventure in the great wide somewhere. This post is coming to you from somewhere along the journey home; my dad came out to meet me in Amsterdam this morning, so he’s the one driving at the moment!

As the title might suggest, I’m really feeling a whole lot like Bilbo Baggins right now. I’ve been on a truly life changing adventure, there was even a dragon at one point, but I’m also really looking forward to coming home, and a bit of normality.

If you’d told the person I was a year ago that I’d make this trip, I probably would have laughed in your face. An adventure, sure, but two weeks completely by myself? Yeah right. I was the person that wouldn’t sit in a cafe or restaurant by myself, let alone go on a road trip through several different countries!

As for today, after Dad met me in the city we drove to a small town called Delft to have a little look around and grabbed some lunch before heading to the ferry. We were basically the last ones to get onto the ferry due to running a little late, but it meant no waiting around so that was a bonus really. The ferry journey was long, but it had an onboard cinema, so we went to watch Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and also The Martian, which took us pretty much up til we docked in Harwich, and now it’s just a case of back to Bournemouth!

No pictures today as its a late one and I’m using my phone data to post this, but normality resumes tomorrow, after I’ve had a bit of a lie in!
Really glad to be home 🙂

Lottie Does Europe: Canal Boats and Adventures

And I’m in Amsterdam!

After what I can only really describe as an ‘interesting’ night, I was all too happy to leave my hotel in Brussels nice and early to get on the road, and got into Amsterdam at around 11am. I’d done some research, and found a cheap 24hr stay underground car park that was fairly central to everything, as well as near my hotel, so headed there to leave my car and do the day on foot.

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First on the agenda was NEMO, the science centre. I’ve done my fair share of museums this trip, but I’ve been dying to find a science museum, I am my mother’s daughter after all! It was literally 2 minutes walk from the car park, and in that two minutes I also spotted my hotel, so I was really onto a winner. I would seem, however, that most of the schools and families in the area had had the same idea for their day, and the place was packed with noisy kids running around, but it was fab nonetheless. With 4 floors, I spent a good few hours walking around, trying the various experiments and activities; there was something for everyone from tots to teens to adults.

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Following that, I walked along the canal and stopped off for some lunch in a Starbucks (which isn’t a place I usually frequent, but it was cold and I needed a hot chocolate and a toastie) and stayed there a little while watching the boats in the canal. There seemed to be a few ‘hop on, hop off’ style canal boats going round, so I decided to go in search of one of these tours, heading for the main ferry terminal as my first stop. This, however, came to no avail, so I continued along the main stretch of water, towards the central bus and train station. Still no luck, so I kept walking.

Eventually, I realised I had been wandering the city for a few hours, seeing plenty of its beauty, but no closer to finding any of these tours. It was getting darker, there were ominous drops falling from the sky, and I wasn’t 100% sure where I was in relation to my hotel, so I decided it was probably time to start finding my way back. I went back to the car to get my things, and made my way back to the docks.

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Yes, the docks, because you see my hotel for the night is, in fact, a canal boat: AmicitiA. I have a little cabin on the lower deck, with bunk beds and a tiny porthole window, and the upper deck is a cosy common area, which I currently have to myself, watching the boats go by outside in the rain. I’m loving it, its going to be the perfect way to end my trip!

Lottie Does Europe: Waffles and Chocolate

Well that title can only mean one place, right? Yep, I’m in Belgium!

Wasn’t part of the original plan, but made more sense than doing an extra day in Germany so here I am! Well, it took me the best part of 5 1/2 hours to get here, if not longer; for the first time this trip I actually took a little break while driving, mainly cos I needed the toilet and I needed petrol, but I stopped for a cheeky snack as well before getting back on the road.

Traffic getting into Brussels was also a nightmare. Not only were these roads possibly the trickiest to navigate yet, they were rammed, and it took at least half an hour just to get into the city centre, so by the time I had found a place to park, which was getting close to 3pm, I was pretty stressed out, and there was only one thing that was gonna fix that: WAFFLES.

I had spotted what looked like a shopping area on my way to the carpark, so I headed in that direction, and bingo! A square full of little cafes serving hot waffles and ice-cream, but one particular place called to me as the mother of them all.. Haagen Dazs, offering a Belgian Waffle Dream – and it was just that!

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Waffle devoured, and I was ready to explore. The shop was on the corner of a huge arcade of luxury shops of all kinds; probably the only place in the world you’ll find a Chanel next to a chocolate shop. And the chocolate shops were everywhere, and pastry shops and all sorts of wonderful Belgian sweet treats, and I was in my element. I followed the path of these incredible smelling shops with their gorgeous window displays, watching the chefs prepare the products behind the counters, and snapping away as I went.

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 My exploring also lead me to an enormous square, with the most incredible and intricately decorated buildings all around, all shining with golden embellishment. I gathered from other tourists that one was the old town hall, and a few others were museums, while the rest just housed shops and restaurants. I was happy to just continue walking around the streets though, and that I did.

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I wandered and wandered until my little heart was content, and by that time I was basically a walking icicle. Yep, its still cold where I am! Given that I was loosing the feeling in my hands, I figured it was time to head inside for the night, and knowing that finding my hotel would probably be just as tricky as getting into the city, I retreated to the warmth of my car, and after a slight mission finding the place, I’m now back to regular body temperature in my hotel room!

Tomorrow is my last full day of the trip, crazy right?!

Lottie Does Europe: A Hanover Stop-over

The hotel I stayed at last night had the comfiest bedding. Like, I almost didn’t want to leave kind of comfy. Just wow.

But I did, and you know how I’ve said the last few days about it getting colder? Well this morning when I eventually left the cosy bed to leave Frankfurt, it was a chilly 3°C out. My drive to Hanover was, yet again, delayed somewhat by more motorway roadworks, and by the time I’d arrived, it had warmed up to a practically tropical 6°C; hello big coat!

I arrived at about 1pm, and with a growling stomach, so I was delighted to see a shining beacon of hope; a guarantee of good, reasonably priced food and one of my favourite places ever.. IKEA. I mean, it would be rude not to, right? Well I thought so, so lunch and a quick browse was on the cards.

Unfortunately, due to awful wi-fi at my last hotel, I hadn’t had a chance to look up anything to do with the rest of my day, so it was down to my trusty sat-nav to find me something. ‘Find Point of Interest’, ‘Near You’, ‘Tourist Attraction’, and hope for the best.. And it came up trumps: another zoo! I love zoos, so this being the second this trip really wasn’t a problem for me, plus it was only 15 minutes away from where I was, so hello zoo trip #2!

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This zoo was a little smaller, but more efficient; it probably had more animals than Mulhouse, but not as spread out, and the map came with a marked route to take so you didn’t miss anything out. It was a really well themed zoo too: each area was set up to look like the country of origin – Africa, Australia, India etc. This pretty much took up the rest of my afternoon, chilling with the animals. And chilling is the most appropriate word there, it was so cold that I’m afraid my hands were so busy trying to warm up in my pockets that there really weren’t a lot of photos today!

It’s so crazy to think that I’ve only got two full days left before I head home..

Lottie Does Europe: A Lazy Sunday in Frankfurt

Lazy day, every holiday should have one, right? And although I don’t get the luxury due to my job, I’ve heard Sundays make great lazy days, so that’s what I decided for my day.

For a change, the hotel I was staying at included breakfast, so after a brief lie in, I headed down and loaded up on the continental breakfast buffet, before heading back to my room for a quick lounge, and to pack up and move on.

From Stuttgart, I drove to Frankfut, which took a little longer than expected due to pretty much every motorway on my journey having maintenance done, but that was fine; today was not about rushing.

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I arrived in Frankfurt just after midday. For the first time this trip I was in a big city, with skyscrapers and office blocks towering above me, but I was overwhelmed with the calm and emptiness. The roads weren’t filled with cars, the pavements weren’t crammed with pedestrians, it would seem everyone had the same lazy Sunday idea as me. I found a place to park, and wandered through the quiet streets til I found the museum of natural history, which I was planning to visit. It was a short walk, and the sun was shining, but it was definitely considerably colder than its been anywhere else this trip.

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After a few hours at the museum, which was primarily in German with only a few English translations, and mainly composed of taxidermy and large skeleton and fossil displays, I headed back to my car, and as I did I decided to stop off at a large botanical garden, with huge greenhouses and masses of park space to meander through. I spent another good few hours here, walking the park and the greenhouses, admiring the beautiful and bizarre plant life. I also stopped for a hotdog at one of the food kiosks – a frankfurter in Frankfurt, had to be done! – before continuing with my lazy stroll.

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It was an afternoon of peace and quiet, and German sunshine, and it hit the spot.

Lottie Does Europe: Bavarian Castles

So this morning I watched the sunrise as I crossed the border into Germany at about 8am; it was beautiful and poetic with the morning mist rolling down the hills and over the little towns.

But the skies soon became pure cloud as I drove deeper, and to me this only meant that I was getting closer to my destination; the sole reason my trip brought me to Germany..

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Neuschwanstein Castle.

The Bavarian beauty that has been inspiration for so many others, and for Walt Disney classic castle designs, as well as featuring in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang film. Sat on the hillside, it towers over the valley and lake below, way up in the clouds.

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So it was a total rookie mistake on my part to plan this trip for a Saturday; I’d arrived at the ticket centre at about 11am, by which time all tickets until after 4pm had gone, and I wasn’t going to wait 5 hours for a tour. The great thing is though, you can still see the castle from the outside free of charge, and that includes walking into the castle and seeing the courtyards – its just the rooms of the castle that are only accessible by guided tour. The walk up to the castle (although you can take a bus or carriage) was a steep winding road, lined with autumnal forest on each side, occasionally broken up by mountain streams. That in itself was beautiful, and then you reach the castle..

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I was surrounded by loud tourists with selfie sticks, but I didn’t care because this view took my breath away. I walked all around it, and further up the mountain path to look out over the whole valley, and for the first time this year it really felt like Autumn was upon us; I was in my big coat and still a little chilly, and I could see my breath. After a while of aimless walking and admiring, I headed back down the path to the village, and across to the castle on the other side. Yes, one valley, two castles.

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This was the Hohenschwangau Castle. Again, because I didn’t want to queue all day for a ticket, I just walked the outside of this pretty yellow palace, admiring the gardens and fountains. I was glad I hadn’t waited to go up to Neuschwanstein, because by the time I’d made it up the steps to Hohenschwangau, the cloud had dropped so much you could hardly see the top of the castle.

After finishing up with the castles, I headed straight to my hotel in Stuttgart for the rest of the evening.

gg

This morning, at around 5.30am, my family suffered a great loss as my grandad left us. Its never easy, in fact its very hard, but it wasn’t a case of loosing a battle, his mind and soul have simply been freed from the body that was holding him back, and now he can move on to greater things. I’m taking comfort in knowing that now both my grandfathers are together; both free of suffering and both at peace. I love them both very much and they will always be in my heart, but now they are with God.

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Lottie Does Europe: Chateau de Chillon

Real quick one tonight guys and gals as today has mainly be spent driving!

Another up and go kind of morning, back into Switzerland to drive to the main reason I wanted to visit Switzerland: Le Chateau de Chillon.

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Look familiar? Well that would be because its been re-created in Disney animation magic, as it was the inspiration for Prince Eric’s castle in The Little Mermaid!

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The castle itself was built on rocks just off the shore of the lake, a natural stronghold with stunning surroundings, and I spent a good few hours exploring every nook and cranny! Despite looking surprisingly small from the outside, every room/courtyard/tower is packed with history, as well as information about it. You can pay a little extra for an audioguide, but the paper guide they gave me was great; it showed routes for you to take through all the areas, as well as information corresponding with each room.

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It was truly stunning from every angle, and the perfect weather only added to the beauty!

And with that I was back on the road for the long drive to Zurich for the night! Because I’m skipping all toll roads, it was just over 5 hours, and I arrived starving hungry, so after finding my hotel, first on the agenda was finding a supermarket to buy some dinner, so I got a little wander of the city in too. Tomorrow I’ll be leaving Switzerland for Germany, and another castle! Good night!

Lottie Does Europe: A Beautiful Day

Good evening all, have we all had a lovely day? I know I have!

It started with an early morning, following the longest, loudest night ever as I swear the hotel room next to me had transformed into a nightclub/building site, but whatever, and then a 5 hour drive out of France and into Switzerland! I was a little daunted by the length at first, but it was by far the prettiest drive of my trip so far; sweet little towns, winding mountain roads, stunning scenery, well worth it!

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And as for Geneva, what can I say.. I fell in love! I was blown away from the minute I caught a glimpse of the lake, and the city was beyond beautiful too. By the time I’d found a carpark and got my bearings a bit, it was about 1pm, so I grabbed lunch from a cafe with seating in one of the many little squares that are scattered around, and just watched the world go by for a little while after I finished eating. I knew this was going to be a place I could explore, and explore I did!

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For the first time on this trip, I was in a proper city; one I could aimlessly walk forever, and that had me set for the rest of the day, just wandering around, popping into shops, exploring side streets and meandering around the lake. Mid-afternoon I stopped for an ice-cream and a drink from another little lakeside cafe, and spent some time relaxing and writing, before continuing on my explorations, and that was basically my day – not much else to say I’m afraid! Sure, Geneva has cultural things like museums and boat trips, but I was content in my own adventure.

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As for tonight, I’m actually back in France, but only just; I’m in a cheapy little hotel that sits pretty much bang on the border – Geneva is such a beautiful city, its packed with fancy, expensive hotels that my budget can’t afford!

I can’t believe its been a week already; I feel like I’ve been out here for no time at all, and at the same time, forever! From here on out I’m basically on my way home, even though it’ll take me another week! I’m back into Switzerland tomorrow, then up through Germany, into Belgium and finishing in Amsterdam, and this time in one week I’ll be midway home on a ferry. For tonight though, I’m pretty content where I am!

xo

Lottie Does Europe: A Zoo Day (with trains)

So this morning I actually allowed myself that lie in I mentioned yesterday, woo! Of course my body clock is fairly used to early mornings, and I think I still woke up at about 7.30, but I enjoyed mooching and laying around in bed for a good hour or so after that! This is also the first morning where I didn’t have to worry about packing up and moving on, as I’m staying in this hotel tonight aswell, so it was nice to not have to worry about clearing and packing everything back up.

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I also had a lie in due to the fact that today I went to Mulhouse Zoo, which didn’t open til 10 and was only a 20 minute drive from my hotel. I got to the zoo for opening, and while it was only €14.50, which I thought was a very reasonably price, I was determined to get my money’s worth out of the day. I’d packed a lunch on leftovers from yesterday’s supermarket shop, and I was reading for a day of meandering and animal watching.

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The zoo itself was much larger than I had thought, despite being fairly central in the city, and I’d only really covered a few of the different animals befor I headed over to the sealions for the morning feeding show; well, it wasn’t much of a show as it was watching the sealions being fed, but they did a few tricks and it lasted a solid 10 minutes or so. Afterwards I continued to wander the park, chatting to the various animals as I went, of course, and I’d covered about half of the enclosures by lunchtime, so I found a sweet little spot by a lake of ducks and flamingos to set up camp for lunch: cheese baguette and an apple. Being a weekday, it was really quiet, and I enjoyed the peace of sitting and watching the ducks for a good 45 minutes or so, before continuing on my way.

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After lunch it was a case of more animal spotting; the zoo had so many little twists and turns that it took me quiet some time before I’d hit everywhere; monkeys, meerkats, felines, penguins, I could go on.. I walked some of the enclosures several times because I know different animals are more/less active at different points of the day, and also to kill some time because I wanted to see the polar bears, which for some reason I couldn’t quite translate, weren’t let out until later in the afternoon.

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With that, I felt content that I had done everything to be done, having spent the best part of 5+ hours there(!!) and decided to spend the rest of my day at the Musee Electropolis: an electricity and science museum. This plan flopped when I got there only to find that, despite not being mentioned on any of the information leaflets I had collected, it was closed for refurbishment, so I thought I would check out the Cite du Train – train museum – that was just opposite. Now if I was an avid train person, I think I would have enjoyed it, but to be perfectly honest, while it seemed impressive at first, I was soon bored, and although I walked the whole museum (which was actually pretty huge), I soon gave up listening to my audioguide.

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Since getting back to my room for the night, I’ve spent my evening sorting the remaining details of my trip; I’ve now got all my accommodation booked, and I’ve actually changed my route through Germany, as well as adding in a day in Belgium before I head to Amsterdarm. Now everything’s a bit more set in stone, I’m pretty buzzed to continue on my adventure! Tomorrow I head into Switzerland, although I’ll be spending the night on the French side of the border to avoid steep hotel prices, so its back to longer drive lengths from here onwards!

For now though, French TV and bed!

xo

Lottie Does Europe: Sweeties, Monkeys and a Castle in the Clouds

Bonjour!

This morning was another up and get going kind of day; I will let myself have a lie in at some point this holiday, but I wanted to squeeze a lot in this morning as a lot of places around here tend to open for a few hours in the morning, close for an hour or so over lunch, then re-open in the afternoon.

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I spent yesterday evening working out the order of events for the day, which started with Le Palais du Pain d’Epices – yes, a gingerbread museum! I didn’t really know what to expect, but was actually pleasantly surprised. It was only €3 for entry, and the museum itself was totally adorable; an animated gingerbread man leads a tour via screens in each of the rooms! Unfortunately he only spoke French, but all the information boards around each of the rooms had translations for both English and German. I learnt about the history of gingerbread, and it’s significance in the region, then walked through the house of the gingerbread man, snapping as many pictures of various recipes as I could, before entering their recently set up Christmas gingerbread grotto, which featured an entire wall of gingerbread bricks, made in the onsite bakery. I also got a glimpse of the production line through windows into the factory, where staff were mixing, baking and decorating gingerbread treats! Finally, it was exit via gift shop, where I was totally overwhelmed by the vast quantities and varieties of biscuits.

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Keeping on a foodie theme, next up was Les Secrets du Chocolat Musee! After paying for my ticket (I can just about do that conversation in French now), I was handed a small box of chocolates, and pointed towards the door of a theatre, so without wanting to seem like a English moron, I walked into the auditorium and took a seat, when a film started playing on the big screen; it was a guided tasting of the chocolates I’d just been given! The man spoke French, but with subtitles I could follow along easily as I ate each of the 4 chocolates, as well as seeing a little clip about the production of each one – fab! After that was over, I walked through the museum itself, which covered the history of chocolate, it’s journey to Europe and historical significance, and also a bit more of the production. Another gift shop, which smelt amazing but I resisted, ever conscious of my strict budget!

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Next on the list was Montagnes des Singes, a monkey sanctuary. I arrived just as they had closed for lunch, so sat out in the car park for a bit to chill out and munch on some of my car food. This was when the heavens opened and the rain began, but ever over-prepared, it was just coat on and brolly up, and I was back to it. I got in as soon as it re-opened, which meant it was fairly quiet. It was basically just a huge enclosure that you could walk through, with over 200 macaques running around that you could hang out with; as you enter, you’re given a handful of popcorn to feed them as you go round, and the little guys are everywhere, and so interesting to watch. There was a feeding talk shortly after I got in, which is normally in French or German only, but as there was a large group of Americans, they had agreed to do it in English which was a lucky coincidence!

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After finishing up with my monkey buddies, I had planned on going to the nearby eagle sanctuary, but due to the poor weather they had closed, so I went off grid a little, following road signs to a ‘nearby’ castle. It was right at the top of what seemed like a small mountain, although I couldn’t tell as everywhere around me was just cloud! It was the Chateau de haut-Koenigsbourg, a 12th century stronghold that had been destroyed and abandoned during the Thirty Years War, and restored at the beginning of the 20th century. Although it boasts spectacular views of the surrounding area, I saw nothing but cloud, which actually made it seem even more impressive and you get a real sense of how high you are. The castle itself was a mixture of its original self, the work of the restoration, and also more recent efforts to maintain it, but was impressive nonetheless.

After descending the mountain, leaving the cloud up there, I really got to appreciate some of the beautiful villages I was driving through, which was really the reason behind my wanting to visit Alsace. The combination of brightly coloured and classic half-timbered buildings, as well as windy streets and villages separated by vast fields really was something to appreciate in itself. I headed towards Colmar, which was a town I had wanted to see, but after driving around for a little while, it became clear that it wasn’t really as tourist-y as I had thought it would be, so I drove around the streets taking in some of the city sights, but didn’t stop, instead making my way straight to Mulhouse, where I’m staying for 2 nights now. A quick stop at the supermarket to pick up some food, and a hotel room picnic for dinner; I’m a happy girl!

xo

Lottie Does Europe – An Afternoon in Alsace

Good evening from Strasbourg! (stupid internet at my hotel won’t allow any photo uploads, so check back for pics later!)

As I mentioned yesterday, I was up bright and early again this morning to finish the drive to Strasbourg, and by finish, I mean another 3+ hours of driving! I’m actually surprised with how well I’m doing with the long drives by myself; I think because driving is something that is often done alone, for me it makes to real difference that I don’t have any company – you know, besides the voices in my head!

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I got to Strasbourg just before midday, found an underground car park and began exploring on foot. I was planning on going straight to the tourist information centre to get some ideas and info on what to do with my afternoon, but after taking a wrong turn, I ended up a little lost and decided that I would just let my feet take me wherever. I followed the pretty side streets, and eventually ended up in an area I’d wanted to visit anyway: Petit France.

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Situated by the canal, the area boasts beautiful classic French houses, dating back centuries; they were just stunning! After a little more meandering, and popping into a few local shops, it dawned on me that I had no idea where I was in relation to the carpark, and no idea how to get back, but as luck would have it, I turned onto a street I remembered from driving through the city, and just followed the route I’d driven to get back. It was while I was retracing my steps that I caught a glimpse of the cathedral..

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Helpfully also named Notre Dame (as I swear all French cathedrals are), it towers over the surrounding buildings, and as I marvelled over it, I realised I was just round the corner from the carpark – great! –  and that just across the square from the cathedral was the tourist centre I had been searching for – bonus! I grabbed as many of the brochures that took my interest, including one for a little train tour of the city, which was just about to leave from across the square, so I jumped on that. It took a route around the city, and had an audio commentary that I could listen to in English on headphones. For €7, it was a really great way to see around the city, and hear a little about the history.

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After the tour, I thought I’d hit a few of the museums.. Turns out, most places in the region don’t open on Mondays! So after grabbing a late lunch, I decided to go and find my hotel, which I’d already booked, so I could look properly at some of the leaflets I’d collected and plan my next few days – I love logistical planning. One of the attractions, an aquarium, was only a 25 minute drive from my hotel, so I decided to head straight across there after checking in.

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It was fairly small, and I was basically the only person there, but the resident cat kept me company as I went round! I was actually fairly impressed with the range of creatures; I had expected just fish but there were also tortoises, snakes, and even some crocodiles, as well as raccoons and copyu running around in outdoor enclosures.

By the time I was done, I figured there wasn’t really time to do anything else, and walking around the aquarium alone had made me feel a little sorry for myself, so I headed back to the hotel to cheer myself up by finishing planning my next few days of adventure, and spending a bit of time watching cheesy French TV while I got some writing done.

Bon nuit!

Lottie Does Europe – Le Mont St Michel

Bonjour tout le monde! (Translation: my french sucks, but hey!)

I am here! And by here, I mean:

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Le Mont St Michel; you can all see the appeal of it, right?

Because, yes, it is this beautiful peninsula that got Disney creatives all inspired for the design of Corona, the island kingdom from Tangled!

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So last night I caught the ferry from Portsmouth, and arrived in Le Havre at about 9am this morning and dived straight into not just the adventure of getting here, but also driving on the wrong side of the road (silly British girl I am). Now bearing in mind, before today I have never driven for more than maybe 2 hours continuously, let alone on the other side of the road, I found myself fairly comfortable with the whole situation! My new satnav, the TomTom Start 25 got me through all the tricky navigating malarky, so all I had to really do was listen, and stay relatively calm (which I did!) and about 3 hours later I caught my first peak from the motorway.

I’m not gonna lie, I welled up a little. It was that sort of gasp moment when you set eyes on the castle in the Magic Kingdom for the first time. After a series of windy little country roads I came to the official car park for MSM – peninsula and all, you can’t drive straight to it – but there are free shuttle buses, or you can pay for a rustic horse-drawn carriage-shuttle. I’ll warn you now: free shuttle sounds great, but parking was €12.50. Personally, I’d been stuck in a ferry all night and car all morning, so I chose to walk in; the information centre says its a 50 minute walk but it definitely didn’t take me that long, and I got to stop along the path and take a million pictures of this beauty!

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MSM itself was actually both bigger and smaller than I imagined it to be; stay with me here..

While when you get to it, the abbey is towering and enormous, the village at the base isn’t all the much; lots of gift shops, a few restaurants and a sprinkling of small hotels, pretty much all crammed into one main street (which I loved!) and then various pathways and passages, the majority of which lead to the abbey.

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By this point, I hadn’t really eaten at all, so I made the rooky mistake of stopping to buy food at the first place I saw; of course it was going to be overpriced. That said, a ham and cheese baguette, vanilla macaron and can of Coke for €10 isn’t too outrageous, but I found places further up the street were selling the same things for a little less.

After exploring the street(s), I ducked into a smaller church building for a quiet moment, before heading up to the abbey itself. Whether you’re walking it yourself or having a guided tour, you have to pay entrance, which was only €9 and I chose to pay extra for an audioguide, which I would definitely recommend if you’re not going on a guided tour. The buildings are stunning, but there’s no information around the rooms as you might expect, so without an audioguide I wouldn’t have really known what I was looking at!

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It really is enormous, and that’s without access to all the areas! There was another ‘historic’ tour available, which offered tours of the dungeons, prisons etc, but personally it didn’t appeal to me all that much, so after I was finished in the abbey I wondered the gardens and hidden paths, and the top of the wall that surrounds the village. When the tide is out, school groups can walk out from the beach for ages before water gets above knee level, and there were quite a few of them about today!

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So I was actually done after a few hours, and made my way back along the path to the carpark before making my way to the hotel for the night; given that I slept fairly rubbish on the ferry, I want a fairly early night tonight – its not that I’m boring! Plus, I got Cinderella on DVD for an early birthday present so I’m gonna stick that on and watch the sunset over the abbey from my hotel window – its a great view!

Good night my lovelies!

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