Venice

If there’s been one place I’ve visited that has exceeded my expectations, it’s Venice. It is even more beautiful in real life than in pictures, so I really hope this blog post does it justice!

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There aren’t many words to describe how beautiful it is, so I’ll let the photos do (most of) the talking. We stayed in the elegant Hotel Palazzo Giovanelli, located by the San Stae vaporetto stop which was a slightly quieter area of Venice that was still only a short walk to St Mark’s Square. A long weekend in May was a great time to go as it was around 25℃ every day – perfect to walk around and explore without getting too hot.

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On our first day, we strolled over to St Mark’s Square for a tour of the Doge’s Palace with Turive Tours. It was a great morning and we learnt so much about Venice’s history. After lunch, we couldn’t resist a gondola ride! When in Venice…

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Murano, Burano and Torcello

My favourite day of our holiday had to be our day trip to the Lagoon Islands. We took the water taxi to Murano first, the island famous for glass blowing. It was so pretty and peaceful, but we were mainly looking forward to the colourful island of Burano, also known for lace-making. A tip: when we got off the water taxi, we went left into the village instead of straight ahead to the centre of the island and it was so quiet! After hours spent wandering the vibrant streets, we headed to Torcello before taking the water taxi back to Venice and having dinner down the widest street in the city.

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My favourite spots

San Giorgio Maggiore
The perfect place to enjoy an amazing view of Venice. San Giorgio Maggiore is a 16th-century church filled with magnificent religious paintings, sitting on an island of the same name that’s just a short vaporetto ride away from St Mark’s. Get the elevator (phew!) to the top of the bell tower for a beautiful view that’s much quieter than elsewhere.

Gelateria Il Doge, Dorsoduro
The best ice cream we found in Venice! I couldn’t get enough of the Stracciatella flavour – it’s a ‘milk-based gelato’ with chocolate chips and was created in Italy, so you know you’re getting the best.

Muro San Stae
This restaurant was recommended to me by a friend and it was fantastic. The service was great and the food was epic – pasta in a PARMESAN SHELL, anyone?! Another must-try is the homemade tiramisu!

Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Peggy Guggenheim herself lived in the unfinished 18th century Grand Canal palace which is now a museum of her impressive art collection. Including works by Picasso and Salvador Dalí, it was an inspiring, calming escape from the busy streets.

 

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Ciao for now, Venice, I’ll definitely be back soon!

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My top tips for Walt Disney World

A trip to Disney is a pretty big holiday to plan. So much goes into it – where to stay, where to eat, fast passes, restaurant bookings, using the app, and so much more. With four theme parks and two water parks, you want to make sure you plan your time well so you get the most out of your trip.

On our two week trip last year we visited all of the Disney parks as well as the two Universal parks; Universal and Islands of Adventure. Our plan made sure we visited every place we wanted to, as well as having a few rest days to enjoy the Florida sun (and fit in a skydive)! Don’t think that all this planning ruins the trip, it ensures you use your time effectively and it makes you more excited for Disney!

I’m writing this post to hopefully help other visitors, first-time or not, get the most out of their Disney experience. However, I’m no expert and there are so many in-depth guides out there, which I’ll be linking to! You can check out more of my highlights on my previous post.

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Booking your tickets
We used Attractions Tickets Direct for our Disney tickets. It’s nice to book with a trusted company, as they can help you if anything goes wrong. It also means your tickets usually have a special added extra – we had tickets to the Cirque de Soleil show at Disney Springs! Our two-week tickets got us into all of the Disney parks as well as the 3 Universal parks, and included the My Memory Maker for Disney (usually an extra 169USD).

My Disney Experience 
The app is a dream (screenshot above). With your advance tickets, you can book your fast passes, character meetings and restaurants, see live queue times, save all of your Memory Maker photos and more. All of the parks have free WiFi to use the app. Add your ticket code to it and invite the rest of your party so you can coordinate your days. There’s a great guide here with a lot more information.

Pick your top rides
If you’ve visited Disney before, you know your favourite places. The first thing each of us did was write a list of our top rides or locations so nobody missed out on their favourites.

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Get guided
Lots of guide books and online sources share the best days for each of the parks. We used the Brit Guide Orlando 2017, and we found that it was right the majority of the time. Magic Kingdom on a Monday meant we got 13 rides in one day! Which leads me onto my next point…

FastPass + time
FastPass + is when you book an hour time slot for your favourite or most popular rides on the My Disney Experience app. You can choose your FastPass+ ride selection up to 30 days before your first day, and if you’re in a Disney hotel, it’s 60 days. As soon as that date hits you want to be on the app booking them, especially newer rides such as Avatar’s Flight of Passage! You get 3 FastPasses a day and once you’ve used them up you can hop on the app and book more as you go.

Eat, love, Disney
As well as booking your FastPasses, you can also make your dining reservations for the parks on My Disney Experience up to 180 days in advance. The restaurant bookings are insane. When I tell you that I was booking some of our dinners almost 6 months in advance and evenings were fully booked, I’m not exaggerating!

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Be camera ready
For those of you with Memory Maker, take advantage of it! There are so many photographers around to get great pictures of you, and it means nobody is left out as the cameraman. From views of the castle to character meetings to rides, there are so many photo-ops. Just scan your ticket or MagicBand and the pictures save to your app where you can easily download them to your phone. There’s an in-depth guide on MickeyBlog.com.

Getting around
We used our rental cars to get to and from the parks as we stayed very close in the Windsor Hills Resort, but there are plenty of hotels and resorts that have shuttle buses to get you to Walt Disney World. There are also plenty of shuttle buses to get around the various parks and resorts. The parking is $20 a day, even if you leave and come back.

The countdown is on!
Get an app, a little whiteboard, use your calendar – anything to get excited for visiting the happiest place in the world!

Disney Diary

This time last year I was walking into Animal Kingdom with my family for the first time in 8 years. Walt Disney World Orlando has always held a special place in my heart – I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few times with family and those trips are some of my favourite memories of my childhood.

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There’s something so magical about walking down Main Street for the first time and seeing the castle sneak into view. It may sound odd to some, but there’s a sense of escapism at Disney that you just don’t feel on other holidays. Where else can you jump off a 50mph rollercoaster and grab a Mickey-shaped ice cream sandwich before bumping into Olaf for a warm hug? Not forgetting the magic of the Universal parks.

I won’t bore you with all the details of my trip, but here are some of my highlights with a mix of iPhone and camera photos! We spent the first few days of our trip to Florida in Clearwater Beach, which was stunning. Perhaps we should’ve saved this part for the end of our trip, though, as it was so relaxing and peaceful. The calm before the Disney storm!

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We stayed in a Windsor Hills villa and it was perfect – a 10 minute drive from the parks with comfy beds and a lovely pool! The blue circle in the app picture above is how close we were to the parks. There is a shuttle bus, but it wasn’t as frequent as we thought so we mainly used our rental cars.

Animal Kingdom was as beautiful as ever, and the new addition of Pandora takes it up a level. My top ride (probably of the whole trip) has to be the Avatar Flight of Passage – the technology is epic! Pandora is great to wander around – make sure to try the refreshing, super-sweet Night Blossom drink. A few of my other top spots are Expedition Everest (of course), the wonderful Lion King Show and the Kali River Rapids to cool off in the Florida heat!

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Magic Kingdom has always been my favourite of the parks. On our first day back there we managed to fit in 13 rides (thank you FastPass)! This trip to Disney was our first time dining inside the park restaurants, and the first we visited was Be Our Guest at the Beauty and the Beast Castle where I got to try the ‘grey stuff’ – yes, it’s delicious!

More of my favourite moments in Magic Kingdom were the three mountains (Space, Splash and Thunder), Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in Tomorrowland and the classic Peter Pan ride. The point before the big drop on Splash Mountain, with the great view of the castle, is my favourite MK moment, as well as the Festival of Fantasy parade.

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While we were in Florida, it was my cousin Amy’s 23rd birthday and we celebrated in Epcot. We had a great experience at the Nine Dragons Chinese, where they treated Amy to a slice of cake and cocktails! Epcot is a great place to wander in the sun, especially around the Epcot World Showcase. Soarin’ and Test Track are our old family favourites, too!

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Hollywood Studios has another two of the best rides – the Tower of Terror and the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. We got chatting to the loveliest cast member, Edward, who gave us Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster fast passes after hearing that we didn’t have enough time to wait in the queue! The fireworks show Fantasmic was as magnificent as I remembered.

I can’t forget about the Disney waterparks and Disney Springs. Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are great to cool off in the sun in the mornings and there are so many fun rides – the 6ft tidal wave is such a rush! Disney Springs is the new ‘Downtown Disney’, with restaurants, shows and shops, including the World of Disney, the biggest Disney store!

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Another highlight of my trip which was surprisingly non-theme park related was my skydive! Amy wanted to do one for her birthday and, honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I’d highly recommend Florida Skydiving Lake Wales!

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I hope you enjoyed my Disney Diary. Look out for more Florida posts coming soon!

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Falling in love with Lisbon

Portugal’s capital made the perfect September city break (I know I’m running a bit late, let’s just call this post a throwback). The city is made for those who like to explore on foot – the quiet streets climbing up the hills are great for wandering, but bring good shoes!

The views are wonderful, the September sun is just right, and the famously colourful tiles and gorgeous light make for great pictures. Our 3-day trip was short and sweet, and left me wanting more! We strolled through the cobbled streets and ate our way through ice cream and pastries – the best way to spend a long weekend, right?

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Hot spots

H10 Duque de Loulé
A beautiful hotel with a great rooftop bar which is open to visitors. We visited on a Saturday night and it wasn’t busy at all. Cosy up in the cool evening breeze and take in the spectacular view of the city.

Open Brasserie Mediterrânica
Some of our party had food allergies so we were eager to find a restaurant that could accommodate all of us. The Open Brasserie Mediterrânica had knowledgable, friendly staff and a great choice of meals for everybody, including vegan and gluten free. I recommend the pumpkin gnocchi!

Belém
Belém, a charming district just a tram ride away from the centre, fast became my favourite part of the city. There was a photogenic door or wall at every turn through the peaceful, colourful streets and the Tropical Botanical Garden was perfect for chilling out in the sun.

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Christmas in Cologne

Oh, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. This time last December Meg and I escaped to Cologne – we wanted the full Christmas experience: ice-skating, sweet treats, mulled wine to warm us up as we wandered the markets…

…And that’s exactly what we got. Our airbnb wasn’t far from the centre in a sweet residential area – a ten minute walk brought us to the first of the many Christmas markets. We spent hours taking in all the busy stalls, sparkling lights and sugary smells. Apparently we couldn’t get enough sugar, though – one of my favourite parts of the long weekend was the Lindt Chocolate Factory. A visit to the impressive Gothic cathedral is also a must. Another of my favourite moments would have to be the brass band starting up just as we’d snuggled into a table outside with our mulled wines (both of us having disliked the stuff before the trip)!

I hope my Christmas shots of Cologne get you in the festive spirit! The first 5 are on Kodak Portra 400 and the rest are from my Canon DSLR.

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Thailand

I never thought I’d really have the chance to go to Thailand. It just seemed like one of those far-away, mystical places. Luckily, my best friend Emily travelled the world this year and I managed to join her for two weeks, travelling to Bangkok and the Gulf islands of Thailand! We started with 3 days in Bangkok, including a visit to the Grand Palace. I’d highly recommend a visit to the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, a two hour drive from the city – we got to walk with, feed and shower the elephants, as well as learn about where they’d all come from. It wasn’t just a home for elephants, either – bears, gibbons, birds and dogs were all looked after. I wish I could’ve stayed with the elephants forever, especially baby Prin!

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A long overnight bus and ferry took us to Koh Samui, our first island adventure. The Sirin Samui Hostel was the perfect stop, with clean, spacious rooms and a great pool to relax by. We spent most of our time on the beach! Our second island was Koh Phangan, for the infamous Half Moon Party. Once we’d recovered from our hangovers, we visited Paradise Waterfalls and even found the beautiful Milky Bay resort tucked away on the beach. The breakfast was delicious and they let us use their pool!

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Our final stop was Koh Tao, which fast became my favourite island (perhaps purely because of the sunsets). Koh Tao is the smallest of the islands, and I found it the most beautiful! Our days were mostly spent relaxing on the beach and walking around the shops and restaurants. A snorkelling or scuba-diving trip is a must – we visited all of the bays of the island, as well as Koh Nang Yuan which is just breathtaking. I can’t wait to go back!

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Waiting for summer: Barcelona on film

I fell in love with Barcelona two summers ago so I jumped at the chance to visit again in July. This time, we stayed in an airbnb apartment in a lovely residential area which was a twenty minute walk from Sagrada Familia. Our time was spent wandering the side streets of La Rambla and sipping sangria. I will never tire of Barcelona – it’s the perfect blend of city break and beach holiday.

We hired a boat in Parc de la Ciutadella, explored Park Güell and drank cocktails in the sun. I can’t wait for this summer already!

All photos were taken with Kodak Portra 400.

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