travel
Over the years I have fallen into the usual trap of visiting London, Amsterdam, Paris ect. They are all great cities in their own rights but my god are they big! They are big and busy and full of annoying tourists. 

Whilst larger cities definitely have their benefits, lately I have made more of an effort to visit some of the smaller underrated cities of Europe, and I've not looked back. I've been thoroughly enjoying exploring lesser known places over recently and I think you should give it a go too.


No hustle and bustle


How many times have you queued hours to see a major tourist attraction just for it to be brimming with others doing the same? I waited almost 2 hours to get into the Louvre one summer just to be squeezed into packed room to see the Mona Lisa for 5 minutes. Although I was thrilled to be metres from one of the most famous paintings of all time, I could have done so much more with my time. Smaller cities usually won't be rammed with tourists, which means not only will you have a more relaxed break, you'll probably have more time to do fun things by avoiding the queues.


Smaller city smaller prices


I'm sure it's not the case with all little towns but from my experience, you can make your holiday so much cheaper by visiting a less popular city. Not only can the flight prices be a lot lower, but the hotels will be too. I've also noticed that restaurants cater more to the locals so you won't find as many high priced tourist traps.

Be the hipster tourist


Everyone likes visiting unique places that none of their friends have seen before and by taking a small city break you are more likely to find the hidden gems that others won't. Instead of taking home a thousand photos of the Eiffel Tower or Barcelona's Magic Fountain, you'll have seen the more unusual sights that little towns have to offer.

Culture and History


Sometimes a countries true culture can be lost in a bigger city. The things that make somewhere so unique can often be overshadowed by touristy things you 'have to do'. Smaller places usually have less attractions and sometimes their historical buildings are still intact too. Lille for example has some beautiful Parisian style roads whilst also still having a labyrinth of winding medieval streets you could spend hours wandering around. Although Paris is undeniably beautiful, so much of its history has been knocked down and replaced by identical buildings.


Walking


You must know by now that I love a good free walking tour. They are a fab, budget friendly way to see a new city, but they don't tend to exist in the big cities. There are two reasons for this, one is that the tour companies that operate in major cities don't like it and other is that they are simply too big to walk around. Which brings me onto another point, no public transport. I dislike public transport at the best of times and when I'm in a new place it can all just get a bit confusing. However in small cities you can usually get away with just walking from place to place which means not only are you saving more money but you will get to see parts of the city that you would miss being stuck on a bus.


The people are great


I don't know about you but I find the people in smaller towns and cities to be a lot more friendly. I'm not sure why but I find the people in major cities just don't have the time of day for you, and some can even be quite rude. I'm not sure I've ever felt this way in a little town, maybe they are just happy to have your custom? I don't know, but the people I've met in smaller places are some of the friendliest I've come across. Sometimes there can be slight language barriers in less touristy areas but that just means you have to try harder to learn their language which I don't think is a bad thing at all!

So those are the reasons I think you should book a small city break soon! There are some great little places out there, you just need to find them.

Do you have a favourite city? Big or small I'm always looking for recommendations!

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WHY YOU NEED TO TAKE A SMALL CITY BREAK

I've said it before and I'll say it again, taking a solo trip was the best thing I have ever done for myself. If you've been here for a while, you'll know I've had my struggles with anxiety and going places alone, so to hop on a plane and head to a new country on my own really was an achievement for me. That being said, my trip didn't go as smoothly as it could have...

The Duke of York Pub

I chose to visit Belfast. A few months previously I had be convinced to visit the city by a very charming Irishman (a trait I would soon discover most Irish males possess) and my trip was booked before I'd even had time to think about it.

On my second night in the beautiful city I was feeling confident. I survived my first night alone and even went to the pub on my tod, I was doing well. So why not venture a little further I thought? I really wanted to have a drink in 'the most famous pub in Belfast', the Duke of York, and I wouldn't be disappointed when I got there. But it was a half an hour walk from my hotel.

Back home in Birmingham I would never have walked it, a 30 minute walk? No thanks! But when I'm on holiday a half hour walk is nothing. I was happy to see the city along the way and so I left the comfort of my hotel to walk the streets of Belfast on a chilly January evening. 

Following the map on my phone closely I quickly walked through the city centre. Maybe it was the time of year or maybe Belfast is just a quiet town, I'm not really sure, but the streets were empty. This was a little unnerving to say the least.

During my walk I was mindful not to look lost or give away the fact that I was following directions. I walked with purpose and confidence and was always aware of my surroundings. That's when I spotted him. A man maybe 10/15 foot ahead of me walking along the empty city centre road. I had noticed him looking back at me a couple of times and then he slowed down. No worries I thought, I'll take a quick look at the map and then walk past him.

With a solid plan in my mind and my phone now firmly away in my pocket I picked up the pace, overtook the man, and turned off the main road. What could go wrong? 

"Excuse me", a voice from just behind me called. The man had taken the same turn as me. "Excuse me" he said again, "Do you know where the Berliner is?" By this time he had caught up to me and I could see that he was fairly attractive and not much older than myself. He was Irish but maybe he was visiting Belfast himself and needed directions to the pub? I was trying to make sense of the situation. Naively I slowed my walking and told him that I was sorry but I had not heard of it. This was a mistake. 

By responding I invited him to strike up a conversation as we both walked down the narrowing road. Thinking back now I can't even recall what he was talking about, but I do remember him telling me he was a local. That was the red flag I needed to get myself out of there. He was not a lost tourist, he more than likely knew where he was. Alarm bells were ringing, but then as if by some miracle, I noticed a pub just beside us - The Berliner. 

I thanked whatever guardian angel was looking over me and notified the man, who was walking ever closer to myself, that the pub he was looking for was there! "Oh" he responded 'Thanks". And off he went towards the doorway of the bar. 

Murals Square (next to the Duke of York)

My heart still pounding I walked on. Problem solved, I thought. Then I turned back only to see him standing in the doorway. He hadn't gone in. I turned back and carried on walking. It was by this time that I noticed the road narrowing even further. Was this a dead end?! How could this be I thought? I was following my map so carefully!

I turned back around looking for an exit to the dimly lit road to realise that the man was now walking straight towards me. What did he want? Maybe he was going to mug me? Or maybe worse. My heart sank at this point. 

I took one last look at my phone. I needed to get off this street. In my previous panic I hadn't noticed that the road did indeed finish here but there was a small alleyway that continued on through to another main road. The alleyway had no lights but it was my only escape. 

I powered through that ally quicker than I think I have ever walked in my life. I didn't want to overreact by running which seems silly thinking back now. Once I was out the other side I just kept going until I turned another corner. It was only then that I looked back to be sure I was alone, which I now thankfully was. You never really notice just how empty streets are until you think you might need to call for help. 

Continuing on my way I was even more aware of my surroundings than before. My senses were heightened and even little noises set me on edge. I was still determined to get to the bar, after all where else would I go from here? 

I did eventually arrive at the pub (which is well worth the trip) and swiftly ordered a vodka coke to calm my nerves which were just about shot at this point. For the rest of the evening I chatted to other tourists and enjoyed a spot of live music before choosing a very different route home. 

Thinking back to that night my memory is beyond fuzzy. The details are warped at best and I would never be able to identify the man if I ever saw him again. I've since looked at maps of Belfast and I can only assume that I must have taken several wrong turns on that night because the route I originally walked doesn't make any sense. 

Would I have done anything differently if I was to relive that night again? Honestly I would have never responded the the lad when he originally spoke to me. I was so scared of coming off rude or a bitch that I put myself in a very scary situation. 

I've since been called a bitch on several occasions when I've told men in bars that I'm not interested and while it's not nice, it's so much better than accidently inviting unwanted attention. 

That night could have easily ended up very differently. I'm very lucky that I spent the evening enjoying a few drinks and not at the police station, or worse. 

Spending a long weekend completely alone has done wonders for my confidence and I would recommend it to anyone, but please please just be careful. 

Thanks for reading!

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I WAS FOLLOWED ON MY SOLO TRIP

The Hotel Heritage sits just streets away from the world famous Belfry of Bruges, in fact you can see the landmark from the sundeck (yes you heard right) and even some of the rooms. Are you looking for a budget stay? You're in the wrong place. But if you're after a plush boutique hotel in the heart of beautiful Bruges read on...

Hotel entrance

The hotel, which is part of the Relais & Chateux group, has the luxurious look and feel of an old victorian mansion house whilst having all the comforts travellers like myself have become accustomed to.

On entering the hotel reception we could have be forgiven for thinking we'd stepped onto the set of Downton Abbey. The vintage style furniture and continuous playlist of classical music are a complete contrast from the busy streets of modern day Bruges. Here we found the most helpful receptionists and unlimited ice water, flavoured with either oranges or lemons - a welcome refreshment after a long day of sightseeing. Also on the ground floor is the breakfast/ dining room, a small bar, a cosy drawing room complete with a piano and an open fire, and even a secret garden tucked away in the centre of the hotel. Whilst these areas are breathtaking, the luxury continues up into the rooms too.

Hotel Reception and Bar

After check in was complete we were invited the join our luggage upstairs, but this isn't when the service stops. A member of staff then gave us a tour of our temporary home, explaining how all of the technology works and pointing out any important features. We were then left to unpack, unwind, and enjoy the treats left by house keeping.

In the room we found modern comforts such as USB plug sockets, a mini bar, bottled water which would be topped up daily, miniature grooming items, fresh fruit, dressing gowns, slippers, a coffee machine, an Ipad, and a digital heating system.

Slip into a fluffy white dressing gown and feast on the complimentary fruit or get out and take advantage of the free walking tour provided by the hotel, the choice was ours and we of course chose to do a bit of both.

Bedroom in the Deluxe Room

On our first night we were given an invitation to join the owners of the hotel in the reception area for drinks. Whilst we didn't get chance to chat with them, we did enjoy the complimentary champagne, a treat we would get used to over the following days.

After guzzling down a glass of fizz in the hotel, and having several drinks in central Bruges, we headed back to our room to find it had been turned down for the night and each of us had been left a small box of chocolates. Accompanying the treats was a personalised goodnight message from the hotel, something I'd not come across before but would happily receive each night of our stay. 

The following morning, eager to get down to breakfast, we almost missed the small card which had been slid under our door at some point during the night. The slip informed us of the weather for the day ahead and this again was not something I had seen before, but a lovely touch I looked forward to each morning.

Sitting room and sofa bed in the Deluxe Room

On entering the breakfast room we were greeted by our waiter, a very attentive member of staff who served us each morning. He gave us our drinks options for the morning which were a hot drink and a selection of fresh fruit juices. I chose the strawberry and apple juice everyday as it was just delicious.

After bringing our drinks over and serving them to us our waiter would bring a small starter to us each day. The miniature appetizers seemed to be delicacies from that region as I'd never come across any of them before. The first day we were given a small salad with seeds, nuts and a tasty dressing, on the second day we were given cured meat and melon, and on the last day it was a pot of yoghurt and granola. We were then given the choice of how we would like our eggs cooked, during my stay I had both poached and fried, both were equally tasty.

Sitting room and bathroom in the Deluxe Room

Whilst some of the dishes were cooked fresh and served to us,  the majority of the breakfast items could be found on the buffet. Here we had the choice of; bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, several types of cold meats, several types of cheese, cereals, a variety of milk, yoghurts, fresh and dried fruits, a selection of bread, chocolates, cakes, pastries, and my favourite - unlimited champagne.

Once we were finished with our buffet plates sweet treats were brought over to ourselves by our waiter, followed by fresh cooked waffles if we chose. The waffles were unlike any I had tried before and my mouth is watering right now just thinking about that delicious batter melting in my mouth.

Breakfast

During our stay the receptionist was on hand to help with any questions we had. They also provided us with a city map which they happily marked up with points of interest, and a discount card for many of the cities museums.

On check out of the hotel we were given the option to store our bags for the day which we did. We were also given a bag of complimentary water to take away which I thought was a very nice touch.

Hotel highlights:
  • Unlimited champagne breakfast
  • Complimentary chocolates each night
  • View from the sundeck at the top of the hotel
  • A separate bath and shower in the room

The only faults I could find in the hotel were the lack of a plug socket near a mirror which seems to be a common occurrence in hotel rooms and the coffee machine which seemed to stay broken throughout our stay even though we mentioned it to the hotel reception. 

Hotel Reception

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the high end Hotel Heritage. It made a once in a lifetime trip to Bruges just a little more special and the small touches, such as the goodnight chocolates, really left a lasting impression on all of us. Next time I stay at an Etap or Premier Inn I will remember this luxury Belgian hotel fondly.

Thanks for reading!

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Looking for more hotel reviews?

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REVIEW | HOTEL HERITAGE - LUXURY IN THE HEART OF BRUGES

If you haven't already been bored to tears with my latest holiday photos on Instagram then I'm sure you will be soon. For anyone who missed it, back in January I spent 3 amazing days in the beautiful city of Belfast all on my own. It was amazing and little bit scary at the same time but I am SO glad I did it


Belfast Town Hall

I got the chance to walk around most of the city, and I ticked a fair few things off my list. Three days however is not a massive amount of time to really see the guts of a city so there were also quite a few things I didn't get chance to do.

But before we talk about that, what are the top 5 things I think you should do in Belfast?

- Free walking tour - If you know me you will know this is the first thing I usually check myself onto in a new city. Virtually all small cities will run a free walking tour and in my opinion they are the best way to not only get your bearings in a new place, but to also meet people from absolutely everywhere!
They are also super budget friendly which is always a bonus in my book, just tip the tour guide what you think the experience was worth at the end!

- Drink at the crown - So this is probably one of the most beautiful pubs I've ever seen, honestly it's unreal. I won't go into too much detail as I think this is one of those things you need to see with your own eyes, but believe me when I say this is worth stopping for. Another bar I would highly recommend is the 5 points. It's slightly out of the city centre but there is live music on every night and the atmosphere is fantastic!


The Giants Causeway

- Tour of Falls Road - Whether you walk it alone or with an organised group, a wander around this residential area is a must. The history here is unreal and it will likely shock you, especially if you've grown up in mainland Britain as it's not really talked about at all. Brits, take note of what happened here because you won't be taught about it at school. There are multiple memorials in this area so please think about that and be respectful whilst touring the Falls.

- The Giants Causeway - Okay so not technically in Belfast but it's just too close to miss! The Causeway will probably be like nothing else you have ever seen before and it is well worth a trip in my opinion. It's so beautiful I actually teared up a bit whilst I was there and I'm not even ashamed to say that. Yes it's touristy but who cares? It's amazing.

- Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge - Again not in Belfast but virtually down the road from The Giants Causeway so you might as well do them both. This creeky little bridge is suspended around 100 ft above sea level and is owned by the National Trust. Whilst you'll likely have to queue to cross, no trip to this area of Ireland is complete without tiptoeing over to Carrick-A-Rede Island.

- Wander around the cathedral district - Filled with bustling pubs and bars, a quick trip to the cathedral district is a must. Here you will find the most famous pub in Belfast - The Duke Of York. It will probably be busy but it has everything you could want from a little Irish pub.


Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge

As I said, I didn't really have time see everything I planned to. This usually happens when I go travelling to be honest, I always find more and more things I want to do whilst I'm out there and no amount of planning would help me fit it all in. So what do I do when I fall in love with a place and still have half an unchecked to do list? I go back. And that is exactly what I'll be doing this Wednesday!

So what am I going to make sure I see this time?

- Crumlin Road Gaol - A must for any history geek, Crumlin Road Gaol was in operation for 150 years. In this time it had housed over 25,000 prisoners which included men, women, and even children.   

- Titanic Museum - I actually missed this museum off on purpose whilst I was in Belfast last month as I had heard nothing but bad reviews. That being said they were mostly from Belfast residents who had likely been a thousand times before on school trips and such, so I'm going to give it a go and see what it's all about. 


Bobby Sands Mural Falls Road

- Political Tour - Whilst on my free walking tour I was told about the Political Tour which can also be taken. The tour is lead for the first half by an ex IRA member and in the second half it is lead by an ex Loyalist. I would really like to make time for this next week as it would be very interesting to hear about The Troubles from people on both sides who were actively involved in it. 

- Kelley's Cellars - This was firmly at the top of my to do list in January so I'm not really sure how I missed it but this time I am going to prioritise a trip to this 250 year old pub. 

As always I would love to hear what you would recommend I see whilst in Belfast. What did I miss from this list? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter!

Thanks for reading!


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TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN BELFAST & 5 I WISH I DID

Of all the fancy little handbags I own, nothing makes me happier than chucking on my battered and bruised backpack ready for my next adventure. I don't think I will ever bin that little beauty, after all its visited more countries than the average person has! But I'm not going to talk about that beat up rucksack today, nope, I'm going to share exactly what I fill it with!



So what is in my travel bag?

Camera - I would honestly rather leave my purse at home than leave my camera. For me a big part of travelling is capturing my memories and I know a lot of people say you 'should live in the moment' but I'm a firm believer that you can do both. Now there are so many different cameras on the market so it's important to do your research before making any purchases. One camera that recently came to my attention is the fairly new Lumix mirrorless camera from Panasonic. It features the best image quality of all the Lumix cameras, the ability to capture slow motion video, and can record 4k video too making it ideal for vloggers. It also has Wifi which is something I think we can all agree modern cameras should have.

Spare SD card & Tripod - So what's the use in having a banging camera if you don't have the necessary accessories? I will always take at least one spare memory card away with me just incase I fill the first one or, worst comes to worst, I somehow break it. I wouldn't purchase anything less than a 16gb memory card if I'm honest, that way you can snap away without worry.

I've also been using my baby tripod a lot more recently. I have a full sized tripod but it's no good for travelling. When I'm out and about I like to take my minature one which can quite comfortably fit in the bottom of my rucksack. This teenie tripod came in especially handy last week while on my solo trip as it meant I could easily take full length photographs of myself and even use it as a more sturdy selfie stick - would recommend!



Headphones - Does this even need an explanation? Bored? Pop your headphones in and listen to the sweet music you likely downloaded in a hurry the night before. Worried that strangers might talk to you? - Pop your headphones in. Desperately need to watch cat videos? Headphones in!

Plasters - Again an obvious one but one everyone seems to forget? I am the blister queen which means I'm a plaster hoarder. I'll take about 7 different types away with me just incase!

Portable Phone charger - Live on instagram like me? For Christs sake invest in a portable phone charger. That way you can scroll to your heart's content and still have enough battery to load up your boarding pass at the gate!



Lip Balm - Okay so I'll likely take a minimized version of my make up kit but I could go without all of that as long as I had a decent lip balm. It doesn't matter where in the world you're going, you need to keep them lips looking lush. No-one wants dry cracked lips in their holiday photos, am I right girls? I would strongly recommend picking up a lip balm with SPF in it, even if you're going on a staycation in the UK, we do occasionally get sunlight too!

Document wallet - I have a little A6 sized document wallet that comes on all of my travels with me. It just makes it easy to have everything I need in one place and I'll always check its firmly inside my bag before heading off. What do I keep inside you ask? Well I'll pop in my passport, travel insurance certificate, hotel details, flight details, any tickets I've purchased, and the life saving EHIC card. For anyone unsure an EHIC is a European Health Insurance Card which entitles you to free healthcare in Europe, for now...

Sanitary towels - Better to be safe than sorry!



Medication - Boring I know but I will always have a stash of medical goodies. You can guarantee I'll have a selection of paracetamol, diarrhea tablets, heartburn tablets, and maybe more depending on which mystery illness I'm suffering from at that time.

A pair of pants and socks - You know the 'take enough pairs to piss yourself twice a day' rule? Well I take it very seriously. Not only will I have 17 pairs of pants in my case for a 3 days break, I will also keep another spare pair in my hand luggage. Honestly I'm probably not going to have an accidental wee, but there's every chance my suitcase could get lost and I would like to have some clean undies for the next day.

So that's what I cram into my very worn, slightly falling apart, hand luggage bag. What do you always take on your adventures with you? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter!

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* This is a sponsored post however all thoughts and opinions are my own. I would never promote anything I didn't believe in.

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WHAT'S IN MY BAG - TRAVEL/ HAND LUGGAGE EDITION

Where the fuck did 2018 go? Considering last year was an absolute bag of shite it flew by! To put it mildly last year wasn't the best, but I did visit some incredible places.

From the Battlefields of Belgium, to the largest brick castle in the world, and even Ben Nevis, I saw a lot. I ticked off three new Hard Rock Cafes and I met up for real life drinks with friends I'd only ever spoken to online before. I left the UK 4 times last year and went camping a hell of a lot too, but I want to smash that this year.

Chanonry Point, Scotland 

In 2019 I plan to go on weekend break every single month of the year. Yep you heard right. I have no idea how I'm going to physically do it or finance it but I'm determined. I've not got a massive amount planned yet but there are a few places I know I want to tick off the list.

So where shall I go in 2019?

Belfast, Ireland - This one is planned, actually it's more than planned, its booked. And I leave in 7(!!!) days. But that's not all. I'm going alone. "Why?!" I hear you cry! Well I haven't got a fucking clue if I'm honest but it's happening. All I've ever wanted to do is see the world and if I have to do it alone, well I guess that's better than not going at all.
But in all seriousness I'm shitting it and I would really appreciate your Belfast travel tips and moral support at this point.

Things I want to see while in Belfast: Titanic Museum, Giants Causeway, Crumlin Road Gaol.

Falls of Dochart, Scotland

Bruges, Belgium - Lovely little Belgium, it's one of those countries you can't help but fall in love with. The history, the architecture, and the people, Belgium has it all (especially the people though, Belgians are ridiculously friendly).

A few days ago I booked a trip to Bruges with my Mom and Sister and I AM SO EXCITED. I've wanted to visit this fairytale town since forever and now I'm finally going! 

Things I want to do while in Bruges: The Belfry of Bruges, eat 500 merveilleux cakes, visit some of the many museums.

Prague, Czech Republic - Prague is another place that has been on my list for ages. Anyone I've ever spoken to about this pretty city only has good things to say about it and just from looking at photos I can tell it's a beautiful place. Maybe 2019 is the year I drown my sorrows in cheap Czech beer?

Things I would do in Prague: Explore the old town and see the astronomical clock, visit Terezin Concentration Camp, Prague Castle.

Loch Lomond, Scotland

Sheffield & Durham UK - Not as exotic as some of the other places on this list but still places I hope to see. I figured I could probably visit both of these northern towns in one long weekend if I tried hard enough.

I spent my childhood exploring the southern coast of the UK and I very rarely travel any further North than Birmingham city centre so it will be nice to see a different part of the UK.

Things I would do in Sheffield: The Winter Garden, Millennium Gallery.
Things I would do in Durham: Durham Castle, Museum of Archeology

Lisbon, Portugal - Teenage Grace was a complete beach bum. A holiday to me back then meant endless hours lounging on the sand and splashing about in the sea and, whilst I still enjoy that today, I'm much more of a city girl. That's probably why Portugal is the only 'hot' country to make the list. Even though its surrounded by water I doubt I would have much time to nip down to the shore if I did visit Lisbon. 

Things I would do in Lisbon: Wander around the Alfama district, Castelo de S Jorge, Torre De Belem.

Ben Nevis, Scotland

And that's it! My travel list is forever expanding and I have no doubt that I will be adding to this list as the months go by. I need to pick at least 7 more places to visit if I'm going to have a little break every month.

As always your tips and recommendations for places to see/ things to do/ things to eat are always welcome. This year is going to be a year of adventure and I am so ready for it!

Where are you planning to visit in 2019?


Thanks for reading!


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