6. Have you traveled anywhere this year?

Before long 2018 was coming to a close and it was time to set New Years resolutions for 2019. Along with the classic “I will join a gym” and “I will not place ASOS orders at 2am in the morning when I can’t sleep” I decided my main goal for the year ahead was to visit 5 countries. Unlike the other 2, I am proud to say I achieved it!

1. Canada

I kicked the year off with a trip to Canada in February to see my brother. Ben had decided to cross the pond and do a ski season out in the stunning town of whistler and it gave my dad and I the perfect excuse for a holiday! My plan originally was to go snowboarding but that was put on hold when I managed to fracture both of my wrists 2 weeks before we were due to go out (well done me!). As a result I had to find other ways to keep occupied whilst my family were off bombing down the mountains and to my surprise there was actually plenty to do! I went for walks through the snow covered Forrest, went for a massage at their Swedish spa and even managed to make it up the mountain in one of the cable cars to take in the view. I have 2 blog posts written in more detail about what to do in whistler when you can’t ski that I will link here (adventurous) and here (relaxing). It was lovely to see my brother and his girlfriend after 5 months of them being away and also a great escape to a beautiful winter wonderland. Hopefully next time I go though I won’t have 2 hands in casts!

2. Croatia

My trips abroad came to a bit of halt over spring so when May came around I was desperate for some time away! The problem was, I couldn’t actually find anyone to come with me. My friends were all saving up their precious holiday days for a long trip away over summer and my boyfriend had just started a new job so didn’t feel he could take time off yet. So I went on my own, as I now recommend everyone should do once in their life. To begin with I booked into a cute air BnB but then figured I might get a bit lonely not talking to anyone for 4 days so I swapped to a hostel right in the old town of Dubrovnik. The city itself was beautiful and I was also lucky enough to be there when the final season of Game of Thrones was released (kings landing is filmed in Dubrovnik) so was able to watch an episode in the very place it was produced. I have a blog post of what to do in Dubrovnik here and also one about my game of thrones tour here. Everyone in the hostel was incredibly friendly and I ended up on a day trip to Montenegro with a girl I met one night over dinner (so technically that brings my country count to 6.) that you can read about here. Looking back now, I kind of see this trip to Croatia as my test run for my big trip away next year, I wanted to see if I enjoyed being away on my own and staying in hostels before committing to it for months, thousands of miles away from home. Clearly I loved it!

3. Marrakech

Just like I struggled to get away over Easter, I found it virtually impossible to get any time off over summer so my next holiday didn’t come around until September. This was my bonus holiday of the year as I won my ticket on the plane in a raffle put on by my job. We got flights and accommodation paid for, as well as tickets to a 3 day festival in the desert called Oasis. I didn’t have a clue what to expect from this holiday as we didn’t know where we were staying until we pulled up at the front door but we ended up being well and truly spoilt! Marrakech itself was like no where I had ever been. I had heard nothing but horror stories before we went out and, yes, it is incredibly crowded and busy and i wouldn’t think about doing it on my own as a young girl but it had the most incredible energy that radiated in everything from the people to the architecture. We spent most mornings wandering around the markets, the afternoons were dedicated to lounging by the pool and then we danced the evenings away at the festival. (We possibly danced a bit too hard on the last night, getting back to the villa at 6am and then leaving at 6:30am to catch our flight home. That was not a fun experience!) The highlight of Marrakech for me though was definitely the food, it is a must spot for the foodies of the world out there!

4. Italy

As the nights started getting darker and the cold was coming in, my boyfriend and I felt like it was time to get away for a bit. We looked for cheap flights on sky scanner and ended up getting a great deal for flights and a hotel in Lake Como. I have always had a soft spot for Italy and Como did nothing but make my love for the country grow. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel on the edge of the lake, with the most insta-grammable pool I have ever dipped my toes into, and managed to get the balance of adventure and relaxation just right. We would spend a day out exploring the breathtaking town of Como and beyond either by boat, walking or funicular and then the next day we would head to the spa in the hotel or hide from the downpours in a local pizzeria. The highlight of the trip for me was probably the views from the top of Volta’s lighthouse in Brunate. As it was a quiet season at the lake we had the whole place to ourselves and followed up our climb with a fresh slice of chocolate and pear cake and a cup of tea. I can definitely see why lake como was the inspiration behind the phrase “la dolce vita”!

5. Tenerife

Around 8 years ago now my grandad moved out to a small coastal town on the island of Tenerife and every year since I have gone out for at least a long weekend. This year my mum and I decided to embrace the chance to get some winter sun and we flew out over the first weekend of December. To me the small town of san blas now feels like a home away from home. We know where to stay, where to eat, where to walk so whenever we go we generally do nothing but relax and indulge in paella and tapas. We spent most days and evenings out with my grandad, as well only see him once a year, and the rest of the time we lounged by the pool or read our books on the balcony. I can definitely get used to 26 degree weather in December!

6. England (bonus)

I set my resolution as 5 different countries but I have also been lucky enough this year to go on 3 short stay-cations across England. For the August bank holiday my family and I packed up the car and drove down to Bournemouth for a gloriously sunny weekend at the beach. We played plenty of board games, explored the Jurassic coast and I got absolutely annihilated at a game of mini golf on the coast. For my step-mums 55th birthday I joined her and 20 of her friends in a church air BnB in Somerset. A lot of wine was drunk and cake eaten but we also went out to explore the beautiful Wells cathedral and did some shopping in the clarks outlet city. My biggest trip away in England though was the week I spent in Cornwall with my boyfriend. We made the 6 hour drive down to port Isaac and stayed in the most adorable farm house a 5 minute walk from the coast. The weather was not on our side but it meant we had the place to ourselves and went on plenty of walks where the only company we kept were cows and sheep. It can be easy to forget how many wonderful places England has to offer and I am looking forward to exploring more of the place I am lucky enough to call home.

2019 ended up being a big year for travel for me so it feels quite surreal to say that 2020 is going to be even bigger! It’s not often you can say you’re going to go to 4 countries in January alone! Think I’m going to have to come up with a new resolution for next year.

Merry Christmas and happy travels!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Winter in Whistler when you don’t Ski – Relaxing Activities

If you’re looking for more adventurous things to do away from the slopes then the first part of my Winter in Whistler series is here!

To summarise from my last post, I had a snowboarding holiday booked to visit my brother in Whistler, Canada, but after a rather nasty fall a couple of weeks before departure I was left with 2 fractured wrists and a refund on my snowboard. Even with both my wrists bandaged up in splints, I was still determined to make the most of my time in Whistler and catch up on some much-needed relaxation away from work! The picturesque mountain views and flourishes of snow that turned the town into a huge snow globe meant that you could simply sit by the fire, grab a hot drink and watch the world pass by happily. In this post however I am going to highlight some specific activities and places that helped me to switch off and unwind.

One thing that needs to be said is that Whistler is not the cheapest of locations to visit. The price tags were as steep as the mountains that encase the town and for that reason I have split this guide up into 3 sections – cheap, mid-range and expensive. This way you can find an activity to do no matter what your budget is. (Prices correct as of February 2019)

Cheap – Seeing as in my last post the cheapest option was still a bit pricey I figured for this one I would go as cheap as I could…free! Whistler is burrowed deep up amongst forests, mountains and frozen lakes just waiting to be explored. Each more breathtakingly beautiful than the last, there are a few mapped out paths around the edges of the town that you can follow. Seeing as my whole family were off skiing, I charged up my camera battery, threw on every layer I owned and headed off down the Valley Trail. It took me down past the start of the cross-country skiing route, alongside the skateboard park that was now nothing more than mounds of snow, and across a wooden bridge that looked like something out of Harry Potter. On the other side of the bridge was the town of Blackcomb. I had a mooch around the shops there and grabbed a hot drink to warm me up again before finishing off the trail. It also passed the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre that was unfortunately shut on the day I was there but could be another great place to have a wander around! A few days on I managed to entice my family away from the slopes and we all went on a walk, that was a 20 minute drive away, to Nairn Falls. Now I will put a small warning in here, this was an unmaintained trail in the winter so the path was incredibly icy and actually quite dangerous to walk down. If you are going to attempt it in the snowy season then be sure to wear lots of warm layers and shoes with plenty of grip. The falls themselves had half frozen over into astonishing icicles and the other perk of being the only ones’ stupid enough to walk the trail is we had the falls all to ourselves! My camera got so cold on the hike that it had died by the time we reached the waterfall, luckily it held up for a few seconds to get one good shot though. It took us about 3 hours altogether (most of that time at least one of our bums was on the floor) and if you do want to go in winter the car park is closed but you can leave your car in the little lay-by off the highway.

Mid-Range – There was one part of skiing that my fractured wrists and I could definitely get behind, the après ski! Whistler certainly didn’t have a limit to the places you could grab a drink and a bite to eat so my advice would be to make the most of it! If you’re after a tasty lunch to regenerate after a long day exploring then my top recommendation would be the Mile 1 located just outside Whistler in Pemberton. They offered such a vast range of food choice but for me the Mac’n’cheese was the best I have ever had! It also led to one of the comedy highlights of the holiday when my dad expected it to turn up as burger (think he forgot that Mac only relates to burgers in McDonlads.) If it is a big family meal you want in the evening then the steaks at The Keg were incredible or a more laid-back bar-vibe, but still with excellent food, can be found at Brickworks. One of my favourite meals however was at Il Cammineto, a stunning, classy Italian restaurant right in the centre of the town. The décor was beautifully elegant and the food was mouth-wateringly rich and delicious. Now it wouldn’t be a trip to Canada without a bit of syrup! I had mine drizzled on top of hearty stack of pancakes at Wild Wood that I would eat everyday for breakfast, if only I could actually manage to cook pancakes successfully! All of these restaurants came in at different price tags. There were small cafes and bars if it was a light snack you’re after (Purebread is the place to go if it is cakes that you’ve got the taste for) or tonnes of larger restaurants to really indulge in.

Expensive – Now this activity is by far the most relaxing one of all once you get there. The drive there however was the most stressful part of the holiday for me. I was driving a car twice the size of mine, in the snow and on the other side of the road – let’s just say a stop sign definitely does what it says on the tin when you go straight into it! But minor crash aside we made it to the Scandinave Spa in one piece, couldn’t be a better time to be booked in for a massage really could it. The Spa is a wellness spa in which you can either go for a treatment or just utilise their traditional therapy baths. My massage was incredibly relaxing but also rather painful as she worked all the tension out of my neck. I left feeling so loose and calm though so the agony was worth it. From there we went down to the main floor of the spa. Stepping out into -15 degrees in nothing but a bikini and a dressing gown is a rather shocking experience but all is rewarded when you sink yourself into the 40 degree hot tubs bubbling away. The whole spa works on a system – 15 minutes in the hot tub, a 10 second dunk in the cold pool, then 15 minutes in the relaxation rooms. It is a way to completely shut off from the outside world as all technology must be left in the lockers and no talking is allowed anywhere. I struggled a bit with the last bit but I can promise that a word did not leave my lips as I snuggled down on a bed next to the fire watching the snow float down across the spa. It was such an amazing way to take a moment for yourself and either read a book, have a nap or just do some good proper thinking! The spa is located deep in the forest away from any and all noise, the tall trees surrounding it really make you feel like you’ve entered a whole new world. This level of peace and tranquillity came at a high price though, it was $79 to just use the baths or around $189 for a massage and entry to the baths. In my opinion, the baths and relaxation rooms are such a calming, unusual and detoxing experience that it almost overshadowed the massage so don’t feel like you’re missing out if you can’t fit in a Swedish rub down as well! Just a heads up, you get 2 towels included in both packages but if you just do the baths then you have to pay extra to rent the robes so I would recommend bringing your own if you can!

Whistler is the kind of town that you can make it what you want it to be. If you want a hair-raising thrill-filled adventure holiday then it can provide but likewise if you want some time to shut off from the outside world and just enjoy good company and beautiful settings then it is also a dream destination. With views to take your breathe away and enough food to render your belt useless it shouldn’t be overlooked as a place to kick back and chill in. Just make sure your camera is fully charged and pump your car brakes in the snow!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Winter in Whistler when you don’t Ski – Adventurous Activities

It is two weeks before I am meant to be jetting off to Whistler, Canada, for a week on the slopes but I am sat in hospital. The X-Ray scan comes back. It is 2 fractured wrists….”Hi Dad, it’s Emma. I think you’re going to have to cancel my snowboard rental and slope pass!”

As of September 2018, my older brother and his girlfriend had moved to Whistler to complete a ski season and my dad and I were flying out to see them. My wrists were wrapped up in metal plated splints and my fear of falling over had now increased twofold but I was determined to get the most out of my holiday. I wasn’t able to board down the mountains anymore but I equally didn’t want to miss out on all the adventures that Whistler had to offer so I layered up like the Micheline man, locked my feet into the sturdiest boots I could find and set out into the cold. I was quite surprised to find how much was actually on offer off the slopes, around every corner was another adventure company offering everything from snow-trekking to sledding with huskies. There was even a giant bungee jump open all year round! I had 6 days to fill and a whole load of jet lag waking me up before the sun had even risen so plenty of time for activities and adventures. I am going to highlight my top experiences in this post.

One thing that needs to be said is that Whistler is not the cheapest of locations to visit. The price tags were as steep as the mountains that encase the town and for that reason I have split this guide up into 3 sections – cheap, mid-range and expensive. This way you can find an activity to do no matter what your budget is. (Prices correct as of February 2019)

Cheap – It was our last day in Whistler and we had a morning to kill before our flight home. It had hit the bitter temperature of -15 degrees each day of the holiday so there was definitely an appeal for something that wouldn’t involve venturing into the bitter cold again. The perfect solution came in the form of the Escape! Escape rooms. The 4 of us took on the Pinball challenge and were taken into a puzzling arcade world that involved a lot of balls, buttons and wires to escape from. I don’t want to go into too much detail as I don’t want to ruin the experience if any of you do decide to take it on but I will say that so much effort had clearly gone into the décor and the puzzles themselves, it was an incredibly fun but flabbergasting experience. Located a stone’s throw from the base of the gondolas it was really easy to get to and if we had more time I would be loved to have taken on the other 3 rooms they offered. The Pinball room was in their mid-tier of difficulty but they did have one designed for families and another for brain-boxes who wanted a big-old challenge. Now I have put this in ‘cheap’ section but at $33 per person I will hold my hands up and say it isn’t a bargain but it was the cheapest thing we did there. When I said the beauty and adventure of Whistler came at a price I meant it! (Just a heads up in my next blog post that is focused on more relaxing things to do there are some free options!) We managed to escape with around 3 minutes to spare so I challenge you all to go and see if you can beat us!

I don’t have any photos of the escape room seeing as it’s all meant to be kept a mystery sorry!

Mid-Range – Just because you can’t/don’t want to ski down the mountains doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on going up them. The Whistler Gondola runs daily from the centre of the town up to the top of the mountain. Leaving every minute, it takes endless streams of skiers and boarders up to their start point and for $70 you can join them. The gondola itself takes about 23 minutes and, on a clear day, gives you stunning views back over the town as well as the open winding ski runs that twist and turn down the face of the mountain. At the top there is a small shop and café where you can warm your hands up with a toasty hot chocolate and watch skiers glide down the slopes. I have added this into the adventurous part of the blog series because at the top you also get access to the Peak 2 Peak. Included in your ticket price, it is a separate Gondola that connects Whistler to Blackcomb Mountain. At 436m, it is the highest cable car above ground and if like me heights aren’t your thing then it will certainly leave you a little shaky at the knees. It takes about 11 minutes to get from one side to the other and does give you the most incredible views of snow topped trees and the frozen valley below. You can either get off at Blackcomb and spend time in the little café up there or you can just stay in the car as it takes you back to Whistler. There is no limit to the amount of times you’re allowed to go on it and if you want something to get your heart racing a bit more there are a couple of pods with glass bottoms. When you’ve taken all the phots you want and drunk as much hot chocolate as you can manage then just simply catch the Whistler Gondola back to the base again.

Expensive – For all those adrenaline junkies out there I am sure you’ll be laughing in the face of my escape room and gondola. Sat there thinking they’re about as adventurous as a trip to garden centre but I see your thrill-seeking desire and I raise you a 60mph snow mobile adventure through the back country of Canada. If you really want the kind of adventure to take your breath away then the Wilderness Run Snowmobile Tour with Canadian Wilderness Adventures should be at the top of your list. We all gathered at their shop located in the centre of the town before getting driven out and up to the back country. We were decked out in warm layers, boots, helmet and goggles then given an overview on how to use the snow mobiles safety. If you have a valid driving license then you can drive your own or you can ride along on the back of someone else in your group. Seeing as I couldn’t grip the handle bars, I hung on to my Dad for dear life as he followed the guide through the forest and up the mountain side. Our guide was so much fun and took us over bumpy terrain, round tight corners and even let us run loose on a frozen lake where I think Dad reached speeds close to 70mph. The highlight of the trip for me though was the view at the top of the mountain. Framed by rolling mountain tops and blanketed by thick, untouched snow that glistened in the sunlight it was the kind of view that belonged on a computer screensaver! After taking some beautiful photos we sped back down the mountain, handed back all the equipment and were returned to the town centre. The thrill factor definitely shot up but so did the price, at around $600 for the 4 of us it was the big treat of the holiday but what a treat it was! They also offered dog sledding adventures that I would have loved to try had we had more time.

The host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler is renown for its snow-sport activities and facilities but you don’t have to Ski to enjoy your time there! It is a beautiful Canadian town nestled amongst the Coast Mountains. The streets are lined with bars and restaurants and there isn’t an unfriendly face in sight as the locals embrace and welcome the endless streams of tourists that flood there annually. Fancy a more laid back, chilled out holiday in Whistler? Don’t worry I have you covered. My next blog post will be highlighting all the best things to do when you don’t really want to do anything at all.

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Top 5 countries I’ve visited

Hello Lovelies, I have been lucky enough to travel to around 15 countries throughout my life and picking my top 5 has been hard because every place is beautiful and amazing in it’s own way. I’ve looked through photos, diaries and my good old brain and decided that these are the places I have left with the best memories of! Just to put it out there these have all been family holidays so I haven’t been backpacking and truly exploring these places but I do feel like I got a great experience of each of them.

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Tenerife – This one has a big personal connection for me as Tenerife is where my Grandad lives but that aside from that I would still recommend it to anyone looking for a lovely holiday at a cheap price. A 4 night stay in a 4* hotel cost £330 each for my boyfriend and I (flights included!) Not only does it pretty much have garaunteed sunshine, the food is unbelievable with lots of freshly caught fish and gorgeous tapas dishes! There is a million and one things to do from shopping to kayaking with dolphins, mini golf to go karting, you will never have a boring day that’s for sure. The landscape is unique, covered in black rock beaches and beautiful blue sea, not to mention the volcanoe! I know I’m going on a lot here but I love Tenerife and would seriously recommend it to anyone looking for a quick getaway!

 

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Italy – Where to start with Italy? Well firstly the food is unbelievable, pizza and pasta yes please! There are endless amounts of historic sights take in from the Colosseum to the Pompeii. If you’re after gorgeous landscapes head to lake Garda or the Amalfi Coast. If you want more rustic Italian living then you need to check out Tuscany! What I’m trying to get across is Italy has a little bit of everything and a lot of pizza (what more could anyone want!)

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Costa Rica – This one is a little bit (actually quite a lot) further afield but no less amazing! The main thing to be said about Costa Rica is you will never meet more positive/friendly people in your life. There is also a huge variety of wildlife, such as sloths and howler monkeys, that you will see just casually hanging from trees as you drive around! The weather is a little bit more temperamental but that’s all part of the rainforest experience and you will seriously come to love the rain during the humid days. I had some amazing life experiences in Costa Rica, like white water rafting and zip wiring over a volcano, but there is so much more I want to return to and explore.

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Canada – I’ve wanted to go to Canada since I was about 5 and was lucky enough to go last summer. The main thing to be said is that it is absolutely beautiful! Wherever you go it will be stunning but I found the drive between Jasper and Banff to be the most breathtaking. Just like in Costa Rica, everyone is so unbelievably lovely and friendly and I think it has a great balance between nature and city life! If you want a big bustling town then Vancouver or Toronto were very lively but then just a few hours out you will find giant forests and gorgeous waterfalls to go hiking in and around. A winter ski season out there is definilty something I want to try! 

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America – This one is a tricky one because how do you fit America into a paragraph. It’s impossible so I’m going to go for my highlights. Up there has to be New York (which you can read my whole blog post on here). Orlando is also up there for the theme parks (in particular Disney!) For a variety of things to do I think California is brilliant because you can go from hiking in Kings Canyon to sunbathing on a Santa Barbara beach. My favourite city in California had to be San Francisco though, it is just down right cool!

There we have it. These are my top 5 places I have visited and I would love to know your top ones! Or if you’ve been to any of these places I mentioned what did you think?

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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