20 October 2017

Charge on the Go with this Power Bank Giveaway

What are your ‘must have’ travel tech essentials?  Camera? Adapters? Chargers? A Kindle maybe?  You’ve got to have your phone of course, but how do you keep it topped up?  If you're anything like me your phone has become like your right hand.  However hopefully you are not like me and your phone doesn't just cut off for no reason and only turn back on when plugged into a power source, but that’s a rant for another day.

Even if you don’t have a dodgy phone like myself we all know that smartphones are terrible when it comes to battery life, especially when traveling as we rely on them for so much!  Directions, digital tickets, keeping our insta-stories updated and google translate to name just a few, so what do you do?  You get a Power Bank!

Power Banks have become my must have item when I am going literally anywhere where I’m not 5 feet from a plug socket.  Just charge them up and you’ve got power on the go all day, an absolute must have when you are out and about exploring the world.  Today I have teamed up with Destination2 to give you a chance to get your hands on your very own slimline 8’000 mAh power bank, perfect for charging while globe-trotting so you don’t have to slow down.

To enter please follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter below, and remember it’s open to UK residents only.

Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway


18 October 2017

What I learnt from Being a Bloggers Blog Awards Judge

Picture by Milly of Mini Adventures
A few weeks ago I attended the Bloggers Blog Awards in Leeds and had the honour of being in a room with some of the most talented bloggers in the UK, spanning a whole host of different genres.  Being in a room of people who ‘get’ this strange hobby and are super supportive of each other while watching the winners pick up their respective awards was amazing. There was such a nice atmosphere.  A few months previous I actually helped judge the travel category and spent weeks looking at all aspect of these fabulous blogs.  Let me tell you there are some really talented people in the blogging scene!  I discovered so many amazing new blogs doing this and picked up a few tips along the way, so here’s a few things I noticed when looking at almost 50 blogs a day:

Personality, Personality, Personality!

Something I’ve long since struggled with on my own blog and something I knew was key was re-confirmed when reading this many blogs.  Personality is everything!  I’ve documented the struggle of finding my own voice in the past and letting my personality shine in my posts; but it’s something I have improved and I'm always working on.  The bloggers whose personality you can gauge when reading their posts are always the ones I wanted to follow and read more from, it makes you feel like you are talking to a friend.  In short it’s “hashtag relatable”.

Layout Really Matters

I am almost reluctant to admit this as until recently I had a really terrible, old fashioned layout. When you are looking at this many blogs it really does make a huge difference, first impressions matter.  Unattractive, hard to navigate blogs are an instant turn off for readers.  Which leads me into...

Keep it Fuss Free

When judging layouts the posts with a million side bar plug ins, links and and adverts just distract the reader from what you should really be paying attention to, your content!  You can include these of course but it's about doing it in a way that leaves your site clutter free. I am not saying everyone needs to have the same white background and pastel theme, but making your own space yours while keeping it clean helps readers.  You might have noticed this blog has had a recent makeover largely inspired by this, and it's still a work in progress.

There is so Much Talent in This Community

I mentioned this in my intro and it’s worth reiterating because I was seriously impressed with the level of written, photography and design skill across the board.  Check out all the people nominated for the awards because they are all seriously well worth reading.  People have some really ingenious blog post ideas and unique presentation skills!

Have an Easy to Find Blog Archive

Having an easy to find blog archive is essential for a new reader to your blog, they want to find out more about what you write and your personality. It made things really difficulty when there wasn’t one when doing my judging.  When I read a new blog I like to look at some of their past work not just what's on their front page so I can see what they cover, a search bar is also really useful for finding specific subjects.

We Can Tell When You Don’t Disclose Sponsorships and Affiliate Links

This is a personal bug bear, but reading a post which is clearly sponsored or contains affiliate links that isn’t disclosed at all really turns me off a blogger. It makes them seem untrustworthy and breaks the peer-to-peer tone a lot of blogs use.  Be honest, I never feel anything but happy for bloggers who are making money from their blogs, be proud of your work!

Make your social links obvious

I found some great blogs who I really wanted to follow on social to keep up with, but their social links were nowhere to be found!  Make sure they are easily viewable on your main page and each individual post, we want to support you!

That’s just a few of the things I picked up, it’s really inspired me to read more new blogs as there are so many people out their working their butts of producing some amazing content!  A huge thanks to Hayley for putting on some amazing awards ceremony, judging just one category makes you realise just how much hard work goes into it, and a huge congratulations to all the winners and nominees.  Here’s to next year!

16 October 2017

Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle at The Wyndham's Theatre

In 1925 scientist and philosopher Werner Heisenberg produced a breakthrough paper about the uncertainty principle in regards to quantum physics, in 2017 we see this production place this theory in a real world setting; in a story of world wind meetings and romance.  The shows asks:

“In this uncertain world, who can predict what brings people together?”
The meeting between a middle aged American woman who is a hurricane of energy and disjointed in her own right, and a steadfast elderly butcher makes for quite the companionship.  Throughout the play we see this unlikely relationship blossom and play out in an almost surreal manner.  The pacing and energy of the play is among some of its highlights, as well as its expert use of language and humour.  You get the feeling this is a pair you could listen to just for their manner of conversation, however the plot is lacking and the language sadly isn’t enough to carry it through.

Both performers do an excellent job at portraying their characters with depth, warmth and humour.  The white box staging is dynamic and the ever changing walls adding to the sense of mild chaos and unpredictability of the characters.  It almost appears like a dance at times.
Sadly the pair isn’t captivating enough to hold the play together.  It lose its energy and engagement towards the latter end of the play which leaves the whole show being sadly forgettable.  Catch the show until the 6th of January 2018, pick up a ticket here.
*I was given press tickets to this performance in exchange for a review. all words are my own and honest.

13 October 2017

Amsterdam Canal Cruising with AttractionTix

Can you go to Amsterdam and not do a canal tour?  I'm a huge lover of canals so this was on the top of my list when I went to explore Amsterdam recently. Amsterdam has hundreds of canals so what better way then to explore the city!
Amsterdam has tons of different canal tours, arriving at the dock outside the Amsterdam Centraal Station can be overwhelming, which to choose?  Thankfully I'd pre-booked my tour with AttractionTix so I knew I was going with a trustworthy, reliable company with a quality service.  Plus it meant I didn't have to queue for tickets, win! 
Booking with AttractionTix meant I could book before traveling, saving precious euros for the rest of my visit.  They emailed me my e-tickets straight away, so no waiting around.  You could even book it at the airport on your mobile!  Our tickets allowed us to go to any tour during the day, so no worrying about missing a specified time.  I often look to AttractionTix before booking tickets around the world as they often get exclusive discounts just for UK customers.  I even used them to buy my Eat & Play card for New York last year.
The cruise itself was one hour long and comes with free headphones, allowing you to listen to the commentary in any of the 19 languages.  It is classed as a 'semi-open' boat, meaning you can tour rain or shine.  The glass was closed on our trip due to the rain, but the boats are set up in a way that means you won't loose out on taking those all important photos!
The canal tour takes you around all the most famous landmarks including picturesque churches, picture perfect facades and iconic bridges.  I really recommend it as an introduction to the city, the commentary gives you a great overview of the history and points of interest.  Trips run every half hour throughout the day and best of all the boats are solar powered meaning they are good for the environment and run almost silently. 

What's the best thing you did in Amsterdam?

12 October 2017

Hair The Musical at The Vaults

It’s been 50 years since the premiere of Hair the musical, yet it’s themes of war, peace and a country divided are still sadly relevant today, as this new production at The Vaults aims to prove.  

In typical Vaults style this show is not your average performance, as soon as you enter the building you are transported to the free loving, peace promoting times of the hippy revolution.  The box office and bar are covered in anti-war slogans, the floor is made of soft wood chips and every surface is covered in throws and blankets, with bohemian-style tent spaces created for the audience to relax in to set the mood before the show begins.

The theatre space itself is simplistically staged in contrast to the colourful decor that takes over the room.  Lighting is similarly simplistic yet effective aided by the costumes and inspired use of imagery throughout.  The live band really adds to the authenticity, although there are times when it drowned out the vocal performances.  
However the real draw of the show is in the performers themselves.  These are 100% Westend standard performers seen here in London’s premiere fringe theatre.  There have been very few times that I have seen a cast where every performer is this committed for the whole show.  There are no dips in energy or performance level throughout, which really elevates this show to one of the greatest musicals of the year.  Vocal talents are seriously impressive across the board, and the physicality is just as impressive!  Movement direction was similarly impressive using a stripped back, but engaging style.  There is a real union between the actors that feels like it goes beyond what you see on stage; the atmosphere is palpable.  

The plot does take a little while to get going, but famously it’s not the most plot-heavy musical in the world.  When it does take off, the individual characters really distinguish themselves and this is where the joy in this musical lives: in the characters. Each performer totally commands their own performance.   
This show is a representation of the hippy age told with a golden glow, it’s enough to make you want to join in and start revolution by the finale.  Despite its occasionally serious subject matter, I left the performance feeling high on life and ready to take on with the world.  Any show that gets a cynical London audience to it’s feet and swaying to hippy beats on a dark Monday evening is doing something right!   This is a show that deserves a full house and a standing ovation every night, beat the winter blues and grab a ticket while you can.  This might just be the best production of Hair you will get a chance to see!

Hair is being performed at The Vaults until the 13th January 2018, tickets range between £25 and £50 and can be purchased here.
*I was invited by the PR company to review this production, all words and opinions are my own.

11 October 2017

Cocktails in One of London's Tallest Buildings

When you look at the London skyline there is one building you will recognise from it's shape, but the name 30 St Mary's Axe probably won't mean anything to you.  That's likely because like most people you'll know it by it's colloquial nickname The Gherkin.  One thing Londoners really love is giving our favourite, most unusually shaped skyscrapers nicknames.  From the Aerosol to the Walkie Talkie, they are so ingrained we forgo their real names all together, and The Gherkin with it's curved shape is a favourite among many. Recently I headed to this iconic building for cocktails and nibbles inside it's beautiful sky bar.
The Gherkin has a renowned restaurant near the top of the building, what few people realise that on top of the restaurant, in the very top of the building, is a bar few know about.  You get some of the best views of London all the way round this stunning bar.  Normally you have to be a member to gain access to the bar but they do occasionally open it up to members of the public, keep an eye on their website for details.  I was kindly invited along by my sister who'd booked us in a few weeks prior, you have to go through some enhanced security more akin to that of a small airport then a bar, and you are lead towards the elevators (make sure you bring I.D, everyone needs it to get into the building here).  This area is rather spectacular and reminded me a more modern version of the interior of the Empire State Building.  There are two lifts and a small set of stairs you need to take to get to the bar on the 40th floor, and these lifts really fly!  Expect your ears to pop on the way up!
Arriving in the bar you are greeted by the spectacular surround views.  Sitting there in the top of the dome you feel as though you are sitting in the clouds!  Unfortunately we were initially given the worst seats in the house, facing the entrance and the complete opposite side from where the setting sun.  Thankfully we were soon given a better space as soon as one became available.  We were moved to a seat with beautiful view of The Themes and Tower Bridge and I of course I just had to walk around to get some shots of the sunset.  It was crazy being thus high up and seeing helicopters looping round so close you felt like you could almost see the faces of the people on board.  We ordered the Viva La Vida cocktail as we chatted and watch the city turn from day to night, there is something really magical about seeing the lights come on Tower Bridge bridge and seeing it become more and more spectacular as the sun goes down.
Our cocktail was just sweet enough with the tea flavours complementing it well.  We also opted for the Charcuterie board to share and it at took us hours to get through it all, slowly nibbling away.  The selection of meats was filling and tasty, although I did feel very hydrated after from all the cured meats, I was surprised by just how much we got.
We had a very relaxed time, sipping away and watching the view, ordering more delicious cocktails throughout the night.  The cocktail menu isn't what you'd find in other bars, everything is hand crafted and often a unique creation, no sex on the beach's here!  
It's a gorgeous venue that's defiantly worth a visit if you get the chance, my only slight complaint was the odd music choice seemed a little at odds with the vibe and the noise level was rather high, it wouldn't be the best place to go on a first date as it's pretty heard to hear.  Other then that it's an amazing venue. It's defiantly a high end place to grab a cocktail, with prices ranging from around £11-£15 per cocktail .  It's out of my usual budget but it's worth it for a special occasion for the views and the experience, I highly recommend it.

Have you ever visited The Gherkin?

9 October 2017

Amsterdam on a Budget for the #CheapFlightsChallenge

Amsterdam has been at the top of my travel wish list for a few years now.  It seems to have picked up in popularity recently as a destination with more to offer then what it's old seedy reputation retained; I wanted to go and explore the beautiful architecture, food and culture.  So when Cheapflights contacted me asking if I wanted to take a trip to this beautiful city I couldn’t say yes fast enough!  The catch?  I had a budget of just £500 for three days exploring the city and this was to cover flights, hotels and all expenses for two people.  Would it be possible?  I got stuck in to find out!  (For ease I’ve converted all euro prices to British sterling).

Advance Booking: Hotel and Travel

Before we headed off on our adventure there were a couple of things we had to prioritise for advanced booking, most importantly the flights and hotel.  I jumped straight on the Cheapflights website and started hunting down the best deals.  I knew we wanted flights that gave us the most time in the city but I left myself open in terms of dates to get the best deals.  The Cheapflights site scans the web to compare flights from 1000’s of different airlines, travel agents and travel sites to find you the cheapest deals available.  It's a must before you book any flight worldwide!  Using the site we found a great deal flying with easyJet for less than £100 return for the two of us.
Return flights for two: £86.96

We booked our hotel at the same time, again using the Cheapflights site.  After we purchased our flights it helpfully gave us links to a variety of hotels through different web services.  This is how we can across the Hotel Campanile which cost us less than £150 for two nights.  Although it isn’t in the city centre it is easily accessible using the metro system with trains running regularly until midnight everyday, so it’s really convenient.  The hotel is only about a two minute walk from the station so it couldn’t be easier.  The hotel itself was basic but clean and had everything we needed for collapsing at the end of a long day exploring.
Hotel for two nights: £135.70

Because of our early flight time and the distance to the airport (we flew from Luton) we thought that driving would be our cheapest option, so we booked parking through Holiday Extras, another comparison site that finds you the best deals on all the little things you need when traveling like parking, transfers, holiday insurance and more.  We chose Airparks Drop and Go who I can honestly say is the best airport parking service I’ve ever used!  Both dropping off and picking up my car were super quick and easy and the shuttle buses ran regularly, I’ve already booked with them again for when I fly to Edinburgh in November.  Pro tip: sign up to the Holiday Extras newsletter as they regularly email out 10-15% discount codes and if you take a look on their site and don’t book right away they usually send you one out the next day!
Car parking £18.85
Total £241.51

Day One

Arriving into Amsterdam airport the first thing we wanted to do was make our way to our hotel and drop off our bags.  We bought a train ticket to the nearest metro station on the same line as our hotel (£8.50 for two) and then purchased a 24 hour Metro card each (£13.29 for two) to save money instead of paying for individual journeys.  It took us around 45 minutes to make it from the airport to our hotel and about 25 minutes from our hotel to central Amsterdam.
I love a tour on the first day of visiting a new city to give you an overview of the place before you decide where to explore, and this being Amsterdam it just had to be a canal tour.  When you step out of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station you will see plenty of these tours to choose from, we oped for the lovers cruise which was £30 for two.  The tour lasted just over an hour and came with headphones so you could listen into the commentary in whatever language you preferred and take them away with you at the end.  It gave a great overview of the city and it’s history, as well as giving us some pointers for places we knew we’d be heading to, it was a great introduction to the city.  
After this we were starving so headed for dinner, after some wandering we settled on an Italian (£23.92 for two).  It wasn’t out of this world but it was perfectly fine and kept us full.  We were pretty tired after this and knew that anything too academic or that involved sitting down would lull us to sleep so we spent the remainder of the evening doing one of my favourite things in a new place, getting lost on purpose (free).  We just picked roads that looked interesting and kept walking, it keeps us awake, helped us discover a much more authentic side to the city and see things we would never have discovered otherwise.  I recommend doing this in every city you can (maybe research places to definitely avoid first) and walk as much as you can to get a feel for the area.  We did this right until it was time to get the last Metro home.
Total= £75.71

Day Two

Our 24 hour Metro ticket from the day before was still valid so we used that to head into the city and to our first stop of the day, the Anne Frank Museum (£16.98 for two tickets).   When traveling on a budget I think it’s important to prioritise the things you most want to do and cut back in other areas to make up for it, you shouldn’t have to miss out.  This is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit since I was a teen and first read the famous diary, so I knew there was no way I could come and not make a pilgrimage here.  Visiting the Anne Frank Museum works a little different to other museums, you can book online in advance for entry between 9-3.30PM and only those who have pre-booked will be allowed to enter during these times.  After 3.30PM non-ticket holders can queue up to enter the museum but be warned, queues can be long year round.  As this was a priority for me I’d booked my tickets 6 weeks out, but even at this stage a lot of the times were almost booked up.  The museum itself is photography-free to help preserve the building.  Seeing the annex in real life was incredibly moving and emotional, I am glad I finally got the chance to visit.  
After this we hit up another Amsterdam ‘must do’, pancakes!  We chose The Pancake Bakery which is one of the most famous traditional pancake houses in the city, situated in a 17th century storehouse.  We got a pancake each (the Canadian and the Dutch which we shared between us) for £36.42.  Although this wasn't the cheapest of meals, it was a tradition we were willing to pay for and it keeps us stuffed for most of the day, they don’t skimp on toppings that’s for sure!  
We really needed to walk off our meal after this so we headed towards the famous flower market to have a look around (free).  A lot of these stalls sell typical tourist knick-knacks and most of the flowers are in bulb or seed form, so there’s not really much to see but it’s still worth dropping in if you are en route.
From here we headed to the Rijksmuseum where we headed to the gardens (free) instead of going inside.  Art ain’t my thing.  While this popular museum does come at a cost few people know that you can actually explore the gardens for free.  It’s not very big but it is beautiful, calm and quiet with plenty interesting sculptures to look at.  A not-so-hidden gem!
At the back of this museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam, the I Amsterdam sign (free).  Getting a decent photo here amongst the hundreds of people trying to do the same is a pretty difficult feat, but has become something of a necessity on any visit to the city.
We were near the Vondel Park (free) so decided to explore this green space, some of The Fault in Our Stars book takes place here after all!  This is a beautiful city park with plenty of wildlife, ponds and even an outdoor stage.  It was a great place for a romantic stroll as we wound down the day.  
On our way back towards central Amsterdam we called into the Condomerie (free), a unique, quirky shop filled with every kind of novelty condom imaginable, some are truly bizarre.  It’s just so Amsterdam and worth a 5 minute detour, although bare in mind this is another place that allows no photos inside.
By now we were ready for food, so headed back to central Amsterdam to grab I bite to eat.  We settled on the aptly named Burger Bar restaurant where we grabbed burgers and a couple of drinks for £27.47 for the two of us.  As far as burgers go it was pretty decent if not the best burger I’ve ever had.
Before the night ended we headed to the famous Sex Museum (£8.86 for two).  I wasn’t expecting much from this other than a cheap giggle but to be honest I was pleasantly surprised.  It has everything from classical representations of sex, to porn through the ages, to the outright bizarre that has to be seen to be believed.  I laughed a lot, jumped a few times and learnt a bit too!  I didn’t think we’d be here long but actually we spent an hour and a half exploring the exhibition which was well worth our 5 euros each.
After this we headed back to our hotel, our 24 metro passes had ran out by this time so the single journey came to £4.52 for us both.   
Total= 94.25

Day Three

We started the day by grabbing some breakfast toasties from a little cafe near our hotel for the grand total of £2.66 for two, before jumping on the metro (£4.52) back to the centre.  I’d got my bag with me so we headed straight for a little place called Luggage Depot to store my bag for only £3.51 for the day.  It’s run out of a record store and the staff are super friendly so I’d really recommend it.  
We headed to the Dam Square to join a three hour free walking tour, our main plan for the rest of the day.  The way these tours work is that you don’t pay an upfront fee, but you are expected to tip at the end.  Our tour guide was great but I’ll be honest, our tour was a bit of a disaster.  We got caught in one of the worst rain pours I’ve ever seen, and it DID.NOT.STOP!  Three hours of walking in heavy rain really took it out of us, it was so bad I couldn’t really take any photos for fear of breaking my camera, everything in my bag was soaked.  It’s a shame as this would have been a great way to learn more about Amsterdam but the rain was so bad we struggled to see or hear what we were being told as we were too busy hiding in our hoods!  We grabbed a much needed hot drink halfway through (£6.20) and tipped our tour guide 20 euros (or £17.72) for all his hard work.
We were pretty miserable after this as we knew we had no way of drying off.  The rain went through both my coat and jacket, I was soaked to the skin within the first half hour and all the clothes we carried in bags our bags were soaked so we headed to Winkel 43 for some comfort food.  We grabbed a platter of mixed meat, more hot drinks and shared a slice of their famous apple pies to warm us up before the airport (£17.72).

After this we were ready to go to the airport to try and dry off!  We headed back to the airport via a train from Amsterdam Centraal Station for £8.86 for both of us.  
Total= £61.19

Overall Total £472.66
So there you have it!  Three days in Amsterdam for two for under £500, I didn’t include restaurant tips and things and I’m sure I missed a beer or two off here and there so the total is probably closer to the £500 then it seems.  City travel as a reputation of being expensive but I’ve done a lot of these short trips this year and managed to spend surprisingly little.  One tip I would give you if you are heading to Amsterdam is pick up the discount flyers in the tourist information offices or in hotels, we didn’t spot these until near the end of our trip and they could have saved us a further couple of euros,  Every little helps! For further tips check out Cheapflights Amsterdam page or this Culture Trip Tavel Guide for more info.

What’s your favourite budget Amsterdam find?
*Cheapflights supplied me with £500 to spend on the trip, all words and opinions my own.
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