Category: Travel-tastic

Days out: Warner Bros. Studios Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

When I bought tickets to the Making of Harry Potter for my sister’s 21st birthday, I hadn’t seen any of the films or read any of the books. I was never part of the Harry Potter phenomenon, as I was 19 when the first book was released, so it kind of passed me by.

In fact, up until a few days before we went, I still hadn’t seen any of the films. We established that I’d probably need to see the first three in order to appreciate anything about the studio tour, so I binge watched them over 3 nights and off we went.

I must admit I didn’t have high hopes for the tour; I expected it to be OK but not brilliant, and probably overpriced for what there is on offer. How wrong I was! There’s so much to see and do, with interactive attractions, photo opportunities and lots of different scenes and props.

It’s your birthday!

Excitingly for my sister, they asked if anyone was celebrating their birthday before we went into the Great Hall, and she was the only one, so she got to open the famous huge wooden doors!

I felt super poorly on the day, having the WORST cold, aches and pains, snotty nose and looking dog rough, all topped off with a 2 hour drive that took over 3 hours, but I couldn’t resist a couple of cheeky poses!

Diagon Alley was my absolute favourite – the lighting colours changed and it was really atmospheric. Just like the real thing!

The tour finishes with a model of Hogwarts, which was absolutely beautiful and mesmerising. The level of detail was incredible, with tiny lights and trees all the way round.

As I said earlier in my post, I didn’t have overly high expectations, and thought the tour wouldn’t be worth the cost of the ticket, but I was wrong. I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the Harry Potter series, because it’s so well done. The prop photos and videos which you have to pay for are expensive for what they are (standard for this type of attraction), and the gift shop is extortionate, but there are so many opportunities to do your own thing with photos, and staff dotted around to take pictures for you too.

Have you been to the Making of Harry Potter? Let me know in the comments!

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Visiting Dubrovnik City Walls

Dubrovnik is famous for it’s city walls. Entering the city walls, through Ploce or Pile Gate to gain entry to old town Dubrovnik, is free. Walking the city walls is chargeable, but well worth doing. The walls were originally built as a fortification to protect the city, but are now one of Dubrovnik’s main tourist attractions, and a great way to get a different perspective of the city. They’re also home to some scenes from Game of Thrones, if that’s of interest to you.

Dubrovnik City Walls

The walls are accessed at periodic entry points around the walls. You can buy a ticket online in advance, or buy on the day, which is what we did – from memory it cost about £25 per person, but this also includes entry to Fort Lovrijenac. We started our tour at the entrance nearest to Ploce Gate, and were immediately greeted with lots of steep stone steps. There was moaning and groaning from ourselves and other visitors, especially a group of 5 women just ahead of us with epic hangovers – they got to the top and were already talking about turning round and leaving!

Top tip: try to avoid the heat of the day and take refreshments. There’s very little shelter or cover from the sun up on the walls. There are a couple of cafes which get very busy but aside from that you’re very exposed. We actually changed our plans and brought our visit forward a day to take advantage of some cloud cover, but that soon burned away and it was hot!

Here come the pictures!

Dubrovnik City Walls

There’s a one way system in operation on the walls, which helps to keep people moving and avoid awkwardness on some of the narrower steps. It makes life a lot easier! You can see the throng of people on the picture above, bottom left. It isn’t that crowded all the way around; it thins out as the paths widen and people amble at different speeds.

Because the walls circle the whole city you’ll get views of all vistas – across the red tiled roofs of Old Town, over to Ploce, up to Mt Srd and seawards to Lokrum Island and the horizon.

Dubrovnik City Walls - view from Minceta Tower
View from Dubrovnik City Walls
View of Lokrum Island from Dubrovnik City Walls
View of Lokrum Island from Dubrovnik City Walls
View of Lokrum Island from Dubrovnik City Walls

The picture below is looking back towards Minceta Tower, which was a filming scene in Game of Thrones. The base of Minceta Tower was used as the exterior of House of Undying in the town of Qarth. You can climb up the narrow stone staircase to the top for views over the city.

View of Minceta Tower, Dubrovnik City Walls

Over the water you can see Fort Lovrijenac, which was the filming location for the Red Keep in Kingslanding, for you Game of Thrones fans! Entrance to the Fort is included in the ticket for the walls, but we never got round to getting there. We’d climbed quite enough steps!

View of Fort Lovrijenac from Dubrovnik City Walls
View of Fort Lovrijenac from Dubrovnik City Walls
View of Fort Lovrijenac from Dubrovnik City Walls
View of Fort Lovrijenac from Dubrovnik City Walls

I’ll leave you with some facts and figures about Dubrovnik City Walls

The walls are 1,940 metres long; forming one continual structure. They reach a maximum height of around 25 metres in certain areas. The majority of the land facing walls measure between 4 and 6 metres in thickness. The sea-facing parts are less wide; measuring between 1.5 metres and 3 metres in width. The walls welcome over 1 million visitors each year – a number that is continuing to grow thanks to Game of Thrones, and increasing numbers of cruise ships which dock there over the summer months. Old Town Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1979.

Have you been to Dubrovnik? Let me know in the comments!

You may also enjoy:

3 days in Dubrvonik

A trip to Lokrum Island

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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Santorini sunsets and a catamaran cruise

For today’s blog post we’re looking back 11 months, as I share my memories of Santorini sunsets. Santorini sunsets are renowned as being part of the experience of visiting the island. But their reputation brings with it popularity and crowds.

I don’t like crowds. But I also don’t like to miss out (FOMO). Therefore there can be a juxtaposition between wanting to experience something, and not wanting to experience it, if that makes sense. A dichotomy.

Before we flew out for our week in Santorini I’d seen people I follow on Instagram commenting about how busy the main sunset spots get in Oia, which is where we were staying. Comments from “get there a couple of hours early to bag a good spot”, through to “pre-book a restaurant overlooking sunset”, and “don’t be fooled by the photos, there are people everywhere” made me a little bit wary of what was to come. Not least because the husband is a temperamental bugger (ask him, he’ll admit it) who would rather miss out than put up with unfavourable circumstances.

After our first afternoon foray into the centre of Oia left us feeling overwhelmed, it was an unspoken agreement that we wouldn’t be joining the hordes of people all clambering for the best view and the best photos, and instead would enjoy it from afar.

The location of our hotel was right on the edge of the village; a fact we were most glad about considering how busy the centre was. The pool didn’t have a full on sunset view, but we were able to sit outside enjoying the changing colours in the sky as the sun headed to the horizon.

Caldera views

Over the road from our hotel however, we were able to sit on the caldera wall and look towards the town. Again we didn’t have an uninterrupted view of the sun meeting the horizon, but the silhouette of the church domes and village buildings against the red sky were absolutely beautiful.

An afternoon on the water

In order to get the full “sun hits the sea and descends into darkness” experience, we headed out to the water. We booked an afternoon catamaran cruise with Sunset Oia which left from Amoudi Bay at around 2pm with around 50 people and 10 crew on board. We sailed away from Oia and out for a swim in the sea near Nea Kamini – a small uninhabited island which was created by the volcanic explosion which gave the island it’s unusual shape back in 1646BC.

Following that it was out into the open water, the catamaran gliding through the waves as the sun sparkled on each and every ripple. We sailed towards the South of the island, stopping off for more swimming at Red Beach and White Beach, before heading back towards Oia in time for that all important sunset.

At almost £100 each the cruise was far from cheap, but we had an absolutely fantastic day. Unlimited drinks were included (we drank a lot of white wine!) and a freshly barbecued lunch of souvlaki, fresh salad, feta cheese and olives – all the amazing Greek essential food groups! Plus it meant we got to see an uninterrupted sunset in all it’s glory, with no pushing for a good spot and – more importantly – no moaning from the husband!

Have you been to Santorini? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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My first (and last?!) experience with Airbnb

Remember earlier this year when I shared my travel plans for 2019? Including my first foray into Airbnb for a trip to New York in September?

Yeah, that’s not happening anymore.

Last Saturday, with no explanation, I received an email from Airbnb to tell me my 6 night reservation at an apartment in Greenwich Village had been cancelled, and I’d be receiving a refund for monies paid so far.

Say what?

Surely there’s been a mistake?

My first thought was that there must have been some mistake. I sent a message to the host asking him why I’d received the cancellation notice.

Nothing.

I sent a Twitter DM to Airbnb asking if they could help. They checked my personal details and the reservation and confirmed that yes, it was cancelled. Had I contacted the host? (well yeah, duh). In which case they would get a “dedicated case manager” from a “specialised team” to get in touch with me.

In the meantime I obviously started looking for alternative accommodation. We knew when we booked the ill fated apartment that it was incredibly good value for a stay in New York so, unsurprisingly, there was little out there in a similar price range. Hotels were coming up at £600 more than the Airbnb, and there were no other Airbnb apartments in the location we wanted.

Side note – New York accommodation is bonkersly expensive. £200 a night to sleep in a bunk bed with a shared bathroom? Daylight robbery!

Airbnb, while polite, were annoyingly hands off in terms of taking any responsibility. Their response when I asked for some compensation to cover the additional costs of rebooking was “Airbnb is a third party platform that bridges the gap between hosts and guests, and we do not offer compensation when a guest has to cancel a reservation.”

Screw you New York!

At this point we’d pretty much mentally checked out the trip. I’d been in touch with the airline to see if we could get any refund on the flights (we can get the tax refunded, which means losing about £300 total, which is still cheaper than paying £600+ for a hotel).

Meanwhile, the host had responded to advise that his property needs to undergo renovations and repairs (they mus be pretty major, because it’s still 3 months until our trip, sounds a bit fishy to me), and his reply included lots of exclamation marks and a seemingly non genuine apology, so that pissed me off even more!

Airbnb then offered me a £50 coupon (generous…not) and sent through some suggestions of alternative properties, conceding that the coupon wouldn’t cover the difference in cost but it would help. This was then upped to a groundbreaking £75. The apartments were an extra £300. You do the maths.

To cut a long story short…

We decided that one of the suggested apartments might be ok. Wouldn’t have been our first choice, but was better than nothing. And then we went to look into booking it and THE LISTING HAD DISAPPEARED!!!!

What fresh absolute fuckery! Airbnb’s response this time around “if you cannot access the listing then I would assume that it has been removed by the host. We do not have the option to check any further.”

Any last shred of wanting to use them evaporated there and then. Absolutely no faith whatsoever that we wouldn’t end up in the same situation all over again closer to our departure date.

Although I don’t want to use them again, I do now have £75 credit to use within a year! Which means that I inevitably will use them again. Next time will be for a UK stay only where there are no massive repercussions if it does get cancelled, and no flights or travel plans to pay for.

I’ve since heard cancellation stories from 4 different people, which I wish I’d known in advance of the original booking. I had no idea that Airbnb take no responsibility for cancelled bookings. When a host cancels they get charged a 50 dollar “fine” and can’t relist on the Airbnb site during that time period. But if you’ve managed to let your space for more money elsewhere then 50 bucks isn’t going to cause you any heartache.

I’m sure there are way more success stories than negatives out there, but that’s it for me!

Have you ever used Airbnb? Let me know your experiences.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A day trip to Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik

We could see Lokrum island from the terrace of our apartment when we went to Dubrovnik last year (read more about it here). We watched boats sailing across the short stretch of sea from the harbour, we saw people sea kayaking towards it and we did a loop of the island in our speed boat trip on the first afternoon.

The next step was to actually get on to the island and explore it for ourselves!

Passenger ferries run from the mainland harbour on a regular basis, and the cost is very reasonable (I’m being vague here because I can’t remember, it’s been almost a year since we were there and I’ve been a lax blogger in posting about it!). The journey takes 10-15 minutes and is very popular, so if you have a specific timescale in mind, make sure you get there early (similarly for the return journey, people queue in advance).

Lokrum is a National Park

Similarly to old town Dubrovvnik, Lokrum was used as a filming location for Game of Thrones – many of the scenes in the city of Qarth were filmed there (then heavily CGI’d, so it’s not obviously recognisable).

There’s a small GoT exhibition, which is mainly in Croatian, but you do get to sit on a replica of the Iron Throne, which is kinda fun!

Outside of that there are some attractive benedictine monastery ruins, a botanical garden (which was past its best, tbh), free roaming peacocks and rabbits and an inland Dead Sea which many people swim in (which was VERY cold and VERY awkward to get into because of the rocks underfoot).

Sea swimming is also very popular, and there are nudist areas around the coastline, if that tickles your fancy!

Lokrum island is a national park, and no-one is allowed to stay overnight – the island is vacated by 7.30 every evening. It’s very green and relaxing, but there isn’t an awful lot to do there. It’s definitely worth a visit, as long as you have the right expectations (or just want to chill out and do nothing!)

As I said in my previous post, Dubrovnik is a very beautiful city and one that I would recommend to anyone. It would be daft not to visit Lokrum unless you were desperately short of time, and the ferry journey also gives you a different view of the city looking back into the old harbour.

Have you been to Dubrovnik?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

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A weekend in Paignton

No-one was more surprised than me when we booked up to go away at Easter for a weekend in Paignton. It wasn’t on our travel plans for 2019. Firstly, going away for Easter wasn’t even on the cards; we hadn’t even talked about it. Secondly, we haven’t been to Paignton in 11 years. The husband used to holiday there as a kid, and we went a couple of times early on in our relationship, but the economy took its toll on the English seaside town, like many others across the country, and we heard reports of closed pubs, boarded up frontages and a general feeling of rundown-ness which didn’t appeal.

So, what changed? We’d heard that the town had received investment and was in better shape. But what really swung it was watching Channel 4’s “Four in a Bed” programme, and talking fondly of staying in a UK guesthouse by the seaside. Fuelled by a couple of glasses of wine (as the best plans always are) our weekend in Paignton was booked!

What did we get up to?

We had loose plans of what we wanted to do over the course of our 3 night break (woo-hoo for a long weekend at Easter), but of course we knew we’d be held to ransom by the British weather. We needn’t have worried though. Like much of the UK, Paignton was bathed in wall to wall sunshine with higher than average temperatures, which meant we spent pretty much all of our time outside.

Out and about

We walked along the coast from Paignton and up to Roundham Gardens looking down on Goodrington Sands. You wouldn’t think that some of these views were in the UK, especially not in April!

We caught the Dartmouth Steam Railway train from Paignton to Kingswear, and then got the ferry across to Dartmouth.

Then we walked along the riverfront to Bayard’s Cove, before heading to the Above Town area and walking past coloured houses and through woods down to Dartmouth Castle.

There isn’t an awful lot to see at the castle, but there are some educational exhibitions and hands on things for kids like helmets to try (which, FYI, also fit adult heads too – I speak from experience), plus the views back down the river to Kingswear and Dartmouth were stunning. We got 20% off the entrance price with our steam railway ticket, so we only paid £6.60 each. It’s free if you’re a member of English Heritage, which we keep saying we’re going to join but never get round to, although I think it’s only a matter of time!

Then, on Sunday, we went to Paignton Zoo! It’s quite a hilly zoo, so probably not great for people with mobility issues. We saw lions, monkeys, giraffes, the elephant, zebras, ostriches and camels. The tigers weren’t out to play, which was a shame but we were super chuffed to see everything else. There are peacocks wandering freely around the paths too.

Where next?!

Have to be honest, I always overlook going away in the UK in favour of going overseas – mainly because of the weather situation! Let’s face it, our weekend in Paignton would have been very different if it had been raining; which there’s always a chance of during British summertime. That said, I’m so keen to see more of the South West. I’d happily do another weekend in Paignton. There’s so much to do in the area, including the other 2 English Riviera towns of Torquay and Brixham. I’m keen to explore some of Cornwall too.

Do you love visiting the UK? Any tips for where else I should put on my list?

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Travel plans for 2019

Travel plans 2019 - hand holding small globe

I’m the kind of person who is pretty much always a year ahead with travel plans, because there are so many places I want to see. It’s rare to start a new year with no clue of where we’re going – the bones are usually in place and I’m already thinking ahead to the following year. When your “to visit” list is long and your annual leave is short (in comparison), it’s inevitable you’ll think ahead.

This year was quite the exception

With the shambles that is Brexit I’ve felt wary of European travel. Neither the husband or I had any concrete “let’s do this” feelings as a result. The original front runner was our favourite place in Greece, but with rumours that Thomas Cook airlines are in some trouble, which is our only way to get there, that seemed a bit risky.

Also, as it’s my Mother in Law’s 80th birthday in June, I thought we should plan a trip with her. There’s nothing we could buy her that she doesn’t already have, and memories are so much more valuable than stuff. I know that in years to come we’ll look back happily on time together exploring a new destination. And of course we’ll have a great time while we’re there!

So, without further ado, here’s what we decided on.

March – 5 days in Lanzarote

Not a “to visit” list destination but the thought of a few days in the sun while the UK is struggling to make it’s way into Spring was very appealing! Food, drink, sleep, reading books, seafront walks and sunshine; what’s not to like? We’re going to head out into the island for the day too and visit Timanfaya National Park to see the volcanic landscape.

Travel plans 2019 Timanfaya National Park
Image from https://www.hellocanaryislands.com/

Late May – Bergen, Norway

Technically June, as we arrive at Bergen airport just after midnight on the 1st for 3 days of exploring with my Mother in Law. She mentioned to me many years ago that she would love to visit the Fjords, but was resigned to the fact she never would because the friends she goes on holiday with wouldn’t be interested. Step in the husband with her 80th birthday present! Bergen looks very pretty, with coloured wooden houses surrounding the old harbour, and a funicular railway up to Mount Floyen from where you can view the whole city below.

Travel plans 2019 - Bergen coloured houses

We’ll take the Bergen railway, considered to be one of the most beautiful and picturesque train journeys in the world, connecting with the Flam railway which holds the same accolade. We’ll do a couple of fjord cruises (details yet to be finalised) and probably get very confused by the midnight sun! I have to say that Norway has never been on my agenda. But once I started investigating it looks absolutely beautiful so I’m really looking forward to this.

September – New York baby!

Well, this one came completely out of the blue. Not that we haven’t talked about it – New York is on everyone’s list, surely? It’s just never quite made it to the top, for me, because of the cost, and the vast amount of stuff to see in a short space of time. You see, I always thought of New York as being a city break. Maybe 3-4 nights, running around like a loon, feeling the pressure from jet lag and perhaps not quite doing it justice in one trip.

But then, an email from Jack’s Flight Club advertising return Virgin flights for under £300 (not a typo) and a quick Airbnb search offering up an apartment in Greenwich Village at a very reasonable cost started the rudiments of a plan. The husband has been before and always said he’d love to go back. He wanted a slightly longer trip instead of a just a quick break. So we settled on 6 nights/7 days and that was that! I sent him a text about the flight offer at around 10.30am. By 8pm that same day we were booked!

Travel plans 2019 New York skyline
Image from TripAdvisor

We’ll do all the tourist stuff, obvs. It’s been 20 years since the husband was there, so he’ll benefit from a refresher!! Those extra couple of days will allow us the time to just hang out, eat (I’m excited for a reuben sandwich at Katz’s deli, which is right in our neighbourhood), chill, and soak up the atmosphere. Preferable to just running round like headless chickens ticking off places we need to see.

Oh, and it’s my first ever foray into the world of Airbnb, which I think could be travel-changing!

So there you have it!

Our planned and booked travels for the year 2019. None of which I would have predicted if you’d asked me this time last year. But all of which I’m super chuffed with.

Hoping to sneak in a couple of UK visits too. Every year I talk about Cornwall. So, if we get another amazing summer like last year, that may be a long weekend contender.

And then it’s time to start thinking about 2020!

Have you finalised any travel plans for 2019 yet? I’d love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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A week in Oia, Santorini

It turns out that, for the 13 years I talked about going to Santorini, what I actually wanted was to go to Oia (pronounced Ee-a).

Of course I didn’t realise that when our plane landed on the runway at Thira airport after a busy few days in Athens. I was still full of the notion that we’d get a bus to the capital Fira. Maybe visit the ancient ruins at Akrotiri. See something of the island.

Nor did I realise it during the first afternoon we headed into the village to explore. In fact, based on how busy Oia was with cruise ship tourists and day visitors, the idea of getting out of the village seemed even more appealing. We retreated to our hotel, with it’s secluded pool and traditional restaurant, and indulged in some much needed R&R following a full itinerary on the mainland.

But, as I talked about in a previous post, first impressions don’t always count.

Thanks to checking out the cruise ship schedule (all hail Tripadvisor reviews for that piece of knowledge) we knew that on day 2 there would be fewer visitors to the island, so we headed out once again and that’s when we both knew we wouldn’t be leaving this beautiful cliff top vision until it was time to go home.

Oia is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to

Ever. It’s almost beyond belief. When you’re not dodging selfie sticks and crowds and arrogant wannabe models, it’s absolutely breathtaking. There’s no white sandy beach, no uninterrupted view of the horizon and no sound of the waves breaking on the coastline. Oia is built high up on a cliff, and looks out to the caldera which is dotted with islands created when the volcano erupted in 1646 BC.

The curved white Cycladic architecture is both retro and futuristic, all at once. The black lava rocks contrast dramatically with the blue sea and sky and the pink bougainvillea. The elevated position on the cliff face means you can actually see the currents in the sea below, while the sun glistens on the water like thousands of diamonds.

We ate breakfast overlooking buildings seemingly tumbling down the cliff face. Over the course of the week I never tired of the views once. I took multiple pictures of the same spots every day, because I couldn’t get enough of them. The whole village was a sight to behold.

See for yourself!

The best thing to do, surely, must be to share some photos with you? I can’t say this emphatically enough – NONE of these pictures have been changed in any way. No filters, no photoshop, just pure point and click on my camera phone.

See what I mean? Looking at these photos now just brings it all back!

At dusk twinkling lights start to appear as buildings are illuminated.

And even in the black of night the same view was illuminated by hundreds of lights giving the white architecture an ethereal glow and the plunge pools and hot tubs a bright blue hue.

I don’t think anyone could fail to be wowed by Oia. From an aesthetic point of view it’s incredible, but also from a logistical point of view – the way everything is built almost beggars belief!

Was it expensive? Yes. Was it worth it? Also yes.

If I’d only been visiting Oia rather than staying there I would have been very sorely disappointed.

Have you ever been to Oia, or Santorini? Let me know in the comments!

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Changing reading habits

Changing reading habits - teddy bear reading a book

My reading habits have, as an adult, always been fairly predictable. I like fluffy chick lit. I’m not ashamed of it either. I’m more than capable of deeper, more meaningful, insightful reading. But there’s something about the cosy warmth of a book where you know, in the first few chapters, that two of the main characters will end up in a relationship. Wondering how they’ll get there but knowing they will. It’s a personal indulgence, and I rarely deviate.

18 months ago though, during our week in Greece, I did deviate! Unusually, for me, I squeezed some paperbacks into my luggage (I’m usually too laden down with shoes and have been relying on an ereader in recent years. But it’s just not the same). And our apartments had a swap bookcase, where you could leave your read books and pick up something left by another visitor. Weirdly my eye was drawn by The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena.

Changing reading habits - my first thriller book (The Couple Next Door)

It didn’t give me the usual immediate squishy feels. The contrast between the high drama of the book and the relaxed nature of lying on the beach and occasionally paddling in the sea was strange, but I devoured it. I couldn’t wait to read the next chapter, the next twist, and find out what the ending would be. I always read voraciously, but in a “predictable” book (and I say that in the nicest possble way) there isn’t the same intensity and urgency.

I’ve discovered a whole new enjoyment of literature

In case you haven’t read it, the premise of The Couple Next Door is around the kidnap of a baby which has happened while the parents were next door having dinner with their neighbours. They have a baby monitor with them and they’re only footsteps away, so what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, as the book goes on to detail, with twists and turns right up until the very end. Thriller fan or not, I would definitely recommend it!

What effect have these changing reading habits had on my choice of books since? I now actively seek out thrillers as an alternative to my set ways of reading, and I have to say I can’t get enough! I stock up for bargain prices during charity shop binges so I always have a pile to get through.

Do you have a genre of choice when it comes to reading? Have you read The Couple Next Door? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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Christmas at Blenheim Palace

2 weeks ago we went to “Christmas at Blenheim Palace“.

Yes, I’m still talking about Christmas! Today is perhaps the last official day of Christmas, before it turns into New Year, so I need to get this post in!

Now I didn’t even know Christmas at Blenheim Palace was a “thing”. But my Mother in Law has been to something similar at Chatsworth House, and wanted to take me for my birthday. The husband found the Blenheim Palace event, and a plan was made.

From late November til early January the gardens of Blenheim Palace are turned into a Winter Wonderland light trail. There are thousands of fairy lights and light displays that run through the gardens, creating a magical walk around the outside of the palace and beyond. Unfortunately the tickets for that were already sold out (at least those available at suitable weekend times, taking into account the drive back to Birmingham from Oxford), so we just went along in the daytime to see the Palace decorations.

We arrived fairly early, before the huge crowds, so had a little wander round and perused the Christmas Market stalls.

Entrance to the exhibition is timed, with timeslots every 20 minutes. We were booked in for 12pm, but went in at about 11.45.

This year’s theme was Cinderella. The main entrance hall was decorated with a grand dining table; opulent with candlesticks, fancy dinnerware and Christmas trees everywhere!

Poor Cinderella’s table was tucked around the back, away from the grandeur.

From there we wandered through rooms and rooms of beautiful decorations, trees and garlands, while the Cinderella story was told along the way.

The ugly sister’s room

Beautifully bedecked in jewelled pink, blue and purple. Clothes were strewn on every surface as they planned their outfit for the ball.

Cinderella’s room

In contrast, poor Cinders’ room was much more sparse and plain (as plain as it can be, when hosted in a palace!) There was an original Singer sewing machine, with fabrics and cottons for Cinderella to make her own outfits.

The Prince’s room

Spot the invitations to the ball spilling off the table, along with his velvet cloak ready for the ball.

Cinderella’s carriage

Absolutely beautiful; covered in fairy lights and surrounded by pumpkins!

Midnight room

Full of clocks, and a clock decorated Christmas tree – a reminder to Cinderella that she must leave the ball before the clock strikes 12!

The ballroom

Breathtaking in white and silver, with flower and crystal decorated tables and roaring log fires.

Topped off, of course, by Cinderella’s glass slipper!

Everything was beautifully done, with so much effort and detail. Our only gripe was that the rest of the palace was closed off for the duration of the Christmas event, so we didn’t get to see any of the rooms other than those that were part of the exhibition. At £28 per ticket it was quite expensive for what took no more than 30 minutes to walk around (and we weren’t rushing either).

Afterwards we went for a wander around the grounds, following the path for the Winter Wonderland trail I mentioned earlier. Due to the huge amount of rain and the poor pathways it was a soggy mushy mess underfoot. It actually made us glad we hadn’t been able to get tickets, as it wouldn’t have been a pleasant walk, and would probably have ended up with one or more of us on our ass in the dark!

We had a lovely lovely time, but I do think the organisers should consider value for money a little more next year. And definitely sort those paths out!

Christmas at Blenheim Palace runs until 6th January 2019, although the Christmas Market ended on 16th December.

Have you ever been to a stately home at Christmas? Do you still have your decorations up in your own home? (We do!)

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

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