Exploring Oxford

It is truly amazing that you can live near somewhere your whole life, but never really SEE it. My home city of Oxford is really one of those places. I wasn’t until family from the USA visited that I did anything touristy, because you seem to take everything for granted when it’s where you’ve grown up, or in my case I did anyway. I went to college in Oxford and I was walking through the Oxford Castle Quarters every day to get there from the bus stop and I didn’t bat an eyelid, and I was ironically studying to get into university to study history! So now, after doing some actual exploring, I’d like to share some top tips about visiting Oxford and where you should go, but I would also welcome any tips from anyone who has visited, because it is wonderful to feel like a tourist in your own city!

The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford. Photo taken 24th August 2018.

Top Ten Things To Do:

1. Oxford Castle. You can take a guided tour around the remains of the castle, which date back to the Norman era. A must do.

2. St Michael’s Church and Saxon Tower. Just off of the bustling Cornmarket Street is this beautiful church. With the tower dating back to 1040, it is considered the oldest remaining building in Oxford. The views from the top are incredible!

3. Explore Oxford University Colleges and buildings. Of course, Oxford is most famous for its world-class university. There are many colleges that comprise of the university, and each are as grand as each other. Take a guided walking tour around the colleges and the Bodleian Library, Radliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre and Christ Church, where

4. Go Punting. This is a must do and a fun activity! Hire a punting boat from Magdalen Bridge (you can fit up to 6 people in one boat) and have endless hours of fun while participating in an Oxford tradition.

5. Visit the Turf Tavern! Now unfortunately this tavern isn’t a good as it used to be in my opinion, as it’s now own by the commercial budget company that I’m sure you’ve heard of – Greene King (sighs), so isn’t as unique and wonderful as it once was. However it’s still worth a visit as the foundations and use of this site as a tavern date back to 1381! It’s hidden away down a winding narrow alleyway near the Bridge of Sighs (a pivotal photography spot when you’re visiting Oxford).

6. Go shopping! The new Westgate Shopping Centre is the main shopping district, offering many big name brands, high street retailers and copious places to eat and drink. Nearby Clarenden Centre offers more of these stores, while Queen Street and Cornmarket Street add to the variety.

7. Get in touch with nature. Even though you’re in the city, the University Parks offer the perfect place for a picnic or a stroll and the Oxford Botanic Gardens are absolutely beautiful to walk around, offering a sense of tranquillity while surrounded by a busy city.

8. Take an open top bus ride. Open top bus tours always provide and insight into the city you’re visiting, and Oxford is not the exception! Google ‘city sightseeing Oxford’ to book your tickets!

9. Tour the museums! Being such a historical city, it’s no wonder that there are an abundance of museums to choose from! The Natural History Museum, Pitt Rivers Museum and the Ashmolean all offer a fundamental and educational experience for all who visit.

10. Enjoy a pub crawl in Jericho. There are many wonderful taverns and bars to choose from in the north of the city, a few of the best being the Old Bookbinder’s Ale House, the Eagle and Child, the Lamb and Flag, Rickety Press, the Duke of Cambridge and Jude the Obscure.

Further afield

These places are great if if you want to explore the wider Oxford area but would like to get out of the city centre, each is as different to each other as can be:

1. Around 10 minutes walk from the city centre is Cowley Road, which is home to a colourful vibrant and exotic scene. Restaurants, shops and bars of many different cultures galore, you’ll certainly be taken in by the contrast of the city centre. You can always walk down it and take the bus back, but parking isn’t exactly easy of the road.

2. Binsey and Port Meadow, where Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, often acquainted! Perfect for a walk on the outskirts of the city but away from the hustle and bustle.

3. Take the bus to Woodstock and Blenheim Palace! The birthplace of Winston Churchill and home to the Dukedom of Marlborough. You can read my latest post about Blenheim here.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it! Let me know if you’ve visited any of these places, if you’d like to visit Oxford or if you have any more tips for readers in the comments below!

Michelle xx

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Blenheim Palace

Hi everyone!

Today we visited the beautiful Blenheim Palace in West Oxfordshire. I’ve visited before; if you read my post about the Luna Cinema experience at Blenheim you’ll know, but it’s been a little while since I actually toured the palace. I now only live ten minutes away so yesterday we upgraded to an annual pass. You can do this by asking to donate your entry ticket to the Blenheim Palace Heritage Foundation Charity, which is excellent. I have a feeling Blenheim is going to become my second home now!

Blenheim Palace is situated in the outskirts of the historical market town of Woodstock, where there are many places to stay and a wonderful and vast choice of pubs, resturants and cafes to eat and drink in. Blenheim Palace is really easy to get to: it’s just off the A44 and has copious amounts of parking, with overflow parking available in adjacent fields during major events such as Countryfile Live.

I would throughly recommend starting with the palace tour. You will need to keep the receipt of your entry ticket, or your print-out if you booked tickets online, and show this to the lovely people working on the audio guide stall which is in the colonnade just outside the front steps. The audio guides are brilliant: they are really easy to operate, extremely informative and simple to carry. You learn so much about the family line of the Dukedom of Marlborough, the reason why Blenheim was built, who the land came from, why the palace was decorated in such a way and what each room was used for. I won’t tell you any of the details and information, because as exciting as it is, it’s much better to learn it all yourself when you visit!

After the palace tour, the best thing is to have lunch in the Water Terrace cafe, which has a great selection of food and drink. Once you’re full, why not walk it off with a leisurely stroll around the gorgeous landscaped grounds. The courtyards are beautiful, the Great Lake is breathtaking and the rose garden is lovely!

his isn’t all. You can ride the train from the outside of the palace grounds down to the pleasure gardens, which encompasses an exciting maze and a butterfly house, as well as a toy shop, childrens adventure playground and more places to eat and drink. If you do not wish to take the train, you can drive down to the pleasure gardens as there is parking available. There really is so much to do, and it is great fun for all the family.

A member of our party was in a wheelchair, and we found that the vast majority of Blenheim is wheelchair accessible which is great; we also had my one month old niece with us and her stroller!

Blenheim Palace is of course the birthplace of one of the most infamous Briton’s of all time – Sir Winston Churchill. You can learn all about his life in the Chuchill exhibition inside the palace, and the nearby village of Bladon is where he was laid to rest along with his family at St Martin’s Church.

Overall, I would throughly recommend visiting Blenheim Palace! It’s a must do, especially if you live in or around Oxfordshire! I have a history degree from Oxford Brookes University, and I remember in my first year one of my history professors, Professor Dillinger, comically bellowing “if you haven’t been to Blenheim Palace, what are you doing? Get on the bloody bus and go!” in a lecture. That certainly woke everyone up just after 9am on a rainy morning! So really, take my Professor’s advise, and go!

Thanks for reading!

Michelle x

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My trip to Disneyworld!

As Walt Disney once said, “laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever”. I am a huge Disney fan and at 22 years old, my dream came true and I got to visit Disney! We didn’t have much time in Florida so we went to Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and they were both so much fun! However the parks are so big that there was no way we could do everything over two days but we made the best of it and we’re saving up for another trip in two year’s time!

It didn’t matter that we didn’t have much time though, as the most important thing for me was getting to meet Mickey and Minnie Mouse which I did!

I love how the characters are so friendly and give you hugs and that you can be a big kid and it not matter at all! I also met Daisy Duck and Pluto, with Pluto getting me to dance with him, such a funny moment.

Meeting the characters was probably my most favourite part. Ibwoyld have loved to have met more but the waiting time and lines are often very long, even if they’re just out and about in the park, and I didn’t want to miss out on walking around the whole of the parks so I figured I’d do that next time. My favourite rides were both in Epcot – Frozen Ever After and Test track, both had small drops (I’m not into big rides at all), with Frozen Ever After getting you ever so slightly sprayed with water and Test Track travelling really quite fast and being really good fun.

Pros of Magic Kingdom:

  • The Disney Castle, of course.
  • The different areas, e.g. Fantasy Land (My fave), Advernture Land, Tomorrowland etc. Each one is so perfectly designed and so much fun to just wander around them. There is so so much to see!
  • The firework show in the evening, featuring some of the best Disney songs and illuminations on the castle- so memorable!
  • The parades on Main Street. They’re so much fun and make you so happy! If it’s your first time at Disney you get a badge which says you’re a first time visitor, and as a result the organisers put me in a front row spot to watch one of them so that was excellent.
  • The many gift stores! If you want some souvenirs, fear not, as they are everywhere! Make sure you pick up some mouse ears from one of these stores! πŸ™‚

Pros of Epcot:

  • You can explore the world! Epcot is designed almost like the number ‘8’, with one half filled in and the other with a lake in the middle. When you walk around the lake, you walk through different areas decorated as different countries. For example, you can walk through China and see Mulan, drink Chinese tea buy beautiful Chinese souvenirs. You can walk through Germany and get yourself some bratwurst while you wait to see Snow White, you can go to France, eat French cuisine and meet Belle, or head to the United Kingdom for fish and chips, grab a beer in the pub and catch up with Mary Poppins. There are many locations to enjoy.
  • The fireworks on the lake. At 9pm the lake comes alive, with the fireworks, lights, fountains, music and lasers providing a spectacular show.
  • The variety. As described on Disney’s Epcot website, at Epcot you can “travel around the globe, under the sea, into outer space.. and beyond!” It’s just so captivating and means that every part of park you visit is different and very well themed.
  • It’s really different to Magic Kingdom. As you can tell by both lists, there are similarities. However, the parks have even more differences, which makes it worth going to both as the experiences are so unique, so don’t overlook Epcot!

Cons of both:

(I figured I’d do this list as both parks as both have the same cons in my humble opinion)

  • Money money money. As can be expected, as it’s Disney, things are very expensive! It’s so worth it of course, but if you’ve got a big family you’ve probably spent an absolutely fortune on tickets alone, so if you’re all eating together be prepared to spend a lot. Some places were around $50-80 a person, with the snacks being pretty expensive too, a cookie designed as Mickey was $15. I did go in peak season so bare that in mind, but we were prepared and ate a huge breakfast before going in so that we could skip lunch and only pay for one meal which we kept quite light. Next time I might take some of my own food too. Of course if you’ve got the money, the food looked excellent so do enjoy! Not complaining at all as it’s to be expected as it’s Disney, but just advice if anyone’s wondering. You do get a guide on the maps that you can pick up at the entrances which do give an example of places and their price ranges.
  • Fastpass. You get three free fastpasses with your standard ticket which is excellent, except make sure you go straight to the fastpass station and choose which rides you want first. Don’t do what I did at Magic Kingdom, which was decide to look around everything first and then choose which rides to go on as it takes so long to walk around everything and then many fastpasses for the popular rides had gone. At Epcot I got in the park at 11pm and luckily we got fastpasses for Test Track but some, including Frozen Ever After, had already gone. You have to select a time to use your fastpass too, and you have to stick to that time too.
  • It’s Florida, so be prepared. It’s very hot and humid which means thunderstorms develop quickly. It’s was super hot at Magic Kingdom then suddenly the storm started, cue a run to the store for a poncho and many rides being temporarily stopped.
  • Time goes too fast! Literally there is so much to see and do, so bare that in mind
Yes we had a thunderstorm… but it meant I got this cute Disney poncho!
Do you wanna build a snowman?
The Brit found the beer in the British pub!
Stunning view of the globe at Epcot at night

Overall I had the most magical wonderful time ever! It really is like a dream come true to visit Disney, I generally cried a little when I first arrived. I’m so thankful to have been able to have gone, but I certainly didn’t have enough time there! And I want to see all thenother parks too! Fingers crossed for my savings account πŸ™‚

Have you ever been to Disney? Did you have the best time ever? Or are you a Disney fanatic like me? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Michelle xx

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My Travel Bucket List – Top 10.

β€œBlessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.” – Lovelle Drachman

So I feel very lucky to have been able to go to many amazing places. For someone who never went abroad until I was 18, I think I’ve done pretty well to have visited 20 states of the USA, Egypt, Italy, France, Germany, Canada and India. These countries all have such diverse cultures and I’d love to see more! In no particular order, here are the top 10 places on my bucket list.

  1. Indonesia. I’d absolutely love to backpack across some of the Islands, especially Borneo, Bali, Sumatra and Java. The wildlife, jungles, beaches, people, all seem to be wonderful and an experience I simply have to have!
  2. Greece. My favourite movie ever is Mamma Mia, so my wish for exploring the country and it’s islands began there. When I researched Greece I realised how beautiful it looked, with crystal clear waters, amazing cuisine, pretty islands and interesting cities. I’d also love to learn about Greek mythology as I am a major history geek.
  3. Iceland. Reykjavik seems like a great capital city to visit, and I’d love to explore the natural wonders across the country. My predominate dream though, would be to stay in a woodland lodge or iglooo, and see the Northern Lights. My one truly big dream is to see the Northern Lights so this has to happen! I also love huskies so a husky sleigh ride would be awesome.
  4. Australia. Now the stereotypical view of Australia makes me think of the things that want to kill me, but I’ve been told by people who have visited and even lived there that there is so much to see and do, and now I really want to go! I want to visit the main cities like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Darwin and Adelaide, as well as experience a little bit of the outback and see koalas and kangaroos in the wild. I love hot weather too so that’s an added bonus!
  5. New Zealand. NZ seems like the ultimate destination for an adventure! I want to hike around the mountains, spend a day watching whales, explore the natural wonders and immerse myself in Maori culture.
  6. Hawaii. Who wouldn’t want to visit Hawaii? I would plan to see Pearl Harbour, snorkel with the turtles, hike along the rugged terrain, explore as many of the islands as I can, see live volcanoes (from a safe distance) and chill on a beautiful beach eating fresh pineapple and loving tropical life. Ahh, heaven.
  7. Croatia – so I first researched Croatia because of one of my favourite characters on the US hospital drama ER- Dr Luka Kovac. When I looked into what Croatia had to offer,I was blown away! The Dalmatian Coast is a must do, and so is travelling around the natural parks full of lakes and waterfalls abundant with natural beauty. The quirky little towns and magnitude of history is also a huge interest of mine, so please get me on a plane sharpish!
  8. Kenya – I’d really like to experience an African country, as I see the whole continent as being incredibly rich in culture and history. Kenya is top of my list, as a big dream of mine is to go on a real safari! Maasai Mara seems to be THE place to do this, and see the animals up close in their natural habitat. I also want to explore Nairobi and learn about some African cultures and tribes as I find them fascinating.
  9. The Amazon. Or rather, part of it, as it spreads over 4000 miles. I’ve been captivated by the travels of one of my idols, explorer Laura Bingham, and the wonderful Freddie Flintoff and Rob Penn to this beautiful land, the rainforest, the huge river, the abundance of wildlife and fauna.. I could go on. I’d love to take a guided tour around, a river cruise, and visit some of the little villages on the way. An adventurer’s dream.
  10. Norway. The gateway to Scandinavia! I’d love to go to the northern areas in the summer and experience the fact that the sun doesn’t set, I’d love to see The beautiful fjords with my own eyes and explore the charming little towns. I want to try the cuisine and learn some history – the Vikings for one! I’ve heardbits a lovely progressive country and I’d love to see it!

So here’s my top 10! What are yours? Have you been to any of these places? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Michelle xx

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Niagara Falls – Hints and Tips

Hey lovelies!

I’ve not long returned from a wonderful trip to the USA and I wanted to write about my favourite moments! Here is my take on the beautiful Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls was our first stop of the trip, and it was certainly extremely memorable. The sheer magnitude of the falls completely captivates you and takes your breath away.

The Horseshoe Falls, taken from the Canadian side of the river.

Photograph of the terrific trio – American, Bridal and Horseshoe Falls

I have compiled a list of my top tips for visiting this beautiful natural wonder.

  1. Make sure you do both the American and Canadian sides, but do the American side first! – Horseshoe Falls connects from the American to the Canadian side, and the American and Bridal Veil Falls are solely on the American side, separated from the mainland by Goat and Luna islands. This means that although most of the action is on the American side, you get a much more fabulous view from the Canadian side.
  2. On the American side, Goat Island to be exact, I’d recommend doing Cave of the Winds. You start by learning the history of the Falls, and then you take an elevator down to beneath the Bridal Veil Falls. This is the smallest of the three by far, but still incredibly powerful! Be prepared to get wet! You do get provided sandals and a poncho which is included in the admission price. Also, beware of the millions of seagulls as I found out, as they are happy to poo on everyone including myself. The poncho had multiple uses…

3. Spend some time on Main Street on the Canadian side. There are many souvenir stores, food places and activities for all the family to enjoy

4. If you’re staying on the Canadian side, keep in mind the extra expenses on top of the hotel price. The parking at the Sheraton where we stayed was an additional 40 Canadian dollars a night and the wifi was 20 canadian dollars a night. Other hotels may have been a little cheaper but none that I saw had free parking. A small price to pay really to stay beside the beautiful falls but something to bear in mind aa it is not always clear at the time of booking. The American side may be the same but we stayed in a Quality Inn about 10 minutes from the falls rather than literally beside it as we did on the Canadian side.

5. If you want to get up close and personal with the falls – Take a boat! There are boat tours from both sides and they seemed to go continuously throughout the day. I didn’t go on it because it was a little chilly and I didn’t want to get soaked and cold but I do regret it now, so make sure you learn from my mistakes!

6. Have an amazing time! Take pictures. Savour the moment. Enjoy.

I really hope you enjoyed this post! Have you ever been to Niagara Falls and would you add anything to this list? Perhaps you’ve been somewhere else that blew you away like Niagara did to me? Or maybe Niagara is on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below! X

Michelle xx

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Tales of a travelling amateur – Yellowstone National Park – USA.

For someone who had never been out of the UK until I turned 18, I do not think I’ve done badly when it comes to travel. Now 22, I’ve been lucky enough to have been to Egypt, Italy, France, Germany, India, and the USA. As I write this, I am 38 days away from my 4th USA trip and I am beyond excited. I feel so lucky and grateful to have had the experiences I’ve had. Of course, it took a great deal of saving, sacrifices and shopping around to get the best deals to be able to do that.

I wanted to ensure that I incorporated posts about my travel experiences into my blog and so I am going to try and write a kind of series on places I’ve visited, as well as my top tips that I’ve learnt and the wonderful places that are on my bucket list.

One place that has a very special place in my heart in Yellowstone National Park, as it is the place where my fiance and I got engaged. It is therefore an obvious choice for the first chapter of my travel stories on my blog. I visited Yellowstone in September 2015 and May 2017. Both times the visits were the highlights of our USA road trips and absolutely phenomenal. The park is predominately set in the state of Wyoming, with small areas in Montana and Idaho.

Yellowstone is one of those places that should be high on any travel lover’s bucket list as it is an absolute marvel of nature. The USA’s, possibly the world’s, first official national park, Yellowstone was founded in 1872 and boasts an abundance of ecosystems.

The terrain of Yellowstone consists of mountains, forest, lakes and plains, therefore with varying levels of elevation. As a result, the weather can change extremely quickly in Yellowstone, with snow cover for much of the year.

Entering Yellowstone via the South Entrance in May 2017

Of course, Yellowstone hosts a wonderful amount of wildlife. I’ve seen a black bear, a wolf, a beaver, elk, numerous bison, and more, which I think is amazing.

A black bear, taken from the roadside near Yellowstone Canyon.

Bison grazing near the Yellowstone Plateau
A beaver, photo taken in woodland near to Old Faithful.

Having the opportunity to see so much wildlife roaming around is just wonderful. You are very likely to see wildlife in the park, especially bison. It’s absolutely surreal.

However, the key aspect for me is the geothermal features. Geysers, pools and lakes, fuelled and heated from the magma of the volcano. I cannot express how beautiful these are, so here are some of my photographs:

A very steamy Sunset Lake

Mystic Spring
Aerial photograph of Artists Paintpots
Grand Prismatic Spring
A dormant Black Pearl Geyser
Old Faithful Geyser

Yellowstone really is a place like no other. Here are my top tips for visiting:

1) Safety. You’ll be handed a leaflet at the entrance with information about the park, which includes information on how to enjoy the park safely. Obviously, you’re hardly going to want to get up close and personal with an enormous grizzly, but it is easy to forget that you are in the wild, and you’re in mother nature’s territory. Always follow the guidance given, do not approach any wildlife. Do not ever hike alone. Always pay attention to areas closed due to bear sightings. I always carry bear spray and read how to use it. I have never had to use it but I would never risk it. Attacks are rare, but they happen. Surprisingly, I was told by a guy in a saloon in Dubois, Wyoming the day before we went into the park that more people are killed by being gored by bison than attacked by bears. Don’t go near them, don’t taunt them, and stay a safe distance away. However, there happens to be another aspect of the park that is responsible for more injuries and deaths than animal attacks – the geothermal features. Always stay on the designated trails, and always an vigilant. At the risk of making this post sound like a leaflet, never underestimate the power of nature. What looks like the ground to you may be just a fragile crust which if you step on could break, and you will fall into a boiling sulfuric pool which will probably be the last thing you ever do.

2) Stay overnight in West Yellowstone. If you’re not camping, I’d recommend staying in West Yellowstone overnight, with is in Montana and just outside the east entrance to the park. It’s a wonderful little town, and looks like it’s just right out of a wild west movie. There are plenty of gift shops and gorgeous restaurants to unwind and buy souvenirs while you’re in Yellowstone. I’ve always found it to be cheaper than staying outside any of the other entrances.

3) Back up your photographs! Every photo on this post is from my May 2017 trip, not my September 2015 trip. That’s because when I went to upload my photos, the SD card in my camera got corrupted. It’s absolutely gutting to go to to somewhere so beautiful and lose your photos. As much as they’ll never beat your physical memories, and sometimes it’s nice to take everything in rather than having your camera or phone out all the time, photographs are so sentimental.

4) Drive carefully. This goes without saying, but unfortunately it’s common to see people not doing this. The speed limits are low for a reason. There is a very strong possibility that there will be wildlife in the road, and many of the roads are windy and difficult.

5) Enjoy! It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Make every second count. If you’re only there for say two days, do the north and south loop. This is where the majority of the scenery and geothermal features are, so this is your best bet to see as much as you can. If you have a few more days, then head to the north and south routes – the south route leads on to Grand Teton National Park which is absolutely beautiful.

Thanks for reading!

Michelle x

P.S – all thoughts and photographs are my own.

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Yellowstone Lake