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I come across quite a few people in London who, aside from travelling abroad, have rarely ventured outside of the M25. There’s often the assumption that the north is full of pit villages and that it’s ‘grim up north’. This happens more often than you would think, so I always have a photo of Tynemouth beach looking all beautiful so I can belligerently push it in their face show them just how beautiful it is.

Tynemouth is a small town near where my other half, Joe, grew up. It’s full of little independent restaurants and cute boutique shops on the main street, Front Street. Then there are the two beaches – Longsands and King Edward’s Bay, the latter of which has a cute fish shack serving up whatever the local fishermen have caught that day. If they haven’t caught anything, it won’t be open! Both beaches are ridiculously clean and never seem to get horrendously busy. Although the same can’t be said for nearby parking.

Here are a few food and drink recommendations off the top of my head:

  • Dil & The Bear // HERE //  Cute spot for coffee and cake.
  • Longsands Fish Kitchen // HERE // Fish and chips! It also has a really nice restaurant at the back that does brilliant seafood.
  • Riley’s Fish Shack // HERE // I’ve not actually been here yet, it’s always been closed when we’ve tried to visit as per the explanation above, but I hear AMAZING things.
  • Davanti Classico // HERE // A nice Italian that’s always busy. I’ve had both pasta and pizza here. It’s really good simple food.
  • Crusoe’s // HERE // I’ve not ever been here for food, but it’s a nice spot to have a drink as it’s right on Longsands beach.
  • Di Mio’s Delaval Ices // HERE // This is a little bit further up the coastline but it’s SO worth the walk. It’s hands down the best ice cream in the world and has won a shitload lots of awards to prove so.

It’s a really lovely part of the UK that not a lot of people from the outside the area know about, so if you’re in need of a weekend break, might I suggest you visit beautiful Tynemouth.

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REYKJAVIK // I’ve never done a blog post on Iceland *adds to list* but it’s probably one of the favourite holidays I’ve ever had. Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and in Iceland, I got to see them in all their emerald shimmering glory. Aside from the Northern Lights, there’s also the Blue Lagoon which is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. The people are so friendly and the whimsical capital is just so pretty with its colourful storybook houses. Ah just writing this makes me want to go back! I’ll do a much-delayed post on Iceland in the next few weeks.

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SANT’AGATA // There’s a reason why people litter your Instagram with the breath taking views of the Amalfi Coast. Put simply, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. We originally intended to stay in Sorrento but ended up staying in the cutest rural town called Sant’Agata. I much preferred this as it was significantly less touristy than Sorrento and also had the most amazing family-run restaurants. If you ever do visit the Amalfi Coast be sure to check out Eduardo. He’s a private driver-come-tour-guide (he also does airport transfers at a very reasonable rate) and does the best tours from his air conditioned car. He’s so passionate about his job and you’ll be in the best hands as he’s Sorrento born and bred.

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MARRAKECH // I was in pottery heaven in Marrakech. We brought back so many plates, bowls, and tagines. We were so over our luggage limit but thankfully we got away with it! We also managed to get it all back to the UK without a single piece breaking! The weirdest thing about Marrakech is the fact you can be sat baking in the sun, but still be able to see snow on the top of the Atlas Mountains – it’s very odd! I loved the people in Marrakech and the souks were my idea of heaven. If you ever go, make sure you check out one of the argan oil women’s co-operatives. It’s well worth a visit to see how the famous beauty oil is made.

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PARIS // Cliché? Yes, but absolutely justified in my opinion. When people tell me that they didn’t like Paris I have to restrain myself from shouting in their face “that’s because you’ve not been the right bit!”. When people visit for the first time, understandably they tend to stick to the touristy bits of Paris. But that isn’t real Paris! My favourite area is Saint Germain with its boutique shops, bakeries, pharmacies (hello City Pharma) and proximity to the Luxembourg gardens.

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MANHATTAN // I couldn’t do this list without including my beloved New York. Growing up we regularly went over in summer because half of our family are out there. Spring or Autumn is the best time to visit in my opinion. I got windburn on the Brooklyn Bridge when trying to taking photos in winter, and summer in the city is crazy hot. Of course, I have the mention the food. Be prepared to put on weight from the amount of delicious deli sandwiches and little Italy pizza you’re likely to consume.

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The travel bug has well and truly bitten me in the past few years. I’ve got the urge to explore different cultures, cuisines and countries like I’ve not really had before. I never wanted to do the whole ‘gap year’ thing, but recently I’ve found myself wanting to blow all my money on flights. I’m at quite an exciting time in my career, so a gap year isn’t really on the cards, so the happy alternative is lots of holidays, city breaks and weekends away – purse permitting!

My other half Joe is exactly the same, and we’re both keen to visit as many countries as possible so we’ve set ourselves a little task – 30 countries before the age of 30. So far I’ve crossed off:

  • England
  • Wales
  • France
  • Spain
  • Germany
  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • Ireland
  • Scotland
  • USA
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Holland
  • Italy
  • Belgium
  • Iceland

(16/30)

Just over half, so we need to get a shift on! On the provisional ‘to visit’ list are:

  • Croatia
  • Denmark
  • Thailand
  • Israel
  • Portugal
  • Norway
  • Finland
  • Cuba
  • Jamaica
  • Australia
  • Switzerland
  • South Africa
  • Jersey (counting it)
  • Guernsey (counting it)
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Sweden
  • Estonia
  • Malta
  • Isle of Man
  • Gibraltar
  • Latvia

So as you can see, we’ve got a lot of places to cover! Some are much closer to home, whereas others are definitely further afield. A lovely visual way to see it is through the app Countries Been. A fun and more easily achievable challenge to do is the 12 in 12. Each month you visit somewhere different, even if just for a day and even if that means exploring closer to home.

Anywhere we should add to our list?

*PS: Pic above is of Capri. Italy is definitely the country I’d struggle not to go back to anytime soon.

*PPS: Thinking starting a joint travel blog, with lots of collaborators. Anyone interested? Drop me an email on [email protected] if so.

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Belgium’s capital and also home to the European Union headquarters. Famous for waffles, moule frites (mussels and fries) and of course, Belgian chocolate! Brussels has long been on my European city break bucket list, so when Joe asked if I wanted to take an overnight trip due to some free Eurostar tickets, I took no time in starting to plan our visit.

GETTING THERE //  The easiest way to get to Brussels from London is the Eurostar. Departing from St Pancras station it’s a 2-hour journey to Brussels Midi – the main rail station in the city. Once we arrived we hopped on the metro. Easy to navigate, very clean and costing just €7.50 for 24 hours, it’s one of the easiest ways to get about the city.

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ACCOMMODATION // We checked in to The Dominican, a beautiful boutique hotel housed in a 17th century building. We chose it due to its centrality to everything (Grand Palace square is only a 5-minute walk away) and the fact that it had wonderful reviews. It’s a very impressive hotel and both Joe and I said it was probably one of the best-looking hotels we’d ever stayed in.

FOOD //  Of course, my main priority when visiting Brussels was making sure we got our fix of all their famous foods.

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  • La Fabrique // Boulevard de Waterloo 44, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium // HERE: After dumping our luggage at the hotel we headed out to La Fabrique by taking a short metro ride to Louise station. I’d heard really good things about La Fabrique from a brilliant Brussels-based blog. Shout out to The Brusselsprouts, not only for brilliant restaurant reviews, but also for the best blog name ever, right? We decided to do their bottomless brunch offer and by the looks of things, so did a lot of other people too. The place was rammed which we took as a good sign (ensure you make a reservation to avoid disappointment). The brunch consisted of any type of eggs cooked to order, crepes, salads, bread, pasta, cakes, pastries, fruit – all of which was delicious. We found the staff were a little bit slow with bringing drinks over etc. and the toilets weren’t the cleanest, but with regards to the food, it was lovely.
  • La Boussole // Quai au Bois a Bruler-61, Brussels 1000, Belgium // HERE: This was one of Joe’s finds after researching where to find the best moule frites. It’s an unassuming, family-run restaurant along a quiet street. We didn’t bother with starters (we were still a little bit full from the bottomless brunch) and jumped straight in with mains. We both ordered the moule frites, but chose different sauces. I went for garlic and cream whilst Joe went for white wine. I definitely won. The mussels were HUGE and very tasty. According to a bit of research I did online, I discovered the reason why moule frite is so famous in Brussels is due to the Schelde, a river that connects western Belgium to the Netherlands and the North Sea. Apparently this area is one of Europe’s largest exporters of quality mussels, and they weren’t kidding. They were some of the juiciest, most plump mussels I’ve ever come across.

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  • Mokafe // Galerie du Roi 9, 1000 Bruxelles, Belgium // HERE: Breakfast the next morning was an unplanned affair. We stumbled across Mokafe when wondering through Galeries Royales, a beautiful arcade filled with cafes and chocolate shops. We ordered their Belgian breakfast which basically consisted of ALL THE BREAD. Freshly baked croissants and a big hunk of baguette to smother in jam and butter, all washed down with fresh orange juice and coffee. Heaven.

WHAT TO SEE // We didn’t have that much time so we made plans to visit the Grand Palace and just generally have a bit of a stroll and soak up the atmosphere.

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  • Grand Palace // This is the main square with stunning 17th-century buildings surrounding it. It’s truly stunning and definitely something to add to your to-see list.
  • The Royal Palace // This place is enormous! Apparently it’s twice the size of Buckingham Palace and is the official home of the Belgian King & Queen, although they actually live in the outskirts of Brussels. There’s a beautiful royal park directly opposite which would make a lovely picnic spot.

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  • Galeries Royales // Galeries Royales is a beautiful shopping arcade full of coffee shops and luxury chocolate shops. This is where we bought our Belgian chocolates which were delicious, although not the best chocolates I’ve ever had, if I’m being completely honest.
  • Mannekin Pis // You’ll no doubt stumble across this at some point if you have a general wander near the Grand Palace. For some reason, people love this statue/fountain of a small boy urinating. There were hoards of people gathered around to look at it. It left me completely perplexed…

SAFETY // I wanted to highlight something here as I think it’s important. We booked our accommodation just after the terrorist attacks in Brussels. A lot of people found this strange. We’ve had quite a few comments along the lines of “oh, I wouldn’t want to be visiting Brussels at the moment” and “are you sure you want to go?”. I know these comments were coming from a good place, but my viewpoint on the situation is this. If you stop or alter your plans then quite frankly, the bastards win. They’ve succeeded in doing their job, which is to scare you. So yes, in an act of complete defiance and as a massive middle finger to a certain group, we booked our accommodation to Brussels. At no point did I feel unsafe in Brussels. It’s actually a very calm, laid-back city. The only thing we noticed were members of the army patrolling the tube, but this actually made us feel safer.

I’d highly recommend a city break to Brussels if you ever get the chance!

24 hours in Brussels (1)

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Hebden Bridge is a resilient little place. I’ve been visiting for the majority of my life and each time there’s a horrible flood that threatens homes and businesses, it seems to bounce right back. It’s the perfect place for a weekend stroll, as it’s full of quirky shops, independent cafes, and beautiful buildings. I recently visited there whilst I was back up north so I thought I’d round up some of my favourite spots.

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The Yorkshire Soap Company // 6 Market Street // HERE – Think Lush, but better. This place is an Instagrammers heaven. You’ll easily spot it on the high street because it has a stream of bubbles drifting through the air. They do excellent bath bombs that make fantastic presents (they gift wrap everything really well too), as well as all your usual bath potions and lotions.

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Jules China & Tableware // 2 Garden Street // HERE – A crockery addict’s heaven. I adore this place that’s stacked high with plates, bowls, mugs and other china and tableware. My favourite section is the blue and white section (house goals), but make sure you take a look upstairs too.

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Mooch Café // 24 Market Street // HERE – A cute little café with amazing sandwiches, salads, and other homemade delights. I get their cranberry and brie ciabatta – delicious! They also do lovely cakes and the staff are so friendly. It’s the perfect place to mooch about (ha, geddit?) for a couple of hours.

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The Lamppost Café // 13-15 Bridge Gate // HERE – Another lovely café that, as well as serving sandwiches and salads, also caters for man’s best friend. Pooches can get dog ice cream (!), dog beer, dog cupcakes and other treats, which actually look just as tasty as the human equivalent!

Old Gate // 1-4 Old Gate // HERE – I’ve never actually tried the food here, but it’s perfect for a drink in the sun. It does tend to get quite busy in the summer months – definitely a sun trap!

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Something Sweet // 11 Bridge Gate // HERE – I dare you to go here and not leave with something! Their homemade fudge is an absolute must, plus they’ve got all your favourite old-fashioned sweeties, as well as lots of imported chocolate and candy too.

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There’s also the farmers market that runs every weekend, plus there are a few other spots such as Organic House Cafe and Spirals, but unfortunately due to the winter floods they’re not quite back up and running yet. I’m sure they’ll be back on their feet in no time!

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