To Tuscany – Travel Live Learn won!

Do you know why it is worth entering yourself in competitions? Because sometimes you can win!

Last week I received an email to say that a travel live learn blog post on healthy holidays that I’d entered into a competition To Tuscany was running had been declared the best that they saw. Yay!

Earlier in the year, To Tuscany invited content creators to share tips on how to make a holiday healthy and happy in mind, body and spirit.

We believe we shared some pretty helpful advice and are so grateful the judges thought so too.

In April we’re flying into Pisa and will enjoy a week’s stay in the Tuscan villa La Stalla Montebuoni. We’ll visit historic Florence, where around 600 years ago political, cultural and economic forces collided, sparking the Renaissance. This period is regarded as the bridge between the middle ages and modern history, and importantly, provoked new ways of thinking, with an emphasis on art, education and the pursuit of happiness. Sounds right up my alley!

We look forward to exploring surrounding medieval towns including Siena, and of course sampling local wine and cheese.

Can. Not. Wait!

 

Susan Gardner, well-being judge, gave the following comment on the entry:

The winner has a lovely easy style which has an appealing look about it and the language used is friendly and supportive. Overall, it provides a useful guide as per the specifications of the contest, with many helpful recommendations from their personal experience which could be potentially attractive to many of the readers whether they are unfamiliar with the concept of a wellbeing/Yoga get-away/retreat or are regular attendees.

It offers a well understood range of practical tips, which I consider to be very helpful to use as a checklist of priorities and how to maximise the time whilst away. It’s realistic and relevant with a generous range of activities being suggested as something worth researching and exploring. There is a good balance of images which help to deliver the message along with useful links to further reach a wider audience.”

 

View the blog: 11 happy and healthy holiday ideas

Thanks again to the judges for choosing us.

We believe in everything we produce on this site and are passionate about sharing ideas on wellbeing, creative living and travel. Keep an eye out for our vlogs and blogs covering the region this Easter!

 

Malta pictures: most Instagrammable

Over the summer we had the chance to visit a beautiful island on the Mediterranean between Sicily and North Africa; while we were only there for a few days, my Malta pictures are some of our favourites from recent travels!

We visited in August, European summertime and yes, it was hot.

The highlight for that month annually is the colourful religious festivals which take place in all the Maltese villages of the island. Every church and cathedral is lit up and evening street festivals are held just about every night, with performers and bands, fireworks and an all-round fabulous vibe.

There’s even daytime fireworks – something I’ve never seen before! Oh, and canon fire wakes you up at 8am which takes some adjustment but then it’s just plain amusing.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

Malta’s population is predominantly Roman Catholic and the churches, relics and crosses across the island make that very obvious.

Interestingly though, Malta feels really multi-cultural. I picked up on accents from all over the world on the street and even on their commercial radio stations where I heard a number of varying English and American accents along with Irish and even Australian.

The destination is renowned for its intriguing historical sites associated with a succession of rulers including the Romans, Moors, Knights of Saint John, French and British.

Malta boasts many fortresses, Megalithic temples and the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, a subterranean complex of halls and burial chambers dating to circa 4000 B.C. Really extraordinary.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

There’s something for everyone in Malta, and I’d pitch it as an excellent option against the coasts of Spain, France or Italy in the summer. It’s probably a bit cheaper than these neighbours too.

Travel for me offers a creative outlet, in that I relish the chance to take photos of the beauty of the world around me. Malta pictures are dreamy – the place is so sublime it’s basically impossible to take a bad shot.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

Malta pictures: most Instagrammable

Architecture

I can’t wait to get back to Malta one day and explore more – there’s much of the northern side we missed, but we had a good look around the south of the island.

We stayed in an amazing, authentic 700 year old villa that likely houses a ghost or two.

In fact, they used to make cheese where we stayed, and goats once roamed the lower part of the building that now acts as a casual outdoor area with a pool around which we spent hot afternoons drinking a local brew, Cisk.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

Napoleon reportedly stayed in the place next door to where we were based. It was then an armoury, and on further investigation I discovered that historically, relations between France and Malta have been tumultuous.

Malta’s positioned in such a spot that it’s ended up in the centre of many wars and struggles for power over the years, including during WWII.

I spotted several plaques in the capital, Valletta, commemorating Malta’s involvement in recent wars as part of the Commonwealth (same as Australia). In fact, Malta is one of just three European countries that form part of this alliance, alongside the UK and Cyprus.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

A rich history (both modern and ancient), change and rebuilding following periods of war, plus fascinating neighbours bringing a range of cultural influence means that every street, window, door and archway on the island offers an Instagrammable moment.

Blue Grotto

We were staying only about five minutes’ drive from the Blue Grotto, a haven for divers and free spirits alike.

Cliff drops, sparkling blue Mediterranean waves and the option to take a speed boat for just €8 means this is a must-visit in Malta.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

Get there early to avoid queues.

The sea caverns you’ll cruise into on the water are awe-inspiring and jetting around these parts feels like nothing less than an adventure out of a Bond film.

There’s plenty of Malta pictures opportunities here, but we also captured a little bit of video to share:

Travel tip: Book a meal at Blue Creek Restaurant which is positioned on a cliff-side not too far from the Blue Grotto. Request a table outside because the views are sensational. The food is well priced and delicious.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

While you’re in this area, you might like to visit the Hagar Qim temples (Megalithic temple structures built on the Maltese islands between 3600 and 3000 BC), Mnajdra temples (three conjoined Neolithic temples dating from about 3000 BC) and the Ghar Dalam cave and museum which contains bone remains of animals that were stranded and subsequently became extinct in Malta at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum.

Valletta waterfront and city centre

Malta’s striking capital, Valletta, is surrounded by spectacular bodies of water; cruise ships line the harbour alongside expensive yachts moored at Vittoriosa.

In stark contrast to these contemporary symbols of wealth and decadence are the fortified structures that date back thousands of years.

We highly recommend investing a couple of hours of your time in a harbour cruise where you get the best views of such buildings. Plus, there’s really no better way to experience the grandeur of the area and some of the world’s prettiest waterways.

Cruises here take in two of the largest natural harbours in the Mediterranian, Marsamxett and Valletta.

 

Malta harbour - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

Travel tip: Captain Morgan cruises are heavily advertised, but if you buy tickets on the ground you can also cruise with Luzzu. Start at Valletta and take a fast ferry over to Sliema, or make your way to Sliema first and begin there. Tickets are available on the waterfront in both spots.

We scored tickets for €10 (down from €16 each) on Luzzu, and while we had a small panic that the boat was much smaller than that of Captain Morgan’s, the experience turned out to be much more fun, personal, free and enjoyable. We absolutely recommend you take this option that we happened upon by taking a chance on a street vendor working for Luzzu.

 

Malta harbour - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

While you’re in the city, you might also be interested to see the Malta Experience which offers an immersive trip through Malta’s fascinating history, and the Knights Hospital which showcases more about how this critical 250-year period in Malta’s history influenced everything from architecture to folklore and even the nation’s flag.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

Marsaxlokk fishing village

This small and picturesque fishing village is a must-see for perfect Malta pictures and sublime Instagrammables.

Marsaxlokk is popular for a daily open-air market and offers a selection of some of the best fish restaurants in Malta.

I was there around lunchtime and can verify there are plenty of specials to enjoy, the only problem is figuring out which one to try.

There are lovely walks to be had around the harbour here, and you can even take a dip in secluded and untainted swimming zones.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

Mdina

The history of the walled Mdina can be traced back more than 4000 years.

It is said that in 60 A.D. the Apostle St. Paul lived here after being shipwrecked. Wandering the narrow old streets of Mdina is like taking a trip back in time.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

The romantic alleyways date back to the 12th Century and over the years has shifted from housing nobles to then falling into disrepair around war times; and now are called home by those who can afford an apartment in unique, historical surrounds.

 

Malta - Sarah Blinco travellivelearn.com

Malta is a destination brimming with beauty, history and plenty of wonderful Instagrammable moments.

A highly recommended destination, and one we suggest you enjoy with friends or family.

A huge thank you to Robin who inspired the trip, and Anna + Anna who also made this escape such fun!

 

Malta

We’d love to hear from you – if you have a comment or tip to add, drop us a line below.

Expat explore Europe in summer | a recent traveller’s top tips

Last year, 21-year-old Jordan Lea Hart, embarked on a once-in-her-young-lifetime trip abroad. While she’d enjoyed a holiday or two closer to home and with family, this was her first significant trip overseas – just she and her best friend, Rachael. We’d spoken to the girls a few times about travel and life abroad, and were very excited to hear when they took the massive step to book and confirm it all.

Jordan Lea and Rachael enjoyed the same tour of Europe with Expat Explore that we did in 2011 (on just the second 26-day itinerary since the group launched it), and I was keen to find out more about the experience, their tips and stories of travel and friendship. Most importantly, I was keen for insights into why they too, advocate taking the chance to travel, live and learn!

When did you travel to Europe?

In July and August 2015, European summer time.

This was your first major overseas trip – how did the decision come about to do it?

Throughout high school, my best friend and I always talked about travelling to Europe, specifically London, because we love historical buildings and English boys! Once we finally had enough coin we booked it.

When did you decide what type of travel option to pursue?

I wanted to do a coach tour as it just seemed like the most cost-effective way to get a taste of each country. Originally the plan was to go on a month tour, then rent a car and road trip around Ireland, Scotland and Wales, however that didn’t end up on the agenda due to work and study commitments.

We decided on Expat Explore’s 26 Day Ultimate Europe Tour because it is great value for money (even considering the conversion from Aussie dollars).

One of the first things our tour guide, Will, said was, “You guys are travellers, not tourists, we are not going to hold your hand everywhere you go, it’s up to you. YOU create your journey, we just guide.”

It was awesome because that’s exactly what he did – told us the way to our hotel, how to get home, and what time we would be leaving for the next trip. We never considered a party-type tour, we really wanted to make the most of our travels, not spend the time in bars 24/7 and hung-over every day! Not to say we didn’t have a few cheeky drinks.

Was there anything you were worried about prior to taking this big trip so far away from home?

I was worried about missing home too much; I was in a brand new relationship so this trip was a massive test on us. I missed him terribly but we survived it, thank God for Viber.  

Jordan Lea Expat Explore story travellivelearn 2016 Prague Castle

Do you think you were well prepared for the trip, or did you learn along the way?

Prior to us leaving I quit my job! I was treating this trip as a fresh start for me, to get perspective on what I really want. I had to be very careful with my money, budgeted a lot, made trips to the local supermarkets to get fresh fruit and snacks for the long coach journeys.

Clothing was something I was not prepared for. I was under the impression Europe would have cold days, and I would only need so many shoes or pairs of socks. The little things ran out fast, and I packed about 10 jumpers and no summer clothes. That was a massive wake-up and I spent a lot of money buying summer basics (most of Europe is hot in summer!). But I learned little tricks after a few weeks, like washing delicates in the sink then rolling them up in the bathroom mat so they dried a lot faster.

I also thought this would be a great best friend trip, just myself and Rachael the whole time! But we met some lifelong friends, we created ‘the squad’ after two days on tour – myself, Rachael and three rowdy British girls – we were inseparable.

What were three highlights of Europe?

The whole trip was a highlight but I do recall a few special moments.

Our first stop was Amsterdam, and Expat scheduled an optional activity for day one on the road. Everyone else on the bus went except Rachael and I; We ditched it. Woke up late, caught the train into the city centre, wandered around just taking it all in for six hours. We walked away from all the tourist areas and went local. We found all these amazing hidden cafes and lunch hot-spots. It was beautiful and so peaceful to just wander and soak up all the culture. Once we got back to tourist-central, we naturally tested the devil’s lettuce from the local coffee shop (not to be confused with cafe) and ended up having the wildest night of our lives.

Sneaking into random hotels, running along the canals and eating the best yogurt and fruit anyone could ever have – our first day was done right.

The second highlight for me was meeting the squad, Alice, Anya and Sara. Here are five girls with completely different backgrounds and we clicked instantly as if we were long-lost soul-mates. We had one night in the Rhine Valley where we all had too much wine, ended up smashing karaoke with a Spice Girls comeback, and we were almost as good as the real thing. So many nights were unforgettable with these girls!

Barcelona was an absolute highlight for me personally; the culture of that place blows my mind! Oh and the sangria!

The last highlight, even though bitter-sweet, was our final night of the tour in France, sitting under the Eiffel Tower and its 9pm light show, drinking mini bottles of wine, with our cheese dips and chocolate.  

Jordan Lea Expat Explore story travellivelearn 2016 with mates

Some England highlights?

The UK was a short but sweet stay, four days in total, but so full of life. We went to the markets, Harry Potter studio tour and stayed walking-distance from Oxford Street. Also spent a night drinking cocktails with some of my favourite people. It was the perfect end to our trip.

What did you learn about yourself through this experience?

That if I set a goal to do something it will be achieved. And, that I can successfully catch public transport in any country! It helped me also appreciate how lucky I am to have had the chance to do this at 21. Most people don’t get that chance, even couples on our tour said this was their first holiday overseas and they were well over 50.

How has such a significant travel experience shaped the way you are now planning for your future?

It only makes me want to plan for more! I have the thirst for travel, the way it opens your eyes is something else. The world is a fascinating place.

What’s your advice for anyone planning to travel or tour Europe in the summer?

You need a reliable water bottle, sunscreen and good walking shoes.

Be warned of the crowds in Italy, it will have you feeling like you’re suffocating, so go see all the major sights in the afternoon, because in summer the sun doesn’t set until 9pm so it’s nowhere near as hot then.

Learn the underground in European cities. Local trains usually work like clockwork and will take you anywhere you need to go. It all works in colour lines so don’t worry about not knowing the language if you need to get around.

In France, buy souvenirs from the salespeople on the street, not stalls; the sellers are lovely and you get the same thing but for half the price!

Jordan Lea Expat Explore story travellivelearn 2016 on the road

What are your essential travel planning websites and apps?

In Europe, always search for the city metro map and have a screen copy on your phone for reference. In London, download the app Kabbie. I would have been lost without this – it’s like Uber but cheap. Another helpful tip is to buy your food and alcohol for your trip. This saves you so much money; the supermarkets have everything you could ever need! Don’t get stuck buying supplies at expensive bars or corner stores.

Would you recommend a tour and why?

Yes! Especially if you have never travelled to that country before, it helps you get your bearings and you have a whole coach support system; a tour guide who you can bother with a thousand questions as they know all the good spots, and you meet amazing people. Once you have done a tour, you can go back the places you enjoyed and you’ll already have knowledge to get around like (nearly) a local!

What does travel mean to you now?

A world of opportunities! I have found what I want to do: work, save, travel.

Follow Jordan-Lea’s adventures on Instagram