12 December 2008

Friday Photo - Loading the dug-out canoe - in Ecuador

Today I'm joining in with the Friday Photo at Delicious Baby to bring you a photo from my travels with a story behind it.

As you may know I spent three weeks travelling with friends in Ecuador last October (I can't believe it's over a year ago). Part of the trip was a 10 day river journey we took down the Rio Bobonaza in southern Ecuador from Puyo to Kapawi near the Peruvian border where we flew back by light aircraft.

Read more of this article over at my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

If you're still a subscriber at this address, do switch your subscription over TODAY to my new address at Heatheronhertravels.com. I won't be posting here much longer and I don't want you to miss out.

11 December 2008

Time Out supports Passports with Purpose

If you're a Travel Blogger or Travel Blog reader, I'm sure that you'll have heard by now about Passports with Purpose, a charity raffle being supported by Travel bloggers around the world, to raise money for Heifer International, a charity working at grass roots level to beat poverty and hunger.

Read more of this article over at my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

If you're still a subscriber at this address, do switch your subscription over to my new address at Heatheronhertravels.com

8 December 2008

Lonely Planet supports Passports with Purpose

I hope you'll have heard about Passports with Purpose by now, not only from me but from all the other travel bloggers who have been publicising this charity raffle on their blogsites. If you haven't bought your tickets yet, do check out all the fab prizes here and then go to First Giving here to buy your tickets. It's all in a good cause of Heifer International, a charity that fights poverty and hunger at grass roots level all over the Developing World.

I've already told you about my prizes of not one but two Christmas Hampers of Travel Inspiration, with guides and stationary to kick off your travel planning for the year ahead. To thank my sponsors, I'll be telling you a little more about their products over the next week or two, in case you need some more ideas for your Christmas list.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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Hunting the Ash-black slug on Dartmoor - in Devon

Forget the sightings of wildcats on Dartmoor in Devon - I was out hunting giant slugs this weekend. It turns out that the micro-habitat around the River Dart in Devon is home to the rare and illusive Ash-black slug, largest slug in England at up to 30cm long and we were out in hot pursuit.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

PS I'll only be putting my artices on this bog for a little while longer, so if you're a subscriber, do move your subscription over now to Heatheronhertravels.com

6 December 2008

Heather on her travels around the web in November

As I'm extending my writing to a few other places around the blogsphere, I thought I'd give you a quick round up of some other articles I wrote in November. I've been doing a weekly post every week on a Thursday over at Europe a la Carte, so here are the highlights.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

5 December 2008

Friday Photo - Internet in the Rainforest at Sarayaku - in Ecuador

Today I'm joining in with the Friday photo over at Delicious Baby to bring you a story from my travels with a story behind it.

Last October I spent three weeks travelling in Ecuador and we spent a few days in the rainforest community of Sarayaku on the Rio Bobonaza which flows down to join with the Amazon. This is a village which so far has fought off the oil companies and loggers who want to move into their territory and can only be reached by half a day in a canoe from the nearest town, or by light aircraft.

Read more in my article on my new blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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4 December 2008

Lunch at The Priory Inn - in Tetbury

I'd read some glowing reviews of the Priory Inn in Tetbury, so when I was there recently on a shopping day out with a friend, we decided to give it a try for lunch. It wouldn't have been the obvious choice had I not been looking for it, as it's a few minutes walk from the main high street on the road out of town. What was once a tired roadside pub has now been transformed by the new owners into a gastropub and hotel with 14 rooms.

Read more of this article at my new blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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1 December 2008

Fantastic raffle prizes at Passports with Purpose

You'll also find this article over at my new blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

I'm so pleased to be supporting the launch today of Passports with Purpose a charity raffle in aid of Heifer International. For me December is the start of advent and the build up to Christmas, a time when we enjoy the company of our loved ones and appreciate the important things in life.

As travellers, many of us have seen at first hand that others around the world can't rely on the things we take for granted like a nice home, education and healthcare. Heifer International is an organisation that works at grassroots level to address hunger and poverty and it would be wonderful if our Christmas giving could extend to include those throughout the world who need our help.

Today Travel Bloggers all around the world are launching the Passports with Purpose raffle with some fantastic prizes and all the proceeds going to Heifer International. The prize that I'm going to tell you about is only one of many being offered through the efforts of Travel Bloggers and the Sponsors who have donated prizes. Tickets are $10 each and can be bought through Firstgiving here, but first let me tell you about my raffle prizes which have been donated by Lonely Planet, Time Out, Alastair Sawdays, Paperblanks, Pocketcomms and Indus Films.

I'm calling my prize a Christmas Hamper of Travel Inspiration with books, guides and stationary to inspire your Travel plans for 2009 and years to come, and I have not one but two of these hampers of travel inspiration to offer. This is what you'll get if you win one of these great prizes;

Christmas Hamper of Travel Inspiration number 1 - you'll get all of the following

Lonely Planet The Travel Book, a wonderful coffee table book packed full of photos and travel inspiration from countries all over the world and guaranteed to give you itchy feet.

Two Alastair Sawdays guides to Special Places to stay - these are guides to independently owned small hotels and guest houses which are special because of their attention to design, idyllic surroundings and a warm welcome for their guests. As you look at all the wonderful photos and descriptions you'll be dreaming of that cosy cave hotel in Cappadocia or the converted windmill on the Greek Island of Milos. You can choose two from the following guides; Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Green Places and English B & Bs.

Five Time Out City Guides - (yes that's not one but five) You can choose whichever five city guides you want from the Time Out City Guide collection, written by locals with an insider's perspective on all the best things to see and do in each location. This could be some great holiday reading to kick off your travel planning for next year.

Two Paperblanks Dayplanner 2009 diaries (one for you, one for your loved one?) in gorgeous covetable designs, to start to fill with your holiday plans. There are five designs you can choose from, and I'm also offering some more Paperblanks Dayplanners as a bonus prize if you read on.

A handy Pocketcomms communication aid with pocket sized pictures to help you communicate, even when you're stuck for words (What's I'm allergic to shellfish in Hindustani?)

Christmas Hamper of Travel Inspiration number 2

You'll get all the prizes listed above, except that..

Instead of the Lonely Planet Travel Book you'll get a DVD set of the Bruce Parry BBC Amazon series, following the incredible journey Bruce took through the Amazon Basin. I love seeing Bruce interact with all the different groups he meets, from the indigenous people who are fighting to protect the rainforest, to the loggers, gold prospectors and cocaine growers who are all trying to make a living around the Amazon. This prize was kindly donated by Indus Films who co-produced the Amazon series. (It works on UK DVDs but maybe not on US ones, but if you have no way to view it through a laptop, you can return it to me and I'll buy you another travel DVD - I just love to see Bruce in his tribal body paint)

Also, in this hamper you get three of the Alastair Sawdays Special Places to Stay Guides listed above.

How to buy your raffle ticket
By now I hope you'll be itching to head over to First Giving and buy raffle tickets for yourself and all your travel loving friends and family. But first take a look at all the other raffle prizes, as when you buy your ticket you'll be asked to specify your first choice of prize. Once you've selected your prize or prizes, go to First Giving to make your raffle donation. For each ten dollar donation you make, you'll be entered into the raffle for the prize you've selected. The winners will be drawn and notified via e-mail on December 30th and you can see all the details on the Passports with Purpose web-page.

Now for my Special Bonus prize. As Paperblanks have been kind enough to send me a whole box of their gorgeous dayplanner diaries, I have a further 18 to give away. So the first 18 people who head over to First giving to buy at least one ticket ( don't mind if it's my prize or one of the others) and then notify me through the comments over at my new blog, I will also send a Paperblanks dayplanner. That's on top of any prize you may win in the raffle.

So that's it folks - I hope I've convinced you to spread some Christmas cheer by heading over to First Giving to get your tickets and support Heifer International. A big thanks to Debbie, Pam, Beth and Michelle who came up with the great idea and have been working so hard behind the scenes to make it all work and also to my sponsors, Lonely Planet, Time Out, Alastair Sawdays, Paperblanks, Pocketcomms and Indus Films. I'll be thanking them all over the coming couple of weeks with more detailed reviews of their products, in case you're looking for any more ideas for your Christmas stockings.

Here's all the links again
The Passports with Purpose webpage
Heifer International
Details of all the Prizes
Buy your ticket at FirstGiving

PS If you're a travel blogger who is also offering a prize, let me know in the comments over at my new blog, as I'll be doing a round-up in a later post of all the prizes on offer

Back to my new Travel Blog Home

30 November 2008

Girly delights at Sassy & Boo in Tetbury

Last week I spent a day with a friend visiting the Cotswold town of Tetbury, a place that's a shopper's delight if you like antiques, designer clothes and gourmet food. When I was last in Bath, I visited the Sassy & Boo boutique near the Royal Crescent, so when we saw they also had a branch in Tetbury, we made it the first stop of the day.

Sassy & Boo shop in TetburySassy & Boo shop in Tetbury

Read more of this article over at my new blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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28 November 2008

Friday Photo - Swans for Red Maids Founder's day

Note - my new travel blog can be found at Heatheronhertravels.com, but until I get it's completely up to scratch, I'll continue posting here as well. If you're a subscriber you might want to change your subscription to Heatheronhertravels.com.

Today I'm joining in with the Friday photo over at Delicious Baby to bring you a photo from my travels with a story behind it.

I took this photo while sitting in a floating restaurant, having breakfast with my daughter. The occasion was the Founder's day of her school when she and all the other pupils at Red Maids School parade through the City of Bristol to the Cathedral for a special service to commemorate the school founder, John Whitson.

Swans on Red Maids Founder's day

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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A day out in Tetbury - in Gloucestershire

November can be pretty dull time between the end of the summer and the build up to Christmas, and I decided to brighten things up with a day out with a friend in Tetbury. Tetbury is in the 'Royal' county of Gloucestershire with Prince Charles' country estate of Highgrove just down the road, and Princess Anne also living nearby. It's the sort of place where well heeled Londoners have a weekend house and the picturesque cream stone buildings are filled with antique shops, yummy food delis and smart boutiques. Just the place, I thought, for a girly day out.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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26 November 2008

A peek at my new blog

I wrote earlier about how the past year has been a blogging journey for me and how I decided the time had come to step up a little and put my blog on a more professional footing.

The first step was to move over to a new site at Heatheronhertravels.com and that's what I've been beavering away at this last week or two. I've been glued to my computer screen, often with steam coming out my ears, as I tried to make sense of all the HTML code that determines how the blog looks and feels. It's been a steep learning curve, I can tell you, and not one I'd recommend to a novice blogger unless they're technically minded. It's just as well I'm a believer in life-long-learning and I'm sure these new skills will come in handy.

I've still got a fair bit of work to do in getting my new baby looking just so and in transferring my archive posts (all 185 of them). But although it's still work in progress, I'd like to lift the curtain a little and give you a sneak preview. So do head on over to Heatheronhertravels.com and take a look.

It will be another week or two until I'm happy with it and until then, I'll be posting the same articles on this blog and on my new one. You can see that I've now got two blog pages, one for My Travel Blog and one for My Blogging Journey, which is where I'll write about what I've done to develop the blog and other blogging tips.

If you're a subscriber why not change your subscription now to Heatheronhertravels.com , and if you enjoy the blog but don't yet subscribe, now could be the time to start, so you don't miss anything.

I'll keep you posted on when Heatheronhertravels.com will finally take over from this blog - look forward to seeing you over there.

Related posts
My Blogging Journey
Choosing my Wordpress Theme
Some tips to keep readers on your blog

Back to my new blog home

23 November 2008

Kapawi Ecolodge at the World Travel Market

When I visited the World Travel Market last week, I looked around the Ecuador stand and got chatting to the folks from the Kapawi ecolodge in Ecuador.

When I was in Ecuador last October, we ended our river journey at Kapawi, in Achuar territory on the River Pastaza, where we took a small aircraft to fly us back to the airport at Shell. As the weather was too bad for the plane to land, we stayed the night at Kapawi village, where the president of the community invited us for supper in his home and gave us permission to sleep in one of the school houses. The ecolodge is set by a lagoon, a little away from the main village, and we didn't get the chance to visit, but I'd heard all about it.

On the Kapawi stand at the World Travel Market, London
Heather with Kistupa Peas from the Kapawi ecolodge

The Achuar own the Natural Reserve in which Kapawi is situated and have made a strategic decision to say no to the logging and oil drilling that would destroy the natural rainforest environment. We had seen for ourselves the changes that logging can bring earlier in the day, when we visited the town of Andaos, down the river and just over the border into Peru. Here the palm roofed traditional houses had been replaced by shops, hotels and houses with corregated iron roofs, and the rainforest had all but disappeared.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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22 November 2008

Breakfast at the Glass Boat for Red Maids Founder's Day

Every year in November, my daughter's school parades through the city of the Bristol to Bristol Cathedral, where they celebrate their Founder's day. Red Maid's School was founded in 1634 by John Whitson, the Mayor of Bristol, to provide education for poor girls from the city of Bristol. In those days the curriculum covered the skills required to make them good wives and mothers, such as reading, sewing and household skills.

The Glass Boat, Bristol, Welsh Back

The whole school gathers on Welsh Back by Bristol Bridge, and to celebrate the occasion, I took my daughter for breakfast at The Glass Boat. This rather smart restaurant is an old converted barge, which is moored in a prime position on the waterfront, where once the merchant ships of Bristol were moored beside the brick warehouses. We enjoyed a seat at the back where the floor to ceiling windows allowed us to follow the swans on the river and enjoy our American pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, while the rest of the school gathered on the quayside beside us.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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21 November 2008

Friday Photo - Murals in Orgosolo - in Sardinia

Today I'm joining in with the Friday photo at Delicious Baby to bringing you a photo from my travels with a story behind it.

This summer we visited Sardinia for our family holiday and one of the highlights was seeing the murals in the mountain village of Orgosolo. This village had a history of blood feuds and banditry but lately has been attracting visitors because of its street art or Murales that are found all around the village.

Murales at Orgosolo

They started as a project in the local high school and many, including the one above were painted by the talented artist,Francesco Del Casino, who taught in the school for many years and was influenced by Picasso. True to the village's past reputation for dissent, many of the murals are on themes of protest and social injustice. My favourites, however were these voluptuous ladies, gossiping in a back street - they added a smile to my day.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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19 November 2008

Choosing my Wordpress Theme

In order to start my new blog at Heatheronhertravels.com, I need to choose a Wordpress theme and I'm finding it rather confusing. A theme is simply some software that you download that determines the visual look of your blog, and it's important to give it some thought, because it's a real pain to change later, as I'm finding out. Because Wordpress is an Open Source software (that means any developer can create related software), there's a whole industry out there in creating Wordpress themes.

Finding a theme
Some themes can be used if you're hosting your blog on Wordpress - you can find these at Wordpress.com. Others are only available if you're self-hosting your blog, and in this case you should start at Wordpress.org where you can find all the free ones. They're categorised in various ways, for instance by the number of columns or colours used. After a while you notice that most Wordpress Theme developers also have their own websites where they offer other themes that you have to pay for, and it's worth exploring these too.

I also started looking a lot more closely at the themes used by other travel bloggers and at the bottom of the page, there's usually a link to tell you what theme they're using. If not, you an always e-mail them to ask.

Cut through the confusion
This is where it started to become confusing, as there are thousands of themes out there, so I decided to fall back on some Project Management techniques to help me make sense of it all. In the early stages of any project you always define your requirements. This means making a list of all the things you require from your blog, and also thinking about what other users of your blog will require.

For instance an advertiser, reader and blog writer may all have different requirements and you should try to address them all. Ideally you should ask your readers and advertisers what they think, but if that's impractical, you can put yourself in their shoes. Once you have your list of requirements, you can use it to narrow down your list of themes to those that will best meet your requirements.

My requirements as a blog writer
- Good support and a user community who can help me get the best out of my theme
- Built by a reputable developer who will respond to questions
- A header with a picture at the top that I can change from time to time
- Potential to expand into a magazine style website over time
- Clean and simple look to showcase colourful photographs and content
- I like to see blue in the theme as it reminds me of exotic destinations with blue sea and sky
- Layout to support adding advertising and commercial activity to my site, probably a 3 column theme
- I don't mind paying for the right theme

My requirements as a blog reader
- Easy to find the latest post
- Easy navigation through tabs at the top
- I prefer to see the full post immediately, rather than just the first few lines
- Light rather than dark backgrounds
- Easy to find destination information
- Easy to search the blog for topics

Requirements of an advertiser
- Blog looks professional and is easy to use
- Blog will attract and retain readership
- Information on how to advertise and rates
- Adverts are displayed prominantly and look attractive
- Adverts are relevant to content to encourage readers to click on them

Listing my requirements helped me narrow down the potential themes to a shortlist.

Here's my shortlist
Clockwork Mint by Łukasz Sobek
Zigzag3 by Sadish Balasubramanian
Palnila by Sadish Balasubramanian
Seashore by Sadish Balasubramanian
Revolution Lifestyle by Brian Gardner

So can you guess which one's my favourite? Which would you choose if you were me?

Related Posts
My blogging journey
Tips to keep readers on your blog

Useful links
Here's a useful video at BecomeaBlogger.com on choosing your Wordpress theme

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17 November 2008

Blue fishing boats on Zakynthos

I know they're a bit picture postcard, but I do love these traditional wooden fishing boats I saw on the Greek island of Zakynthos.

Harbour of Zante town

Even those who now earn a living from tourism still feel a strong connection to the land and sea, growing their own fruit and vegetables behind the house and going out fishing in the summer months. In October, when we visited, most of the boats had been taken out of the water for the winter, when hunting takes over as the favoured outdoor pastime of the men on the island.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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15 November 2008

Step back in time at the Dennis Severs' house in London

As I arrived at the Dennis Severs' house in the Shoreditch neighbourhood of London, there was not much to distinguish it from the others in this Georgian Terrace, surrounded by modern office blocks. One of the guardians of the house was waiting just outside and gave us a few words of introduction, requesting that we walk around the candle-lit house in silence to soak up the atmosphere.


The house is a cross between a stage set for an 18th century costume drama and a living museum, where the ghosts of the past have just left the room. The house was created by Californian Denis Severs, who lived in the house, with no electricity or modern conveniences, until his death in 1999. For his own enjoyment he created the house as a sensory experience which would transport visitors away from the 20th century - the house's motto is You either see it or you don't.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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14 November 2008

Some tips to keep readers on your blog

I've been blogging about travel for a year now and although I'm no techie guru, there are a few things I've been trying out recently, to reduce my bounce rate and keep readers on my blog. Being a sharing kind of person, I thought I'd pass on these tips, for those of you just embarking on your blogging journey.

Minimise your Bounce
When I started, I just wanted to make some record of my travels and share them with whoever was interested. If this is where you are, then I'm sure you'll want your readers to explore the best of what you've posted and enjoy it to the full.

A year down the line, I'm thinking of my blog as a way of generating some financial reward for the time and energy I put in, so building and retaining a readership is becoming increasingly important. If this is where you are, then you may need to attract and retain readers to maximise advertising revenue and create credibility for yourself as a writer and blogger.

Either way, you'll want to minimise your 'bounce' - in other words you don't want readers to arrive at your site and bounce straight off it. You want them to stay a while, read a few posts and hopefully be interested enough to become a regular reader and subscriber.

Monitor your traffic
The first step to retaining your readers is knowing where they came from and what has attracted them to your blog. Free tools that I use to help me with this are Google Analytics and Sitemeter which give me statistics on different aspects of my readership. If you don't already have these or something similar, you should install them - it's quick, easy and free.

Before you start, ensure that you set the account settings in Sitemeter to exclude visits from your own computer, otherwise you will get a false picture of your readership - it may just be you!

The first thing that surprised me from analysing my traffic was that almost 30% in the last month is from search engines and 55% from referring sites. So only 15% are those faithful readers stopping by read my latest post. The vaste majority are people searching for information on a particular destination or being referred from another site. If you're not careful they could read one article and bounce straight off into the blogsphere. To stop this happening, these are the steps I've taken on my own blog;

My Tips
1. Reduce the links to external websites early on in the article and try to put them nearer the end of the post, so that the reader is more likely to read through my post before bouncing off.

2. Increase the links to other posts in my blog, to encourage the reader to explore what else I've written.

3. Add a list of three or so Related Posts to the bottom of each article (that's posts from my own blog of course), to encourage the reader to explore other things on my blog that might interest them. This sometimes means going back to an older post to add in new related posts.

4. Add a Back to Home button at the bottom of each post. This means that a reader who lands on a specific post that I might have written a while ago can easily get to my most recent posts.

5. When you create a link, ensure that it opens in a new window, so that the reader can easily close it to return to your post. Some platforms give you an option to do this when you create the link but in Blogger you have to add a bit of code target="_blank" into your link as explained here

6. Establish a mental pecking order for links that will take the reader away from my post as follows;
a) Links to other posts within my blog
b) Links to my Flick photo site
c) Links to other bloggers who have helped me or are worthy of a mention
d) Links to sites that will give the reader further useful information about the topic

7. If I see that a lot of traffic is being directed to a particular post, for instance because people are searching for information in Google, then I go back and ensure that I've followed all these steps for that post.

8. Not forgetting that the biggest thing that will keep your readers on your Blog is interesting and informative articles that keep them coming back for more.

They're all easy tips that just require a little regular housekeeping and hopefully will reduce that itchy finger syndrome. Perhaps they don't all apply to you but will encourage you to consider how you can turn a one-off hit to someone who takes a journey through your blog. As I said, I'm far from expert in this area, so please share with me any tips you use to keep your readers on your blog for longer.

Related Posts
My blogging journey

Useful links
Google Analytics

Back to Home

Thanks to Sean Drelinger and Brian for their photos on Flickr

13 November 2008

Friday Photo - Cheka Kidogo (smile a little) in London

Today I'm joining with the Friday Photo over at Delicious Baby, to bring you a photo from my travels with a story behind it.

This week, I was on the South Bank in London, on one of those wettest of wet days when if it doesn't rain it pours. I love the South Bank Centre because apart from the major art exhibitions & concerts, there's always something free and interactive going on there. Through the gloom I spotted this installation of photographs and videos called Cheka Kidogo which means Smile a little in Swahili.

Cheka Kidogo Oxfam photo exhibition on the South Bank

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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At the Travel Blog Camp in London

This week I spent a couple of days in London, attending the World Travel Market for the first time and spending a very enjoyable evening at the Travel Blog Camp, organised by Darren from Travel Rants.

It was a get together at a London pub of around 80 travel bloggers, folk from the online travel industry and people with a PR interest in what's going on in the blogging world. I was excited to meet some of the faces behind the blogs I regularly follow, as there seem to so few of us in the UK, compared with so many in the US and around the world. I linked up with Karen from Europe a la Carte, where I've recently joined the blogging team, posting every Thursday. I spotted Guido from the Happy Hotelier who was taking enough photos to start a Blogger's society page. I also chatted to Caitlin from Roaming Tales who has also written a nice summary of the evening on her blog.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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9 November 2008

A view from the castle over Zante town

If you're in Zante town, on the Greek island of Zakynthos, you should drive or hike up to the ruined 15th century Venetian castle that overlooks the town. It's an ideal place to go in the afternoon or evening as it's cooling down and the town lights start to twinkle, when you can sit at one of the terrace cafes with a drink and a view of the town.

Near Fort above Zante town

Perhaps this view inspired the Zakynthian poet Dionysios Solomos to write his poem, Hymn to Liberty that later became the Greek National Anthem.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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The cyclamen bring the autumn on Zakynthos

One of the beauties of the Greek countryside is the wild flowers, which are at their best in Spring and Autumn. When I visited Zakynthos this October, the pale pink cyclamen were clustered in the olive groves, especially at the base of the trees where they could shelter undisturbed among the twisting roots.

Cyclamen on Zakynthos

I spent a lot of time trying to photograph these delicate creatures but sometimes I felt that their fine lines and soft colour illuded me. Along with the sight of olive trees being pruned and the scent of woodsmoke in the air, they were a sure sign that autumn was on it's way.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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5 November 2008

Friday photo - a politician in the rainforest in Ecuador

Today I'm joining in with the Friday photo at Delicious Baby to bring you a photo from my travels with a story behind it.

With election fever gripping the US (election, what election?) I thought I'd share with you a little grass roots politics from my trip last year to Ecuador.

Luiz Hernandez talks to Students at the high school at Sarayaku

You see, we were lucky enough to be accompanied on our river journey by Luis Hernandez, who was not only our guide, but an aspiring politician who a week previously had been elected to the National Assembly of Ecuador. When we arrived by canoe in the rainforest village of Sarayaku on the Rio Bobonaza, the community invited Luis to address their college students about the new constitution for Ecuador that the Assembly was to write. While we were worrying about anacondas and canoes capsizing, Luis spent his spare time on the river bank reading the constitutions of other South American states, in preparation for his new role as an Asambleísta.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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A tour of Romas Mansion - on Zakynthos

I wrote in my introduction to Zakynthos, that this Greek island is more a place for sun and relaxation than for culture, but at Romas Mansion in Zante town I found the exception to the rule.

At Romas mansion in Zante town

Romas Mansion is one of the few old house in Zante town that survived the earthquake of 1953 and subsequent fire which destroyed practically the whole town. It is the home of the aristocratic Romas family and was opened a couple of years ago to give a glimpse into the life of one of the leading political families on the island.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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3 November 2008

Heather on her travels around the Blogsphere

In an effort at shameless self-promotion I'd like to let you know about the places that Heather on her travels has recently been featured around the Blogsphere.

I've been a regular reader of Monna's blog Teacher Meets World for a while now and we've exchanged guest posts here and here. Monna's recently launched a new blog called Slow Blogs, celebrating blogs that are well-written, authentic and not overly commercial. I was honoured to be featured on the site this week here. It's always nice to know that someone is reading and appreciating those random ramblings that I throw out into the blogsphere - thanks for your kind words Monna!

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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31 October 2008

Friday Photo - Catfish and Anaconda on the Rio Bobonaza in Ecuador

Today I'm joining in the Friday Photo at Delicious Baby to bring you a photo from my travels with a story behind it.

This is the picture I took of Ingaro Gualinga, who was one of our guides from the rainforest community of Sarayaku, on the river trip I took in Ecuador last October. We had stopped on a sandbank to camp for the night, when a local fisherman approached to show us the two enormous catfish he had caught on that stretch of the river.

Our guide Ingaro with catfish, Rio Bobonaza

The man told us the story of how he had been fishing from that very sandbank, when he had been attacked by an Anaconda, the large boas that live on the water's edge and coil themselves round their prey and crush them to death. Luckily, his wife heard the barking of his dogs and came to rescue him by shooting the snake in the head.

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28 October 2008

My top three beaches on Zakynthos

If you're looking for beautiful beaches on the Greek island of Zakynthos, you'll be spoilt for choice, but I'm only going to share with you my personal top three. Even at the end of the season when it may not be hot enough to swim, it's great to walk along them and feel the sun on your face and the sand between your toes.

Bear in mind that I normally visit the island in low season and this October I practically had the beaches to myself. If you're there in July and August you'll get a different experience, as all the beaches are busy, but some are more packed than others.

Gerakas beach
At the south-east tip of the island, this beach is part of the Marine park of Zakynthos and is known for the Carretta Carretta turtles that nest there. No building is allowed above the beach and sun-loungers are kept well away from the nesting sites. If you're lucky you may see turtles while swimming from the beach. There's a nice taverna nearby and an information centre for the turtles next door, run by the Earth, Sea and Sky conservation network.

Gerakas beach

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26 October 2008

How to find a real Greek taverna - on Zakynthos

If you're on the Greek island of Zakynthos and Yiayia's not cooking the Sunday lunch (that's Greek for Granny) then you'll be looking for a traditional taverna for your meal out with the family.

Sunday lunch in a Greek Taverna

You'll want somewhere that serves the Greek specialities, not just the versions of Moussaka that they serve up for the tourists. When I picked up the business card at To Kartoutso , where we ate today and saw not a word of English on it, I knew this was the real deal.

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Sunday morning Greek coffee and glika - in Zakynthos

This morning we drove into Zante town, the capital of the Greek island of Zakynthos, to look at the boats and have a coffee.

Sailing boat in Zante harbour

My husband was craving for a cheese pie or Tiropita, made with filo pastry and soft goat's cheese, while I was hoping for some of those ultra sweet, syrup drenched cakes or Glika that the Greeks specialise in.

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24 October 2008

Friday photo - a hunter's view in Zakynthos

Today I'm joining in with the Friday Photo at Delicious Baby, from my sunbed on the Greek island of Zakynthos, to bring you a photo with a story behind it.

This morning I walked up with my husband, through the olive groves behind my sister's house on the island of Zante to admire the view over the bay. Every so often we would find a chair positioned somewhat incongruously in a clearing. At first I thought that someone had left them there so they could pause and admire the view. But then the spent shotgun cartridges in the vicinity gave me a clue.

Admiring the view over the sea and olive groves near Argassi

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22 October 2008

Camping at Cala Gonone - in Sardinia

First let me explain how I came to choose Camping Cala Gonone as the place to base our family holiday in Sardinia.

We had hoped to go to Ethiopia but when the plans fell through I needed to quickly find an alternative destination. As I didn't want to splash out on a long haul destination at such short notice, I headed for the Easyjet website, looking for cheap flights within Europe. We settled on Sardinia as it had been recommended by my sister and as we would be flying into Olbia, I started looking for a suitable resort within an hour or two's drive of the airport.

Town beach in Cala Gonone

Heading north would take us onto the picturesque Costa Esmarelda, the St Tropez of Sardinia where supermodels and Russian millionaires hang out on their sleek yachts. I feared that this would not be the place for a budget holiday in August, when prices are generally are sky high. So we looked south to Cala Gonone, an old fishing village which has now grown into a small resort, the sort where Italians and Sardinians come on holiday for a month with their extended families.

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20 October 2008

Where are all the female travel presenters?

Ok, I'm not normally the sort of person to rant. But after having watched yet another TV travel documentary hosted by a middle-aged male presenter, I feel I must nail my colours to the mast on behalf of womankind.

This autumn the UK screens seem to be awash with travel documentaries. Last night it was writer and comedian Stephen Fry tootling around America in his oh so very British London taxi. Then writer and comedian Paul Merton was in India trying out his batting at a cricket club for the blind. Competing with him on the same night was writer and comedian Gryff Rhys Jones trying to sing Gospel in New York as part of his Greatest cities of the World series. Can you see a pattern emerging? Is there a conspiracy out there to get all the aging male comedians on our screens in one week and then flog us their coffee table book for Christmas?

I blame Michael Palin, the grand-daddy of them all for starting the trend. I'll even admit to having his videos and books on my shelf.

But where are all the female TV travel presenters? I'm longing to see some attractive and intrepid gal getting up to something adventurous in somewhere exotic. My husband is getting fed up of hearing me moan about it too. The closest we've got recently is Tribal Wives, where the formula is to take an English women in need of a life change to stay with a remote community and then line them up for a prospective romance with some unfortunate local. No stereotypes there then!

I'll make an exception of course for Bruce Parry, who brings a charming if slightly mad brand of enthusiasm to everything he does. I can't forget the sight of him leaping naked over a row of cattle in an initiation ceremony in Ethiopia. And at the prospect of taking the halucinogenic drug Ayahuasca, which will make him vomit uncontrollably before giving him wierd dreams, he can't wait!

When I was in Ecuador our guide told us a fairy tale of two travellers who mysteriously disappeared into the rainforest. But unlike Hansel and Gretel there was no happy ending. Eventually it was discovered that they had died after overdosing on Ayahuasca but the locals had hidden their bodies for fear of the trouble they'd be in. After that I decided to pass on the Ayahuasca.

Then there are those Medicine Men, the identical twins Chris and Xand, with such a lovely bedside manner. They agonise over whether they should treat sick children using western medicine or leave them to the herbal remedies of the local shaman. The scene where they found a tapeworm in a piece of roasted monkey was especially appetising.

But there's something missing for me - where are all the adventurous female TV travel presenters? I know the women travellers are out there because I read their blogs. But why aren't they on TV?

Here's my vision for the next hit TV travel series.

Intrepid lady sets off to explore the unspoiled wildernesses, penetrate into the deepest rainforest, stay with the nomadic peoples of the desert and bring us her stories from a woman's point of view. No powerful motorbikes or other boys toys will be involved!

Or how about this scenario?

Hip and gorgeous babe scours cities from Istanbul to Marakesh, Berlin to Beijing, searching out the most secret and cool haunts with the help of the local blogger in each location. By the way, I'm past thinking of myself as that hip and gorgeous babe, but I could always be her fixer.

What do you think? Any collaborators out there?

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18 October 2008

My blogging journey

It's nearly a year since I started blogging after an amazing trip to Ecuador last October re-awakened my long held love of travel and I started looking for ways to share my travel experiences.

In the real world (as opposed to the parallel internet universe) I am a project manager, working on contracts of 3-9 months. Recently some down time between contracts has given me the opportunity to think about where I want to go with this travel writing/blogging thing. A chance encounter with some excellent videos from Yaro Starak on becomeablogger.com has made me think that I ought to put a bit more effort into professionalising my blog and perhaps recoup some financial rewards from my efforts.

Although I already have a good day job, I've alternated in the past between steady employment and running my own business. I could see myself in the future as a portfolio worker with one steady income stream and other projects building up to become the income streams of the future. Ten years from now I'd like to be writing this from a cool ecolodge or sunny hotel terrace rather than my kitchen table with the dishwasher humming in the background.

In order to achieve this goal I plan to explore how my blog can become an income stream for me over time. The first steps I believe are to;

  • Move from my Blogger format to a professional looking website at heatheronhertravels.com

  • Invest some time and energy in building up my readership

  • Introduce advertising to my website

If your first reaction is No No please no Google ads!, then that was my starting point too. But most serious bloggers who don't try out this route are making money in other ways such as showcasing their work as a writer or promoting their guest house.

It all sounds so straightforward but after an hour spent puzzling over Wordpress themes I realise it will be a steep learning curve and take lots of hard work. I'm not setting any timescales, as if I get a 9 to 5 contract next week the project will probably grind to a temporary halt.

In the longer term, I'm hoping that having a successful travel blog will give me opportunities to explore my love of travel in ways I haven't even thought of yet.

If you've made this blogging journey before me, I'd really appreciate your help and tips. If you've found some great resources and articles, or even written them yourself, please let me know through the comments or by e-mail. And if you have any do's and don'ts that were learned the hard way, I'd love to hear them. Thanks a million!

P.S. Don't worry, I'll continue to post as often as I can about my travels and adventures wherever I go.

Blogging resources I've found so far

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17 October 2008

Friday photo - my Indian sponsor child

Today I'm joining in with the Friday photo over at Delicious Baby to bring you a picture with a story behind it.

I've also picked up on the theme of Blog Action Day which this year was on the theme of poverty. I believe that our individual actions can make a tremendous differerence to families across the world and have a ripple effect in inspiring others to do the same. What goes around, comes around as they say and sometimes the difference it makes can be to you too.

With my Indian Sponsor child

This is how I began sponsoring a child in India. An Indian priest, Father Pratap Reddy, visited my church some years ago and made an appeal for people to sponsor the education of children in his parish. We had been blessed with three children and wanted to spread our happiness around a little. We offered to become sponsors and over the years we received pictures and news of Thirumula Sagar and saw him growing up just as our children were too.

Read more of this article on my new travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

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15 October 2008

Let me introduce you to Zakynthos - in Greece

In a week's time I'll be off with the family to visit my sister who lives on the Greek Island of Zakynthos (also known as Zante). We normally manage to visit at least once a year, and because we've been there so often we've stopped doing all the touristy things and generally spend our time relaxing by the pool and catching up with the family news.

But this year will be the first time I've visited since I started blogging, so I'll be making a bit more effort to seek out interesting things to share with you.

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13 October 2008

How to eat well in Sardinia

I know that there are plenty of food-loving (or should I say greedy) folk out there, as any time I've written something on food I get lots of Yum Yum comments. So I thought I'd give you the low down on what we ate in Sardinia, remembering that Sardinia is actually a province of Italy, so this is also about eating Italian in general.

Before I went to Rome earlier this year, I have to admit I didn't really get it about eating out in Italy. What I couldn't work out is how you could stuff yourself with all those courses - I mean antipasto, then pasta, then a full main course! If I was at home a plate of pasta would be plenty.

Eating out in Sardinia

But then I realised that;

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