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