City Break: Two Days in Seville

Seville, the capital of the Andalucía region in Spain, is famous for flamenco dancing and it’s beautiful Moorish architecture. The sunny city was also the location of my most recent adventure.

Packing my wheelie case I jetted for a mid week break for some winter sunshine in the city that Lonely Planet named the top city to visit back in 2018, and I was not disappointed.

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Like previous adventures I booked this trip in the Lastminute.com sale, selecting the Catalonia Giralda Hotel as my base. The small, yet modern hotel, was located just a short ten minute walk from the main tourist area therefore I imagine a lot quieter than most.


Over the course of two days, I managed to pack in a number of the main sites, eat my fair share of Tapas and enjoy a number of Sangrias! When in Rome, as they say!

I had a number of highlights during my visit!

Sevilla Cathedral & La Giralda

Sevilla Cathedral is the third largest church in the world, the worlds largest Gothic church and has been registered as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1987. The impressive building occupies the site of a mosque that was built in the late 12th century. Normally, I don’t pay to enter cathedrals as I find that, other than the stained class, the outside is much more impressive to look at.

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That said, I wanted to not only climb the 34 ramps to the top of La Giralda, it’s bell tower, but I also was very interested in the roof top tour you can book to admire the structure and sloping roofs from the best vantage point.

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For only €16 you can complete all three – exploring the inner cathedral and bell tour, followed by a booked time slot for an hour and a half on the roofs with a knowledgeable guide. By far the best views of the city!

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Real Alcázar

The Alcázar of Seville is the royal palace within the city. The UNESCO listed palace is still in use by the Spanish Royal family today. A standard ticket at €11 provides you general entry to the palace, but paying a little extra will grant you access to the chambers and state rooms on the upper floors.

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The most famously photographed features of the palace has to be the Patio de las Doncellas (the Patio of the Maidens) and Patio del Yeso (the Patio of Plaster).

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The majority of the palace complex is built in a Mudejar style, which was often used for non-Islamic Moorish buildings.

It is recommended to spend a good couple of hours here, wondering the courtyards and gardens, admiring the stunningly carved ceilings and colourful tilings throughout.

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If visiting during peak seasons it is advised to prebook your tickets to avoid lengthy queues in the blistering heat. Luckily, being both off peak and relatively cool compared to the summer months – my wait was just ten minutes.

Plaza de Espana 

The southern area of the city is dominated by the leafy Parque Maria Luisa, where you will find the extravaganza that is Plaza de Espana. No trip to Seville would be complete without visiting this magnificent monument built for the Ibero-American Exposition around 100 years ago.

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The impressive plaza is created in a semi-circle, with a canal and curved palace. Here you can take a stroll around the plaza, admiring the architecture that is dominated with colourful tile work throughout, hire a boat to row along the canal or take in the street performers that offer entertainment in the form of music and flamenco dancing.

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Despite the beauty and atmosphere of this attraction, the locals state it has two issues. Firstly – there is no shade, which can be a problem in the fierce heat. Secondly – there is no bar to enjoy a drink. Therefore they prefer Plaza de America just a short distance, which offers both these missing elements.

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Metropol Parasol

Las Setas del Encarnación (incarnations mushroom) is located in the old quarter of Seville. The wooden structure is one of the newest additions to the city completed in 2011 and claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world.

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Here you can pay €5, to explore the upper levels for a unique view over the city. Although I visited at lunch time, it is said that the views around sunset are particularly spectacular.


Santa Cruz & Triana

The Santa Cruz & Triana districts of the city were wonderful to explore at a leisurely pace.

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Dominated by narrow cobbled streets, colourful buildings and orange trees both areas were vibrant and energetic.

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I enjoyed a number of hours between visiting the main attractions just wondering down random streets, window shopping and taking in pit stops at Tapas bars.

The two days in Seville was a wonder, a great escape from the dreary wintery English weather. Had more time been available I would have liked to venture further outside the main city centre to see what else this beautiful region had to offer.

Top Things to do in Istanbul

Six years ago today I was jetting off to Istanbul, for a trip that promised rich history and culture.

The city, formally known as Byzantium and Constantinople, lies across two continents. One part of Istanbul lies in Europe, with the other in Asia – separated by the Bosphorus straight. The 31km waterway not only connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, but it also acts as boundary between the two continents.

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During my two night stay, I spent my time on the European side, which had a number of iconic attractions to explore.

The Blue Mosque

A trip to Istanbul would not be complete without taking time to appreciate the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (“The Blue Mosque”). Built between 1609-1616 it remains a functioning mosque to this day, attracting large numbers of visitors every year. There are two stories that surround it’s name, with the most common is that it’s interior is covered with Blue İznik tiles. The other story is based on ancient sailers, who sailed by the mosque on the Marmara Sea, saw the blue colours of the sea reflected in the mosque.

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When visiting it is important to bare in mind the dress code; men must wear long trousers and women need to cover their hair, arms and legs from the knees up.

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Hagia Sophia Museum

Before becoming the museum it is today, Hagia Sophia was formerly part of the Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral. Constructed in 537 it was the World’s largest building and an engineering marvel of it’s time.

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With the interior composed with 30 million gold tiles and a wide flat domed roof, it is a building that is not only iconic, but simply stunning. It is a sight in Istanbul that cannot be missed.

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Topkapi Palace 

Once home to Ottoman Sultans between the 15th and 16th centuries, this grand palace is a popular attraction within the city. The grounds within the palace walls include myraid buildings, courtyards and royal chambers – all finished with Iznik tile work and rather opulent architecture.

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In visiting the palace you will learn the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul. And, if you have a little extra time, perhaps book a guided tour, which will allow you to skip the long entry lines and give you a more comprehensive experience of the palace.

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Grand Bazaar 

The Grand Bazaar is the world’s biggest and oldest covered markets. Covering 30,700 square meters with over 60 streets and alleys, it is a place where you can pick up a great bargain, but it is important to know what is worth purchasing and be prepared to haggle!

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Whilst visiting we saw numerous shops offering jewellery, antiques, carpets, leather goods and spices. Even if you are not intending to make a purchase, a visit to the Grand Bazaar is recommended.

Basilica Cistern

Located just a short distance from Hagia Sophia you will find the Basilica Cistern – the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that are found below the streets of Istanbul. For just €10 you can visit the Underground Palace and experience this vast cistern. Measuring approximately 452ft by 212ft and holding 80,000 cubic metres of water, the ceiling of this impressive structure is supported by 336 marble columns.

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Sultanahmet Square

In the heart of the Old City you will find Sultanahmet Square. It is here where you will not only enjoy picture perfect views of both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, but you can also find a number of historical sites, cafes and shops within easy reach too. Allow plenty of time to take in the atmosphere and, if the weather allows, simply take an alfresco lunch whilst enjoying the sights.

Cruise the Bosphorus

The city has a great deal to offer tourist by both land and sea. If time allows, taking a short (and reasonably priced) trip along the Bosphorus is a great way to get a different view of Istanbul.

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When we visited, in the height of winter, the bitter cold did not hinder our experience. We sailed along the shore taking in the views of the palaces, luxurious hotels, fortresses and even expensive homes of the wealthy inhabitants.

Galata Tower

Located in the Galata quarter of Istanbul the medieval structure was used as a watch tower to defend the city. Today you can head to the top of this 220 feet tower to appreciate a panoramic view of the Blue Mosque and surrounding buildings.

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It is recommended to try visiting at both day and night to enjoy the city from both perspectives.

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Traditional Hamam

After experiencing a Hamam during a previous trip to Turkey, this was on the top of my list of things to do during my stay. Luckily our hotel provided this service so a “Traditional Style” Hamam was booked in. This is the one to book if you want the real Turkish bath experience. During the session, which takes place in an impressive marbled room, the attendant washed, massaged and scrubbed, including my hair, before a final soapy wash followed by a cold rinse. It was by far on of the most relaxing and luxurious experiences I have had whilst on holiday, resulting in a restful sleep (before the call to prayer at 6am).

Although you can easily fit in the main sights within a weekend, if you too are time restricted then the “hop on, hop off” bus services are worth considering.

My short trip to the culture filled city meant that I did not manage to see everything Istanbul had to offer, so I have no doubt I will incorporate it into another trip in the distant future.

 

Hiking in the Scottish Highlands

One of the greatest joys of travel is not just seeing the world, but the people you meet along the way.

During my trip hiking the Atlas Mountains I met some amazing people, of all ages and backgrounds. Some I knew I would not likely see again, others I would keep in touch with via social media and then there were a few who were potential to be life long friends.

A small group of like minded ladies, with a love for all things outdoors, with similar life values branched away, to form a perfect adventure holiday group. The location for our break away – the Scottish Highlands.

When most people were spending their mid January weekends feeling blue and hibernating with Netflix on the sofa – we ventured to the freezing temperatures and stunning scenery of Glencoe.

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Flying into Edinburgh on a cheap Easy Jet flight, we met with one of the group members who lives in the area, before venturing to our luxury cabin two hours away. Arriving at sundown meant that we could not appreciate the beauty of our surroundings. Therefore the evening was spent enjoying the warmth of our cabin, eating a hearty meal to fuel for the next day and catching up since our last adventure.


Pap of Glencoe

The first day of our trip saw us take to the Pap of Glencoe – modest in height compared to the neighbouring mountains. However the walk boasted to be short but steep and rough hill walk, with a “sensational view.” After combating the Atlas Mountains, the 742 metre height paled in comparison. Though this did not make the journey any easier.

The first stages of the trek saw us follow the main road from the village of Glencoe, up a gentle hill path and across the hillside – before meeting a rather challenging stream of water cascading down from the mountain top. Hardy, water resistant boots are a must to cross the terrain which, in the height of winter, is not just wet but rocky and boggy too.

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From here we started a steady climb up stonier terrain that was testing to the seasoned walker, due to recent wintery showers in the region. To add to the challenging conditions, we experienced a sudden turn in weather. The bright blue skies shifted, turning a moody grey, the bitterly cold wind picked up and we were succumbed to a heavy snow shower. Waterproofs and extra layers were quickly donned to ensure we were protected against any conditions that would expect further up the mountain.

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At 430 metres the path starts to curve left, up further rocky and boggy terrains, which at this point was covered in a fresh layer of snow. It is here you can really start to appreciate the views.

We followed this path for a short period before the dome of the Pap could be seen ahead. From here the challenge really started to become apparent, as in the distance we could see other walkers on the ascent, clearly scrambling to get to the summit.

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Not only did the path not seem clear, but it was apparent that this was something we needed to take seriously. With the cold, wintery conditions one wrong step could be fatal so concentration was paramount.

We made our steady scramble to the top, taking care to ensure we were following the steps of the person in front, following the tracks of climbers before us and stopping regularly to keep together. Despite climbing numerous mountains before this one, the Pap is the one that terrified me the most.

Slowly we made our way to the summit and the views were just as promised – sensational. The snow storm, that had passed over just an hour or so before, had cleared offering picture perfect scenery.

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The only issue? The dramatic temperature drop. The wind had picked up and whilst we had been protected climbing to the top, the summit provided no such protection. Exposed to the elements, we spent no longer than a couple of minutes taking in the view. The idea of a lunch picnic was out of the question.

We had to start our descent quickly to prevent us feeling the chill. Slowly we reversed our steps, at times using our back sides to aid our journey. Our lunch was spent munching on pre-made sandwiches (and left over lasagne for some) perched on the the rocks whilst other walkers passed us by.

It was, hands down, the best lunch view I have experienced to date.

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Conscious of time and daylight hours, we didn’t linger and continued our downward climb. The snow fall quickly melting in the blazing sunshine made the descent just as difficult as the upward climb. Snow melt, turning the rocky paths into rivers and bogs. Thank heavens we were all prepared with sturdy boots and walking poles.

Soon enough we were back down to the start, in the village warming ourselves up with hot chocolate and coffee at the Glencoe Cafe.

Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge

Our second day called for something of a more gentle terrain. Despite not being able to attempt Ben Nevis due to precarious weather conditions we headed to the vicinity to explore Nevis Gorge.

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Boasted as one of the best short walks in Scotland our route promised dramatic and beautiful views of the gorge that leads to the stunning Steal Falls.

Though not as challenging as the previous days climb, the paths were still rocky and rough, therefore great care was needed.

The path through the gorge, maintained by the John Muir trust, was one of the most tranquil walks I have experienced to date. Starting early meant that we had the paths and gorge all to ourselves all the way to the waterfall.

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We followed the path, where it opened out to grassy meadows, surrounded by the mountains and the Steal Falls directly ahead.

The waterfall is the third largest in Scotland, reaching 105 metres down the rock face. However, to get to Steall Falls itself and to see it close up, you will need to embrace the adventurer within you. The only way to get close to the rock face is to cross the wire bridge over the river.

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Personally, I was unable to find the courage to cross what I could only describe as an accident waiting to happen. In my mind I was assessing all the things that could go wrong and came to the conclusion that I could not take the risk.

That said, I encouraged members of our group who found their daring side. With baited breath we watched as they made easy work of the wire bridge and cheered when they successfully reached the other side without incident.

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Once returned safely, though not back across the wire bridge, we paused by the river banks for our lunch before making our way back to the start. Perfectly timed, as an influx of visitors had started to make their way up the path and through the gorge. We had successfully enjoyed uninterrupted views – something we would not have received had it been the height of summer.

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Glenfinnan Viaduct

After the adventures to get back from the waterfall, there was an array of soaked boots so further walking would require replacing footwear.

Therefore, after a short break for hot drinks in Fort William, we decided to head over to Glenfinnan to visit the infamous “Harry Potter Bridge.”

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The railway viaduct overlooks both the Glenfinnan monument and the waters of Loch Shiel. Despite being mid January there were a number of tourist exploring the area, with the avid Harry Potter fans following the 15 minute trail up close to the bridge.

After the weekend hiking, we simply took on the short climb to the view point admiring the bridge from afar. Sadly we did not time it to see the steam trains passing by, but were pleased to fit in this attraction none the less.

With satisfied, yet tired legs we spent the evening relaxing again in the cabin before our return flight the following afternoon.

Time really does fly when you are having fun and the weekend had been just that!

Our small group had spent four active, yet relaxed days laughing and enjoying each others company – further cementing the fact that our adventures together had just begun!



Becoming a Savvy Traveller

Over the last 18 months I have had numerous friends and family asking if I have suddenly won the lottery or asking what “I do” that enables me to travel so much.

Every single time my response is the same – I am a savvy traveller, I have no dependants and I have learnt to optimise every possible opportunity to fit in a break wherever I can.

As I become more comfortable travelling solo, I am constantly looking for the best deal and ways that I can fund my adventures.

In this post I wanted to share my tips to becoming a savvy traveller, so you too, can make the most of now!

Cashback

In the digital world we live in, we are spending a huge amount of our disposable income on purchases online. If you did not know already, you can be rewarded for your spending through cashback sites such as Quidco. Whether you are looking for car insurance, buying a new wardrobe or even a break away, it is likely that the company your are purchasing from offers a cashback rate. Cash in on this! Pennies soon in to pounds, especially if you are a shopaholic.

Collect Avios

Similarly to cashback, you can earn Avios points with the likes of British Airways by shopping online. I alternate between shopping through Quidco and the Avios platform depending on the best rates that are available to gain air miles.

If you shop at Tesco’s you can arrange for your Clubcard points from both your weekly shop and petrol to be converted into Avios points, which you will then be able to use for a reward flight.

My trip to Munich in September was paid for with my the points I had collected over the last twelve months.

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Advance Planning!

The most simple, yet obvious tactic can work in your favour is advanced planning. I often get laughed at for booking a trip up to ten months in advance, however I am always the last one laughing. It usually means a deal could be had. For example, my upcoming trip to Santorini this May was booked in the British Airways sale back in July, committing to a low deposit to secure the dates I wanted, for half the price than it would be normally.

Cheeky Weekend

In 2019 I discovered a deal aggregator called Cheeky Weekend. The site is perfect for those who are always looking for a weekend break that doesn’t involve using annual leave.

Simply select the airports you like to fly from and the perfect times, and Cheeky Weekend provides you with great flight deals to suit you.

My time is usually limited so always have the setting to fly on a Friday night from Stansted, returning on Sunday evening. Therefore, my annual leave is saved for longer trips and I am fully utilising the weekend. My recent flight to Bratislava was booked through Cheeky Weekend for just £50.

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You can either choose to become a member for the year, giving you full access to flights months in advance or refer friends to do the same.

Loyalty Discounts

When you book with a company you like and have good experiences with, you are more likely to become a repeat customer if a loyalty discount is provided.

It is worth getting in touch to find out if this is something they offer.

Some, like Exodus, offer this automatically. After booking my first adventure to Morocco with the company I was offered a 5% discount on my next trip. Whilst this does not seem like much of an offer, the more you book the bigger the loyalty discount you receive.

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Plus, if you pick a break that they have on offer this can easily save a great deal off the original price.

Sales!

Always look out for the sales. As mentioned previously I booked a great trip in the British Airways sale, and it is not the first time I have done so. My trips to San Diego, New York, Boston and Malta were all booked for a bargain price in the sale.

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Lastminute.com have great sales and allow you to split the payments for your holiday, spreading the cost and budgeting for your getaway. My Christmas break to Italy was booked in their Summer sale.

Easy Jet and Ryanair, are perfect for quick trips to Europe and often provide massive seat sales. You can easily pick up a return flight for £20 if you are flexible with dates. Both my trips to Bordeaux and Toulouse cost £19.99 return, allowing that extra cash to spent on a hotel of a higher rating.

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Plus – book through Cashback sites and Avios and you will get a percentage of your spend back to reinvest into your next break! Win, Win!

Mid Week Breaks

Although weekends are great to avoid using up precious annual leave, it is also worth keeping an eye on mid week breaks too.

Nine times out of ten, flying out on a Monday and returning on a Wednesday (or something similar) can dramatically reduce the cost of your trip. However, keep in mind any school holiday dates that could inflate the prices.




So there you have it. No lottery win. No secret job that is funding my adventures. Just a wanderlust with a strive to see the world and finding savvy ways to do so.

What are your savvy travelling tips?

City break to Bologna, Parma and Modena

For the second year running I have worked in a role whereby the company has a “shut down” between Christmas and New Year. With very little focus on business during this period, I personally think it is a great idea.

It gives employees time off to spend with family, eat and drink far much more than is necessary or for the wanderlusts in the world – it gives us some time to get away from it all.

Despite what many think, jetting off between the two is not as pricy as you would expect – especially if you plan well in advance. I took full advantage of the Lastminute.com summer sale booking a cheeky two night break to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. In particular, Bologna.

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Soon after securing my trip I was straight on to planning to find out which other Italian towns and cities were within easy each.

Italy is by far my favourite country in the world – most likely due to my heritage – so I like to maximise my time when I am there. The best way to do so – by train. Unlike the costly service in the UK, Italy has a fantastic network of affordable, reliable and comfortable trains. Some are even “double decker” offering wonderful views of the countryside. Therefore you can easily find yourself from one city to the next.

So where did I venture on this trip?

Bologna

Bologna, the capital and largest city within the region, is renowned for it’s culinary tradition. Though most famous for the “Bolognese Sauce,” or Ragu, the city is a foodie’s dream, with meats, cheese, pasta and wine available from numerous deli’s. Even in the depths of winter, at just 4 degrees, the narrow streets are jam packed full of food lovers.

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The centre of this scenic city is Piazza Maggiore. In the heart of the city centre, here you can admire the architecture of Pallazo d’Accursio, the Basilica de San Petronio, the Palazzo del Podesta and the Palazzo Comunale.

 

To the north west of the square you will find Piazza del Nettuno and the famous fountain of Neptune. During my visit it was hard to miss next to the most impressive Christmas tree I have seen to date.

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Bologna is famous for it’s leaning towers, the most iconic of these stand next to each other and are named after two important Italian families – Asinelli and Garisenda. Asinelli, standing 97.2 meters tall was used as a prison and a strong hold. The smaller of the two towers, Garisenda, reaches just 48 metres, however it does have a noticeable tilt and overhang of 3.2 metres.

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If a view is what you are after, you can climb the towers for an uninterrupted view over the city and landscape beyond.

San Petronio stands as the 10th largest church in the world by volume, dominating the centre of Piazza Maggiore.

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The church has a Gothic design and despite being constructed between 1388 and 1479, it has never been finished. You will notice the front facade has coloured marble stone on the lower half, yet the top is bare and comprised of brown brickwork.

Wander down some of the quiet back streets of the city and you will stumble across La Piccola Venezia. Bologna once had a number of canals running through the city, today you can still see one of these.

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Dubbed “little Venice” you will find a queue of eager tourists waiting their turn to take a picture through the tiny square window on the wall. Directly opposite is also a clear, open view. Though at times it is known to dry up completely, so perhaps one thing to avoid in the warm summer months.

Parma

One of the largest cities within the region is Parma. The city, most famous for its cheese and prosciutto, is within easy reach of Bologna – just an hour on the train.

On arrival, it was notably less bustling than the regions capital. Most shops, restaurants and cafes being closed with it being a Sunday and in the midst of the Christmas holidays.

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That said, wandering the narrow cobbled streets of the city and taking in the stunning architecture at my own pace was rather tranquil.

Located in the Piazza del Duomo you will find probably the most iconic buildings of the city. Sitting a stones throw away from each other is Parma Cathedral and Baptistery of Parma.

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The cathedral is said to be one of the finest examples of Romanesque cathedrals in Italy. The front features a number of ornate arches, whilst the inside you will find a plethora of decoration.

The Baptistery of Parma, sitting next door to the, dwarfs in size in comparison to the cathedral but stands taller than the central point on the roof of the cathedral. The octagonal baptistery towers over the surrounding buildings and features stunning artwork and arches on the outside.

The interior is equally as stunning, with marbled statues and each of the eight walls containing frescos that were painted in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Higher wall sections contain statues of important Italians and on the ceiling you will find painting split into sections that details different religious figures.

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Head to the Piazza Garibaldi and you will find the charming square with an abundance of shops, restaurants and cafes to relax in. Here you will note the Palazzo del Governatore spanning the width of the square. The historic building, constructed in the1200’s served as a major government building for hundreds of years.

The square, like most the city when visiting, was rather quiet with many workers preparing for what I can assume would be their New Year celebrations.

And, just like the city of Bologna, Parma had a number of fascinating deli’s selling a variety of cheese, wine and meats.

Modena

Situated half way between Bologna and Parma, this quaint city is rich in culture, history and most famous for Balsamic Vinegar, opera and Italian sports cars. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Pagani were historically manufactured here.

Located in the Piazza Grande you will find the Romanesque style Modena Cathedral, one of the highlights of the city. As with most cathedrals, it is free to enter, so it is worth stepping inside to appreciate the brick work and artwork above the main alter, which is laced with gold and depicts the Passion of Christ.

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Next to the cathedral stands the Torre Ghirlandina, acting as its bell tower. Standing at 86.12 metres, the tower is the tallest structure with in the city and is now an icon of Modena. If you feel up to it climb the tower for a birds eye view of the city and surrounding area.

Piazza Grande, situated next to the cathedral and tower, is rather charming. The cobbled stone, surrounding coloured buildings with arches and ornate clock brings an ancient feel to the area. Though teaming Sunday market stalls, selling trinket and antiques, there was still a sense of peacefulness about the square.

Palazzo Ducale, situated at the end of Piazza Roma is one of the most recognisable buildings within Modena. Constructed in the 1400’s, the palace was originally the residence of Este Dukes of Modena. Today the palace holds part of the Italian Military Academy. Military ceremonies and performances are also held here.

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No visit to Modena is complete without a visit to Museum Enzo Ferrari – especially when the family name on your maternal side is Ferrari!

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Enzo Ferrari was born and bred in Modena. With parts of the museum house in his original home, it celebrates his life and the business he built. Here, you can get up close to a number of these impressive vehicles (NO TOUCHING), a dream for an car enthusiast.

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When attempting to pack in three cities in just as many days, you find the time whizzing past. Soon enough it was time to pick up an array of culinary treats and souvenirs, gorge on some pistachio gelato (because no trip to Italy is complete without this, no matter the temperature), before heading back to Blighty.

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For any food lover the whole region, including these picturesque cities, is an absolute must. My only regret was not taking the biggest meat fiend in my life along with me. With so much more that could be explored, I have no doubt I will incorporate these destinations to another Italian adventure in the near future.

 

Weekend Break: Malta & Gozo

As the clocks went back and the UK was set for months of gloomy weather and downpours – I attempted a final sunshine break. Booking a long weekend to the sunny islands of Malta and Gozo.

If you only have a few days, a long weekend is just enough time to take in the sights and, if planned well, you could even sneak in a little island hop to Gozo.

Here’s what we managed to fit in.

Valetta

No trip to Malta would be complete without a trip to the capital of Valetta – the fortress city. The best way to see the historical city is by foot. Take time to wander the alleyways, sloping streets and stairways of the UNESCO Wold Heritage site.

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Wherever your interests lie, be sure to include the city’s iconic monument, St John’s Cathedral and the Lower Barrakka Garden for a lovely view over the harbour.

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Mdina

The “Silent City” of Mdina was a must do on our list. With its ancient walls and mix of medieval and baroque architecture it is clear to see why it was one of the many filming locations for Game of Thrones.

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Not only was a visit to this charming city like a step back in time, it was tranquil (virtually free of any traffic), offered fantastic views over the Island (on a clear day) and is somewhat of an Instagram paradise.

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Our only gripe was that in early November we were greeted at the city gates with a heavy downpour and no shelter!

Dwejra

Dwejra with its dramatic and, at times, tempestuous coast is an attraction like no other. Despite the Azure Window collapsing in 2017, the coastal attraction is worth a visit.

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Here you can explore the bay and rock foundations, take a boat trip (if in season) through the caves or simply watch the waves form and crash along the coastline.

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Taking in the spectacular view is a great way to spend an hour of your time.

Ta’Pinu

In the valley between the villages of Gharb and Ghammar you will find The Sanctuary of Ta’Pinu. The shrine of Ta’Pinu is ancient, despite the origin being unknown the first records of the chapel date back to 1534.

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Unless you are extremely religious you would would only stop for a brief period at this Roman Catholic monument. Most tour operators will pause for a short time to allow visitors enough time to take pictures of the impressive shrine.

Xlendi Bay

This picturesque bay is a popular spot for swimming, snorkelling and diving. The small, sandy beach with shallow waters is perfect for all ages and adventure for those who enjoy snorkelling in deeper waters.

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Though bright, warm and sunny during our visit, the sea was a little too aggressive for my liking. Instead we opted for a climb up the coastal stair case to take in the views, before opting for lunch at one of the quaint restaurants.

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The Stone Crab was the perfect spot to test the local cuisine – crab ravioli for him and a tasty vegetarian version for me.

Marsalforn Bay

It is said, that in the summer Marsalforn is one of the most popular resorts on the Island. As such it is brimming with families from both Islands who spend their summer near the coast, as well as eager tourists taking advantage of the diving and snorkelling opportunities around the bay.

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From here there are a number of good boat trips on offer around Gozo and over to Comino and the legendary Blue Lagoon.

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Despite packing a number of areas into our itinerary over the weekend, there was so much more left unexplored. Owing to stormy weather, typical for the time of year, many of the surrounding fishing villages were flooded, trips over to Comino and the Blue Lagoon simply did not run and unexpected downpours made it difficult for us add in the famous Popeye Village.

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With so much more to see, I imagine a return trip to the Islands will be on the cards in the near distant future. Though I enjoyed my time over the weekend, without an influx of tourists, I may actually have to brave the crowds during peak season to make the most of what the Islands have to offer.



 

 

City Break: Two Days in Bratislava

When you have no annual leave remaining, but the Wanderlust inside you is itching to get away, you have to utilise every moment to fit in a cheeky getaway.

When I first discovered Cheeky Weekend I was in my element. Without having to trawl numerous sites to find a great deal this offers the perfect solution. Pop your requirements in – in my case my local airport (Stansted) and my preferred flight times (Friday PM, Returning Sunday PM), along with the maximum budget for your flight, then Cheeky Weekend will provide you with recommended flights suited to your requirements.

No searching, just a simple way to find the cheap deals for upcoming weekends.

Therefore, when looking at squeezing in another cheap weekend away, I quickly found a flight for the dates I required.

Soon enough I was jetting off to the Slovakian capital of Bratislava.

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Two days is ample time to explore this compact, yet charming city. So what exactly did we fit in within the two days?

Bratislava Castle

No visit to Bratislava would be complete without a visit to its Castle. Towering the old town on a hill this monument dominates the city. Here you you can wonder the castle grounds and gardens, take a guided tour and simply enjoy the views of the city below and across the Danube to the UFO Tower.

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UFO Tower

A visit to the UFO Tower is a must. Here, for a small entrance fee, you can head to the top of the observation deck for a panoramic view of the old town, including Bratislava Castle high on the hill. Head back down a floor and you can enjoy a spot of lunch (if budget allows) or simply a glass of local wine, enjoying the view from the bar.

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St Martin’s Cathedral

The largest and one of the most known churches in Bratislava is famous for being the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1563 and 1830. Enjoy the stunning view high looking down to the Cathedral from the grounds of Bratislava Castle.

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Slavin

This impressive and peaceful monument stands proud above the old town and city of Bratislava. The burial ground of thousands of fallen Soviet Army soldiers of World War Two is the largest war memorial in Europe, reaching 52 metres, dominating the skyline of the city.

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Old Town Hall

Climb the narrow stairs to the 45 metre tower for a small entry fee and you will be rewarded with the roof top views overlooking red roof tops of the Old Town, with Bratislava Castle, St Martin’s Gate and the UFO Tower in the distance.

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St Martin’s Gate

For further views over looking the Old Town you can venture to St Martin’s Gate – the only preserved gate of the city fortification system that dates back to the 14th century.

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Blue Church

Just five minutes from the Old Town Square you will find the enchanting St Elizabeth’s Church (The Blue Church). The Art Nouveau, 20th century building is known for its remarkable blue colour and Disney like features. One could imagine a fairy tale wedding taking place, and as such is an unsurprisingly popular location for weddings.

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Cumil (“Man at Work”)

The life size bronze sculpture can be found in cross roads within Bratislava Old Town. The “peeping Tom” sewer worker statue is said to be lucky and make your wishes come true if you rub his head.

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With a population of just 430,000 the city is filled with charm and one that you can easily sneak a short weekend break to.

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Between attractions take time to wonder the cobbled streets of the Old Town, stroll along the River Danube and if time allows hop on a train to neighbouring cities of Vienna and Budapest.

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This delightful city is definitely one to add to your travel bucket list and fits perfectly into a short break or if you are extending a European trip.