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.

 

 

 

 

Mount Toubkal: Moroccan Adventure

As I learn to love solo travelling more and more, I have discovered that no destination is off limits. If it is on the bucket list, I will find a way to get there.

That said, as a solo travelling woman, I have to be sensible and cautious. Normally, when travelling alone I will keep myself to myself and blend into the crowd – so don’t stand out as a tourist. This is easy to accomplish when travelling to other European countries. But when travelling further afield Westerners cannot help but stand out like a sore thumb.

So when I was researching Morocco as my next adventure I stumbled across Exodus, who specialise in group adventure holidays. As luck would have it, the same week I received an newsletter from parkrun offering £100 off my first adventure – fate was calling! Without further hesitation I booked the Mt Toubkal Long Weekend – five days climbing the highest point in North Africa. The guided group would allow me to combine my love for travel and adventure, without the stress of navigating a foreign city and being hassled by locals.

So, despite being a little apprehensive about what I would expect from group travel, I jetted off for my Moroccan adventure.

Day One

On arrival in Marrakech, I was met by our group transfer, which gave me the first opportunity to speak to a number of people in the group. Prior to the trip I was concerned about the group dynamic and being the only solo traveller. This concern was quickly put to rest, the group were a great mix of couples and other like minded, solo travellers of all ages.

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We were quickly transferred to our accommodation for the first evening, Hotel Gomassine, to meet other members of the group and our local guide, who would be with us throughout the entire trip. Hicham, quickly put everyone at ease, explaining the itinerary for the upcoming days and what to expect, as well as answering any questions we may have.

With a busy few days ahead, after a light dinner, the group retired for an early night.

Day Two

Our adventure on day two started with a transfer by coach to the village of Imlil, the start of the trail path through to the summit.

From here we we followed the path, higher and higher on rocky terrain for about an hour, reaching the our lunch spot – allowing us to rest and acclimatise. After a tasty, fresh lunch of omelette, pasta and salad we were well fuelled to take on the winding mule tracks to base camp.

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Though the climb was tough on both the legs and the lungs, the five hour hike offered breathtaking views as we passed through the valley of Ait Mizan.

It was on this section of the hike where the group started separating – as we climbed higher the altitude started to take affect. Some stormed ahead with the end goal of basecamp in sight. Some, like me, took time to take in the view, stopping at regular intervals to allow my body to adjust and to ensure I didn’t push myself before the summit climb. Others, took a little longer.

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Soon enough basecamp was in eyesight and we ended out day with a filling meal before and bed in time for an early start.

Day Three – SUMMIT DAY

The problem with adventures away from home is the lack of sleep you have the night before the start. At home, you would be comfortable in your surroundings, in your comfy bed and with all the amenities to start your day.

When staying at basecamp, with shared dorms of around 25 people, sleep is not possible. Not only do the nerves set in, but you are fully aware of every move the other 24 bodies make throughout the night.

Starting your day at 3am, with less than two hours sleep (if that), is not the best way to begin a summit climb.

Luckily, the darkness numbed not only the pain but blinded the group as to what we faced.

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The first few hours were a steady climb, following the three guides that we had for the summit. Head torches on, the group ploughed on ignoring the lack of sleep, energy and trying to work together to keep up the morale.

I have climbed a number of mountains in my time, however nothing could prepare me for the extremities of Mount Toubkal. Be it from lack of sleep or the altitude playing part, within hours I was feeling the effect – legs wobbling, head throbbing and with good few emotional breakdowns (though not just me) – I had to take regular breaks. With Hicham taking my backpack and consistently reminding me to take on water I did not believe in myself to get to the summit. I was ready to give up, believing it to be an impossible task. It was relentless. As the sun started to rise and I saw what was left to climb it just didn’t seem feasible.

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I was not allowed to give up. Hicham saw in my eyes something I could not see – determination. Despite my mind mind telling me that I should give up, he believed I had it in me to reach the summit. So we carried on, with the group split in two – the faster group steaming ahead and those struggling or taking it slightly easier moving at a slower pace.

As the final climb and the summit came into sight, cheers could be heard from the group members who had reached the top. And soon enough we were there. On top of the world, taking in the magnificent views. Crying with joy.

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However, what goes up must come down.

Throughout the journey I did not stop to think about the downward stretch, assuming it will be a breeze.

Sadly this was not the case, as coming down was just (if not twice) as hard as the climb. Heading back to basecamp we were warned, take it easy. Within minutes it was clear to see why, as I soon found myself falling flat on my butt onto a rock. The scree all the way down saw numerous members of the group trip and fall – with legs flying out in front, landing like rag dolls. Thank heavens for back packs softening the fall!

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As we continued the descent the extent of the task we faced at 3am became apparent. We had, in the dark with no sleep, climbed over boulders so large it was unimaginable. It was at this point that you realised why the summit begins in the dark hours. As, had I seen what we were to face, I would have chickened out.

Soon enough, we were back at basecamp, all broken, bruised but slightly elated.

Day Three – Continued Descent

The journey did not stop there.

After a short stop for lunch, where it felt that we would never be able to walk again, we had a further hike. Back down the mule paths to our Gite for the night in Arroumd. Some, too broken from the hike to the summit, continued the descent upon our mules. Though this seemed like the best option down, with sheer drops, twists and turns, there was no chance I would be one of them.

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Despite the dead legs and seizing muscles I ploughed on with the rest of the group, storming ahead, desperate to take off my boots and have a long shower and SLEEP.

The hike down was long, but the end goal was rewarding. When we finally arrived at out Gite I was ready to kiss the ground.

After a nutritious dinner of Soup and Tagine, I was ready to head to bed early. Though not the most peaceful sleep, it was miles better than the night before.

Day Four – Final Trek & Marrakech.

Waking up refreshed, albeit with Bambi legs, we continued on foot for a short 45 minute walk to Imlil to pick up our return transfer to Marrakech.

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Time for a spot of lunch and refreshing shower before our walking tour of the city, including the Souks, dinner and drinks overlooking the Medina.

The group had a great evening celebrating our success climbing Mount Toubkal, perhaps a little too great, before our return flight home the following day.

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Day Five – Marrakech & Home

With the majority of the group flying home on morning flights to London, there were just a few of us remaining in the city.

As I knew I was unlikely to return anytime soon, I wanted to spend the day visiting a few sights that were not included in the walking tour the previous evening.

First port of call was Jardin Majorelle. The two and half acre botanical garden garden offers a tranquil oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech. The gardens were famously owned by Yves Saint-Laurent between 1980 and 2008, and his ashes were scattered here after he died in 2008.

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The second sight on my to do list was Bahia Palace. The late 19th century palace was intended to be the greatest palace of its time. Meaning “brilliance” the stunning building captures a mix of Islamic and Moroccan styles – evident in the colourful tiles and 2-acre garden with rooms that open into courtyards.

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It was advised to arrive at the palace early, leave it too late and bus loads of tourists arrive. Being an early riser meant that I was at the palace long before the swarm of tourists – peacefully wondering from room to room and throughout the courtyards, simply enjoying the tranquil space.

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Tired, elated and joyed to have spent the weekend with some amazing people, it was soon time to head home.

Mount Toubkal, standing 4167m above sea level, was one crazy adventure, fast becoming the toughest challenge to date. Exceeding my Hadrians Wall trek and even the London Marathon, and by far the most rewarding.

How many people can say they conquered the highest peak in North Africa?

Reaching the summit and standing on what felt like the top of the world is something I will never forget.