Christmas 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.

80567287_10163068176880604_2218627217162764288_n

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.

80695150_10163068178725604_6613146452015185920_n

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.

81825153_10163068178840604_852486111300157440_n

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.

80697750_10163068177155604_5732530770237456384_n.jpg

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.

81394176_10163068176895604_2223668520925790208_n

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.

80683665_10163068178490604_2033643022968684544_n

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.

82037378_10163068177500604_5349390382872395776_n

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.

80955817_10163068177675604_4315899136944635904_n

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.

81180612_10163068177320604_2131945701863587840_n

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.

80387268_10163068177910604_2739800122480132096_n

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.

79783206_10163068177875604_3108316043123097600_n.jpg

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

81454865_10163068178105604_725287193085476864_n

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.

80714190_10163068178265604_6263643101756129280_n

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.

80550697_10163068178460604_1695425077236989952_n

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.

img_5366

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.

img_5367

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.

img_5412

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.

img_5398

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.

img_5487

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.

img_5460

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.

img_5503

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.

img_5526

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.

img_5519

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.

img_5556

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

img_5541

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.

img_5375

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.

img_4888

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.

img_4961

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.

img_5102

 

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.

img_4974-1

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.

img_5059

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.

img_5083

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.

img_4878

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.

img_5011

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.

img_4885

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.

img_4882

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.

img_5061

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.

4c6f01f9-36a4-4f01-8a8c-145ea4d3d904

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.

img_4238

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.

45ea10b1-cdd6-41d4-8003-0617005ddbae

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.

img_4269

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.

img_4304

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.

bc86189a-25bc-49ea-b8c0-fdd24d55055d

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!

e86651b7-32f1-45c7-bdca-4002e3c02a90

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.

88769f80-d1d4-44db-af8b-ab01655c328d

 

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.

4ebd5e80-9e44-4b38-95e7-4114dbc0ebc8

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.

5d83d4f7-3b5d-407b-9417-91f23cc0ad1c

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.

img_4392

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.

img_4430

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.

img_4438

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.

 

City Break: 24 Hours in Munich

Famous for it’s annual Ockoberfest, beautiful architecture and the BMW headquarters, the Bavarian capital of Munich is the third largest city in Germany – offering an abundance of culture.

When I was researching my whistle stop trip to Munich (24 hours to be precise) many of the itineraries and guides advised that you cannot fit everything from this gem of a city in one day. A good three to four days was advisable.

However, with no annual leave days remaining I had to find a way to fit in the trip in one weekend. Finding a cheap, early Saturday morning flight, I did not hesitate and I soon found a few itineraries that would suit my time frame. 

Many travel guides suggest that if you only have one day to spend in Munich, then centre your activity around the Old Town.

After touching down at Munich International Airport this is exactly where I headed. The great thing about a 24 trip to any city is that you carry very little luggage and don’t have to worry about wasting time checking in to a hotel. So with just a tiny back pack I jumped on the S-Bahn and was in the city centre within 35 minutes.

My adventure started in Marienplatz, the central square of Munich Old Town. Many tour guides advise to begin here, and on arrival it is clear to see why.

75247464_1613232702146069_550488578258370560_n.jpg

The architecture within the square is iconic of the Bavarian region – you will immediately find yourself outside the Gothic New Town hall, home of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel. Time your arrival right, and you will be able to observe the Glockenspiel “Coopers Dance.” According to myth, in 1517 (the year of the Plague in Munich), coopers were said to have danced through the streets to bring “fresh vitality to fearful dispositions.”

My next port of call was a stones throw away from the New Town Hall. St Peters Church, towers above the square, and if you feel up to the 56 metre climb to the top, offers a fantastic view of the red tiled rooftops of Munich. On a clear day, you can expect to see over 62 miles into the distance (which is all the way to the Alps).

74680707_424516158247932_7008257102212759552_n.jpg

From here I spotted some impressive looking buildings that were not in my original plan – so I quickly carried out some research before heading that way.

72970418_521765961981400_8947184091871051776_n.jpg

Walking down the elegant Maximilianstraße, one of the four royal avenues in Munich, you will be hard pressed to miss the high end shops and the roar of super cars. Head all the way east, over the River Isar and you will find the Maximilianeum. The Home of the Bavarian State Parliament stands regally at the end of this impressive avenue.

72760531_1167361143457090_2261208643921772544_n.jpg

From here I wandered along the riverside gardens, northwards, taking in the park statue and fountain, the Friedensengel – a golden angel monument symbolising peace – before heading west, past the Bavarian National Museum towards the Englischer Garten.

The Englischer Garten is the large public park in Munich, stretching from the city centre to the north eastern city limits.

72478574_850850558643871_684140611820847104_n.jpg

The gardens are well known for its river surfing (drawing large crowds of spectators) and naked sunbathing. However, it also offers some great views down to central Munich from the Greek temple upon the 49 foot hill.

On a glorious summers day, or a equally beautiful mid September afternoon (as I experienced), you can take advantage of the wide open space for a spot of sunbathing or paddle in the shallow river – just like I did – whilst taking a break from the city centre.

After a short rest in the tranquil park I moved on wards, towards the landmark Siegestor – the triumphal arch that features a bronze sculpture of Bavaria and four lions.

72951993_446990812591062_4738306842633961472_n.jpg

From here I continued my walking tour southwards – along Ludwigstraße, another of the city’s royal avenues – with my sights on The Residenz.

The Residenz, built in 1385, is the largest city palace in Germany and the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs of Bavaria.

72766671_2476566179095133_3423070814444978176_n.jpg

Today it is an open to the public to view it’s architecture, room decorations and royal collections. With such limited time and, with the weather being so glorious outside, I did not venture inside. Instead I wondered the outer buildings and admired the view from another one of the city’s parks – Hofgarten.

A short walk away, I found another landmark that I spotted from the viewing deck at St Peter’s Church – Theatine Church.

74802281_380154199529374_6533435204780949504_n.jpg

This striking building, with yellow facade is a church built from 1663 to 1690. With its Mediterranean appearance it has become a well known symbol of the city and inside offers a peaceful break from the bustling city.

With time flying away, I made my way back to Marienplatz for an early dinner – enjoying the surroundings once more before heading to my hotel close to the airport for my morning flight home.

70562783_522751858267200_4083085456797859840_n.jpg

My time in Munich seemed very short, but jam packed – finding my way round the Old Town and surrounding areas by foot.

After a disappointing visit to Berlin at the end of 2018, I was rather sceptical as to how I would feel returning to another German city. I needn’t have worried, as Munich surpassed my expectations. The Bavarian capital, is a bustling city with a plethora of charm and culture to suit every type of traveller.

My only regret – limiting myself to 24 hours.

With so much more to explore in Bavaria, and the promise to take the other half next time round, I will be returning to Munich and it is surrounding areas in the near future

City Break: 48 Hours in Toulouse

Taking advantage of the bank holiday weekend and a cheap return flight (bargain at £25), I found myself jetting off to France’s southern Occitane region. 48 hours in it’s capital of Toulouse.

Known as La Ville Rose, (“the Pink City”) this charming location offered a idyllic whistle stop break away.

61966382_441389263343878_2871502292429832192_n.jpg

On arrival at Toulouse-Blagnac airport I jumped on board the tram located right outside the arrivals hall. For a reasonable price of just under two Euros for a single journey, the transfer from airport to the city centre was simple and stress free – setting the tone for duration of my visit.

Albi

My first port of call was a trip to the small town located on the Tarn River, just an hour by train from Toulouse, Albi.

This UNESCO World Heritage Centre, offered bags of charm. With picturesque views from either side of the river, quaint streets, red bricked architecture and Saint Cecile cathedral standing glorious.

59787257_435196300604886_6815997095980302336_n

If you enjoy spending an afternoon wondering old city streets, taking in historic monuments and simply enjoying some local wine in one of the many bistros or cafes, then this is the place for you.

My time was spent doing just that.

Taking in the impressive cathedral that dominated not only the skyline, but the centre of town. The largest brick build cathedral in the world and the largest painted cathedral in Europe, offers a rather impressive Gothic sight. For a small fee you can spend time inside taking in the colours and geometric patterns painted within.

Jardins de la Berbie was my favourite spot in Albi. Located between Palace de la Berbie and the Tarn River, the terrace offered a perfect view point across to the northern areas of Albi and the beautiful bridges spanning the river.

59641184_2594694303891492_8263886302957535232_n.jpg

Pont Vieux, one of France’s oldest bridges dating back to the 11th century provides quite the photo opportunity of the cathedral across the River Tam. Enchanted by this spot, I could quite happily have sat, taking in the view for hours.

61331576_863976877279997_3454841065490612224_n (1)

Toulouse

Back in the city centre of Toulouse there was plenty to keep me occupied. Working my way through the narrow cobbled streets and along the River Garonne, admiring the mix of architecture and enjoying the relaxed, friendly vibes.

60632743_1119346511584796_6926524385670987776_n.jpg

Heading to the heart of the city, I found myself reaching the Place du Capitole and it’s name sake building, Capitole – Toulouse’s town hall. Dated back to 1750 it’s pink marble columns provide a rather impressive facade.

62021056_2241769872818389_6630357979403124736_n.jpg

As one of the many buildings within Toulouse that is free to enter, you can spend time enjoying the artwork and painted ceilings of Salle de Ilustres.

61860016_2379892658957281_1980021816567005184_n.jpg

A short walk from this main square you will stumble across Basilique St-Sernin. With it’s prominent bell tower and distinctive organ playing, it would be hard to miss.

61926111_2239099389461352_9008246964768210944_n.jpg

Toulouse offered a multitude of religious buildings of significant interest. Couvent des Jacobins was by far my favourite.

61951139_312712899667127_5062313613461553152_n.jpg

Wonder through this elegant structure, admiring it’s ornate stained-glass windows, before heading to the rather tranquil Cloitre des Jacobins. For a very small entrance fee you will be able to enjoy its russet-brick columns surrounding a green courtyard, providing an overwhelming sense of calm.

Before I knew it it was time to depart from the beauty of Toulouse.

The city of colour, with it’s warm climate, had provided a perfect location for a 48 hour break away from home – re-instating my love for the South of France.

Travelling as a solo woman.

If you told me several years ago I would be booking flights to travel solo in years to come, I would not have believed you. I presumed that the only way to experience the joys the world had to offer was to have a companion.

It is funny how moments in life completely change the way you think and the way you live. Being made redundant almost two years ago brought a heightened level of anxiety and stress. The numerous job interviews and applications, along with the redundancy process itself was taking it’s toll. So, I simply had to get away.

With many friends and family working, or otherwise occupied, my only choice was to book a getaway alone. So I booked a flight to Edinburgh; the first flight out and returning on the last flight the same day. It was by no means far, but it gave me the time out I needed.

20904323_10159309640825604_1058254985_o

The day trip did the job and as a result I was back on the job search the moment I returned. Soon after, accepting a job offer.

A short few months later I took advantage of a cheap flight to Bordeaux. My reasons for getting away this time were somewhat more heartbreaking. After a family member took their own life I needed time away to deal with my grief alone.

Yet again, travelling solo did the job.

24067931_10159786477260604_4557141444647817218_n

Whilst some may argue travelling alone as a woman is dangerous and lonely, I can argue the complete opposite. There is nothing more liberating than taking yourself away from all of your life’s stresses (including your loved ones) and enjoying your own company.

That is not to say I would no longer travel with a companion. I take great pleasure in travelling the world with others and sharing my experiences, in particular with my other half.

However, as many other travellers can relate, this does come with its own issues. As someone who craves adventure, a eternal wanderlust, I get excited about locations that my partner does not. By restricting my travel to only the destinations he wants to visit would mean a huge percentage of the world would be left unexplored. Huge parts of Asia, Africa and even France does not entice him, but are places that rank highly on my bucket list. This is where travelling solo comes at great advantage.

Already in 2019 I have travelled alone twice, spending long weekends in France and Inverness, simply enjoying my own time, exploring the sights and, back at my hotel taking advantage of the large hotel bed by reading a book uninterrupted.

59927833_2348149528765845_3778290461232332800_n (1)

Solo travel also allows you to do whatever you want, without having to consider another person. Some may call it selfish, I like to call it indulgent. You don’t have to wait for others to get ready, you don’t need to worry about rest stops and you actually end up spending less money than you would have if you had a companion.

61331576_863976877279997_3454841065490612224_n.jpg

Travelling alone has become a great pastime of mine. Not only has it given me great freedom and independence, it has also given me the confidence to work through the bucket lists. Destinations I would usually have second thoughts about have suddenly been added to a “must do” list.

In September, I will be jetting off to Morocco to climb the Atlas Mountains. Something I would never have considered before, thinking I would need someone to travel and complete the challenge with me. I will be heading off alone, sharing a room with another like minded woman – who I will not meet until I arrive – with an adventure that will be my most exciting yet.  

For those thinking of travelling alone, I would thoroughly recommend it. Plan a trip, pack light, take a book and simply enjoy your own company!

A Weekend in Inverness & the Isle of Skye

Fellow wanderlust’s will understand the itchy feet travellers get once they touch down on home soil. Add in offer emails from numerous travel companies and you quickly find yourself on another flight jetting off to discover another corner of the world.

I did not hesitate booking a cheap flight to Inverness in the Boxing Day sales, having always wanted to visit the tranquil areas of the Scottish Highlands.

Having visited the bustling cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow on numerous occasions, I was rather looking forward to exploring this smaller city located in Scotland’s north east coast.

With stress free links to the city, via a 30 minute bus journey from Inverness airport, I was quickly transported into the centre and checked into my comfortable room. Booking the Premier Inn on the river Ness meant that I was a stones throw from the amenities of the city, with lovely views of the castle.

60019415_372693930014577_4834296282208010240_n.jpg

I did not waste any time with exploring and, to be quite honest, with the city being rather smaller than others in Scotland I quickly saw everything that was on my list.

53279008_548987905587240_784442559337332736_n.jpg

After wandering along the banks of the River Ness, visiting Inverness Castle and strolling around numerous shops, I was ready to retire early for my day trip to the Isle of Skye.

Booking at day trip to the Isle of Sky with Viator proved to be fantastic value for money. Visiting in early March I expected the excursion to be rather quiet. What I did not expect was to end up having a private tour of the Isle and the surroundings.

When discovering I was the solo traveller on a day trip in excess of seven hours I imagined being told that it would not go ahead. I was rather delighted to be informed it would not be cancelled and soon enough we were heading off on my own tour if the Isle of Skye.

Our first stop was the infamous Loch Ness, home of the legendary Loch Ness monster. Sadly there was no sighting of Nessie herself, but the views were to die for.

Back on the mini bus we whizzed along taking in the picturesque views, taking advantage of the lack of tourists in the off peak season.

53279158_411866269580720_2439624561809948672_n.jpg

We stopped for a break in Invermoriston, taking in the Thomas Telford Bridge before continuing through Glen Moriston and the Five Sisters Mountain range.

59876059_310300076534165_18333248291602432_n.jpg

Our next stop was the Eilean Donan Castle, taking time to explore the ruins along the banks of the Lochs.

59782423_464733417597512_1785059519991119872_n.jpg

Continuing on we headed to the capital of the Isle of Sky, Portree. Stopping for a hearty lunch with fantastic port views.

59927833_2348149528765845_3778290461232332800_n (1).jpg

The perks of being the solo passenger here on out continued. Unrestricted by other travellers meant we were able to venture further into the Isle of Skye, allowing more stops. The knowledge of my guide was second to none. Despite not originating from Scotland, he provided a wide education around the area and it’s history.

53110685_2120265051372705_3608339498682810368_n.jpg

We saw numerous stops from Portree to Culnacnoc, back to Carbost and Kyleakin, all providing scenic views for which the camera does not do justice.

Before we knew it, we were heading back to the city with plenty of facts relating to the local areas en route.

59855306_1032364910294677_7680432308809105408_n.jpg

It was a long day with so much to take in. Without a doubt, it was one of the best experiences I have had to date. The private tour allowed me to appreciate an uninterrupted and peaceful tour of the Island.

Despite spending several hours on this glorious Isle, there was so much left undiscovered. We barely touched the surface of what this Island had to offer. So despite the tour being fantastic, offering many highlights, I feel there is a return trip on the cards to explore further.

City Break: Venice and Verona

After returning from the beautiful region of Tuscany last summer I quickly found myself missing the beauty of Italy. So I got set on planning my next adventure to the one country that captures my heart over and over.

The wondrous floating city of Venice was my destination.

After booking my trip I was rather sceptical after many friends and family advised the city was busy, smelly and often flooded.

I am never one to be put off by another person’s review or opinion. However, I made the decision to pick a date off season, to avoid the crazy tourist season and any extremities in weather. Early February proved to be spot on.

From the moment I landed at Marco Polo International Airport I was not disappointed. Whilst the weather in the UK was cold, wet and windy, I had arrived to blue skies, blazing sunshine and temperatures in double figures (though a jacket was still required now and then).

54437451_2646895098671073_5677263088122855424_n

Staying just outside the city in the Best Western Tritone, Mestre proved to be the perfect base to visit Venice and it’s surrounding areas.

Day One – Murano & Burano

No visit to the Venetian lagoon would be complete without a visit to these two remarkable islands. Booking a half day boat trip was a great way to experience what they had to offer.

Murano, renowned for a long tradition of glass-blowing, was the first port of call with a live demonstration at a glass blowing factory. The secrets of glass have been closely guarded for years. Even today, there is no official glass school – the skills can only by learned by apprenticeship to one of the glass masters.

53843169_2170943279864881_2879286310768476160_n.jpg

Wonder beyond the numerous glass shops and you can stroll along the tranquil Canal Grande with its 19th century iron bridge or the parish church of San Pietro Martire.

54516227_577901059352879_1019538859983110144_n.jpg

A short sail away from Murano, is the explosion of colour that is Burano. According to tour guides, fishermen who live on the island painted their houses in bright colours so that they could recognise them from afar whilst out fishing.

54132972_319903602049681_1838527546384187392_n.jpg

The cheerful island and its charming canals makes for a striking Instagram photo. Without a doubt, Burano has become one of the happiest places I have visited to date.

Day Two – Verona

When I knew I was visiting Venice I had to ensure a trip to Verona was included. Within easy proximity of our hotel base – the city best known as the home town of star crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet was a must!

54255560_308600356512348_4466930695540834304_n.jpg

The medieval town has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO due to its urban structure and architecture. On visiting, it is clear to see why.

54515782_627892414324998_7268144379292811264_n.jpg

We spent the day gently strolling around, taking in the sights of Castle San Pietro, Ponte Pietra, the Roman Arena and Ponte di Castelvecchio, to name a view.

53730296_580263015787752_4938010980673126400_n.jpg

We climbed the 83 metre tower of Torre dei Lamberti, for exceptional views, and spent time at Juliet’s house marvelling at the sea of love letters and taking in the visitors from the famous balcony.

53810927_428902327862679_5158697730465333248_n.jpg

Day Three – Venice 

On our final day it was the perfect opportunity to take in the sights of the main attraction itself. Jumping on the Vaporetto we cruised down the Grand Canal, taking in the floating city, we took the lift to the bell tower of Campanile di San Marco to marvel at the sights from up high and we stopped for pictures on the Ponte dell’Academia.

54357727_261167091490302_3151958550142517248_n

With its famous gondolas, waterways and picturesque views I struggled to understand how anyone could not fall in love with such a beautiful location.

53560525_303790610257268_7446458025419735040_n.jpg

From San Marco Square with its impressive Basilica to the multitude of bridges – including Ponte di Rialto – there wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy. Come off the beaten track and you will find the perfect pizzerias, quiet alleyways and a general sense of peace.

54356055_324347151558206_8317874033278320640_n.jpg

As I reflect back on my trip to the floating city and its neighbours, it is clear to see I was at an great advantage visiting out of season. Had it been at peak, when cruise ships docked in the height of summer, I don’t see how I would have been able to navigate the tiny alley ways and bridges without feeling frustrated.

Without a doubt, Venice has become one of my favourite locations. To see it all, to take it all in would take more than a few days. I was simply happy navigating the canals, enjoying the view and soaking in the culture, to put down the map and relax with gelato beside the water.

 

The London Marathon: Decision to Defer

When you enter into a challenge, no matter how big or small, the last thing you think about is the possibility that you will have to admit defeat and defer.

During the training for the London Marathon back in 2017 I found myself with a few niggles, strains and even a small groin injury that put me on a week long time out. But generally I ploughed through the pain and boredom of training with little complaint.

52690314_1053881458116568_6239191109910659072_n.jpg

Second time round it seems that I have been riddled with injuries. The beginning of my training schedule saw me struggle with the annoyance that is shin splints. Then, as documented several weeks back, as I attempted to increase mileage I hit a major stumbling block.

Diagnosed with Peroneal Tendonitis and ligament damage in my ankle put me on a serious time out. Easing off the training and instead resting, whilst carrying out a variety of strengthening exercises.

The last three weeks have not been easy. As I struggled to come to terms with “rest” and panicking about time slipping out of my hands, attempts to run were filled with stress and anxiety.

This weekend I had planned to spend it picking up the miles again. But yesterday morning I lay motionless, summoning myself to pull myself together and to get running. With my anxiety level through the roof I managed to get out the front door and pounding the pavement, only to find that dull ache in my ankle increasing and the sense of failure overwhelming.

52106813_606098799830727_2971254432592822272_n.jpg

I knew right then I had to make a decision. Do I push myself through the pain when I am clearly not ready and hope that 10 weeks is enough to pick everything back up? Or do I make the most disappointing, but probably most sensible decision to defer my entry to 2020?

It is very easy to slap on a brave face and push through both the physical and mental pain. I am not one to admit defeat. I love the thrill and accomplishment you get from working hard to achieve things you never thought possible.

That said, at times you can do more harm than good carrying through when your mind and body just has other ideas.

So, after much deliberation and with a heavy heart, I made the move to defer my London Marathon space.

Instead I will be concentrating on building up strength, both physically and mentally, and most importantly I will be concentrating on learning to love running again. With the pressure off I can head back to the simplicity of running just because I can, not because I have to. To spend Saturday mornings enjoying the local parkrun and weekday evenings pounding the track and streets with Harlow running club.

It’s time to shake off the disappointment, to start loving running again and to focus on the London Marathon 2020!

 

 

 

 

Climbing Pen Y Fan

Nestled in the Brecon Beacons National Park lies Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in south Wales. The gruelling mountain walk to the summit was the location for training at the break of dawn this Saturday morning, in preparation for another adventure to take place later on this year.

Not to be outdone with the London Marathon, I will be joining several others to complete the 84 mile walk that is Hadrian’s Wall; from Bowness-on-Solway in the west through to Walls End in the east.

Taking on two huge challenges in the space of a month may be incomprehensible to many. But for others, like myself, it is just about living life and making the most of every possible adventure.

Therefore, not only have I been attempting to add in the miles (with great difficulty of late) for the London Marathon, I have also had to keep up the long distance walking too.

So, Saturday morning saw myself and a fellow training buddy head off to south Wales at 3am. Less than 12 hours after I arrived home from a week away and with just four hours sleep I was waiting eagerly for the sunrise at the bottom of Pen Y Fan.

51746150_313310785981420_8571122776977440768_n (1).jpg

Much to my surprise we were not the only early risers. In fact there were numerous vehicles parked up with enthusiastic ramblers and hikers ready to take on the challenge.

And a challenge it was. Not only were we faced with sub zero temperatures, meaning layers were key, but also over 30mph winds with a strenuous up hill climb to boot.

51486391_244501859767029_508884802020048896_n.jpg

As with most mountain climbs, the first 20 minutes is somewhat of a struggle. With the wind, cold and an almost vertical start we had to take our time and acclimatise to the conditions we were facing. In addition, the rickety paths along the route we chose (later discovering we had taken the tougher course) meant we had to watch our footing to prevent slips and falls.

51915466_236431540578435_1044719905347207168_n.jpg

Half way up, and rather exposed to the elements, we found the wind speed picked up and as such made the sensible decision to get to the summit and back down again as quickly as human possible.

As we reached the top we found ourselves surrounded by many other walking enthusiasts, who had clearly chosen the quicker, easier path.

Had the weather allowed us to feel safe, we would have continued on to include the infamous “Jacob’s Ladder” that forms part of the Fan Dance route taken by potential members of the British Special Forces. Unfortunately we had to make the judgement call and return back down after a quick celebratory picture at the summit.

51724434_560198714459604_7946764265921183744_n.jpg

We quickly descended, taking just a fraction of the time it took to climb to the top, praising all the hikers attempting to make it to the top en route.

51769678_607569913046512_1905125416650145792_n

In just over two hours we had braved the strong winds, reached the summit and returned to the safety of the car, ready for hot Ribena and breakfast – all before most people had risen from their beds.

Before we knew it we were flying back down the motorway and home, elated by the mornings achievement.

51535128_148044379446470_712945797833949184_n.jpg

As we made our climb a part of me wondered why I put myself through such gruelling training. Why couldn’t I just stay in bed on a Saturday morning like the average Joe?

Why? Because when you get to the top and see the view, you feel so alive!!

London Marathon Training: Week Three

It has taken me some time to put words together that can summarise the third week in my London Marathon training – mainly because I have been a week long strop.

I began the week with the ultimate rest day, waking up at the Champneys resort in Henlow.

The temptation to book myself into high intensity classes and go for a country run was extremely high. However, with a slight niggle in my ankle from the previous weekends activity and a poor night sleep due to lack of heating in my room, I gave myself a stern talking to. Simply allowing myself to relax by the poolside before my treatments later in the day was the one thing I needed right there and then.

Tuesday, still in a rather relaxed state post treatments, I allowed myself a gentle day of walking before ramping up the mileage at the latter end of the weekend.

The rest of the week started well with spinning sessions and treadmill running. But on Thursday evening, whilst attempting to complete my long (10 mile) run that little niggle I felt in my ankle during the week got progressively worse.

Only 3 miles away from my 10 mile goal, running was no longer an option. I started to experience shooting pain all the way from the ankle joint to the hamstring – bringing training to a complete halt.

Hobbling home, I made a swift decision to book myself into the sports therapist the next day. Lucky enough, SV Therapy were quick to respond to my desperate messages and a tough session followed to determine the source of my pain.

The verdict: Peroneal Tendonitis.

50976833_1852309901547179_2117648588958859264_n

Not only did I have a touch of this painful condition, but I also had ligament damage and scar tissue from a previous ankle injury that had not healed correctly.

It is safe to say that my session with the therapist was not easy. The pain was intense and I left for the second time in two weeks feeling rather bruised and battered – but also relieved to have a action plan to strengthen my ankle.

First port of call? Rest. My least favourite activity. Meaning no running for a good few days. In addition lots of exercises and icing the affected area.

You can imagine the mood of a runner who has been benched, particularly when training for a big race. It was not great.

Riddled with another injury made me question, yet again, if I should be taking on such a enormous challenge. Despite many assurances by others that it was still only week three and I still had plenty of time to get the miles in – once I had recovered – I have spent every “rest day” since the diagnosis thinking I should defer my place. With loosing valuable running time I keep thinking of the long runs I would be doing had I not had this set back.

Analysing and overthinking the situation does nothing for confidence. So yet again I had to start then new training week telling myself to forget about the miles I have not achieved and take each day at a time.

And so, as I entered week four, my only goal was to take baby steps, to plan my training a day at a time and to find myself fit enough to run the London Winter Run this coming weekend.

But most importantly – I need to stop beating myself up about miles and training I have not been able to do.