It has been some time since I have felt the passion and creativity to write a blog post. As I stepped off the plane after my last adventure, the UK was starting to enter into a period of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst I started the year feeling optimistic and unfazed by the events that were occurring in China, a sense of panic and anxiety caused by the unknown was setting in.
As with most people around the world, I completely understood the severity of the situation and respected that we all had to play our part. Not only to save the health service, but to keep our loved ones, especially those vulnerable, safe. That said, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you will understand that travelling and keeping fit have formed a major part of my mental and physical wellbeing. When the government announced the social distancing restrictions and lockdown measures back in March, I felt myself fall into a state of panic. Not only was I worried about the loved ones who relied on me on a regular basis, I also found myself over thinking, concerned about redundancy and my own well being.
Gone were my four spinning classes a week, running club and my ability to wander freely around the world and even our own country. I found myself rapidly heading towards that black hole. The whole situation was unprecedented, no one had any answers and no one could tell us when we could get back to “normal” life.
Since the lockdown began, it has been a consistent battle to keep my head above water. Luckily for me, working in digital marketing, work has thrived and my mind has been kept busy throughout the working week. Aided by the removal of news channels and some social media apps from my phone I have managed to keep somewhat of a level head during working hours.
However, evenings and weekends have been a struggle. With the lack of physical contact with friends and family, and the ability to work out as usual and travel the world, I feel that I have been in a constant fight with myself. Some weeks have been great, with me using the extra time to myself to hike miles and miles. When the restrictions lifted slightly in May, I was excited to extend my hikes to coastal paths within easy reach of home.
On the flip side, there have been weeks where I have found myself refusing to leave the house – feeling too tired mentally at the end of the working day to venture out for a walk, even to this day, and just getting into bed. Thereby, my physical health has been affected too.
The absence of freedom has played an unbelievable impact on all aspects of my health. And, whilst I am incredibly excited about the lift in some FCO restrictions to travel I thought it would be the best time to share my thoughts on how travelling can be a great benefit to your mental health.
Obviously, if travelling is not your thing, then it is not likely to reduce stress levels. However, if like me, you are one of the many in the world that classes yourself as a wanderlust, then travelling the world can allow you to break free from the monotony of day to life. Life can be unbelievably stressful, as we have seen in recent months, and travelling can give you the opportunity to escape. To wake up late, to laze by the pool with a good book or explore a foreign city at your own leisure without having to worry about time!
With lockdown in place and working from home, I have not had that segregation between work and life. In normal circumstances I work from home 4 days a week, however even I struggled with the adjustment as I was simply not allowed to go anywhere else.
When I go on holiday, the minute I step into the airport I feel free and excited. From picking out destinations for my next holiday from the departure board, to the copious amount of wine in the bars – every minute fills me with a sense of adventure and as such the stress levels deplete. I even enjoy the rigmarole of security!
So to not have this luxury……..
2. Travel can lead to a long term mood booster.
As you can imagine, everything relating to travel keeps me in an upbeat mood. The end of any great travel adventure keeps me in a state of adrenaline. And whilst I always enjoy coming home, to discuss the places I have been with friends and family, the first thing I do is plan the next trip. I always have to have something booked to help get through the day to day of life, because having an adventure to look forward to keeps my mood elevated.
3. Travelling gives you a sense of independence.
A little over a year ago I wrote a piece about travelling as a solo woman, and about how travelling alone has given me a sense of independence and freedom. I enjoy travelling with others too – but I have been less reliant in recent years of having someone to go with. Where I used to worry about being alone, foreign language and the fear of not knowing where to go, I now cherish everything. Many people say to me how amazing it is that I can just “take myself off” alone, even if it is a day hiking by the coast in the UK. To me this has become the norm. My partner doesn’t always want to travel like I do, he doesn’t want to go to places I want to go. So what’s the alternative? Wait for someone to go with me? I might be waiting forever if I do that.
4. Travelling is a change of scenery.
Travelling anywhere, UK or overseas, gives us that change of scenery that we all need. I love home just as much as I love to adventure, however slipping away to the unknown, into a hotel with crisp sheets (which you cannot quite replicate at home), to just get a break away from it all – it’s just bliss. We all need a little time out from time to time and travelling enables us to do just that.
Until recently, with lockdown, there was no change in scenery. We have been luckier than some countries with the restrictions that were in place, however when you have the freedom to move further afield taken from you it can be rather disconcerting. I struggled massively with this in the first month of the restrictions. Suddenly, everyone on earth had started running or training for the Duke of Edinburgh. My usual routes were littered with people, who since are no where to be seen. I had to find new routes around home, that were isolated and that gave me that change of scenery I needed. Local ordinance survey maps were purchased so I knew all the local footpaths in my area and hikes were plotted out to kill time at the weekend.
The point is, in lockdown and in regular daily life, we need that change of scenery.
5. Travelling provides education to new cultures and experiences.
Everyone who travels will know how exciting it is to land in a new country, a new city and experience the culture it has to offer. From local cuisines and customs, meeting local people and experiencing monuments you have previously only seen in books or on screen. The education you receive from travelling not only teaches you about the world, but it helps you appreciate what you have. Since travelling became a big part of who I am, I have less and less desire for the material things in life.
Okay, I still enjoy a splurge in the Mulberry sale from time to time, but generally I don’t have a want for “things.” For me, it is all about life experiences, of which travel is the core. Even my niece and nephews opt for a day out as a gift for birthdays and Christmas as they too see that experiences are a fundamental part of life!
With restrictions lifting and we start to form a new normal way of living, I find myself somewhat anxious of what will come. Our travel industry has by far been one of the most, if not the most, affected industries from COVID-19, not just in the UK but in locations far and wide that rely on the tourism industry to survive.
And whilst it has given us an opportunity to slow life down, to take time to read books, do puzzles and be with immediate members of your household, I for one cannot wait to get my mental health back to full capacity. To be free to wander the world, for new experiences and to support the travel industry getting back on its feet.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dominated by narrow cobbled streets, colourful buildings and orange trees both areas were vibrant and energetic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is recommended to try visiting at both day and night to enjoy the city from both perspectives.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Plus, if you pick a break that they have on offer this can easily save a great deal off the original price.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No visit to Modena is complete without a visit to Museum Enzo Ferrari – especially when the family name on your maternal side is Ferrari!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our only gripe was that in early November we were greeted at the city gates with a heavy downpour and no shelter!
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.
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.
Taking in the spectacular view is a great way to spend an hour of your time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Stone Crab was the perfect spot to test the local cuisine – crab ravioli for him and a tasty vegetarian version for me.
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.
From here there are a number of good boat trips on offer around Gozo and over to Comino and the legendary Blue Lagoon.
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.
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.
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.
Two days is ample time to explore this compact, yet charming city. So what exactly did we fit in within the two days?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
There is nothing I like more than a short city break, exploring an undiscovered location. Portugal is a country I had never visited before, so when searching for my next adventure I thought there would be no better place to start than its coastal capital city.
Being one of the oldest cities in the world, and second oldest in Europe after Athens, meant Lisbon has a vast amount of history and numerous sights to take in.
We headed to the sunny capital for a long weekend break, with the plan to see as much as we could whilst at a relaxed, easy pace.
So what exactly did we pack into three days in Lisbon?
After a particularly early morning flight, day one was never going to be anything strenuous. After checking into the Mercure Lisboa Hotel, we headed down to the city centre just a short ride away on the metro.
The first port of call was Praça do Comércio. Situated by the banks of the Tagus river, this grand plaza was thriving with activity.
The colourful surrounding buildings provided a perfect introduction to our trip, with panoramic views of the Arco Triunfal da Rua.
From here we continued our exploration along the Tagus river, soaking in the atmosphere, taking in the traditional architecture and finding our way round the narrow streets.
We quickly stumbled across Pink Street, known as the “place to go” for a night out, which during the day was understandably deserted. Perfect opportunity to get a quick picture without an influx of tourists.
Our wondering continued, stopping for lunch and a visit to a pastry shop – to test out a few “Pastel de Nata.” The Portuguese Tarts were simply divine, well worth the holiday weight I took home with me.
More strolling resumed, passing by the Santa Justa lift, Rossio Square and stopping to take a view pictures of the tram at Ascensor da Glória – before heading back to our hotel to take advantage of the roof top pool for the rest of the afternoon.
Our second day in Lisbon involved a trip to the resort town of Sintra, in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains and the Sintra-Cascais Natural park on the Portuguese Riviera.
Joining a small group tour allowed great flexibility to explore the region, with a knowledgeable guide providing an overview of the local area and its history throughout the day.
First stop was a tour of the UNESCO-listed Pena Palace, a magnificent injection of colour perched atop the mountain. After a gentle climb to the gates of this glorious palace you can instantly see resemblances to the palaces featured in many Disney films. It is actually said that Pena Palace inspired Walt Disney when he created his castle. After visiting, it is clear to see why.
Visiting Pena Palace is a must if you are in the area. However, if you plan to go it is worth getting there early. Queues build up quickly once the gates open and you can expect a long wait to get into the palace itself. Additionally, take a light weight jumper or jacket – the wind at the top, even on a bright summers day, can be rather bracing.
After the morning spent taking in Pena Palace, it was soon time for a lunch stop. The perfect place for this was Sintra Old Town. Its narrow cobbled streets and pastry shops, with Pena Palace looming from the mountain above provided a picturesque lunch view. Here, it is recommended to try a “Queijada,” a cheese and cinnamon tart, traditional to Sintra itself. We stopped at Café a Piriquita to taste this regional treat.
Had we had a little more time here we would have taken time to explore the Sintra National Palace in the old town square. Instead we just spent time enjoying the view from the outside – looking up to the mountains, Pena Palace and the Castle of the Moors.
Soon after lunch we were on our way to Cabo da Roca – the cape that forms most westernmost point of continental Europe. Here, we had glorious panoramic coastal views and spent time following the coast line to get a few pictures.
Our final port of call for the day was the coastal resort town of Cascais. Known for its sandy beaches and busy marina the town provided the perfect stop to end the day.
Here we spent time wondering the charming centre, taking in the scenery and enjoying a little gelato from the famous Santini ice cream parlour.
Our final full day in Lisbon saw us back in the city centre, attempting to fit in as much as possible in a short time.
We decided the previous night to take advantage of thesightseeing buses. Ordinarily, I don’t endorse the sightseeing buses, however when pressed for time they can provide the perfect opportunity to fit more into your itinerary. On this occasion they certainly did that.
Picking up the bus from outside our hotel we followed the route all the way down to the Tagus river, disembarking at Jerónimos Monastery. Being late June, and in therefore in peak season, the queues to enter this impressive building were too long to bare. So we did not get the opportunity to take a look inside. Rather disappointed we continued on, taking the medieval Belém Tower, built to defend the city of Lisbon and Padrão dos Descobrimentos, the 1940s statue built to mark the 500 years since Henry the Navigators death.
Back on the bus we enjoyed the views back into the city centre, hopping off again at Praça do Comércio.
From here we ventured upwards towards the Alfama district, following the famous tram line 28 and passing the Lisbon Cathedral.
The narrow streets were bustling with tourists, a constant flow of trams and even tour bikes roaring up the hills.
Combined with the rising heat and depletion in energy from our walk uphill, we took the opportunity to have refreshments at 28 Café before heading to the final destination of the day – Castleo de S.Jorge.
Standing majestically above city centre Castelo de São Jorge is one of the most popular tourist attractions Lisbon has to offer. Here visitors are not only rewarded with some of the best panoramic views of the city, but can also walk the castle walls and enjoy the tranquil gardens in the courtyards.
After a full on day sightseeing our trip was coming to an end. We returned to our hotel for a late afternoon swim before dinner and flight home early the next morning.
We had managed to pack in a lot during our three days in Lisbon, but as always it felt like there was so much more to explore. I would love to have had more time in Sintra, discovering more sights it had to offer, I would have like more time to take a look around Jerónimos Monastery and other landmarks within the city centre.
I have no doubt that I will return to Lisbon in the near future, the exuberant city with red tiled roofs, coloured buildings and cobbled streets proved to be a delightful destination – one to be visited time and time again.
After the adventures in the Isle of Wight, attempting to walk the full 100km coastal path in 24 hours (and failing at the half way point), I vowed to never sign up for a long walking event again.
Of all the challenges I had faced the Isle of Wight proved to be the most strenuous event I had taken part in, and that included the London Marathon the year before.
So I was content in believing I would hang up my walking boots, and only allow them to see the light for short distances.
That was until a member of the team floated the idea of trekking the full length of Hadrian’s Wall. 84 miles from coast to coast, starting in Bowness on Solway and ending in Newcastle.
With the plan to walk the distance over three days I thought why not. With rest in between, it would be a breeze compared to the Isle of Wight.
How wrong could you be?
Day one – Bolness on Solway to Gilsland (34 miles)
After spending the night at Wallsend Wigwams, a bright an early start was on the cards with the group setting off at 6am to tackle the longest distance of the three days. The weather was in our favour: cool, dry, overcast with occasional sunny spells. It was a great start to the day and we were in high spirits, apprehensive but full of energy to get day one done.
Despite being full of energy and the route on day one being relatively flat, it was equally dull. Although this section is part of the original wall, you should not expect to see any wall until you pass Carlisle. In fact, it was not until we reached the 27th mile that we actually saw what we had come to see and we nearly missed it too!
Though the road to the first glimpse of the wall was relatively flat, it was mainly on road. Which in walking boots, is not great for the feet. We had prepared for all types of terrain, but did not expect to spend the vast majority of the day in boots, on tarmac. But we ploughed on none the less.
From miles 27 to 34, in Gilsland (our rest for the night), the landscape changed somewhat. Hills became the norm, rocky, grassy terrains were better for our feet in walking boots and the weather took a major turn. Wet, drizzly weather suited our worn out mood. Hills, after hills, an abundance of strenuous stair climbs and tender points started to make themselves known on our feet. At this section, there was “Wall” a plenty. But we were tired, with only a few miles to face before a well-earned rest and the wet weather showing no end, we did not stop to appreciate the views.
We managed to get to our stop for the night, Brookside Villa, twelve hours after we set off from Bolness on Solway. An impressive 34 miles in 12 hours, with very little in the way of breaks.
Brookside Villa provided the perfect rest. Hot showers, a warming stew and comfy bed was waiting our arrival. The owner of this charming guest house went out of her way to make us comfortable, offering us a celebratory drink (not quite believing we had made it so far in one day) and inviting us to come down to dinner in pyjamas and dressing gowns.
I would have been happy to end our journey here.
Day Two – Gilsland to Corbridge (estimated 25 miles).
After a rather troubling sleep, suffering from restless legs and listening to the heavy downpours over-night, we had to get moving quickly the following morning.
The boots had not quite dried out from the night before, the downpours were not showing signs of clearing up and our bodies ached from the previous day’s slog. Ponchos on, we headed off for what was going to be the most demanding section of the challenge.
The wall we had craved for the day before, was heavily present on day two. We followed the impressive Hadrian’s wall, along its relentless path, over the crags, rocky trails and hills. I was not in a good way on day two. The consequences of pushing through the 34 miles were starting to show. Being vertically challenged proved to be a problem, climbing the crags aggravated a hip issue I had not experienced in some time, to the point of tears. Moody, tearful and now in pain, I attempted to carry on, with the support of the group encouraging me to fight through.
So we did for a while, we pushed ourselves over unrelenting terrain, with heavy rain and wind, with ponchos blowing over our heads, with our feet showing no signs of drying out, we carried on to our rest stop at 10 miles.
At 10 miles, I called it a day. Whilst attempting to dry out and warm up with a hot chocolate, the team attempted to encourage me to carry on, to push a little further. But with the pain in the hip, failed efforts to get warm and not appreciating what we had come to see, my mind was made up.
I wanted to finish with them on the final section on day three, and in order to do that I needed to know when to stop right then.
So the team carried on without me for the rest of the day. Whilst taking in the view on the way to our next stop, The Angel of Corbridge, I saw the challenge that they were to face. Whilst the main road was relatively flat, the wall path itself was something else. From the taxi I could see hikers taking the simple, flat route that followed the road (probably the sensible option) whilst the wall loomed over in the distance with ant like people dotting the peaks and troughs.
It was here that I realised how impressive Hadrian’s Wall was, the scale and the man power it took to build such a defence structure – that is still standing to this day.
Back at the hotel, I took a luxurious bath, had a nap and took time to arrange myself for the final stage.
By 4pm, I received a call from the team. They had reached 22 miles but decided that was enough. The terrain continued to challenge them all to the point where they could take no more. Rest and recuperation was needed. Baths and dinner all round, before setting off for the final stage.
Day Three – Corbridge to Newcastle (25 miles)
Another night of restless sleep and we all awoke aching, irritable and determined to get the miles over and done with.
Day three saw my hip ease off slightly, clearly the rest from the previous day was a good call. However, others in the group were feeling the consequences of the relentless challenge. Sore hips, knees, shins – we had everything.
Unlike the previous day, the route was dull (much like day one), with us following the main road into Newcastle. We focused, we pushed on, we set strict mileage goals for rest stops. No matter where we were at that point of time, we rested. So we changed socks on bumpy foot paths and we ate soggy sandwiches in the rain under trees. We did whatever it took to get through to the final resting point.
With just seven miles to go, we found a perfect rest stop for cuppa and toilet break. Here we were advised, that not only is it “downhill from here” but all on tarmac. Boots were changed for the comfort of trainers and we ploughed on – rather excited that the journey was coming to an end.
Here we decided we would not be completing the final section of the “wall.” Hadrian’s wall path heads through the city centre to Walls End. This would take us beyond the accommodation we booked for our final night, and through housing and industrial estates which the guide books state, were not pleasant.
So we make the group decision to simply head to our apartment once we hit the city centre. Walking along the Tyne, the final miles seemed to be never ending. However, with the excitement of the end looming we made it, almost crying with relief when turning the corner to see our final resting point.
We had made it! Walking coast to coast (bar a few miles), taking on Hadrian’s Wall.
In the space of three days I had walked 64 miles, the rest of the team had completed 76 miles. We were all broken and elated.
In hindsight, there were many things we could have done better to make this adventure a little more pleasurable. Despite the meticulous planning of the route, the stop offs, the mileage – we still did not get it quite right.
We did not factor in the additional mileage you experience with the ascent, we could have added in an extra day to ensure we were not pushing ourselves too hard and we could have allowed more time to enjoy the view.
In the face of the challenges thrown our way with weather, terrain and injury, we managed to complete an impressive distance in very little time. It was something to be proud of, it was something we will most certainly remember and talk about in years to come.
Hadrian’s Wall provided me with some fantastic memories, spending time with some incredible people and made me realise I can push myself beyond anything I thought I was capable of.
That said, Hadrian’s Wall path is not something I plan to repeat. I would like to return to the wall, but spending time driving to the best bits and taking time to enjoy the view.