Weekend Break: Malta & Gozo

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

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

Here’s what we managed to fit in.

Valetta

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

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

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Mdina

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

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

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

Dwejra

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

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

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

Ta’Pinu

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

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

Xlendi Bay

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

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

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

Marsalforn Bay

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

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

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

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



 

 

City Break: Two Days in Bratislava

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bratislava Castle

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

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UFO Tower

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

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St Martin’s Cathedral

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

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Slavin

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

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Old Town Hall

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

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St Martin’s Gate

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

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Blue Church

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

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Cumil (“Man at Work”)

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

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

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

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




 

 

 

 

Mount Toubkal: Moroccan Adventure

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

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

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

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

Day One

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

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

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

Day Two

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

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

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

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

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

Day Three – SUMMIT DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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However, what goes up must come down.

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

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

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

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

Day Three – Continued Descent

The journey did not stop there.

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

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

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

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




Day Four – Final Trek & Marrakech.

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

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

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

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Day Five – Marrakech & Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: Three days in Lisbon

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?

Day One

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.

Day Two

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.

Day Three

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. 



Trekking Hadrian’s Wall in three days.

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. 

 



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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Running to the Dark Side

As the hype of the London Marathon dominated my social media feeds I could not help but contemplate on the decision I made to defer my place to 2020.

Watching the stories of runners working their way around the course led me to reminiscing about my own race two years ago. Thoughts of those who came out to support me on the day (some no longer with us), the adrenaline on the day and the atmosphere created by the wonderful people of London cheering the runners on. There is a reason why they say the London Marathon is the greatest marathon in the world – the public coming together made for the most 26.2 enjoyable miles I have ever run.

It is no surprise that in watching this years race I decided to give myself a hard time. Yes, I had made the most sensible decision at the time, but I started to think maybe I gave in a little too easy.

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Hindsight is a wonderful thing and had I been feeling how I feel now, then, I would have been in a different position. But I wasn’t and instead I developed further issues beyond my physical injury that have kept me from running.

Since I developed the love for pounding the pavement and being outdoors, I have always been an advocate of the impact it has on my mental health. The more active I became, the more I was able to control my state of mind. If I had a good day, I ran to be free and active. If I had a bad day, I ran to shake it off. My mind could be controlled by the simplicity of running.

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But what happens when the one thing that keeps you balanced, becomes the one thing that makes you feel unstable?

My decision to defer came not only from the physical injury, but the anxiety I developed around running post diagnosis. I became paranoid. Paranoid that I would injure myself again, paranoid I was behind in training miles and paranoid that I would not be fit enough for the big day.

I believed in dialling back the pressure, in deferring my place, would enable me to ease back into a gentle running pattern. To learn to love running again.

Instead the anxiety became worse. A fear of running developed. My half marathon training races came and went without me attending, and my absence from running club continued. With the longer nights I promised myself I would get back to it, just starting with a short, solo run to remind myself I still can.

But I am still waiting for my moment.

 

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Everyone talks about the love of running, the mental and physical benefits. But no one mentions the dark place you can go to when your confidence is lost. I believed there must be something wrong with me. Despite some suggesting I should contact the running club for advice and some attempting to coax me out for a short run, I just wanted to retreat into the shadows.

Until one night several weeks ago I was contacted by a friend.

With a couple of weeks to go before the London Marathon, she was experiencing high levels of anxiety when faced with running. Especially the long runs. Like me, she was considering dropping out, with thoughts of the long runs and the missed miles, causing extreme levels of stress and doubt.

Despite being distressed that she felt this way, I was so relieved to find out I was not on my own. Weeks later, she made it to London and she crossed the finish line. Making me realise if she can get back out there and complete 26.2 miles feeling the way she did, then I can put one foot in front of the other to start again.

And that is what I intend to do. It may not be tomorrow, this week or next. But I will get back to running club, I will get to parkrun and I will learn to love running again.

With twelve months until the London Marathon 2020 I have a goal!

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!