Summer 2015: 40 for 40, meeting fellow traveloholics, and running for charity …

Summer, summer, summer. Oh how I love you. Eating ice-cream, playing tennis, hanging out with friends, walking on the hills, sitting in a beer garden in the sun.

For me, this summer will feature all the above and more. I’ll hit the big four uh-oh, seek to connect with some local traveloholics, and will pound the streets of my home city for a great cause. It’s all about making good stuff happen.

I’m going to visit my 40th country – for my big four uh-oh!

No flashpacker / backpacker style travel for this one. Me and my girlfriends are heading for a city break in Lisbon, Portugal in early July. The flight’s booked. The nice apartment is organised, and the “sampling the local port” tour is on the list of things to sort out. If anyone has any recommendations, I’d love to hear them – just drop me a comment below.

Last time the girls and I had a city break together was in Rome – where we ended up as the plot line in an Italian comedy soap opera that involved diamonds and Yorkshire pudding. Obviously.

Rome The Gap Year Edit

Rome with the girls – before having to explain what a Yorkshire pudding was …

I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in Lisbon!

The date for the big four uh-oh itself is later in July – naturally I’m in complete denial 😉

Join the Yorkshire and Yonder Traveloholics on Meetup!

One dumped and tearful Julie + one practical mum with a ready supply of flapjack and ideas on how to keep me busy (read: busier than usual) = one crap-situation-turned-fantastic-inspiration!

That was then, this is now … and my Travel Meetup group is now born (mum’s first idea was about Jesus, which was a seriously badly-timed suggestion).

The Meetup group is all about getting together with like-minded people and talking travel. And – who knows – maybe we’ll all end up on some adventures together.

Whichever way, the first get together is set for 15 June 2015 in gorgeous York, UK.

I’m choosing running over wine. Ok, maybe not over wine.

I ambitiously said I wanted to run 10k in less than 55 minutes when I wrote my “25 experiences I want to have … ” list. This was one of those “yeah, I’ll do it one day” vague ambitions that had been locked somewhere in the back my mind for about five years. Well, no more … it’s going to be a priority for summer 2015, thanks to some serious inspiration from Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

run 10k in under 55mins

Me and grandad in 2001

I’ve entered a 10k charity run, and will be pounding the streets of York in early August in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support in memory of my wonderful grandad.

I’ve set up my JustGiving page.

I’ve downloaded a training plan.

I’ve been going to the gym or out for a run three times a week.

I’ve only had one “I think I might go to the pub instead” lapse.

I’m down to 57 minute pace with less than three months to go. On that note … what am I doing sat here writing this … ?

If you have any Lisbon suggestions, thoughts on any travel-esque groups you’ve been to, or top ideas about how I can run faster (rocket-propelled trainers aside), then do drop me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

How to spend 24 hours in Madrid

With only 24 hours in this pulsating city, this guide helps you get to the beating heart of Madrid, Spain’s capital.

A Modern-Art Morning

Get your modern-art fix at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, housing four floors of works by famous names such as Miró, Dalí, and Picasso. The 1937 work, “Guernica,” shows Picasso’s disdain for the bombing of the Basque town during the Spanish Civil War. It’s a powerful piece with a powerful message.

If you prefer your art of the 11th–19th century persuasion, then the world-class Museo del Prado, home to pieces by Goya, Rubens, and others, is for you.

Garden Calm

Across the Paseo del Prado from Reina Sofía, the Real Jardin Botanico awaits. The gardens are a perfect place for a stroll around three terraces, elaborate fountains, and colourful carpets of florals.

An alternative is the 295-acre Parque del Retiro, home to pathways for pedestrians, cyclists, and rollerbladers, and a majestic lake. Savour a coffee and watch the boating action, or go ahead and take part!

24 hours in madrid: Parque del Retiro

Parque del Retiro. Photo by Javier Travelandphotos via

Bigging it up in Plaza Mayor

Calle de Atocha leads to the city’s Plaza Mayor, so-called for good reason. It’s pretty much impossible to capture the whole of this gigantic plaza in just one photo — but you can certainly try.

24 hours in Madrid: Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor. Photo by Yagiza Neo via

With buildings dating from 1590, an impressive bronze statue, and stylish arcades, sit and soak up the life and atmosphere from one of the many cafes.

Lunch at the Market

From Plaza Mayor, it’s a short hop to the Mercado de San Miguel. The glass-and-steel façade, coupled with the culinary delights offered inside, make it a perfect stop for assorted lunchtime delicacies, washed down with a glass of wine. Enjoy!

24 hours in Madrid: Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel. Photo by Jessica Bowler via

Afternoon Architecture

After lunch, take your pick from Madrid’s architectural gems. Whether it’s the Gran Via with its boomtown buildings of the 1920s and ’30s, a tour around the 250-year old Palacio Real, or a step back in time to the 16th-century Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales — choose your period of history and Madrid will deliver the goods.

An Evening of Tapas and Churros

You can’t leave Spain without sampling tapas. If you don’t know your patatas bravas from your albondigas, you might want to try a tapas tour. A word of warning … locals eat late in Spain. For the late-night munchies, the Spanish fail-safe equivalent of a doner kebab is the doughnut-like churro, dipped in chocolate. Worry about the calories when you get home.

24 hours in Madrid: churros and chocolate

Churros and Chocolate. Photo by Esther Levy via

Tips for Travel in Madrid

There are plenty of hotels in the heart of Madrid’s action. For affordable options, you can browse here.

To get around the sites, the metro (subway) is easy, fast, and a good value. For more on the metro, visit the Madrid Metro website.

Madrid in Summary

Madrid is a city where world-class art can be found as easily in a garden or square as in a gallery, where a culture of outdoor eating and living prevails, and where heat can be used to refer to the summer temperature or the nightlife. Get out there and enjoy it!

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#312783″]This post was brought to you in conjunction with the #‎HipmunkCityLove project. All views are my own, and are based on my personal experience of visiting Madrid.[/typography]

Barcelona: where ships, sculpture and the sea meet the city

Walking down the famed pedestrian walkway of Las Ramblas in Barcelona, the smell of salty sea air starts to pervade.

Heading south-east, the old architecture of the city peters out, as the cityscape turns to the seascape of Port Vell at the Columbus Monument, smack in the middle of a wide breezy plaza.

The vista from here is a world away from the Gaudí architecture for which Barcelona is famed.

Stroll over the sea

At Port Vell, Las Ramblas migrates into the Rambla de Mar in a fusion of architectural modernity at an over-sea wooden pedestrian walkway. Stroll over the water to cinemas and Barcelona’s L’aquàrium.

Port Vell. Barcelona sculpture sea

Port Vell. Photo by Meghan Hernandez via

Inside, there are 14 aquariums showcasing the best of the Mediterranean, including sand tiger sharks and sandbar sharks.

I see ships! And sculpture …

Turning east from the Columbus Monument you can slalom around palm trees whilst admiring the multi-million dollar super-yachts of the Marina Port Vell, regenerated for the sailing events of the 1992 Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, a block inland on Passeig Colom, modern sculpture adorns the park-like boulevard. It’s here you can shake claws with Gambrinus, Javier Mariscal’s lobster/prawn statue, and outstare the infamous Barcelona Face, designed by artist Roy Lichtenstein for the 1992 Olympic Games.

Barcelona Face. Barcelona sculpture sea

Barcelona Face. Photo by KM via

The sculptures make for stark and beautiful photo opportunities against the blue sky.

Saunter to some seafood

La Barceloneta. Barcelona sculpture sea seafood

La Barceloneta. Photo by Renee O via

Beyond the Port Vell marina, the road and footpaths bear south to La Barceloneta, the former fisherman’s quarter and onetime slum; now home to restored 18th century homes and numerous seafood restaurants.

If you’re looking for a place to sample real-life lobster/prawns, complete with a view of the marina or the golden sands of Playa de la Barceloneta, then this is it.

Hotels in Barcelona

For a sunset with sangria, you could do far worse than soaking up a view of the whole shebang from the deck at the iconic W Hotel. Perched at the tip of La Barceloneta, The W in the epitome of modern city chic, with its sail-inspired glass design shimmering over the city; and a 26th floor bar, Eclipse, delivering Eurotune beats to a hip and happening crowd.

For a serious 5-star treat you can stay at the W. Browse your options here for accommodation choices from hostels to boutique and business-style hotels.

Transport in Barcelona

With stops at Drassanes (for Port Vell) and Barceloneta, Barcelona’s metro makes for a simple way to get around. Be prepared for signs in Catalan first, then Spanish, then (maybe) English. A phrase book or a few words of Spanish can come in handy.

For a two-wheeled alternative, you could also try a Segway tour.

Barcelona’s seaside sights: summed up

Regenerated and spruced up for the 1992 Olympic Games, Barcelona’s seaside sights make up an integral part of the city. From sharks to ships, seafood to sand, take your time to stroll around this eminently walkable area of this proudly Catalan city.

[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”14″ size_format=”px” color=”#312783″]This post was brought to you in conjunction with the #‎HipmunkCityLove project. All views are my own, and are based on my personal experiences of visiting Barcelona.[/typography]