Travel by Instagram: The twelve days of pictures

Yes, it’s a really bad Christmas pun … the twelve days of pictures is here!

We “Travel by Instagram” to get the story behind your favourite twelve photos from my Instagram account in 2015, including the truth of whether I liked the places in the pictures …

Huuuge thanks to my fellow Instagrammers for the likes, comments and follows that made this post possible. If in return my piccies give you even the smidgenest amount of “Travel by Instagram” inspiration, I’ll be – as we say in Yorkshire – well chuffed.

#12. Kotor, Montenegro

Travel by Instagram - Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor as seen from the harbour

The walled city of Kotor looks out onto a fjord-esque expanse of water, and up to the mountains. It’s special. This pic was taken in October in a post-marmalade croissant breakfast state of satisfaction, perched with my feet dangling over the harbour wall.

#11. Budva, Montenegro

Travel by Instagram - Budva, Montenegro

Budva’s old town – its redeeming feature!

My October walk from the gorgeous island of Sveti Stefan (a couple of miles south) ended in Budva. Budva’s home to a rather ugly stretch of built-up coastline, but redeems itself somewhat through its old town, pictured here. I preferred Kotor, though!

#10. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Travel by Instagram - Dubrovnik, Croatia

It was a tad blustery in Dubrovnik during my October visit!

A blustery walk around Dubrovnik’s city walls gave more dramatic photo opportunities than you could shake a stick at, and gave me a very bad hair day. Frothy-topped waves pounded against the rocks and walls that protect this proud city during my visit there in October 2015.

#9. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

Travel by Instagram - Notre Dame, Paris, France

Contemplation in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris

I posted this pic in the wake of the Paris attacks, although Paris is sadly only one of many tragic stories of human atrocity in 2015. Kenya, Nigeria, Iraq … countries where 100s have been murdered or kidnapped without the same level of Western outrage and media attention. I took this pic back in February 2011, when I spent a couple of wonderful solo days in Paris after a work conference.

#8. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Travel by Instagram - Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana. I know. Gorgeous!

Ljubljana, you’re so pretty! One of Europe’s most underrated and difficult to spell capital cities is home to Viennese architecture, some very fine (rarely exported) wines, café culture and a rather fine castle with a nicely flirty calligraphy-writer. It’s the type of place you could take your mum – even mine, who has never set foot outside UK shores. I visited in October 2014.

#7. The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Travel by Instagram - The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The colourful tiles and patterns of Islamic architecture at the Alhambra, Granada

I adore Islamic architecture. Tiles, geometric patterns, colourful tiles, symmetrical water features, cool patios: I am a huge fan, or – as they say in Spain – an aficionado. The architectural legacy of the Moors in Andalucia, Southern Spain, has long drawn me, and I captured this shot on my second visit to the Alhambra in June 2010.

#6. London, England

Travel by Instagram - London, England

London, baby!

I’m not sure if it was the stereotypical scene of British dual icons the red telephone box and the National Gallery which made this picture so popular, but popular it was! It was taken on a culture vulture girls’ weekend in August with my oldest school friend, just before a major downpour!

#5. Puerto Banús, Spain

Puerto Banús is about as far from my typical holiday as is humanly possible. After a week spent hiking and exploring near Ronda in May 2014, I visited for the day to catch up with a friend who was then working in neighbouring Marbella. The glitz, glamour and “look at the size of my engine” Ferrari boys provided visual entertainment for a day, but beyond that it’s the anti-thesis of where I like to spend my holidays. Millions disagree with me 🙂

Travel by Instagram - Puerto Banus, Spain

Glitz and glamour in Puerto Banus

#4. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Travel by Instagram - Placa Street, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Placa Street at sunset. Sigh.

The October sunset view from the city walls into Dubrovnik’s Placa Street was as dramatic as it was perfect.

The wide thoroughfare is a stunning spectacle, albeit one that’s manicured to within an inch of its life, or, as my boyfriend put it,“like Disney”. I loved the time I spent in Dubrovnik, but was happy to ditch its glossy magazine qualities for somewhere (aka Split) that felt more real. It still makes for a good photo, though!

#3. The Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Confession: I didn’t rate the Acropolis. I know, sacrilege. I did, however, adore Athens – bustle, food, arts scene and all. Weird, as I’d expected to spend many happy hours at its most famous landmark, and to feel a bit “meh” about the rest of the city.

Travel by Instagram - The Acropolis, Athens, Greece

The Acropolis. Half-decent picture, but I didn’t love this Greek icon.

What can I say? It was heaving – even on a Tuesday afternoon in late October 2014, overwhelmed by scaffolding, and its neighbouring namesake museum was – in my view – far more interesting. Yup, call the culture police on me.

#2. Lake Bled, Slovenia

Travel by Instagram - Bled Castle, Lake Bled, Slovenia

Light fades over Bled Castle,

Lake Bled is an hour or so on the bus from Ljubljana, a journey I spent chatting to fellow Brit and photographer Simon, who happened to have the seat next to mine. We wandered around Bled Castle, drank copious amounts of coffee, sampled the famous Bled cake (delish) and took a lot of pictures.

This one was an impromptu snap in the late afternoon as we were dashing for our bus.

And the “winner” is …

#1. Baelo Claudia, Spain

Where?

Baelo Claudia sits about 15 miles north of Tarifa, the southern-most point of mainland Spain, overlooking a dramatic beach.

Travel by Instagram - Baelo Claudia, Spain

Baelo Claudia. A photogenic place you’ve (probably) not heard of

I left my fellow yogis (I was on a yoga holiday) on the beach in Conil de la Frontera to take a trip in my super-small hire car to visit this ancient Roman settlement. Stone columns, an amphitheatre, a paddle in the Mediterranean and some rather fine grilled sardines made it a top day out back in June 2012.

I used Canon EOSM and Canon Powershot cameras to take the pics features here. The mirrorless EOSM has bags of features and it’s nice and compact. When I want something even more portable to “snap and go”, I use my trusty little Canon Powershot.

Have you ever taken “Travel by Instagram” inspiration and visited somewhere on the back of seeing only a photo? Have you been to Baelo Claudia?! Share your story below 🙂

Five reasons to visit Kotor, Montenegro

When an email from Lonely Planet arrived in my inbox announcing its “Best in Travel” destination lists for 2016, I eagerly started clicking.

Countries. Cities. Regions. A few I’ve been to. Several which encouraged me to immediately check flight prices on Skyscanner.

And there it was. The #1 city recommendation to visit: Kotor, Montenegro.

reasons to visit Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor – it’s just so … pretty!

A little square of South-East Europe I had the privilege to visit only a few short weeks ago.

It seems as though Lonely Planet and me are both Kotor-o-philes. Here’s five reasons why you should visit Kotor.

Reason #1: The Old Town

A walled city, Kotor’s Old Town (Stari Grad) is closed to traffic. Narrow alleyways of cobbled streets are the norm; and you can get lost in hidden passageways that open out to churches, bars, squares, and even a Cat Museum. Yes, a Cat Museum.

reasons to visit Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor’s Old Town

Relax with a coffee, grab a fresh burek (pastry) from the nearest bakery, and people-watch to your heart’s content.

Reason #2 to visit Kotor: The views

Kotor sits in the aptly named Bay of Kotor, which in my preamble to arriving I’d described as: “ the love child of Italy and Norway”.

It looks something like a fjord. Without actually being one. And the best bit is you can get an eyeful of its full magnificence by parting with only 3 Euro and a bit of sweat to head up the hill on the ancient walls behind the city. There are steps (over 1000 of ‘em), but it’s worth it.

reasons to visit Kotor, Montenegro - the views

Views don’t get much better than this!

Reason #3: It’s not too tourist-tastic, so it won’t break the bank

Kotor has a port, so you will see the odd cruise ship. The good news is they don’t dock every day, and they don’t stick around past about 4pm. In short, Kotor’s not a place that feels over-run.

The not-too-touristy vibe means not-too-touristy prices. Hurrah!

Ice-cream was just a Euro, even inside the city walls.

Pasta dishes in restaurants were around 6-10 Euro. Wash ‘em down with a glass of the local red wine, Vranac.

Entry to the city walls costs only 3 Euro (although not free like the walls in my home city of York, they’re also not the equivalent of 13 Euro like those in Dubrovnik).

Accommodation was good value at just over £30 (€42) per night for a fully equipped lovely Airbnb apartment in the heart of the Old Town. This was in October, so expect to pay more in the height of summer.

[box type=”info”]For ££ off when you take your first trip with Airbnb, you can use my loyalty discount code.[/box]

Reason #4 to visit Kotor: It’s easy to get there

You don’t need to be on a cruise to visit Kotor. There’s a bus direct from Dubrovnik a couple of times a day. The trip takes about two hours, depending on how busy the Croatia/Montenegro border is. Kotor’s bus station is only a ten-minute walk from the old town.

Taxis direct to Dubrovnik/Podgorica airports can be booked for around 60 Euro and – my boyfriend assures me – work well even with a hangover 😉 He used Red Taxi to Podgorica airport.

Podgorica airport is worth checking out as an alternative to Dubrovnik for cheap flight deals. Ryanair fly there from London Stansted, and you can also fly to Podgorica direct from destinations including Paris, Rome and Istanbul.

Reason #5: You can use Kotor as a base to visit other towns in Montenegro

The earlier mentioned Kotor bus station has timetables on display, and at least some staff who speak English.

Easy day trips to the south are Sveti Stefan (around an hour) and Budva (30 minutes to an hour, depending on the route). The pair can be combined with a lovely walk along the dramatic coast and lunch in the beautiful setting of Pržno, which is between the two. Budva is touristy, but has a pretty old town, albeit in my view it’s not a patch on Kotor’s.

Heading in the other direction about an hour away is Herceg Novi. With two forts and lovely old town square, Herceg Novi makes for a pleasant stop for a couple of hours.

reasons to visit Kotor, Montenegro - day trips

Herceg Novi – worth a couple of hours of exploration

Herceg Novi just over the border from Croatia, so could also be an easy last-night stop before departing on a Dubrovnik flight – at prices a hell of a lot cheaper than Dubrovnik.

Why to visit Kotor – summed up

Old buildings, city walls, stunning mountain/sea views, half-decent transport, and it doesn’t need you to take out a mortgage to visit – bonus! Visit Kotor before everyone else acts on Lonely Planet’s advice 🙂

Have you visited Kotor? Share your experiences and tips below.

Seven reasons I’m excited to be going back to the Balkans

From the time my train pulled into Zagreb station at 9pm on 29 September 2014, the Balkans had already made a good impression on me. And not just because I was ever-so-slightly drunk.

My gut feel – despite my gut being full of sangria following an impromptu train party with three fellow passengers – was giving me good vibes. The Balkans felt like a part of the world I was going to get along with.

Over the following four weeks as I headed towards Athens in Greece, my gut feel was proved right; so much so that I’m going back!

In less than three weeks time, I’ll be embarking on a two-and-a-bit week trip; taking in parts of the Croatian coast, Bosnia, and a smidgen of Montenegro.

Here’s why I can’t wait to go back to the Balkans.

1. The Balkans are brilliant for caressing a coffee in a street café

Back to the Balkans - cafes

Cafes line the streets of Zagreb, Croatia. And they’re populated by tall people!

A decent cup of java, sitting outside in a pavement café, and for the equivalent of around a Euro per cup – perfect! I swear to God all of Zagreb seemed to survive on a permanent diet of caffeine and cigarettes. Meanwhile, in Albania I discovered the delights of Turkish coffee. Caffeine and people watching will do the trick for me!

2. I am not a giant in parts of the Balkans!

Being five-foot-ten and with facial features regularly presumed not to be English, I don’t “blend in” in my home country, never mind anywhere else. On my further-flung travels, I tower over most Asians and Latin Americans.

When I arrived in Zagreb though, I had a shock … other people looked like me! I was not the only tall girl in the room, and I started to wonder if my grandmother had had an affair with a Croatian milkman. I’m eager to see if other parts of Croatia also offer me a rare chance to look like a local.

3. I want to see what Bosnia in 2015 has to offer

Like Albania last year, Bosnia a country I know very little about:

  • I know Sarajevo is where ice-dancing duo Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean won gold at the 1984 Olympics with “Bolero.” The entire British nation – including eight-year-old me – was glued to the telly.
  • I gleaned info from the BBC’s coverage of the conflict of the 1990s. A war-torn country, rather than a potential holiday destination, is an image a lot of Brits still seem to have of Bosnia. I’m looking forward to dispelling some myths.
  • When I read “The Cellist of Sarajevo”, set during the 1990s conflict, it moved me to tears.

I also had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Albania last year. As it turned out, everyone (bar from one bus driver) was universally hospitable, raki was regularly offered, and the UNESCO sites and scenery were more than worth the occasional language difficulty (the Albanian for “thank you” has five syllables. Here in Yorkshire we just say “ta!”)

I’m waiting with eager intrepidation to see what Bosnia has to offer!

4. I want to see the love child of Italy and Norway, namely the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

OK, so I’ve not been to Norway, but The Bay of Kotor looks remarkably like a Norwegian fjord to me. Mountains? Check! Deep inlets of water? Check! The exception being the houses, which have that red-roofed Italian look that make you want to go and climb a bell tower just so you can look at them all from on high. I’m hoping it’ll be as idyllic as it sounds.

Back to the Balkans - the bay of Kotor

The Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Photo by Luca Zanon via Trover.com

5. There are picture-perfect islands galore!

Everyone seems to rave about Hvar, but I’ve never been one for following the crowds. Korčula, Croatia, was a recommendation from a former work colleague of mine during my Zagreb visit last year. And she’s Croatian, so she should know 🙂

Apparently there’s more than a full dose of great outdoors on Korčula to keep me occupied exploring, and it produces some stunning wines. I’m already sold.

6. The Balkans have culture, history AND scenery

The monasteries of Meteora in Greece, perched on rock massifs overlooking the valley; the castle of Gjirokaster in Albania, surrounded by towering mountains; you don’t have to look far in the Balkans for culture, history and landscapes to appear side-by-side.

Back to the Balkans - Gjirokaster

The stupendous outlook from Gjirokaster Castle

On this trip there’ll be the chance to satisfy my inner culture-vulture in Split (Croatia), learn more about the region’s history in Sarajevo (Bosnia), and explore the landscapes of Korčula (Croatia).

The Balkans offer the best of several worlds.

7. I won’t be alone … all the time

I love travelling solo, but I find travel with friends or a partner can be special too. On this trip I’m mixing it up; after the first week-and-a-bit of solo travel, my boyfriend’s joining me on Korčula.

He’s also on a mission to visit 40-countries-by-40 – something I achieved back in July and which we discovered we had in common within the first half hour of meeting. Fortunately neither of us ran off in spooked-out horror, and I’m looking forward to crossing the border to Montenegro with him as he visits his 40th country with a week to spare!

So there you have it, seven reasons why I’m excited to be going back to the Balkans. This time, though, I’ll try to arrive sober.

What makes you want to go, or go back, to the Balkans? Share your snippets in the comments below.