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.

Canon EOS M Compact System Camera - Silver (18MP, Includes Speedlite 90EX and EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM) 3.0 inch Touchscreen
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 🙂

Day trips from Barcelona

The Catalan city by the sea isn’t just about stupendous Gaudí architecture. It also makes a wonderful base to explore the wider region. Rent a car or hop on a local train to head beyond the city limits on these day trips from Barcelona.

Be king of the castle in Tossa de Mar

Tossa de Mar, just over 50 miles (80 kilometres) up the coast on the Costa Brava makes for a great day trip from Barcelona.

day trips from Barcelona 2

Tossa de Mar. Photo by Cristina G via Trover.com

Its shelving beach is beautiful, but what makes Tossa de Mar special is its medieval old town and castle. Surrounded by original stone walls, complete with battlements, turrets, towers, and parapets, you can take yourself back in time as you wander the ramparts.

The town’s castle and lighthouse are the actual and figurative high points, looking out over the blue seas of the Mediterranean.

If you want to stay in town for the night and enjoy the local seafood delicacies washed down with some Spanish wine or sangria, there are plenty of hotels to choose from.

Other resorts along the Costa Brava offer a day of seaside kitsch, but Tossa de Mar is my pick of the bunch for balancing historic authenticity and tourism side by side.

Tossa de Mar is accessible by hire car or bus from Barcelona – check out the options at www.rome2rio.com.

Shop for ceramics in Breda

Breda is famous for ceramics due to the high quality of clay in the area. Known as “olla”, these ceramics fill the village stores and cooperatives, offering everything from tiles to jars to kitchen essentials.

If you’re looking for Spanish souvenirs with more originality than an “I love Barcelona” T-shirt, then Breda’s a good authentic choice.

If you’re driving, Breda can be combined with a trip to Tossa de Mar on a loop to or from Barcelona. There’s also a train station. Train times to and from Barcelona are listed here.

See monasteries and mountains at Montserrat

As you approach the dramatic rock pillars of Montserrat, it’s easy to see why the site’s literal translation is “serrated mountain.”

The Benedictine monastery here, Monestir de Montserrat, dates from the 11th century. Perched hundreds of metres above the valley, today it’s home to around 80 monks.

day trips from Barcelona 3

The Monastery at Montserrat. Photo by Tedi Zlat via Trover.com

Visitors can look around the monastery, learn about the daily life of the monks at the Espai Audiovisual, and listen to the choir in the basilica.

Exploring the peaks of this jagged monolith is an activity that shouldn’t be missed. A network of footpaths and funiculars can transport you around the mountainous heights, which are dotted with tiny chapels and have momentous views of the Catalan plain.

day trips from Barcelona 1

The peaks of Montserrat mountain. Photo by Yuliana Henry via Trover.com

Montserrat is located around 50 kilometers north of Barcelona and is accessible by car, or by a train/rack railway or train/cable car combination. You can also take a tour, some of which also feature local wine tasting.

Hotels in Barcelona

Browse here for Barcelona accommodation choices covering boutique hideaways, hostels, and business-style hotels.

Day trips from Barcelona: summed up

These day trips from Barcelona bring to life a snapshot of the castles, crafts, and culture the rest of Catalonia has to offer. Step out of the city, and enjoy!

[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 Barcelona and the surrounding area.[/typography]

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 Trover.com

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 Trover.com

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 Trover.com

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 Trover.com

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 Trover.com

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 Trover.com

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 Trover.com

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]

What to expect when hiking Gran Canaria

Discover vistas and varied landscapes when hiking Gran Canaria – from pine forests to green valleys to semi-desert, rocky crags, and mesa-style mountains.

Browsing some cool travel hiking photos online, I came across one of a mountainous landscape that was reminiscent of the American South-West.

Curiosity peaked by my “love of large landscapes” nature, I pointed my mouse and click-clicked away.

Those images were of Gran Canaria. I duly company with the princely sum of £90 (€114 / $141) for the four-hour return flight from the UK.

It turned out to be a good choice.

What to expect when hiking Gran Canaria

Vistas and varied landscapes ranging from the pine forests of Parque Natural Tamadaba to green valleys to semi-desert, rocky crags, and mesa-style mountains north of Mogán, that reminded me of Mesa Verde in South-West Colorado.

Super-helpful signposts marking the trails.

Hikes ranging in length from hundreds of metres to around 25 km. I did four walks ranging between 7 and 14km.

Whitewashed villages with local bars/cafes for good value post-hiking nourishment on soups, pork dishes and more. Don’t miss the papas arrugadas con mojo – “wrinkly” potatoes in a spicy sauce.

Trails with plenty of ascents and descents. The highest point of the island, Roque Nublo, sits at more than 1800 metres above sea-level.

hiking Gran Canaria - Roque Nublo

At Roque Nublo. It was a tad breezy. And chilly.

Winding (very winding) and narrow roads. There are buses, but with car hire being so affordable it can make life a lot easier to hire some wheels for a few days.

Four days car hire cost me only £27 (€34 / $42) plus fuel through Holiday Autos. A car also gives you the freedom to stop at the numerous view-points round the island for those all-important photo-opportunities.

Changeable weather and some cloud, especially on the north side of the island. I was hiking in early December, and at altitude I needed a sweater, and even gloves and a hat on occasion. If the weather’s looking naff in the north, head for the trails in the south, for example around San Bartolomé de Tirajana.

hiking Gran Canaria San Bartolome

This is San Bartolome. Not bad, eh?

Where to stay when hiking Gran Canaria

If you’re using public transport for hiking Gran Canaria then you’re not restricted to circular walks. Yay!

The best hubs for bus connections are the capital of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the north (cultural but not as warm), or the resort of Maspalomas (a lot less cultural, but warmer) in the south.

hiking Gran Canaria Tejeda

The village of Tejeda – a handy base for walking

If you have your own wheels, then a central village such as Tejeda is a good bet. Before moving to an AirBnB place in Las Palmas for my last couple of nights on the island, I went up a grade from my usual flash-packing style and stayed at the Hotel Fonda de la Tea in Tejeda. Fina the owner is a fab host, as is Armando at the Casa del Caminero, which is both an authentic dining choice and a gallery for his Esher meets Miro meets Picasso-style paintings.

Resources for hiking Gran Canaria

As well as decent footwear, warm layers, sun cream, food and drink; a map and walking guidebook will prove invaluable for all but the shortest “picnic stop” walks.

[box type=”info”]I used the Gran Canaria Car Tours and Walks book (which includes bus route information), and the Gran Canaria Tour & Trail map. Help the site by buying through these Amazon links, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

Gran Canaria surprised me. In a good way. My view of what the resorts would be like had overshadowed everything else that I found the island had to offer.

Me and my hiking boots will no doubt return.

Have you been to Gran Canaria? Where in the world has surprised you, either in a good way, or not so good?