Barcelona & Benidorm in August…

People often say ‘you never know someone until you travel with them’. And, I agree with this statement, because I think we all act a little differently when we’re taken away from the hum-drum of daily life and daily routines. There’s less distraction, there’s the excitement about being somewhere new and it’s a chance for us to relax too. But, it also got me thinking that if someone you know well ends up surprising you when you're away travelling together, then maybe you haven’t really been paying that much attention. If it’s a good surprise, then I think it adds to the friendship bond and makes that relationship an even stronger one. 

So why Barcelona…and more importantly why Benidorm?

This trip came about on a day whilst I was sat at work. I received a WhatsApp message from Tobi (@tobishinobi who I went to visit in Chicago earlier this year). We’d both spoken about visiting a particular place not too far from Benidorm. So, when Tobi said something along the lines of ‘how about we also go to Barcelona when we go to Benidorm?’ I said ‘yeah, OK, why not’.

I love Barcelona, and I already knew Tobi would too. So, once we’d set about picking dates, I started looking up flights, accommodation and trains between Barcelona and Alicante – it seemed the best way to get there. Flying would eat up too much time once you factored in getting to the airport, and I was told that even though the drive was a pleasant one, there were a few toll roads to get through. And, we just didn’t have the flexibility of time on our side, not on this trip as Tobi had to return to Chicago.

First off, let me give you a little background on how Tobi and I first met. It’s also a bit of background on how Instagram (as cheesy as it sounds) for me has been a life-changer.

I met Tobi on my second Instagram meet. The first meet was on the previous day at a Worldwide Instameet where I had very little knowledge of what the app really did or how it would change the way I view photography, my life and the world around me. I also had no idea that I would end up meeting so many people, some of who I consider close friends.

Not everyone you meet in life is going to become a friend. I think we all have people in our lives that we class in varying levels of friendship; there are ‘close friends’, ‘friends’ and then there are ‘acquaintances’. You’re not going to have that ‘close connection’ with everyone you meet, and, that’s ok. Anyway, Tobi and I have been friends ever since. It’s also a beautiful reminder to me of that day, I turned up at my first ever Instameet. I was shy, really nervous, and anxious. I didn’t know anyone, and for so many reasons, I will always be forever grateful for that day.

So, back to this trip. Barcelona is another city that I’ve grown to love visiting. This was my third visit, and I’m going to go as far as to say I could actually live in the city. There's so much to see and so much to do, and there are still places I’ve not yet visited - even after a third attempt!

If I could describe Barcelona as a woman, I'm going to say she’d be rebellious, but striking; flirtatious and beautiful. A lady who regularly neglects her beauty sleep for debauched evenings and nights out. I guess you could say that this is a city which never feels guilty about having a good time, and she doesn’t care about what she looks like in the morning.


I knew that on this trip I would see the city differently, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted to see it from a different perspective, as well as capture my style of photography at the same time. And, I did. Tobi and I walked a lot, saw a lot, talked a lot and took a lot of photos (and yet I still feel like I could have taken a whole heap more). It was exciting to be in the city with a friend who was seeing it for the first time.
Because I travel a lot on my own, when you’re travelling with other people you have to be mindful of each other. Don’t stress, have fun and it’s important that should things go wrong (which they may well do) to make the best of them. Oh, and make sure you laugh about things wherever possible. Sometimes the tiny little giggles shared between each other end up becoming favourite moments. Here’s another important tip, ‘always’ be free to talk about your wishes and expectations, or even just your state of mind. Like getting up at early o-clock for sunrise, it was something Tobi and I both wanted to do.


Whilst we were in the city, we met up with another photographer friend Jonathan (@ehovu). Jonathan and I met for the first time in Barcelona last year. We’d already forged a good friendship on Instagram, and that followed through to actually meeting in person (always a bonus!). The two of us always seem to talk a whole lot more than we shoot. The three of us have mutual friends too (another example of friendships born from Instagram).

Whilst Tobi and I were out walking and shooting, a guy randomly hit Tobi up asking if he could meet us...we said ‘yes’. We had no idea who we were meeting, but luckily for us all James (@atribecalledjames) was a cool guy and the four of us had a fun little adventure – they even got me ‘urban exploring’. And, as I’m writing this I have to chuckle to myself as I remember this day…
Note to self; if I go out with these three guys again I need to remember to dress appropriately. A floaty jumpsuit and Toms are not going to cut urban exploring. It was a giggle and it also showed me how friends help each other out; they support you, challenge you and make you a better ‘you’.

I had no idea who James was three hours prior to climbing through trees and what-not, and yet he took my hand and helped me when I was having a girly-struggle in my not so suitable shoes, and surprising lack of upper body strength!


The next morning saw Tobi and I heading for the train station, and for a four-hour train journey to Alicante. It was a shame we didn’t have more time on this trip as the drive from Barcelona to Benidorm would have been amazing. Little did I realise we would be passing through some other Spanish cities that I really wanted to visit…although that's reason for a next time ;-)


Once we got to Alicante, we set about hiring a car. After a little bit of confusion with the car hire company guy, we set off, excited for the next leg of our adventure. The drive to our home for the night was a pretty straight forward one. Our apartment wasn’t so exciting. Maybe, I was a little hot and grumpy, but the owner of the apartment creeped me out a little; he was very strange, and the apartment wasn’t the best place I’ve stayed in. But, hey-ho, luckily, we were only staying there one night and I’m glad I wasn’t staying there alone…

Ok, I mentioned it was a hot day –  so, it was more than hot (it was actually hotter than I remember it being in Morocco); it was sticky and we were sweaty, it wasn’t a great look, especially as we were heading to the place both of us were super excited to see.

Designed by Ricardo Bofil in 1973, at first glance this labyrinth structure with its Eschersque interlocking stairs, platforms and bridges evoke the most complex impossible architecture. You can’t help by be wowed by the design and colours. It’s strange, but beautiful, and oh-so photogenic. I found myself thinking what it would be like to live there…and decided it would be like living in a trippy, modern Escher painting. It’s peaceful and dreamlike. It’s the most unusual three-dimensional geometric arrangement whose walls are stunning shades of pink and red, and jewel-like hues of blue and indigo; all complemented by an unspoilt vista of blue sea and sky horizon. Every angle and perspective is so well composed, and despite the fact that it’s over 40 years old, the building looks more contemporary than ever. I’d love to know what the locals thought about the place when it was first erected, because I thought it was beautiful. I’m a little annoyed at myself though, I don’t think I took enough photos of this architectural gem…


The next day, we woke up early ready for our drive back to Alicante airport. The aim was to catch sunrise in Benidorm first. I have to admit, I’ve always been secretly fascinated with this bucket ‘n’ spade resort. Benidorm is one of those places that most people who know of it have an opinion about, and usually it isn’t good…never dull, sunburnt and drunken Brits abroad, mobility scooters, over-crowded beach, antics of the sitcom ‘Benidorm’ springing to mind…

Having worked for an airline that sent tourists to Benidorm and having written about this slice of the Costa for many years I’d created an imagine in my mind that I was intrigued about. I was threatened many times over the years by my manager who said she'd happily arrange an educational trip for me to Benidorm "so I could see the sights and further my knowledge". And, at the time I really didn’t want to go. Heck no, not when there were far more exotic places I could be sent!
But over the years, I became interested about this beach resort. I wondered whether everything i'd written, seen and read about was true, so it was about time I went to check it out...


And, ok it was early when Tobi and I arrived into the resort. It was quiet and peaceful, albeit for a few early morning joggers and people strolling along the beachfront. I stood taking in Benidorm’s famous skyline; the skyscraper buildings and hotels behind us; the sun was rising; the beach was bathed in golden light and there was not one mobility scooter in sight! It seemed alright!

I know had we arrived much later on in the day, we both would have experienced a totally different Benidorm…and, then we had ice-cream for breakfast before heading home to the airport.


Venice in August vs Venice in November

If anyone ever asks me what my favourite city is, I would have to reply with Venice. Venice is one of those cites I will never-ever get tired of, and I fall in love with her a little more every time I visit. Exploring the city’s alleyways and canals is like having a dream, I don’t want to wake up from.

Actually, before I start this post about Venice I need to confess, if truth be told, I personally prefer Venice in winter. It is much more atmospheric and has a mysterious and magical feel in the air. I was in the city last November and the city blew my mind. I remember waking up at 6am, peering out of my hotel window to a foggy mystical morning and literally jumping out of bed, grabbing my camera and running outside. That day I walked about the city happily with my camera from 6am-6pm, a little smile permanently on my face, and I didn’t once feel tired. The mood is more mature in winter, jackets are donned, the water is more crystal than the summer butteryness, and the evenings are cosier. I think the romanticism of Venice in winter is heightened due to an air of elevated secrecy and mischief as people move under the cover of darkness from one calle to another, meeting in whispered voices that seem out of place during the busy summer. 


November also sees Acqua Alta season. Translated as high water. Early morning or late at night, you’ll hear a siren that let people know that high water will be expected. I didn’t get to witness much of this phenomenon other than seeing tables piled up in St Mark’s Square ready for the rising waters should they arrive, and early one morning I watched a huge puddle forming in the square. I was ready to capture the scene, but the water didn’t amount to much. As with all things, Venetians tend to take it in their stride, and have found ingenious and simple ways of continuing daily life despite the rising tides, like putting up wooden planks and tables for people to walk across, and donning waterproof boots that are sold when the water arrives.

I counted up the times I’ve visited the city (it must be five), and so many memories came flooding back…. The first time was with my mum when we stayed in Lido di Jesolo and we took a day trip to the city. It was like no other place either of us had been, and I admit we were a little nervous we’d get lost and miss our ferry home, then there was the time mum and I took my brother, James. This will always be a memorable trip for the sheer number of giggles we had. It was also the first time I had ever used a digital compact camera. I remember standing in St. Mark’s Square excitedly taking a photo and then being able to delete it and retake another (it’s funny the things you remember so vividly). Then there was the time I was with my friend Zee. We caught the last ferry back from Venice to Lido not realising the buses had stopped in Lido. Boy, that was an adventurous evening sharing a car home with three complete strangers (luckily for us, they were friendly and harmless).

So…back to Venice in August. It’s still very beautiful, but be prepared to embrace the hot sticky weather, as you will be walking A LOT. And, pack smart. I get it, you come to Italy and ladies you want to wear a pretty dress and cute heeled sandals, but trust me, you’ll be walking a heck of a lot, all day for hours. There’s no transport in the city (which people forget!), other than canal boats and gondolas, and you’ll grow to hate those cute sandals with a passion. They key to packing well for Venice is to think “all-day comfort”.

I don’t want to waffle on in this post about every single sight you HAVE to see, it would just end up as a long list. Plus, there are so many sights and must-see’s, and you can find these in any guide book, blogs or website I want this post to be helpful. I want to give you a sense of my favourite parts of the city, and hopefully, you’ll get an idea of why I keep coming back. Then you can go ahead and bookmark this page for your upcoming trip ;-)


First things first…arriving into Venice.

I remember feeling a little anxious the first time I visited Venice solo. Previous visits to the city had always been day trips where the ferry drop off was by the canal, so staying in the actual city was going to be all new. I arrived to rain. I recall standing outside the airport thinking ‘sheesh, this is going to be fun navigating myself to my hotel in the rain’. But it made it more of an adventure, and I was excited. I like the rain and the city felt somewhat intriguing, and I couldn’t wait to find my hotel to dump my backpack, so I could go exploring. With the help of google maps, plus travel tips from Jonathan (a guy I worked with) who assured me it was as easy as getting from A (airport) to B (my hotel) I set off.

In fact Jonathan was right, it is easy! It doesn’t cost much either. There’s a ticket machine outside the terminal (or you can pre-book online)…and the bus stop is super easy to locate too. There are two bus options to Piazzale Roma (the Number 5 ACTV bus or the faster ATVO bus to Piazzale Roma). And, once you arrive at Piazzale Roma, you can either catch a water taxi, or if you’re like me and love walking, it’s a 40 minutes’ walk to St. Mark’s Square. The walk (if you’re not over laden with luggage) is the perfect start to falling in love with the maze of alleyways and canals, architecture and atmosphere of the city. As with any maze, you will get happily lost, but trust me, there are signs, so you’ll find it easy to navigate your way around. Plus, if you just look out for the Campanile you’ll get your bearings, and you’ll find your way back on track to St Mark’s Square.

Ok, so here’s the low down on some of my favourite places and areas that I visited in August…

On one of my day trips to the city, I always remember a tour guide telling me that his favourite thing to do was to head away from the touristy sights and crowds of selfie wielding sticks and head in the opposite direction. And, in November that’s exactly what I did, and I walked into what would become my favourite area of the city. So, naturally I returned during August. Seriously, I have heart eyes just thinking about the laundry-lined streets and the cute old nonnas and nonnos (grandmas and grandads) of Castello. It’s the perfect area to just wander and get lost on purpose. It’s the farthest corner of Venice, as I’m writing this I’m beginning to realise just how much there is in Castello. From one moment, you can be walking amongst the quiet streets inhabited by a curious Venetian cat to a parallel street where the world’s finest art is held at the Biennale. Castello is typically Venetian, it has a butcher, baker and a candlestick maker. I found myself being drawn to Via Garibaldi several times of the day, but especially early morning when the smells drifted from the bakeries, and locals would pop out to buy fresh bread and take their first espresso of the day. It’s hard to resist the smell of a freshly baked croissant, so stopping to join them was a daily luxury. Castello was my evening pit stop too. Nowhere is as still as Venice at night; no street vendors, no tourists, only the splashing of oars in a canal, and the clinking of the final glasses in a typical Venetian wine bar called a Bacari, but more on them later.


Dusk in Venice is best seen from the lagoon. Of course, go to the Rialto Bridge too – that’s an obligatory photo stop, but San Elena – one of the largest areas of greenery has a spectacular view over the lagoon. Mornings too are magic with Grandpa’s sitting with their newspapers or fishing.

Despite loving my off the beaten track ambles, I’m always drawn back to St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge. And whether the square is crowded with tourists in the height of summer, flooded at high tide in winter, or silent in the moonlight or at dawn, it would be impossible not to find myself standing in the middle of the square spinning around and just taking in the magnificence of life around me. It’s the same when I walk up the stairs and find myself standing on the Rialto Bridge. Even during the most fleeting of visits, I will never not be able to find myself stood here without taking the obligatory photo. It’s got to be one of the most photographed views and quite rightly. Not too far away from the bridge is another of my favourites, Venice’s market. It bustles with chefs and Venetian housewives; it’s full of colour, smells of the sea and the shouts of Italian stall holders; it’s perfect to people watch, buy some of the fruit, and take some photos…simple pleasures.

So, here’s a little advice about the Bacari of Venice. Even if you’re here on a short weekend, you’ll find yourself visiting a Bacari. You’ll probably revisit one more than the others. That might be because it’s close to your home, or more than likely it’s because of the Italian charm of the barman. Bacari work well in the city because they are adapted to the working way of life. Some open at the crack of dawn to accommodate the fishermen until aperitivo time. I was told there’s a certain rhythm to the city, and the Bacari are the bells, as you can tell the time of day simply by looking at them.

Here’s a tradition in Venice. It’s called ‘ciccheti’ and ‘I’ombra’ translated ‘a little bite’ and ‘the shade’. Ciccheti are just supposed to be a small taster to tide you over before dinner. It’s like Spanish tapas. It might be something like grilled baby squid, crostini with sardines or fried meatballs, however they can be so tasty, that you’ll find yourself wanting more before you get to picking a main meal. And, ‘I’ombra’ refers to the glass of wine that ciccheti is always washed down with. There’s two stories as to how it earned this name. Firstly, because the gondoliers used to ‘snatch’ a glass of wine in the shade away from the sun. Secondly, the wine sellers who would set up their tables in St Mark’s Square used to follow the shadow cast by the bell tower to keep the wine cool.

Whilst on the subject of food, I need to tell you about the best street food, stop by ‘Frito Inn’ on Strada Nuova and get yourself a cone of unbelievably delicious fried vegetables. Oh, and as with any Italian city, you have to have at least two gelatos a day!


Stumbling across the real Venice in a quiet street of the Dorsoduro area is quite beautiful. It’s a less touristy and light-hearted area of the city; maybe that’s due to the charming local bars and the squares that are often filled with children happily chasing each other about, the locals out walking their dogs, or elderly couples strolling arm and arm with each other. You don’t see that level of affection as much these days, and it made me smile. Spending time here will give you a totally different view on the city, and I’ve decided it’s where I’m going to look at staying the next time I visit Venice. One of my favourite afternoons in this area was looking out across Venice’s canals with my feet dangling over stone quays. Sitting here with no cares or worries felt so blissful.

A little bit art gallery info for you...if you’re looking to visit as many art galleries whilst you’re in the city, the Dorsoduro area is a great place to start; you’ve got Peggy Guggenheim, Gallerie dell’Accademia and Ca Rezzonico; and they’re all within easy walking distance.

For me, in terms of defining the two areas I’ve just mentioned… if Dorsoduro is a loveable teenager with a sense of carefreeness; Castello is the grandma, who has the best and most curious stories to tell.

Oh, and a visit to the city must also include some time visiting the one or if not all three of the islands. Murano, Burano and Torcello. All equally as charming and instantly loveable as each other. I took myself off to Burano. It’s like walking into a sweet shop full of candy coloured houses.


I could carry on writing this post and tell you about all the places to visit, see, eat at and take photos…but I’m going to leave it there. It’s not the last time I’ll visit this city. I find it hard not to fall in love at little bit more each time I visit. There’s something about the uniqueness of Venice that will forever inspire and excite me. Whether it’s just getting lost in the streets and stumbling across a hidden courtyard; huddling with the locals around a fishmonger boat in Cannaregio; taking a million and one photos of gondolas on the Grand Canal; standing on the Bridge of Sighs and wondering about past times, eating gelato to the sound of Gondoliers as they pass the time of day with each other, I’m constantly fascinated by how the locals live in this city. Nothing compares to Venice and no other city ever will. It is always going to have a special place in my heart, especially in winter.