A look back on 2018

2018 was an amazing year for me, travel wise, in my work life and also in my personal life. I visited 6 new countries, returned to 4 countries and visited home three times to see family. I wanted to write this blog to reflect on some of the amazing memories I made last year. 

2018 NYE in Germany

We saw the new year in from Frankfurt in Germany. Although it’s a country I’ve previously visited it was the first time Ryan and I visited together. Frankfurt was also a new city for me. When we booked the trip a lot of people asked “why Frankfurt?” Honestly, the reason was because we got such a good offer on flights from London to Dubai with a 3 day layover in Frankfurt so we thought, why not?! One of the highlights of this trip was stumbling across a wine and food market where people were out dancing and singing in the streets, drinking wine and it was only 10am! Inside the marquee was a huge food market and we went from stall to stall trying cuts of hams, cheese, breads and olives, we were absolutely in our element!img_0512

To celebrate New Years, we went for dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant called Kabuki. There was a chef for every table of 8 and the food was absolutely delicious. We finished our meal at around 11.45 and headed out to the bridge to watch the fireworks. It really was the perfect way to see in the new year. 

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Tbilisi, Georgia

This was the first new country of the year for me, and honestly, not a country I had ever really considered travelling to. Ryan loves to ski and since we moved to Dubai in 2015 we hadn’t been skiing together. Georgia was the perfect option for a ski holiday from Dubai. The flight was less than 4 hours, ski passes and equipment hire is super cheap (especially compared to Europe) and we had the slopes almost to ourselves – which was great for me only just being off the training slopes in Ski Dubai!

We spent three days skiing followed by one day in Tbilisi to explore (and drink lots of wine). It’s given us the bug to look at skiing elsewhere in 2019 (please Ryan!) and we are exploring options close to Dubai such as Romania, Azerbaijan or Lebanon. 

It was after this trip that I first decided to start documenting our travels, and you can read about skiing and Tbilisi here.

The Philippines

Our second new country of the year and I have to say my favourite holiday of 2018 (obviously Italy will always hold a special place in my heart and I will get to that soon) but, I have such a connection with Asia, I think it’s because when I first travelled solo at the age of 19 I spent two months in Asia exploring Thailand. The Philippines really was everything I imagined it to be and more, it is the most breathtaking country I have visited with so much natural beauty, the people are some of the friendliest I have met and we just loved the chilled out island vibes. 

We spent time on Coron island, which is an island just of Palawan, and also in El Nido. I would love to return to explore more of what the Philippines has to offer.

Nepal

The third new country that we visited for a long weekend in June at the end of Ramadan was Nepal. As I’ve said previously, we really try to make the most out of the long weekends and public holidays we get in the UAE and a long weekend in Nepal was the perfect escape from hectic Dubai life. The flight to Nepal is less than 4 hours from Dubai and you can pick them up relatively cheap (we don’t mind budget airlines). When we landed in Nepal, my ele pants were straight on, my backpack on my back and we were off to explore for the day. Kathmandu was a world away from the built up shiny city that is Dubai but the vibrant, crazy, chaotic streets of Kathmandu captured me. 

Although we only spent two nights in Nepal, we worked the flight times so that we had three full days, packed full of activities and we felt like we had been away for a lot longer. 

England

I decided to take a short trip back to England in April as I was feeling a bit homesick, Ryan stayed in Dubai whilst I travelled back alone and spent the full four days in Lowestoft with my family, which was exactly what I needed. Our second trip home was in July, the reason we were flying home was a surprise 80th birthday party for my Grandad and we decided to make a little holiday of it. 

Every time we travel home we split the time between Kent and Lowestoft. This trip was lovely because we spent so much time with our families, the weather was amazing and the World Cup was on! We spent a day in London at Hyde park – you really can’t beat London in the summer!

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Mini Euro Trip

We were lucky enough to be invited to a wedding in Scotland in August and decided to make the most of being in that part of the world. So we spent four days in Prague, three in Scotland followed by five in Italy

Our euro trip ended in a way that I didn’t see coming, with Ryan proposing on our first night in Positano. I know I said the Philippines was my favourite holiday of the year, but Italy really was a dream. 

France

We returned to Dubai after our engagement and started looking at wedding venues for 2019. We fell in love with the idea of a wedding in France and found some stunning venues which meant we had to take a last minute trip to France to view them! Ryan and I got engaged on 28th August and confirmed our venue on 29 September – there was no hanging about!

Our trip to France was unexpected but extremely important and we now have plans to return to our wedding venue in April to trial the food etc. and then of course we will be returning in August for our actual wedding day!!

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Turkey

Turkey was my fifth new country of the year but Ryan wasn’t invited on this holiday, it was a girls only trip! Cappadocia truly took my breath away and it was a definite bucket list moment for me. I know social media often portrays things to be better than the reality and having seen so many amazing photos of Cappadocia I was worried it would be the same.  But honestly, the photos don’t even do justice to the magical sunrise with 150 hot air balloons coming up over the mountains. And riding in a hot air balloon basket 500ft Up in the air over the valleys and the mountains, this holiday was definitely one of the highlights of my year. 

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Oman

Last but not least, our final new country that we ticked off this year. Muscat was a real treat and took us by surprise with its natural beauty and all of the amazing outdoorsy activities you can do. The highlight of this trip was another bucket list moment for me as we swam with turtles out at sea (and didn’t get a single photo but I don’t care, the experience was amazing!)

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I wrote this post on the flight from Abu Dhabi to London as we were flying home for Christmas. I feel truly grateful for every country we visited, all the people we met and all of the new experiences we had in 2018. I know that Ryan often jokes that we go on too many holidays (and that we need to save for the wedding blah blah blah) but I love travelling, I love holiday planning and I can’t wait for the new adventures that lay ahead for 2019. Currently we have our March holiday booked which consists of two nights in Kuala Lumpur, four nights in Langkawi and two in Singapore so if anyone has any recommendations for those, they are always welcome!

A Weekend in Kathmandu

We’ve just got back from a jam packed long weekend in Nepal – although if you saw the size of my suitcase you would have thought we were travelling for months! I was really unsure what to expect in Nepal, so here are my travel tips and a look into our weekend in the vibrant city of Kathmandu!

Visa Entry

If you are entering the country for less than 15 days, you can obtain your visa on arrival. The process is relatively easy you just fill out the entry card and then submit your information on the computers they have available – although half of these didn’t work so we had to queue for a while. You then have to pay $25 per person for the visa. We were advised to take cash to pay for the visa so we had $100 note however, because it was dated pre-2006, they would not accept it! We didn’t have any other money on us and were very reluctant to allow us to pay by credit card (I don’t know why!) But we finally paid by card and were able to pass through.

Accommodation

We stayed at the Kathmandu Guest House which offers free airport collection so our driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the airport. It took approximately 40-45 minutes to get to the hotel as the traffic was rather chaotic heading through the centre of Kathmandu. The hotel was relatively cheap, we paid around $125 for two nights with breakfast. I would highly recommend this hotel as it’s in a great location in the centre of Thamel which is buzzing part of Kathmandu and full of different bars, restaurants and is very tourist friendly.

What to wear

I’m usually fine with packing lightly but for this trip I felt like I had to pack so many options! Firstly, it was a very last minute trip (and when I say very last minute, I mean we booked 30 hours before travelling!) so I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. Secondly, I don’t know many friends who have travelled to Nepal before so it wasn’t as easy as just searching their Instagram to see what outfits they took with them!

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When travelling, I always like to be respectful of the culture and dress appropriately. I find throughout Asia there is a real mix of what is acceptable to wear and where – on the Thai islands you can wear beachwear but then you are required to cover knees / shoulders when visiting temples or local villages.

The vibe in Nepal is so chilled so I found myself wearing lounge trousers / ele pants for walking around and sightseeing which I just wore with a t-shirt. I also had  a few maxi dresses which I wore with a scarf/shawl which was also fine. It is advised when entering the temples that you cover your shoulders and knees so I just carried my scarf with me at all times in case I needed it. I did see some girls wearing denim shorts and vest tops around the town and no one seemed phased by it, I just think as long as you are respectful you can’t go far wrong.

Day 1

Annoyingly, our flight was delayed by 3 hours leaving Dubai, we were initially due to land at 9.30am but didn’t actually land until 12.30! So by the time we got to oimg_1169ur hotel we had missed our first morning so we had lots of making up to do. We booked a 3 hour walking tour with a company called Welcome to my Yard. WTMY are a non-profit organisation who work with young people and families in Kathmandu who may bit at risk and provide community based support, practical education and training schemes. The tour was excellent and our guide was so informative! We were picked up from our hotel and were taken all around the hustle and bustle Of Kathmandu Valley. We got to visit the markets, temples, Durbar Square, the Royal Palace and Museum. We had lassi and samosas for luncimg_1124h  from one of the street vendors which cost as little as 25 rupees (about 20p) – the street food was amazing and we would never have been able to find these places without our guide. We saw and learnt so much in the short 3 hours and I would definitely recommend using this company as the money goes towards helping the people of Nepal who need it most. You can find the organisation here: http://www.welcometomyyard.com/

Day 2

On our second day, we spent the day at Hotel Mystic Mountain for an incredibly relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu! We hired a driver to take us from the hotel to Nargarkot and up to Hotel Mystic Mountain for the day. We paid our driver 6,000 rupees and he waited for us the whole day before driving us back to Thamel. The drive was approximately 1 hour 45 each way on mountainous terrain but it was worth every second.

We visited on a Saturday and they have a deal whereby you pay 3,000 rupees per person for access to the swimming pool and facilities and also a 3 hour BBQ from 12-3 with a complimentary drink. The food was delicious and we had a great selection of meats from the BBQ which were cooked with Nepalese spices. They also had a Mongolian noodle section which were all made fresh and brought to you. The highlight of the hotel is the infinity swimming pool which overlooks the mountains and paddy fields and on a clear day you can see Mt Everest. We visited in June which is monsoon season but it only rained for 5 minutes during our stay but because of the weather it felt like we were up in the clouds. I would absolutely love to return to this hotel for a few nights to fully unwind and relax but would highly recommend a day trip here if you don’t have the time to stay.

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Day 3

We booked the Nepalese cooking experience very last minute, only the night before but the reservation process was really easy as it was all done online. But, this was possibly the highlight of our trip! It started with a trip to the market to buy the local produce for our dishes. We stopped in a spice shopimg_1338 where we could also purchase our own spices. We then took a rickshaw back to the cooking class. First of all we had masala tea which was lovely! We then made a variety of local dishes which all tasted great (if I do say so myself!) the young girls who taught the cooking class were so lovely and friendly and really made our experience authentic, teaching us local language and songs and were really knowledgeable regarding the local cuisine. For anyone looking to do this cooking class you should definitely arrive hungry because by the time we left we were stuffed full! We also received the recipes via email so we can hopefully recreate the food! The class is located just behind Kathmandu Guest House so is really central and easy to find, you can find them online here: http://www.nepalcookingschool.com/

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We decided to do a bit more sightseeing on our final afternoon and visited the Garden of Dreams for a coffee which was nice and relaxing. We then visited Swayambunath Stupa (aka Monkey Temple) where we walked the stairs to the top of the temple but didn’t have enough cash on us for us for tourist entry so had to walk back down again! But I loved being around all of the monkeys!

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After our very long and tiring day walking around the city, we found an Irish Bar to sit in and watch the football – well, Ryan sat and watched the football, I disappeared to have a foot massage which was definitely well deserved.

One thing that amazes me about the Nepalese is their resilience. Nepal was hit by an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude in 2015, the effects of that earthquake are still very visible in Nepal. Due to its geophysical location, it is predicted that Nepal will experience a magnitude 8 earthquake once every 80 years but still, the people in the community are working with the government to rebuild some of the temples and palaces that were destroyed by the earthquake. In Durbar Square we saw a group of women sat scrubbing the original tiles from the building which will be used once again to restore the building as close to its original design as possible.

This country has so much to offer and you can do anything from mountain treks to a safari or a yoga retreat! I loved our short stay in Nepal and would love to return one day as we only touched the surface!

The Dream that was the Philippine’s

We have recently returned from the most amazing trip to the Philippine’s, I was so sad for the entire 17 hour journey back to Dubai – and not just because Cebu Pacific didn’t have TVs on the flight!

We had a slightly hectic start to the trip, the first leg of the flight from Dubai to Manilla was around 9 hours, and we were due to arrive in Manilla with approximately 2 hours transfer time before our connecting flight. However, we were delayed by around an hour and a half leaving Dubai and by the time we landed in Manilla we had about 25 minutes to make our next flight.. in another terminal! Thankfully we only took hand-luggage with us and the queue at immigration moved pretty quickly.

We had read online beforehand that there is a free shuttle bus that you can take from the international terminal (Terminal 3) to the Domestic Terminal (Terminal 4) that comes every 30 minutes and can sometimes be delayed. So we grabbed a taxi instead – the yellow taxis are airport taxis and when you queue you will receive a token which outlines your taxi driver, taxi number plate and journey charges. To cut a long story short, we made it to the (closed) check in desk but because the flight had not started boarding they allowed us to check in and get on the flight – thank God because this was the last flight of the day and I really didn’t want to deal with the hassle of spending a night in Manilla and arranging a flight to Coron for the next morning!

So, the second leg of the journey was a short flight from Manilla to Coron which took around 45 minutes. The views as we flew into Coron were stunning, the scenery was so untouched it looked like we were flying directly into Jurassic Park! We had our hotel arrange a transfer which consisted of a 30 minute drive to one of the ports and then a 30 minute boat ride to our hotel; as you can imagine, by this point we were exhausted and couldn’t wait for a drink!

Coron – El Rio Y Mar

We, eventually, started our holiday by spending four nights at El Rio Y Mar which is a hotel on a small island off the coast of Coron. The hotel resort was the only thing on the island which was absolute bliss! From the very first moment we arrived on the island we were greeted with a warm welcome and a song from the staff and we knew that we had arrived in paradise! The staff were extremely friendly and couldn’t do enough for us during our stay. We had booked one of the cottages along the seafront, the room had a lovely rustic feel to it.

We spent the next day doing the Coron Islands Day Tour which was an excellent day exploring the beautiful islands and lakes of Coron. We visited Kayangan Lake, Barracuda Lake, Siete Picados Marine Park, Maquinit Hot Springs and Coron town – I will blog separately about the island hopping tours in Coron!

There was a short hiking trail around the back of the hotel which we walked one morning. There’s an easy route and a difficult route – or as the staff described “hard and harder”! We took the easy route and it only took 20 minutes at a very leisurely pace, whilst wearing flip flops.. The views from the top were beautiful and we could see the whole resort and more. On the walk back down we even saw a wild monkey which made my day!

We felt so relaxed at this resort, literally as if we were on Couple’s Retreat! They had plenty of equipment for activities that you could take out free of charge including paddle boards, kayaks and snorkelling gear. It was my first time paddle-boarding and I was motivated to stay on the board because we were advised that there had been sightings of box jellyfish close to the shore! I loved paddle-boarding and, unlike Ryan, I found I was quite a natural!

The staff could not do enough for us and the night before my birthday they gave me a birthday cake and sang happy birthday around our dinner table which was lovely. I felt so relaxed during my whole time at El Rio Y Mar I didn’t think the next stage of the holiday could top it…

Coron to El Nido

We travelled between Coron and El Nido on my birthday and although 4 hours of it was spent on a ferry, it was an adventure and something very different to my previous birthdays! We booked the ferry in advance online with Montenegro Shipping Ferrys which leaves from the pier just outside of Coron Town. The ferry cost around for £35 (1800pp) and I’m sure we could have haggled this down but we booked in advance online to ensure a seat as we were on quite a strict timetable.

When we arrived in El Nido we took one of the tricycles to the resort. The tricycle should be 50pp, we were quoted 100pp by the driver and instantly bartered the price down and he didn’t argue with this, so be sure to haggle!

El Nido – Mahogany Beach Resort

Thankfully we only had hand luggage with us as I don’t think we would have been able to fit in one tricycle with a suitcase each! The resort was about 10 minutes tricycle drive from the harbour and we stayed in a lovely cottage near the beach front. We had to give our breakfast order to reception the night before along with a time and this was brought to our terrace each morning as our wakeup call.

The resort did not have a restaurant but this was no problem at all because as you leave the resort onto the beach there are several restaurants either side (I will blog separately about all of the amazing restaurants we ate at during our stay in El Nido!).

We booked an island hopping day trip with Bay Breeze Travel and Tours, one of the local tour vendors along the beach front. We paid 6,500pp for a private day trip of the highlights from tours A and C which included: Seven Commandos Beach; Helicopter Island; Matinloc Shrine; Secret Lagoon beach; Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon.

As we were leaving Helicopter Island (named due to it’s resemblance to a helicopter?) we were lucky enough to see a turtle swimming in the sea! We didn’t have enough time to get our snorkel on and jump in as the anchor was already up but we were so excited as it’s the first time either of us have seen a turtle in the wild! Secret Lagoon Beach was one of the more unique islands we visited. The boat moored up at what looked like a mountain wall, we then had to swim through a small hole, you could keep your head above water to swim through, but when you got through to the other side the water was shallow and it had a hidden beach inside!

We also loved the small lagoon, which was our final stop of the day. You have to rent kayaks as the boats can’t fit through the lagoon. The water was so clear it was beautiful we could see starfish on the bottom of the sea floor! I would definitely recommend booking a private tour because it gives you more flexibility to spend as long as you want at each of the destinations.

When leaving, we took a flight from El Nido Airport. It took 30 minutes on a tricycle from Mahogany Beach and cost 350pp. I was so depressed for the whole 16 hours journey back to Dubai, I really did not want to leave! The Philippine’s has such a raw beauty, it feels completely untouched and I hope that it can stay this way. All of the restaurants / bars we came across used recyclable straws made of bamboo, none of them had plastic straws. Similarly with carrier bags, almost all of the vendors used paper bags which was refreshing to see. I would love to return and visit some of the other islands and also explore a bit more of El Nido.

My First Wonder of the World : Exploring India

I never thought I would have been inspired by “An Idiot Abroad” and I really hope I don’t fall into that category when I travel! But having watched the episodes about the Seven Wonders of the World it really gave me the urge to start ticking them off my list! So in September, Ryan and I were lucky enough to start doing just that!

We had the pleasure of taking a weekend break to the mystical country that is India to visit the Taj Mahal! The flight from Dubai to New Delhi is only 3 hours so it’s perfect for a short weekend break. When we arrived in New Delhi however, the queues at customs took almost as long as the flight! We decided to stay at the Taj hotel in Delhi, and being an Indian branded hotel we felt it was perfect for our stay. The hotel was a beautiful rustic building hidden behind a gated wall and with security present 24 hours of the day, we felt very safe. The hotel was super clean and we had an unlimited supply of bottled water which is crucial for your stay in New Delhi. We arrived late at night so made sure to get straight to sleep to make the most of the weekend.

Day One – New Delhi

Ryan was up much earlier than I was and headed out for a day of golf. As Ryan is a member at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai he was able to play at DLF Golf and Country Club, one of the exclusive courses in Delhi which has a membership waiting list of 80 years! I however, decided to do some exploring of my own in this wonderful city. So I booked a private tour guide that I found highly recommended on Tripadvisor. I chose Drive India Private Tours because they were recommended for solo female travellers wishing to explore New Delhi.

I had my own driver and my own tour guide and we started the day by visiting Jama Masjid Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in India. One thing I had under-prepared for was the amount of extra money I would have to pay for tips here and there so I would say it’s best to take a lot of smaller notes with you.

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After Jama Masjid Mosque we walked to see the spice market but because we were quite early the stalls were only still being set up! I didn’t mind because I hadn’t planned on buying anything anyway but I just loved being in amongst the hustle and bustle of it all! Cows walking along the road, bags after bags of local produce being unloaded it really was a buzz!

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We walked around all the little side streets of the old part of town and yes, people stared but it’s only because this most definitely was not a tourist area but at no point did I feel uncomfortable.

We then drove to visit Ghandi’s tomb and burial place. My tour guide was so informative and told me all about the history of Ghandi’s teachings and the relevance that his teachings have today in modern life. After, we visited Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, this was my favourite part of the day. It was a beautiful Sikh temple and we sat inside listening to the Granthi reciting from the scriptures. We then went to the kitchen and I was astounded. The kitchen is run purely from donations from the worshipers and local community. The kitchen feeds over 25,000 people per day and is run purely from volunteers! This absolutely amazed me. What I didn’t know, was that for a Sikh worshiper to complete their prayer, they must make a charitable donation or a good deed. I walked around the kitchen to see all of the volunteers making bread, cooking curry in cauldrons, serving the food and washing up. I was amazed.

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My next stop was to a Hindu temple Akshardham and I learnt about the thousands of Hindu gods and the fortune they bring. This building was absolutely stunning but sadly no cameras or electronics were allowed inside the grounds, so I had to settle for a postcard!

Finally we visited the Lotus Temple, although as we arrived it started pouring down with rain! The lotus temple is a multi-faith temple which encourages worshippers of any religion to go and pray and spend some time there. The temple is shaped like a lotus flower and symbolises peace and harmony. I love the idea of a multi-faith temple that sees all religions and worshippers as equal and allows them to pray side by side.

I had an incredible day exploring New Delhi and was so lucky to have been able to cram so much in! That evening, we went for dinner at the Bukhara in the ICT hotel. The restaurant was lovely with a rustic vibe and Bedouin style seating, as well as stools and ordinary seating! We were given aprons and told it was customary to eat with our hands – that was fine but I ended up with kebab all down my wine glass! We really wanted to try the large naan bread but this is made for 8-10 people and although we were hungry, we couldn’t justify that amount of food!

Day Two – Agra, Taj Mahal

We booked our day trip to the Taj Mahal via our hotel, I know this was more expensive  but as this was the main reason we were visiting India, we booked through the hotel for ease. We left the hotel at 7am and the drive to Agra took around 2.5-3 hours. The roads felt like we were driving along a British motorway for the best part of the journey! When we arrived in Agra however, the vibe in the city was very different.

Our hotel had arranged for a tour guide to meet us in Agra, we purchased entrance tickets for foreigners which cost Rs. 1,000pp but drastically reduced our queuing time – I would highly recommend choosing this route in. The foreigners ticket includes shoe covers (which are required for entry inside the Taj Mahal) a water bottle and a tourist map of Agra; it also acts as a queue jump ticket ahead of the Indian ticket holders.

As we entered the gates, the view really was breath-taking. I don’t think it’s possible to take a bad photo of such a beautiful building! We slowly made our way around the grounds, and our guide also acted as our private photographer!

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I was astounded by how much thought has gone into the detail of each part of the building and how, even after all of this time, the outer building is still in pristine condition. We learnt about how the marble is inlayed with semi-precious gemstones and how they have remained that way since 1633 when the construction of the Taj Mahal first began. Our guide really brought the history of the building to life!

As beautiful as the Taj Mahal is, I was underwhelmed by the inside of building which is essentially a tomb, although the story of the history makes it much more romantic.

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Before leaving the grounds, I was so happy to be able to have my photo taken on the same chair as Princess Diana, although my photo is much more crowded than hers.

If you are planning a trip to the Taj Mahal, note that it does not open on Friday’s as it closed purely for worshippers. When entering the Taj Mahal your bag will be searched by security and each person is limited to taking in only one small bag containing essential items such as a camera, phone and water bottle. No other electrical items or food/drink is allowed to be taken inside the gates.

Georgia Part 2 : Tbilisi

The second part of our trip to Georgia was a flying visit through Tbilsi! We left Gudauri at around 1pm and our taxi drove us through the mountainous terrain back down into the city. When we arrived in the city centre, the first thing that caught my eye was the quaint cobbled paths and the charming coffee shops located above street level on the terraces. Our poor taxi driver hadn’t been given clear directions to our hotel and didn’t speak a word of English! We were just as useless with only having the hotel address written in English! One thing I would advise is to screenshot a copy of the hotel’s address in the local language – this is a tip we picked up when visiting Asian countries as it makes the taxi journeys much easier!

After driving around the cobbles for a short while we found our hotel – to the delight of all in the car! We stayed at No.12 Boutique Hotel and it was just lovely. The hotel was located down a side alley but was well lit and had several hidden coffee shops / bars on the short walk to the hotel. The staff were very welcoming upon arrival and showed us straight to our room. When searching for hotels online, this one really caught my eye because I loved the homely vibe, the décor was so quirky and felt very cosy. Our room was perfect for our needs for the one night and we literally dumped our belongings and headed out to explore.

Before heading to Tbilisi, I had done a bit of research online and the one place that I was set on visiting was Abanotubani, an ancient district of unique thermal baths within the city. On route, we stopped for a coffee (Ryan had a wine – both priced the same!) I had pointed out one of the terrace cafes and was happy to get a seat outside on the balcony. I love people watching and although we were only sat there for a short time whilst eating khatchupuri and cake we saw so much life in just a small part of this city!

After, we walked to find Abanotubani and this is where I really felt the life of this city shine through. I could feel the mix of history and culture with the European city feel coming through from the architecture, but also a Turkish / Arabic influence from the colourful buildings. After forcing Ryan to hold a mini photoshoot for me, we carried on wandering around the thermal baths. We found a lovely hidden waterfall, Waterfall Leghvtakhevi, hidden within the remains of the old city walls which was a delightful surprise.

In the evening, we went for dinner at Orshimo, a quaint Piano Wine Bar just a short distance from our hotel. The waiters were clearly very passionate about their wine and we got to try some of the great unfiltered Georgian red wine. The food was excellent Ryan had river trout, and I had fried pork and potatoes, followed by the most amazing chocolate brownie cake and ice-cream (I had clearly given up on my diet by this point!) During the meal, a pianist was beautifully playing a range of songs but my night was made as soon as he started playing Robbie Williams, She’s the One. After we had finished our desert, we headed outside onto the small terrace which had only two tables set out. The waiters brought us a blanket each and we finished our wine, looking out over the street below. We could also see the castle on the hill (cue Ed Sheeran singing) and it was a wonderful way to end the evening, and our trip to Georgia.

Before flying back to Dubai on our final day, we had breakfast at the hotel, which I must say was AMAZING. The ‘restaurant’ was nothing more than a kitchen you would find in a regular home, with cute farmhouse style cupboards and two ladies cooking the food fresh! At the back of the room was a selection of pastries, toast and fruit and on the chalkboard listed any items you could order, freshly made. I ordered scrambled eggs and porridge, both were cooked fresh and brought straight over to me! I can’t say the breakfast was the highlight of the trip, but it wasn’t far off!

We went and sat out in one of the coffee shops for a while before heading back to the airport to finish off our trip. I guess the only downside of Tbilisi was the airport itself which had only one restaurant and allowed people to smoke!

We definitely did not spend enough time in Tbilisi, or in Georgia as a whole so I would love to return for a summer visit. If anyone has any recommendations of sightseeing / city breaks in Georgia, please feel free to comment!

Georgia Part 1 : Gudauri

My partner and I have just returned from our first trip to the beautiful country that is Georgia. We spent 2 nights in Gudauri for a skiing trip and one night in Tbilisi Old City. We experienced so much that I am going to write a separate blog about Tbilisi city.

The flight from Dubai took just 3.5 hours, in that short period of time we moved from 25 degrees to -9! We always do these killer night flights and during it we always regret the decision! But we arrived in Tbilisi at 4.30am and our driver was ready and waiting for us for the 2.5hour drive up the mountains. We slept almost the entire car journey and arrived along a bumpy path up to the hotel. We stayed at Hotel Carpe Diem which was a ski out hotel and thank our lucky stars that we were able to pay for an earlier check in so we could get in bed for a few hours when we arrived at 7am! When we woke up at 9am and opened the curtains I was so excited to see so much snow! Usually when it snows in England you worry about all of the inconvenience it’s going to cause. Not here! We are still trying to be relatively healthy so stuck with eggs and porridge for breakfast, although I did treat myself to French toast and bacon a few days!

The first day of skiing I felt excited but nervous. We rented boots, poles and helmets which came to GEL 305 (AED 452 / £88) for two of us for three days! then paid GEL 240 for two 3 day ski passes (AED 356 / £69) and we were good to go! I don’t have much to compare this to as I have only ever been on one previous ski trip with the school but I was amazed at the price! I had taken four lessons at Ski Dubai (Mall of the Emirates) before our trip which were great for teaching me the basics!

On our first day, we skied from 10am until 4pm with a break for lunch in between! Unlike the large ski resorts in Europe, Gudauri was much quieter on the Apres Ski front but you could still buy wine / beer and khachapuri (traditional bread with cheese) up the mountain so we were more than happy.

I felt like I skied well for the most part of the day but lost my confidence and snow ploughed my way down for the final half an hour! Dinner was included with our hotel package and even though it was buffet we had a lovely selection and bought some of the local wine (which went down far too easily)!

On our second day we had another full 6 hours of skiing although I had a tumble on the first slope so had to stop for a coffee break to sort myself out before we went up again! Ryan was so amazing the whole time we were skiing, I was worried about holding him back because he is a great skier and very confident. But he pushed me outside of my comfort zone which allowed me to experience so much more and really boosted my confidence on the slopes. We decided to eat outside of the hotel on our second night as we had found a restaurant called Power Bar Gudauri. The restaurant offered a taxi service for GEL5 (AED 7.5 / £1.5) which was much more appealing than the 20 minute mountainous walk! Ryan was happy with the craft beer and I was more than happy with the local wine – so happy that by the end of the night we had 13 on our bill! The food was amazing but the highlight of the evening was the owners two cocker spaniels! The friendliest dogs ever and one even sat on my lap after we had finished eating so I was dog-stroking with my left hand and wine-drinking with my right!

Saturday was our final day in Guduari so Ryan got up to ski the black slopes. I was more than happy to stay in bed and nurse my slight hangover from the red wine! Our transfer collected us at 1pm and drove us to Tbilisi city. It was lovely to do the drive in the day time as the mountain range was even more beautiful to drive through in the day. We passed through several small villages and followed a stream for, what felt like miles!

We were so pleasantly surprised with our short stay in Gudauri, the food was amazing, the wine was even better and the people were all very friendly. Although we found barely anyone spoke English which proved a struggle at times but we got there in the end! We would definitely recommend staying at Hotel Carpe Diem as it was cosy with spacious rooms, a modern bathroom and relatively cheap considering it included breakfast and dinner!

I will write separately about our stay in Tbilisi. Georgia really is a beautiful country with so much to offer, I can’t wait to go back!