Exploring Jordan and the Lost City of Petra

This trip had been on our travel list for a while so we were really excited when we were finally able to book a long weekend away to Jordan. To be honest, we haven’t really made the most of exploring the Middle Eastern countries since living here; I guess it’s always the same when something is right on your doorstep. Jordan’s main appeal for us was the Ancient City of Petra; the basis of many films and stories, it really is crazy to imagine a city carved into the mountains, let alone one that was built in 400BC!

When planning our trip and researching online we were uncertain as to whether we wanted to hire a driver for the duration of our trip or whether to hire a car and travel around ourselves. We had read mixed reviews about the quality of hire cars, condition of the roads and also road signs. With the early starts we had planned for each day, we decided it would be the better option for us to pay slightly more and hire a driver for the three days (that way, it meant that we were able to catch up on some sleep during the journeys as well).

Jordan was not as cheap as we were expecting, the Jordanian Dinar (JOD) is almost on a par with the Pound. We also noticed that the price of petrol was quite expensive, again almost on a par with the UK, which is something you should bear in mind if you are considering hiring a car during your time in Jordan. Some friends of ours had visited Jordan in the summer and used a driver whom they highly recommended, Hamza, so I got in touch with him, outlining our full itinerary with dates and times and he replied almost instantly with a quote of 200JOD. Initially I was unsure if it was quite pricey, but considering our travel itinerary was from the Airport to the Dead Sea (approx. 1.5 hours); Dead Sea to Petra (approx. 3 hours) and Petra to Amman (approx. 3.5 hours) including petrol and tolls, I thought this to be quite reasonable. Hamza asked us to simply pay the driver at the end of our final trip which was great. You can find his Facebook page here. If you would like his mobile number please contact me privately and I can provide it.

The Dead Sea

So, we started our journey at the Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa. There are a cluster of hotels along the same small stretch including a Kempinski and Ramada. We decided on the Hilton because the facilities looked beautiful online, and they didn’t disappoint. On arrival, the security were extremely thorough with checking our vehicle and also our reservation before letting us enter. As we drove down to the hotel lobby we could see the entrances to the other hotels in the vicinity as well as being able to catch a glimpse of the Dead Sea. The Hilton lobby is beautiful, it’s a huge open space that looks out to the sea and has a lovely balcony with some seating overlooking the view.

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Our room was ready early (result) so we went straight there to change and head down to the pool. We found a spot near to the infinity pool but the water was freezing, so I just had a quick dip! We then went down to see what all the fuss was about on the beach. As we entered the sea it was pretty cold, although I guess we were there at the very end of November. There were also a lot rocks, pebbles and lumps of salt at the entrance of the sea. Once I was up to about hip height I threw myself forward and found I just bobbed straight up! No matter how hard I tried to touch the bottom, I just couldn’t! It’s such a strange sensation, especially when you flip onto your front and can’t get back round!

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I was told by a few people to remove all jewellery before going in, because if the jewellery is not solid gold the high salt levels within the water can cause deterioration. I wanted to absolutely ensure none went in my eyes so I kept my sunglasses on but tried to avoid getting any water on them. Ryan thought it would be a good idea to taste some of the sea… I think he may have burnt off a few taste buds in the process! We followed our short swim by smothering ourselves in the Dead Sea clay! It’s full of minerals that are supposed to be great for your skin so layered it on thick and stood out in the sun to bake it on!

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We tried out both the Italian and Arabic restaurants within the hotel and thought that both of our meals were lovely. The one thing that let this stay down was the flies! Oh my god thousands of flies! We sat outside for lunch which was a terrible idea and quickly moved inside. The staff informed us that it was fertilisation season for the fields which is why there were so many flies. So I guess you have to make the decision whether you visit in the heat of summer or in the cooler season and be attacked by flies!

Petra

The following morning we were up at around 6 to pack up, check out and start the next leg of our journey to Petra. Our driver arrived right on cue and decided to take us the scenic route via the Kings Highway. The terrain was stunning; breathtakingly stunning. We did meet a slight roadblock on the way though, two shepherds on donkeys trying to herd around thirty sheep out of the road!

We made a small detour via Little Petra which was our first taste of the Nabateean ruins. We had not yet purchased our Petra ticket but the guys at the entrance were kind enough to allow us through without showing the ticket. We hiked quite a way and navigated our way round to find some of the carvings in the mountains.

We arrived at the Petra Guest House Hotel at around 10.30am and were so lucky that our room was vacant and ready (we were seriously lucky this trip)! We dropped our bags and headed straight to get out entrance tickets to Petra as we wanted to try and beat any queues possible. The entrance price was quite steep at JOD 50 per person for a single day entry, or JOD 55 per person for a two day entry. As we were staying overnight and had the next morning free, we decided to opt for the two day entry as it was much better value for money. We were undecided about getting a tour guide, but I always feel that you learn and absorb so much more by having a local tour guide than trying to read up before and after. You can pick licensed guides up at the same place as purchasing the entrance tickets for JOD 50 which takes you from the starting point all the way through to the Roman ruins. If you wish to head further to the Monastery, the guide charges an extra JOD 50, but ours was honest enough to tell us that the route was easy to follow and we didn’t really require a guide for the final stretch.

We entered the site at around 11am and opted to do the whole thing on foot. As you enter, there are hundreds of horses, camels and donkeys that you can pay to take you through, but honestly, it just looked quite cruel, so we boycotted this entirely. Our guide was lovely and really informative, stopping every so often to show us hidden carvings in the walls and explaining about the Nabateean way of life in 400BC. It’s astonishing to imagine it all such a long time ago! The walk from the entrance to the Treasury was around an hour as we stopped for several discussions and photos along the way. As you get closer and walk through the windy path you can just about see a narrow gap forming in the rocks where you can catch a glimpse of the Treasury. You turn a corner and all of a sudden the rock opens up to a huge open space with the Treasury right in front of you. It is amazing.

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The Treasury

We saw a few people hiking up the rocks opposite to the Treasury and above the path so we decided to follow suit and found a local guy who lives up in the rocks making tea who allows you to sit and have a picture taken. He charged JOD 1 per person to go there so he was making a killing, all in the name of Instagram! We had our photo and continued on down to the Roman Ruins for around another hour. We parted with our guide and continued by foot up the 850 steps to the Monastery.

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The Monastery

That evening we had dinner and drinks at the Cave Bar which was attached to our hotel. The bar was really quirky and had small coves that could sit 2-3 people comfortably. We enjoyed some Jordanian wine (which was surprisingly good) and some local food; Ryan had a shawarma and I had a chicken and rice dish, until we were suitably stuffed!

The following day, we were up early (again), had breakfast at the hotel and set off straight back into the site towards the Treasury, in an attempt to beat the crowds one more time. We headed up the rocks back to the gypsy who lived inside and had some tea with him whilst we watch the sun fully rise across the face of the Treasury. It was a lovely morning, topped off by the fact that he had a really cute cat living up there with him, who I of course befriended.

Amman

Our final night was in Amman, the capital city of Jordan. The drive from Petra to Amman was quite long and exacerbated by the afternoon traffic around the city centre. We set off from Petra at around 12 o’clock and arrived at our hotel, the Amman Rotana, just before 4pm. We checked into our room and our intention was to head straight out to Rainbow Street which is a road full of cafes and restaurants. But the thought of sitting in more traffic for the next 30 minutes wasn’t very appealing. So we decided just to stay around our hotel and have some down time.

The hotel was lovely. The Rotana is one of only two high rise towers in Amman and with very modern interior. We asked for a high room and were given a room on the 24h floor and had views all across the city. 

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The hotel had a good choice of restaurants with the international buffet, an Italian, a bar and an Argentinian Steakhouse. We opted for the steak! We shared a 1kg Tomahawk steak which was amazing, literally melt in the mouth. The restaurant itself was lovely and the internal décor was beautiful, the only thing that was missing was customers! We were literally the only people in there! It did however, mean that the service was exceptional and we didn’t feel like the staff were just hovering around us either.

 

We spent the rest of the evening just chilling in our lovely modern hotel room, watching TV and crashed after the hectic weekend. It was much easier getting back to the airport as it took less than twenty minutes from the Amman Rotana. It was a nice way to end the trip but we agreed it would have been nice to explore Amman a bit more, there’s some Roman ruins just outside the city which would have been great to see.

Our time in Jordan was lovely, if not a bit rushed, but that’s expected when trying to cram so much into just a 3 night stay. We would have loved to explore further by visiting the Wadi Rum and seeing a bit more of Amman city centre.

Anantara the Palm – the perfect staycay

We recently spent the weekend at the Anantara on the Palm for the perfect weekend of R&R. The 25th of May marked our four year Dubai-anniversary – four years of living in Dubai! We like to celebrate each year with a staycation and this year we decided on the Anantara.

We’ve visited the hotel previously for brunch but when we arrived and the hotel staff took our bags, I was so ready to make the most of the hotel experience. Anantara is a Thai hotel chain and we were greeted with the same Thai hospitality and warmth as you receive in Thailand. We arrived at 10am, even though check in wasn’t until 2, as we wanted to make the most of using the facilities so we headed straight down to the pool.

Surprisingly, the weather in Dubai right now is still perfect and we’re not melting away just yet! It was lovely just laying out, soaking up the sun and reading. Around midday we went for a little walk along the beach front and checked out the over-water villas before heading down to Revo Cafe for a bit of lunch. (I say “a bit” of lunch, I ordered the southern fried chicken sandwich and it was about 15 inches long!)

We were able to check into our room an hour early which was great because we had booked a Premier Lagoon Access Room which meant that we had a terrace with two sun loungers and direct access down into the lagoon pool from our room. It was such a welcome break from the craziness that is Dubai and due to the location of the hotel on the palm, we couldn’t see any of the high rise towers so we really did feel like we were on holiday for the weekend.

The Beach House

The hotel has a great selection of restaurants (all of which are on the Entertainer as well which is a bonus) we were torn between Mekong, the Thai restaurant; Bushmans which is an Australian BBQ and grill or the Beach House which serves Mediterranean cuisine.

We decided to dine at the Beach House for our evening dinner as we won’t have the luxury of dining outside for much longer in Dubai – summer is definitely approaching! The restaurant is set on the beach which has a lovely view of the Marina in the background.

We shared the Beach house Antipasti to start, I had the grilled tiger prawns and Ryan had the seafood pasta – his pasta included prawns, mussels, clams, red snapper, calamari and crab! All of the portion sizes were extremely generous so you should arrive hungry! Our waiter, Nicholas, was extremely friendly and informative of the menu and we never had to ask for anything.

The lagoon access room is open 24 hours so when we got back from dinner the plan was to go for a a night swim. By the time I had my bikini on, Ryan had already fallen asleep on the sun lounger on our terrace! So I went for a little swim in the lagoon which was lovely and then proceeded to fall asleep on the other sunbed. It was so peaceful.

Breakfast

I am such a fan of a breakfast buffet. Lady in the street but a freak at the buffet – that’s me all over 🤣 the selection at this breakfast buffet was great, it had so much choice! I just get too excited and pile so many things on my plate that it ends up a bit of a mess. But everything was super tasty and fuelled us for our next nap out on the terrace!

Our second day was spent between the terrace and the lagoon, we wanted to make the most of our room so requested a later check out. The highlight of the lagoon was the little bar boat that comes along serving up cocktails whilst you’re in the lagoon! I chose a Malibu Coconut, it was heavenly!

We left the palm feeling super relaxed and as though we had actually left Dubai – even though the drive home was only 18 minutes!

What to expect during Ramadan in Dubai

When we first moved here in 2015, we moved three weeks before Ramadan started. We didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into with the hot summer and we really didn’t know what to expect during Ramadan so we just kind of thought well, if we make it through Ramadan and the summer, it’s only going to get better!

I’ve received a few messages lately from people who are visiting Dubai during Ramadan and aren’t quite sure what to expect or what rules etc. they should abide by. So if you’re travelling to Dubai during Ramadan this year and have any questions about what to expect I’ve written this blog to hopefully answer some of those.

Some background on Ramadan

The holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and lasts for around four weeks. Ramadan moves slightly earlier each year, by approximately 10 days, and the start and end date is confirmed by the sighting of the “new moon” by the Moonsighting Committee. Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims must observe several rules including fasting during the hours from sunrise to sunset; praying regularly and abstaining from sex and smoking (although smoking is allowed after Iftar). Charity is also a core element of Ramadan as a time for helping those in need and giving back to the community.

Eating and drinking in public

One of the core requirements of Muslims during Ramadan is to fast during the hours of daylight. That means that those who are fasting (in Dubai) are required to wake up around 4am for Suhoor (the first meal of the day) and they cannot eat or drink until breaking fast at Iftar at around 7.10pm.

As a result, consumption of food and drink in public is restricted. The malls in Dubai have worked to accommodate this and have sectioned off areas specifically for children and non-Muslims to eat and drink at any time of the day and you can find all the normal food chains in there.

Clothing

It is advised that people dress respectfully during this time, especially when in public places such as the malls where you will be surrounded by people who are fasting. It is recommended that individuals refrain from wearing extremely tight clothing and should cover knees / shoulders.

That being said, the public beaches remain open, as well a hotel swimming pools and beaches, and sunbathing is allowed.

Beach clubs / alcohol

During Ramadan the beach clubs don’t play loud / live music in the day and the majority don’t serve alcohol during the day. However, some hotels can obtain special licenses during Ramadan to serve alcohol. At sunset, you will find that the majority, if not all, bars and restaurants will begin serving alcohol – this is usually around 7pm.

Recommendations for Iftar / Suhoor

If you are visiting the UAE during Ramadan, I would strongly recommend visiting one of the traditional tents to experience an Iftar or Suhoor meal. The atmosphere at the Iftar tents is warming and so lovely to see families and friends together during this special time. So here a few recommendations of my favourite Iftar tents to visit, all of which offer a selection of traditional Arabic food, juices and shishas:

  • Majlis at the Madinat Jumeirah
  • The Palace Downtown
  • Atlantis the Palm
  • Dubai Opera Theatre (our company Iftar was held here last year. The setting was absolutely beautiful however the buffet offered a more continental range of food rather than traditional Arabic cuisine.)

 

Ramadan Mubarak

(Blessed Ramadan)

Dubai Days

When I first started this blog and decided on the handle of “vacays and sunny days”, my intention was to write about holidays (aka vacays) but also other things that we do here in Dubai on the sunny days and I’ve realised that since starting this blog I haven’t  actually written about any of my favourite weekend activities here!

I’ve lived in Dubai for three and a half years now and no two weekends are the same. This past weekend has been a long weekend with a public holiday on Sunday. Usually when a public holiday is announced, Ryan and I try to get away somewhere for a weekend break but this time, a long weekend in Dubai was just what we needed. I got to spend a lot of time catching up with the girls, having breakfast dates and I also spent the day with Ryan walking around Jumeirah Golf Estates watching the Race to Dubai golf tournament. I’m not exactly a fan of golf but every year Ryan and I go and spend the day there together, and I really enjoy it – especially as a free outdoor activity – and it’s prompted me to think of some of my other favourite outdoor things to do in Dubai.

Outdoor activities

The weather in Dubai is great from around October through to May but in the summer months it really is hot! The weather is amazing at the moment, I forget what it feels like as during the summer I feel like my face is going to melt off every time I step outside so  during the winter months, we have to take advantage of this weather. This year, I am trying to steer away from brunches and spend more time outside. So here are some of my favourite outdoor activities:

K9 friends dog walk

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Each year my company arranges a charity morning and we all head down to Jebel Ali where K9 Friends is based. K9 Friends is a dog charity in Dubai for abandoned dogs. The work they do is amazing and they are constantly seeking donations to help feed and house all of the rescued dogs. On the organised dog walk that my company arranges, we all head down and each take a few of the dogs out for a walk around the industrial area and the nearby desert. The dogs are so happy  and excited to be out walking – I just want to take them all home! Sadly, K9 Friends is above capacity and some of the dogs haven’t even been walked before. Anyone can contact K9 friends and request to take some of the dogs out for a walk at any time of the year, if you have a car you can even take the dogs out for the day.

Abu Dhabi Mangrove kayaking

The mangroves are a definitely one of Abu Dhabi’s best kept secrets. The most recent time I visited the mangroves, we stayed at the Anantara Abu Dhabi Eastern Mangroves hotel and were lucky enough to be upgraded to a mangrove facing room. The hotel room was lovely and the balcony overlooked the mangroves. It was so peaceful and a world away from the buzz in Dubai.

There are a few companies that are based along the promenade whereby you can hire kayaks for a few hours. Some of the companies offer guided kayak tours at set times of the day, but myself and my friends decided to head out alone and explore. I would advise stocking up on drinking water before heading out as this is something we overlooked and only had 1 litre each.

The mangroves are located less than a 10 minute drive from the Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque so it’s easy enough to see both in a day.

Al Qudra cycle track

My parents were over visiting Dubai recently and my Dad had been mentioning for a while about cycling at Al Qudra’s cycle track. As we no longer have a car in Dubai, we hired one for the weekend which was super easy and very cost effective. We drove out to the cycle track which was about 40 minutes from the Marina. I had emailed Trek Bikes in advance to reserve our bikes for two hours. All of the bikes are provided with helmets and my Mum and I were provided with a free gel seat cover (which I was very thankful for the next day!) The cycle track has several different routes that range from 8 to 56 kilometres. As we were only cycling for fun we timed ourselves and cycled out for just over an hour before turning back.img_6063

I definitely get my ‘explorer gene’ from my Dad as he wanted to stop and track what he thought were snake trails in the sand! We also dumped the bikes to walk up some of the sand dunes whilst Mum and Ryan waited patiently on the cycle track! On the way back to the base we were lucky enough to see wild oryx and gazelles but sadly no camels on this trip!img_6087

It was such a fun morning but it’s the most exercise I’ve done in a while. So, to allow us to unwind we headed straight to Bab al Shams Desert Resort and Spa for some R&R. The pool pass is on the Entertainer so it worked out to only AED 90 per person for a pool access with a sun bed and towel.

Marina walks

It’s such a simple activity but something I had taken for granted until recently. We have lived in the Marina ever since we moved to Dubai and I still love it as much as the day we moved in! We have everything we need right on our door step. I try to get out for a walk around the Marina at least twice a week although I need to motivate myself to start running in the morning again! So although this may seem like a boring activity, it is up there with one of my favourite things to do living here in Dubai.

Of course there are so many other amazing things that we get to spend our time doing here. One thing I haven’t even mentioned is all of the amazing beaches, hotels and pools we get to make use of here, so I will dedicate a whole post just to that shortly!