Sharjah’s Hidden Gem

Tucked away off one of Sharjah’s busy roads is a small entrance to the Chedi Al Bait. The complex opened its doors as the Chedi Hotel in December 2018 and I have to say that it was only this past summer that I began to hear about the hotel. So, we packed our bags and booked up a one night stay at the start of August. The hotel was a relatively short drive from our villa so we enjoyed the little road trip crossing the border into Sharjah – I have to admit that in my almost six years living in Dubai this is the first time I visited Sharjah (as opposed to just driving through it)!

When the maps told us we were only one minute away I thought to myself, “surely we have the wrong address here” but we turned the corner to see the subtle Chedi sign at the side of the road. The concierge assisted us with our luggage through the narrow walkways into the reception.

Upon check in, the staff provided us with a small sanitising pack which contained anti-bac gel and gloves which was a nice touch.

Hotel Facilities

Inside the grounds of the hotel it felt so peaceful. There are courtyards with olive trees and casual seating areas tucked in all corners of the hotel. It really is like a maze wandering around the narrow pathways.

The hotel also houses a library which explains some of the history of the building itself and has a large collection of books in both English and Arabic.

The hotel also has a lovely, albeit small, swimming pool. As we visited during COVID times we were required to book a 2 hour slot at the pool so as to prevent it from becoming overcrowded.

Our Room

One of the highlights of our stay was the amazing bed in our room! No, seriously. This took hotel beds to a whole other level! The mattress is made from horse hair (you should probably check if you have allergies before staying) and it really felt like I was sleeping on air. The bathroom continued the traditional Arabic themed décor with neutral walls, wooden doors and dark basin sinks. It also had a gorgeous waterfall style shower.

Restaurants

We dined in both the International restaurant as well as the Arabic restaurant during our stay at the hotel. We decided on having lunch in the International restaurant whereby we had a range of small dishes from salads to soft-shell crab and it was all lovely. The International restaurant is very light and open and also had a lovely outdoor seating area (which we chose not to make use of in August)! The breakfast also served in the International restaurant and has a great selection of egg dishes, pancakes, waffles etc. of which you could order multiple items! We were also served a selection of freshly baked pastries as well as juice, tea and coffee – as you can tell, I love a good breakfast! 

We ate at the Arabic Restaurant for dinner on the Friday night – we were glad to have made a reservation as the restaurant was quite busy. We shared a selection of Arabic meze starters such as hummus, tabbouleh and falafel, followed by one sharing platter of chicken shish tawook and another platter of grilled seafood. Everything was super tasty!

Sadly, during our stay at the Chedi, I feel ill (which I know now as being the onset of my Bell’s Palsy). As much as I enjoyed our stay it was shrouded by stress with not knowing what was wrong with me at that time. I would love to return because it really was so relaxing and a lovely way to escape the city.

Holiday Dining at its Finest

This trip was our first time travelling to the Maldives, and we had heard from friends who had visited previously that alcohol is quite expensive, so when choosing a hotel we were leaning towards an all-Inclusive package so that we could really chill out and enjoy our time away with no worries about the costs of all the cocktails I knew I would be drinking!

One thing that stood out when reading about Ozen was the great choice of restaurants included as part of the all-Inclusive package; but the thing that stood out the most for Ryan was the wine list! We worked our way through five of the six restaurants at the hotel (and only missed out on the sixth one as it was unfortunately closed)!

From my previous posts, you may have come to know that Ryan and I are complete foodies so we were really excited about the extensive variety of food available at Ozen, ranging from Indian to Chinese to International foods. So here is a summary of the amazing restaurant options available at Ozen… don’t read this on an empty stomach!

IndoCeylon

Located on a small pier is a gorgeous wooden restaurant, from the outside the restaurant doesn’t look that big, but inside it houses both the IndoCeylon and Peking restaurants on different sides of the building.

The food at IndoCeylon is à la carte and we had a great selection to choose from, so good we actually didn’t know what to choose, so the chef prepared us a selection platter of all starters which included chicken tikka, samosa and others. When it came to the mains we were just as indecisive and again ordered a selection. This time we had a Goan prawn curry; Lamb Rogan Josh and a butter chicken alongside rice and naan breads.

One of the highlights of dining at Ozen is that the chefs always make the effort and take the time to come and speak to all of the diners, it really adds that personal touch. We were chatting to the chef and it turns out he had trained at Bukhara, a restaurant that we visited in New Delhi in 2017! After hearing that, we weren’t surprised the food at IndoCeylon was so amazing.

Peking

The other restaurant situated in the same building as IndoCeylon was the Chinese restaurant, Peking. Similarly, the menu was à la carte and we ordered a selection of sharing starters, including some sweet and sour prawns that blew my mind! They were so tasty! In fact, the dim sum, crispy shredded beef and duck spring rolls were all so good we ordered another entire round!

We needed a bit of a break before embarking on the mains, as you can imagine. For the mains, we again ordered the Chef’s selection which included a range of chicken in cashew nut sauce, noodles, white fish and rice. We tried to book in again for the following night but unfortunately, as the hotel was at full capacity, Peking was fully booked – and I am honestly not surprised by that!

The Palms

The Palms was the hotels buffet restaurant, although it’s far from your typical, mundane buffet. Starting with breakfast, there is a wide selection of fruits, yoghurts, pastries and international breakfasts if you prefer. The highlight is the grill station where you can place your order for eggs any way, including Eggs Benedict, Eggs Royale etc. Each morning I would choose my egg selection followed by pastries and a coffee. Ryan, on the other hand, would treat himself to a three course breakfast ending with freshly made waffles or pancakes and a cheeky mimosa.

The selection available for lunch time at the Palms was just as varied and the grill station had different options such as tiger prawns, crab, steak, chicken etc. as well as having a section for fresh sushi made every lunch time. 

We ate in The Palms for dinner one evening and it was the night of the international BBQ night, it was a great evening with different BBQ stands such a chicken tikka, a huge rack of ribs, seafood etc.

M6M

The legendary underwater restaurant. M6M is located 6metres below the sea and it was absolutely breath-taking. Depending on the number of nights you stay at the resort, you are able to eat in M6M for lunch or dinner as part of your all-inclusive package. We were torn between whether we should dine there for lunch, as we were told the lighting is much better and you can see an abundance of sea life; or dinner which is adults only and feels much more romantic. We decided on lunch because we just wanted to see more fishies!

Even though there were families dining at the same time, it actually added to the atmosphere as it was cute to hear the squeals of the children every time a shark, or in our experience, eel swam past! Also, due to the layout of the restaurant, all of the seats are in tables of two facing out towards the glass and the chairs have high sides so it felt very private anyway.

The lunch menu is four courses with a choice of two options for each course. I chose the scallop to start which was set on a lovely curried chickpea base and served in a shell platter. Ryan ordered the salmon which was presented in such a unique way with a washing line running over the plate with thin bread croutons pegged to the line! We both chose the Alaskan Crab and butternut squash soup which was beautiful. The dish was served with the crab in the bowl and the butternut squash soup was poured over the dish by our waitress. For the main course, we both chose the lobster (of course), it was served with purple mash and sautéed vegetables and was absolutely delicious, the lobster was cooked perfectly. Finally, the desert. I ordered the raspberry chocolate bomb which was a raspberry dome that the waitress covered in hot chocolate sauce. It was so tasty but by this point, we were absolutely stuffed!

The food and atmosphere at M6M was amazing and to top it all off, each course came with wine pairing, starting with bubbles to white, red and a desert wine. It’s fair to say I had earnt my afternoon nap after a solid two hours of eating and drinking. 

Joie De Vivre

Oh, the pool bar! I feel like we spent most of our time down at JDV! The main pool at Ozen is awesome, it stretches across the beach front with an infinity pool; four double cabana beds in one corner and several other sofa-style beds also set in the pool. There is then several other sun-loungers along the right hand side of the pool and other seating both outside and inside the bar.

Most mornings, after suitably filling ourselves at breakfast in the Palms, we would head out for a nice leisurely stroll to try and walk off some of the food and would always find ourselves ending up at JDV. My morning tipple was an iced cappuccino with a shot of Kalua. Ryan’s was a San Miguel Pale! We would also treat ourselves to a mid-afternoon-post-lunch-but-too-early-for-dinner pizza! They change the menu every day so there was a great choice! 

The views from the pool bar at sunset are phenomenal, so we would enjoy a few cheeky cocktails / wines / beers before heading to dinner… and then some evenings head back down to JDV to carry the night on!

R.A.W

As one may assume from the name, R.A.W specialises in raw, healthy foods such as sashimi, sushi platters, juices etc. Sadly, during our stay R.A.W was the only restaurant at the resort that was not open, but every day there was still a great selection of fresh sushi available at lunchtime in The Palms. When wandering around the resort, we found the location of R.A.W restaurant and it looked stunning! I feel it’s worth a trip back to this hotel just so we can try out this restaurant!

The Magical Maldives

2020 was a tough year for travel but in December we were lucky enough to go on our first holiday of the year and we headed off to the Maldives. The Maldives has been on my bucket list forever, but we have always said we would save it for a special occasion. But, as our honeymoon was cancelled and we weren’t able to travel anywhere else in 2020 we decided to treat ourselves. 

A key factor when booking trips at the moment is whether quarantine is required on arrival and any other COVID restrictions of that country. The Maldives has been open for travel since the Summer and, when travelling from Dubai, the requirement is to present a negative PCR test upon check in and as residents, when returning to Dubai, a negative test was required for check in for the return flight. Apart from that, there were no other restrictions or isolation requirements in either the Maldives or Dubai. 

So, with a five day public holiday approaching, we took the plunge and booked a four night all inclsuive stay at Ozen Life Maadhoo.

Firstly, and most importantly for travel in current times, Ozen’s response to COVID was outstanding. The island is COVID free which means that hotel guests are able to roam the island without the need to wear masks – we had forgotten what that felt like! Our personal Butler, Kunal, assisted us with everything throughout our stay, including scheduling our COVID test for our return flight to Dubai via the hotels onsite doctor. The doctor came to our room for an examination and to conduct a nasal and mouth swab. The results were then sent to the main island for analyzing and we received the results the following day. Ozen provided us with a soft copy of the report and hard copy print outs for the check in desk at the airport. Given the travel situation in the world right now we were anxious about travel but Ozen really took that stress and worry away.

Now onto the fun stuff! 

From the moment we arrived at Male airport an Ozen member of staff was waiting for us. They greeted us at arrivals, took our luggage and we set straight off on the hotels private boat for the 45 minute journey to the island. 

The island was absolutely stunning. On arrival, we were given an itinerary for our stay which included a fishing trip, dolphin sunset trip and a snorkel trip as well as reservations at each of the hotel’s restaurants. We didn’t have to think about anything – it was the ultimate relaxation.

The hotel has five restaurants which were all included as part of our all inclusive package (I will write a separate post about all of the amazing food we ate during our stay). We stayed in one of the overwater villas which was a dream come true. The hotel also has beach front villas which looked just as amazing, imagine waking up and stepping onto your own private beach! We really wanted that Maldives experience of laying out on the terrace watching the fish swim below, and heading down the steps of our room straight into the ocean.

Ryan and I are creatures of habit so every morning we got up and sat out on our terrace trying to spot any sharks or sting rays with our morning coffee before heading down to breakfast. We ate in the Palms restaurant every day for breakfast which had a great buffet selection along with a live cooking station. Ryan followed his three course breakfast with a Mimosa, whilst I had an iced coffee with a shot of Kalua as my tipple!

The island was so relaxing and each morning we would set off on a walk or bike ride around the island after suitably stuffing ourselves at the buffet! The sun was very powerful and even though we live in the sun all year round we still got quite burnt!

Another great benefit of the all inclusive package was the unlimited complementary use of snorkel equipment, kayaks and paddle boards so most mornings on the way back from our walk, we would stop off at the water sports area and head out on the water. I love paddle boarding, Ryan on the other hand isn’t much of a natural so he would always opt for a kayak!

One of the highlights of our stay was dining in the under water restaurant, M6M, which is located 6 meters below the sea! Eating lobster and drinking champagne whilst watching the sharks swim by – that’s an experience that is going to take a lot to beat.

Also included within our all-inclusive package was a complimentary 60 minute spa treatment which we saved until our final morning. The spa is located nearby the gym and saltwater swimming pool and consists of several small huts which each accommodate couples massages and face out to sea. The massage was heavenly and the perfect way to end our five days in paradise.

We cannot fault any part of our stay at Ozen. Every member of staff took time out of their day to speak to us, ask how our day was going and if we needed anything. We can’t thank them enough for making this trip so special. We already can’t wait to return.

A Lovely Stay at the Zabeel Saray

During our intense period of lockdown I felt as though I was constantly scrolling through booking.com and other hotel booking apps, sat inside our little one bed apartment just day dreaming. At that point in time, hotels weren’t able to open to the public as a result of COVID and there seemed to be a crash in rates. Being the bargain hunter that I am, I booked a one night stay at the Zabeel Saray for mid-July. The deal – AED600 including breakfast and taxes… I couldn’t believe it either!

Ryan told me not to book as we didn’t know what the situation would be with regards to the lockdown, I know he was just being his typical sensible self, but I thought if it’s booked on free cancellation we can just assess the situation closer to the time. So that’s exactly what I did!

As our staycay date approached, Dubai started to open up and the COVID rules relaxed. The Zabeel Saray is a hotel that I have wanted to stay at for such a long time now and it just so happened that we had cause for celebration on the weekend we stayed there as i had just finished my notice period at my previous job so it marked the start of a new chapter for me.

We have visited many hotels in Dubai for beach days, brunches etc. but, surprisingly, neither of us had previously visited the Zabeel Saray! As we pulled up to the hotel entrance it was just as grand as I had expected it to be. The hotel staff was exceptional and they have put many measures in place in relation to COVID. Our room was available upon arrival which was great – I love it when that happens!

We headed straight to our room to change and get down to the pool. Of course, in July the weather is very, very hot. So we really wanted to get a bed close to the pool so we could easily jump in and cool off, but the pool was absolutely packed with kids, eek! There were no beds available and just so, so many children! I guess this was the only downside to the hotel that, not having an adult only swimming pool! But we moved on down to the beach and with an umbrella and a slight breeze it was actually lovely.

For lunch we headed to the pool restaurant, Plaj, which had a Côte d’Azur feel to it, so I sipped my Aperol, closed my eyes and imagined that’s exactly where we were!

After a day in the sun we headed up to our room for a glass of bubbles on the balcony, and I treated myself to one of my favourite things to do in a hotel room and that was a nice, hot bubble bath!

For dinner, we decided on the hotels Indian restaurant, Amala, which has also been on my restaurant list for a while and it’s on the Entertianer which was a bonus! I really wanted to visit the Rib Room which is a steak restaurant located at the hotel but sadly, as a result of COVID, the restaurant hadn’t yet re-opened. Amala did not disappoint and we left suitably stuffed, there was no room for dessert but there was just about enough space for one more glass of bubbles on our balcony!

After an incredible night sleep, on the worlds fluffiest pillows, we were treated to a delightful breakfast. The breakfast is usually buffet, however, the hotel had adapted to allow you to order a “main course” from the breakfast menu followed by several trolleys of pastries, fruits, yoghurts, juices and coffee! Worn out from all of the breakfast, we pitched up on the beach again and had a little nap!

We loved our stay at the Zabeel Saray, the highlight was definitely the enormous bath in our room and the gorgeous view from our balcony.

Fairmont Ajman

In the UAE, our lockdown was pretty intense. We understand it was a necessity, but it proved challenging at times. During mid-March through April we experienced our strictest time of lockdown. All gyms, bars, restaurants and clubs were closed. Almost everyone was required to work from home, except for the key sectors, and to go outside we were required to apply online via the government portal for a permit. These permits would allow us a trip for essentials such as medication, groceries, ATMs etc.

Ryan and I were still in our one bed apartment at this time, with two cats and both working from home at opposite sides of the dining table. But, we made it through. We may have gotten through a bottle of wine a day, but we made it through!

Some of the other Emirates in the UAE were slightly more lenient with the easing of restrictions following lockdown. For example, Ras al Khaimah and Ajman allowed alcohol consumption in hotels and around swimming pools / beaches. At this time, in Dubai, this was not yet allowed. The border to Abu Dhabi remained closed and so in mid-May, we decided to head down to Ajman for a staycay.

We set off early on the Friday morning, really early, as we had planned to meet our friends Emily and James. It was James’ birthday weekend and Emily had booked a round of golf for him so, as a surprise, we met them both at breakfast and the boys went off to play golf whilst Em and I had a girly pool day together.

It was the first time I had been out in the sun in over two months and it was delightful.

The Fairmont Ajman has two main restaurants, an Italian called Gioia, and a Turkish restaurant called Kiyi. We decided on the Italian for lunch, which was absolutely amazing and the Turkish for dinner – although I would have preferred to have returned to the Italian restaurant for dinner!

The hotel was great with implementing safety precautions for COVID, the hotel was only booked to 30% capacity, the rooms were sterilized following each occupancy and although the breakfast was buffet, you were served each time by the staff. Masks were compulsory at all times whilst walking around the hotel and restaurants.
Overall, it was a cheap and cheerful stay and we were very grateful for the sun, cocktails (and time apart for Ryan to go off to play golf)!

The Address Sky View

As most of you know from previous travel blogs, I ALWAYS travel for my birthday. It’s just what I love to do! However this year, as we were due to be going on our honeymoon at the start of April, only a few weeks after my birthday, I decided it would be best to spend this birthday in Dubai. It’s a blessing in disguise really, could you imagine if we had travelled and ended up like all of those other poor people stranded around the world!

Anywho, our honeymoon was sadly cancelled as a result of COVID, but, I digress. This post is in relation to the delightful staycation we ended up booking for my birthday! I have a hotel wishlist on my phone, which appears to be constantly growing! And I decided on checking out the then-recently opened Address Sky View Hotel.

Located smack bang in the middle of Downtown Dubai, the Address Sky View has uncomparable views of the Burj Khalifa and is a stone’s throw away from the Dubai Mall. As we entered the hotel we were greeted with the familiar “Address” scent, our luggage was taken and we were whisked straight to check in. We managed to get a great offer by booking directly on the Address website. Our hotel price included breakfast and we each received three vouchers for use across the Emaar facilities, this was a nice bonus. We chose vouchers for the Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Ice Skating Rink and Reel Cinemas. (We used the Aquarium voucher in the summer and it was a great experience, I didn’t actually realise how huge the aquarium is in the Dubai Mall!)

We left our luggage with the Concierge and headed out for some lunch at the restaurant around the pool. I have to admit, I was feeling quite sensitive (and sorry for myself) as I had been out celebrating my birthday with the girls the previous night.

Our room was ready early so we headed up for a quick change and then straight to the highlight of the hotel… the rooftop infinity pool.

We had access to the Lounge included in our room booking so popped there for a coffee and nibble before getting ready for our meal.

Ce La Vie
I was so excited to dine at Ce La Vie! For my birthday last year, we actually visited the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore and had lunch at Ce La Vie. I hope this has become my new birthday tradition…!

The food, service, drinks and view were all spectacular. It was by far one of the best meals we have had in Dubai.

We rolled out of the restaurant (I’m not sure if it was too much food or wine) but luckily didn’t have too far to go. When we got back to the room, the staff had laid rose petals on the bed, wishing me a happy birthday. It was a lovely touch and a perfect end to the day.

The following day we were able to extend our check out. The rooms come with a smart TV with Netflix built in so we decided to give in to all of the social media fuss and start the series Love is Blind. We all but finished the series that day!

I have to admit, this was the first Address Hotel that we have stayed in, but I cannot fault our stay from the service, cleanliness and overall experience. I would absolutely stay here again.

The Staycay Series

I have really missed writing my travel blog this year and I’ve decided that, even though we’ve been unable to travel abroad (so far…) we’ve still had a lovely year of staycays in the UAE! So I’ve decided to write this Staycay Series, giving a shout-out to all of the lovely hotels we have stayed at throughout the year.

It’s still not the quite the same as the excitement of researching and planning a holiday; the super early wake up call to get to the airport; the satisfaction of a full nights sleep on a red-eye flight; and the lists coming out of my ears to make sure I pack appropriately! Nonetheless, we are so lucky to live in the location that we do with the UAE’s versatile range of hotels, and looking back over the past six months, we have done a pretty good job of making the most out of them!

So here is a snapshot of what’s to come…

City Breaks
There’s nothing more relaxing than finding an oasis in the centre of a bustling, vibrant city. And we uncovered two of those this summer! Starting the year at the newly opened Address Sky View hotel with unbeatable views of the Burj Khalifa, it was a birthday to remember.

We then ventured into the narrow streets of Sharjah for our first staycay in the Emirate. The Chedi Al Bait is a hidden gem located in the middle of a busy street, but once you step inside the walls you’re welcomed by the calming sound of silence.

Beach Vibes
As soon as lockdown lifted in the UAE we headed straight for Ajman, the rules were slightly more relaxed, the hotel swimming pools were open and alcohol was being served so we treated ourselves to a cheap and cheerful stay at the Fairmont, Ajman.

Zabeel Saray – a hotel that has been on the hotel bucket list for a while! But we finally got to experience the hotel first hand (and yes, I did find an amazing deal).

A hotel that we have visited many, many times before is Le Royal Meridien but I was finally able to enjoy a one night stay! It was the perfect girly weekend full of sunbathing, wine, lots of wine, and fun!

Desert Dreaming
The one night stay that, I don’t think, will ever be beaten! Al Maha Luxury Desert Resort is exactly what it says in the name! The hotel really catered for our every need during our stay as well as the needs we didn’t know we had!

At the time of writing this post we also have one more staycation planned for a few weeks time for Ryan’s birthday as we are off to Sir Bani Yas Island. We have heard amazing things about this hotel so I can’t wait to experience it for ourselves!

I hope you enjoy the reviews to come, and hopefully by the time they’re finished, we will be ready to board a plane for our first holiday of the year… (please keep everything crossed for us!)

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.

Our Cape Town Itinerary

Of all years for Ryan to decide that he wanted to go away on holiday for his birthday, he decided that it would be smack bang in between our wedding and our honeymoon! Of course, I’m not complaining and I’m not one to say no to a holiday, especially when it means visiting another new country!

Ryan has wanted to visit South Africa for such a long time, I must say I had never really looked into SA but, once we started planning this trip I couldn’t believe how much we had to try and squeeze into just 10 nights!

Every single meal we had in Cape Town was amazing, you can read my separate post on where we dined with our food and wine recommendations here.

Day One

We left Dubai at 4am, I managed to get a 3 hour nap before heading to the airport and another 6 hours sleep on the flight! The flight was just over 9 hours long and we arrived in Cape Town just after 11.30am.

We had arranged a transfer to our hotel in Camps Bay direct with the hotel which removed the stress and hassle of having to locate a taxi at the airport. By 1pm we were at the hotel, checked in and ready to start exploring!

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Camps Bay is a beautiful area, located right on the white beach front with a great selection of restaurants and bars overlooking the sea. We stopped at La Belle for a light lunch and dived straight into the seafood, ordering mussels and calamari – straight away we knew we were going to love it here.

We stayed at South Beach which is a small boutique hotel a stones throw away from the beach. The staff were extremely friendly and constantly helped us with arranging Ubers and other excursions. The hotel has complimentary bikes which you can take out along the walkway, two pools and a bar. The rooms come with a full kitchen and fully stocked fridge and the staff leave fresh bread and croissants on your door every morning at 8am!

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That afternoon we had made a reservation at the Mount Nelson Hotel for High Tea. We sat outside on the terrace drinking MCC (Method Cap Classique, South Africa’s own champagne), eating cakes, sandwiches and scones and it was lovely.

Dinner: the Bungalow, Camps Bay

Day Two

We booked onto the 9am tour across to Robben Island for the tour of the museum and the prison. They offer three tours a day starting at 9am, 11am and 1pm, each lasting around 3.5-4hours including the ferry ride too and from the island. We booked our tickets in advance online (here) as we were advised that in the high tourist season the tours can book up quickly! You should also take your passport or ID with you so that staff can check your e-ticket against your ID (I didn’t know this but luckily had a copy of my passport with me which they accepted).

The boat ride across to the island was quite choppy (and cold!) but if you get the chance to sit outside on the boat you absolutely should. The views as you leave the harbour are just incredible with a full skyline of the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain, Lions Head and the stadium built for the FIFA World Cup held in South Africa in 2012.

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The tour around Robben Island was so informative and eye opening. We were taken on busses around to different parts of the island, culminating with the tour of the prison itself. Our tour guide was an ex-prisoner who had spent almost 20 years in the prison himself for political crimes. We saw the quarry where the prisoners were forced to work every day, including Nelson Mandela. We were taken around the prison cells in each of the blocks, finishing at Nelson Mandela’s cell. The tour was so educational and I would highly recommend it.

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We spent the afternoon wandering around the V&A Waterfront. It was a hive of activity with different things going on around every corner. By this point we were hungry so headed straight to the food market, it was full of stalls ranging from Poke Bowls, biltong, pork belly, oysters, samosas, anything you could think of! We bought a selection from a few of the stalls and sat outside with a drink in the sun. There were also local street performers around the area so we sat watching a group of young children in tribal wear singing and dancing and it was just amazing.

Dinner: The Pot Luck Club, The Old Biscuit Mill

Day Three

We wanted to visit Cape Point and Boulders Beach but didn’t want to do this as part of a big group so we decided to hire a private driver for the day so we could arrange our own itinerary and move around at our leisure. I contacted several companies but we decided on using the company Citi Shuttles. They were really professional and helpful during our correspondence with them and mid range price. We were required to make the full payment upfront as they did not want their drivers to be carrying large amounts of cash so we made the payment using TransferWise to reduce the bank charges.

We started our day at 8.30, driving the coastal route down to Cape Point. On the way we stopped at Hout Bay and went down to the harbour for a coffee and a wander around the stalls. From here, you can take a trip across to Seal Island.

The coastal route was beautiful and at one part you drive on a road that has been carved into the edge of the cliff. We got to the Cape of Good Hope in good timing and avoided all of the queues at the entrance to the National Park. We saw wild ostriches roaming around and baboons! We attempted to have our picture taken with the sign “Most Southernly Point in Africa” but we couldn’t quite fight our way through the tourists so we went for a short hike up one of the trails. It was so windy down there, I’m glad I chucked my hoody in last minute!

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We then headed to the lighthouse and hiked up the hill to the top. The views were beautiful. We had made a lunch reservation at the Two Oceans, when we arrived we had the choice of tables but within half an hour the restaurant was packed inside and out. They have a great selection of seafood platters and we chose one with langoustines, prawns, calamari and mussels, with a bottle of Chenin Blanc to soak it up!

 

After our amazing lunch, we headed down to Boulders Beach. The beach is famous for being the home of around 2,000 penguins! I’m not sure what I was expecting but to be honest, it was part of the trip that I would say could be missed out if you’re pushed for time. It was completely crowded and you pay an entrance fee of around $20 per person and the walk way is relatively short. It was cute seeing the penguins but it didn’t really feel any different than being in an overcrowded zoo.

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Dinner: Bilboa, Camps Bay

Day Four

On our final full day in Cape Town we woke up to thick fog, cloud and mist. This morning, we had planned to hike up Table Mountain, starting at 7am. Initially, we intended to do this alone as I had read online that you don’t necessarily require a guide and that the route is signposted. However, I was slightly apprehensive due to the weather so contacted reception and they strongly advised us not to go alone, especially with the weather conditions and that we book with a guide. Our hotel kindly then contacted and booked a guide for us to start the hike at 11.30 (as he was already half way up the mountain with another group!)

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Our guide, Johan October, was so passionate about nature and his main priority was getting us up to the top safely. So we started the hike at 11.30 and could not see a thing the entire way up due to the clouds. It was disappointing however, we still feel so accomplished that we completed the hike. I would not advise doing this hike without a guide, especially when the weather is unpredictable. We took the easy route, Platteklip Gorge, and found parts of it very challenging. We had to scramble over rocks at certain points and the whole trail is not well signposted, I think we came across two on our whole hike. Also, due to the weather conditions we only crossed paths without around 8 other hikers. Johan advises that from December onwards the route would be much busier and so you may feel more confident doing it without a guide.

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We took the cable car back down which took less than five minutes as we had booked our tickets in advance to save queueing twice and headed straight to the Codfather to reward ourselves with a huge amount of seafood!

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Dinner: Paranga, Camps Bay

Day Five

Our last morning in Cape Town was spent chilling in our apartment and having breakfast before heading onto the next part of our trip, Stellenbosch! Again, we booked a transfer with our hotel in advance however, you can just as easily book an Uber from Cape Town out to the wine lands.

We absolutely loved our time in Cape Town. Prior to travelling there I was slightly apprehensive but we didn’t have any issues at all. Everyone was so friendly and helpful. It’s really easy to get around and everyone uses Uber as it’s much more convenient and also cheaper than taxis. You also find that everywhere has WiFi so you can pre-order your Uber before leaving. We were advised by our hotel not to carry large amounts of cash with us which was no issue at all because everywhere we ate / visited accepted card, including entry to the nature reserves. It is also custom to tip 10-15% for good service so it’s helpful to have some notes on you for that, we found it was definitely appreciated but not expected.

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Our Wedding Day

Oh, our wedding day. When I try to put into words how I feel about our wedding day the only word I tend to use is amazing. I’m not the type of person who can say I have always dreamt about what my wedding day would be like or that I had it all planned out as a young girl because honestly, I had never even thought about it until we got engaged! But our day really was everything I ever could have imagined it to be, and more.

Throughout the day I had to keep stopping to remind myself, “this is actually your wedding day… you’re getting married today” to make sure I tried to take it all in. Like when I was sat having my hair done in the morning by Sheree, or just as me and Dad were about to walk down the aisle, I just had to take a moment to process it all.

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t exactly have the best start to the day. Katie and I shared a bed the night before as Ryan was in with his best man, Harry. I think I got a total of about 90 minutes sleep the night before the wedding… it was without a doubt, the worst night’s sleep of my entire life. At one point, I was convinced the entire wedding party had food poisoning from the BBQ and I called my mum at 2.30am in tears saying “Mum, everyone’s got food poisoning, there’s not going to be a wedding, everyone’s ill!” I needed Mum to be the voice of reason and tell me, that actually, no one has food poisoning and I’m probably just feeling a bit nervous!

The morning of…

So on the wedding morning at 7am, my Mum, Ryan’s Mum (Lisa), Katie, Sheree and Jemma came to the bridal suite to start getting ready for the day. I am so lucky to have such an amazingly talented best friend as Sheree and she was not only a bridesmaid, but also our hair wizard. Kelly, from Perfection, also travelled across to France to do everyone’s makeup. Me, being me, prepared a schedule for the morning, broken down by every 15 minutes so that we knew who had hair and makeup at what time and to avoid the issue of running late or anyone feeling stressed out.

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I have to say that getting ready was one of my favourite parts of the day. It was such a lovely, relaxing morning. We had presents, champagne, croissants and just all had such a lovely time. At around 1pm the flower girls and page boys came up to the bridal suite for some photos and to prepare for walking down the aisle.

We had suggested a hotel nearby for the wedding party to stay at and, for ease, arranged transportation to and from the wedding venue for the BBQ day and wedding day. At about 1.30pm, the wedding planner came to me and said “I don’t want to worry you but there’s been a slight issue with the coach… it’s broken down, so we’re going to be slightly delayed!” Can you believe the entire wedding party kept the bride waiting?! I just popped open another bottle of champagne! Both the photographer and the videographer wanted to capture me getting into my dress so, as we had time, I did it twice so that they could both get the shots they wanted.

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The Ceremony

The guests all pitched together and made their own way as a lot of people had hired cars for the weekend anyway. Once we were informed that guests had started to arrive, that’s when the nerves started to hit me. Luckily the ceremony had only been delayed by 30 minutes but by this point I was itching to get started. Our ceremony was supposed to be outside but the weather on the morning was very hit and miss with a bit of rain and so the wedding planner and florist decided it would be best if the ceremony was held in the barn. As we walked from the Chateau to the barn we were all holding umbrellas, my dress was tucked right up and I could hear the cellist as we were approaching. Everyone told me how cute and well behaved out little page boys, Rufus and Rafferty, were. Now that we’ve received the video back I can see the nerves in my whole body as I walked down the aisle with Dad.

The ceremony itself seemed to go so quickly for us. As part of our ceremony, we had a Wine Ceremony. Ryan and I had to write a note to each other which is to be stored in a wine box alongside a Polaroid picture from the wedding day. If our marriage is ever experiencing any difficulty we are supposed to sit together, open the bottle of wine and read our notes to one another, to remember the reason why we got married and the reason we fell in love. The aim though, is that our marriage never comes into difficulty and that we are supposed to open the wine and enjoy it together on our 5th wedding anniversary.

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After the ceremony, we had the cocktail and canapés reception. We had arranged for the band to play an acoustic set during this time and when we visited France in April we sampled all of the canapés that would be served at this time. We even had a live station where the chef was carving a leg of Serrano ham. I’ll be honest, this is the part of the day that I was most looking forward to (obviously apart from actually marrying Ryan!) But, we were taken away during this bit with our photographer and videographer to capture some special moments together. I did manage to make my way in for some of the Serrano ham though, and it was lovely!

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By this point, it was still drizzling and my dress had started to become a bit muddy. I had a bit of a bridezilla moment when mum said “don’t worry Lou, we can have it dry cleaned” I snapped back “but I need it clean NOW!” (Sorry Mum!) Everyone told me throughout the day that all the best wedding dresses end up covered in dirt and wine and that they tell a good story of the day but it was just a little heart-breaking seeing the bottom of it getting so muddy and wet in the rain. Thankfully it doesn’t show up in any of the photos!
We then had the family portraits which seemed to go on for ages so after that, Ryan and I decided to go for a little walk around the back of the Chateau, just the two of us, have some champagne and just spend a little bit of time together. That’s another thing so many people had told us in the lead up to the wedding… “make sure you get to spend some along time together on your wedding day”’

The Dinner

One thing that we really loved about our venue was all the space that could be used for different aspects of the day. Originally, we had planned to have the ceremony outside in front of the Chateau but thankfully had the backup of the gorgeous barn. The wedding breakfast was then held in the marquee which was attached to the barn and the barn itself had the stage and the band and was essentially our party room.

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The marquee looked absolutely gorgeous, so much more beautiful than I could have imagined. Rather than having the tables set with name tags for people to find their seat, we had polaroid’s held in corks (all of the photos were taken of the wedding guests the day before at the BBQ)! Ryan and I entered to Luther Vandross “Never Too Much” being played and joined our family at the top table. The speeches were lovely, and I’m so glad we have our video which includes all of the speeches as when we watched it back, I couldn’t remember half of what was said, it all seemed like such a blur!

One of my favourite parts of the room was the corner where the cake was. Our wedding planner had set two oak barrels with flowers either side of a trolley on which the cake sat, I thought it looked gorgeous. The marquee was clear so you could see through to the Chateau in the background, and once the sun had set the festoon lights connected from the tree to the marquee looked beautiful. We cut the cake and then had our first dance, ready to get the party started.

The Party

Our band were absolutely incredible our first dance was to Robin Es “Show me love” as an acoustic version which then sped up into the dance version. It got everyone straight up on the dance floor and I literally didn’t leave for the rest of the night! The band were honestly brilliant and made the evening for us. It was so amazing to be surrounded by our family and friends, dancing and laughing and just having the best time. We had a sparkler send off at around 9.30pm after the bands second set and the proceeded to DJ for the remainder of the night. It was only the next day that I remembered that we had arranged for burger sliders and bacon buttys to be brought out for the evening food – everyone else polished them off and I didn’t even have one!

As we had to use up all of the alcohol that we had ordered for the wedding day, we started to hand out bottles of the champagne so, me being the classy bride, had one glued to my hand for the rest of the night! The coach was arriving at 1am to pick up the guests and take them back to their hotel so Ryan and I slipped off at 12.55 as we were told we should leave before everyone else starts to leave.

Writing this has made me wish I could just live the whole day again. It really was the best day of my life.

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