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!

Cappadocia – A Turkish Delight

The journey to Cappadocia from Dubai was far from glamorous. It started with a 4.5 hour flight from Dubai to Istanbul on the most budget airline I’ve ever flown (yes we knew that it was going to be basic because it was so cheap but seriously, it made Ryan Air seem like Emirates Business Class!) Anyway… we arrived in Istanbul and had a few hours to kill before boarding our next flight to Kayseri Erkilet International (ASR). The second flight was only 1 hour 20 and much more pleasant, although the cabin crew still couldn’t crack a smile.

After landing in ASR the final leg of the journey was a 1 hour 10 minute drive from the airport to our hotel in Göreme, a small town in the centre of Cappadocia. We had booked our airport transfer through the hotel, they offered us either a mini bus transfer with other people staying nearby in the town, or a private transfer for €60. We opted with the latter because the journey was already long enough.

The drive to Cappadocia was beautiful and it made me realise just how out in the sticks we were.

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Balloons

We had a hot air balloon ride booked for our first morning in Cappadocia. Before travelling, I contacted our hotel who assisted us with making our reservation. Even two months before we visited three companies were already fully booked but our hotel managed to make a reservation with Air Kapadokya. So on our first morning our alarm went off at 4.45am and we got up to make ourselves pretty before being picked up at 5.15am. We really did not pack appropriately for the weather and hadn’t thought about how bloody cold it would be at 5 in the morning – it was literally 3 degrees! We looked like the Ugly Sisters and my outfit consisted of a cute maxi dress with trainers, socks, trousers underneath, a t shirt layer, hoody and a pool kimono that I wrapped around my neck as a scarf! And it was absolutely freezing!

The staff arrived dead on 5.15am to pick us up and take us to the office for breakfast before we were organised into our groups for the balloon. This part consisted of quite a bit of hanging around which wasn’t great at that time of the morning. At 6.15am our colour group was finally called and we were put onto a mini bus, only to be told that our ride was cancelled due to wind!! We couldn’t believe it. We headed back to the hotel and had breakfast before going back to sleep for a few hours.

We asked our hotel to book us on a balloon for the next morning but they were only able to get us on the waiting list. They said they would knock on the door to wake us if they were able to get us on a ride the second morning. So when we heard the knock on the door the next morning we jumped out of bed, only to be told that there was room for only one of us! We felt like being on the X Factor and that just one of us was making it through the audition and we had to decide whether to split up or stay together! We decided on the latter and that morning we headed up to Sunrise Point to watch the balloons come up at sunrise. Even though we were gutted to not be on the balloons, the views were like nothing I have ever seen before. Just imagine 150 hot air balloons rising up over the mountains with the sunrise just behind, it was so magical.

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Our hotel informed us they were able to get both of us on the hot air balloon ride on our final morning but I didn’t want to get too excited, we just had to pray for good weather! We woke up, again, at 4.45am and were taken out to the breakfast point; again, we were loaded up into the vans but this time we were taken about 20 minutes out to the take off point. As we were arriving, some balloons were already setting off. It was surreal seeing so many of the balloons in such close proximity and with open flames shooting around, heating up the balloons.

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Every day 150 balloons make their way up, each carrying up to 20 people in a basket. The basket was huge and, surprisingly, I felt safe the entire journey. We flew up to 650m in the air and dropped down to different heights at different points of the ride. We travelled through Pigeon Valley, Red Valley and Love Valley; the views of the valleys were phenomenal, let alone with the hundreds of brightly coloured balloons floating all around.

The journey lasted for approximately 1 hour 10 minutes and as we descended I was shocked to see a truck below us… little did I know that our pilot was actually going to land the basket on top of the truck, ready to drive the balloon straight back! We were unloaded out of the balloon and had champagne and a medal ceremony – for surviving the balloon ride!

It seems crazy that people travel so far to reach Cappadocia for a 1 hour balloon ride but it is definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my life and something to tick off the bucket list! I was just so grateful that we were able to make it onto one of the balloons! If you plan on travelling to Cappadocia, I would advise spending at least three nights there and booking your balloon trip for your first morning so that if you experience bad weather like we did, at least you have a few days to fall back on so you won’t be disappointed.

Pottery Class

The only other activity I had looked into before heading to Cappadocia was a pottery class. I had read online that Cappadocia is famous for its pottery due to the red and white clay that’s extracted from the valleys. Our hotel recommended we visit Venessa Seramik which is in a village about 10k from Göreme. We arrived without pre-booking a class but it was very informal anyway. We were given a tour of the pottery warehouse, shown the kiln and the different stages of making the pottery. We were then given a private tutorial by the master and were allowed to have a go ourselves. I wasn’t great but Soph was definitely much worse than me!

The surprising part about this excursion was that we didn’t have to pay. We were then guided through the gift shop and in my mind I was thinking “Ah OK here we go” but we were left to our own devices and even told that if we wish to purchase anything we would receive 20% for partaking in the class! We purchased a few gifts for our families and started the walk back to Göreme.

We were aware that the walk would take approximately an hour and a half but it was one straight road and we didn’t have any other plans for the remainder of the day. I always love exploring on holiday too so I was looking forward to the walk. The people in Cappadocia are honestly some of the kindest people I have met. We had three cars stop to offer us a lift to Göreme as they couldn’t believe we would want to walk for so long! After we had walked for about 5k a man on a quad bike stopped to offer us a lift and we decided to jump on! He took us straight to the centre of Göreme and when we offered money he wouldn’t accept a thing!

Uchisar Castle

One of the other sights worth seeing near Göreme is Uchisar Castle. The castle is located just under a 10 minute drive out of Göreme (our taxi there cost 20TL which is less than €3). There is a small entry fee of 7TL per person for the maintenance of the castle. As you reach the top, the views are incredible and you can see the valleys for miles around.

Also up near the castle is Rox Cappadocia, a beautiful family run hotel with a terrace that looks over the valleys. Rox also has a hotel in Göreme and we made friends with the lovely owner who told us about her sons restaurant which is a short drive from Uchisar Castle. The staff at Rox Cappadocia arranged a driver to take us to the restaurant Reserved Restaurant & Lounge where we sat outside, drank wine and had cheese and olives in the sun.

The staff dropped us back to the castle and we started the walk back to Göreme. On the way, two men with camels (yes, camels) stopped and asked if we were heading to Göreme and if we wanted a lift. Who doesn’t want a lift on the back of a camel?! These camels were HUGE and, I’m not going to lie but it wasn’t the most graceful moment of my life getting on the poor camel.

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Local Cave House Hotel

Before booking our trip, we compared several hotels online and shortlisted the following:

• Doors of Cappodocia
• Local Cave House
• Rox Cappodocia / Rox Göreme
• Miras Hotel
• Koza Cave Hotel
• Sunak Cave Boutiqueimg_2892

All of the hotels ranged between 850 and 1,700dhs for 3 nights with breakfast. We decided to book a room at the Local Cave House hotel because of the great reviews, location, pool, and we loved that it was a cave hotel built into the mountains. The staff were really helpful from the moment we confirmed the booking, they sent us an emailing which detailed lots of tourist attractions and activities in the area and assisted us with the most important activity which was booking out hot air balloon ride!

The hotel was in a really central location, we were able to walk less than 5 minutes down to the main strip of shops and restaurants in Göreme. Also, about a 10 minute walk behind the hotel you could find the trail up to Sunrise Point – this is an absolute must see!

So is it worth it?

Absolutely, YES! 3 nights / 4 days in Cappadocia was perfect. I wouldn’t be put off by the fact you have to fly indirect via Istanbul. If anything, I wish we had slightly longer so we could have spent some time in Istanbul first to visit the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar and then fly on to Cappadocia. We truly met the kindest people in Cappadocia, everyone was so friendly, they made us feel so welcome and it really was one of the most breath-taking places I have visited. I will tell anyone I speak to that they HAVE to go!

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Another new country Czeched off the list!

We started our mini Euro-trip with a three night stay in Prague, another new country to czech off the bucket list! Most people we have spoken to have visited Prague during the Winter so we were excited to see what it had to offer in the summer months.

Initially, we had planned to stay for only two nights however, due to the change of the predicted Eid dates, we were able to change our FlyDubai flight to leave a day earlier for AED 220 – definitely worth it for an extra day of exploring! Unfortunately our original hotel was fully booked for the additional night so we stayed at Miss Sophie’s hotel for the first night and moved to Pure White for the following two nights. The staff at both of our hotels were extremely helpful and provided us with maps and recommendations for things to do in the city. Both times we arrived too early for check in however the hotels had safe, locked storage rooms for luggage which put us at ease when heading out for the day.

We had read mixed reviews about picking up taxis from the airport with regards to meters etc so we booked private transfer company, Prague Airport Transfers, to collect us and take us to the hotel. It is a fixed price company that charges one price to any hotel in the city centre so we simply selected our hotel online and made the payment in advance. This may have been slightly more expensive than a regular taxi however it was hassle free and very convenient. You can find the company we used here https://www.prague-airport-transfers.co.uk

The airport was one of the quickest we have been through at that time in the morning so we were at our hotel, luggage dropped off, changed and out to explore by 9.30am!

Day 1

We headed straight out to find a spot for breakfast, my favourite meal of the day, and found a cute little cafe called Dolce Monte where I got my fix of coffee and eggs! We walked from our hotel in New Town through to St Charles Bridge in the old town. Like typical tourists we had a map (that we couldn’t really read) but had a lovely walk taking in all of the sites and the amazing buildings the city has to offer. It was much busier with tourists in the Old Town but we made our way through and on to St Charles Bridge. The views were beautiful and there were lots of people busking playing beautiful music, it had such a lovely vibe.

We exited the bridge and took a left to find the infamous John Lennon Wall. I didn’t really know what to expect from it but it was such a cool place, a guy was playing a guitar and singing The Beetles songs it was so fun. We then found a little restaurant on the side of the street for lunch and Ryan has his first beer of the holiday!

Imagine all the people…. who visited this wall!

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In the evening we went for sundowners at the Dancing Houses rooftop bar it was so chilled and had gorgeous views of the city. Along the river below we saw several boats moored up with bars on so we decided to take a wander. The whole length of the river had people sitting along drinking, eating, hopping in and off the boats it was such a fun place! We sat for a few more drinks, it was a lovely end to the day!         img_2029

Day 2

On our second day, we headed down to the river front, stopping in a little shop for some wine and beers on the way, and rented pedalos for an hour from Slovanka Boat Rental! This was one of the highlights of my time in Prague! It was so relaxing pedalling around the river, drinking wine and listening to music in the sun. We only paid CZK 300 (AED 49 / £10) for an hour and I would highly recommend this.

We then walked to a rooftop bar that Ryan had read about online called Tanker which was located above a shopping centre. The views were beautiful across the city and the food was lovely as well – this is definitely one of the hidden gems within Prague.

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One recommendation we received for our trip was to head to a bar called Vytopna for a drink. This bar was so cool and such a fun restaurant experience where your drinks are served by model trains. I was telling Ryan to drink his beers faster so another train could come down our track! The drinks were reasonably priced in comparison to the other bars we visited and there was a service charge of CZK 25 (AED 4 / £0.88) which is used for maintenance of the trains and tracks.

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For dinner that evening, we headed to a lovely tapas restaurant called The Bistro and sat outside in a quaint terrace garden. The dishes were lovely and designed for sharing so we ordered a selection including hummus, prawn tempura, pork dumplings and duck croquettes. The food really was delicious and the service was great.

Day 3

On our final day, we headed into the Old Town to join the free walking tour provided by Prague Airport Transfers company. The tour started at 11am and took us around the streets of the old town to begin. The tour was great and even though we had been wandering these streets for the last few days, it was great to learn the history of the buildings and Prague itself. We stopped for a quick lunch and met up with the tour group shortly after to continue the tour up to the Castle and St Vitus Cathedral. The tour ended at the top of the castle and we slowly made our way back down to the old town, stopping for beer and chimney cake ice cream on the way!

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A final bar that we wanted to visit was Lokal, a restaurant serving traditional Czech cuisine but the main attraction was, of course, the beer. Inside the pub was a huge beer tank whereby they brew their own beer. I’m not a beer drinker but was told this pub served some of the best beer in the world so I had to try it.

On our final evening we were so exhausted that we just walked to a little restaurant near our hotel and got an early night. We walked a total of 60,182 steps during our 3 days in Prague and I’m so glad I packed my blister plasters!!

What an amazing start to our mini Euro tour ❤️

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!

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!