Our Long Weekend in Athens

We have just returned from a lovely holiday in Athens and it was my first trip back to Greece in almost seventeen years – goodness that makes me feel old! Mum and Dad used to take us on our summer holidays to Greece when my sister and I were younger and we were lucky enough to visit several Greek islands including Crete, Corfu, Kos, Rhodes as well as Cyprus and Northern Cyprus. I love Greece and have lovely memories from our family holidays, like singing karaoke with Katie, playing card games with Mum and going on walks with Dad to find cats (I haven’t changed!) 

So as the Eid holiday was approaching, Ryan and I looked into our options for travel, as certain countries are opening up for travel from the UAE – it also helps that we are both fully vaccinated. We were initially looking into the Seychelles but as Eid approached the prices started to rocket. So we browsed through the options on Emirates Package Holidays and found a great deal for flights and four nights accommodation in Athens and booked a locally branded hotel called Divani Caravel – it was quite a corporate hotel but was great for the price and a nice walk into the city centre.

We were so excited to be heading back to Europe as we haven’t been since our mini-moon in Nice almost two years ago. For the first time in ages we had a day flight which was actually lovely, we normally opt for the red eye night flight to maximize our holiday but decided to stick with the nice 10.50am flight which got us into Athens for 3pm.

When you arrive in Athens and you are fully Vaccinated for COVID (having had both doses at least 14 days before travel) then there is a separate queue which requires you to show proof of vaccination and you can head straight for passport control. Alternatively if you’re not vaccinated with both doses then you must go in the queue for a rapid COVID test (you do not need to pay for this) and await the results as a group before proceeding to passport control. It was strange receiving a passport stamp for entry to Greece!

Day One

We weren’t sure how easy it would be to get from the airport to the main city so we pre-booked our transfer on an app called Welcome Pickups. It was the first time I had used this app but it was extremely easy to use. It can be accessed across 63 countries and connects users to local taxi drivers (in the same way as Uber) but it allows you to book your ride in advance. We were then provided with the driver’s name, phone number and registration plate which was great. There is also the option of taking a metered taxi or the train as there is a train station located at the airport and several metro links across the city.  

As planned, our driver was waiting in the lobby holding a sign with my name and we headed straight to the hotel. The hotel was slightly out of the city centre but was only a 25 minute walk. We thought that it would be a lovely way to walk around and explore the city each day. We reached our hotel at around 4.30pm, had a quick change and then set off on our first adventure. Of course, I had done my research online beforehand and found some gorgeous restaurants and tips for sightseeing in Athens (you can read all about our amazing dining options here). One of the top places to visit in Athens is Plaka; one of the older neighbourhoods which is filled with brightly coloured buildings and quaint restaurants and cafes. It was about a thirty minute walk from our hotel to Plaka and we loved taking in the views (and some beverages) along the way.

On our journey from the airport we asked our taxi driver for recommendations for any local bars we should visit during our trip and he suggested a wine bar called By The Glass. It was relatively easy to find from our hotel and sat outside overlooking a cute church whilst enjoying a few glasses of rosè and a charcuterie board – it was the perfect way to start our trip!

We had made a reservation at Psara Tavern – which means the old fisherman’s tavern in Greek – and is listed as the most romantic restaurant in Athens. The restaurant is gorgeous and set at the top of a stairway with other bars dotted alongside. The restaurant has a lovely view over Plaka and the food was just as impressive as the view!

Day Two

I had planned a day of sightseeing for our first full day so we were up and rearing to go bright and early! We had breakfast at the hotel and set off straight to the Acropolis. We didn’t buy our tickets in advance we purchased them at the site entrance for €20pp. We had also toyed with the options of a tour guide but decided against it but it was easy enough to pick up local licensed tour guides at the entry for €50pp – these tours last approximately 50 minutes but we felt we wanted to go at our own pace although it would have been great to have the ancient history told along the way.

We were provided with a map, along with our tickets, which identified stops along the way with placards of information so we were able to read up on the information ourselves as we went at our own pace. We visited at the start of May which is outside of the peak season and it was an amazing time to visit as we only crossed a handful of people of the way up whereas we have been told that during the peak season there will be thousands!

After a few hours at the Acropolis we continued exploring the narrow roads of Plaka and the New Town before grabbing a taxi back to our hotel for a quick change before dinner. Uber was one of the most convenient ways for us to get around but it was just as easy to flag down the local yellow taxis and request the journey on the meter.

For dinner that night we had booked a restaurant called Orizontes Lycabettus which is located on Lycabettus Hill. To reach the restaurant you can either walk (not in heels) or take the cable car up which was €7 per person for a return journey. The views from the restaurant were amazing, we felt like we could see across the whole of Athens. As the sun started to set, we noticed what looked like smoke, followed by fireworks and the waiter informed us that Olympiacos had just won the league!

Day Three

By our third day we were exhausted from all of the sightseeing so I was very happy we had booked a relaxing beach day in the middle. We grabbed a taxi outside the front of our hotel and headed down to the beach. The drive was around 35 minutes and cost around €17 in the taxi. Astir Beach Club is affiliated with the Four Seasons and when making your reservations online you can choose different sections, one being adults only (yes please)!

As we travelled before the season fully opened it was pretty quiet when we arrived, but in typical Louise style we were early. Throughout the day the beds started to fill up and we had chosen a cabana on the front row. It was super chilled and the food was amazing so if you are visiting Athens and need a day to relax I would highly recommend Astir Beach.

We had also booked dinner at a restaurant called Blue Fish that evening which is a short 15 minute walk from Astir Beach around the sea front. The food was incredible (you can read all about it here) and it was a unique dining concept which I would absolutely recommend if you love seafood!

Day Four

Whilst we were in Athens, some of the COVID restrictions started to ease. A curfew was in place meaning we had to be home by 11pm but on our final night this was extended to 12.30am. We were also lucky enough that on our final day the restrictions on closure of museums was lifted, meaning we were able to visit the Acropolis Museum – to Ryan’s delight!

We walked from our hotel into the city centre and timed it well so we were able to see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was interesting to watch as the guards are dressed in traditional uniform (my favourite part being their shoes).

The entrance to the Acropolis Museum was amazing as the museum itself is built over ruins which used to house some of the most affluent residences in Athens! The entry to the museum is €10 per person and you can purchase your tickets at the entrance on the day.

We ended our final full day by meeting some friends for drinks and dinner in the New Square, starting at A for Athens and finishing across the square in 360 Bar. Both of these bars have increidble views of the Acropolis during the day and at night.

Day Five

We decided to have a lay in and just chill on our final morning so we popped out for our last breakfast and in true European style found a café on the side of the road to sit and drink our coffee and orange juice. We ordered an Uber for our journey back to the airport which was very straightforward and an easy drive.

For our return flight to Dubai we were required to show a negative PCR test upon check in so we arranged that with a company called IASYS. They were extremely responsive by email and I informed them of the date and time that we were flying and they scheduled our COVID test for the morning before. The nurse came to our hotel and carried out the test in our room which took no more than 15 minutes for us both from start to finish. We were then emailed our test results within 24 hours. This service cost €60 which we were more than happy to pay for the convenience of not having to leave our room!

Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa

Le Royal Meridien Beach Resort and Spa is one of my favourite hotels in Dubai. Located on the far end of Jumeirah Beach, the hotel has three swimming pools, two of which have swim up pool bars to really give you those holiday vibes! The hotel spans across a huge grass area which leads onto its own private beach which in turn connects down to JBR beach. The hotel is definitely family friendly with a children’s play area; kids swimming pool; volleyball courts; football pitch; table tennis and mini golf!

Ryan and I have visited Le Royal Meridien many times for brunch at Brasserie 2.0, which is a must if you haven’t done it before, and for pool days (as they often have some great deals, especially during the summer) but we had never actually stayed before. I decided to book a girly weekend (sorry Ryan) and my friend and I booked a one night stay with breakfast for a weekend in October of last year. 

Pulling up to the hotel entrance, the concierge are instantly at hand to assist you with taking your luggage and valet parking your car. I love the lobby with its chic light interior, hammock chairs and seating areas. The hotel has installed clear plastic dividers between the guests and the hotel staff at the check in desk, as well as installing queue mechanics to ensure that a safe distance is left between the guests checking in. We had booked with a great deal on Booking.com and upon check in we were offered an upgrade to a sea facing room with balcony for an additional 60 dirhams, which we jumped at!

The rooms are modern, although on the slightly smaller size, and come equipped with all of the standard items you would expect, including extra-cosy dressing gowns (my favourite). We headed straight down to the pool for a frozen daiquiri and a sunbathe and relaxed straight into holiday-mode. Unfortunately, the hotel did feel quieter than the usual buzz it has about it – but that can only be expected in these times. The staff were great with taking all precautionary measures required as a result of COVID. The sunbeds were well distanced and the beds were frequently sanitised.


Restaurants

The hotel has a whopping twelve restaurants to choose from with the choice of Mexican, Indian, Italian, seafood, steak and international buffet. We wanted to get as much time in the sun and so for lunch we decided to order from the pool bar food menu and eat at our sun-beds. For dinner, as you can imagine, we were spoilt for choice but the steak restaurant, Rhodes 2.0 had a great offer on for starter, two mains, two sides and a bottle of wine for AED500! The food was amazing and the restaurant had a really romantic feel with high ceilings, chandeliers and an intimate feel to it.

I love a hotel breakfast and, I must say, this was one of the best hotel buffet breakfasts I think I have ever had! The choice was huge! We ordered sausage and bacon (yes, real pork), eggs in any way you like, and then headed up to the buffet. There was a great choice of pastries, fruits, juices, coffee, tomatoes, mushrooms, the lot. I didn’t need to eat again until dinner!

Spa 

We couldn’t end our girly weekend without a trip to the spa for a pamper. So after breakfast we spent the morning around the pool  and booked a massage for 3pm. The spa is also on the Entertainer which is great so the massage was buy one get one free.

I would absolutely stay at Le Royal Meridien again, and as we have a few friends that often stay at the hotel, we plan on joining them next time they make it over!

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.

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!)

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!