Location: Jordan & Egypt, Jordan
We've just returned from 11 days exploring Jordan and Egypt, joining an 8 day Intrepid tour. Arriving into Amman around lunchtime we headed into the downtown area to look around, get our first taste of Jordanian food as well as looking around the local shops and citadel hill with it's Roman ruins and impressive views over the city. The next day we took the chance to explore the ruins of Jerash, with a history dating over 2000 years and meeting some of our new group members in the hotel along the way. Returning to Amman we continued to look around Downtown, meeting our Intepid tour group that evening and heading out for dinner in a cute alleyway diner before strolling along to the local sweet stall, for knaffy (buttery shredded filo pastry layered over melted goats cheese - bit rich even for my sweet tooth!) where due to the crowded nature of the stall it was recommended only the men queued up to buy!
It's not an authentic experience without trying local food dishes!! Today we've explored a couple of good alley diners, where basically the tables line the alleyway of where the food is cooked in each of the adjacent shops and the tables lined with paper for tablecloths. The local food we've tried so far has included felafel hummus, fuul (beans, mashed with lemon juice), mixed grill, kofte and lovely fresh soft pita with every meal (although admittedly by the end of the week we'd had enough bread!) and sweets similar to baklava.
Leaving Amman we headed south towards Madaba stopping at Mt Nebo (the spot where prophet Moses is said to have seen the 'promised land') and with great views over the 'holy land' and stopped at a museum in Madaba. We had the chance to float in the dead sea, enjoying the weird sensation of just floating on top of the water. A few of us also tried the black mud mask all over our bodies!
Heading further south, we visited the Crusader Castle of Karak. Stopping for the night in Wadi Musa next to ancient Petra, we were able to eat in a Bedouin family home for traditional magloobeh (chicken with rice and vegetables), one of the tastiest meals we had in Jordan!
The following scorching hot day we had all day to explore Petra by day and by night, this ancient town with over 2000 years of history. Starting wandering through the high narrow gorge of the Siq arriving at the facade of the Treasury. After viewing the ruins of the ancient city we then climbed the 800 steps to the Monastery carved into the hill at approx 50m in height. The climb was tiring in the 30+ degree heat, but the views both of the monastery and the valley were worth it! By night we walked back in through the Siq with the path lit by candle lamps and all gathered around the Treasury for a sample of some local musical instruments. It was interesting seeing Petra by night and wandering through by candlelight but would have preferred to have seen the Treasury and square lit up with no people around as it was only candlelight with hundreds of candle lamps laid on the ground and a cheesy moment where everyone was asked to take a pictute at the same time so that the facade of the Treasury lit up by hundreds of camera flashes!
Leaving behind Petra we headed to the Wadi Rum area, and into the desert. After a few hours on a 4WD around the desert, we then spent the night in a Bedouin camp in the desert. I expected something basic, but not with toilets, running water and actual beds in tent structures! Turns out we were 'upgraded' as the usual campsites had been booked out! We enjoyed a hangi-style feast from the chicken and veg cooked in the ground before some singing and dancing in the 'lounge' tent. The next morning we headed back in the 4WD and onwards to Aquaba. Farewelling our Jordanian guide, he saw us on to the ferry and we made our way across to Egypt. This was an interesting experience, the ferry only goes once a day but no set timetable, we were the only westerners and women on the boat and immigration intriguing!
Late night we arrived into our beachside camp in Nuweiba on the Red Sea. The next 2 nights and day were nice and relaxing in our basic beach huts, hammocks and the gentle few step stroll to the waters edge. This was lovely and so peaceful, quite a secluded area and definitely not the touristy resort. I wish I could still be lazing in that hammock now!
Having relaxed and recharged our batteries, we moved on to Dahab. Here we had the opportunity to snorkel the Blue Hole. Entering the water literally at the edge of the roadside almost instantly you're floating just above the coral with the large blue hole beneath. I was quite surprised given the proximity to the waters edge as well as a large number of people there, there was actually so much marine life to see.
We were then given the good news that we were to fly back to Cairo from Sharm el-Shekh rather than battle the 8-14 hour bus ride due to the many police checkpoints. This then meant more time in Cairo. Taking in the atmosphere and immersing ourselves into the mayhem that is the Cairo, we explored the churches in Coptic Cairo and stopped by the grand bazaar. When the hassling became too much we just relaxed for a drink before heading to out hotel and out for a final group dinner.
Our final day with our group had us exploring the great wonder that is the pyramids and sphinx! It still amazes me how these can still be standing after over 2500 years. When in the great pyramid the smaller stones weigh over a tonne, it's quite impressive how they were built in their time. We entered into the Great Pyramid of Cheops along the long narrow corridor into the Great Gallery an King's Chamber. Moving on to the Egyptian museum we could see many more of the ancient Egypt artifacts including statues, sarcophagus, Mummy coffins, even mummies themselves and the treasures found in Tutankhamun's tomb including his 11kg gold death mask.
Our final morning we strolled by the Nile in the sunshine and made the most of the weather with one last dip in the pool! We were lucky with our time in Cairo in that it was actually a very quiet few days, as it was their Easter holidays and the roads and tourist attractions all appeared quiet, and much quieter than I recall it being!
Location: France, Luxembourg, Belgium, France
For Easter we decided to hire a car in Europe and explore a few places enjoying a weekend driving in the countryside and tasting some delicious food and drink! We made our way to Paris and picked up a rental car (ensuring to hire it from outside of the city we had no intention of braving the Parisian traffic!!). After a beautiful fine, sunny although cold morning wandering around Paris, we drove on to the Champagne region, through some of the valleys of vineyards and spent the night in Reims. We got to enjoy some shopping around the local bakeries and fresh food market, yummy picnics with French bread, meats and pastries hmmm
We then drove on to Luxembourg, heading into Luxembourg city for a look around, and spent the night in a small town called Differdange. Luxembourg was interesting to see, but I wouldn't say it's the type of place we'd be in a hurry to go back to. We spent the next day travelling through Belgium. We found a cute town called Dinant, located on the along the Meuse River. Home of Leffe beer and the inventor of the Saxophone, we spent longer here than we anticipated taking in the scenery and visiting the Leffe museum and of course Belgian waffles and chocolates :)
Carrying on our travels through Belgium we stopped in Gent for a while before moving on to stay just past the Belgium-France border. Enjoying the last of the French bakeries and a brief look around Lille, it was time to return the car and make our way back to London.
Happy new year everyone!
Having just returned from Sri Lanka, Christmas and new year was spent remaining in the UK, but still exploring! We spent a few days staying at Sarah and Geremys in Dover for Christmas, taking some time to look around Kent, including Canterbury, Whitstable, Broadstairs, Deal, Sandwich and Chilham. For new year the four of us headed up to York for a few days a first for all of us, we explored the old town, walked the town walls, visited the Minster and explored the narrow historic streets of the Shambles, ringing in midnight outside the Minster listening to live music. We also managed to stop by Nylans aunty Maureen and see his cousin Lisa and her baby daughter.
Recently in and around London weve also visited Windsor Castle, another day trip to Oxford with Nylans hockey, ate at a Medieval Banquet, Hyde Parks Winter Wonderland, outdoor Ice Skating at the Natural History museum, attended the International Darts competition at Alexandra Palace, watched the old steam train pass through the tube station in celebration of 150 years of the underground, and as its been snowing for the last 3 days today we went playing out in the snow and sledging down the hill up at Ally Pally.
Location: Sri Lanka
With Amila getting married in Sri Lanka, this gave us the perfect opportunity to explore this beautiful country and travel somewhere totally new for us.
Our first evening we caught up with Amila and Chammika over dinner and a bit of a night time drive of Colombo. Departing early the next morning on a 5 day whirlwind tour our first stop was at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. There were over 70 elephants here of varying ages, injuries and orphans. We also watched as they walked to and bathed in the river. Nearby it was our opportunity to ride an elephant, walking through trees and stopping in the stream.
We then stopped by a herb and spice garden on our way to Kandy. We concluded the day in Kandy visiting the Temple of the Tooth and a Kandyian dance show. The other charcteristic 'charm' of Kandy were the monkeys. Our hotel balcony had a sign on the door saying beware monkeys, didn't think much of it at first until when we had the door open one decided to pop in!! We promptly got it out and then kept our door closed!! We then had another four at once in the morning on our balcony and popping heads into restaurant window at breakfast! Some towns have stray cats or dogs, Kandy has monkeys!!
Departing Kandy we stopped by and saw local demonstrations of Batiks, gemstone jewelry making and wood carving. We spent some time wandering the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens before hitting the road for a very pleasant scenic drive into the hills and past valleys of many tea plantations. Naturally, following the valleys of tea plants, we had to then visit a tea factory and see the process and sample some fresh tea! Our final stop was at Ramboda waterfalls before staying in Nuwara Eliya at height of 1889m. Being in the hills meant it was now cooler in the evening despite being a beautiful hot 30+degree day, in the evening it was cool enough for our guest house to provide us with 'hot water bags' when we finished our dinner!
The next day we started with a morning walk into Nuwara Eliya town and past Gregory Lake. For something a little different today we then got the train from Nanu Oya to Ella. We enjoyed a very scenic train ride through the hills, past forests and tea plantations. Our stay in Ella was very relaxing starting with a massage and then resting in our guesthouse settled among the trees in hills in a peaceful area with a beautiful view!
The following morning we climbed to the top of Little Adams Peak with a lovely view of the surrounding valleys. During this walk and even as we drove today we saw an array of animals including snake, iguana, Kingfisher, water buffalo and monkeys and that was even before the safari! Moving on we headed towards Yala stopping on the way at Ravana Ella waterfalls. Arriving in Tissamaharama after lunch we headed out on a jeep safari in Yala National Park. We saw quite a selection of animals including crocodiles, water buffalo, warthog, deer, iguanas and various birds. Our highlight of the safari was the appearance of mum and baby elephant who walked right beside our jeep!
The final day of our tour included driving along the south west coast through Galle, Galle Fort and a glass bottom boat ride in Hikkaduwa over the coral and included passing a sea turtle and then stopping off at a turtle hatchery.
Returning to Colombo we met up with Louise in beautiful Mount Lavinia relaxing along the beach and preparing ourselves for Amila's wedding the next day. Wed even arrived for St Lucia day celebrations at the hotel with a chance to enjoy some free drinks in the courtyard with some of the other Guiding friends. The wedding day was a beautiful day and set in a lovely location, it was great to be there and to be able to share a part of their special day.
We did one last day tour up to Sigyria rock and the Dambulla cave temples. The climb up over 1200 steps up to the flat-topped rock formation at Sigyria was challenging but sure worth the view. Sigyria (Lions rock) was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 5th century BC. The Dambulla Rock Temple had first been constructed over 2000 years ago, theyre located at an elevation of 340m above sea level rises a massive rock from the surrounding plains of Dambulla of over 180m high and over 600m in length and are full of paintings and statues related to Lord Buddha and his life.
Our last day in Colombo saw us taking in some of the local sites including the hustle and bustle of Pettah and the Fort area, Galle Face Green and catching up with Amila and family one last time at their homes and then to dinner at a delicious all you can eat Sri Lankan buffet!! It had been a great trip in a beautiful country :)
During September we travelled to Ireland for Yvonne and Daves wedding. As well as enjoying some time in and around Dublin with friends we took the opportunity to stay longer and travel around the rest of Ireland, hiring a car, taking a tent and exploring more of the country.
Heading north our first stop was briefly in Belfast, passing by the Peace Wall and the docklands area before heading along the north Antrim coast. Although the weather wasnt the greatest this particular day, we did want to explore the Giants Causeway and walked along the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, braving the conditions to explore some fascinating scenery. After spending our first night camped on a farm near Londonderry (we were the sole campers at this site, so it was so peaceful!) we then started heading South again, taking on the experience in the Ulster-American Folk park.
We traveled down through County Fermanagh, around Lower Lough Erne, through Co. Sligo, Mayo and stayed in Westport. We passed through Connemara national park, down through Galway, Limerick and the cute thatched cottage village of Adare and stayed in Tralee. The next few days we spent in what was our favourite part of the trip around the Dingle Peninsula and exploring Kerry and driving the Ring of Kerry, Killarney National park and camping in Cahirsveen and in Clonakilty, before our last day stopping by Cobh, Cork and driving back to Dublin to cook for a dinner party. We enjoyed catching up with our friends again as well as having use of a car and escaping the city, exploring the countryside.