Dubai

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I have a confession to make. I have never really cared much about visiting Dubai and to be fair, prior to getting married I didn’t really have much knowledge about the Middle East – as you may or may not know from reading my previous blogs.

We got married in April 2015 when I was 25 year old and it was my birthday in June, just a couple of months after the wedding. Just like any girl, especially a sensitive, hopeless romantic who is a proper bollywood ki sauch waaali girl,  I couldn’t help but fantasise and wonder how Ahmed was going to treat me on my birthday. Was he going to bring me flowers? Was he going to take me to some fancy dinner? Will he even remember that it’s my birthday?

After all I had come from a family where I was extremely spoilt and birthdays were always a big thing. This made it extra nerve wrecking. If he does forget my birthday, how will I feel? Being so far away from my friends and family, I already felt lonely and isolated. And with it being Ramadan during my birthday, I didn’t think it would be possible to be out all day exploring. I tried not to think too much about it. I tried not to get my hopes up because I would be devastated if my expectations were too high. I didn’t want to be disappointed.

If I remember correctly, Ramadan was due to start 4 or 5 days before my birthday that year.

Ahead of the Holy month of Ramadan starting, it was an uneventful morning when Ahmed woke me up unusually early. As I wasn’t working, the general routine would dictate that I would have stepped out of bed well after Ahmed had gone to work. As I struggled to wake up and had started to rub my eyes, Ahmed announced ‘we’re going to Dubai this evening after work, so pack your bags’. I wish I had a photo of my facial expressions that I could share with you. I couldn’t comprehend what he was talking about. He said he was thinking of telling me in the evening about the trip, a couple of hours before the flight but knew what a control freak I am and decided to give me the full day to pack and get organised.

I spent the entire day panicking and packing. So much excitement and adrenaline, I couldn’t quite believe it. It wasn’t the fact that we were going to Dubai, but the fact that I had absolutely no idea that he had planned it all!

The few hours that Ahmed was at work felt like the longest hours of my life. He eventually came home and we headed  straight to the airport! YEY!

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Seeing this little (read ‘BIG’) bear at Hammad International Airport soon became my favourite sight.

Here are some facts that I found on google about this gorgeous bear:

  • The bear is known as the ‘Untitled Lamp Bear’ and is the creation of  a Swiss artist ‘Urs Fischer’
  • The teddy is made out of bronze and weighs around 18-20 tons and it’s height is 23 feet!

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We flew via Qatar airways and took the ‘bus’ shuttle equivalent of a flight. The journey was only 45 mins long, however, we were served with food and overall an excellent service. This little chicken panini on the right was DIVINE! I’d fly with them again just for the panini!

 

It was quite late by the time we arrived in Dubai. The humid air, the noisy hustle and bustle of Dubai was apparent from the minute we landed. There was something quite unique about Dubai as it was so different to Qatar. There were lots of palm trees covered in fairy lights all along the roads, twinkling everywhere. Dubai straight away seemed more liberal and more diverse than Qatar. It was a louder and more flamboyant version of Qatar I felt.

We arrived at this gorgeous Hotel called ‘Manzil Downtown’. Ahmed had already taken me to one of the nicest hotels for our honeymoon, so I’m not going to lie, expectations were high! He had already spoilt me and showed me the best of what we could have so deep down I was hoping that the hotel would be as luxurious and gorgeous as it was in Thailand…. And it was. The hotel was full of character, located only a few minutes walk  away from the famous Burj Khalifa. The rooms and general decor around the hotel was completed to a high standard and the service was impeccable.

Day 1: Mall of Emirates, Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa

We started the day off by visiting the Mall of Emirates. I didn’t know the first thing about this mall or what kind of shops were inside. Ahmed said that we’d be having lunch at the HALAL ‘CHEESECAKE FACTORY’. The last time I had any experience of indulging in a Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory was back in 2011, 4 years ago! I was over the moon to be spending our lunch eating there! I think you can see the excitement and enthusiasm on the photo. Little did I know that the surprises hadn’t stopped just there….

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Of course I did not know that Dubai has penguins for crying out loud!! Penguins are supposed to be living in cold climates, right? All my life I have loved Penguins. I find them absolutely adorable. How the male penguin proposes to the female penguin, how the male penguin protects the egg, how they look and the way they walk… I love everything about them. Growing up, my mum would always buy me lots of things with Penguins. Ahmed knew that I loved penguins and it was definitely on my bucket list to meet one, one day.

I didn’t think my wish would be coming true for my 26th birthday though. But it did. He made one of my biggest wishes come true. I got to meet, touch and even KISS a penguin. Just writing about this experience fills my hear with joy.

The Gentoo Penguins reside at the Ski Dubai in the Mall of Emirates. The enclosure consists of several areas including a private pool, a top deck area with rocks, and a private holding area.

We then travelled across to the Dubai Mall. Bearing in mind it was something like 48 Degrees outside. We walked and walked everywhere! I had recently stopped buying clothes and was attempting to live a more minimalist lifestyle so I didn’t want to shop as such. We spent most the time window shopping.

As we entered the mall, I was mesmerised to see a gigantic aquarium all around the Mall as I hadn’t seen anything like it. There were so many unusual things and decor that blew me away.

We walked so much that I was getting really tired. I wasn’t used to being in the heat for so long and hadn’t walked much since being in Thailand. I eventually asked Ahmed to stop for a break. We came across ‘Granny’s Waffles’ and I knew that’s exactly what I wanted. We sat down and ordered the most delicious crepe and waffles to date! The crepe was so thin and fresh, and they weren’t shy of spreading lots of nutella. I was in a happy place!

Just as I thought that the evening was approaching, I thought it was time to head back to the hotel. But wait, of course Ahmed wouldn’t plan such an itinerary. I kept asking him why we were hanging around and what we were waiting for. I didn’t realise he was planning on taking me to the WORLD’s highest building, the Burj Khalifa. 

Ahmed had booked some sort of a VIP tour where we were showered with amazing hospitality. We were given refreshments and drinks. The group only consisted of a handful of people and we skipped all the other queues. We made it just in time for the sunset.

After being blown away by the amazing views, sky scrappers and a gorgeous sunset, Ahmed was keen to get back downstairs. I couldn’t understand why. Surely this is it. Surely the surprises are going to end now. But no. We ended up making it just in time for a boat ride along the mall and watched the ‘Magical Dancing Fountains’ from a small boat.

Our views were completely clear. It was romantic and peaceful as we had the best views and I of course had the best company.

We headed back to the hotel and I was overwhelmed, overjoyed and thrilled to say the least. I had just had the most amazing day of my life. I had absolutely no idea that my husband was going to blow me away with all these surprises and bucket list goals!

TMI Info about to be shared!!!!! 

We went back to the hotel and I was extremely sick. I couldn’t sleep due to having severe migraines and pains in my head. This along with S&D, I thought i was going to die. No joke. I had never felt so faint and in agony before in my life. I know it’s TMI (too much information) BUT it’s important. At around 3am, I was almost close to tears and feeling guilty for ruining our perfect day. I was upset that after planning everything to perfection, Ahmed was going to be disappointment that I was so unwell. But he wasn’t. He was more worried about how I was as I even started to cough up blood from being so sick. He then found the nearest pharmacy and got me some tablets. We realised that I had probably had heat stroke due to exhaustion and the heat that I was exposed to.

We decided that the following day we would make sure i stay dehydrated and remain in the shade as much as possible.

Advice & Tip: STAY HYDRATED AT ALL TIMES!!!

Day 2: Palm Jumeirah, Atlantis and Boat ride

I woke up fresh as a daisy, feeling super refreshed and energised even though we had such a horrible night to begin with. Nothing a good shower and breakfast can’t sort out!

We got into a taxi and headed straight to Palm Jumeirah. WOW. The queues were long and there were tonnes of tourists all over the place. Old and young. People from all walks of life, fascinated and amused by the beauty that they were surrounded by. I too had never seen so many different species of the sea life. All different colours, shapes and sizes. It was magical to see! There is a restaurant there where you can have a meal amidst scenery of surpassing loveliness.

After seeing the aquarium, we headed towards a boat ride across Dubai. I had been on many boat rides before, but this one has got to be one of my favourite boat ride experiences ever!! As it was scorching hot, I couldn’t wait for the breeze to hit my face and for the ocean waves to hit me all over.

We were in a boat of around 8 other people. All foreign tourists.

(insert the story about the german speaking of terrorists)

As you can see, the views were incredible. We were lucky as the weather was so clear.

Andddd it is a wrap! This was it. Our very, super quick weekend in Dubai for my 26th Birthday.

After writing this blog-post with the itinerary, I feel inundated with emotions. I actually cannot believe how much organisation and planning Ahmed must have done for this trip to be so perfect. I could never, in a million years have envisaged to have had the most amazing trip with my best friend. I truly feel blessed and grateful to have had the experiences that we did. Truly thankful to Ahmed for being so thoughtful and making my 26th birthday one to remember.

I really don’t think any other birthday’s are going to come close to this one.

This is also where my itchiness for travel began. We had been married for a couple of months and had already explored three countries together. I was desperate to travel more and explore more.

Our next trip abroad was to Saudi when we went for Ummrah. I will be posting that one next, so keep tuned! I am pretty sure you guys will quite enjoy it. It was very personal and emotional to write.

Thailand

When my dream became a reality
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Following my gorgeous wedding, which by the way exceeded all expectations and more, I did not for a second imagine or anticipate that my life could get any better.

But it did.

It was something that I did not expect or even think would happen to me. I knew that my husband was going to take me to a ‘surprise’ honeymoon destination, but I did not envisage that it would blow my mind.

Two days after my wedding it was time to leave my friends and family to go to my honeymoon (or ‘holiday’ as I like to call it) before starting a new life in Qatar. I was not sure what to feel or how to react to this change. But I was excited nevertheless.

My dad was anxious and paranoid to say the least. His little girl, his only girl was leaving his ‘patronage’ to be with another man. My husband tried to keep the location a secret until my dad became restless and asked him where it was that he was taking me. Ahmed, hesitantly told my mum and dad where we were going. My dad’s reaction to this was, excitement as well as nervousness. I could see it all over his face. At this moment in time, I still had no idea where we were going!
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I vividly remember being sat in the CIP lounge at Islamabad Airport; sitting next to the man I have known all my life on one side (my dad) and on the other was the man who I was going to spend the rest of my life (my husband). Sat there was also my beloved late uncle who I called ‘Daddy’. Little did I know that it was going to be the last time I was going to see him. Overwhelmed with emotions, I did not really think about the life ahead or even the next destination. My emotions were taken over by the fact that I was about to spend the rest of my life with someone I had seen a handful of times.

Yep, that’s right. I had an arranged marriage. Maybe that’s something for a separate blog post?

As we sat there, all I knew was that the plane was going to Abu Dhabi. Therefore, my only thoughts were that we were going to Dubai. To be honest, Dubai was never really a destination that I had desired to visit. Nonetheless, I was grateful to my husband for organising it and surprising me.

As we got to Abu Dhabi, Ahmed told me we were going to Thailand. At that point in my life, I hadn’t really travelled much so I still was unsure what to expect. Yes, you heard me right… I hadn’t yet explored the world of Instagram and travel bloggers.

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As we arrived in Thailand, I recall a young Pakistani couple getting on the plane. It was almost a reflection of me and my other half. The excitement on their faces seemed familiar. The henna on the newly wedded bride looked similar to my own hands.

The flight to Phuket was uneventful… other than the fact that nearer to the time of landing, the pilot made an announcement for us to peek out the air plane windows as the Phi-Phi Islands could be see. And God were they gorgeous.

Going through passport control at Phuket International Airport was uneventful as well. At least for me it was.

My British passport and I whizzed through passport control without realising that Ahmed had been stopped for further screening. Soon after walking past passport control, I heard someone yell ‘PAAAAKTAAAAAANI PAAAAKITAAANI’.

What was to come was my very own ritual of initiation of having married someone with a Pakistani passport. I don’t mean this as a particularly bad thing; but carrying a Pakistani passport has its own set of caveats and conditions when you travel around (which we will come to in a bit).

When I looked around rather alarmingly to figure out what the ruckus was all about, I realised that the immigration office dealing with Ahmed was waving his arms around, heading towards someone senior I imagine; with Ahmed’s passport in one hand and ushering Ahmed to follow him.

My first reaction was, well, logical: I burst out laughing! Only to realise this was the guy I had got married to!

My stomach did a good few turns and a million thoughts went around in my head. Panic had set in! I was in a foreign country, which a man I had married very recently, with no idea or information about where we were headed… not even carrying my own plane ticket! What if they keep him overnight? What if I have go to the hotel on my own? What I have to go back to Pakistan or back home to the UK? or Abu Dhabi which is where the flight had originated from?

As my mind was doing overtime, I noticed that the other couple were in a similar predicament. However, the guy seemed more aware of the situation and stood next to his new Missus as the immigration was double, triple checking her visa. I looked over at Ahmed who reassuringly smiled back as he had his passport (and other documents) inspected and reinspected. Could this treatment be commonplace?

Ahmed was eventually, maybe 20 mins later, allowed entry. YES! By this point I had already dragged all our luggage off the conveyor belt.

We headed out of the airport and a gush of humid, hot, ‘wet’ air hit me all over. It smelt quite unusual and my first impression was: this appears to be a deprived country!

Ahmed would remind me time and time again how I was acting like someone from the TV series ‘An idiot abroad’. How many of you have seen it?

Oh well, I didn’t care, did I? I was buzzin’!

I looked up and this gorgeous white Mercedes pulled up. I was definitely impressed I must admit. I don’t think if I had ever sat in a Merc before then. As we got on, the driver offered us wet towels to freshen up and then pulled out two cold bottles of water from a small cool box. This alone made me feel a million dollars as I had sweat dripping off my face.

The journey from the airport to the hotel was long. Or at least it felt long. So long that I went through a million emotions of feeling sad, happy, excited, tired, bored. You get the picture, don’t you?

We pulled up at the hotel and were quickly greeted by the most happy people on the face of this planet. Bowing down as they put their hands together welcoming us. The reception room was lavish, bright and charming. As we sat down to check in, they immediately offered us some unusual tea and these gorgeous Jasmine bands for our wrists.

As Ahmed checked in, I looked around the reception room and the TripAdvisor board caught my eye. It was rated as 5* by TripAvdisor and had won a number of awards for being THE BEST hotel in the Phuket area. Once we checked in and all, we were escorted to our very own buggy. I had never been in one of those either, so at this moment, I was completely thrilled.

We rode to our apartment and WOW. I guess the photos below will say it all.

I had tears in my eyes as my heart filled with joy. A tear rolling down my cheek and my stomach going absolutely wild. I genuinely had never expected anything like this in my life and it only got better after it.

Alhamdulillah (“Praise be to Allah”).

I thought I was dreaming. Hallucinating even. But it was real. All of it. As a little girl I grew up dreaming for something like this to happen to me and at that moment in time, my dreams really did become reality!

Day 1: Phi Phi Islands

I woke up to the most amazing breakfast, overlooking our private and gorgeous infinity pool. It was everything and more. The breakfast spread was absolutely mouth watering. The hotel even catered for us to have Halal meat! YUM. NOM.

After breakfast, our ride was waiting outside for us. We were quickly taken to a tiny boat and off we went exploring the Phi Phi Islands. The whole tour was arranged via the hotel, and I have no idea about the cost. However, we (Ahmed) opted for the fast speed boat and we spent the entire day island hopping.

By the way, at this stage, I had no intentions of blogging, or instagramming so the photo quality may be a little poor and I don’t recall all little details as I didn’t plan the itineraries or write down specific notes. Nowadays I try to have things written down as reminders to share with y’all.

Enjoy the pics anyways!

I am not going to lie, this day was very looooong. I was still a little jet lagged from all the travelling and the sea air just knocked me out! It was also really busy as there were tourists in every corner of the islands. Maybe that’s why I don’t even have many pictures from this trip.

I guess maybe that’s why in some ways this holiday was so special. I spent less time taking the most picture perfect photographs and actually enjoyed my time hearing, feeling and experiencing every moment of being there.

We went back to the hotel and luckily the sun hadn’t set yet. We quickly made the most of the infinity pool, sipped some tea, watched the sun go down, witnessed the sky change colour numerous times. It truly was blissful and a moment to remember forever. The kind of picture perfect honeymoon that one dreams of. Well done ‘A’. You did an excellent job. What’s gone wrong now? lol.

Day 2: Safari Tour and Boat trip

I woke up, still in awe of this gorgeous hotel. The sun was shining, the music was playing and as we opened our eyes, we heard a knock on the door. ROOM SERVICE. I laid in bed as Ahmed let them in and helped them lay out the breakfast by the pool. Yep, we had room service for breakfast the entire trip as we wanted to make the most of the infinity pool.

hotel view

We spent the first few hours just hanging around the pool as we waited for a second day of excursions. At this point, to be honest, I still didn’t want to know what we were doing on the day. I was quite enjoying being told on the day where we were going and just to go with it. So I sat back and enjoyed every moment. Quite opposite to how I am now: A CONTROL FREAK!

me before safari

Yep, this is me. Just sitting on the floor, drinking tea.

Anyways! The Safari Tour with the Boat Trip, Yey!

We arrived at this safari place, where we learnt a little about coffee and how they process it. We then continued to find out about what they do with the coconuts. How they grow them, how they make all sorts of things with it. To be honest, this kind of stuff is more something Ahmed enjoys, because I don’t really retain the information well. I mean don’t get me wrong it was good, but part of me was thinking ‘is this it’.

UNTIL…… We got to see some gorgeous elephants. AAAHHH. I have always loved elephants and found them to be so bloody adorable that my heart sank when I saw them for the first time. I’m surprised by this point I didn’t have a cardiac arrest with all the excitement and surprises. We even got to ride an elephant! We fed the elephants! We touched the elephants! It was such a surreal moment.

Dammit. The elephant behind me even picked up my sun screen and sun glasses that fell out of my bag and onto the ground. This is true. The elephant behind me stopped, used his gorgeous long trunk to pick up my belongings and passed them to me. A moment to remember indeed!

The day ended with a short boat trip. Yes, yes I love boat trips! We had our dinner on the boat and watched the world go by. It was romantic, relaxing and just a really nice way to end the day.

Day 3: Tiger Kingdom, Big Buddha & FANTA-SEA

Another day, another excursion. We decided to head to the ‘Tiger Kingdom’. I had seen lots of photos of people with tigers and thought to myself, wow, how amazing. So off we went. We got a taxi from our hotel to The Tiger Kingdom.

Although I don’t really want to share photos from this trip. I kind of feel obliged to share them as well as sharing my opinions and experiences from visiting this place. As we entered, it was really busy and chaotic. There were tourists everywhere, of all ages and from all over the world. The prices to see the tigers were rather expensive I thought, but went with it. Then we noticed that the prices vary depending on how big or little the tigers are. To get a photo taken with the bigger ones was more cheaper in comparison to the little ones. I guess the little ones look even more ‘grammable’ right? EUGH. I regret this, but I still went with it.

I mean, just look at these poor souls. I feel like I messed up. I shouldn’t have given into the hype and paid for these wild life animals to be tortured and drugged for my benefit. But I did. So did many other people. I remember leaving the cage-like rooms where the tigers were kept and feeling an overwhelming sadness taking over. All of a sudden it hit me. I had just paid towards this cruelty. NEVER AGAIN. I promised myself to tell anyone that I meet not to go to places like these. Because it is just awful. Seeing these beautiful creatures being held against their will and being treated so badly for human satisfaction is not okay.

PLEASE DO NOT DO IT. 

Soon after leaving The Tiger Kingdom, our next stop was to see the Big Buddha. I had never seen a Buddha statue that was this big. I had never been to anywhere like it. As we entered the area, the Big Buddha could be seen from miles away! This giant statue of the big Buddha really did overshadow its surroundings. It was a gorgeous place just to walk around and taking in a different culture, religion and belief to our own. Watching people being engrossed in worshipping and praying.

After feeling hot and tired, we headed back to the hotel, only to be told that we had another exciting place to visit called Fanta-Sea: The ultimate Thai Cultural Park. We were collected by a fancy looking van, with Fanta Sea written all over it. We arrived in a very loud, bright and colourful place. I kind of didn’t know what earth was going on!

As we entered, it looked so gorgeous. It was a huge theme park with a massive stage show, a large buffet restaurant and plenty of shops to tempt people into spending more than just the entry fee. Phuket Fanta-sea opened in 1998 and is certainly one of Phuket’s main tourist attractions.

There is also a popular show at Phuket Fantasea. The theater seats around 3,000 people. There are hundreds of performers in the show. I was not sure what to expect, tacky or impressive? Oh and by the way, you CANNOT take the camera into the show. They WILL take your camera/ phone away if they catch you snapping cool photos for the gram or the blog.

The show lasts over one hour with song and dance from different regions of Thailand woven into a tale of the “Kingdom of Kamala”. There are animals, acrobats, fireworks. I personally enjoyed it although I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea!

Day 4: RELAX

Although Ahmed had planned another excursion for day 4, we decided to cancel it. We were tired and exhausted and also wanted to make the most of the beautiful hotel. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool, enjoying the views and just getting to know one another even more.

A bit of a disaster happened on the last day. As I was laying by the infinity pool taking selfies of myself to send to my friends, my phone slipped out of my hands and fell into the pool. Uh-Oh. My heart skipped a beat. I think I may have even cried. I screamed for Ahmed to come to my rescue. We called the reception and asked them to bring up some uncooked rice. Baffled, they replied ‘we can cook you Ma’am’. We explained it was a little more urgent than that. We were praying for a miracle and had heard that putting the phone in the uncooked rice will fix everything. With a heavy heart, I put my phone into the bag of rice and said a little prayer! MY ENTIRE LIFE WAS ON THERE!

Dramatic, I know.

But considering I wasn’t going to see my friends or family for the foreseeable future, it really did feel that the reaction was justified.  Or at least I think so!

Anyways, there were positives on that day. We realised that we had the entire beach to ourselves and that the mock-tails drinks were free every day! So we made the most of our time left at the hotel. We laughed, laughed some more.

final night

We stayed in the hotel for our last meal. It was absolutely gorgeous. The Thai Cakes and the Thai Green Curry was to die for. Despite the phone disaster I couldn’t help but smile at what a lovely start to our marriage we had had. It was beyond perfect. It was a dream come true.

Day 5: Flight to Qatar….

And this was it. For all I knew, I was going to be spending the rest of my life in Qatar. With a man I had only spent 7 days with.

The next blogpost will be about Qatar…..! Until then, enjoy, like & comment on this post 🙂 

 

Sri Lanka

Ella

Feeling’ good Resort

(+) It was very scenic and calm. The cottage was very private and secluded. The wifi was absolutely amazing. It was great value for money as the half board price was very reasonable. The reception /dining area was fantastic. The gardens and plants were well kept. The owner welcomed us warmly and was very kind and extremely honest. We were about to pay him more but he gave us back the excess.

(-) The room did not look homely and was really basic. The mattress was extremely stiff and the cottage was warm. There was a remote controlled fan but an air-conditioned room would have been so much more nicer. There is such great potential in the property that needs to be tapped. The open space and raised platform can be a location for a bbq or bar. Since the location is away from Ella town, this would really attract tourists.

Negombo

Terrace Green Hotel

(+) The bedroom and the bath were clean and comfortable. The staff were very courteous and accommodating.

(-) The breakfast area was open… And it was warm and humid even in the morning. Would have loved an air-conditioned breakfast space.

 

Nuwara Eliya

Unique Cottages

(+) The location and the staff was great. The building was brilliant and the garden outside was well-kept.

(-) There was no air-conditioning or even a fan in the room… And it got uncomfortably warm during the night. The cushions in the bed were not clean. The bathroom had a very horrible smell. The bathroom window was left uncovered – no curtain, blinds, or frosted glass whatsoever; and it was overlooked by an under construction house which made using the facilities even more uncomfortable. The towels were worn out and looked very old. The breakfast area could be improved with better furniture.

Sigiriya

Hotel Heritance Kandalama

(+) The location was absolutely spectacular. The staff was prompt and courteous. The views from our fifth floor room were magnificent, and pictures cannot do it justice. We were upgraded without even asking for an upgrade. The breakfast was a good spread and varied both mornings. They catered for Halal food, which was a surprise. We forgot our iPhone 6s on a sun lounger on the 7th floor which was returned by the staff. The lake is a short walk away from the hotel and we even saw a deer on the way to the lake. Highly recommend this place.

(-) Our room was close to the bar and thus a bit noisy.

 

Ben Nevis

fbdh

So there we were, we had already climbed Snowdon in Wales, Scafell Pike in the Lake District and Mount Batur in Bali. Despite our attempts to postpone our trip to Ben Nevis, Scotland we couldn’t avoid it completely. I had challenged myself to complete the THREE PEAKS so I had to climb it before the weather became too difficult!

The Planning!

Like any trip that you take, it involves lots of planning and intricate details, right? Maybe not, but I am usually quite a control freak so I like to plan all itsy bitsy things! Bearing in mind that at the time, Ahmed was in Manchester and I was  in Newcastle,  this meant that I had to figure out how Ahmed and I would both finish work, meet somewhere half way and drive up to Scotland on a busy bank holiday weekend.  We were apparently two of 15 million folks on the road that weekend, yeyy!

And gosh it was busy on the road!

 Journey to Scotland

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After a bit of a chaotic day at work (we won’t get into that just now!) I went to the train station to catch the train to Carlisle. The journey started off with a Cuppa Latte of course. I stopped off to buy some Latte and sat down on some quirky looking tables and chairs. As I was about to take some photos for ‘the gram’ I overheard someone telling another traveller that the train to Carlisle was at platform 1 which was located approximately 50 meters down the lane. uh oh! Being completely engrossed in my own world, I soon realised that was my train and it was due to leave in 4 minutes. There was no time to be taking snaps for ‘the gram’, instead I got up, grabbed my stuff and ran towards the ‘correct’ platform whilst trying hard not to spill the hot coffee all over myself!

dhrhr

The journey already seemed stressful before i even got on! I soon managed to grab myself a seat and started to sip my coffee with a smug face. As i took my first sip, I heard lots of swearing and shouting in the background. Sigh. I thought to myself ‘here we go’. As i was thinking that, the lady next to me whispered ‘can’t they have their domestic when they get off the train’. I smiled and nodded as I couldn’t agree more, although the sinister me thought it would be quite entertaining to analyse their relationship (SOCIAL WORKER PROBLEMS)! The couple soon stopped arguing and i decided to top up my nail polish and watch the world go by.

 

Before I knew it, it was time to get off. Ahmed came to collect me from the train station and off we went to Scotland, Aye! On our way to our Airbnb find, we got peckish so we stopped off at the only place that was open at that time of the night. At this point I was extremely hungry and wanted everything that was in the shop (and i kinda did too)! I ended up spending over £25 on some chocolates, biscuits, crisps and some other junk food related items.

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As we drove on, I tucked into my chocolate, only to find out that the chocolate – Dairy Milk was melted! Feeling distraught, i decided to stick it out the window and let it hang in the hope of the cold air making it hard again! and it worked! woohoo!

Our lovely AirBnB !

We arrived at our destination (finally)! We were greeted by our wonderful host Corrina, with the biggest smile and the most lovely Scottish accent. She led us into our own little private area which was spotlessly clean and inviting, especially after the hours of driving and travelling! It is fair to say that this was by far the most affordable place we could find on Airbnb. Corrina had provided us with absolutely everything, including breakfast, tea and coffee!

After having an amazing night sleep, we woke up bright and early to climb Ben Nevis. For anyone wanting to climb Ben Nevis, we would highly recommend staying in Fort William as it is literally EIGHT minutes away from the car park near for Ben Nevis. It also has a Morrisons quite nearby where you can purchase all the basic necessities, be it food or first aid stuff!

Climbing Ben Nevis!

Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles, located in Scotland, United Kingdom. Standing at 1,345 metres above sea level, it is located in the Scottish Highlands, close to the town of Fort William.

Smiles on our faces, butterflies in our stomachs (or at least my stomach), we began to make our way towards the signposted walking routes of what IS the HIGHEST peak in the UK! Feeling proud, excited and extremely nervous, I already started to wish that we had prepared a bit more before taking on this challenge. People from all walks of life, race, religion and background were seen to be scattered all over the car park. There was a massive group of Sikhs with ‘Sikh Relief’ T-shirts on. It already put a massive smile on my face. You know I love diversity, right?! They were doing the ACTUAL ‘Three Peak Challenge’ in 24 Hours!! For those of you who may not be aware of the ‘read deal’ three peak challenge, it entails walking Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours (in whatever order the challenger fancies tackling them).

As we were walking up, it was getting extremely hot. No, i am not complaining! But I was completely not prepared for it to be as hot as it was! I soon started to look for shades for pit-stops . We hiked up using the ‘tourist route’, which was almost like climbing a very long flight of stairs, with great views (we got the weather right!).

Half way up the summit, you get to see this beautiful ‘Loch’. We asked a local Scot Mark if this was ‘the lake’ that is supposed to be half way to the summit. Mark soon corrected our language and informed us that there are only TWO lakes in Scotland and that this was a Loch. I had to get home to google what he meant by ‘Loch’. Apparently A Loch is a large area of water in Scotland that is completely or almost completely surrounded by land…..!

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Meet Uncle Abdul Ghafoor!

As we climbed up, we noticed a group of Asian men, both old and younger, making their way to the top. I had a quick moment to myself wondering if they might be from our (other) hometown ‘Mirpur’. Ahmed and I started to talk about our (other) home town ‘Mirpur’ in Urdu and were discussing something random like what areas were the ‘posh ends’ in Mirpur when an older man walking in front of us turned around and agreed with something that I had just said (and obviously Ahmed was disagreeing with – typical!). This gentlemen, who would have been around my father’s age, was now walking with us. Absolutely baffled by his response, we asked him where he was from and to our surprised he replied ‘Mirpur’. Taken back by this surreal moment, we asked him some more questions and we soon came to know that he is a really good friend of Ahmed’s uncle and also knows both our families! INSANE RIGHT?!! The saying ‘What a small world’ truly was appropriate in this moment in time!

The climb wasnt as steep as it was long! And boy was it long!

Nevertheless we got there eventually, and yes, it was all worth it. The clear blue sky and the sun beaming through patches of clouds was just incredible. The vistas from atop Ben Nevis were breath-taking.

Ben Nevis oozes history and the sense of achievement is paramount. The ruins of the old observatory are unmissable. One can’t help but imagine the way of life and how hard it would have been back in the day to live here. The emergency shelter that sits nearby is evidence of how ruthless Ben Nevis can be.

All in all, this mountain, the highest peak in the UK had been kind of us, and so had the weather.

Will sunny spells and not a drop of rain, we can not complain, can we?

If there was anything that we had not been prepared for, it was the descend. With a dodgy knee (impacted meniscus) and lack of food, it was not the right state of affairs to be ‘rolling down’ a mountain. I did wonder at the time if rolling down was an option.

With heads held high (figuratively of course) and clinging on to hope, we embarked on the trek to the foot of the mountain.

A word of advice to trekkers: When you are on your way down and people heading up ask you about how much of the trek is left, please tell the truth!

On our way down, we met an older couple who were clearly struggling. When they asked people heading down how much was left, the responses were as varied as the weather in UK on any given day! Some nudged them on to keep going on which in our opinion should not have been an option- considering this was well in the second half of the day!

We did finally make our way in to the car park, only to notice a brave (read: crazy) bunch of people doing the (actual) three peaks challenge and heading to the top. We wished God speed to them, rolled our eyes, whispered ‘show offs’ and did not look back!

TOP TIPS! 

  • Make sure you purchase/rent/borrow all the relevant gear including, hat, gloves, waterproof walking shoes/boots, waterproof and wind proof jacket, thermals and a water proof back pack. A list of the equipment we used/carried will be published separately.

  • Take lots of water and energy drinks if that’s more your cuppa tea. You can also fill up the water as you walk up as there is a large waterfall half way to the summit. Also, there are a few (probably 3) springs on the way where you can refill.

  • Take some food as you will get hungry on your way up (and your way down)!
  • Midge spray is a MUST if you are climbing in the summer months. Those little rascals are such a nuisance!
  • The path is excellent BUT it is not easy going. You HAVE to watch your footing. If you have already done Scafell Pike and Snowdon, you will need to be prepared for a long steadily inclined path as opposed to a steeper shorter path.

Morocco

Marrakesh

Riad Utopia Suites and Spa

(+) The breakfast was elaborate and it was lovely by the pool. Upon arrival, we were given a briefing by a member of staff about he neighbourhood, sights and social norms in the city. The bed was comfortable and the room was clean. The roof top was brilliant and it was extremely relaxing to lounge there. The staff gave complimentary Moroccan tea, which was very kind of them. You cannot go wrong with the location. It is within walking distance from the Fana Square, and very quiet at night.

(-) We stayed in a room called ‘Cozy’, and it was extremely awkward since there was only a curtain between the bed and the bath. What looked like the bath was only a shower, which was a let down. One end of the roof top stand of sewage, which was not pleasant to say the least.

Gorges Du Dades, Aït Ouaddar

Auberge Chez Pierre

(+) The room was extremely quirky. It was like being in a tree house. With a lounge area and bathroom/loo on the ground floor and the bed on the first floor, connected with a wooden staircase that adds character to the room. The food was a ‘special’ 5-course meal, that was incredible, accompanied by live entertainment/performance. With in brilliantly short commutable distance from the gorge.

(-) The staff was polite and accommodating in the beginning but on the way out after checking out, the staff didn’t even have the courtesy to ask if we needed help with the bags. On the contrary, they stood in one corner, enjoying their cigarettes/chat while we struggled with carrying the bags down the stairs to the car. The cars had been parked on the road, which wasn’t ideal. The hotel accepts only cash, which was not convenient. We were not told what the dinner options were, and were told ‘it was a surprise’, which didn’t help in decision making whether we fancied food at the hotel.

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Fès

Riad Palais Bahia

(+) The hotel manager, Ouday was exceptional in regards to his hospitality and service. The staff were welcoming and friendly as we arrived in Fes. Upon our arrival, we were served moroccan tea which was delicious. As we entered our hotel room, we found a fruit basket which was also a lovely gesture. The hotel was located within close proximity to the souks in the old medina. Everything was within walking distance. The views from the rooftop were absolutely amazing. We were able to see the sunset from our rooftop. Ouday also immediately asked us whether we required a tour guide the following morning. He was not pushy ad was open about what options were available. we opted for a 3 hour guide which meant we were able to see all important sites within the old medina.

(-) I think the hotel would be almost perfect if they could invest in some gowns and slippers!

Chefchaouen

La Petite

(+) La Petite, what a little gem! Our most favourite thing about this little hotel was the hotel employee ‘Aimen’ as well as the other gent (sorry we didn’t get your name!). Aimen was attentive to all our needs during our stay. Firstly he greeted us at the parking which was approximately 5 minutes walking distance from the hotel. The other employee helped us on two occasions, once when we wanted to find one of the local attractions, he took us there physically. Another time we ran out of money and needed to go to a money exchange and he took us there too. Overall the ambiance within the hotel was exceptional in terms of the service, the hospitality, comfort and the location. This hotel was by far the best hotel that we came across within the Chefchaouen region. The hotel rooftop overlooked the entire town where the Spanish Mosque at the top could also be seen very clearly. The sunrise as well as the sunset were both beautiful which made the breakfast in the morning a perfect experience.

(-) Nothing!

 

Tangier

Kasbah Rose

(+) The location of the hotel was pretty decent in terms of it being located near the Souks. It was not until the owner herself, Lorraine came to the hotel that we started to receive some service. The owners took time out to speak to us which was very welcoming of them. Thus, the best thing about this hotel were the owners and the deco around the hotel. It was beautifully decorated with lots of little intricate details and ornaments. The views from the rooftop as well as our room were absolutely gorgeous. We thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast on the rooftop.

(-) The employee that greeted us on the day we arrived at the hotel could not speak a word of English which made basic communication extremely difficult for us. He was more distracted by being on the phone to someone and texting them instead of showing us our room or offering us some tea which is something all the other hotels all over morocco did. The room had an extremely strong stench coming from the bathroom which made is difficult to use the bathroom when needed. The extractor fan had to be switched on at all times for the smell to stay out of the bedroom. There was no AC in the room which meant that the two nights that we spent in tangier we were fairly warm. During one of the days we came back after a long walk and the only way we could cool down was to have a shower. For anyone with mobility issues, we would not recommend this hotel as you have to walk up several stairs to get to the hotel. Oh and there wasn’t any bottled water in the room, so if anyone with delicate stomachs, we would advice that you purchase your own!

Scafell Pike, Scary, Splendid and Utterly stunning!

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Let me tell you a bit of a funny story to begin with. Actually it might not be as funny when you are reading it… more of a story to tell in person; but I will have a crack at it anyway. So before going to Scafell Pike, I had been boasting about how I had already ‘completed’ one peak and was about to do the second one. Whilst doing that, I was pronouncing it as ‘Scafell Pike’ – as in ‘scaffolding’ but without the ‘-ding’. It was until we got to the Lake District that I realised that I had been pronouncing it completely wrong! DUHH! Apparently it’s pronounced as ‘scaw-fell’ as our AirBnB host kept reminding me.

We got there in the end! Just something to keep in mind.

Ummm, where should i start with Scafell? Well it probably wasn’t as life changing as Snowdon, but I do have some stories to share.

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Before heading off to Scafell Pike, I had spent a fair few number of days and nights panicking about it. After ‘accomplishing’ Snowdon and struggling so much with the hike, I had build so much anxiety around Scafell Pike. I was fearful of not being able to do it, afraid to let people down. BUT, I did it and I did it with ease believe it or not.

Perhaps the weather played its part. Perhaps.

Firstly its important to talk about the most wonderful AirBnB hosts, Shelagh and David. Visiting these two felt like visiting some old relative that you hadn’t seen in a long time. Their cottage in Cumbria is a warm and welcoming, and perfectly located for anyone wanting to climb Scafell Pike. There is also a coastal route and a beach not far from their beautiful home in Drigg. Upon arrival, both Shelagh and David were extremely welcoming and generous in every way and we were well looked after from the moment we initially booked to stay at their place to the moment we said our goodbyes. Shelagh was kind enough to message driving routes well before our trip. The cottage was renovated recently and is absolutely spotless. The bedroom and the bathroom are both spacious and comfortable and all basic necessities are provided by these wonderful hosts. In fact, they go above and beyond with a well stocked up bedroom and bathroom, and a rather lavish breakfast included. They cater for any food preferences, which had all been catered for before our arrival. I would highly recommend you stay here if you’re ever in the area! You can find them here: https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/18815067

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Lets talk about the morning before the hike! We woke up bright and early and found ourselves being spoilt rotten by Shelagh and David. They had set out the table beautifully, with the most gorgeous crockery! It was a bit to early for us to have a ‘full english breakfast’ – the halal version of course, so we had some toast and tea and off we went. It might be a good bit of addition to know that there are two kind of hikers: 1. Eat-if-you-must like my husband, and 2. Eat-all-you-can like yours truly! The hosts offered advice on hiking gear and preferred routes.

As we sat in the car to set off, we noticed David coming out and gesturing for us to stop. I wondered what was going on… With my jacket in his hand, I soon realised that i must have left the bloody thing in their house! *face-palm* Can’t take me anywhere!

Arriving at the base of Scafell Pike, the sun was shining, the dogs were running and my heart was racing. I even needed to have a nervous loo break as we arrived. ONE WORD – actually two – NEVER AGAIN! The portable loo cabins smelt so bad, I was physically sick. I soon recovered though! The National Heritage bloke on site told us that he had cleaned them earlier in the morning; I guess a lot of people had had to go for their nervous loo breaks!

thumbnail_image1As we were headed up to Scafell Pike, the start was slow and steady, however, it soon became quite steep, although the path was fairly easy.  The pressure on my legs meant that they became tired real quick. The views during the hike made the journey and the pain worth it. And what a gorgeous beautiful splendid sunny day it was! 

We stopped number of times and noticed a father and a son; dressed like two men on the mission, with their hats, map and compass. They were attempting to take a selfie before I offered to take their picture, which of course went down really well as they were over the moon. We then got chatting and the father told us that he was from London, but was spending the weekend with his son to spend some quality time together. I praised the young boy on how well he was doing and off they went. This reminded me a little bit of the film Pursuit of Happiness. Don’t ask why. Perhaps the father and son story? Their unique relationship and the father aspiring to do what’s best for his son? Inspirational indeed. And I am sorry I didn’t get a picture of them for you you guys as you would have known where i was coming from!

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Overcoming fears! YASSSS!

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As we continued walking up this gigantic mountain (well it is THE tallest peak in England after all), we came across a gigantic Husky. Now, I am PETRIFIED of dogs, it’s an Asian thing i think, we are all bloody shit scared of dogs (Ahmed strongly disagrees though and thinks it’s all in my head!). I just don’t know what on earth to do when they’re near us and have been suffering from a ‘dog-phobia’ for quite some time. Actually that’s a blog for another time! Moving on, this dog was absolutely gorgeous to look at and I really wanted to feel whether he was as fluffy as he looked. I then whispered to Ahmed ‘I really want to touch him’ and before he could reply, I went running up to the owner and asked her if I could touch the dog. Overjoyed, she said of course I could and so I did it. I decided to stop over thinking and touched this enormous dog called ‘Max’. And yes, he really was as fluffy and soft as he looked. So this was one mission accomplished, so i felt good already!  Seriously though, have you seen the size of that Husky?!

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Mickledore Route!

We we walked a bit further up and decided to go towards the shortest route over Mickledore and past Scafell, the second highest mountain. This route was really tough on the feet and extremely dangerous if you struggle with balance.

The cliff scenery on Scafell is quite imposing and much more spectacular than Scafell Pike’s cliffs. Once on Mickledore near the first aid box, we took the route to the left and up to THE Pike. Going to the top, you have to cross huge, bulky and rocks which we did not feel were safe for everyone! The views are excellent!

We decided to have a break at this stop as we thought that the higher up we went, the winder and busier it would get. My legs felt like jelly at this point so I was over the moon at the thought of having a break and even more excited to eat my ‘walkers mix ups’ – chilli flavours of course! I quickly tucked into my bag of crisps and sipped on a chocolate flavoured protein shake. That exact moment was beautiful. It was beautiful until my husband decided to share my crisps and ended up dropping them all over! And guess what? Yep, I did not care at that point that they were on the floor. I scooped them up, put them back in the bag and ate them. The five second rule, right?

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Yes, it was right here where Ahmed managed to drop my crisps!

Getting to the top of Scafell was truly ‘Amaze-balls’ as one of my close friends often says! 20638815_10159463524080713_5126003701806054364_n

Lol at the lads photo-bombing our photo in the background! It’s moments like these that make you chuckle in years to come and the exact reason why I finally decided to start a blog!

We asked a group of lads to take a photo of me and husband, despite the fact that we had already taken a gazillion photos from our (read: my) selfie stick. Little did we know that we would end up walking down with the same boys and have lots of ‘Bantz’ (banter) along the way. They were lovely group of friends who we talked to about life, travels and family. Isn’t it absolutely amazing how soon you find common ground with complete strangers? And how even fast forwarding the next few years of our lives, our memories of these strangers will stick with us forever? That’s DEEP! I even remember that one of them was called ‘Dom’. I recall this because one of them had a little slip and fell onto the ground. His friend then went running behind him, asking him if he was okay. This right there made me burst with joy. Just to see such empathy and love amongst friends.

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So that was that. That was my journey to Scafell Pike. Tiring, yet terrific!

Remember, I am doing the Three Peaks Challenge to raise money for a charity called Human Appeal. It has been running for 25 years and the cause I am aiming to raise money for is called the ‘Winter Appeal Fund’. My aim is to raise £1000, in order for 10 Syrian families to get blankets and heaters for the winter. Please if you can, donate to this wonderful charity and help me make a difference. The Three Peaks so far has been tiring, exciting and beautiful. Not to forget how expensive it has been lol!

Here is the funding page you guys:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Natasha-Naveed1

Morocco 2017

Ten days, ten cities, thousands of miles and endless memories!”

Holiday makers are sold holidays based on what the destination has to offer. Be it excursions and adventures, beaches, cultural and history or even shopping.

And then there is Morocco… something for everyone and then a bit more.

We travelled through Morocco in ten days; covering 10 cities, thousands of miles, experiencing all nooks and crannies and making hundreds of memories while we were at it. It left us knackered and irritable towards end but oh boy what a journey it was. This was mainly because of the hundreds of miles we travelled in such a short space of time. Right, my first advice for anyone wanting to do a similar itinerary to us would be to stretch out your visit and do it in at least 14 days (unless you are as bat-shit crazy as we are!).

Given the amount of time and the distance we had planned on travelling in Morocco, we decided it was the best way forward to be driven around rather than driving ourselves or falling back to public transport. But then again, if you want to drive around and have the time for it, Morocco is not hard to navigate and the traffic is not as bad as some of the other places we have been to (especially when travelling between cities).

While planning for the trip, I quickly realised that hiring a driver in Morocco would cost an arm and a leg (and a bit of the nose)!). This is something I did not expect at all, as hiring drivers in some of the other countries has been substantially cheaper. So I had assumed that it would be the same in Morocco: bad thinking!

That aside, hiring Rachid our chauffeur to show us around was an amazing idea. After all, Rachid made the trip worth while and some of our special memories consist of Rachid’s generosity and humble demeanour.

I came to know about Rachid the chauffeur through Instagram. Not shy of interacting with people either from behind the keyboard or in person, I came across Claudia’s Instagram page, I sent her a message. One discussion led to another and I ended up with Rachid’s details and Claudia’s recommendation.

Day 1: Marrakesh

We were rather impressed with the airport experience. The queues were not horrendously long as one would come across in UAE or Qatar. The airport was clean and spacious, and one could tell that it was a fairly new facility. There are money changers near the baggage carousel, which we thought was conveniently located rather than outside of the terminal building.

We had arranged transport from the Riad we were staying at so were quickly ushered to the our vehicle by the driver (who was stood with a sign and our name on it). A riad is a traditional Moroccan house (or palace) with an interior garden, or courtyard (typically with a fountain/water feature). The one we stayed at was called ‘Riad UTIOPA’ – it can be found on bookings.com. We paid around £60-£70 but we think it was completely worth it as it’s very central, clean and provides great hospitality. The riad looked like it had been built around a swimming pool, with the swimming pool being right in the centre of the courtyard. As an option breakfast was served around the swimming pool, which was simply fabulous.

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img_7666The main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa:

Here they sell the most AMAZING orange juice we have ever tasted! It’s so good and around 50p per glass. The ambience and the culture really is quite visible in this part, although I personally felt that there were far too many tourists there and preferred walking around the souks. The Main Square gets busier towards the end of the day with a lot more tourists gathering around.

What not to do!

  • As you’re roaming around looking at the wonderful stalls, make sure not to take pictures of the dancing snakes and monkeys as the owners/handlers will pester you for money.
  • Also the ladies who apply the henna can be very aggressive as they grab your arms. Be firm and say no if you don’t want to have Henna on. You need to be mindful of allergic reactions, as the henna may have been ‘tweeked’ with colour enhancing chemicals, which might not do your skin any favours.

Sadiaan Tombs:

The Saadian tombs in Marrakech date back from the time of the Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur. The tombs were discovered in 1917 and were restored by the Beaux-arts service. The tickets to see the Tombs were cheeeeap. They were around £1 per person and so worth it. Lots of photography opportunities and amazing architecture. Not to forget the history.

 

                                                   

Koutobia Mosque:

The Koutoubia Mosque (Kutubiyya Mosque) is the largest mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco. It is quite central – but to be fair, all over Marrakesh pretty much is within walking distance! The mosque is a wonderful place to have a little break and you can even go inside to offer your prayers if you are muslim. Upon entering the mosque, the custodians or worshippers may ask if you are muslim; and if you are, you are greeted with a great warm welcoming smile. This is an amazing feeling and gives you the feeling of being part of something bigger, greater… a beautiful feeling.

Day 2: Marrakesh

YSL Gardens:

‘The Majorelle Garden is a twelve-acre botanical garden and artist’s landscape garden in Marrakech. An archaeological museum, it contains the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech’. The more we walked around, the longer we wanted to stay. I don’t think photos do it justice as it really is so beautiful. The plants and the pond make the garden truely enchanting and mesmerising.

The Ben Youssef Madrassa and Mosque:

This is a mosque in the medina quarter of Marrakesh, named after the Almoravid Emir Ali ibn Yusuf. It is arguably the oldest and most important mosques in Marrakesh.

The first floor boasted the living quarters for people associated with the mosque and madrassa back in the day. One can see the old wooden staircase in the rooms, and peep through the windows down on the mosque courtyard.

 

 

Okay, so you see the outfit I am wearing right here? Keep this outfit in mind as I tell you a tale that will stay with me forever. It is my fondest memory from my trip to Morocco.

So the day we visited Ben Youssef, it was a Friday. Friday is also known as “Jummah”, where Muslims a compulsary congregational “Friday prayer” (ṣalāt), just after noon instead of the Zuhr prayer. Muslims pray ordinarily five times each day according to the sun’s sky path regardless of time zones.

Being in a muslim country meant that I had the luxury of being near a mosque at all times. Hence, I did not want to miss the opportunity to say my prayers. As you know, I don’t wear a Hijab, but I was carrying a scarf in my bag. So I quickly found a small little corner and put my scarf over my head before I went into a nearby mosque. The locals were staring and wondering what on earth was going on, why a ‘foreigner’ was attempting to put a scarf over her head and heading towards a mosque. Anyways, so off we went to a local mosque near Ben Youssaf Madrassa to say our prayers. Men and women offer prayers separately in a congregation, in line with which, the women were sat in their designated area in the mosque. The entrance to the mosque was through gates that were busy and congested. I eventually made my way through to the womens’ section… but I had not expected all that was about to happen.

As we were running fairly late, the Mosque was extremely busy. The women’s section was absolutely packed out, which meant that I had to tip-toe my way to a small space. My anxiety was overtaking my thought process and I quickly sat down and began fidgeting with my belongings. I looked around at all the locals and felt them staring at me – the only foreign looking girl. Feeling awkward and out-of-place, I began trying to distract myself by reminding myself of why I was there.

As I did that, I felt a light pat on my back. Ignoring it at first and thinking it was someone bumping against me due to the confined space we were in, I eventually turned around to find a lady who had been trying to attract my attention.

It was an older woman with beautiful sparkling eyes and the biggest smile, gesturinng me to follow her to the back of the rows and rows of women. I was confused and thought I had done something out of the ordinary to attract this lady’s attention. Having realised that she wanted me to sit next to her by the wall at the back, I was somewhat relieved but rather curious. I hurried over to her and felt that in doing so, I was no longer in the limelight.

It was clear that she had realised I was uncomfortable and was wanting to help. As I sat down she smiled at me and I smiled back. She then touched her Abaya [“cloak sometimes also called an abaya, is a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress, worn by some Muslim women] and pointed to me. Because we both could not speak the same language, we tried to communicate with hand gestures. I then explained that I did not have my abaya. At this point, I felt ridiculous for turning up to a mosque and felt completely out of my comfort zone. While all of this was going through my mind, the lady who had ushered me over had asked another woman sat in front of me to give me her spare Abaya. As the Abaya was handed over to me, I put it on without any hesitation and thanked both women. Full of nerves, I even had to ask the woman to help me put it on! Anyways, I eventually offered my prayers and hugged the lady and thanked her for her kindness.

This experience was so surreal. I felt so connected to my faith and humanity at this point. Some may think and argue that the woman was judgemental and forceful, but she really wasn’t . She meant well and I could tell it in her eyes that she felt so happy that I was there. Despite my clothing and the fact that I had nail polish on, she didn’t judge me, nor suggested that I should not be there. She merely offered her kindness to me, for which I will be forever grateful.

This example of acceptance in Islam is something the rest of the Muslim world is specific can learn. Tolerance is something that is taught widely in Islam but there are great shortcomings that one comes across in practice.

Day 3: Marrakech – Dades gorges

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Ait Ben Haddou:

We headed off bright and early, 9am to be precise (LOL!). We drove through valleys and gorges with views of the Atlas mountain range (tizi-n-tichka). After a tiring 4 hours drive, and we arrived at Ait Ben Haddou. We were told that lots of hollywood films were filmed here; including the likes of The Gladiator and Inception.

Meet Rachid and his parents!

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Ah, this was the best surprise ever! Just before heading to our hotel, Rachid asked if we would like to eat food at his family home. We were a bit hesitant at first and asked if it would be okay to pay towards the food. We were told that we were guests and his parents would be offended if we offered to pay for the food. Of course we said yes the food experience that entailed was just WOW!

Okay, so by this point me and Ahmed were contemplating and somewhat regretting paying Rachid so much money for our transport as in hindsight we could have drove ourselves for half the cost. HOWEVER, when we got to Ait Ben Haddou and Rachid offered us to visit his parents home, this changed things a little. Going into Rachid’s home to meet his parents was so exciting. Their house was full of gorgeous ornaments and gave us a glimpse of everyday like in Morocco. The parents seemed somewhat old and fragile, yet full of life as they embraced us into their home.

I asked Rachid’s mother if she needed any help in the kitchen. Although she said she didn’t need any help, I decided to go and help any way. As I entered the kitchen, I noticed nothing but 4-5 plates full of salad and thought to myself ‘is this the only food we’re going to eat for the rest of the day’. Now I am not really the salad kinda girl. I have probably had two or maybe three salads  as a meal in my 28 years of life. As we took the food into the living room, me and Ahmed devoured the salad within minutes (we were starving at this point). I even ate beetroot! After what seemed like a flash, it was time for the near empty plates to be taken away.

We expected Moroccan tea to be served next, but what came through the kitchen door was splendorous, as it was shocking.  As they took away the plate full of salad, I looked up and saw a massive tagine coming our way. Errrrrrr, awkward! Feeling absolutely full to the brim, I looked over to Ahmed and pulled a face to say ‘how on earth can i eat this’! Rachid’s mum lifted the lid off the tagine and my mouth started to water. Magically the salad had suddenly made room for tagine. Ahmed and I both ended up eating a fair portion of the tagine with Moroccan bread.

Food aside, we got chatting with the family and asked them about a picture that was hung high and proud in the living room. It was a picture from Makkah and as Rachid explained shortly after, his parents had been for Hajj 4 times!

SubhanAllah! I was so impressed and at that time felt so grateful to be in such pious and generous company.

Morrocan team followed and before we knew it, it was time to say our goodbyes and head off to our destination for the night.

However, not far in to the next phase of our journey for the day, we were faced with the King’s motorcade being in the vicinity and had to wait on the road side for a good hour or so.

Chez Pierre: This hotel was the most beautiful places that we stayed in. The decor was absolutely stunning and the bed was so cosy! It is surrounded by an oasis of tranquillity amongst the ruggedness of the mountains, a truly special place. From the moment you walk in you are struck by the attention to detail; a fusion of authentic Moroccan style and modern comfort. Although we were not massively hungry, we decided to get a 5 courses meal and shared it between us. And wow, what a pleasant surprise! We didn’t expect to be served the quality you would normally find in top french restaurants – the 5 course dinner was exceptional.


Day 4: Dades Gorges – Merzouga (Sahara)

Dades gorges. Isn’t it stunning? 

You get up there before you know it. But if you suffer from travel sickeness, I suggest that you take some travel sickness meds!

 

 

Dades toudra:

I think we could have given this place a miss! But I guess it had it’s own charm. There were lots of locals around here and little lads asking you to buy things from them – it got a little tiring.

After travelling for I don’t know how many hours, we went from Dades Valley to Merzouga Desert via Erfoud town and Rissani city. We finally arrived to our destination in the Sahara for the night! 

 

Kam kam dunes:

Kam Kam dunes is one of the few luxury camps out there in the sahara, under the stars. The rooms are cosy and well equipped. There’s a working toilet and shower.

We booked directly from the website and the company’s driver collected us and transported us to the campsite in the scorching heat!

This was NOT as amazing and out of the world as I had anticipated or imagined it would be for some reason. The camps themselves were STUNNING. Check them out at: https://www.kamkamdunes.com

Now I don’t know whether I did not enjoy this as much because I had seen and spent a lot of time in the desert in Qatar, or whether I was too exhausted to enjoy?

Anyway!

The staff at this luxury site were lazy and fairly boring. Paying a lot of money meant that the camps were not as packed and busy, which meant it was fairly quiet. I think i would have preferred the more noisy and loud camps that would encourage some singing and dancing!

To make matters worse, no one told us that the camel rides were ready until we asked. We eventually got on the camels for the camel ride. As we were taking pictures and heading towards the big dunes, we heard some screams in the back ground. Some very excitable, yet frightened group of Chinese friends were seen flying off the camels and falling onto the sand. Credit to them for getting up and back onto the camels after that experience!

We spent the rest of the couple of hours waiting for the sunset and taking some more pictures. I guess it is at least crossed off the bucket list!

Day 5: Merzouga – Fez

We started our day tour from Merzouga via Erfoud fossils city, Errachidia villages, Midelt town, Azrou forest and Ifrane (The Swiss city).

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Errachidia Villages: 

As we left Merzouga, there were lots of ‘nomads’ all over the mountains and roads. Rachid being Rachid, stopped along the road and gave the children some bananas.

 

 

Ifrane (Swiss City):

We continued our journey towards Fez and came across the most beautiful landscapes. I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the shepherd. But Rachid stopped the car to give the shepherd some water. Rachid’s acts of generosity and kindness continued to put a smile on our faces during this never-ending 10-12 hour drive!

After travelling for so many hours, we finally arrived at our Riad in Fes, called: Bahia Palais.  Rated as being 9.0 and ‘Superb’ on Bookings.com, I am so glad we decided to stay at this amazing place. The views, the cleanliness, hospitality, location and everything else… this Riad was perfect!

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Day 6: Fes

The Riad in Fes arranged for us to get a tour guide for 3 hours for the day. It cost around €25 per person and we got to see all sorts of gorgeous architecture, historical buildings, mosques, tanneries, madrasahs, souks.

Fes was our favourite city by far during our trip to Morocco. This was for a number of reasons:

  • ‘In 859, the University of Karueein, as it is now called, was officially founded, giving the Fez Medina one of the oldest universities in the world.
  • Apparently, Idris I (or Idris ibn Abdullah) was the first Arab ruler and founder of the Idrisid dynasty, ruling from 788 to 791. He is credited with founding the dynasty that was instrumental in the early Islamization of Morocco. He was the great-great-great grandson of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed SAW.
  • Built in the 9th century, the Fez medina is a labyrinth of about 10,000 alleys that are too narrow for cars.
  • According to our tour guide, there are over 300 mosques within the old medina itself.
  • Walking around the old medina, you feel like you have travelled back months, years, decades and centuries!’

Day 7: Fes to Volubilis to Chefchouen

We decided to take a detour from the shortest route to Chefchouen to visit the ruins of Volubilis.

Volubilis:

Why Volubilis was such a surprise? ‘The Roman’s settled here in 25 BC till around 279 AD, there are a few structures still standing and some wonderful mosaics in excellent condition. It is about a 2 mile walk around and an outstanding piece of architecture amongst the ruins is the Victory Gate!

This city was built more than 2000 years ago with facilities and amenities that many in some parts of the modern world don’t even have today. It is equally amazing that so many of the structures and decorations, especially the mosaic floors, are so well preserved despite being open to the elements.’

We headed off after a swift visit around Volubilis to the one place I had anticipated visiting the most: Chefchouen!

I had been reading and researching for weeks and months, if not years! And dayuummm, I was so excited to see it for real… and dayuummm how it didn’t disappoint.

We eventually arrived at our hotel: La Petite. 

This hotel was by far the most modern and cosy place in Chefchaouen when I was doing my research. It couldn’t have been more central. From the views, to the service, to the breakfast, everything was perfect.

     

Day 8: Chefchaouen

I don’t really know what to say about Chefchouen. I felt like I had woken up in a story or some sort of a movie.

Spanish mosque:

‘The mosque was built by the Spanish in the 1920s, but never used. Walking to the mosque is a nice, steady little hike to the top and the views are amazing.

This stunning Moroccan city in the Rif Mountains was originally built as a fortress in the 15th century. The mountains towering over Chefchaouen resemble a pair of goat’s horns, and, perhaps not coincidentally, the creamy native goat cheese is one of the most popular regional treats.’

We generally spent the day walking around and enjoying the tranquillity of the Blue City. There were SO many photography opportunity as we walked around. Every corner and every street was unique in its own way.

Day 9: Chefchaouen to Asilah to Tangier

We left Chefchaouen fairly early in the morning and decided to stop off at Asilah before heading off to Tangier for our last stop. Fewf! I feel tired just thinking back at how much we packed into ten days!

Asilah:

‘Asilah is a magical coastal town filled with painted murals and breathtaking seascapes! Its located in the South of Tangier. Its old town, or medina, is enclosed by well-preserved 15th-century ramparts and gates, built by colonial Portuguese.

Asilah offers a refuge from the nearby bustling cities of Tangier and Tetouan. It features deserted, quiet beaches and a relaxing atmosphere. The town has Mediterranean-influenced buildings, including whitewashed houses with blue accents on walls and doors. The array of houses decorated with paintings highlights the island’s reputation as an artists’ hangout.’

We didn’t stay too long in Asilah as we managed to quickly visit all the alleyways with the pretty pictures due it being Jummah. The souks, alleyways and streets were completely empty during our visit which made it easier to take photos. We soon headed off to go to Tangier for our final stop.

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Kasbah Rose:

This hotel was a massive disappointment and we would not recommend it at all even though we spent two nights here.

The smells from the bathroom, going into the bedroom knocked you sick. There was no air con in the room which meant we spent half the night tossing and turning.

Here we also got to experience some ignorance from the owner who is originally German, but has lived in Tangier for many years.  As we sat and shared our thoughts and feelings about the Syrian war and our aim to raise money for Syrian children, it did not go down too well. The owner was fairly adamant that no one could make a difference. Well, I beg to differ, as I hope that raising £1000 doing the Three Peaks, will make a difference to someone! Or at least I would have done something to help!

She then had the ignorance to ask us about whether we as British Asians will have to surrender our nationalities and leave the UK. I replied by saying that I was born in England, to which she didn’t really give a response. Luckily for her, we couldn’t care less what she thought and continued to tuck into our breakfast.

Day 10: Tangier

We decided to google about ‘things to do’ in Tangier and to be honest, there wasn’t much. We DID however, realise that THE IBN- BATTUTA was buried in Tangier! I mean, what are the chances. To be fair, I only knew of Ibn-Battuta because of a bollywood song (to which Ahmed reaction was that to utter disbelief, followed with a strong desire to banging his head on Ibn-Battuta’s tomb in dismay), but maybe that is a topic for another time?

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Ibn-Battuta Grave:

So anyways, for those of you who like me didn’t know about Ibn- Battuta, ‘Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad – Din, was born in Tangier, Morocco. He left Tangier when he was twenty one years of age. His travels lasted for about thirty years, after which he returned to Fez, Morocco at the court of Sultan Abu ‘Inan and dictated accounts of his journeys to Ibn Juzay. These are known as the famous Travels (Rihala) of Ibn Battuta. He died at Fez in 1369.’

This kind of made me question a lot of things. How once our souls depart, we are nothing but a memory. Luckily for Ibn-Battuta, he left his mark in this world as the ‘greatest muslim traveler of all times’. His tomb/grave is located in a random alleyway, away from the hustle and bustle of Tangier, and perhaps not treated with the greatest of respects as the empty bottle of water in the picture would reflect, it does not take away from the fact that his tales and travels are still talked about.

It made me think of many things, including this travel blog. Of course I am not comparing myself to the greatest travellers of all time, but it made me determined to write more about my experiences. So maybe one day, I will look back and be able to really soak in all these experiences and thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity for all that I have been able to see and do!

After visiting the tomb, we carried on walking towards the beach, had some McDonald’s (finally! couldn’t wait for the junk food fix) and then walked over to a cafe called the Panorama cafe overlooking the beach. Here we sat and ate some crepe with Nutella, and drank cold coffee. Pure bliss!

For us Tangier was definitely not the highlight of the trip. In fact we really didn’t like Tangier much at all, but it was a nice way to end the trip. It was nice to eat something familiar and to stroll around aimlessly, without an itinerary!

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Day 11: Tangier – Airport

Anddddd we finally said our goodbyes to Morocco… heading for sunny UK (LOL!)

Snowdonia


And so it begins. Who would have known that a cozy glamourous comedy night would lead me to venture to the highest peaks in three Nations of the Great Britain.
All set and ready to head to Wales with us?

Here we go, to Wales, home of Snowdonia! *grand entrance background music*
Visiting Wales is truly remarkable, given the fact that Welsh is so different to English. It is like visiting abroad while enjoying everything that you would in England and some more!

With hotel prices soaring, we resorted to Airbnb for accommodation, and boy were we lucky to find a hidden gem in Bethel, less than 10 miles from where we had planned to start the trek.

After much research and bothering people who had already done this walk, we had decided to ascent and descend via Miners’ route. After much debate whether we should tackle a full English (halal version of course) or a very healthy cereal, Ahmed and I went our separate ways – each to their own huh?

Nevertheless, we were able to get to the starting point (in this case a car park) a little shy of 9 am. On the left end of the car park was the Miners’ route, and on the right side was Pyg’s route; no brainer here.

“The Miners’ Track was built to serve the Britannia Copper Mine on Snowdon but it is not the route originally used to serve the mine.” A gold mine of information can be found at http://www.eryri-npa.gov.uk/visiting/walking/mountain-walks/miners-track
The walk starts at a very shallow gradient and gets steeper as you go along, getting to a rocky climb near the last third of the leg. The path passes along lakes and ruins of old buildings that adds to the scenery.


But my o my, is the scenery breathtaking!

Blood pumping, body aching, legs shaking, yet you look down and breathe a sigh of relief. You feel a sense of achievement and proudness (is that even a word?)! You look around and there are many faces telling you all sorts of stories. Just by looking at them and the charities they are raising money for, you know they’ve experienced some thing deep. They’ve seen and suffered some sort of pain. Like Bill, who has suffered and recovered from renal cancer.

But there are also happy faces, faces that are just there to have a laugh. Faces that you look at and you cannot help but smile back. Like the Lawson’s. The Lawson’s story is also special. Their story will make you smile, I promise!

But we were there for a number of reasons. To tick off something from a bucket list, to raise money for Human Appeal, to spend quality time with one another, to be honest the list could go on. But I am so super excited that we did it. And I am smiling because we have just created another special memory together. Alhamdulillah. I feel blessed to have a husband who is as supportive as Ahmed. Always there to help me see sense of things and guide me the right way, the righteous way.


So glad our love was arranged by our nearest and dearest! 

As we were walking up Snowdon, it was getting harder as the gradient got more steep. I stopped to take a break and have a sip of water. That’s when Bill also stopped and said hello. He told us that this was the second time he is climbing Snowdon. On his left arm he had a badge with a number on it.

Bill’s story is that of great courage in the face of uncertainty and fear. About a year ago, he noticed blood in his urine which prompted him to seek medical attention. The doctors at the NHS carried out tests immediately and soon diagnosed him with cancer. Bill had to undergo surgery to remove one of his kidneys, however, he recovered well and said he was shocked and surprised as he felt that he was the fittest anyone could be at his age. So he decided to challenge himself and climb Snowdon to raise money for prostate cancer (hence the armband with the number on it).

As we got to the top on Snowdon, we saw Bill again. Just like us, he was waiting on his family who had his sandwiches. We could see him pacing in and out of the cafe watching out for the train that his wife was on. An announcement was then made informing us that due to the poor weather conditions, the trains were not coming up to the summit. I asked Bill if we could share some of our lunch with him, but he kindly refused. But I couldn’t watch him go all the way back and not eat anything so I insisted that he had one of my protein bars and he finally accepted the offer. I felt that Bill and us bonded at that point.

We shared a special moment that no one could take away from us.

And as luck has it, Bill’s wife was sat next to my parents on the same train! We later found out that they too had similar conversations as us when they were stranded on the train together, wondering where their ‘climbing party’ was!

Not the best picture of me, but here’s me with Bill (eating the snack I forcefully gave him, lol) 

Meet the Lawsons; Andrew, Brian and Stephen Lawson. 

The Lawson’s were with us throughout the hike – from 9am until 12pm. But it wasn’t until our fourth break together that we finally got to talk and Brian told us that the “boys” were celebrating their 25 years today. A bit baffled by their response, I asked what he meant by that. He replied that 25 years ago, he came to Snowdonia with his sons and they thought they’d celebrate their Snowdon walk anniversary together by walking it again.

Brian was truly inspirational, unsteady on his feet and his hands shaking as he grabbed hold of his hiking stick. Yet he smiled and persevered. He took lots of pictures from his camera and when I offered to take a picture of all three of them, I saw his face bursting with happiness.

Truly inspirational. The bond between the three of them was so special.


As we ascended Snowdon, it got increasingly windy. The final few paces of the walk was behind a queue of people, waiting their turn to get to the top of the mountain, which is the perched rock with a metal plate on top. People could be seen celebrating their triumphant ascent to the top, with a party of people even flinging around a bottle of champagne.

Not far from the summit is the Snowdon Cafe (not the official name), which gives the visitors great panoramic views of the surrounding areas through the massive glass windows. The cafe offers seating areas (which is normally full to capacity), toilet facilities, and a coffee shop with a decent spread for the altitude.


The crowd is a diverse mix of all ages, even though one could have counted the non-caucasian bunch on their fingers. Perhaps there were caucasian muslims there, but there were only a few people of colour. Being an Asian, this in itself is a shame since more Asians (and Muslims) are not out there enjoying God’s creation. And while you are out there, one gets to mingle with people of all backgrounds with such interesting stories. Like Bill and Lawson’s.

More so, this is a form of Tabligh/Da’wah isn’t it? Being out there talking to people like normal human beings, about everyday things. It does not cost anything being nice to people. And while you are out there, you are a representative of your ethnic group, your cultural background, religion and your county!

From a more religious perspective, one must realise that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the most eloquent of men.

Over the years I have heard some muslims comment how the ‘goray’ are unclean and not fit to be interacted with on a personal level. I have also come across muslims who wouldn’t give charity to non-muslims. Would it make Bill more human, since he along with his church were raising money for Syrian Children regardless of the religion the children followed?

While Islamic scholars like Mufti Ismail Menk and Zakir Naik talk about harmoniously co-existing with non-muslim countrymen (and women), I sometimes feel that some muslims are busy building barriers between not only muslims and other faiths, but also between the various muslim factions/sects.

Let us all make an effort with our neighbours this Ramadan, whether they are muslim or otherwise, and fight the stereotype that paints muslims in a negative light. By doing this, we shall not only be rendering a service towards community building and social welfare, but also working towards promoting the true meaning of the most beautiful religion, Islam.

A few pictures from Llandudno, Wales