Sri Lanka

Why Sri Lanka?

Honestly? I can’t remember how we ended up being interested in visiting Sri Lanka or how it came on our radar. Just weeks after visiting Saudi Arabia and performing Umrah with Ahmed it was almost time to return to the UK to start the spouse visa application. This of course meant that we were about to embark on our long distance relationship journey. We wanted to plan ahead and not let the whole long distance relationship make us miserable or even worse, damage our relationship. We wanted to preplan and know when we would meet one another in the future. As we vaguely knew that the visa application process would take approximately 9-12 months, we decided to split our holidays accordingly. We decided to take time off work in April (it was our anniversary, July (just after my birthday) and then in October (Ahmed’s birthday). We wanted to use this opportunity to make the most of the little time we would spend together.
Ahmed came home from work one day and just happened to mention Sri Lanka in passing. I had finished work by then so had all the time in the day to kill, so when he went to work the following day I spent the entire day doing my research on Sri Lanka and put together a vague itinerary if we were ever to visit. (By the way I totally do that, when  I come across a country I wish to visit, I tend to find out the ‘go to places’ and create itineraries.) During the research, I came to know that Sri Lanka is one of the few countries where Ahmed can apply for a visa easily.
Woohooo!
Bearing a Pakistani passport, he can’t go to many countries so this was a massive pull factor for me straight away.
Oh well, I moved back to the UK soon after and with all that was happening around me, the itinerary I had created was forgotten about.
When I started my job in England, my manager told me about her recent trip to Sri Lanka and how she had the most amazing 10 days. She gave me details of the driver that she hired and who she highly recommended. So I passed his details to Ahmed and shared that I was quite interested in exploring Sri Lanka.
In April 2016, as agreed and pre-arranged, I turned up at Doha airport and as soon as I landed, Ahmed shared that we were going to Sri Lanka. Err… what?!
So here’s the itinerary….

Day 1

We arrived at Colombo on 23rd April 2016 at 0300 hrs and were collected by the amazing  Mr. Upali. He was our driver for the whole time that we were in Sri Lanka. At the bottom of the page I have written a paragraph on Upali and how he made this the most amazing holiday ever!
After being welcomed by Upali, we went straight to Negombo to stay at Terrace Green Hotel which was cheap and cheerful, yet extremely clean and an overall good value for money. The plan was to catch a few hours sleep and make the most of DAY 1 so we had to leave mega early. Sleep is for the weak anyway, right?

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

We started our journey around 8-ish and went straight to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I had seen many photos on Instagram and it looked like an amazing place to visit. On the surface of it all, it sounded fantastic. We were told that we would be contributing towards elephant welfare, which was something that made me even more eager to visit.

HOWEVER….. I quickly became horrified at how these elephants were treated. I passed numerous elephants chained in solitary confinement (which you can see in the photos). The elephants looked unhappy and out of their comfort zone. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone visited a place that promotes animal cruelty for economic purposes.

For these reasons, we decided not to stay in the orphanage for long and headed straight to the famous ‘Dambulla Cave Temple’.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Dambulla Cave Temple is also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, however there are two different temples. The Golden Temple is at the base of the mountain in the centre of Dambulla whereas the Cave Temple is much higher up the hill and can be accessed by climbing up the hill from the Golden Temple.
This is a World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka and is situated in the central part of the country. Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple in Sri Lanka. This place was somewhere that I did not think I would enjoy as much as I did. But I absolutely loved every second of it.
As we headed towards the temple, I wasn’t quite prepared for the steps and an uphill walk. Perhaps being jet lagged, over excited and the excursion didn’t help the situation. Although the walk up isn’t really strenuous I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint hearted. I would consider myself ‘relatively fit’ but I massively struggled. Maybe it was the heat…
On the way up we began to see lots of monkeys hanging around, pinching peoples’ food. As we got to the top, we saw Monks offering their prayers and walking around. There is an entry fee to visit the temples and it isn’t cheap. From my memory there is a fee for ‘local/Sri Lankan people and a higher one for foreigners’.
And remember as always: no shoes and hats allowed, knees covered!
Once we finally got to the top, we saw the most beautiful Buddha sculptures under the rock. Each sculpture was unique and almost had it’s own story. I was kind of gutted that we didn’t get a guided tour as to be honest, I have no idea what the different Buddha’s represented. I only know that they all all represented something different as I was eavesdropping!
After a long day of visiting different places, it was time to head to our gorgeous hotel. We stayed in Sigiriya (Heritance Kandalama). The hotel was perfect in so many ways. The hospitality, the service, the food, the location and price were perfect.

Day 2

Sigiriya – Lion’s rock

So the best thing about having a driver was that we didn’t have to think about how we’d get to all the sites that we wanted to visit. Upali would be ready bang on time and welcomed us into his car with a beaming smile. He would also tell us facts and information about Sri Lanka as we travelled through it.
We had planned to visit Sigiriya on day two. Sigiriya, also know as Lion Rock, is arguably the most important site we saw when we visited Sri Lanka. It is thousands of years old and was the site of the Royal Palace of one Sri Lanka’s ancient Kings. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
To get to the top you have to climb up several steps, over 1,200 steps to be precise. I did not know this before I went. Here’s a few tips for you guys if you do ever go:
  • Wear trainers or comfy shoes as the hike/walk up can be quite strenuous.
  • Get there early to beat the crowds and the heat.
  • Take some (read ‘a lot’) water with you as you will get thirsty. (You can buy water before you start up the steps but it is expensive!)
So the craziest thing happened here, we started to chat to this random couple and it turned out that they lived in Qatar and had been there for a number of years. But their home town was Newcastle… such a small world! This is what I love about travelling, talking to complete strangers yet having so many similarities.

Day 3

Dambulla to Nuwara Eliya

Our plan was to go from Dambulla to Nuwara Eliya but it was a long journey. Worry not,  our amazing taxi driver had it all in control and told us he would take us to different places en route. And boy oh boy he did not disappoint.
Our our way to Nuwara Eliye we went to the following places:
A random temple: Upali took us to this very colourful Hindu temple. Remember, Sri Lanka’s majority population are practicing Buddhists, however, according to Upali, Hinduism is the second largest religion in Sri Lanka. Hence, the gorgeous temples all over, bursting with culture.
The temple was minutes, or even second away from being closed but we were allowed entry. It truly was amazing to see the sheer effort that was put into the intricacy of this temple.
The Kandy War Cemetery: This was another ‘first’ for us. I had never been to a Commonwealth War Cemetery before. Located in Kandy, this place was a little off the beaten track but well worth a trip. According to Wikipedia (I don’t know how true this is), there are 203 buried soldier, consisting of: 107 British, 35 East Africans, 26 Sri Lankans, 23 Indians, 6 Canadians, 3 Italians, 1 Frenchman and 2 unidentified persons, of the 203 dead, 151 were army, 32 were air force, 16 were navy, 2 were unidentified, 1 was merchant navy and 1 was from the national fire service.

 

Tea plantation: What Sri Lanka is known for it’s tea plantations! Heard if Ceylon tea?After the heat of Dambulla, we were more than ready to head to the cooler, hilly region filled with Sri Lanka’s Tea Plantations. The temperatures were cooler and we were going to finally get to see how all this tea we drink is made.
As we were heading to Nuwara Eliya and then on to Ella, we stopped by a random tea plantation factory. Although both Ahmed and I are tea lovers, it is fair to say we were completely clueless about how tea is made. Initially I thought this would be a very boring tour, it turns out that I actually really enjoyed the experience!

We were shown the tea plants up close and the leaves that were picked. All these different types of tea aren’t different plants. It’s the same tea leaves, just processed slightly differently (I thought green tea was from a different plant but nope it isn’t!). The tea plantations grow the tea, process it and package it up for auctions in Colombo where all the different brands like Dilmah and Lipton taste the tea and buy the ones they like best.

Day 4

Nuwara Eliya to Ella: Train trip of a life time

Although Ahmed was always against the idea of catching the train, I was adamant that I wanted to experience the authenticity of a train journey in Sri Lanka. After all everyone who has visited Sri Lanka speaks so highly about the experience.
I eventually managed to convince Ahmed to come with me (it took some convincing from Upali too)! Yeyy. We decided to send our luggage with Upali and ended up getting the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella.

The train journey was epic, and I spent most of the train trip sat in the door with my legs dangling out of the moving train.

As we arrived at Ella, we had some quick lunch and decided to climb up Adam’s Little Peak. There is another peak known as Adam’s Peak which, according to the belief is where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of the heavens above. We decided not to climb that due to time constraint and also we didn’t want to do anything too strenuous.

The Little Adam’s Peak, 1141 m high, is fairly easy to climb, with a good path all the way up. The trip took us about 2-3 hours in total (including picture taking). We didn’t see anyone at all during our hike which is extremely unusual as this is a really popular hike with tourists and backpackers. I guess maybe the weather put people off, but I thought the weather made it even more special and easy! Good job we carried out rain coats, right?

Day 5

The Fortress

After spending the night in Ella, we headed towards Galle where our extravagant hotel was located. On our way to the hotel, we stopped and visited local attractions and beaches. I haven’t written too much about those places because it was a very ‘ad hoc’ journey and we just stopped at places that we thought looked pretty and picturesque from a distance. Upali was very patient and stopped anywhere that I asked him to!
We decided to book a luxury hotel towards the end of the trip as we wanted to unwind and soak in our experiences in Sri Lanka. When we told Upali where we were staying, he seemed ecstatic and we couldn’t understand why he was so pleased. But as we arrived at The Fortress he explained that any drivers that come with the tourists at the Fortress get a room with AC’s. Previously he had been staying in places where they didn’t have this luxury!
As soon as we arrived at the hotel, we were mesmerised by their service, decor and location. Located directly opposite a beautiful beach, we could not have asked for more.

Day 6

Whale & Dolphin watching

This was something I would never have imagined doing! Ahmed had booked for us to go whale and dolphin watching. On arrival we were asked if we were sea sick and if you were, they provided you with some anti sickness medication.
As we headed into the sea, we began seeing some gorgeous Dolphins in their natural habitat/ environment. No cages, no restrictions. Completely free in the wild, just how it should be.
We did briefly manage to see a whale, but were too mesmerised to capture it properly. I will always remember how much of a presence the whale had on its surrounding. So beautiful, so strong, so real.

Day 7

Quick visit to Galle

What we didn’t realise was that there is a large Muslim population in Galle. Obviously Muslim population means that one thing is going to be available for sure…. HALAL FOOD. Oh YES! We went searching for some halal meat and came across this tiny little burger place. My mouth still waters thinking about those burgers. I don’t know if we were mega hungry or whether the burgers really were that amazing… a bit of both!

Galle was a really gorgeous little town. It gave you a real feel of how life must be like for the locals.

Saying Goodbye to ‘Upali’ our AMAZING Driver

I feel that I needed to dedicate at least a paragraph to our amazing driver, Upali. Part of me feels that he was one of the reasons we enjoyed our stay in Sri Lanka so much. His vast knowledge on the country, his humble and respectful nature made the trip extra special for us. Upali was well spoken, well dressed and well mannered. He immediately made us feel at ease and was willing to go above and beyond to ensure that our journey was smooth and memorable. He took interest in our itinerary, helped us make some changes along the way and was patient when we took much longer than agreed. I can’t imagine his job being easy. Driving for hours on end, dealing with potentially extremely ignorant and annoying foreigners, being so far away from his family for so many days and worst of all sleeping in places that he has no say over.
It’s kind of strange. Spending so much time with someone, essentially a stranger, yet making so many memories with them. I feel that I will always remember him for all the good reasons and perhaps the one reason I would return back to see another side of Sri Lanka.
If you’re thinking of going to Sri Lanka and want his contact details, send me a message and I will share it with you. He is very able and will respond to you immediately.
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After leaving Sri Lanka, I was going to return back to the UK and Ahmed was going to Qatar. We both knew we wouldn’t see one another for 3 months so we decided to plan our next escapade……
Hello Turkey 😉

Ummrah

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Okay, so this post is very close to my heart. I am in a place in my life where I feel like I am being pushed and pulled at the same time.

Prior to migrating to Qatar and prior to meeting my husband, I was someone who used to call themselves a ‘Muslim’. I was by no means a practising Muslim as such. I was a Muslim just by name. Around 2013 I did not even know names of our Prophet Mohammed (SAW) family members. And in all fairness, all I knew was there is no deity, but God. I believed in the Almighty with all my heart. After all, He had blessed me in so many ways. But I did not know much else other than the words La illaha ilAllah Muhammad rasoolAllah.

My journey started when I moved to Qatar. The move to Qatar was exciting yet depressing at times. I spent hours offering my prayers. Praying for an answer. Praying for some guidance. During this time, I had applied for numerous jobs and attended many interviews. As I waited to hear back from employers, I started to question my credibility and employability as I felt trapped in the four walls that surrounded me.

Eventually I was offered two jobs; one in a Pakistani school with a very good reputation and another job in an Islamic British school. After thinking long and hard, I decided to accept the job offer at the Islamic school. I believe He is the best planner and that is the reason I ended up in the Islamic school. I can confidently say that my experience at the school changed me. Changed me in ways that I might never know. I had the privilege to be in the company of the most humble and modest Muslims for 6 months. Sisters that will forever remain in my heart. Students whose faces I will never forget. Miss Aisha, the manager whose faith in God inspired me.

Though I do not claim to be the perfect Muslim, nor do I claim to have a great, intense Islamic knowledge, I believe I am now a somewhat better informed of what a Muslim is. However this journey has not been one without any turbulence.

Between April 2015 – December 2015, I spent my time trying to fit in, trying to make sense of how my life had changed and developed. As time went on, one thing was sure. Whilst we were living in Qatar, I wanted to perform Ummrah with Ahmed. Ahmed had already been for Ummrah a number of times, so I felt confident that it would be a very achievable task.

In December 2015, we finally applied for our visas for Saudi Arabia. It was quite an interesting and long experience which even consisted of them giving me injections for meningitis and some other vaccination. Once we gathered all our paper work, the passports were sent to Saudi Embassy for visas.

On 5th January we got a phone call to say that the Visa had arrived. We were completely overjoyed and drove straight to their office to collect it in the evening.

When we got home that evening, I received a phone call from my mum. She was inconsolable and could barely speak. Eventually the words came out of her mouth like some burning fire. My dad’s older brother, his best friend had suddenly passed away. Being thousands of miles away from my family, I never felt so alone despite the fact Ahmed was right next to me.

To say that I have been blessed with the best husband would be an understatement. We had been married for less than a year and already he had seen me at my very worst. Already he had seen me at my lowest. And already we had experienced a death in our family. It was an awful time. But I couldn’t thank the Almighty enough. What were the chances that we had just collected our visas and passports so I was able to attend his funeral in Pakistan.

After coming back to Qatar from Mirpur, I felt so alone. I had spent the last ten days or so with family and coming back to an empty apartment felt soul destroying.

But it all changed. 

We went for Ummrah just a week after returning from Mirpur. Ahmed finished work on Thursday and we headed straight to the airport. We were running extremely late and I was petrified of missing the flight. He (Ahmed) has been known to do this before you see…. He missed his last flight to Medinah and ended up going to Saudi for less than 24 hours!

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Somehow, miraculously we made it to the airport in time. I hadn’t been out of the house in an Abaya and a Hijab, but I really enjoyed the experience and felt the part.

The journey was quick and we got there before we knew it. We landed in Medinah and headed straight to our hotel which was down the road from Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (Prophet’s Mosque)

As I have mentioned before, my faith before Qatar was weak and so was my knowledge. I didn’t think that the striking Green Dome rising above the tombs of the Prophet Muhammad SAW would have such an impact on me. I was mesmerised by the beauty of this Mosque. I sat outside for hours just staring at it as I waiting for Ahmed to come back from inside.

As I entered the mosque and sat down to say my prayers, I noticed that there were women from absolutely all over. Young and old. Able bodied as well as disabled. There were some who looked quite wealthy and others who looked poor. Yet they all looked the same. They all had the same expressions and the same determination in on their faces. We all had the same purpose. Just before we offered our prayers and heard the Azaan, some women next to me offered their prayer mat as I didn’t have one. We didn’t speak the same language, nor were we from the same culture, but she made it clear she wanted me to share her mat. I was taken a back by her kindness and thanked her. As I thanked the women next to me, a little girl came running towards us and offered us a date. There was something so special about this moment. What a way to start out journey to Ummrah.

Day 1: Seeing the sites in Medinah before heading to Mecca in the evening

We woke up feeling really fresh after a good night sleep! We started the day early as Ahmed wanted to show me lots of historical sites. We prayed Nafls in all the Mosques that we saw.

We timed it so we could return back in time for Jummah to pray in Al-Masjid an-Nabawi. This will perhaps be one of my favourite memories from the trip. I felt so blessed and overwhelmed to be sat amongst so many other Muslims. As soon as we completed our prayers, we got some lunch from KFC (BAD MOVE) and went back to the hotel to get freshened up.

We didn’t waste any time and quickly grabbed a cab to go to Mecca. We stopped at a Miqat (Miqats are the areas or locations at which pilgrims wear Ihram, either for Hajj or Umrah). We offered two nafls here. This was an odd experience as the women were pushing and shoving all over the place, making it unbearable. Everyone was holding tight onto their shoes and belongings as it was utter chaos. I somehow managed to find a space and got ready to say my prayers.

The journey took between 4-6 hours I believe, could be more. Could be less! All I know was that I was exhausted.

The exertion quickly went away however. As soon as we entered the boundaries of Mecca, it started to rain a little. WOW. What an experience. I never thought I would experience rain or even a bit of drizzle whilst being in Mecca.

We got to our gorgeous hotel in Mecca and I noticed that there was a different buzz around me. Everyone seemed so happy and optimistic.

The moment I laid my eyes on the Kabah’, I couldn’t quite believe I was there. Too thrilled to take photos. Emotions running wild and a sense of feeling blessed was over taking me. It was amazing.

Luckily for me, Ahmed had done this a few times, so we quite quickly began to perform our Ummrah.

I could hear everyone chanting the same words. The same enthusiasm and the same eagerness.

Labaik Allahuma Labaik, labaik la sharika laka labaik, Innal hamda wann’imat laka wal mulk, la sharika lak

Translated this means:

I stand up for YOUR service, O GOD! I stand up! I stand up! There is no partner with YOU! I stand up for YOUR service! Verily YOURS is the praise, the beneficence, and the dominion! There is no partner with YOU”

Praying Jummah in Al-Masjid an-Nabawi and then completing Ummrah on a Friday too! Oh what an experience!

Day 2: A sleepless night in Mecca

Having a sleepless night in Mecca was not what I had planned. I had really bad S&D. TMI, I know! But I had so many things rushing through my head. Is God punishing me? Are my sins being wiped? Or was it just the KFC?

I was hoping to go to Kabbah to read my Fajr prayer, however , I wasn’t physically able to do this. Ahmed went to say his prayers while I tried to take medication and fix myself up. I didn’t want to waste any time and wanted to experience the Kabbah all over again.

I managed to somehow wake up, have breakfast and headed out to the Kabaah. It was incredible. We offered a few prayers while we were there and also managed to carry out a couple of Tawafs.

What was really incredible about this trip was the fact that just few weeks ago I was mourning for my late uncle. I had never experienced loss like it. My faith in Allah became stronger that month. To think that our visas arrived on the day of his death, allowing me to to go to Pakistan to be with my family. And to think that I could carry out Ummrah upon my return. SubhanAllah.

What was also incredible was that I had got a job in the UK which I was starting in February the same year. I was about to leave the Country I started to call home. And I was about to part from my husband for an unknown amount of months.

My next blog post will be all about long distance relationships and spouse visa processes to the UK.

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.

Qatar

 

My Qatari Journey

After spending the most gorgeous few days in Thailand for our honeymoon, it was part 2 of the honeymoon. Well for me at least.

I had never been or seen any place like the Middle East. The lavish lifestyle, the brunching trends and the exaggerated bling was all new to me. Prior to meeting my ‘better’ half, I didn’t even know it existed or where it was on the map (yep, this is true). I had very little, if any understanding or knowledge about Qatar or in fact the Middle Eastern culture. In fact, I had absolutely no desire to travel to Dubai or any of the Middle Eastern countries at that point. And O boy how all of this changed.

Moving to Qatar was a challenge. A country so unfamiliar, so alien to my usual surroundings. The foreign language, different culture, unusual clothing and not forgetting the scorching heat was everything that I wasn’t used to. Without my friends and family, I truly thought I was going to drown in my loneliness at times. After spending the first few days setting up my little apartment, I realised I had lots of spare time on my hands. Feeling isolated and alienated I wasn’t sure I would ever fall in love with Qatar; and O boy how all of this changed.

I have realised that as goings get tough, the tough don’t get going straight away, they curl up in bed and contemplate their life, sulk and feel sorry for themselves, and eventually build up the will to get tougher. This and the sudden realisation that I can’t even cook pasta or know how to boil an egg suddenly dawned upon me.

It was overwhelming.

There were so many emotions running through me but I didn’t want to share them with anyone, especially not my family because I didn’t want them to worry about me. I wanted to be the strong and independent person my parents raised me to be. I wanted to enjoy what Qatar had to offer. I wanted to make the most of this time and upon reflecting back was a very precious time at the beginning of the new chapter in my life.

It’s so easy to fall into a vicious void of emptiness, but I was not prepared for that to happen. I kept myself busy by praying, cleaning, ironing and cooking but I needed more. I started to look for jobs, went to the communal gym and caught up with friends via all social media apps… as you do! Thank the Lord for technology, right? Hallelujah!

After Ahmed finished work, we would always go out. Somewhere new, somewhere exotic, somewhere fun (for me anyway). The evenings were always a good laugh and something to look forward to.  There was so much to soak in and experience every time we went out. I still remember the warm breeze against my face, my taste buds going crazy over humous, kibbeh and batata harra (mezze from the Lebanese cuisine) as we smoked sheesha in the courtyard of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Or listening to a live orchestra in the gorgeous Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA) park, full of people from all around the world.

The weekends brought me the most excitement though. I say ‘weekends’, but it was only the Saturday as my husband worked SIX, YES SIX days a week! Those Saturdays however  are going to stay with me forever. I felt that it was everything and more that we needed as newly weds. We hadn’t spent any time together before the wedding, so this was our chance to get to know one another and to spend quality time together.

I soon started work and that was a complete different story altogether. Employment in the Middle East was a real eye opener for me. I soon came to know that the rosey picture that everyone paints of the Middle East is far from reality. That even I was completely unaware of what really goes on behind the scenes. I soon realised the bitter truth that this is a land where there’s a constant battle. A place where only the fittest can survive. A tragic place where when one begins to feel at home, they’re reminded that they’re merely living in a house which in essence was never theirs. Discrimination. Lack of justice. Inequality. Such immoral acts are experienced by many on a daily if not hourly basis. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in places like Doha. The man who served his employers for 30+ years and raised his entire family in Qatar gets informed that he has 28 days to leave the country. His children struggle with their sense of identity and belonging. That is the reality. That is the story for many migrants in places like Qatar, Dubai or others in the Middle East. I guess it is important to be aware and truly acknowledge people’s sacrifices and not get lost in our own little bubble.

Nonetheless, this is also a place where you will meet the most genuine, caring and sincere human beings. People who are selfless and willing to sacrifice a great deal to help others. Pure hearts, with many stories and tales to tell. All nomads, living without a plan. Travellers with an interesting journey. The Pakistani who was raised in Nigeria and  later moved to Dubai and now Qatar. The Pakistani who has spent her entire life in Qatar but knows this is not home. The Filipino nurse who has left her kids in the Philippines so her kids can study. People who want to give and give without wanting to receive anything, and that to with a smile on their face.

I will never forget what Qatar has given me. How much I grew as a person and how much I developed spiritually and personally. Qatar wasn’t only pleasing to the eye but gave my soul comfort and solace in it’s own unique way. I loved every moment of living there and cannot wait to share some of my favourites places. The places that I will truly treasure forever and places that I urge you visit if you ever get the chance to visit this gorgeous country.

Places to visit

The Doha Corniche 

Everyone will tell you about ‘The Corniche’ when you go to Qatar or talk about Qatar.

The Doha Corniche is a waterfront promenade extending for many kilometers along Doha Bay in the capital city of Doha, Qatar. Perhaps around 15-20 mins from the airport. I’d say majority of the good hotels are around this area too!

This is where the locals hang out for hours on end, spending time with their loved ones. You’ll see people sat there having a picnic, flying a kite, exercising or just watching the world go by. I definitely preferred the latter. I could sit for hours people watching and putting the world to right.

You’d see the ‘Labourers’ at the very top of the corniche, in awe of whats around them. Their tired faces and sun burnt skin. That itself that an experience. Seeing the labourers enjoys the few hours a day that they had free from work. But as you went further down the Corniche, you’d start seeing more family friendly and female friendly places where these working class heroes were not allowed.

Best to visit anytime during the winter months and early evenings in summers (unless it is too humid). Overall a perfect place to spend a couple of hours with a iced coffee or an ice cream in your hand or be it a delicious chicken shawarma wrap.

Cost: FREE

Souq Waqif 

Souq is an Arabic word which means “market”. Souq Waqif is a place full of restaurants, sheesha lounges, spices, golds, perfumes, animals and explicitly traditional garments. It’s architectural design of traditional Qatari style has been preserved over years ago with mazes and undefined geometric pattern as it characterises. The Souq will take you back in time and it will definitely give you an experience like no other if you haven’t been to a place like it before.

Located across the road from the Doha Corniche, it’s very hard to miss the Souq which is always hustling and bustling with laughter and joy. It tends to get very busy during the evenings as all locals and expats decide to finally leave their houses and enjoy some humid air! One can spend hours wandering the alleyways of the Souq, smoking sheesha, shopping or just enjoying a hot/cold drink as people walk on by and soak it all up.

Cost: FREE

The Museum of Islamic Art (MIA) and Park  

MIA is a museum located on one end of the long Corniche in Doha. Once you have aimlessly walked along the Corniche, visited the Souq, it is almost time to visit the gorgeous MIA to watch the most beautiful sunset.

Build in it’s very own unique character, MIA is classy, modern and informative. There are tonnes of facilities inside the 5-storied museum, including temporary and permanent galleries, a gift shop, a library, a cafe, and a restaurant. There are also prayer rooms inside to cater to Muslim visitors.

I remember visiting the MIA park for the very first time when there was an orchestra playing. It was a fun musical evening with musicians from all around the world. MIA is known to have lots of different activities and festivities throughout the year. Be sure to check their website to see what events are taking place when you visit. It gives you a real flavour of the culture and most importantly the diversity that exists in the Country.

http://www.mia.org.qa/en/

Cost: FREE

State Grand Mosque

The state Mosque Qatar is one of the largest mosques in Qatar and is a stunning mosque to visit. It is located a bit further than the Souq, Corniche and MIA, so I recommend that you either hire a car during your stay in Qatar or take a taxi to these places!

At night it lights up and you’re left totally mesmerised as you can see the rest of Doha lit up! The coloured stained glass windows reflect on the white marble floor, that is how sparkly clean and prestige this place is! 

Be Warned: In order to enter the mosque, women MUST be wearing an Abaya. I remember the first time I went and didn’t have an Abaya. An Abaya is essentially a cloak which is a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress, worn by some women in parts of the Muslim world. The security guard quickly ran inside and advised me that I was not able to enter without an Abaya! Lesson was learnt very quickly and I made sure to carry my Abayah around at all times. But Abayas are provided for visitors at the mosque.

Cost: FREE

Katara Cultural Village 

This place was my FAVOURITE to visit on evenings! I loved walking around Katara for hours and ending the evening with some delicious food. I feel that whoever envisioned Katara had great foresight. The location is perfect for people of all ages and all interests. It is located next to a beach, so lots of sand and sea for those that want to sunbathe and swim. There are also lots of different restaurants with various cuisines.  It also has an amazing amphitheater with a grand and opulent structure.

You can visit the Katara website for more information: http://www.katara.net/en

The best thing to do is to visit just before sunset and enjoy that it’s got to offer!

Cost: FREE

The Pearl 

The Pearl-Qatar is an artificial island spanning nearly four million square meters! Just like the name says, it looks like a string of pearls from above. It predominantly consists of lots of modern, expensive and luxurious residents. However, locals and tourists also tend to visit ‘The Pearl’ to get a feel of the marina, the yachts and the boats. I never went on the boats, but I have been told that some of the boats can be hired and taken to the corniche and beyond.

It also has lots of restaurants and cafe’s which are affordable and relaxing. If you like spotting cars then this is the place to be: we saw Ferraris, Lamborghinis and a variety of supercars scattered all over the car parks. We usually used to stay for around 2-3 hours, just to go for long walks, cold drinks and yes, people watching! Ok so we’re getting a bit of a theme. I love to people watch!

http://www.thepearlqatar.com/EN/

Cost: FREE

The DESERT! 

I was VERY VERY blessed and lucky that I got to experience dune bashing, sun, sand and sea many times during my stay in Qatar. We had a Jeep which meant that we could easily visit the desert as and when we wished. All it meant was that we needed to take the air out of the tyres before beginning our adventure. Mind you, it is the most tiring day out EVER! You don’t realise, but after hours of driving up and down sand dunes, it can hurt your back and make you sleep like a baby at night.

We also managed to find a specific destination in the desert where we always had the ‘beach’ all to ourselves. YES THAT’S RIGHT. We pinned a specific location where we realised no one ever visited. It meant that we had the entire sea to ourselves. So a dip in the sea followed by a picnic and some soothing music was my version of a ‘perfect moment’.

If you’re just visiting Qatar on holiday, I am certain there are tours that you can book in order to get a similar experience. I am not sure what it consists of, but its worth a quick google or if you want more info, I can ask a friend for you!

Zekreet and Film city

If you want to feel that you just got onto your flying carpet and rolled into the world of Aladdin then here it is. The landscape is so unique and captivating! It is quite literally in the middle of nowhere and you’d definitely not be able to get there without a reliable Sat Nav/ Google maps: although after a few visits you will be a pro at locating it.

Film city can be reached from Doha by following a Doha – Dukhan road (about 90 km) then turn right when you see Zikreet route sign. Again, it is probably best to do this via a tour or hiring a SUV and using your GPS to get around.

We only visited this place once and because we were already aware that there were no Cafes/restaurants in the vicinity of this place, we got some food with us and ate it on the way. I’d advise you to do the same so you’re not starving and dehydrated by the time you get there!

The nearest food places are in Dukhan which is round the corner. You can find a McDonald’s and a small market to cater for most needs.

Villagio Mall, Torch Doha and Aspire Park 

If you have some extra time, the places mentioned above are also worth paying a visit. Villagio Mall makes you feel that you’ve magically arrived in Venice or perhaps a copy cat version of Las Vegas’s Bellagio (not that i have ever been there)! But I have heard that the inspiration was from Bellagio in Vegas. The mall has all the high street shops as well as designer clothing. BUT not just that. Villagio has a cinema, indoor theme park, ice skating and some icestone ice cream, NOM! Perfect way to spend a few hours when the heat outside is unbearable!

Villagio was my favourite place to visit for food. The Steak and Chicken Florentine at ‘The Butcher, Shop and Grill’ or ‘Prawn Dynamite’ from PF Chang are a MUST!

So yeah, if it’s scorching hot outside and you are itching you be out and about, Villagio is a great place to hang out and spend time!

Souq Wakra 

HOW PRETTY AND CUTE?! Obviously I am going to be biased. As we lived in Wakrah, Souq Wakra was not very far for us which meant that we visited this little Souq on a very regular basis. At the time this place was fairly/somewhat underdeveloped I’d say as it was a work in progress. This suited me fine because it meant it was less crowded and more intimate for the people who actually went.

Over the months of visiting, you could see it getting busier and busier. More people were becoming aware of it and traveled all across Qatar to visit. It has a variety of cuisines on the beach front, but my favourite drink was the ‘Caramel Crunch’ from Coffee Beanery. My mouth is watering as I type about it. It was the yummiest cold drink I have ever had and I was pretty addicted to it. Even the employers knew my order, I’m sure!

Last but not least, the hospitality in Qatar is exceptional, especially by the Filipino workers who will always be polite and charming no matter where go. Or at least that was my experience. So if you ever visit Qatar, I urge you to always make an effort with the workers who always have a story to tell and most likely have sacrificed a lot to be serving you.

One of the best things about living in the Middle East is definitely the luxury of being able to travel to so many places. While we lived there, we managed to visit Dubai for my surprise birthday weekend and also went for Ummrah over a weekend!

Stay tuned for the next Blogpost about my surprise weekend away to…….DUBAI followed by my Umrah experience!!

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 🙂 

 

Guest Interview – Tasha’s Tales

Natasha from Tasha's Tales

This week’s guest post comes from Natasha, travel blogger behind Tasha’s Tales. She explains ‘I’m an only child to two most incredible parents and a wife to an extremely supportive husband. Say Alhamdulillah! I am also a Social Worker by profession and a wanderlust at heart. A dreamer with an endless bucket list of things I have done and things I wish to do. I have lived and moved around in three countries so far; Azad Kashmir, England and Qatar and have loved every second of all three experiences. I’m not quite sure what the blog will look like as it goes on, but what I do know is that it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. So here I am. As you can tell, I love travelling so the main focus of the blog will be travel. But I will also do lifestyle, food and random rants and observations of the world as I travel through it, slowly but surely!”

1. What is your name and where do you come from?

I answer to pretty much anything, including, Nat, Tash, Tasha, Natty, but the name that is on the Birth Certificate is Natasha! But yes, you can call me anything you like  – within reason of course.

Where are you from?’

The most dreaded question! So, here it goes. I was born in England and at the tender age of 3 months I moved to Azad Kashmir with my parents (google it if you don’t know where that is- or even better, message me and I will tell you all about it)!

I then spent 13 wonderful years in Azad Kashmir, until my parents decided enough was enough and moved to the UK. Coming from a third world country meant that my options and independence was somewhat limited, so my parents decided to make some sacrifices in order for me to have as many opportunities as possible.

In my early 20’s, I crossed paths with my better half, my husband, Ahmed who was living in Qatar at the time. After getting married, I joined him in Qatar and spent 12 months of luxury and paradise!

2. What sort of traveller are you? Full time / part time / business / backpacker etc?

I am an annual leave/weekend traveller – if such a thing exists? I aim to plan my 21 days of annual leave according to my plans and I plan holidays around weekends.

As much as I would love to travel on a full-time basis, this is completely not possible as I love my luxuries too much and wouldn’t be able to do a backpacking holiday! Snob traveller is the term perhaps?

3. How do you fund your travelling?

I work, I save hard and I travel harder!

I have only recently – well for just over a year been working full time, so travel is a bit more affordable. Before I started working full time, travelling was impossible on my part-time wages! But right now, most of mine and my husband’s travels come from our wages and we tend to split the costs between us.

Although I once sold tonnes of items on eBay for my trip to Florida and managed to make £1000! woohoo!

4. Where is the best place you have ever been and why?

This question is SO hard! It’s like asking who your favourite child is, no? Maybe not. How would I know anyway, I am not even a mom, YET!

Okay, so my personal favourite country that I have ever been to has got to be Sri Lanka. Oh my, what a pleasant surprise Sri Lanka was. Sri Lanka is a country that I never had the desire to visit until my husband mentioned it one day in passing. After doing some research, I got myself majorly excited and asked my husband whether we could spend our first wedding anniversary there.  After some contemplation and persuading, my husband decided to book Sri Lanka and off we went. Sri Lanka gave off the most relaxed and positive vibes, similar to Ubud, but even better! My husband laughs at me, but the train journey in Sri Lanka alone made the trip worth while. I had only ever imagined and dreamt of riding on a romantic/therapeutic/scenic train journey. Our train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella consisted of all things beautiful, including the landscapes and the authenticity of the country. I genuinely feel that Sri Lanka is under rated and has the potential to be so much greater than what it is! Oh, and the tea was the tastiest tea EVER!

5. Where is the worst place you have ever been and why?

Erm, dare I say Belgium?

I spent less than 24 hours in Belgium, where i manage to squeeze in some sleep, took a tour bus ride, devoured many waffles and even got the infamous picture with Mr Pis. But I dunno, I wasn’t captivated by Brussels charm. Within my brief visit, I even experienced a stranger groping my butt as well as being chatted up by a stranger who I tried to tell that I was already taken.

so yeah, not my fav, although I would like to return to visit some other cities.

6. Do you have a Bucket List? If so where are the 3 top places on it?

Oh yes, I do have a bucket list, a very long, never ending bucket list.

The top three places that I would like to visit – in a chronological order:

  1. Croatia
  2. Santorini
  3. Italy

7. What 3 things (apart from the essentials – food/water etc) do you always travel with?

  1. Obviously my mobile phone, I get to take tonnes of photos, post on Instagram and spend time bragging about my cool holiday to my friends (mean, I know)!
  2. Okay, so don’t judge! But I have this odd habit, fascination, addiction, whatever you want to call it where I HAVE to travel with one box of Pringles and one pack of Peanut M&Ms on a plane journey. I have done it for years and now no journey is complete without them!
  3. Errrrrr, a Selfie stick. Guilty as they come. A selfie stick is a complete must at all times. Now the trouble is that when my husband and I are travelling around, I obviously want to have lots of pictures of both of us – together! So having a selfies stick is awesome to capture those special moments and you don’t even have to interrupt anyone else during the process!

8. What makes you happy and why?

Man, I am so easily pleased that everything makes me happy. But food, food always makes me happy!

But more than anything, travelling, planning to travel, reading travel blogs and hearing about peoples travels makes me really, genuinely happy. It’s almost like watching a film. It transports you to another dimension. You know what I mean?

9. How long have you been blogging and why did you start?

I have been blogging since… May 2017. I am still a newbie, trying to figure it all out.

So what led to the craze of blogging?

Prior to meeting my husband, I really had not travelled much at all. But since our marriage, we have both had the luxury to really make the most of our time (long-distance issues, but that’s a topic for another time).

so anyways, as we travelled around 10 countries together, we noticed that there was a re-emerging pattern. There were absolutely no other Muslim travellers that we came across during all our travels and adventure. It made me feel somewhat empty. A little raged and mostly confused.

So one thought led to another and I decided to start a blog, mostly to encourage other Muslims to travel more. Now you must be thinking, EXTREMIST! but no, it’s really quite the opposite. I want Muslims to travel more. To integrate more in order to diminish and end the negativity around the word ‘Muslim’. I want to be able to introduce myself to people as being a ‘Muslim’ without the fear of being judged. Y’know? I just want to spread positivity.

10. What makes your blog unique and why should people read it?

My blog is unique because I genuinely believe that I am the combination of east meets west and I feel that I am extremely lucky to have the best of both worlds. I have some interesting tales to share and some amazing photos to show off. I absolutely love interacting with other readers and bloggers so they will no doubt be able to approach me at any time.

This blog was first posted by Eat Sleep Love Travel’ dated 18 September 2017.

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.

ff

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…..!

hthth
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.

Northern Ireland

    When 24 hrs in Northern Ireland become 48 hrs (Hurricane Ophelia)

northern ireland

Why Northern Ireland?

A little while back, perhaps over a year ago I came to a realisation that  ‘materialistic’ gifts and things didn’t matter anymore and I no longer found them to be very exciting. For me, it was more about the memories that I have been creating and it were those memories that were over taking my feelings and excitement. This made me realise that I no longer wanted to be showered with gifts, but wanted to experience new adventures and make memories.

I relayed my feelings to my mum and surprisingly she took this on board and for my 28th birthday, she surprised me with a ‘Buzz Flight’ where me and my husband went on a helicopter ride across Newcastle.

So! It was almost time for my husband’s birthday and given how fussy he is and given how strongly I felt about adventures and memories, I decided to surprise him with a new adventure. So my mind started to wander and I began creating a list of ‘things to do’ and ‘places to see’.

Maybe around 5-6 years ago my very good friend Lauren put a photo up on Instagram of a rope bridge which made my eyes and mind go PINGGGG! I remembered wanting to go to that place for years and knew that it was somewhere in the UK so I would try to go at some point!

AHAAAH! and so it was. It was Northern Ireland.

dgg

Since my husband does not have a British passport, it means that we pretty much cannot go ANYWHERE without a Visa. And as you may or may not know, the visa process is a pain in the backside and hence I decided not to look elsewhere.

Northern Ireland it was! So yes, anyone who has a Pakistani Passport but resides in the UK under some sort of a visa can go there! wooohoo! (after all it is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and NORTHERN IRELAND!)

This meant, that we were able to sit on a plane, on a small journey and experience a completely different nation/sub-culture!

The Cost

Now, if you want to save a penny or two, my advice would be to book in advance as you can get REALLY cheap deals. Especially if you live in Manchester, Birmingham or London.

Flights:

I don’t know about you guys, but I spend my life on SkyScanner. The flights cost me something around £50 return with Easy Jet.

Accommodation: 

The accommodation cost us £36 per night which is not bad at all considering how much we got for it. We stayed in a gorgeous, spacious annex and would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone wanting to explore.

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/13617301

Car Hire:

I just googled cheap car hire and EuroCar came up with an offer of a car hire for £9 per day. I mean you really can’t go wrong with that, can you?!

fhfhf

Itinerary for Day 1:

We arrived in Belfast quite early in the morning and decided to go straight for breakfast. Me being me walked into a very traditional, family orientated Irish cafe and asked for a ‘Full English’. The guy in return gave me really dirty looks (IF LOOKS COULD KILL..) and replied, no but we have a ‘Fry Up’. I casually smiled and decided to walk in anyway! The place was a bit shabby and worn down but cheap. So we decided to stay and have our breakfast that would last us the next few hours!

An Irish Fry up is pretty much like a Full English but with a few tweaks. So, instead of slices of bread, there is soda bread and potato cakes… everything else is, well… the same!

After the ‘Fry Up’, I knew I wanted to see some of the street art that was all over Belfast City Centre. I came across some awesome photos on Instagram from a Pub called the ‘Dark Horse’. It’s located on ‘Hill Street’ and voila here you go. We came across some of the most gorgeous murals and street art!

We then drove over to ‘Crumlin Road Gaol’: a Prison which dates back to 1845 and closed it’s doors as a working prison in 1996. The Prison was closed down as it was deemed to be inadequate and prisoners were living in appalling conditions. Some parts of the Prison have been sold to various businesses, however, some parts of the Prison went through renovations and the gaol re-opened as a visitor attraction and conference centre.

We went on a guided tour of the prison and heard stories about the men, women and children who were held within it’s walls.  You also find out a little about the 17 men who were hanged. It certainly will give you chills down the spine!

During our tour, there was a little boy who screeched as they spoke about the hangings and had to leave the room due to him being distressed!!

It was hard to believe that the violence in Northern Ireland continued until the 1980s as there was no evidence to suggest this until of course we came across several other murals. We then decided to head off to the ‘Wall of Peace’. From walking around on the streets of Belfast it was quite loud and clear that murals were there to commemorate, communicate and display aspects of Northern Ireland culture and history. They conveyed stories of solidarity, peace and much more.

We ended our long day by visiting ‘Belfast Castle‘. The castle is located on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park, Belfast, 400 feet above sea level. Its location gives you an unobstructed /panoramic view of the city of Belfast. The castle itself is gorgeous from the outside, however, from the inside it isn’t anything extra-ordinary as it has been refurbished to modern standards.

The castle does have a restaurant, however, I heard mixed reviews about it and did not end up having any food there. The castle is also used for different functions, conferences, weddings, christenings etc. The location for me was a winner. It was surrounded by gorgeous landscape, crisp autumn leaves and you had the opportunity to walk for miles!

Belfast Castle

Itinerary for Day 2:

We decided to drive across the famous Causeway Coastal Route which is one of Northern Ireland’s greatest adventures! Not only is Northern Ireland jaw-droppingly beautiful, it is also quite small, meaning if you’re short on time there is LOADS you can see on a day trip. Expect steep cliffs, amazing views, and adorable sights. This is my guide on how to explore the Causeway Coastal Route in one day.

Causeway Route .jpg

Prior to booking this surprise for my better half, I did hear about Game of Thrones being filmed here, but did not take much notice as I myself had not seen the Series. I completely was alien to the GoT Hype.

This SOON changed as me and Ahmed got into watching it religiously and got extremely excited about the prospect of seeing locations where the film was shot. I soon became a big fan of the character Arya Stark and realised that one of the scenes of Arya escaping was indeed shot in NORTHERN IRELAND!

‘The Dark Hedges’ can be found along Bregagh Road in the North of Northern Ireland. The beech trees were planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family in order to impress visitors on the approach to their home, Gracehill House.

TOP TIP: If you do want to visit, make sure you go first thing in the morning to avoid the heaps of tourists and visitors trying to take photos.

After spending ages trying to capture the true beauty of The Dark Hedges, we decided to head to ‘The Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge’ that I saw on Lauren’s Instagram many moons ago.

Hurricane Ophelia was well and truly on its way and thus, we were not able to actually go on the bridge to walk across. Nevertheless, we made the most of our time there and took some of THE most beautiful photos. In fact, on some of the photos it looks like a painting and so surreal.

TOP TIP: If you do go here, there is a ticket price for around £9 pp.

We then continued to drive across the coastal route and stopped off at a cosy little cafe called ‘The Nook’. It is located right next to The Giant’s Causeway and does some really delicious food although I do think it is over priced and can be a little crammed. But if you are gasping for some warmth/coolness or a drink, you can’t really go wrong!

We then went to visit The Giant’s Causeway, which is clearly the most popular stop on the route (the road’s been named after it, after all), and I can see why! The building that houses the ticket office, the merchandise centre and the information centre looks like it was designed and created by a genius.

Going through the building and on to the sloping road to the volcanic rock formations that are called the giant’s causeway. It really is a natural beauty with characteristics that I have never seen before and it appears is unique to Northern Ireland and Scotland. The story goes that it was built by Giant’s to bridge the gap between NI and Scotland. 

 The phenomena has had it’s spot on the Unesco World Heritage list since 1986!!!

TOP TIP:  You can visit the Giant’s Causeway for free. But if you wish to use their car park, facilities and get an audio player, you can get tickets online – they are something like £1.50 pp cheaper.

dunluce

From The Giant’s Causeway, we carried on driving towards The Dunluce Castle. This Castle, well more of a ruin, is located on top of a cliff overlooking the sea.  The castle has been perched on the cliff since the thirteenth century and was recently used in the Games of Thrones and was ‘The House of Greyjoy’.

fish and chips

We ended the day in a really quirky little restaurant called ‘Harry’s Shack’. This was recommended by a friend of a friend.

We parked on the beach close by and had a table overlooking the beach. This restaurant is primarily a fish restaurant and offers a very limited menu of stock items supplemented by whatever seasonal or available fish they choose to prepare. We both got fish and chips and wow, what a big portion it was!

 Day 3:  When 24 hrs in Northern Ireland become 48 hrs (Hurricane Ophelia)!

Now then. We were supposed to fly out on the third day and did not have any other plans, BUT Hurricane Ophelia happened…

According to ‘The Sun’ (LOL):

On Monday, the worst of the storm was felt in Ireland, with powerful winds and waves striking the coast.

Three people were killed in separate storm-related incidents.

At one point, power was lost to more than 360,000 homes and Ireland declared a “national emergency”.

More than 170,000 homes and businesses still without power in the Republic on Tuesday.

Schools, hospitals and public transport closed after a “danger to life” weather warning was put into place by worried authorities.

Airline passengers faced extreme disruption to their journeys.

Okay, so as you can probably tell by the ‘Lol’,  I don’t usually read The Sun (let’s not get into politics right now), but this is the first thing that came up when I typed Hurricane Ophelia into google. And to be fair, what is written in this article was most definitely a reflection of what was going on in the area.

The entire Belfast City Centre, cinemas, schools, parliament were all closed due to the fear of Hurricane Ophelia.

Our flights were cancelled and we ended up driving aimlessly.

hotel

Easy Jet were AMAZING during this time. Yes the queues were massive and it took us a long time to get to our hotel, but they provided us with accommodation, transport to the accommodation as well as money for food. We were also able to quickly book into a flight for the following day without any hassle. Thank you Easy Jet! 

 Day 4: Making it up as you go along.

We woke up bright and early in our Hotel: ‘Wellington Hotel’. According to our taxi driver, it is located in one of the most affluent areas in Belfast. We had a lovely ‘Fry up’, toast, cereal for breakfast. We then decided to go for a walk to the museum nearby as recommended by Trip Advisor.

The Ulster Museum is on one of the TOP 5 things to do in Belfast. So as you can imagine its rather popular amongst folks. The entry is FREE!

TO our advantage, the Weeping Window a cascade consisting of several thousand handmade ceramic poppies seen pouring from a high window to the ground to mark the loss of life in World War One. It had been envisaged up by Paul Cummins, an English ceramic artist. Tom Piper, a theatre designer, joined him to put the piece together.

I usually tend to get really bored in Museums, however,  the museum has a 77 meter long hand made tapestry of the Game of Thrones – beware spoilers if you aren’t up to date!! The tapestry was woven and hand-embroidered from material provided by Thomas Ferguson Irish Linen in Banbridge, one of the last surviving mills in Northern Ireland, and contains over 250,000 threads, all of it hand made!

The museum is located within the ‘Botanic Gardens‘. We did not go inside the Botanic Garden as it is not our thing and smelt a little strange when we did step in for a brief moment. But if you are into your gardening and plants, this place is probably wonderful!

We then decided to head over to the iconic Titanic Museum. We are both not very massive fans of the Titanic, but thought now that we have all day, we might as well pay it a visit and see what it has to offer.

We decided to get the train from near the Ulster Museum and headed off towards Titanic Station. It cost us £3 for TWO people for a return ticket. Hashtag Bargain!

The Titanic is located in the heart of Belfast city (well at the docks!). The building itself is a unique building with a really interesting architecture and design that captures your attention as soon as you approach the area. Titanic Belfast has been crowned best tourist attraction in the world. It takes you through the story and journey of the Titanic.

Instead, we decided to walk across the road. We sat in a cafe, sipped coffee and ate TWO slices of Lemon Drizzle cakes which were delicious! We watched people walk by and spoke about how lucky we had been to have had the most incredible time, but most of all how blessed we were to be safe and unharmed.

We made out way back to the hotel, where we were picked up by the taxi (also arrange by Easy Jet) and got to the airport for a much awaited flight back.

NI surpassed all expectations: the people, the nation, the landscape. And as they say, all is well that ends well!

5 Reasons why Newcastle should be on your list when visiting England

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Facts & Figures: Newcastle Upon Tyne is located in the Northeast of England, within close proximity to the Scottish Borders. It is home to around 296,500 people and is the most populous city in the North East. Newcastle was part of the county of Northumberland until 1400, when it became a county of itself and its status retained until becoming part of Tyne and Wear in 1974. The regional dialect spoken by the locals and the surrounding areas is called ‘Geordie’.  Newcastle also houses Newcastle University, a member of the Russell Group, as well as Northumbria University.

The city grew as an important centre for the wool trade in the 14th century, and later became a major coal mining area. The port developed in the 16th century and, along with the shipyards on River Tyne, was amongst the world’s largest shipbuilding and ship-repairing centres. Among its icons are Newcastle United football club and the Tyne Bridge. Since 1981, the city has also hosted the Great North Run, a half marathon, which attracts over 57,000 runners each year. (Yes, I have completed the Great North Run!)

Newcastle is best known to have an amazing night life, however, I don’t feel this would be appealing to the majority of the readers. So, the first reason for visiting Newcastle is it’s friendly people. No matter where you go or who you speak to, the Geordies will ‘bend over backwards’ to help and guide you. Be it being lost on the streets or being served in a shop or restaurant, they will always have a smile on their faces when talking to you!

1. The Angel of the North

thumbnail_IMG_6444Firstly, the Angel of the North is believed to be the largest angel sculpture in the world!

The significance of an angel was three-fold: first, to signify that beneath the site of its construction, coal miners worked for two centuries; second, to grasp the transition from an industrial to an information age, and third, to serve as a focus for our evolving hopes and fears. It is one of the most viewed pieces of art in the world – seen by more than one person every second, 90,000 every day or 33 million every year!

2. An Architect’s dream

Newcastle is home to some of the most gorgeous buildings, bridges and alleyways, which are surrounded with welcoming restaurants and shops. This charming city attracts hundreds and thousands of eager students per year (42, 000 to be precise) to enrol at the two of the local Universities. Once those students arrive, it is very hard for them to leave because of Newcastle’s addictive charm.

Newcastle also has seven bridges within the space of half a mile, all visible from the world famous Quayside. The Tyne Bridge (top left in the picture) is an international icon and was the basis of architectural design for Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge, that was constructed three years later.

 3. Beautiful beaches

Although there isn’t a beach in Newcastle itself, there are gorgeous beaches across Tyneside, County Durham and Northumberland. All of which have their own charm and are oozing with character. Most of these beaches also have the most delicious Fish’N’Chip shops. My personal favourite is the one in South Shields, called Colman’s!

 

4. Great walking opportunities 

Newcastle’s surrounding areas also have the most beautiful landscapes and walking tracks. Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall and Simonside hills are two of the stunning places to name a few.

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The Sycamore Gap tree is one of most photographed in the country. It stands in a dramatic dip in Hadrian’s Wall in the Northumberland National Park. For around three centuries, Hadrian’s Wall was a vibrant, multi-cultured frontier sprawling almost 80 miles coast-to-coast. It was built by a force of 15,000 men in under six years, it’s as astounding today for its sheer vision as it is for its engineering.

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Simonside Hills, an hours drive away from Newcastle, are full of distinctive ridges and craggy profile. The breathtaking panorama from the top of mystical Simonside is one of the best in the whole of the North East of England. The Simonside Hills are a fabulous place for walkers with miles of footpaths taking you through woodland and moorland to wonderful viewpoints.

5. Castles and History

As well as all the above, there are at least TEN stunning castles you can visit within an hour’s drive of Newcastle. They are mostly located in Northumberland, which has more castles than ANY other county in England. I am going to share just a few of the ones that i have been to just this year!

  • Bamburgh Castle is a castle on the northeast coast of England, by the village of Bamburgh in Northumberland.

 

  • Raby Castle is near Staindrop in County Durham, England, among 200 acres of deer park.

 

  • Warkworth Castle is a ruined medieval building in the town of the same name in the English county of Northumberland.

 

  • Alnwick Castle is a castle and stately home in Alnwick in the English county of Northumberland. For those Harry Potter Fans- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone filmed on location at Alnwick Castle in autumn 2000!!

 

So folks, if you want to visit a truly amazing county while you are in the UK, look no further!

Next stop: Newcastle!