Italy

Italy: 5 Cities in 5 days!

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After applying for Ahmed’s spouse visa and waiting for months on end, 2017 (technically the tail end of 2016) was finally the year where we were together again.

Italy was forever on my list of top 5 places to visit. I had always dreamt of eating pasta in Venice and getting a slice of pizza as a take out in the streets of Italy whilst being surrounded by the beautiful Italian landscape (and Italian men *wink wink*). But there was so much happening in our lives at the time that I didn’t think it was possible to visit another country on holiday.

We had just moved into a new city, were renting a stupidly priced apartment, I had started a new job and we were saving to buy a house. I never thought we would be going anywhere for quite some time… Until I found some super cheap flights to Milan flying out on Boxing day. So without hesitating I booked the flights and hoped I could persuade Ahmed to apply for his Visa. Luckily I managed to do just that and I started to plan our route.

We had FIVE full days to explore so I wanted to make the most of it. I knew I wouldn’t get a chance to visit again for some time so wanted to soak in as much as we could. I wanted a packed holiday and that is exactly what happened!

Day 1: Venice

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After landing in Milan late evening, have food at a rather posh restaurant, and getting some shut-eye, we left Milan early next morning and got the train to Venice. As you know, we travelled to Italy in the winter which meant everywhere was FREEZING cold! I wasn’t sure what to expect when we went to Venice but there was something so romantic and magical about visiting Venice- even in the winter months.

The constant raindrops, silent alleyways surrounded by charming architecture. What was there not to love?

Before this trip so many people said that they didn’t like Venice and that it was underwhelming, but I wanted to see it for myself and make a judgement. I get what they mean in terms of the fact that you can’t spend more than 3 days I would say, but for me it was an amazing experience and we spent an amazing day there! Due to it being over the Christmas holidays, most places were shut and it was incredibly quiet. We didn’t necessarily have an itinerary for Venice and just enjoyed walking around and getting lost in the small narrow alleyways.

Places we saw: 

  • Saint Mark’s Basilica
  • Rialto Bridge
  • Gallerie dell’Accademia
  • Libreria Acqua Alta

Things to note: 

  • If you are travelling with children just bear in mind that there are soo many steps and bridges. Especially with push chairs and suitcases it can get a bit tedious. If your baby is small, I would suggest you use a baby carrier.
  • Accommodation wise, it’s so darn expensive and you don’t get much for what you pay. We were quite lucky that we went at an off peak season and found a bit of a gem. It was brilliant for one night, perfect location, price and great reviews. We stayed at Foresteria Levi.

Day 2: Murano & Burano

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The second day we decided to take the ferry and head out to visit Burano and Murano. I think the cost was around £15. Murano and Burano are Islands near Venice.  Murano is around 1.5km from Venice and is known for glass blowing. Due to the poor weather and time restrictions, we decided to skip visiting Murano.

A further 30 mins on the ferry and you arrive at Burano. Burano is known for its lace, good fish restaurants and pretty painted cottages. Due to the time of the year that we visited, most shops and restaurants were closed so we didn’t get to see many shops. Contrary to how I had imagined this island to be, Burano was FULL of different coloured houses. Prior to going there, I had assumed that there were only one or two streets that were so bright and beautiful. But as we walked around the island we came to know that all the houses were different shades of blue, pink, yellow, green and so on!

We spent a few hours walking around and exploring despite it raining pretty much att of our time on the island. The few hours that we did spend in Burano were enough to see the whole island. We even managed to have food at a pretty decent restaurant.

I would suggest that if you are visiting these islands, do take some time out to visit Murano. I am gutted we didn’t make a quick stop.

Also, there are some halal food places in Venice! Who would have thought!

We caught the train in the evening to Florence and spent the night there.

Day 3: Florence

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We woke up bright and early to explore Florence. Oh what an absolute beauty Florence is! I think it is fair to say that it was probably one of the most beautiful cities we have been to. It is full of Renaissance architecture, art and history, and romantic cobblestone streets. As the capital of the Tuscany region, you can find amazing food, along with world-class museums.

As you know, unfortunately we only had one day per city as I wanted to experience and see as much as possible. Due to the huge queues everywhere in Florence, we decided to skip the museums and to go with the flow. We just walked around aimlessly to soak it all in!

Here are all the places we saw:

  • Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (the queues to go inside were ridiculous, honestly! I’d suggest trying to book online if its possible)
  • Ponte Vecchio – A medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River, in Florence, Italy. It is known for its shops built along it! I have never seen anything like it.
  • Piazzale Michelangelo – A square with a panoramic view of Florence, Italy, located in the Oltrarno district of the city. It’s quite nice

You can take the girl out of Mirpur, but you can’t take the Mirpur out of the girl, lol. After being full of cold for days now, it saddens me to say this but I couldn’t really enjoy the gorgeous Italian cuisine anymore. All I wanted was a spicy curry that I could actually taste. Clearly my taste buds are so accustomed to a spicy curry that nothing else can quite get there. So we found a Pakistani restaurant in Florence and WOW, thinking about that chicken karahi still makes my mouth water. It was absolutely divine and reminded me of a childhood memory of eating a curry in the mountains near Murree. We literally asked the waiter to say a massive thank you and compliments to the chef who later came out to speak to us. He was from Lahore, Pakistan!

In the evening we headed back to the train station once again, heading towards Riamaggiore.

Day 4: Cinque Terre

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We stayed in another lovely place during this trip called Scorci Di Mare.

The accommodation was an absolute STEAL. With gorgeous views, clean rooms and beautiful decor, I’m so pleased we decided to stay here. This property was located in Riomaggiore’s rocky coast so this is where we started exploring Cinque Terre.

Just give me a minute while I reminisce about what a beautiful, unreal this place was!! Cinque Terre is a string of seaside villages on the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. In each of the 5 towns, colourful houses and vineyards are scattered all over, harbours are filled with fishing boats and all villages offer gorgeous seafood & of course Pizza!

Before visiting this beautiful places, lots of people said it wasn’t possible to see ALL 5 towns in one day but I wanted to give it a go anyway! We woke up SUPER early to get the earliest train to the other little villages. The trains are extremely efficient and reasonable in terms of their price. We bought the day tickets and went from Riomaggiore – Manarola – Vernazza – Monterosso al Mare. If you have more time at your hands, you can trek to all the villages if you don’t want to take the train. Based on what we saw from the train, it is needless to say the walking tracks would be picturesque.

We managed to see 4 out of the 5 villages and had a walk around the villages as well! I think it was really quiet because we travelled during off peak season, and everything was easily accessible. I can only imagine how crazy busy all these places must be in the summer; so if you are travelling in the summer, I would imagine you would need at least half a day to explore each village properly!

Day 5: Levanto

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On the last day we decided to head out early to make a quick stop at ‘Levanto’ before reaching Milan. After spending a full day hoping from village to village, it was a nice change to be on a long sandy beach, with lots of shops and good restaurants. This popular sea resort is surrounded by a green valley of pine forests, olive groves, vineyards and small medieval villages.

It was so apparent that we were traveling in an off-peak season as the beaches, streets, hotels and restaurants were completed deserted. Most touristy places were shut when we went so we didn’t get to see many places.

We went for a slow stroll by the beach and I asked a group of friends to take a photo of me and Ahmed (I got a bit fed up of using our selfie stick by this point). One guy immediately ran to us and volunteered to take the photo. He was so cheeky he quickly ran next to me and took a selfie with me and Ahmed!! It’s memories like these that make me travel more and more!

Milan

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We got to Milan later on in the evening and went straight to our AirbnB. Towards the end of our journey, I was really quite poorly. I think may have even had a chest infection and a very high temperature, but I was adamant I didn’t want to spend the New Year indoors so after some bickering, we left our AirBnB to make our way towards the town centre. I managed to persuade Ahmed as I told him there were going to be all these amazing fireworks.

As we arrived at the Cathedral it truly did look so beautiful. But as soon as we got there, the entire place was surrounded with Police presence. Most food places were either closed or had massive queues outside.

We managed to find a somewhat quiet and less rowdy place opposite the Cathedral and watched a little concert where they played Italian music. It was quite pleasant and the atmosphere was pretty good! Anyways this local concert thing outside the cathedral ended just after midnight and there were NO fireworks.

Total anti climax.

It was now after 12am, we were both exhausted and I genuinely felt so so unwell. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, it started to absolutely CHUCK it down and we didn’t have an umbrella.  Our phone batteries were also low as we had been taking photos and making videos of this concert that we couldn’t understand a word of.

We walked in the crazy rain to the nearest tram station along with a tonne of people. We waited and waited and waited for bus/tram  for over an hour whilst getting drenched but it seemed that nothing was going to happen (we were a bit too far and too tired to walk back). Just to put things into perspective, we couldn’t find a taxi either. We were mindful that our batteries were really low too and we had very little options left. In the end we decided to WALK to our Airbnb – Ahmed in an awful mood with me and walking in front of me and me coughing behind him trying to catch up! I honestly thought we would never get there!!! As we walked a bit further, guess what happened?! The tram that we had been waiting for started to go past us. I swear in that moment in time I felt like I found my inner Mo Farah. I ran like I’ve never ran before whilst choking on my cough.  We (just about) managed to jump on the tram (like they do in Bollywood films lol). We eventually got to our Airbnb, thanks heavens!

Good job we were going home the following day!

Little did I know that Italy was going to be our last holiday for the next 6 months 🙂 I will be sharing our itinerary on Portugal, where we went for our ‘baby-moon’. Be sure to check it out and do subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss out new blogposts.

Turkey: Cappadocia

Oh hello bucket list destination….!

WhatsApp Image 2019-09-08 at 16.37.46In August 2014 I saw a photo of a cave hotel posted by a traveller called ‘fameisficklefood’ and all I remember thinking is how I had never seen anything quite like it! At that point I had barely travelled and therefore my knowledge and understanding of ‘what’s out there’ was limited. Since the day I saw that photo, I researched the hell out of Cappadocia. I spent ages reading about it, looking at hotels in the area and dreaming of visiting one day. At the time I wasn’t really convinced it would happen but I made a list of places I would like to see and experience.

Our hotel Museum Hotel was an experience on it’s own. It is located in the Uchisar region and feature a terrace with panoramic valley views with a heated outdoor pool.  

It is by far one of the most amazing places I have ever had the pleasure to stay (a close second after our hotel in Thailand)!

Looking back at all the photos from the hotel makes me feel extremely grateful that we were in a position to experience something like it. The hotel was absolutely impeccable. From their service, cleanliness, communication, everything was perfect!

Day 1

Hot Air Balloon Ride

Of course the first thing you think of when you hear the word Cappadocia is ‘hot air balloons’. We started the day off by taking a ride on the hot air balloon. We woke up at crazy o’ clock (around 4am to be precise) as we were going to be picked up around 4.30am. The hot air balloon company collected us from our hotel and took us to a tiny little restaurant for breakfast… which wasn’t anything special.

After rallying at the restaurant, we continued our journey and headed towards the location where we were set to take off from. The experience was amazing, but there weren’t as many hot air balloons around. I think the unstable political situation in Turkey (2016 coup incident in Istanbul and Ankara) definitely had a massive impact on Turkey’s tourism around that time. The locals all commented on how it was unusual for their to be hardly any tourists around.

Roaming around Uchisar

After coming back from the ride, we had the most amazing breakfast ever! As we were the only guests for breakfast that day (absolutely no reflection on the hotel), we took up the option to being served breakfast out on the balcony rather than the dining area. The breakfast spread was such that we had to be served food on two tables in order to accommodate all the crockery!

Ahmed and I have the curse of restiveness when it comes to being on holidays and off we went to explore the local ‘things to do’.

Quad bike tour

Jumping on the quad bikes was never in our plans and actually we were thinking of staying in the hotel and making the most of it. But since neither of us know how to ‘relax’, we both agreed to experience the quad bikes! I am sooo glad we did. I can honestly say that exploring Cappadocia on the quad bikes was a bit of a highlight for me. I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I did. The adrenaline rush was so real!

Day 2

I woke up (and forced Ahmed to wake up) mega early to witness one of the most incredible sunrises covered by the hot air balloons. It felt magical being able to just sit there and take in the beautiful scenery. I think it would be fair to say that whoever visits Cappadocia wakes up early at least one morning to witness this?

Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley)

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We decided to hire the car and visit some local places throughout the day. Our first stop was Devrent Valley. For some reason we didn’t really stop here for too long as I think we may have got lost for a little while and ended up driving to our next destination. We it was worth a break and some photo opportunities!

Zelve Open Air Museum

The next stop was probably my favourite part of the day and one that I will definitely not forget any time soon. This cave town was home to one of the largest cave-dwelling communities in the region. Christians and Muslims lived here harmoniously until the 1920’s when the Greek-Orthodox Christians were driven out of Turkey. Muslims continued to live in their Zelve cave homes until 1952 when they were deemed too dangerous to inhabit for structural reasons.

What we liked most about the Zelve Open Air Museum is how freely we were able to explore the different abandoned homes and churches. There were also very few people visiting Zelve at the time, so we were able to roam freely and really imagine what it might have been like to live in this extraordinary homes only a short 65 years ago.

  Pasabag Valley (Monks Valley)

The only memory I have of this place is seeing that lady in the photo on the right. She gave me the most gorgeous smile and waved as I was getting excited about being there. I then waved back and asked her if I could take a photo and she gave me a thumbs up. She seemed so excited that I was taking a photo of her, so I did. I even had a lovely selfie with her that she seemed to be impressed by!

Goreme Open Air Museum

This was another open air museum that we went to. If memory serves me right, we didn’t end up getting the tickets to visit the museum, instead we walked around and enjoyed our surroundings!

Kaymakali Underground City

Derinkuyu Underground City

We ended up visiting two underground cities in Cappadocia during our visit. It was the underground cities that took us by surprise. Even though these were a bit out of the way from Cappadocia, it was worth the visit to see how people had carved out dwellings underground. The concept left us awestruck and we ended up taking a silly amount of pictures. The best thing that we did when visiting them was to book a tour guide who talked us through the history and told us stories about them!

Day 3

Time to say goodbye… to Turkey and to each other.. Until next time!

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 😉

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.

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

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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!

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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…..!

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Meet Uncle Abdul Ghafoor!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP TIPS! 

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

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

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

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.

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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?!

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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!

Morocco

Marrakesh

Riad Utopia Suites and Spa

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

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

Gorges Du Dades, Aït Ouaddar

Auberge Chez Pierre

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

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

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Fès

Riad Palais Bahia

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

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

Chefchaouen

La Petite

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

(-) Nothing!

 

Tangier

Kasbah Rose

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

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

Scafell Pike, Scary, Splendid and Utterly stunning!

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

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

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

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

Perhaps the weather played its part. Perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Overcoming fears! YASSSS!

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

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Mickledore Route!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the funding page you guys:

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