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

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!

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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.

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

Our lovely AirBnB !

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

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

Climbing Ben Nevis!

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

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

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

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

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Meet Uncle Abdul Ghafoor!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP TIPS! 

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

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

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

Northern Ireland

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Morocco 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 1: Marrakesh

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

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

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img_7666The main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa:

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

What not to do!

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

Sadiaan Tombs:

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

 

                                                   

Koutobia Mosque:

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

Day 2: Marrakesh

YSL Gardens:

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

The Ben Youssef Madrassa and Mosque:

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3: Marrakech – Dades gorges

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Ait Ben Haddou:

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

Meet Rachid and his parents!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Day 4: Dades Gorges – Merzouga (Sahara)

Dades gorges. Isn’t it stunning? 

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

 

 

Dades toudra:

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

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

 

Kam kam dunes:

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

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

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

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

Anyway!

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

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

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

Day 5: Merzouga – Fez

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

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Errachidia Villages: 

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

 

 

Ifrane (Swiss City):

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

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

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Day 6: Fes

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

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

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

Day 7: Fes to Volubilis to Chefchouen

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

Volubilis:

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

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

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

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

We eventually arrived at our hotel: La Petite. 

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

     

Day 8: Chefchaouen

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

Spanish mosque:

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

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

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

Day 9: Chefchaouen to Asilah to Tangier

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

Asilah:

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

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

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

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Kasbah Rose:

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

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

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

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

Day 10: Tangier

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

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Ibn-Battuta Grave:

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

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

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

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

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

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Day 11: Tangier – Airport

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