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La Ville Lumière: An Essential Travel Guide to Paris

August 19, 2017

One of the first cities in the world to get electricity, Paris was quickly dubbed the City of Lights (La Ville Lumière) and has since become synonymous with romance, with people travelling the world over to spend time in the City of Love.

Paris can be somewhat polarising too though.  Before our visit, I must admit, neither Nathan nor I placed Paris at the top of our must-see list before moving on from Europe – quite the opposite in fact.  Nathan had very little interest in seeing the French capital and though I wanted to, it was largely to set eyes on some of the iconic monuments and to make up my own mind once and for all about the city.

So, with our visit to Paris behind us, did it live up to the hype or fall flat?

It certainly did – and then some!

We fell in love with Paris’ architecture and iconic monuments, found Parisians to be incredibly warm and inviting and had a ball just walking around soaking everything up.  It’s not every day most people get to just meander around Paris!


What to See and Do in Paris

Whether you’ve been to Paris or not, there’s no doubt that you’ll have a mental list of many of the top spots you’ll want to visit.

That being said, there are literally hundreds of fantastic city guides already out there (like this amazing Parisian walking guide from our very own Nadine) so we don’t intend to go into a massive amount of detail.

We really enjoyed everything we saw and did in Paris though and recommend you check out all of the following spots…

Disneyland Paris

The city’s very own happiest place on earth also happens to be chock-full of crowds if you hit it at the same time of year as us.  Unfortunately, on the day we visited we experienced a number of ride shut-downs and temporary malfunctions but even with those challenges it was worth a visit.  There’s nowhere like Disney to experience a touch of magic.


Wander through Montmartre

A beautiful part of town (and close to our first accommodation, Le Village – a great budget option), Montemartre is home to a range of shops, restaurants and cafes and just at the end of the district, the infamous Moulin Rouge.  Here, at the birthplace of the can-can, talented performers sing and dance every day.  The show isn’t cheap but we’ve been assured it’s well worth the money if your budget will stretch… and if not, the iconic exterior of the building still makes for an awesome photo!


Sacré-Cœur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris)

Perched high atop the summit of the butte Montmartre, this Roman Catholic church provides unparalleled views out over Paris from the highest natural vantage point in the city.  Should you choose, you’re able to tour the church, or do as we did and enjoy its gorgeous architecture from the outside and the sound of talented buskers serenading the crowd.


Enjoy Some Macarons

There’s not much better than a macaron in Paris – trust us!  Though Ladurée are known for their sweet treats we have it on good authority that they’re not actually the best in town.  Skip the crazy lines and instead head to one of the Pierre Hermé stores where you’ll find the most incredibly chewy, flavourful macarons you could ever wish for.

Alternatively, if you’re wanting to learn how to make an ever-lasting supply of macarons for yourself, you can learn from the master himself, Jean Yves.  The winner of Masterchef France (both for the macaron challenge and the overall competition), he’ll talk you through all of the intricacies of making these delicious but challenging biscuits.


The Eiffel Tower

If there’s one place that really doesn’t need an introduction, it’s this beauty!  With tickets available both on the day and online (just buy a few days ahead of time and skip the lines – something we can highly recommended having wasted hours in lines!)

You’ll have the choice of two different access levels and the ability to climb the stairs or hop in a lift to save your legs.  We decided to climb to the main viewing platform as the line was much shorter for this than it was for the lifts – it’s a fair climb but absolutely manageable with a little time and a bottle of water.


Soak Up the Seine

The Seine River flows gently through Paris, offering beautiful views from its many bridges.  Sadly the Pont des Arts (once known for its ‘love locks’) has had its locks removed but if you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll find other bridges in the area still proudly displaying their symbols of everlasting love in the city.

Not far from the Seine, you’ll also find Notre-Dame de Paris.  Lined with the most incredibly detailed sculptures, it’s a testament, both to art and religion.


Le Louvre

Home to some of the most coveted fine art in the world (and one of the most famous pyramids anywhere, with exception of the originals), the Louve isthe Louve is the cultural centre of this amazing city.  Violinists played in the square as the sun shone down on the day we visited – French perfection without

Violinists played in the square as the sun shone down on the day we visited – French perfection without doubt – even without stepping foot inside the galleries.


Arc de Triomphe – The best views in Paris!

As with the Eiffel Tower, tickets can be purchased in advance for the Arc de Triomphe and it’s well worth doing.  We felt a little like royalty whizzing past everyone in line, heading straight to the top of the tower!

The stairs are narrow and winding but the views from the top are spectacular and I’d go as far as to say, they offer the best vantage point of the Eiffel Tower anywhere.  If you’re able to plan your visit to coincide with sunset, I can imagine you’d be rewarded with the most incredible photos!


What to Watch For – Don’t get scammed

Though Paris is gorgeous, there are a fair few scams around.  Keep your eyes peeled and hang onto your money so you can really enjoy this city!

  • You’ll notice people (generally middle-aged women) walking around with clipboards asking you to sign your name.  Sometimes these people will pretend to be deaf, other times they’ll approach you with perfect English – whatever the case, they’ll ask you to sign your name (assuring you that’s all they want) before then pushing you into making a ‘donation’ – by which point you’ve signed your name to the fact that you will donate to their cause (and may have quietly been pick-pocketed).  Inevitably, the money doesn’t ever go past their own pockets.
  • Around key points, you’ll notice men offering to tie threads of cotton around the wrists of tourists.  Again, they’ll start by hooking you in with a ‘bracelet’ and will then separate you from your group and pressure you into paying for this ‘service’.  Should the payment be too low, they’ve been known to cut the cotton off and march off, money in hand regardless.
  • The final scam we spotted around the city involves a fair bit of organisation.  Always on cardboard boxes or the ground (which we later witnessed, allows for a quick getaway from the police), a person will pop a few cups down.  Soon someone steps up, offering money to guess which cup the ball is sitting under.  The game goes on with more and more people joining – money starts to change hands very quickly (€50+ at a time, we’re not playing here) and of course the majority are seen to win.  Next, you’ll find yourself invited to play what looks like a sure-thing – only nothing could be further from the truth.  We stood back and watched one of these ‘games’ from the start where it became very clear that all of the initial players who stepped into the game over a period of ten minutes were in on it.  By all means, watch if you’d like (or quietly warn people off if you’d like) but don’t hand over a cent of your money.

How to Get Around

Within the City

Paris is incredibly well serviced by the metro.  It is in fact, one of the densest metro-systems anywhere in the world, with a whopping 245 stations all within 87 square kilometres.  Thanks to this, it covers a large part of the city, is affordable and easy to travel on.

The metro is normally open from about 5.30am until 12.40am from Sunday until Thursday (perfect for your CDG Airport transfers as you’ll see below) and from 5.30am and 1.40am on Fridays, Saturdays and on days before a public holiday.

Should you need to, you can supplement your metro tickets with buses, taxis or do as we did and walk from place to place – sure, it’ll take longer but you’re there to see Paris after all!

To and From the Airports

Charles de Gaulle

If you’re arriving in Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), Paris’ main airport, simply follow the signs towards the train and catch the RER B, getting off at Paris Nord.  Trains leave every 7-15 minutes and will take approximately half an hour.  They run from 5am until midnight, the journey itself is very comfortable and when you get off the train, you’ll find yourself at the metro for easy onward travel.

For journeys back to the airport, follow these instructions in reverse but remember to allow yourself plenty of time to check in as it can be a busy airport.

Beauvais

If you’re flying on a budget carrier, you may find yourself flying in or out of BVA Airport.  Planning is especially important here for your outbound flight as the airport is not serviced by trains and is a fair way out of the city (the last thing you want to be is at the mercy of a taxi fare!)

We found the best mode of transport to be via shuttle bus.  Tickets for the BVA shuttle can be purchased online (the cheaper option) or in person just before you board the bus.  Journeys last approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes to cover the 75 kilometres out of the city.

From the airport, you’ll find the Paris-Beauvais Shuttles located between terminal 1 and 2.

Leaving from Paris, the shuttles are an easy walk from the Porte Maillot stop on the yellow metro line (likely in the direction of La Défense).


Where to Stay

After a busy day out exploring, there’s nothing better than coming back to a comfortable home-away-from-home and that’s exactly what Adèle & Jules offers.

Trendy, quite and unashamedly boutique, this hotel (or should I say, hotels – one building named Adèle and the other Jules), is well located and super stylish.

Each day, guests are invited to enjoy a delicious breakfast spread (served in the lounge or directly to your room, should you prefer to treat yourself to breakfast-in-bed!) and a complimentary (and tasty) afternoon tea is offered each afternoon.

If you’d prefer to hit the gym, Adèle & Jules have their own fitness room but between the delicious food, comfortable bed and beautiful balcony, we knew exactly where we’d be spending our precious hotel time (and it wasn’t at the gym!)


Visa Requirements

If you’re planning a visit to France and are travelling on a passport from outside of the European Union, you will need to investigate the appropriate visa requirements.

Frances falls within the Schengen Area and generally provides visa-free access to citizens of Europe, the Americas and counties in the Commonwealth.

Before booking your visit to the country, we suggest you check the French visa requirements first – nobody wants to get turned around at the border!


Paris is a dream city for many and for good reason.  It’s exciting, vibrant, romantic and downright iconic.  If you’re spending time in Europe, we can unequivocally recommend a visit to this magical city.

As they say, Paris is always a good idea, and we couldn’t agree more.


Thank you to Hotel Adèle & Jules and Le Village for hosting us whilst we were in Paris.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Europe Itineraries planning South America Travel

These Kiwis are Off Exploring – Nathan and Sarah’s Next Six Months of Adventures

May 6, 2017

Incase you missed the memo, we’re moving on from Abu Dhabi in June.

The last almost-two years have been amazing, eye-opening and of course, at times, challenging.  We wouldn’t change it for the world though.  We’ve loved emersing ourselves in a new culture, connecting with like-minded people, having the opportunity to travel more and jumping into this crazy-fun world of blogging.  I’ve grown, both personally and professionally (I’ve been teaching here in Abu Dhabi) and making the move has been an awesome reminder that at any age, you can set off on a new adventure.

Since our arrival in the UAE in August of 2015, I’ve been to 32 new countries (and Nathan’s not far behind) which far surpasses anything I’d hoped for.

It’s funny though how, at least for me, opening your eyes to the world doesn’t quench your hunger for adventure, instead it fuels it.

The more I see, the more I want to see.

The more I explore, the more I appreciate how fortunate I am to be able to do so.

As we start on our journey home, it’s probably not surprising that it’s with real mixed emotions.

When we first arrived in Abu Dhabi it was with the understanding that we would probably only be here for two years – Nathan’s job is back in New Zealand and there was never any doubt that he’d rejoin the family business.

When presented with the possibily of adding a third year into the mix we faced the difficult decision of staying put in the UAE or heading off again.  Though Abu Dhabi has become our home the call of the unknown and the possibility of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure was too great to ignore – so, off we go on our way in June.

We’re pumped to see our family, friends and cats and to chow down on some New Zealand treats – I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed steak & cheese pies and lamingtons!  I can’t wait to get back to the style of teaching that I love, to spend some time revisiting some of our favourite spots in and around Aotearoa and to walk outside in the summer-time without melting!

I’ll miss the hussle and bustle of living in the UAE though – the sea of kandoras and abayas in the massive malls here, the call to prayer singing out throughout the day, the attitude towards travelling and so much more.  I’ll miss having friends that have started to feel like family, my awesome workmates, dinner dates to PF Chang’s and Chili’s and picking up fresh caramel popcorn at the movies.

As much as we know we’ll miss it though, there are new adventures to be had.

My confession is I fall in love with so many places. I’m always half broken-hearted by goodbyes, and I don’t believe in non-attachment. There’s no passion inside of that. I believe in burning, and long, and I believe we leave tiny pieces of ourselves in every place we’ve loved.

Victoria Erickson

It’s time to fall in love with new places all over again…

So, what’s next for us?

Europe

We’ll be making multiple stops in Europe over a fairly short timeframe.  Although we would have loved more time there as so much of our travel recently has been up that way, we thought we’d stop into a few of the major cities that we’ve not seen yet to farewell to a continent that we’ve come to love.

  • Paris, France
  • Dublin, Ireland
  • Edinburgh, Scotland (where with any luck we’ll make it up to the Isle of Skye!)
  • Barcelona and Ibiza, Spain
  • Lisbon, Portugal
  • Zurich through to Geneva, Switzerland
  • Kiev, Ukraine

South America

Having never stepped foot in South America we’re a little clueless as to the details of what we want to see and do but we’ve found plenty of inspiration through our friends and our ever-trusty Pinterest account.

We’ll be flying into Buenos Aires in Argentina before making our way over to Santiago, Chile but from there, who knows?

With approximately six months, we’ll be travelling slowly and working as we go.  We can’t wait to have a little more time up our sleeves to to be more responsive with our plans.

Due to the tight timeframe we normally travel on, things have to be super planned-out to ensure we see and do everything we want – this trip will be significantly more relaxed.  Bring it on!

The following places are featuring high on our agenda (but are anything but a conclusive list):

  • Patagonia
  • Machu Pichu and Rainbow Mountain, Peru
  • Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
  • Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia (salt flats)
  • The Amazon Rainforest
  • The Iguazu Falls
  • Christ the Redeemer, Rio, Brazil
  • A cruise to Antarctia or visit to the Falkland Islands – both of these as much less likely but never say never!

Which of these spots have you visited?  Where would you recommend?  What were your favourite things to do?

We’d love to hear your thoughts as we start digging into planning these trips!

The way I figure, the best way to get over moving on from a place you love is to plan the next adventure…

Thanks to Time Wheel, SCMP, Askideas, Keyword Suggests, Traveler Corner, The Bohemian Blog and World for Travel for providing snaps before we have our own.

Accommodation Asia Destinations Itineraries Sri Lanka

Plan Your Visit to Sri Lanka! Our Two Week Itinerary

March 24, 2017

Is there any better feeling than that experienced the day or two before you head off on holiday?

That feeling of excitement as you head off into the unknown, ready to soak up new sights, experiences and cultures.

Sri Lanka’s not a place I ever thought I’d get to but later today we’ll be jetting off from Abu Dhabi and we could not be more excited!

We’re booked into the most gorgeous hotels and will be experiencing some of the island’s most unique (and if all goes to plan, memorable) boutique offerings.  After what feelings like months of planning, everything has some together and with unseasonable rain in Abu Dhabi, a holiday is certainly welcome.

If Sri Lanka’s on your wish-list or you’ve started planning your visit, this post is for you!

Getting There

Flights

A number of flights service the international airports in Sri Lanka.  The largest airport, Bandaranaike, is situated just out of Colombo  and though it’s currently undergoing renovations (which are causing significant delays), it is still the airport visitors are most likely to use.

If you are flying out of Colombo, ensure you allow additional time to check-in until the runway repairs have been completed.  At present, the runway is closed to aviation traffic between 8.30am and 4.30pm each day and the check-in recommendation has been pushed out to 5 hours (with counters closing 90 minutes before departure instead of the standard 60 minutes).

Sri Lanka looks and sounds too amazing to pass up so we certainly didn’t allow the potential delays to sway our decision to travel there – just ensure you allow enough time to get through the airport without having to worry.

The addition of a second international airport in 2013 has done little to distribute the flights through the country; Mattala Rajapaksa services the south-east coast but few airlines use it – it has in fact been labelled the emptiest airport in the world.  This makes it an unlikely option for potential tourists but I’m sure would allow for the fastest check-in in history should you decide to use one of the few airlines there!

Visa Requirements

The vast majority of visitors to Sri Lanka will require a visa to do so.  If time allows, you can apply for your visa online or, as we are going to do, you can be issued one upon arrival.  A single entry visa (for 30 days) is a little cheaper if applied for ahead of time or USD40 at the airport.

Touring with Red Dot Tours

Having worked in the past as a reservation agent for an airline and a tour guide, I get a real kick out of planning our own itineraries but with so much going on around the UAE, we didn’t have the time to organise our Sri Lankan visit to the level we normally would have liked.

We knew what we wanted to see and do near Galle but  hadn’t had a chance to lock down details elsewhere.

Enter Red Dot Tours!

Jennifer became our Sri Lankan miracle worker, putting together an amazing customised itinerary for us.  She listened intently to our requests and added her own recommendations – creating a trip that is is a perfect balance between our travel preferences and her personal knowledge of the country.

Red Dot have taken care of the majority of our accommodation for us (with the exception of Cantaloupe – two gorgeous hotels we’d already excitedly booked), our transport and many of our activities.

If like us, you’re short on planning time or would rather let someone take care of the planning for you, we can already confirm that Red Dot goes above and beyond – and we’ve not even touched down on Sri Lankan soil yet!

Getting Around

Buses, trains, tuk tuks, taxis and drivers – Sri Lanka is not short on transport.

Though maps make distances from one location to another appear short, we have been warned that traffic, road condition and mountainous conditions can make trips longer than anticipated so allow plenty of time to get around the island.

We decided to book a chauffeur-guide in for the majority of our visit.  Though the scenery from the train looks absolutely gorgeous, we’re hoping to fit a fair few activities and sights in and having a driver will allow us to do so.  We also love stopping on the side of the road when something catches our eye and a train just won’t do that!

Accommodation

We will be coming back to you with reviews of the following properties following our visit so I won’t go into specific details at this point.  We are excited by the gorgeous vistas, stunning pools and the unique offerings of these properties though (some include safaris, barbecue dinners, canyoning and mountain biking – seriously!) and are excited to discover ourselves.

Night 1:  Horathapola Estate

Photo credit: Booking.com

Night 2/3:  Borderlands

Photo: Borderlands Sri Lanka

Night 4: Cantaloupe Aqua

Night 5/6: Cantaloupe Levels

Kaetana Lanka

Night 7: 3 Sisters

Night 8:  Fort Bazaar

Night 9: Kulu Safaris

Night 10:  The Hammock Lanka

Night 11:  Mandira Dickoya Bungalow

Night 12:  Kings Pavilion

Night 13/14: Aliya Resort & Spa

Activities

All of our stops in Sri Lanka were decided based upon the activities and sights that we wanted to enjoy.

Snorkelling, scuba diving, whale watching, canyoning, visiting a turtle sanctuary, hiking Adam’s Peak, leopard spotting whilst on safari, touring a tea plantation, checking out both religious and ancient monuments and more; our visit to Sri Lanka is full of adventure, nature and local culture.

It’s perfect for us!

For us, one of the big appeals of this beautiful country is the diversity it offers.  From beach days to safaris and everything in between, there are enough activities to keep even the most active adventurer busy but there’s also plenty on offer if doing nothing is more your style.

We’re going to be dipping into both sides of the pool (so to speak) so stay tuned as we bring your our thoughts on each of the activities we have planned…

Let’s Do it…

Now, on our last morning in Abu Dhabi, our bags are calling out to be packed, the electronics are charging away and our passports are set to go.

Sri Lanka, we can’t wait to check you out for ourselves!


If you’re headed to Sri Lanka, pin your favourite images so you came come back to these beautiful hotels…

The best boutique accommodation in Sri Lanka. Avoid the crowds of tourists and check out our suggestions - from adventure to glamping to absolute luxury (plus everything in between). We've also included a travel and flight guide to make things easy. Sri Lanka, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, offers something for almost everyone. Read our accommodation recommendations, tour provider of choice, transport guide and much more! The best boutique accommodation in Sri Lanka. Avoid the crowds of tourists and check out our suggestions - from adventure to glamping to absolute luxury (plus everything in between). We've also included a travel and flight guide to make things easy.

Accommodation Activities Asia Back Packing Destinations Historical Sites Itineraries Sri Lanka Travel

Finding Our Way Around Sri Lanka… A Nine Day Guide to Paradise

January 31, 2017
9 day Sri Lanka Itinerary

Headed to Sri Lanka?  If so, snuggle up on your sofa and dig into Sarah’s post – it will give you all the basics you need to plan your trip and then some!  It’s a beauty of a post and will help ensure you maximise your time on this island paradise.  Happy planning!

I find sometimes the best trips, are the ones that allow for flexibility.  These trips generally require you to have a little more time and a little more patience especially when you run into challenges (because, really, who knows if you’ll find suitable accommodation for the night?) but they do always seem a little more rewarding.

Sri Lanka was no different – a friend and I packed our backpacks with a vague plan in place, a nights accommodation booked at the start (and two nights at a beach resort towards the end of our stay) and we hit the road.  Other than our lonely planet guide book, and our good attitudes we had nothing else planned or booked, and it was the best nine days full of laughter and exploration!

Sri Lanka is absolutely stunning, as are the people, who are definitely some of the friendliest and most helpful people I have encountered throughout my travels.  Sri Lanka holds everything a traveler desires – natural beauty that dramatically changes throughout the country, diverse culture, an interesting history and some beautiful historical monuments.


A Nine Day Sri Lankan Itinerary

  • Day One: Arrive in Colombo early morning, transfer to Kegalle to spend the day at the Elephant Freedom project & spice gardens.
  • Day Two: Bus to Kandy.  Sightseeing + Kandyan dancers & drummers
  • Day Three: Day trip to Sigiriya Rock & Dambulla Caves + overnight at Adam’s Peak
  • Day Four: Adam’s Peak Pilgrimage + drive to Nuwara Eliya and Ayurveda
  • Day Five: Bike ride around the tea plantations and train ride to Haputale
  • Day Six: Lipton’s Seat and a tour of the Dambatenne Tea Factory.  Overnight in Tangella
  • Day Seven: Beach Day!
  • Day Eight: Beach Day and then bus to Colombo
  • Day Nine: Ministry of Crab with an evening flight home.

Transport

Getting around Sri Lanka is an adventure!  Even though nothing is really far in terms of distance, due to the state of the roads, the mountainous areas, and the lack of infrastructure it is a time consuming and at times scary endeavour.

Buses:

Buses are the typical way to get around Sri Lanka but they can be an uncomfortable, stop-start experience.  Travel on buses can differ significantly depending on the journey you are taking.

Buses around town and between villages are chaotic and completely different from riding a bus in the western world.  With local music blaring, the colourful, rickety buses cruise down one lane roads jammed-packed with as many people the bus can hold (and then some) – all sense of personal space a distant memory.  Each bus is decorated around the driver’s booth with various posters, religious items, and sometimes even a screen for the passengers to watch movies and music videos.  It can be a slow journey with no official bus stops.  Instead, passengers wave down the buses, or indicate to the drivers where they want to get off, at which point the driver will slow down and the passengers will disembark whilst the bus is still moving (which can be tricky for a traveller loaded down with luggage – good luck!)  Air conditioning is a distant memory, instead ventilation is provided through opened windows and lunch is catered by the various vendors hopping on and off the buses, selling corn and boiled eggs.  It’s a totally unique experience and is definitely the cheapest way to get around with a typical bus journey costing around RS50 (Sri Lankan Rupees) – or NZD0.50/USD0.35 depending on where you’re from.

Intercity buses are generally air-conditioned coaches that depart and arrive at typical bus stations.  The bus stations are hectic and full of people, and it can be a little tricky to locate your bus but don’t worry!  Your bus won’t leave on time, in fact it will generally sit there until they have sold all the seats, so you’ll have plenty of time to get organised.  These buses mostly use designated bus stops making the journey a little faster, and are super affordable with a 3 hour coach journey costing around RS860, (NZD8/USD5.80)

Trains:

Trains in Sri Lanka have limited routes and have been around since the British built the lines in the nineteenth century.  While they are competitively priced (at similar prices to the buses), they are far superior in terms of comfort.  Though the trains can be slower and there can be substantial delays on the lines, the views and scenery are definitely worth the wait, especially a train ride in the Hill Country.  This train runs through Kandy, Nanu Oya and Ella and whilst the weather wasn’t ideal the day caught the train, the views were every bit as spectacular as we were told to expect.

There are three different train classes, with second and third class being quite similar (the main difference being you can’t reserve seats in third class).  There are several different first class tickets you can get depending on your requirements and these tickets can be booked in advance.

It would appear that that first class tickets can get booked out fairly quickly though and as it turned out, we were more than happy with our third class tickets (which we took due to a lack of available seats at the time).  Fortunately we were traveling outside of peak season and had no issues getting a seat, so didn’t experience the overcrowding on the train which we’d heard can be less than desirable (not everyone ends up with a seat in these cases!)

Tuk Tuks:

Our favourite type of transport (and the most popular type of transport for short journeys), tuk tuks are readily available and can be a novel way to get around.  Make sure to negotiate your price before embarking on your trip as some drivers can and will overcharge you – don’t be scared to bargain with the drivers and if you aren’t happy with the price try the fifty or so other drivers waiting close by.  In general tuk tuks charge around RS50/kilometre, and in Colombo the tuk tuks are metered to ensure a fair fare.

Drivers and Cars:

This option is increasingly popular due in part to how frustrating the transport system in Sri Lanka can be.  You can hire a driver and a car for a one off journey or for your entire trip.  Hiring a driver makes your journey flexible and saves you time but be sure to negotiate as these drivers can be highly inflated – in fact for one of our trips we managed to knock over RS2000 off our journey.

Drivers that stay with you for the duration of the trip take a bit of effort to organise and prices vary depending of the quality and size of the car (and the types of accommodation you are staying in).  Many hotels will have a drivers room to accommodate your driver but if not, you will need to account for the additional cost of booking him/her a room.

Looking for a driver for your trip?  Blue Lanka Tours can help you organise your perfect trip including drivers.  Our friends used this company and though they were on the expensive side they were very happy with both the service and their trip overall.  Their driver, Roshan Liyange was knowledgeable and (in our brief encounter with him) we found him to be a very safe and thoughtful driver.


Accommodation:

Throughout our stay we stayed in various types of accommodation – hostels, home-stays, B&Bs, and beach cabanas.  Whilst the majority of this accommodation isn’t worth mentioning, the few that are we have included below.

Tangella: Palm Paradise Cabanas

Wanting a few days to relax and unwind before heading back to work made the Palm Paradise Cabanas the perfect choice.  The cabanas are set in gorgeous natural setting with a view to the ocean showing through the tropical trees and plants.  The whole area is beautiful and the cabanas had great facilities, providing a relaxing and tranquil ending to our trip.

The cabanas themselves were quite basic but very charming.  The one we opted for had no air conditioning which made it a little difficult to sleep at night due to the heat, however they had a range of options available and all rooms had several fans (plus the more modern villas and houses included air conditioning).

We were fortunate to have a cabana with views straight to the ocean and only a 200m walk to the sea.  It was so peaceful and relaxing going to sleep with the sound of the waves lapping against the beach – seriously, the stuff of dreams!

The beach itself was absolutely gorgeous – the ocean is a little rough but Palm Paradise also has a pool if you’re looking for calmer water.  Although the beach is open to the public, it wasn’t very busy and we enjoyed our time there.

Breakfast was included at the hotel and the food was fantastic!  Each day we had fresh fruit, orange juice, tea and coffee plus eggs of our choice.  There isn’t much around the hotel in terms of bars and restaurants, but the food is great at both the restaurants so there isn’t much need to venture outside of the grounds if you don’t want to.

If you’re looking for a place to unwind for a few days, Palm Paradise Cabanas could be a great option.

Colombo: Clock Inn Hostel

Clock Inn Hostel was perfect for our brief time in Colombo.  We just needed somewhere to sleep for a few hours, between our night out and heading to the airport to catch our flight.  It was a clean hostel, having several common areas and friendly staff.  Each bed had a reading light, and a locker assigned to them (which I always appreciate when staying in a hostel).

Breakfast was included but unfortunately I’m not able to comment on the standard as I slept through the allocated time! The only downside for some would be the unisex communal bathrooms where the wasn’t much room inside the showers to get dressed.


Activities and Sightseeing

Kegalle and The Elephant Freedom Project

Kegalle is located between Colombo and Kandy – the main reason people head to this area is to visit the famed Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.  After doing some research on the Elephant Orphanage we decided that it wasn’t the place for us and after some more research we found out about The Elephant Freedom Project.  The EFP claims to hire Elephants from their owners to give them a chance of freedom away from the logging industry and other terrible work many elephants see on a day to day basis and though it’s not perfect, the elephants certainly get a better life than they would elsewhere.

At the project you volunteer for the day, starting your day by mucking out the elephant enclosure, before walking with the elephants in the village.  After a home cooked meal (that you’ll help prepare,) you will bathe the elephants in the river before bidding farewell to the team.

If you’re wanting to spend time with the elephants, be sure to do your research.

Kandy

Arriving at the bus station (with no accommodation booked) we headed to the tourist information located next to the train station to ask them to ring ahead to the Burmese Rest.  This guesthouse sounded unique – there monks look after the guesthouse whilst tortoises wander the courtyard.

Unfortunately the tourist information centre wasn’t able to give us their opinions on accommodation, or ring ahead to see if they had space but after negotiating a price with a tuk tuk driver, we headed there regardless to see if we could secure a bed for the evening.  Unfortunately they were undergoing restoration work and were unable to accommodate us so our tuk tuk driver whisked us off to our second choice of accommodation which thankfully had room for us.

This little expedition gave us our first glimpse of a Sri Lankan city – Kandy was bustling around the bus station and the centre of town, and we were in fits of laughter as our tuk tuk weaved in and out of traffic.  The city itself is set around a gorgeous lake and a stroll around the waters edge to the centre of town was a great way to settle in, although we were a little nervous of the monkeys darting from tree to tree!  Once in town we explored the Main Market and the busy centre, before heading to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, and attending an early evening Kandayan dance performance.

Sigiriya and Dambulla

Both of these sites are included within Sri Lanka’s ancient cities and we were disappointed that weren’t able to explore this area more due to our limited timeframe.

Sigirya is an immense rock that is thought to have once housed an ancient civilisation – it’s a beautiful site that takes around half a day to explore.  The grounds and various frescos are gorgeous and the climb to the top of the rock, though relatively steep, is manageable.

Dambulla is a rock temple that, despite its throngs of tourists, is still an important holy place.  It was an incredible site and one not to be missed.

Adam’s Peak

Adam’s Peak is a mountain located in central Sri Lanka, famed for the ‘sacred footprint’ (though just who the footprint belongs to will differ depending on your religions beliefs).  You will find this footprint in a rock formation near the summit of the mountain but to get there you will first need to trek to the top with many pilgrims and tourists.  With the mountain rising to 2,243m, it can be a challenging walk and the roughly 5200 steps will see your legs shaking at the bottom, regardless of your fitness level.

Nuwara Eliya & Hauputale

Both of these places are located in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country.  This whole region is absolutely stunning, with lush green scenery and tea plantations as far as the eye can see. The frequent fog gives the area an almost mystical feeling, but once the fog lifts you will be in absolute awe of the beauty that you find yourself surrounded by.

Both places (and the whole region for that matter) offer ample opportunities to visit tea plantations and to see the inner workings of a tea factory.  We found this experience very informative and intriguing.

In Nuwara Eliya we hired bikes from our accommodation and rode through the town sometimes referred to as ‘Little England’.  Here we biked past old English gardens and colonial houses, before hitting the tea plantations.  It would have been a tranquil and serene experience if it wasn’t for all the traffic and tuk tuks honking their horns!

We loved getting lost through the tea plantations and would have loved to explore the area more, only we had a train to catch.

In Hauputale we headed to Lipton’s Seat and the Dambatenne tea factory.  Lipton’s seat is a lookout from which Sir Thomas Lipton used to survey his land.  The 7km walk is one not to be missed – walking through the tea plantations you are surrounded by their beauty and the many tea pickers in the area.  At the end of the walk, you’ll come across a lookout – unfortunately for us though, we were meet by a valley of fog.  The walk, however, was absolutely stunning and something we would do again, regardless of the weather.

Tangella

When people think of Sri Lanka they will often think of it’s striking beaches.  Spoiled for options we decided on Tangella Beach to end our trip with a few days of relaxation.  It was a fantastic way to end our visit to this beautiful country – the beach was quiet and absolutely exquisite!  If we had more time in Sri Lanka, we would have definitely spent more time exploring the coast and the many activities it has to offer – we’d recommend you do the same.


Restaurants and Night Life

Curries are the staple dish in Sri Lanka and they are incredible – colourful and flavoursome, with huge servings, they offer great value for money.  Each curry normally comes accompanied with rice and variety of small dishes (usually consisting of spiced veggies and dhal).  You can find great curries everywhere and if you’re wanting to stay close to home, your guest house can usually serve you food if you order before a certain time.

Bake House (Kandy)

Located in the centre of Kandy this is a famed restaurant with many locals and tourists eating side by side.  Whilst the décor of the place is dated, the turnaround is fast, the dinning is pleasant and the food good.  The front of the restaurant serves as a bakery if you want to grab something for the road otherwise you can buy a good curry inside the restaurant.

Slightly Chilled Lounge Bar (Kandy)

This bar, formerly known as Bamboo Bar (some tuk tuk drivers still know it by the old name), has a great vibe and you will find it filled with both tourists and locals.  The bar has a range of food and serves standard English fare as well as a variety of other cuisines.

ll Mare (Anantara Hotel, Tangalle)

Being quite partial to good food we decided to splurge towards the end of our trip at this fine dining restaurant.  The view was gorgeous, perched on a cliff edge overlooking the ocean and beach below, the Italian menu is as authentic as the Italian manager who runs the restaurant that specialising in perfectly fresh produce.  The food is beautifully presented and delightful – we could have eaten everything on the menu!

Ministry of Crab (Colombo)

Located in the Old Dutch Hospital, this is an upmarket area, surrounded by lovely restaurants and a few shops.  Ministry of Crab is a modern eatery owned by two former Sri Lankan cricketers, and you guessed, it they serve crab.

Whilst the restaurant have other options on the menu, generally people come for the crab.  Here you choose what size crab you want (ranging in size from 500g – 2kgs), and the style you want.  It can be a messy process getting the meat out of the shells but they’ve got this covered – just prepare yourself to don a bib.

I can recommend the garlic chilli crab and the avocado crab salad (which was a combination of crab meat mixed with wasabi mayonnaise served in half an avocado).  With that said, all of the food was amazing and I would whole heartily recommend a visit if you ever find yourself in Colombo!

Floor by O! (Colombo)

We stumbled across this place as the rooftop restaurant we wanted to dine in was absolutely jammed packed and this bar/restaurant was conveniently located downstairs.  The menu is jammed packed with food from all around the world and whilst the food was good, the atmosphere was even better.  Being some of the only tourists in there, we were well looked after and almost like D-list celebrities, everyone wanted to talk and dance with us.  The DJ had the dance floor packed, spinning tunes ranging from pop to old school RnB and hip-hop.  It was an amazing night and I only wish we remembered the name of the club we visited afterwards, as this had us out until 6am with they’re great drinks and tunes!


Is Sri Lanka Really Worth a Visit?

Absolutely!  Sri Lanka is the perfect mix of culture and beauty.  It somehow strikes the balance between being familiar enough to suit the newest traveller, and vibrant and exciting enough to hook the most seasoned backpacker in.  Sri Lanka really does offer something for everyone and for this reason, I’d highly recommend adding it to your travel wish-list… or better still, booking your flights right away!


Headed to Sri Lanka?  Don’t Leave Without These Tips!

  • Due to old British colonial laws pubs and restaurants won’t serve alcohol between the hours of 11am and 2pm.
  • Ladies beware, it’s very hard to purchase tampons in Sri Lanka.  As these can be very hard to source, make sure you stock up beforehand.
  • Ask if your accommodation has hot water before booking as it’s common in Sri Lanka to have cold water showers.
  • If heading to the Hill Country be sure to pack a rain coat – it rains a lot.

Ready to Book?  What you Need to Know about Visas in Sri Lanka

Most people will require a visa to visit Sri Lanka but you can apply online for an electronic visa and it’s a fairly straight forward process.  They take around four days to process and cost around USD40.  To find out more information or to apply for a visa head to the official visa processing site.

Happy travels!


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9 day Sri Lanka itinerary

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Bring on the Snow! Planning our Iceland Trip…

November 24, 2016
Iceland itinerary planning

Iceland – the land of puffins, fluffy wild horses, natural geothermic pools, towering waterfalls and giant glaciers.  In less than a month we’ll hit this winter wonderland and I couldn’t be more excited!

We’ve got the most amazing itinerary lined up, some accommodation locked in and an awesome Jeep with our name on it.  Snuggly warm clothes have been purchased and (with a little luck), the DJI drone that we’ve got on order might make it to us in time – we’re about as ready as can be.

I’m in the process of finalising our plans and practically burst with anticipation each time I see photos pop up on my Instagram feed.  As Kiwis, we’re pretty accustomed to beautiful scenery and exciting activities but there’s something about Iceland that’s really calling to me.

I know we aren’t the only ones obsessed with this island national though – I’ve already spotted countless fellow travellers announce plans to visit for themselves in the coming six months so thought I’d put together this list to help people undertaking their research.

So, if you’re looking to book a trip, let us save you some time – these are the best of the best that we’ve come across so far.  Each and every person that I’ve emailed has gone out of their way to help us and they all have reviews that speak for themselves.

Bring on December when we can bring you our own personal thoughts!

As if you needed any more reason to visit Iceland – here’s a set of fantastic wanderlust-fueled Icelandic photos to help get you excited too!


Adventure Activities

Ice Caving – Glacier Adventure

When winter sets in and the ice caves stabilise, adventurer seekers have the opportunity to go exploring under the ice.  The way the light defuses through the ice is absolutely mesmerising – I can’t wait to see it for myself!

Snorkeling in the Silfra Rift – Scuba Iceland

If you’re looking for an activity that’s unique to Iceland, check out the Silfra Rift.  This is the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel between two continental plates.  Done a dry suit and jump in – you’ll struggle to find water clearer than this anywhere!


Sight-Seeing Tours

Snæfellsnes Peninsula & Golden Circle Tours – Moonwalker

Known for their adventurous, go-anywhere attitude, Moonwalker organises both private and group tours through the best parts of this Nordic country (and seriously, check out those 4WDs!)  Bessi has been awesome to deal with and we’re excited to meet him in person.

South Coast Tour – VIP Tours

Specialising in personal tours around the Southern and Western Coasts, Hörður, a born-and-bred Icelander crafts tours to suit the needs of his guests.  He’s lined up some awesome spots for us and with any luck, he’s told us we might be able to spot the Northern Lights as we head back to town too!

VIP Tours Iceland Exploring Kiwis

Northern Lights by Boat – Special Tours

When tossing up between visiting Iceland in December or March the main factor we considered was the likelihood of seeing the Northern Lights.  Everything we read said that they’d potentially be backing off come March so we promptly booked for December.  Of course, nothing’s set when it comes to mother nature but we wanted to give ourselves the best chance of catching them.

There’s the option of heading out of the city by car/van/truck but to make things a little more interesting, we decided to join Special Tours on their boat trip to hunt down the Northern Lights.  It will be nice to get a different view of the capital, whether or not we manage to catch the lights.


Relaxing in Iceland

Geothermal Spa – Blue Lagoon

Swimming spots don’t come much more iconic than the Blue Lagoon!  Though it isn’t cheap and there are other geothermal pools around the country (each town has at least one of their own), there’s something impressive about the sheer scale of this one.

Have you planned your winter yet? #BlueLagoon #Iceland

A photo posted by bluelagoonis (@bluelagoonis) on

Foodies Tour – Wake Up Reykjavík

When it’s cold outside is there much better than warming up inside with delicious local food?  Iceland is known for it’s traditional food (rams testicles, fermented shark and sour sheep heads anyone?) and though that doesn’t appeal to us so much, the idea of popping into Reykjavík’s most popular restaurants (alongside the local best-kept-secrets) certainly does.  Renowned for showing everyone an awesome time, we can’t wait to chow down!

GOOD MORNING from REYKJAVIK ??? What is your favourite about Iceland?

A photo posted by Wake Up Reykjavík (@wakeupreykjavik) on


The Essentials

Warm Clothes – Kathmandu

Having spent the last year-and-a-bit living in Abu Dhabi, we’ve been caught noticeably short on clothing designed to keep us warm but Nathan’s about to bring some awesome adventure gear back from New Zealand for us and I can’t wait to try it on and get snuggly!  Kathmandu is one of my favourite shops back home – camping gear, hoodies, jackets –  whatever the product, we always find it fit for purpose and well-made.  I can’t wait to get my hands on some quality Kiwi-designed products again – especially my new jacket!  The technology they’ve managed to incorporate into it is seriously impressive.  They’ve taken the best of down and managed to waterproof the jacket which should result in us being snuggly-warm regardless of the weather.

Snow has fallen! ? @thompsonfilm

A photo posted by Kathmandu (@kathmandugear) on

Transport – Geysir

Iceland as a country is fairly compact but to make the most of your time, you’ll definitely want to get out of the capital.  We’ve booked on a number of tours (and they’re very kindly picking us up) but to get out to the ice caving (+ the abandoned DC10) and to enjoy the Northern Lights out of Reykjavík, a car was on our ‘must have’ Iceland list.  Geysir have some awesome options – lots of late-model 4WDs to make getting about really easy.

Full on moody skies. ? by @donalboyd #GeysirAdventure

A photo posted by Geysir Car Rental Iceland (@geysircarrental) on


Accommodation

Galaxy Pod Hostel

Our first night we’ve booked into a quirky little hostel in Reykjavík – far better than bunk beds, we’ll each be sleeping in a little self-contained pod.  With accommodation prices in Iceland being relatively high, we’re more than happy to be staying here.  It looks like the perfect way to save some money, meet other travellers and enjoy a unique accommodation whilst retaining the privacy that we’re used to.

Hali Country Hotel

Part of the appeal of Iceland is the ability to get out into the back-country and heading out into the wilderness means finding a spot to stay.  The Hali Country Hotel tick all the boxes for us – a great restaurant, comfortable rooms, wifi and a beautiful, remote location.  It looks like it’ll be a great place to unwind after our day out in the ice cave!

Radisson Blu Saga

After a marvellous stay at the Radisson Blu in Sohar, Oman, we’re very excited to experience the Blu hospitality again on our upcoming visit to Reykjavík.  We’ve already booked in for dinner and can’t wait to relax here between tours and activities.

Kex Hostel

Recommended by another travel blogger, Kex is known locally for being a fantastic hangout spot, popular with musicians and those looking to have a good time.  With industrial, quirky styling, Kex looks like a hostel with a real sense of character.


Stay tuned for updates from Iceland along with our experience visiting Amsterdam for the first time and touring Southern Norway in an RV.  Bring on Christmas!

Update: We’re in Iceland and absolutely loving it!  Check out our post detailing how to find Sólheimasandur’s abandonded DC3 – an absolute must-see on the South coast.  Also, our review of Wake Up Reykjavík, the Galaxy Pod Hostel and our amazing Kathmandu jackets.

Unfortunately our ice caving was cancelled due to bad weather but we managed to visit the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach along with the Skaftafell Glacier – all of which were fantastic alternatives on the South-East Coast.

Have you visited Iceland, Norway or Amsterdam before?  If so, we’d love your recommendations – especially for Norway and Amsterdam!


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48 Hours in Lebanon: An Itinerary and Budget

October 4, 2016
48 hours in beirut budget and itinerary lebanon

Having moved to Abu Dhabi a little over a year ago with the intention of travelling, we’ve surprised even ourselves by just how much of the world we’ve been able to see.

The United Arab Emirates are an ideal base from which to explore and with a long weekend just gone, there was no chance of sitting around at home – Lebanon was calling!

I made the trip with Olivia (who you may recognise from our Egypt posts) and as it was such a last minute trip on the back of my visit to India and Nepal, saving money was the name of the game.  We managed to pick up reasonably priced flights and found apartment accommodation to be well priced for a major city which made the decision to head away an easy one.

Read on for information to help you plan your 48 hour visit to this energetic and unique city.

Looking for a four day Lebanon itinerary?  We’ve got you covered with that too!

Flights

We flew from Abu Dhabi (via Muscat in both directions) at a total cost of AED760 each return (USD205 or NZD285).  With only a long weekend direct flights would have been our preference but the other flight times and prices didn’t agree with us so it was worth doubling back on the flight – having flown from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, we then flew over Abu Dhabi again as we made our way to Beirut.  It was a round about way to get there but it made the difference between going or not!

If you’re looking to book the same itinerary, we flew on Oman Air, departing Thursday night at 5.25pm, arriving at 11.25pm.  Our return flight was early on Sunday morning (at 1.30am) which had us arrive into Abu Dhabi that same morning at 9.45am, giving us time to relax before heading back to work the following day.

Accommodation

Whenever we travel to a new area we compare the price of booking an Airbnb with a hotel (occasionally we’ll throw a hostel or camp ground into the mix too) and we generally find that Airbnb comes out on top.  This trip was no different and due to our budget, we made the decision to book into an apartment in Mar Mikhael.

The apartment set us back NZD144 (USD105) for the two nights (in total) which was fairly well-priced for what we received though the photos do make the apartment look better than it really was.  In reality, it was much more tired-looking than it appears online, it was missing a toilet seat and had slow wifi.  The location was pretty good though I think it’s fair to say we were on the outskirts of the nice part of Mar Mikhael.  All in all, it was a solid option if you’re travelling on a budget but you may be able to find something better for the same amount of money elsewhere in the city.

Rental Car

Though parts of the city are walkable, to really make the most of Beirut and the surrounding areas, you’ll want to secure a rental car.  The road rules are practically nonexistent but it’s all a part of the adventure – drive with caution and expect every two-lane road to turn into three and you’ll be fine.

As we booked our trip so late, we had a hard time securing a rental car before-hand and had to rely upon picking one up at the airport.  When we arrived, the cost had doubled so we decided to taxi into town to get a car the next day – the taxi cost us just shy of NZD70 (or USD45 between us) which cut a long way into the cost of a rental car.  In the end, we paid USD90 for a rental for the two days but could have got one online for about USD70 (and avoided the cost of the taxi) if we’d been able to book in advance online.  If you’re headed to Beirut, don’t hesitate to book your rental in in advance!

What Can I do in Beirut?

Beirut (and its easily accessible surrounding areas) offer plenty for everyone to do.  Beautiful beaches, towering mountains, little towns that have a clear French influence, ancient ruins, buzzing bars and restaurants; you won’t be bored here!

Stay tuned for more detailed posts but in the meantime, here’s a quick run-down of what we did (and would recommend you do too):

  • Day One
    • Explore Byblos – This beautiful township has a distinctive French feel about it which, when combined with traditional Arabian souqs, makes for an interesting stop.  Whilst in the area, check out the gorgeous old forts and church (all free of charge).
    • Visit The Lady of Lebanon up at Harissa.  The view from this statue is incredible – the best in Beirut!  To get up to the state, you have the option of taking the cable car from the bay below, or do as we did and drive yourself up (free of charge).
    • Shopping!  It turns out Beirut have a number of discount shopping options so as we made our way back to the city, we stopped off and picked up a few bargains.
    • Stop by Trainstation.  This spot it the epitimy of cool which says a lot in a city as funky as Beirut is.  Fortunately for us, the Beiruit Restaurants Festival was being held during the period of our visit, which meant we got to enjoy the most delicious food, desserts and drinks under the light of the moon, fireworks and fairylights whilst hanging out arond an abandoned (and now converted) railway station – it was absolutely magical.
  • Day Two
    • Admire the Jeita Grotto – One of the real highlights of Lebanon for us.  These caves are perfectly lit up, allowing a good view of their natural beauty whilst maintaining a sense of peace and quiet.  This will cost you 18,150 Lebanese pounds (or USD12 / NZD16.50) and includes a cable car ride, mini train ride and entrance to both of the grottos (including a boat ride inside the lower gotto), along with a movie (which we missed due to limited times available in English).
    • More shopping?!  On our way back from the Grotto, we stumbled across the most fabulous discount shop, Basic.  If you’re in Beirut, be sure to swing by – we both walked away with a decent sized bag of quality clothing for next to nothing.
    • Find peace at the Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque (or Blue Mosque).  Neither of us are Muslim but there’s something amazingly peaceful about spending time in a mosque.  This one is particularly beautiful and conveniently located in the middle of town – coverups are available outside at no charge so you don’t need to worry about the suitability of your clothing when planning a visit.
    • Swing past the fancy part of town and stop for a photo at the ‘I love Beirut’ sign, because you almost definitely will fall in love with the city.
    • Admire the Pigeon Rocks (AKA Raouché).  This view is surely one of Beirut’s most iconic – you won’t need long there but it’s definitely worth the trip across the city.
    • … and last but not least, challenge yourself in the best possible way to some escape room fun!  We visited Escape Games Beirut where Olivia had a go at her first-ever escape room (the Hangover).  This game is a great option if it’s your first time playing or if you’ve got a small group as it was the perfect combination of challenge and fun, both of which are essential to an enjoyable escape room experience!  If you’re a bit more experienced or have a larger group, you have another three other amazingly themed rooms to choose from too.  Once Liv was well and truely hooked on these real-life puzzle rooms, we visited Escape the Room to try out their new room, the Castle.  We were a bit spoilt as this room hasn’t yet been opened to the public and it certainly was a treat.  We can’t give too much away but the idea behind this room and the theming was impeccable, made all the better by their innovative integration of technology into the game.  We absolutely love escape rooms (you can read our last post, outlining the concept here) and highly recommend both of these options in Beirut.

Beirut was a vivacious and interesting city full of incredible juxtapositions.  Both Olivia and I really enjoyed our time exploring and would return in a heart-beat.  Sure, it’s not the place for everyone but if you head there with an adventurous spirit and a bit of patience, your gamble will pay off.

Final Costings per Person (based on twin share)

Flights (Abu Dhabi via Muscat, return) = USD205.00

Accommodation (for two nights) = USD52.50

Rental car (for 48 hours) = USD45.00

Fuel = USD23.00

TOTAL = USD325.50 each (NZD450 or AED1,195)

I’m not going to account for food or activities as this can cost as much or as little as you’d like it to.  Most of the activities we did were free or low cost and we had a ball so you don’t have to go with a lot of additional cash if you don’t want to.

Is Lebanon worth spending your hard-earned money on?  Absolutely!


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 Lebanon is an amazing, interesting and colourful country. It's safe too! Use our itinerary to help you plan your weekend getaway. Lebanon is dynamic, energetic, interesting and filled with history. Use our guide to plan 48 hours in this amazing country. 48 hours in Beirut Lebanon. An itinerary and budget.

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Out and About in London

July 3, 2016

London catches the eye and heart of nearly every traveller that ventures within – it’s up there with New York City; vibrant, exciting and full of history, but with the added bonus of being an easy point of entry to the rest of Europe.  It would seem that London offers something to practically everyone…

“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

– Samuel Johnson

Having spent just spent four nights in London (and having visited six months ago for the first time), I’ve come away with a fresh reminder of how fantastic this vivacious English city is.  I am by no means an expert on the city, rather I feel we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what London offers, but we would like to share our mini itinerary with you in the hopes that it might help you plan your first visit to this fabulous place.

All of the following activities and locations are within easy reach of one another and manageable within a day.  This post is not designed as an all-inclusive list, but a starting point for you to build a fabulous day or two in the capital.  If you’re looking for more advice and details about how you could spend your time there, I suggest you check out my friend, Sara’s blog – Big World, Small Me (she’s a Kiwi living in London and is a total expert on the city).

It’s also worth noting that we caught the train and got off at London Bridge which is an easy 3 minute stroll down to our starting point, the Borough Markets.  Depending on where you’re staying, you may like to reverse or play with the order of this itinerary.  Have fun making it work for you for!

 

Borough Markets

Whatever your culinary inclination, get yourself to the Borough Markets when you’re visiting London!  These markets are full of life and excitement and the smells that emanate from the stalls are mind blowing.  It feels like there’s almost every type of delicious food on offer here that you could hope for.

We tucked into the most delicious Malaysian chicken curry and followed it up with a beautifully chewy piece of chocolate brownie for dessert and wandered about admiring all of the amazing looking kai (Māori for ‘food’) on offer.

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The stand out of the markets for me though are the incredible doughnuts made by Bread Ahead.  Last time I was in London my friend suggested we hunt them down and on this return trip, I did exactly that again.  We tried both the salted caramel honeycomb and the vanilla bean custard doughnuts and though they were both fantastic, it’s really worth mentioning the salted caramel flavour; it was incredible.  Nathan doesn’t normally go crazy for sweets like I do but when he’s happy to return to the markets again to stock up on these treats, you know you’re onto a winner!

The Borough Markets are open every day (with the exception of Sunday), with their main days of operation being Wednesday to Saturday.  To get there by train/tube, get off at the London Bridge station, on either the Northern or Jubilee lines.  Ensure getting there is on the top of your list – you won’t be disappointed.

SONY DSC

London Bridge and Tower Bridge

From the Borough Markets, it’s an easy walk to the London Bridge and Tower Bridge, both spanning the River Thames.  The London Bridge isn’t much to look at but has a long-standing historical importance and gives a great view of the Tower Bridge, my favourite of the two.  Numerous times a day the Tower Bridge raises it’s gangways and though we didn’t manage to catch it doing so, it would be worth trying to time your visit if you can (you’ll find the timetable here).

SONY DSC

Whilst you’re in the area, you may also like to head inside the Tower of London (£25 each) to soak up the brutal history of London and to spot the crown jewels.  If it floats your boat, you can also board the HMS Belfast as you make your way from London Bridge to the Tower Bridge.  Be sure to spin around and check out the towering glass building known as The Shard – if you have time, you can relax with a drink at the top whilst you enjoy panoramic views of the city too.

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After you’ve soaked up the sights by the Thames, jump on the tube at Tower Hill and make your way to Westminster.  From this point you’ll have access to a plethora of iconic landmarks all within an easy walk of one another.

 

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

Perhaps one of the most iconic old landmarks in London (and my favourite), Big Ben is even more impressive in person.  The famous clock town joins the Houses of Parliament and both buildings have an incredible amount of shimmering gold detailing; the workmanship in both is amazing and certainly worth a visit.

Westminster Abbey

Across the road from the Houses of Parliament is one of the most recognisable churches in the world.  The detailing on Westminster is remarkable and its history even more so.  The church is over one thousand years old and has strong ties to the English monarchy – every royal Coronation since 1066 has taken place here and it has provided the backdrop to no less than sixteen royal weddings.  To learn more about the history of this stunning place of worship, you might like to check out their website (there’s far too much to do justice in this single post).

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Ten Downing Street

“Number Ten” is home to the serving Prime Minster, but don’t head over expecting to catch a glimpse of David Cameron!  As you would expect, the entrance to this famous address is heavily guarded and protected by indestructible gates.  Regardless though, it is worth swinging past as you head to the palace.  Whilst we were there the guards were surprisingly friendly and willing to pose for a selfie or two – if you’d like a shot with a traditionally dressed (and heavily armed) English policeman, this could be the spot to do so.

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Buckingham Palace and Surrounds

Just down the road from Ten Downing Street, you’ll find the Horse Guards Parade to your left (look out for the mounted guards, you can’t miss them).  If you turn through this building, you’ll stumble into St James’s Park before finding yourself at the gates of Buckingham Palace.

We spent a good half hour slowly wandering through St James’s Park, spotting squirrels, geese, swans and all manner of local birds.  There’s nothing like a good park in the middle of a city and this is one that’s definitely worth spending some time in.

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At the end of the park, you’ll find the infamous Buckingham Palace.  Once a day (or every second day in the off-season) you can catch the changing of the guards; an opportunity to glimpse into royal tradition and culture.

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London is a fabulous city regardless of the time of year and a perennial favourite amongst travellers.

For those of you have have visited or lived in the city before – are there any must-sees in these areas?  What other parts of London would you recommend paying a visit to?

Have another day to spare?  We’d definitely recommend jumping on a train and heading out to Thorpe Park, London’s premier theme park.  Read more about each of the rides and our review here.

Accommodation Africa Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Eco Tourism Itineraries Kabale Forest Kampala Kenya Masai Mara Murchison Falls Nairobi Tanzania Tours Uganda Zanzibar

Our East African Itinerary – Two Weeks in the Motherland

May 28, 2016

East Africa – I don’t think it would be over-reaching to suggest this could just be the dream destination for every animal lover!

If you’re considering a getaway to Africa this post will (hopefully) help you decide how you might split your time between Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

Happy planning (and stay tuned for more detailed posts regarding the following)…



Zanzibar, Tanzania – 3 days/3 nights.  Flying through the night from Dubai, UAE (via Muscat, Oman), we touched down in Dar es Salaam before quickly taking off again for Zanzibar in Tanzania.

 

Nairobi and Masai Mara, Kenya – 5 days/4 nights.  Morning flight from Zanzibar to Nairobi

Kampala, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale Forest and Murchison Falls, Uganda – 7 days/8 nights.  Late afternoon flight from Nairobi to Entebbe, then pre-arranged transfer to Kampala

  • Kampala – 1 night
    • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Hideaway in a 4 person shared dorm (one night free of charge when a safari is booked through them)
  • Uganda Tour – 4 days/3 nights.  Tour:  Wild Whispers Africa. Pick up/drop off from Kampala and the following was all included in the tour:
    • Bwindi Impenetrable Forest – 2 days/2 nights
      • Accommodation: Trekkers Tavern
      • Activities:  Visit to the equator, gorilla tracking, community tour
    • Kabale Forest – 2 days/1 night
      • Accommodation: Chimpanzee Forest Guest House
      • Activities:  Chimp tracking
  • Kampala – 1 night
    • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Hideaway, this time in a private double room (shared facilities)
  • Murchison Falls – 3 days/2 nights (organised through Red Chilli Hideaway)
    • Tour: Red Chilli Hideaway: Big Five Tour – the following was included in the tour:
    • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Rest Camp in a double tent
    • Activities:  Guided walk to Murchison Falls, morning game drive, afternoon river cruise/game drive on the Nile, visit to the Rino Sanctuary
  • Kampala – 1 night
    • Accommodation:  Red Chilli Hideaway, again in a private double room (shared facilities).

Flight out that morning back to Dubai.

There you have it!  Within two weeks we managed to get a good feel for Eastern Africa; of course it was only an introduction to these gorgeous countries but as someone who grew up dreaming of going on safari, it was a mind-blowing trip.

If you’d like to read more about our thoughts comparing the Masai Mara and Murchison Falls safaris, you can read on here.

Please let us know if you find some of the information included above helpful in planning your next African experience!


2 weeks in East Africa - Explore Kenya and Uganda.  An amazing highlight itinerary including safaris, game drives, chimp and gorilla tracking and more! 2 weeks in East Africa - Explore Kenya and Uganda.  An amazing highlight itinerary including safaris, game drives, chimp and gorilla tracking and more!

 

Holidays Itineraries Jordan Petra The Dead Sea Tours Wadi Rum

Your Essential Four Day Itinerary in Jordan

February 14, 2016

There really are not enough superlatives to do Jordan any level of justice when describing it!  The people were incredibly warm and friendly and we enjoyed soaking up the landmarks that until then, we’d only dreamed of being able to visit.

We had the absolute time of our lives on our recent trip to Jordan, and though more detail will follow in upcoming blog posts, I wanted to pop together this basic rundown of our itinerary.

Tourism in Jordan is down on years gone past, largely due to safety concerns in neighbouring countries… contrary to what some imagine, Jordan is unaffected by the unrest in the area and remains absolutely safe to visit.  This of, of course, bad news for locals but means that you’ll potentially have their awe-inspiring sights pretty much to yourself. Now is definitely the time to head to Jordan; they need your tourist dollars and there is no doubt, you need Jordan in your life!

We made the decision to join a tour as we had limited time, having to work within a short school break and wanted to maximise what time we did have there.  Though there’s no doubt we probably could have done it cheaper ourselves, the cost saving would have been very minimal and to be stress-free, it was absolutely worth booking the tour.  It ended up being just the three of us along with our guide and worked out to 190JOD each, including all accommodation, breakfasts and dinners, transport and our tour at Wadi Rum.  In additional to the tour cost, we picked up a Jordan pass which included our visa and the entries to key sites (such as Petra and Wadi Rum) for JOD70 each (+ fees) and elected to pay for a guide in Petra to bring our experience to life.

Though you could carry out the following itinerary yourself, you’d want to be well equipped with road maps and a sat-nav as though the locals were friendly, Jordan was certainly appeared more difficult to navigate as a traveller than most places we’ve been.  To be honest, though I wouldn’t normally jump straight on a tour, I would recommend doing so in Jordan, especially if you have a limited timeframe.

So, without keeping you waiting any longer…


Our itinerary:

Day 1 (day of arrival)

We arrived into Jordan at 9.30pm at night and made our way to Madaba. We made the most of an early night but did enjoy a shawarma (AKA kebab) before popping off to bed; at only 1.90JOD for three of us, it looked like we were onto a good thing in Jordan!


Day 2 (our first full day)

We swung past St. George’s Church to visit the oldest map of the Holy Land, created in gorgeous mosaic detail back in the 6th century AD.  Jordan doesn’t get much further removed from New Zealand but upon noticing the gentleman manning the church was wearing an All Blacks beanie, we couldn’t help but ask… Imagine our surprise when he pulled out his camera and proudly showed us his two sons who had immigrated to Aotearoa with their families! It was the sweetest interaction and reminded us that when travelling, the simple things really can have the biggest impact.

On we travelled, via Mt Nebo where Moses first saw the Promised Land (and where we enjoyed fantastic views of the area), to the Dead Sea.

We went through the Amman Beach Resort which provided basic but adequate access to the Dead Sea and some associated facilities.  The showers were freezing, the beach chairs cheap and the bathrooms very simple, but we were there to swim in the Dead Sea and it didn’t disappoint!  We each paid 20JOD to enter through this resort and had been told that hotels were at least double that rate… I don’t doubt that if you’re planning on spending the entire day at the Dead Sea (and have an endless budget), that a fancy hotel would be the better option, but this ‘resort’ was more than enough for us.  We opted to pay the 3JOD each to lather ourselves in Dead Sea Mud but that was our only additional cost (just be sure to take your own towel if you’d rather not rent one and don’t forget your soap to wash the salt off).

We spent a good hour floating about, having a great laugh!  Though I was excited to visit the Dead Sea, I was a bit nervous about the water temperate at this time of year; as it turned out, I had nothing to worry about – it was warmer in the water than it was out.  Our visit to the Dead Sea ended up being a massive highlight of our time in Jordan – be sure to include it on your itinerary!

Following our time at the Dead Sea, we quickly stopped to take in Lot’s Statue (another biblical connection).  The history in this area is immense and regardless of one’s religious beliefs, it’s interesting to soak it all in.

After a few additional hours of driving though farmland and mountainside, we arrived at the Shobek Castle which we enjoyed exploring as the day turned to dusk.  Health and safety doesn’t seem to be much of a consideration in Jordan, which just makes doing these things all the more fun!

  

There was no charge to enter (either the small museum or the castle itself) and it was a great way to spend thirty minutes or so.  On our way out we stopped to chat to a Bedouin selling his wares and each walked away with a headscarf (for 5JOD each) having had another awesome interaction with a friendly Jordanian – Afish (which I’m probably spelling wrong!) tied our head scarves for us and chatted away about his life, before taking some quick photos as we headed off to check out the Moses Spring in Wadi Musa.

  

Just as it felt like we couldn’t fit much more into one day, off we went on our way to Petra! Three days a week, the track into the Treasury is lit by candles and guests are welcomed into the area to marvel at the sights whilst sipping sweet Arabic tea and listening to traditional Beouin music.  Though I wouldn’t recommend seeing Petra only at night, it ended up being a fantastic addition to our visit to the area and was a truely magical experience.  To get in, you’ll need to arrive at the Visitor Centre by 8.15pm, ready for an 8.30pm departure on Mon, Wed and Thurs of each week.

Unfortunately my GoPro ran out of battery and my iPhone didn’t pick up the lack of light very well, but the following image gives you an idea of what we were greeted by!  Keep in mind, however, that the camera has picked up more light than the eye does, so expect it to be a lot darker for your visit.

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Thanks to Colby Brown Photography for the use of their photo when my camera wouldn’t play ball!

Day 3 (our second full day)

I’m going to keep this part of the post relatively short as more detail will follow in a coming post.  Be sure to check back as we picked up lots of tips and learnt a fair few lessons from our time at Petra which will help ensure your visit maximises both your time there and your budget.  Everyone will tell you that you need a minimum for 2-4 days there but we were happy with our one full day (+ night time visit), so don’t let that put you off.

Until I manage to get that post sorted, let me just say that you have to add Petra to your bucket list right away!  I don’t think I’ve ever been as awestruck as I rounded the corner after our hike and saw the Monetary peeking out from it’s rock backing – get there and get there soon.

For now, I’ll let the pictures do the talking…



Day 4 (our third full and final day)

Into the car we piled for our last final day in Jordan.  The sleep in was much appreciated and after a 1.5 hour drive, we arrived at the little village just past the visitor centre.  We were welcomed into the home of our host, where we enjoyed more sweet tea (a real tradition in Jordan) before transferring to an open-backed ute for our tour of the Wadi Rum Desert.

Our tour saw us take in rock carvings that were over 3,000 years old, depicting the role that camels and snakes played, whilst ancient pools that were used for childbirth still sat, holding fresh water from the occasional rains.  The vast history of Jordan makes it so much more than just a pretty place to visit.

Arriving at camp, we climbed the little mountain out back to marvel at the sunset before retiring inside to chow down on the traditionally cooked zarb, which consists of meat and vege cooked under ground, much like a Maori hangi or traditional Pacific Island meal.

 

The stillness of the desert was fantastic to experience and provided a great background for reflection on our last night in Jordan.

 

Day 5 (day of departure)

Our 1pm flight required us to be at the Amman airport not long after 10am, resulting in a 6.30am departure from our campsite.  After a rough few nights sleep, I’m a little ashamed to say we all dozed on and off through the drive, but we did thankfully enjoy lots of gorgeous scenery on our previous road trips.

As we bid farewell to Jordan, we knew without doubt how lucky we’d been to experience all that we had. I think I may just have left a little of my heart behind – better plan the next trip back sooner than later!


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Jordan is full of history, amazing scenery and bucket list moments.  If you're short on time, this itinerary will help you plan your perfect holiday. Jordan is full of history, amazing scenery and bucket list moments.  If you're short on time, this itinerary will help you plan your perfect holiday.

Africa Itineraries Kenya planning Tanzania Uganda

We’re off to Africa!

January 23, 2016

Since moving to the UAE, we’ve already been fortunate to travel to a new continent (Europe, we’re talking to you!) and I’m excited to say we’ll soon be venturing to another… the wild vastness of Africa!

We’ve pencilled together an itinerary that looks something like this:

  • Tanzania – Zanzibar for some beach time (snorkelling, diving etc)
  • Kenya – leaving from Nairobi for a three day safari to Maasi Mara (and possibly Lake Nakuru?)
  • Uganda – Murchison Falls for a three day safari (inc. a rino sanctuary) and then either a 3 day trip to trek with the gorillas or 4 days with the gorillas and chimps.

Our flights into Zanzibar and out of Entebbe have been booked and though I’ve got information on the other things we’re looking at, we are flexible there.

Have you been to any of these spots?  What did you love?  Is there anything you’d avoid?  It’s our first time in Africa and we’d very much like any guidance you can offer!

xx Sarah

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