Friday, 19 April 2019

An island wedding (B'doJun-Jul 2018)

Well last year was epic and as much fun as I had setting myself the challenge of 12 travels in 12 months it’s not something I’ll be doing again in the near future. Firstly it’s highly disruptive and secondly it’s costly.
In comparison, 2018 started a lot quieter.  The focus was on house renovations and my first trip didn’t happen til June  - Barbados for my sister’s wedding. I’ve mentioned Barbados countless times so won’t talk about the beaches, the food or the amazing people. Much of the time on this trip was taken up with wedding prep but after the wedding, there was a small window of opportunity for ‘holiday stuff’.

There were a few highlights to the wedding itself. The Hen party stands out - which I organised and will NOT post details of on this blog. Then there was the bravery of my sister, trusting me and 2 of her friends, who had never baked scones before, to bake over 200 for her wedding; which came out ‘interestingly’. Or her being the first of all my siblings (who have all had weddings) to ask me to sing. The lowlights being the accommodation we stayed at the night before the wedding. Dirty, tatty and watching my niece balloon out from bed bug bites. And me chocking on a chicken wing bone at the evening session, rushing outside thinking ‘I can’t die in front of my sister on her wedding day.’

It just so happened that my father had a birthday while we were out there and as it came after the wedding, I decided to treat him to a cruise on the Jolly Roger. He hadn’t been on it before and he brought a couple of friends, as did I. It had been several years since I last did the Jolly Roger lunch time cruise and though it had significantly shot up in price it was every bit as fun as I remembered. It was made all the better watching the enjoyment of those around me who were on it for the first time. Great food, music, dancing, all the rum you could drink (not for me but rum lovers might enjoy) and then snorkelling with the turtles. A great time was had by all - except one who got sea sick. She hadn’t touched any of the alcohol but the motion of the boat made her throw up and feel awful.  But otherwise - my dad's best birthday.

Then there was my dad trusting me to clip his ear hair with the most ridiculously large scissors.

And teaching my nephew how to play hop scotch.

Oh and there’s a random picture circulating of me legging it toward the sea. My friend and I were chatting. She turned away to get something from her bag. At the same time I saw some unleashed dogs heading our way. I thought the safest place would be in the water. She looked up from her bag to see me halfway across the sand heading toward the ocean and before deciding to rush to my aid to find out why I was running - she reached for her phone.

Another great trip to Barbados.

Friday, 22 March 2019

New year in DC (Dec 2017- Jan 2018)

So once again I’ve fallen behind on my blog. But happy to say I did my 12 travels in a year as I had set out - back in 2017. The last  place to write about is America.

It was a fairly late decision to fly over and spend Christmas in Atlanta with the in-laws. But as I’ve done Atlanta and the US so many times I decided that my next trip had to take me to a state I hadn’t yet visited. Which better than the capital. So it was a week in Georgia and then Washington to see in the New Year.
I don’t think I can say much more about Atlanta than I’ve said before. The highlight of this trip was ‘drone chasing’ which saw a car full of us chase what we believed to be our nephews drone which had gone astray for almost an hour before reading it only had 10 minutes of battery life! So who's drone had we been chasing?... This was followed by the car the breaking down and hence we got to the cinema to watch The Greatest Showman late. The drone was subsequently found in the neighbours garden the following morning. A talking point for years to come.

Washington DC
This was my first visit to the capital of the United States. I always thought my first visit Washington DC would include a tour to the white house. I contacted them as soon as I had booked my flights as visits have to be pre-arranged, but was informed they’d be closed between Christmas and the New Year. Still I was able to take photos from the outside. From the outside it looked rather unimpressive and not all how it’s made to look in feature films. 
What I did enjoy was the visitors centre. It had an easy to manoeuvre layout. There’s a wall showing all the presidents, many of which I hadn’t heard of so found it very informative. Some insights into the white house - what some past presidents like to eat, items of furniture and even letters that have been sent to the white house. There was also a video looking at past presidents and first ladies.

Lincoln memorial was just as is seen on TV It was a bit of a trek from station and it was bitterly freezing but I just had to visit this memorial before. It looked just like it did on Planet of The Apes and many other films :) Quite a few steps to walk up and I can't remember seeing any disable access. There was a small museum type area downstairs towards the left of the statue but didn't have time to check it out.  The war memorial and the reflection pool are worth a look as well. The pool was frozen solid on my visit though.

Another surprising find was the library of congress  This is an absolutely beautiful building inside and out. Wasn't on our list of places to visits but found ourselves in here anyway. Like many other attractions in Washington entry is free. There's a bag screening process which can take a while if there's lots of people but worth it. Didn't spend as long as I would have like. The queue for looking down into the reading room was too long and I wasn't able to wait as I wanted to get to Supreme Court before it closed. But downstairs you can actually peer through a glass and see into it. Amazing. Great layout and I enjoyed all the rooms I visited. Lovely ceiling.                                                                                 

I also enjoyed travelling on the Washington underground. Clean trains and an easy to navigate system. Most of my journeys were $2 and a few were $2.25 - very cheap compared to London. You purchase a $2 smart card and just top it up on one of the machines as you go. There’s no refund at the end though so work out how many trips you need, and if you underestimate it it’s very easy to top up. The escalators into and out of the stations are very very long.

Surprisingly I also wound up at the zoo. I wouldn’t normally schedule a trip to zoo on such a crammed itinerary but it was a) a smithonian b) lit up with Christmas lights c)open long after all museums had shut for the day. It was a bitter cold night. Purchased a cup of hot chocolate to warm and was swiftly reminded I don't like American hot chocolate.  I popped into opened animal huts to escape the cold and came eye to eye with a huge anaconda.

Had the most wonderful panang curry across the road from hotel. 

The space and science museum was also good.

Washington monument can be seen from many parts of the city and looks impressive as you get closer. Couldn't get too close because it was closed and you couldn't go beyond a particular point. Would be interested in returning one day and going to top.
US Capitol Booked an 11am reservation. Due to size of queue and security checks we got to the desk at 11.04am. Allow at least half hour for queuing and bag check. We only allowed 20. You can't take any food or drinks in with you. Even though we had missed our slot they put us in the 11.10am slot so we didn't have to wait long. You're given a sticker with your tour time and told to wear it at all times. Tour starts with a video presentation in a large cinema room. Our tour guide was great. After the tour we got tickets (free) for House of Representatives and The Senate. Make sure you visit both while there.
New Years eve. Well the initial plan was to go to a spectacular fire work display in neighbouring Maryland. There was a whole day event with lots of activities taking place and I'd planned to go early evening. But the weather was so bitterly cold (as i've mentioned!) - and I’m no prude when it comes to cold climates but I wasn’t prepared for just how freezing it would be. So after breakfast at a nearby diner and I went to church across the road from the hotel and then headed to the African American museum.

The African American Museum was amazing. I can’t really go into detail about it - you just need to go! I went online one morning to secure entry pass but by 6.50am they had all gone. So the next morning  I was up and logged on from 6.20am waiting to hit the button at 6.30 and thankfully got 2 tickets for the time we wanted. Start from the bottom, which takes you through the slave trade etc up to the top which looks at black celebrities. Spent 4 hours and saw the vast majority but would have liked more time. You can’t take food in and they do a bag check but there’s a cafe (didn’t use it).

We were warm and comfortable back in the hotel room but I was adamant we weren’t going to see in the near year on the tv screen. Our hotel had a huge glass which was expensive and sold out. We took a walk into the town centre on the look out for a lively restaurant. We found one and saw the new year in with fancy burgers and a free glass of prosecco that was brought around to everyone.

Friday, 1 March 2019

A Wonderful Experience & a Nightmare all in one - Israel and Palestine OCT 2017

I CAN NOT BELIEVE IT'S TAKEN MORE THAN A YEAR TO POST THIS BLOG. And as such, it will be more of just a sketchy overview...

For years I’ve wanted to visit the Holy Land but knowing it was also my mother’s dream, I determined I wouldn’t go without her. My sister decided she wanted to come too and a church she knew of were organising a tour which they did annually. My first mistake. Large group tour holidays are not for me. I’m a seasoned traveller and don’t need to be babied when travelling. I’m also a punctual person so waiting half an hour for the rest of the group to straggle back to the meeting point or blatantly disobey orders by stopping to shop when we were told not to really annoyed me. There was a constant, daily struggle between those who were keen to follow the itinerary, timings etc. and those who were set on doing their own thing despite the affect on the group. 
As it’s been almost a year this will be a quick summary.

We stayed predominately in Jerusalem on Mount Olive with the most spectacular views of the Old Town, which was a blessing as it was the only positive thing about this hotel. As well as Mount Olive, Old Town and Church of Accession I also visited church of holy sepulchre, Jewish cemetery, Garden Tomb, Sea of Galilee cruise, station on the cross , dome of the rock, zaccheus tree.

Here are the highlights

Masada - this was amazing! I really wanted to ascend by foot but our tour leader said there wouldn’t be enough time so we took a cable car up. However the queues were extremely long on the way down so while some of our group took their time walking around myself and 2 other ladies were granted permission to descend by foot. The sun was steaming hot and I felt it even through my umbrella. What started as a good idea became an issue very quickly. I had earlier taken off my trainers when we were told we had to use cable car and opted for my cushioned sandals which while supportive weren’t the best choice of footwear. But the real problem lay in the fact that I was descending a ginormous mountain by foot, when I’m scared of heights!! A few metres in I knew I’d struggle on the twists an turns and so had to slow down. But when the ground evened out, I made up for it. Once I had made it down I looked back up the mountain behind me and the sheer realisation of my achievement hit me. I had done it! And boy did my legs know it the next day but the swollen ankles were a small price to pay.

Western Wall -It was great seeing these places that I’ve heard / read about. There are 2 separate sides - one for men and one for women. Many people were touching the wall and praying and I could see the bits of papers that people had written their prayers / requests on and stuck in-between the brickwork. There were also some plastic chairs around for those who didn’t wish to stand and I was intrigued by the women walking backwards so as not to turn their back to the wall. 

He Is Risen! Really enjoyed it here. Our group almost didn’t get to visit as you have to make reservations and only a limited amount of groups are permitted at anytime. According to our tour guide there were record numbers of people in Israel this year. When we got the call to say we had a time slot we had to leave the place we were visiting in Palestine and rush straight back but it was worth the rush. At the tomb we had a British guide who worked at the site. He was very funny, informative and engaging. We had a small service and some in our group took communion. We were shown an old wine press and allowed to visit the empty tomb. It was done in a very orderly manner, 6 or 7 people allowed in at a time for a few seconds. With this kind of organisation - I could tell it was Brits running the place :) Our tour guide had told us a few days prior when we had visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher  that many believed that was were Jesus was buried but the Garden Tomb was the more likely place. After seeing both I do agree. There was a gift shop on the way out which was reasonably priced with all funds going back into the upkeep of the place. If this place is not on your list for a visit to Israel - it should be!

We also spent 2 nights in Jericho and the highlight here for me was the cruise on the Sea of Galilee. The cruise was amazing. I gave the captain my iPod, and thought the group dance steps like the electric slide to Kirk Franklin's I've Been Looking. And later on a couple members of our group (which was predominately Indian) showed us some Bollywood moves.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Our guide gave us the information about the church on the outside and then showed us inside. Once inside though the crowd was crazy. There were people pushing and shoving, hardly any room to move. Clearly no health and safety measures. The queue for what was meant to be the grave of Jesus was way too long to even consider joining (coupled with the fact we know He's no longer there ;). On my way out the were people pushing to light candles over something that seemed like a large container of wax. It looked very unsteady to me. I could see smoke from all the candles they were lighting and I walked as quickly past as possible as I thought any minute now a disaster could occur. I really think this place would benefit from some people trying to control / direct the crowds.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A Tale of Two (Polish) cities - Sep 2017

It’s September and so far I’ve actually managed to go somewhere every month. Wey hey! For this trip I took 3 flights over 3 days on my first visit to Poland.
My flight out was with Ryanair and there was the initial thought of ‘what happens if my flight is cancelled’ as it was during their ‘let’s cancel 50 flights a day so our staff can take holiday’ initiative. Thankfully my flight to Wroclaw wasn’t affected. I

flew LOT airlines to Warsaw (hadn’t heard of them til I was booking flights). They're a decent airline and give you a chocolate bar and a drink on the 50 minute flight. More than BA who I flew home with who have cut all complimentary drinks and snacks on their short hauls. Enough about flights.

Wroclaw is the largest city in western Poland and the fourth largest in the country.
I hadn’t planned much for this stop as I was only spending one day here. I started with a walk to and around the old town. Lovely buildings and cobbled streets.
My first purchase was an ice-cream cone. Mascarpone with honey and nuts. Absolutely amazing. My only regret is that I settled for one scoop. The first impression I got of this city unfortunately was how aggressive the beggars were. I was followed, poked repeatedly with a beggar’s cup and had a cup shoved so close to my face I had to turn my head swiftly to avoid a collision. There was more to follow in Warsaw.
The city was quiet during the day on a Tuesday as I wondered around. I passed a filming set which looked as though they were shooting a commercial but it may have been a film. From the old town I walked through market square to Slodowa Island. I usually prefer printed maps during my explorations but the one from the hotel wasn’t very good and I had to resort to Google map (praise God for the ability to use data plans freely in the EU). The walk was very pretty, scenic and most of it along the river once I left the city walls. The island was quiet which was to be expected at this time of the year but it had an unspoken beauty and was very peaceful.
I determined I’d walk to the musical fountain which was a further 46 mins walk from where I was. I had already been walking for 2 hours but thought my fitbit would thank me. The fountain was larger than I expected and dispiste it being too early for the lights and music I loved it. There was a small coffee van and seats for customers lined along one side of the fountain. 
Literally behind was the Japanese garden. I wasn’t able to spend as long here as I would have linked as I had set myself the challenge of walking back to the hotel. A further 50 minutes.
Dinner was in a restaurant where no one spoke English. It was kind of like a buffet where food was on display and you selected what you wanted, it was weighed and you paid by gram. I ended up with some cottage cheese like dumpling, fish and some interesting potatoes. The salad bar was a bit easier to understand and so was the dessert table where I had a very delicious coconut cheesecake. 
Warsaw is the capital of and largest city in Poland.
It rained virtually throughout my entire stay here. Despite the persistent rain I was determined to explore this city by foot. I walked the 46 mins from my hotel to the Old Town where I picked with a walking tour. A brief history of Poland and how it changed when the Germans and Russians invaded. here was the on going joke about how Krakow and Warsaw hated each other. What I found most interested about this tour was the slight inside into the Jewish way of life prior to the war.
By the end my trainers and socks were soaked through and so I defeatedly caught the bus. I had only the one pair of shoes so I resorted to blow drying them with the hair dryer so I’d have something to wear to dinner.
Dinner that night was at Zapiecek. I didn’t have a reservation and had to wait outside until a table became available. It’s a tiny restaurant but rated as one of the best in the area for traditional Polish food. I started with meat dumplings, followed by the pork knuckle and pork ribs.
The walking tour had me intrigued about Jewish history and so I walked (through the rain again) to the Museum of he history of Polish Jews. What I loved about this museum was that in it’s six rooms, only one concentrated on the war. The others showed how the Jews arrived in Poland, their lifestyles, beliefs and so much more. There was information about their exodus to Israel after the war and figured that’s why I had bumped not so many Israeli tourist here, more-so than any other country I’ve visited to date.
Another long walk on another rainy day meant that my trainers were now soaked through and unlike the previous day when I’d be able to dry them at the hotel, I was heading straight to the airport after my museum visit. There was no way i was going to bored a flight with wet feet so I purchased as part of very cheap, very fluorcent pair of shoes - and the socks to match.
One of the great things about credit cards being so widely accepted (and my Nationwide select credit card not charging commission) is that you don’t have to try to guess how much currency to change before you leave home and carry large amounts of foreign money with you. The downside to that though is that I been to some countries (Sweden) where I haven’t even seen their local currency. To combat this I try to change around £10 -£20 in local currency so I can see what the country’s money looks like. I got 40zlt for my £8.69. Turns out the only time I really needed it was to tip my walking tour guide and everywhere else took credit card.

With my last 7zlt I purchased a few items from a bakery near the hotel. I had a sausage roll with was filled with ketchup and I disliked. A cheese filled bread pastry which was very sweet. A custard type cream filled donut which I thought wold be that great but was surprisingly good and a very light bread which was plain, but nice.