Orkney

Orkney

In the summer of 2018 I went camping in Orkney. We travelled by public transport to the Orkney which involved three trains and one ferry ride. It took the majority of the day to travel but the ferry crossing was fantastic and it was such a beautiful scenic journey. When we arrived we got driven to the Campsite where we had put up our tents and the tents were different as they had blow up poles which was interesting in the winds which you get when you get when you are there.

There is so much to see on this small island off the mainland of Scotland and it has so much history. We visited the Italian Chapel which was built by Italian prisoners of war during the second world war following a request from the camp priest to which they transferred to Nissen Huts into a Chapel. There is also the Churchill barriers nearby, these were built to stop eastern approaches but little did they know how they created a modern day tourist attraction as well as a link between some of the isles of Orkney.

Orkney is is also known for Skara brea the best-preserved Neolithic settlement in Western Europe. You can walk a from the small village and get feel of what it must have been like all that 5,000 years ago. There is also Skaill House which is where William Graham Watt, 7th Laird of Breckness, who unearthed the World famous neolithic village of Skara Brae in 1850 lived.

Orkney is also known for its food and especially my favourite FUDGE!! It is available just about anywhere on the island I even got the chance to see if being made in Argo’s Bakery in Stromness as well as the biscuits and cakes that are made there on a daily basis.

The camping part of the holiday was interesting as the sheep in the next field kept escaping and knocking into our tents. The tents were massive and were very comfy and managed to stay up in the winds. There is no trees on Orkney for this reason as they would just get blown down.

I had a fantastic time when there and would love to go again and explore more as you can drive to each side of the island in about 2 hours if not less.

A quick guide on Dubai

Dubai, the largest city of the United Arab Emirates is well known for it’s extremely luxurious lifestyle, ultra-modern designs and sunshine all year round. Developments started in Dubai in 1966 taking it from very much nothing to the place it is today. It really is like no other place on this Earth, so here is my guide on Dubai!

A few things to bare in mind before booking a trip to Dubai:-

  • Summertime in Dubai can get extremely hot, with day time temperatures reaching as high as 45 degrees, not falling very far to around 30 degrees in the night. The best time to visit would be between October to April where the temperatures are still high but much more bearable.
  • Minimum age for drinking alcohol in Dubai is 21. This won’t necessarily put everyone up nor down but all you 18-20 year olds out there thinking of going might want to bare that in mind.
  • Dubai is a religious country and doesn’t allow public displays of affection, especially in couples who are not married. Also when it comes to dress code don’t show too much skin. This is something I worried about going to Dubai as like I said previously it is very hot, but just covering your shoulders and not wearing dresses or skirts that are too short is all they ask. Just be respectful.

Some of my top trips and excursions

  • The top of the Burj Khalifa :- The Burj Khalifa is a famous sky scraper in Dubai and is currently the tallest building in the world, standing at a staggering 830 meters. Tickets are available to visit the outdoor observation deck on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa, or take it even further and go sky level on the 148th floor. Visits are available in the day time or the evening, and the views are spectacular. I would highly recommend, but maybe give this one a miss if you have a fear of heights.
  • Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark :- Be sure to take a taxi out to the palm to visit the Atlantis hotel for its fantastic water park. By far the biggest and best waterpark i have been to, it would be silly not to include this in my top trips and excursions. This waterpark is like no other i have been to. Start the day by grabbing a locker to keep all of your belongings, then head down to the pool, grab a rubber ring and off you go. The layout of the waterpark allows you to travel along a lazy river and choose what you would like to do along the way whether that be the rapids, wave pool, lazy river or a number of slides/flumes. There are plenty to choose from, however there are a few that can’t be reached this way and have to be made on foot. This includes the ‘Leap of Faith’, a slide that is 9 storeys high with a near vertical drop through the centre of a lagoon filled with sharks and stingrays. I think it is safe to say the whole waterpark must have heard me scream going down this one, but the thrill was so worth it. You also have the option of an additional charge to swim with dolphins or sea lions.
  • The Lost Chambers Aquarium :- Once your fun at the waterpark is over, be sure to visit the aquarium inside the Atlantis. With 21 exhibits to visit and the chance to go diving with sea creatures, it is a great day out. Also be sure to check out the ‘Ambassador Lagoon’, a tank holding 11 million litres with an array of sharks, sting rays and fish.

Some of my favourite dining experiences:-

  • The Jumeirah Beach Hotel :- Set on Jumeirah beach this hotel will not disappoint when it comes to its choice of eateries and bars. With a total of 13 different restaurants to choose from you can’t go wrong. From British to Asian, Mediterranean to Latin American, Seafood to light bites, you are spoilt for choice. Once you have finished your meal head down to the beach to one of it’s bars and watch the sunset over the Burj Al Arab.
  • CLAW BBQ :- Situated in Souk Al Bahar, CLAW is am American style diner with a TGI Fridays kind of feel to it. Great music, a buzzing bar and even better food. If you are into meat and shellfish, you will love this place, and well it is safe to say manners go out the window whilst eating here as diners are given plastic bibs to tie around their necks when tucking into their delicious grub. From BBQ grilled meats, whole fresh lobster and seafood buckets filled to the brim, it is hard not to go back for a second time around (we did and it did not disappoint).
  • SALT :- If it is fast food you are fancying but want fresh and tasty ingredients, then head down to Kite Beach and try out SALT. Famous for using the best ingredients, they make the juiciest and tastiest burgers & fries. Get your order then sit back, relax and take in the views of this beautiful beach.

Where to stay in Dubai? :-

  • The Marina & Jumeirah Beach Residence :- This is an area that has been built to suit a more westernised culture. With more pavements than other areas in Dubai, you can roam more freely visiting bars, restaurants and beaches close by. This area is further away from downtown Dubai though so if you fancy a shopping trip or visit to the Burj Khalifa, you will need to rely on public transport or taxis.
  • Downtown Dubai :- Downtown Dubai is the most popular area to stay in Dubai with most tourist attractions on your doorstep including the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall. This can be the most expensive area to stay in, but there are hundreds of hotels to choose from so with a little research I’m sure you can find something in everyone’s budget.
  • The Palm :- One of Dubai’s most famous landmarks, this is a palm shaped island with luxury accommodation. If you are quite happy to spend most of your time by the beach or in your hotel, then this would be a good choice for you. However it is really quite disconnected from everything else in Dubai so not great if you want to see the sites.

All in all I would say Dubai is a really cool place to visit, with lots to see and do. The food is out of this world and the hotels are incredible. I wouldn’t recommend choosing Dubai if you are on a budget as generally it is quite expensive, however there are ways and means around these things. I hope you enjoyed my guide on Dubai!

Seeing Tigers and Riding Elephants

After adventures in Agra and Delhi, We were now heading for Ranthambore to see if we could catch a glimpse of the tigers. It was going to take approximately 6 hours to get there by our luxury bus. This was the first time we had the experience of a traditional Indian toilet which in literally a hole on the ground.

It was also the first time we had encounter so many wildlife on the roads, especially cows! They are extremely sacred in the Indian culture people would rather crash there cars than hit one. We stopped at a “road side” cafe for some lunch which consisted of Indian street type food and it was fantastic, before continuing the journey onward. As we reached the hotel it started to be like we were off-roading a small coach which was only a sign of things to come.

Once we were greeted and shown our rooms we got a chance to enjoy afternoon chai and our first look of our surroundings.

While staying at the hotel since it was in the middle of nowhere there wasn’t really anywhere to go out and eat so we ate at the hotel and they were the most accommodating again. One of the group had mentioned there love for butter chicken to the tour guide who had then gone on to mention it to the hotel and by the second evening there it was. It wasn’t the same as our version but it was tasty.

We had two jeep safari’s one in the morning and one in the evening. The one in the morning we saw peacocks, antelopes and of course cows. We even got to see a tiger in between some trees from a distance so if we didn’t see any in the evening we could say we have seen them a little.

We got covered in so much dust and dirt we were finding it in our ears and up our noses. We head into the national park where we head down some hills into the trees. There was rumour on the radio that one of them was walking about and we hoped to catch a view of the tiger and oh how we weren’t disappointed. The tiger appeared from behind some trees and started walking towards us and the jeep driver started to drive like a maniac man. There was about 7 vehicles trying to catch glimpse and each of the drivers were as mad as each other trying to catch a view of the tiger. One of the ladies in my group was trying to get a photo and before she knew it she went flying into her seat so we could get even closer.

It was an amazing experience to get to see the tigers up close and personal like that, the drivers on jeeps certainly make there money that day!

After our 2 nights we were heading off on our next port of call Jaipur, It was a couple hours drive till we would get there.

Once we arrived we got the chance to have a look around the Jaipur markets where they sold various tourist gifts, clothing and homewares. It allowed us a chance to see all the work that can go into making these items as many are made behind the store front. I managed to pick up a hand sewn dress which would later come in handie.

After we had bought all that we could we headed off the hotel t get ready for a night out at the Bollywood pictures. We would be heading off to see Race 3 which had action, singing and dancing. When we arrived me and one of the other girls started getting stared at and people asking for photographs we both thought it was odd and apparently they thought we were celebrities as I had bright red hair and the other girl had platinum blonde hair which is very unusually according to our tour guide.

Having gotten taken into the movie theatre and sat down and the room just interrupted as people love these film as and they get so into them and do “ooo’s” and “ahhs” and dancing along. It was fantastic feeling being part that atmosphere and seeing how people can escape there day to days life’s for a few hours.

We left at half time as these films can go on for hours and we got our first taste of something similar to what we have at home, Pizza Hut! It’s not much different apart from they like to use cottage cheese, which I’m not a fan of I discovered.

While in Jaipur we visited the Amber Fort where I had an experience on an elephant which I’d rather forget! The Fort is up on a hill and is quite a climb so many people tend to travel by elephant which I was looking forward to but as soon as I got on I hated it! I couldn’t get my seating right and the man guiding the elephant was shouting at me cause I kept slipping forward. It was certainly something I won’t forget in a hurry but no in a hurry to repeat.

We were heading for Pune now, which involved a plane ride from Jaipur…

Adventures in Delhi and Agra

Where to start with my travels in India, it’s such a beautiful country and so much rich culture. In this first part I’ll talk about my adventures in Delhi and Agra. I went to India with a group of Guide Leader friends I have known for many years and it’s certainly not a trip I’ll forget in a hurry. We went in June 2018 on a tour called Taj & Tiger and it lasted 7 Days and then we were on our own travelling to Pune to take part in an event at Sangam, One of the world Girl Guiding Centres.

We flew from Aberdeen to London Heathrow with an 8 hour stopover then on to Delhi. It was a long day of travelling but when we arrived the heat just hits you when you step of the plane and the temperature only increased when we got outside. Before we could go outside we had to get some spending money since India is a closed currency and they certainly make the most of it as there was only a few different options all competing for your money. There was one just as you came out of baggage reclaim which had been recommended to us to use, so we were fine.

Once we were all sorted we got met by our driver who was going to take us to our hotel in Delhi along with the Delhi rep as our tour guide would be meeting us tomorrow. We got told to follow them to the bus area and oh the heat just got more intense when we walked outside the airport and while we waited. It must have only been a couple of minutes but it was too hot!

We got on the Air Con bus to be welcomed to Delhi where they gave us each a welcome gift which consisted of a silk scarf, hand decorated journal and pen. They gave us a few tips on how best to cope in Delhi before dropping us at the “The Leela” for our first night in India. We had the rest of the day to ourselves to adjust and get use to the climate but it was too hot to do much more than going to the pool. It was on the roof terrace and gave you an interesting view of the street below.

The hotel must have been aimed at business people as it was dead during the day but busy at meal times. The staff were welcoming and they couldn’t do enough for you. One example was that I had asked for a Peppermint Tea when we were having Tea’s after our evening meal and after various attempts to try and explain what I was asking for, we thought we had cracked it. So the waiter came over with tea for me but unfortunately he’d taken it very literal and had literally just put black pepper in with some hot water. It tasted awful but I didn’t have the heart to tell him and just smiled and nodded.

We were heading for Agra next and we got introduced to our Tour Guide Shiraz and he would be the one taking us round all the sites and looking after us for the next week. It was a 4 hour drive to Agra by bus but when we arrived it was beautiful and got checked in this time staying at the Radison Blu, Agra. We were welcomed again with silk scarfs before getting shown to our rooms. 

Once we got changed and ready we headed to the Imperial Residence of the Mughal Dynasty Agra’s Red Fort, which was built in 16th Century and is a UNSECO World Heritage Site. It was beautiful to see and all the history that surrounds the city. We also got our first look of the marble which Agra is famous for. Tomorrow we were going to be going to see the Taj Mahal but we got a sneak peek at it in the gardens that lay behind the world famous site. It looked absolutely breath taken and got us all excited for the following day.

The following morning arrived at 4:30am we were off to the Taj Mahal, the reason for being so early it allows you the chance to beat the crowds and also the chance to see the sunrise. We got dropped off at coach park area, from there we were taken in electric golf buggy type vehicles to the entrance gate as no motor vehicles are allowed in order to keep everything gleaming. At the gate you can see how busy it can be as they have about a mile of metal barriers to queue in which we were able to pass by as were with our tour guide. Once in there is swarms of photographers that are jumping to take professional photographs of you in front of the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is a fantastic love story about a man love for his wife, something which can be seen as soon as you get there. The gardens are in the grounds/gardens are lovely and it just strikes you as soon as your eyes hit. We got photos taken at the arch into the grounds along with one at the Princess Diana’s bench. Once we were inside it was so beautiful, all the marble and artwork from precious gems inside looks amazing. Fact: the only part not symmetrical are the tombs due the fact Shah Jahan’s casket is buried with his wife’s who he built the Taj Mahal for.

It’s definitely something I will remember and hope to go back and visit someday. When you come out of the Taj Mahal there is SO many gift shops all selling tourist gifts and they all come up to you when in the golf buggy trying to flog there goods but if you’ve got a good tour guide they will try and keep them at bay.

Once back at the hotel we had our breakfast and were getting set to head off on our next adventure to see the Tigers at Ranthambore.

Eating out in the Algarve

Eating Out in the Algarve

With over 200km of coastline, it’s not surprising that the fish and seafood are a staple part of the diet for people in the Algarve. With daily fishing trips bringing in huge amounts of fresh sardines, tuna, bream, cod, monkfish and many other types of fish; plentiful supplies of clams, oysters, prawns, not to mention octopus and squid, it’s easy to understand why.

The traditional Portuguese restaurants normally offer a large selection of fish dishes, one of which is almost certain to be grilled sardines, served with boiled potatoes and vegetables or salad. Also commonly on the menu are a range of omelettes, salads and some meat dishes, like thin pork slices served with a creamy mushroom sauce or chicken piri-piri.The prices are very reasonable, the food is good and the portions are generous. House wine, which is normally a local Portuguese wine, is also very good value and very drinkable! On average a 2-course meal for 2, including house wine, can cost less than €25. (Soup of the day €1.50, main course €7.00 and a bottle of house wine €8). Obviously prices can vary enormously depending on location.

As well as restaurants serving traditional Portuguese food, the Algarve has a huge choice of restaurants serving food from across the world, Chinese, Indian, Italian and English being particularly popular. You will also find Tapas, Mexican, Thai, International Cuisine and Vegetarian (occasionally). All of the popular tourist resorts have a good variety of restaurants, but the more traditional towns and villages will often just have a local Portuguese restaurant, or café-bar serving food.
Restaurants have got a lot better in offering vegetarian dishes on the menu (although don’t expect to see more than one or two in most places) and vegans unfortunately are still poorly catered for.

Starters – “Entradas”

“Couvert” is the traditional start to a meal and normally consists of  fresh bread, olives, sardine paté, cheese and carrots that have been lightly cooked and marinated in garlic, olive oil and spices. Most waiters will ask before serving the couvert, but if it is brought to the table and you don’t want it, simply ask the waiter to take it back. Couvert often costs as little as 1.50€ a person, but do check as it can be rather more.

In traditional Portuguese restaurants, the choice of starters will often include soups and seafood dishes. The Portuguese are excellent at making fresh, wholesome soups. Algarve restaurants generally have a choice of vegetable soup (“sopa de legumes” or “caldo verde”), cold “gazpacho” soup made from peppers, cucumber and tomatoes, and fish soups. Generally soups tend to be served tepid, so if you like your soup very hot, then ask the waiter for it to be “Bem quente” (pronounced ‘bem kent’). “Conquilhas” (small clams)  are often served as a starter, as are various prawn dishes.

Main Courses – “Pratos”

A lot of the main dishes in Algarve restaurants are based around fish and seafood. The fish is normally simply prepared and served with salad and boiled potatoes or chips. You will find lots of  types of fish to choose from, such as swordfish (“espadarte”), tuna (“atum”), stone bass (“cherne”) sea bass (“robalo”) and red mullet (“salmonete”). Sometimes the price is for the dish, but a lot of fish is sold by weight (euros/kg) so it is worth checking before ordering.

“Bacalhau” (pronounced “bakel-yow”) is probably one of the most traditional dishes that you’ll find in the Algarve. It is dried salt-cod, preserved in the same way as it was in the days of the first sea voyages in the time of the Portuguese Discoveries. The cod had to be preserved with salt to provide the sailors with a substantial food source while they were on a voyage. Since then, Bacalhau has become a staple part of the Portuguese diet and the Portuguese have come up with so many different ways off eating it that you will find a different Bacalhau dish to try each time; reportedly there are 365 different ways of cooking it!

Chicken (“frango”) dishes are also popular in Algarve restaurants and you will frequently see chicken piri-piri (“frango piri-piri”) on a menu. This dish uses the tiny bright red piri-piri chilli pepper, which is used to spice up many other Portuguese dishes too and is even used as table condiment. Barbecued chicken (“frango no churrasco”) is also a favourite for the Portuguese and not surprisingly since the great all-year-round weather has created a tradition of out-door cooking.

Other Algarve specialities include “Feijoada”, a thick bean stew with pork, bacon and sausage which originally came from Brazil and “Cataplana”, a dish of Moorish influence which uses a clam shaped copper pan to cook clams, or a mix of fish and seafood, with spicy sausage, tomatoes, wine, garlic and herbs. Another popular Portuguese dish is “Bife à Portuguesa”, which is beef sirloin topped with smoked ham, cooked in a clay dish served on a bed of French fries. Wild boar, pheasant and hare are also popular during the hunting season, but tend to be found on the menu more in inland areas.

Desserts – “Sobremesas”

The Portuguese make the most wonderful desserts and pastries and a visit to the Algarve wouldn’t be complete without sampling one or two of them! The best-loved desserts are “Pudim Flan” (crème caramel), “pasties de nata” ( a creamy, custard tart) and “tarte de amêndoa” (almond tart) and are highly recommended! Figs, almonds and locally produced honey in various combinations also feature highly on dessert menus along with fresh fruit.

Dining with children

Children are always welcome, day or night, and although there may not be a special children’s menu, they are always catered for…either ask for “meia dose” (pronounced ‘maya dose’) which is a half portion, or a meal to be shared.