Mexican Adventure Part 1

I had the joy of going to Mexico last summer with the Girl Guides, there is a bit of a running theme to my stories!

We went at the beginning of July starting in Mexico City to get used the climate as it certainly different to cold Scotland. On arrival you notice the heat and the line at immigration was certainly an experience with having to queue for over an hour in the heat and no water or food. Once we were cleared we were meet by hostel staff who took us to our accommodation where we were staying for a couple of nights.

Once we arrived we got freshened up and the people who we shared with very kindly made up our beds for us while we ran to get an evening meal inside of us. We ended up at restaurant at the end of our street and it was our first proper experience of Mexican Culture.

In the restaurant we got tortilla chips and all the dips, refried bean and salsa as well as cheese sauce. The food has cheap and cheerful but couldn’t complain. It was at this point I learnt about how there sewage system worked. They don’t flush toilet paper they put in a waste bin at the side, it was something that certainly took a bit of getting used too.

After our first night in Mexico we headed out on a Tour to explore the city. We started at Xochimilco (which you can read about in previous blog post) and headed for Mexico University as it has amazing architecture on the buildings which tells stories of some of there history. They are depicted in stone which has all done by hand.

The following day I took the girls to see the Statue of Independence which is was only two minutes away and we had great fun trying to cross the road as there isn’t a set place to cross, you have to time the traffic lights at the roundabout so that you can cross when nothing is coming. We had great fun doing that and we also noticed that there was a building that had a wall which was a running water fall, which of course we had to try and get into. We crossed the road and headed for the building and got in one of the elevators which took you up to a gym to have a noisy and see what it felt like to be in a waterfall. We all loved it! It was an experience I think none of us will forget.

After Mexico City we were heading for the Cuernavaca for a chance to have some adventures which I won’t forget in a hurry.

Adventures in the South of France

When I studied Travel and Tourism at College we got the chance to travel to Nice to take part in a Study visit. All we had to do was pack a bag and take some spending money, so wasn’t to like.

Nice

We flew from Edinburgh early and landed in time for lunch by the beach. The hotel was only 10 minutes away from the majority of the sites and we had a ball.

One our first two days we got the chance to explore and get to know Nice and all the historical sites that are in the city. The Castle of Nice which sits at the top of Nice and gives you the most amazing views of the city below. There is a lift that is built into the rock side which allows you to get to the top without having to climb.

There is also the various squares in the city which all have special meaning and have water fountains or statues in them. You also get some fantastic food in Nice which allows you to also soak in the evening sun while having a glourious cocktail.

Monaco and Cannes

We also the got the chance to go and visit these amazing places and experince what they had to offer in day trips.

While we were in France the Cannes Film Festival was in full swing and there was every possibility we could run into someone famous. We unfortunately didn’t have such luck! We stood for a couple of hours in the pouring rain and to try and get a look and nothing!

The next day we got the chance to explore Monaco the city of the Rich and Famous. Again we were lucky enough to be in town when the F1 Race was due to take place a week later so we got the chance to see all the stuff that they organise for the race and how the local prepare by leaving the town.

Monaco is spilt into New and Old Towns. The new town has all the rich and famous and the big fancy houses and flats. The old town is where you can get the chance to explore the historic sites and be a proper tourist. We got the chance to see down all the side streets and try some of the food that is cheap as anything in the old town compared to the new.

I loved exploring the South of France as it gave a wonderful live long friend called the Travel Bug!

Xochimilco

The Venice of Mexico

We started with a guided tour of Tourist Attractions and we went to Xochimilco first of all. It get referred to as the Venice of Mexico, you sail down the water by hand as there is no motorist boats allowed along the glorious stretch of water. This is to preserve the nature that lives in the water as well protect the mysterious animal that lives in it. It gets called the water monster that live below the waters of the river and there is many different myths and legends about it where and how it came about.

As well as the myths and legends of the water way, there is so much you can see and do. It gets treated as a floating market for people to explore. There is the Mariachi bands that play up down the waterways all day. There is also people who spend all day on the boats cooking fresh corn and food and selling it to passing tourists. I found that there was all sorts of traders selling there good along the water and jumping in and out of peoples boats.

When you get off the boat you are able to explore the flower markets that surround the waterway. The flower markets are busy from the time they open till they close and there is fresh flowers every day. In the markets there is also traditional dancing and food available for you to indulge in as well as the traditional tourist gifts and souvenirs.

If you were visit Mexico this somewhere I would 100% recommend going and visiting. I would also suggest taking a guide also as they are able to tell you all about the facts and history of the water way.

Switzerland

I have been lucky enough to have been to Switzerland twice so far in my life. The first time happened to be my first time aboard as well as the longest I’d been away from my parents. I was away with the Guides and a whale of a time away with my friends.

The second time I got the chance to take my own Guides to Adelboden to stay at Our Chalet where I had camped 8 years previously. It is a truly remarkable country and there is some fantastic Alps and Mountains to climb.

Walking and Climbing

We managed to walk up such one where we all managed to get to the top and put our feet in the glacier lake at the top as well as having one of the best secrets of these places, CHIPS! They have the one most amazing chips at the top of these alps, it was the one thing I remembered most about my first time there. They do also have some lovely beer which is can be much needed after climbing.

We walked everywhere on these holidays and they certainly built up your leg muscles. One of the best walks is to the Wood Carvers in the Mountains which is a lovely walk. Once you reach the Wood Carvers you are able to see how they make some of the items that you can get engraved with names or whatever you’d like.

Rock Climbing I must say was fantastic apart from the fact, I don’t enjoy the abseiling down after you’ve climbed as high as you can. Some of the people we saw are able to do much better than ourselves as they just speed across the rock.

Funicular Railway

As well as all this walking we also got the chance to visit to the funicular railway, which is the steepest in Europe. There is two trains which you have to take and it’s a fantastic learning experience and a great way to see all the surrounding alps around. Yet again they had the same Chips and facitlites at the top.

The views from the top are absolutely fantastic and breath taking. We were even able to see where we are staying, in tents as a tiny dot in the distance. You even got some lovely sunshine in the clouds.

Chocolate

As you can imagine there is chocolate in Switzerland and it is some of the best I have ever tried or likely to try. The chocolatier we went to see had some impressive moves and recipes, it all tasted so good!

I love Switzerland and hope to go back soon!

Bungee Jump at Highland Fling

A year ago I did a Bungee Jump to raise funds for a Girl Guiding Trip I was going on to Mexico, I must have been mad.

The day started off with me feeling like a nervous wreck. My mum and sister came with me for moral support and to make sure I actually jumped. The jump was off Killiecrankie Bridge just outside Pitlochry. The company Highland Bungee run various outdoor sports and activities in Scotland and they’ve been jumping off the bridge for many years.

We were half an hour early so we had to sit and wait while I started to get jumpy. When the time came it started with a safety talk, fitting for a harness and what to expect. There was 5 men and me doing the jump, so I felt like I had a point to prove #girlscan! We drove out to the jump with all the jumpers together and spectators following close behind.

Before we could do anything about jumping we had two ladders to climb to get to the jumping platform. We then walk under the bridge and were separated into two groups, unfortunately I was in one of the first groups. They started by tying your ankles together and making sure your secure and asking if you got any final questions. I watched the first person jump and started thinking “I’m done, I can’t do this” but as the second person jumped I thought I want to prove myself wrong. It was my turn next and they start by asking you questions and make sure you’re ready. They shuffle you across to the jumping platform, the girl then took my glasses. She counted to three and then you jump! My heart was in my month and I screamed as long as I could when I jumped!

I didn’t know what to think or what to do with my hands! I grabbed the bungee cord and tried to hang on for dear life. Once I had done it and was left hanging they pull you back up by winch I gave myself a big well done. I’m so glad I did it and at that point I said “that’s it I’m not doing that again!!”

I was wrong only a few months ago did I do it again for another charity. This time just as terrifying if not more as I knew what was coming!

My time on board Cruise & Maritime’s Magellan

On the 2nd of July 2020 I was lucky enough to enjoy a 7 night cruise on board Cruise & Maritime’s Magellan (my first ever cruise experience) with a handful of other travel agents from up and down the country. The cruise departed Newcastle heading round the British Isles, ending in Liverpool. Here are some of my favourite parts and why you may want to choose to cruise with Cruise & Maritime next!

The Magellan is a small cruise ship holding 1200 guests. She is an older ship and doesn’t necessarily have the same facilities that bigger liners have. This isn’t something I am able to compare with this being my first cruise experience, however I can say if you are looking for something more personal and great value for money, then I could not recommend Cruise & Maritime any more. Great itineraries, great food and even greater staff.

Let’s start with the itinerary. We set sail from Newcastle visiting Dundee, Shetland, Faroe, Orkney, Isle of Skye, Belfast and finally disembarked in Liverpool. What’s great about this itinerary is that you are visiting so many beautiful parts of the country you wouldn’t usually get to see. Visiting Faroe was a real highlight for me, with its stunning scenery it really felt like you were in Norway travelling through the Fjords. Some other highlights were visiting the beautiful Isle of Skye, something I have been meaning to do for years, and also getting to visit Shetland where my mum grew up as a wee girl. It is always the places on our doorstep we forget to take the time to explore, and I am so glad I was given this opportunity to do so.

The food on board the Magellan was fantastic. Breakfast was either a buffet served on deck 10 in Raffles Bistro, or you could enjoy a waiter served meal on deck 8 in the Kensington restaurant. Both had plenty of choice including a lot of healthier options such as fruit & granola or avocado on toast with eggs which I enjoyed (trying to make up for what had been eaten the previous night at dinner). Lunch was also served in Raffles Bistro, followed by afternoon tea so there was always food on the go for those who had worked up an appetite out on their excursions. Dinner was a 6 course affair starting with an appetiser then onto soup, salad, main course, dessert and finally cheese. Don’t worry, you get to choose how many courses you are served. I never opted for any more than 3 courses in one night but there were some people who went the full hog. Every dish I ate was delicious ranging from baked sea bass, to grilled lamb chops, to lemon meringue pie. Another great thing about the Magellan is that they have such a great offering for those with dietary requirements. A couple of the other travel agents were Vegan and each night got given a menu with options to choose from for the next day’s dinner. One of the agents who had been on multiple liners actually said it was the best food she had ever received on board a cruise! There are speciality nights on board the cruise that you can pay extra for, and we got to try out the brand new Indian Fusion restaurant. It was £14.90 as standard, £11.17 wth the CMV premium package or only £7.45 with the CMV VIP package. I would highly recommend this as it is cooked by Indian head Chef Michael Shaji and some of the best Indian food I have ever had…well worth the money.

Value for money on this ship is second to none, especially when it comes to the drinks package. For our 7 night cruise it worked out at £156 for the premium package when adding it on board the ship. This is something I would recommend prior to sailing as it saves you some money and time. Included you get an all inclusive bar, a welcome bottle of wine in your cabin and lots of other great discounts. However, if you aren’t a big drinker and would rather just pay as you go, you can do so. I am a gin drinker and for a gin and tonic on average it was around £4.35 which I personally think is very reasonable.

All in all I would highly recommend a Cruise & Maritime’s Magellan, and I know that this definitely won’t have been my last.

Pune and Mumbai

Once we had been dropped off at the Airport in Jaipur we were on our own again try work our way through the airport. It was a simple layout and straight forward security which was fantastic!

While waiting on the flight we decided to start playing cards to pass the time but we soon found that it was extremely frowned upon to play cards or anything similar in a public place in India.

We were flying to Pune to stay at Sangam, One of the Five Girl Guiding World Centres to take part in the Love, Dance and Yoga Programme. The centre meet us at the airport where we took Tuk Tuks to the centre. This was our first experience of them in the night-time were its is terrifying seeing all the lights of the cars and there is no road sense either so it’s every man for themselves.

On arrival we were greeted by Jen and her team, who run the centre and its community outreach programmes in the local area. We were given a tour of the centre and shown were we would be sleeping, it was dorm rooms that slept 12. They were extremely hot and very uncomfortable, lucky we were moved to the air con rooms a couple of days later.

We took part in so much when we were there, a few highlights:

  • We got the opportunity to get Saris and Punjabis made when we were there. All we had to do was buy the materials and a tailor would come and measure us to get it made to measure.
  • We visited one of the Community outreach projects Sangam helps at, Ishwari which works with young women in rural communities to give them skills to generate income. They showed us what work they do and how they help with the children while the mothers learn.
  • While there we got the opportunity to go to an Indian wedding at another of the community partners, Maher. It is a charity that looks after children and it was one of the youth workers who was getting married and the children had prepared a songs and performances for the couple as well as a mountain of food.
  • Pune is such a big city and there is so much to see but there was a Hard Rock Cafe, which of course we had to visit. It was fantastically cheap for us as you were able to get cocktails for only a couple of pounds so we stocked up before happy hour finished. They used Buffalo Meat instead of cow meat since they are so sacred.
  • We also took part in some volunteer work around the centre to try and keep it clean and up to date. I took part in update one of the artwork pieces painted on one of the walls.

Our time in India was coming to an end but we had one last place to visit, Mumbai. I must say I did not enjoy Mumbai as it was extremely humid and warm. There is so many fantastic sites to be seen in Mumbai as its by the sea and the Gateway to India attraction which was built for George V and Queen-Empress Mary, the first British monarch to visit India. We also got to see the Dhobi Ghat

which is an open air laundromat in Mumbai, India. The washers, known as dhobis, work in the open to clean clothes. We spent the day explore Mumbai before the start of our travels home.

India is certainly somewhere I’ll be going again as its was a fantastic country to get it know but did not have the time to explore everywhere.

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…