24 hours in Rome

Seriously… we only had 24 hours in Rome! When we started planning our Euro trip we were looking at ways to reduce our travel time as much as possible. Because we were on quite a strict schedule, we had to leave Scotland on a Monday and were, therefore, quite restricted with our flight times. Initially, we hadn’t planned on spending any time in Rome at all – of course one day in Rome was not long enough but even though it was very short I’m so thankful we were able to visit!

Our flight left Edinburgh at 6.25am and we managed to sleep the entire flight to Rome! When we arrived in Rome we exited the airport and turned right into the taxi rank. The taxis are by set meter and the fare to central Rome is €30 per car which was very easy and efficient. We stayed at the Rome Times hotel which was lovely. The reception staff were extremely helpful and allowed us to check in early at no extra cost. The hotel was in a great location, approximately 12 minute walk to the Colosseum; less than 10 minutes taxi to Termini train station and a short walk to and from the metro station. Another benefit of this hotel was a complimentary mobile phone in our room with unlimited use! You were able to make domestic and international calls free of charge a well a use the phone for google maps and navigation around Rome.

Roman Forum

The obvious first stop for us was the Colosseum due to the location of our hotel being less than a 10 minute walk away. I had read online about how crazy the queue is to get in, but I also read that if you head straight to the Roman Forum you can purchase an entry ticket that is valid for both the Roman Forum and the Colosseum at no extra cost – so that’s exactly what we did! The ticket office at the Roman forum had one person in front of us in the line, we couldn’t believe it. So we purchased a double ticket for €12 each that gained us entry to both sites. If we had longer I would have liked a guided tour around the Roman Forum (because I didn’t really know anything about it) but the girls on the ticket desk were probably the least helpful people we met on our Euro Trip! But it was still nice to walk around and read the information on the signs.

Colosseum

b85f73e1-d064-48f4-bd95-13fff91f838dAfter a short while we headed to the Colosseum, I couldn’t believe the size of the entry queue and we literally walked straight  past everyone! Again, I would have loved to have a tour guide take us around but we simply didn’t have the time on this trip, so instead, we hired one of the audio tours which was informative and we were able to go round at our own pace. The Colosseum was quite overwhelming, and even though at this point I hadn’t watched the Gladiator, it was still crazy to think of what used to happen in such a place! Note: I have since watched Gladiator and understand why Ryan was a bit emosh when we were there!

Just outside of the Colosseum there’s a metro station, so we decided to take the metro across to the Vatican as opposed to the hour walk. The tickets cost €1.50pp which is valid for 100 minutes. We had to make one line change and then a further 6 stops and we were at the Vatican City station. We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant on the side of the road called La Carravella Tretoria, which was located off the main roads, to get our first fix of Italian pizza, pasta and of course wine!

Vatican City

img_2678The Vatican City was beautiful and we were in awe of the buildings around us. Ryan and I aren’t religious and so visiting the Vatican was just something we wanted to tick off the list but we didn’t really know a great deal about the history or the buildings. I really wanted to head inside the museum to see Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel and I am quite gutted we missed out on this – but it’s the perfect reason to return!

Pantheon

The Pantheon was an unexpected gem for us. The building is a former Roman temple which has since been converted to a church standing now at almost 2,000 years old. There was quite a crowd of people gathered in the square at the front of the Pantheon but inside it was so peaceful. We spent a bit of time just walking around the statues – I couldn’t believe how old some of them were! The most fascinating part of the Pantheon for me was the dome roof which has an open hole in the centre and when it rains, water gathers on the slanted floor, and is drained out through an ancient drainage system. The fact that all of this was constructed almost two thousand years ago just blows my mind!

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Spanish Steps

I was slightly disappointed by the Spanish Steps – to be honest I didn’t really know what I was expecting from them – but by the time we arrived it was around 5pm and the place was heaving with tourists. So we headed to one of the side streets and grabbed a gelato (mine consisted of coffee, chocolate and vanilla which was delightful) and we just sat on the steps eating our gelato and taking it all in.

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Trevi Fountain

The final tourist spot on our whistle-stop tour of Rome was the beautiful Trevi Fountain. We had read before just how busy it gets so we decided to leave this until the evening to visit but even at 11pm it was packed! We each threw our Euro into the fountain and made a wish and just sat on the side watching everyone and taking in the beauty of the fountain. It felt so peaceful sat there and it was the perfect end to our jam-packed day in Rome. I had read online that the best time to visit the Trevi Fountain is just after sunrise (so around 6am) this sounded great, in theory, but we had to be at the train station the next morning and I didn’t fancy rushing around just for a photo!

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Rome > Naples > Positano

But the action didn’t stop after our day in Rome! The following morning we caught the train from Rome to Naples – for anyone planning the same route this is an option I would highly recommend. The train took 70 minutes and cost only €12pp. We booked our tickets online here before travelling, printed our tickets and took them on board with us – it really was an easy way to travel. Previously, we had considered driving from Rome to Positano, stopping off at Pompeii in the middle but I’m so glad we didn’t, the roads looked crazy both in Rome and once we arrived in Positano.

Anyway, the train arrived in Naples and we had planned the remainder of day with a company called My Day Trip. The company was fantastic and for a set fee we had a driver collect us from the train station and take us to our final destination, stopping off at any excursions we required on the way. We booked online, selected our start and final destination and the company suggested sightseeing options in the middle, we made the payment online before travelling and were provided with an itinerary for the day.

Pompeii

The first stop of the trip was to Pompeii where we had two hours to spend exploring. Our company driver dropped us to a tourist shop whereby we rented an audio guidebook and map of the archaeological site. The map was helpful because it highlighted a key route that would take us around the highlighted sites in an hour 30. We hadn’t purchased our tickets online beforehand – which I would recommend doing – but luckily, because we arrived at 9am there was not a great queue to enter.img_2707

Pompeii has always been a place on my bucket list to visit, I remember studying it at school when I was about 10 years old; the story and the history of the town still overwhelms me today. The town of Pompeii is located near Naples and at the base of the only active volcano in Europe, Mount Vesuvius. In 79AD the volcano erupted and covered the town of Pompeii and all of it’s people in ash. The city, buildings, people, animals were all almost perfectly preserved under several feet of ash and rock from the volcano and remain that way almost two thousand years later.

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As soon as we entered the archaeological site it took my breath away. On the right hand side as you enter was a glass case which contained about 10 bodies, the one that struck me the most was two people cuddled together – I’m glad I had my sunglasses on because my eyes were already streaming at this point!

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As we followed the key points on the map we entered another amphitheatre and even though the crowd capacity was a third of that of the Colosseum it still felt very surreal standing in the centre of it. We spent almost two hours wandering around the streets of Pompeii, the audio tour was really informative but we hadn’t even touched the surface of the town and there is still an archaeological team onsite still working to uncover more of the town.

Cantina Del Vesuvio

We left Pompeii with our driver and headed to Cantina Del Vesuvio, a family run vineyard, now third generation, at the base of Mount Vesuvius. We had a brief tour of the vineyard where we learnt about the grapes and how the wine is made.

Surprisingly, due to the ground formation, the vineyard does not require an irrigation system to water the vineyards. This is because the ground is formed of lava rock and black soil from when the volcano erupted thousands of years ago.  After the tour we had a three course lunch which was accompanied by five glasses of wine; two red, two white and one rose. We purchased two bottles of our favourite wine from the tasting and also a bottle of the Cantina del Vusuvio family recipe wine vinegar which was beautiful!

By around 2pm we were on the road again but this time heading to the final stop of our Euro trip, Positano – the most unbelievable end to the holiday.

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Another new country Czeched off the list!

We started our mini Euro-trip with a three night stay in Prague, another new country to czech off the bucket list! Most people we have spoken to have visited Prague during the Winter so we were excited to see what it had to offer in the summer months.

Initially, we had planned to stay for only two nights however, due to the change of the predicted Eid dates, we were able to change our FlyDubai flight to leave a day earlier for AED 220 – definitely worth it for an extra day of exploring! Unfortunately our original hotel was fully booked for the additional night so we stayed at Miss Sophie’s hotel for the first night and moved to Pure White for the following two nights. The staff at both of our hotels were extremely helpful and provided us with maps and recommendations for things to do in the city. Both times we arrived too early for check in however the hotels had safe, locked storage rooms for luggage which put us at ease when heading out for the day.

We had read mixed reviews about picking up taxis from the airport with regards to meters etc so we booked private transfer company, Prague Airport Transfers, to collect us and take us to the hotel. It is a fixed price company that charges one price to any hotel in the city centre so we simply selected our hotel online and made the payment in advance. This may have been slightly more expensive than a regular taxi however it was hassle free and very convenient. You can find the company we used here https://www.prague-airport-transfers.co.uk

The airport was one of the quickest we have been through at that time in the morning so we were at our hotel, luggage dropped off, changed and out to explore by 9.30am!

Day 1

We headed straight out to find a spot for breakfast, my favourite meal of the day, and found a cute little cafe called Dolce Monte where I got my fix of coffee and eggs! We walked from our hotel in New Town through to St Charles Bridge in the old town. Like typical tourists we had a map (that we couldn’t really read) but had a lovely walk taking in all of the sites and the amazing buildings the city has to offer. It was much busier with tourists in the Old Town but we made our way through and on to St Charles Bridge. The views were beautiful and there were lots of people busking playing beautiful music, it had such a lovely vibe.

We exited the bridge and took a left to find the infamous John Lennon Wall. I didn’t really know what to expect from it but it was such a cool place, a guy was playing a guitar and singing The Beetles songs it was so fun. We then found a little restaurant on the side of the street for lunch and Ryan has his first beer of the holiday!

Imagine all the people…. who visited this wall!

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In the evening we went for sundowners at the Dancing Houses rooftop bar it was so chilled and had gorgeous views of the city. Along the river below we saw several boats moored up with bars on so we decided to take a wander. The whole length of the river had people sitting along drinking, eating, hopping in and off the boats it was such a fun place! We sat for a few more drinks, it was a lovely end to the day!         img_2029

Day 2

On our second day, we headed down to the river front, stopping in a little shop for some wine and beers on the way, and rented pedalos for an hour from Slovanka Boat Rental! This was one of the highlights of my time in Prague! It was so relaxing pedalling around the river, drinking wine and listening to music in the sun. We only paid CZK 300 (AED 49 / £10) for an hour and I would highly recommend this.

We then walked to a rooftop bar that Ryan had read about online called Tanker which was located above a shopping centre. The views were beautiful across the city and the food was lovely as well – this is definitely one of the hidden gems within Prague.

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One recommendation we received for our trip was to head to a bar called Vytopna for a drink. This bar was so cool and such a fun restaurant experience where your drinks are served by model trains. I was telling Ryan to drink his beers faster so another train could come down our track! The drinks were reasonably priced in comparison to the other bars we visited and there was a service charge of CZK 25 (AED 4 / £0.88) which is used for maintenance of the trains and tracks.

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For dinner that evening, we headed to a lovely tapas restaurant called The Bistro and sat outside in a quaint terrace garden. The dishes were lovely and designed for sharing so we ordered a selection including hummus, prawn tempura, pork dumplings and duck croquettes. The food really was delicious and the service was great.

Day 3

On our final day, we headed into the Old Town to join the free walking tour provided by Prague Airport Transfers company. The tour started at 11am and took us around the streets of the old town to begin. The tour was great and even though we had been wandering these streets for the last few days, it was great to learn the history of the buildings and Prague itself. We stopped for a quick lunch and met up with the tour group shortly after to continue the tour up to the Castle and St Vitus Cathedral. The tour ended at the top of the castle and we slowly made our way back down to the old town, stopping for beer and chimney cake ice cream on the way!

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A final bar that we wanted to visit was Lokal, a restaurant serving traditional Czech cuisine but the main attraction was, of course, the beer. Inside the pub was a huge beer tank whereby they brew their own beer. I’m not a beer drinker but was told this pub served some of the best beer in the world so I had to try it.

On our final evening we were so exhausted that we just walked to a little restaurant near our hotel and got an early night. We walked a total of 60,182 steps during our 3 days in Prague and I’m so glad I packed my blister plasters!!

What an amazing start to our mini Euro tour ❤️

Three years in Dubai

I’m slightly delayed with writing this post, but, on the 25th of May we celebrated our 3 year Dubai-nniversary! Three years! It is crazy how fast the time has gone.

To celebrate, we wanted to treat ourselves to a little staycation, somewhere that had an authentic Arabic vibe so we chose the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort. When I booked the stay, I didn’t actually realise it was a three hour drive from Dubai and almost on the border of Saudi!

The Qasr Al Sarab is possibly the most beautiful hotel I have ever stayed in, it is surrounded by nothing but vast desert and it felt so tranquil. The resort itself is located approximately 20 minutes away from the main road so it feels almost like you’re dune bashing on the drive up to the hotel! It was such a relaxing stay and I reflected on some of the amazing things we have had the opportunity to do since living here in the UAE, here are a few:

Skydive Dubai

I bought this as Ryan’s birthday present in 2015 and without really thinking about it, I purchased two tickets! I then thought shit I am going to have to do this now too! It was such an amazing experience and we were so lucky that the weather was perfect the day we jumped, you could see for miles! I would definitely recommend doing the skydive, I just wouldn’t advise doing brunch the day before!

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

I am so lucky to have an amazing group of friends that make weekends here so fun, but the best weekend of the year is the Abu Dhabi F1. In the two years I’ve been, I can’t say I have seen that many of the cars but we end up partying for the whole weekend and it’s such a great atmosphere there.

Dubai World Cup Horse Racing

It’s strange watching the horse racing and not being able to gamble, but the World Cup has such a buzz and it’s so nice to get properly dressed up for the races.img_5883-1

Dubai Opera

The Dubai Opera only recently opened in 2016 and as part of my Christmas present, Ryan bought us tickets to go and see the performance of Westside Story! I absolutely love the film and seeing it in the Dubai Opera theatre was so lovely. I am just holding out for Phantom of the Opera to do a tour over here because that is my absolute favourite West End show!

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Learning to ski in the Mall of the Emirates

So Ryan has previously skied quite a lot, I however had only been on one ski holiday and that’s when I was 15 at school. So for Christmas, Ryan bought me ski lessons at the Mall of the Emirates indoor ski slope. How crazy that I learnt to ski in the middle of the desert! The indoor ski slope is great and it actually has real snow so I had my ski lessons there right before we went to Georgia in February.

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Travelling

As I’ve said before, we try to maximise our holiday days as much as possible, so whenever there is a public holiday or long weekend, we try to get away. Since living in Dubai we have visited 10 countries (and counting)! We’ve done a safari in Kenya where I got to see eles in the wild – of course I burst into tears when I saw them! We’ve visited Sri Lanka twice for my birthday; we’ve also had holidays to Bali, Lebanon, Thailand, India, Philippines, Germany, Georgia and Nepal! Due to the central location of Dubai, it’s relatively easy to get around and you can usually be somewhere new and exotic within a few hours!

Making friends who feel like family

Living abroad is hard, and you don’t have the same support system as you do at home with your family, that’s why friends out here are so important because they really do turn into your family.

The past three years have had their challenges, but I wouldn’t change living here for the world. My time living in Dubai isn’t up yet!

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A Weekend in Kathmandu

We’ve just got back from a jam packed long weekend in Nepal – although if you saw the size of my suitcase you would have thought we were travelling for months! I was really unsure what to expect in Nepal, so here are my travel tips and a look into our weekend in the vibrant city of Kathmandu!

Visa Entry

If you are entering the country for less than 15 days, you can obtain your visa on arrival. The process is relatively easy you just fill out the entry card and then submit your information on the computers they have available – although half of these didn’t work so we had to queue for a while. You then have to pay $25 per person for the visa. We were advised to take cash to pay for the visa so we had $100 note however, because it was dated pre-2006, they would not accept it! We didn’t have any other money on us and were very reluctant to allow us to pay by credit card (I don’t know why!) But we finally paid by card and were able to pass through.

Accommodation

We stayed at the Kathmandu Guest House which offers free airport collection so our driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the airport. It took approximately 40-45 minutes to get to the hotel as the traffic was rather chaotic heading through the centre of Kathmandu. The hotel was relatively cheap, we paid around $125 for two nights with breakfast. I would highly recommend this hotel as it’s in a great location in the centre of Thamel which is buzzing part of Kathmandu and full of different bars, restaurants and is very tourist friendly.

What to wear

I’m usually fine with packing lightly but for this trip I felt like I had to pack so many options! Firstly, it was a very last minute trip (and when I say very last minute, I mean we booked 30 hours before travelling!) so I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. Secondly, I don’t know many friends who have travelled to Nepal before so it wasn’t as easy as just searching their Instagram to see what outfits they took with them!

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When travelling, I always like to be respectful of the culture and dress appropriately. I find throughout Asia there is a real mix of what is acceptable to wear and where – on the Thai islands you can wear beachwear but then you are required to cover knees / shoulders when visiting temples or local villages.

The vibe in Nepal is so chilled so I found myself wearing lounge trousers / ele pants for walking around and sightseeing which I just wore with a t-shirt. I also had  a few maxi dresses which I wore with a scarf/shawl which was also fine. It is advised when entering the temples that you cover your shoulders and knees so I just carried my scarf with me at all times in case I needed it. I did see some girls wearing denim shorts and vest tops around the town and no one seemed phased by it, I just think as long as you are respectful you can’t go far wrong.

Day 1

Annoyingly, our flight was delayed by 3 hours leaving Dubai, we were initially due to land at 9.30am but didn’t actually land until 12.30! So by the time we got to oimg_1169ur hotel we had missed our first morning so we had lots of making up to do. We booked a 3 hour walking tour with a company called Welcome to my Yard. WTMY are a non-profit organisation who work with young people and families in Kathmandu who may bit at risk and provide community based support, practical education and training schemes. The tour was excellent and our guide was so informative! We were picked up from our hotel and were taken all around the hustle and bustle Of Kathmandu Valley. We got to visit the markets, temples, Durbar Square, the Royal Palace and Museum. We had lassi and samosas for luncimg_1124h  from one of the street vendors which cost as little as 25 rupees (about 20p) – the street food was amazing and we would never have been able to find these places without our guide. We saw and learnt so much in the short 3 hours and I would definitely recommend using this company as the money goes towards helping the people of Nepal who need it most. You can find the organisation here: http://www.welcometomyyard.com/

Day 2

On our second day, we spent the day at Hotel Mystic Mountain for an incredibly relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu! We hired a driver to take us from the hotel to Nargarkot and up to Hotel Mystic Mountain for the day. We paid our driver 6,000 rupees and he waited for us the whole day before driving us back to Thamel. The drive was approximately 1 hour 45 each way on mountainous terrain but it was worth every second.

We visited on a Saturday and they have a deal whereby you pay 3,000 rupees per person for access to the swimming pool and facilities and also a 3 hour BBQ from 12-3 with a complimentary drink. The food was delicious and we had a great selection of meats from the BBQ which were cooked with Nepalese spices. They also had a Mongolian noodle section which were all made fresh and brought to you. The highlight of the hotel is the infinity swimming pool which overlooks the mountains and paddy fields and on a clear day you can see Mt Everest. We visited in June which is monsoon season but it only rained for 5 minutes during our stay but because of the weather it felt like we were up in the clouds. I would absolutely love to return to this hotel for a few nights to fully unwind and relax but would highly recommend a day trip here if you don’t have the time to stay.

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Day 3

We booked the Nepalese cooking experience very last minute, only the night before but the reservation process was really easy as it was all done online. But, this was possibly the highlight of our trip! It started with a trip to the market to buy the local produce for our dishes. We stopped in a spice shopimg_1338 where we could also purchase our own spices. We then took a rickshaw back to the cooking class. First of all we had masala tea which was lovely! We then made a variety of local dishes which all tasted great (if I do say so myself!) the young girls who taught the cooking class were so lovely and friendly and really made our experience authentic, teaching us local language and songs and were really knowledgeable regarding the local cuisine. For anyone looking to do this cooking class you should definitely arrive hungry because by the time we left we were stuffed full! We also received the recipes via email so we can hopefully recreate the food! The class is located just behind Kathmandu Guest House so is really central and easy to find, you can find them online here: http://www.nepalcookingschool.com/

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We decided to do a bit more sightseeing on our final afternoon and visited the Garden of Dreams for a coffee which was nice and relaxing. We then visited Swayambunath Stupa (aka Monkey Temple) where we walked the stairs to the top of the temple but didn’t have enough cash on us for us for tourist entry so had to walk back down again! But I loved being around all of the monkeys!

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After our very long and tiring day walking around the city, we found an Irish Bar to sit in and watch the football – well, Ryan sat and watched the football, I disappeared to have a foot massage which was definitely well deserved.

One thing that amazes me about the Nepalese is their resilience. Nepal was hit by an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude in 2015, the effects of that earthquake are still very visible in Nepal. Due to its geophysical location, it is predicted that Nepal will experience a magnitude 8 earthquake once every 80 years but still, the people in the community are working with the government to rebuild some of the temples and palaces that were destroyed by the earthquake. In Durbar Square we saw a group of women sat scrubbing the original tiles from the building which will be used once again to restore the building as close to its original design as possible.

This country has so much to offer and you can do anything from mountain treks to a safari or a yoga retreat! I loved our short stay in Nepal and would love to return one day as we only touched the surface!

Home v Holiday

With such a small number of annual leave days per year, it’s always hard deciding on how to use them! The trouble with living abroad is wanting to spend my annual leave days travelling to places around the world that I have easy access to… but also wanting to spend them coming home to visit family! It’s funny though, living away from home makes you realise all the small things that you really love and miss (obviously family and friends) but also silly things such as a sausage roll from Greggs and mums cooking!

I decided to book a long weekend trip back to the UK to visit family in April and it was so lovely to just spend the days chilling at home with family and popping round to see my grandparents, I just really wanted to spend as much time with family in those 5 days as possible. One of the highlights of my trip home was spending the morning alpaca walking with my mum! It was so lovely just being out in the countryside and we had so much fun with the alpacas!

I have been feeling quite homesick again lately and I hate not having trips booked home as I feel like I always want to count down the days to seeing my family again. Ryan and I have just booked another trip back home for the first week in July and I really am excited as I will be able to spend some time with his family also this time. I’m praying that the weather in the UK stays nice as I am looking forward to BBQs and the long summer evenings – that’s something that I really miss, living in Dubai. The sun sets really quickly over here and the latest sunset throughout the year is only around 7.30pm.

Living as an expat really is an amazing experience, and I am so lucky that we have the ability to travel to so many new and amazing destinations, but nothing compares to home comforts.

“It’s good to know that the ones you love will always be in your heart. And if you’re lucky, only a plane ride away.” – Carrie Bradshaw

The Dream that was the Philippine’s

We have recently returned from the most amazing trip to the Philippine’s, I was so sad for the entire 17 hour journey back to Dubai – and not just because Cebu Pacific didn’t have TVs on the flight!

We had a slightly hectic start to the trip, the first leg of the flight from Dubai to Manilla was around 9 hours, and we were due to arrive in Manilla with approximately 2 hours transfer time before our connecting flight. However, we were delayed by around an hour and a half leaving Dubai and by the time we landed in Manilla we had about 25 minutes to make our next flight.. in another terminal! Thankfully we only took hand-luggage with us and the queue at immigration moved pretty quickly.

We had read online beforehand that there is a free shuttle bus that you can take from the international terminal (Terminal 3) to the Domestic Terminal (Terminal 4) that comes every 30 minutes and can sometimes be delayed. So we grabbed a taxi instead – the yellow taxis are airport taxis and when you queue you will receive a token which outlines your taxi driver, taxi number plate and journey charges. To cut a long story short, we made it to the (closed) check in desk but because the flight had not started boarding they allowed us to check in and get on the flight – thank God because this was the last flight of the day and I really didn’t want to deal with the hassle of spending a night in Manilla and arranging a flight to Coron for the next morning!

So, the second leg of the journey was a short flight from Manilla to Coron which took around 45 minutes. The views as we flew into Coron were stunning, the scenery was so untouched it looked like we were flying directly into Jurassic Park! We had our hotel arrange a transfer which consisted of a 30 minute drive to one of the ports and then a 30 minute boat ride to our hotel; as you can imagine, by this point we were exhausted and couldn’t wait for a drink!

Coron – El Rio Y Mar

We, eventually, started our holiday by spending four nights at El Rio Y Mar which is a hotel on a small island off the coast of Coron. The hotel resort was the only thing on the island which was absolute bliss! From the very first moment we arrived on the island we were greeted with a warm welcome and a song from the staff and we knew that we had arrived in paradise! The staff were extremely friendly and couldn’t do enough for us during our stay. We had booked one of the cottages along the seafront, the room had a lovely rustic feel to it.

We spent the next day doing the Coron Islands Day Tour which was an excellent day exploring the beautiful islands and lakes of Coron. We visited Kayangan Lake, Barracuda Lake, Siete Picados Marine Park, Maquinit Hot Springs and Coron town – I will blog separately about the island hopping tours in Coron!

There was a short hiking trail around the back of the hotel which we walked one morning. There’s an easy route and a difficult route – or as the staff described “hard and harder”! We took the easy route and it only took 20 minutes at a very leisurely pace, whilst wearing flip flops.. The views from the top were beautiful and we could see the whole resort and more. On the walk back down we even saw a wild monkey which made my day!

We felt so relaxed at this resort, literally as if we were on Couple’s Retreat! They had plenty of equipment for activities that you could take out free of charge including paddle boards, kayaks and snorkelling gear. It was my first time paddle-boarding and I was motivated to stay on the board because we were advised that there had been sightings of box jellyfish close to the shore! I loved paddle-boarding and, unlike Ryan, I found I was quite a natural!

The staff could not do enough for us and the night before my birthday they gave me a birthday cake and sang happy birthday around our dinner table which was lovely. I felt so relaxed during my whole time at El Rio Y Mar I didn’t think the next stage of the holiday could top it…

Coron to El Nido

We travelled between Coron and El Nido on my birthday and although 4 hours of it was spent on a ferry, it was an adventure and something very different to my previous birthdays! We booked the ferry in advance online with Montenegro Shipping Ferrys which leaves from the pier just outside of Coron Town. The ferry cost around for £35 (1800pp) and I’m sure we could have haggled this down but we booked in advance online to ensure a seat as we were on quite a strict timetable.

When we arrived in El Nido we took one of the tricycles to the resort. The tricycle should be 50pp, we were quoted 100pp by the driver and instantly bartered the price down and he didn’t argue with this, so be sure to haggle!

El Nido – Mahogany Beach Resort

Thankfully we only had hand luggage with us as I don’t think we would have been able to fit in one tricycle with a suitcase each! The resort was about 10 minutes tricycle drive from the harbour and we stayed in a lovely cottage near the beach front. We had to give our breakfast order to reception the night before along with a time and this was brought to our terrace each morning as our wakeup call.

The resort did not have a restaurant but this was no problem at all because as you leave the resort onto the beach there are several restaurants either side (I will blog separately about all of the amazing restaurants we ate at during our stay in El Nido!).

We booked an island hopping day trip with Bay Breeze Travel and Tours, one of the local tour vendors along the beach front. We paid 6,500pp for a private day trip of the highlights from tours A and C which included: Seven Commandos Beach; Helicopter Island; Matinloc Shrine; Secret Lagoon beach; Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon.

As we were leaving Helicopter Island (named due to it’s resemblance to a helicopter?) we were lucky enough to see a turtle swimming in the sea! We didn’t have enough time to get our snorkel on and jump in as the anchor was already up but we were so excited as it’s the first time either of us have seen a turtle in the wild! Secret Lagoon Beach was one of the more unique islands we visited. The boat moored up at what looked like a mountain wall, we then had to swim through a small hole, you could keep your head above water to swim through, but when you got through to the other side the water was shallow and it had a hidden beach inside!

We also loved the small lagoon, which was our final stop of the day. You have to rent kayaks as the boats can’t fit through the lagoon. The water was so clear it was beautiful we could see starfish on the bottom of the sea floor! I would definitely recommend booking a private tour because it gives you more flexibility to spend as long as you want at each of the destinations.

When leaving, we took a flight from El Nido Airport. It took 30 minutes on a tricycle from Mahogany Beach and cost 350pp. I was so depressed for the whole 16 hours journey back to Dubai, I really did not want to leave! The Philippine’s has such a raw beauty, it feels completely untouched and I hope that it can stay this way. All of the restaurants / bars we came across used recyclable straws made of bamboo, none of them had plastic straws. Similarly with carrier bags, almost all of the vendors used paper bags which was refreshing to see. I would love to return and visit some of the other islands and also explore a bit more of El Nido.

International Women’s Day

I am lucky enough to work for a company that demonstrates its support for IWD and commitment to equal gender progression and has joined the IWD campaign by creating an international photography competition for individuals from offices around the World to submit a photo that represents gender equality. We have been encouraged to share photographs that represent progress to us personally, whether that is at work, in home life, or in wider society, so I wanted to share my picture and blog here.

Int Women's Day

This picture represents gender equality to me, for many reasons. Firstly, this picture was taken during my holiday to Thailand in August 2017 where I spent one week volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Chiang Mai. ENP is home to 73 elephants that have been rescued from terrible backgrounds, including the logging industry, tourist trekking, circuses and other abusive industries across Thailand. The founder of ENP is Lek Chailert, a truly amazing woman. Lek  began advocating for the rights and welfare of the Asian elephants in Thailand and her voice is now internationally recognized. In addition to several documentaries produced by National Geographic, Discovery, Animal Planet and the BBC, Lek has also won many honorary awards. Lek has dedicated her life to rescuing elephants and educating people on their interaction with elephants. Volunteers pay a fee to volunteer at ENP, this money goes towards food and accommodation for the volunteers and pays to maintain the elephant sanctuary.

During my week of volunteering, I was required to complete daily chores including shovelling ele poo; preparing the ele food and unloading trucks of bananas that were harvested by the local villagers. One afternoon, we were taken on a trip to one of the local schools, this gave the volunteers a chance to see what life is like for the children of the local hill tribe villages. Some children were making bracelets which volunteers were able to purchase for 10THB (AED 1.17 / GBP 0.20p), others were offering foot massages which they were also charging 10THB for. What struck me the most from the school visit, was the young girl in my photo. She took me aside and asked me to go through her English book with her and teach her some new words. She missed out the words that she already knew the pronunciation of, and instead selected new words for me to teach her. Even with all of the fun activities going on around us, she chose to use this time during our interaction, to develop her English reading and speaking skills.      

This photograph represents progress to me, demonstrated through the dedication and commitment that Lek has invested into creating a sanctuary for the rescued elephants, and the creation of the large charitable organisation that allows volunteers from around the world to visit and invest money into the surrounding hill tribe villages. Secondly, the young girl in this photo represents progress to gender equality through her desire to learn, develop and progress her education.