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And so it begins…

Well hello there dear reader, and welcome to my new page.

How are you? Did you have a good day? You’re here for a reason. Whether it’s because your my friend; you’re interested in travel, food, doing things; you’re bored at work or you accidentally clicked on this link. Whatever the reason, welcome! I hope I can help you – if you can’t find what you’re looking for, let me know and I’ll see what I can do for you.

So, this all began as a bit of a pipe dream, and I was encouraged by a very special person in my life. Someone whom could only see the good in me; all the potential. Thank goodness he saw something, as my life has become about documenting the interesting things that I love to do. I hope you enjoy them as much as me and that I can show you that anything is possible.

Do you want travel on the cheap? I’ll have some hints and tips.

Do you want to look at pretty pictures of food while reading reviews? I’ll try my best to provide.

Want to know what you should be doing in a certain city or country? Message me or leave a comment and between us, we’ll do our best to help you.

I am not good with the taking of pictures, but I love what I do, so please excuse the pictures and follow me on a journey around the world 😀

 

Featured post

York

Sorry for the radio silence, but I’ve been working 20 hour days in an English summer camp in Nottingham, England. Wow! I’ll have to tell you all about that another time, but for now I want to share with you a little of what my role entailed while I was there…

…organising excursions around the country for students…

On this occasion I’ll start with the first excursion I had to organise. It left me feeling hot and sweaty; more than a little stressed, and I did have to apologise later on for making an error. But, on learning from my mistakes, I would love to share with you a little about York and what I would recommend for a good day out. Once you’re done reading, I would love to hear your thoughts and learn some more about what you’ve been up to in York. Let’s get going, shall we.

York is in the north-west of England, and is an old Roman, walled city. It is very well equipped for tourists and people in general, with the shambles, an area of old shops and quaint little coffee shops. All roads appear lead to the Minster, the highlight of the city. If you’ve seen Harry Potter, you’ll remember Diagon Alley, then you’ll find yourself in the middle of your wildest dreams here.

Hopefully, you can see the similarities between the two. These dark and mystic streets are fit for the Harry Potter movies and I can see why it evoked such need to be included. Walking up the shambles, it feels as if all roads lead to the Minster.

It feels as if it is hidden in amongst the surrounding buildings, but still manages to impose itself on you once you get to it. It’s big and strong as well as being delicate and intricate. I feel as if you can stare at it for hours and still not see everything. My parents have been a few times and still find new aspects of it when they go. Walking inside, you’ll find yourself going from the big, bright building to this dark, comforting building inside. It’s huge, and yet peaceful. We allowed the students to have some free time, and they found out some interesting facts. Most were fascinated by the stain-glass windows. They are mind-blowing! Just go! Look! See for yourself.

After being cultured it’s great to just get out into the shops and fill your mind, eyes and belly with all there is to offer. The local markets offer good quality, homemade knickknacks. As you walk the streets, you’ll smell gourmet fish and chips, burgers out of a burger van, Arabic fish sandwiches, and cream teas. During their free time, a lot of the students made it to Betty’s Tea Room for cream teas and shopping.

bettys

I mean, look at that! It’s such a quintessential aspect of British culture and I don’t know anyone who hasn’t enjoyed it! After they finish, they usually end up spending a lot on gifts for friends and family, including biscuits, scones and different types of tea.

Other Things to do in York

I’ve told you a couple of things we managed to do with a group of 280 foreign students, but there is so much more to get your teeth into, check out the city’s website for more day-by-day, week-by-week information. For example, there’s the Yorvik Centre, a Viking centre showing off the history of the city in a fun and engaging manner. It’s been flooded this year, so we weren’t able to visit, but I have only heard good things about it. It’s reopening in 2017, so go and see for yourselves.

Everywhere you turn there is another church or an old building to see. You don’t have to pay to enter a lot of these places, but each one will offer you something different from the last. If the weather is good, take a stroll over to the York Museum Gardens and fill your senses with 10 acres of greenery. The River Ouse is nearby, so you can take your packed lunch and a Pimms and enjoy life as it passes you by. There are garden tours every Sunday and the observatory is open every Thursday and Saturday between 11:30am and 2:30pm. Such a shame these days don’t coincide with you the tours, but if the weather is good, a stroll will suffice.

Right, well, I believe I’ve given you more than enough to do on your day out, apart from a good pub to visit – but I’ll need some of your own suggestions for that one! Being on an excursion with teenagers doesn’t give one much time for frequenting pubs; but I’m open to suggestions for next time!

Have you been to York, where else would you suggest? Did you have a particularly good experience? Or, a rather nasty one? How did you find the weather? What was your favourite part? Do share…

Zaytoni, Dubai

Zaytoni

 

Where: The Dubai Mall, Dubai, UAE (exact location here)

When: 30th May 2016 – dinner

Style of food: Lebanese Armenian

Style of restaurant: A good, clean, stylish restaurant.

Why: I wanted my friend to experience some authentic Arabic food while we were in the Middle East.

 

A friend of mine came to visit me in the Middle East and we both thought Dubai would be the perfect spot to meet up. I flew in from Riyadh and he took the long and slightly boring flight with BA to get him into Dubai at the same time as me on Thursday night. For me Dubai is a very liberal place where men and women can meet in public, women don’t have to wear abayas and you can find anything and everything you might ever need. For him it was an insight into the culture I have been experiencing since I arrived in Saudi. The smallest snippet of an interesting insight. We had high hopes for Dubai and in many ways we weren’t let down, but find out more here.

 

What I really want to write about is this super awesome restaurant in the Dubai Mall that we found, and were not let down by! Zaytoni is a Lebanese Armenian restaurant with a menu that doesn’t send you running in horror. It was set up in a clear, ordered manner, with cold dishes, hot dishes, sandwiches etc so we could easily decide what we wanted.

 

I order for us, as I wanted my friend to get a good sense of the food. Our order:

Cold Mezze:

Hummous

Matabal

Baba ghanoush

Taboulah

Unlimited pita (to see me attempt at pita, click here!)

 

Hot Mezze:

Grilled mushrooms, peppers, and tomato with halloumi

Fried stuffed olives with cheese

Fried kibbah

 

Drinks:

Lemon mint

 

Service: The service was superb. I like to ask questions about the food and see what each waiter knows and what they would recommend. The waiter did not let us down. He explained what was in each dish and commented on any changes we might like to make.

Food: We loved most of the food. The baba ghanoush was very garlicky, which we liked. Everything was well cooked and absolutely delicious. It was to cheesy for both of us, and we would have preferred the meat version of kibbah, but that means we can go back and try it again!

Favourite part: Well, apart from the company of my friend, I would say the whole of the cold mezze was both of our favourites.

Can be improved: The hot mezze! I know the mezze is just a small taste, in essence a little snack or appetiser, but I wish it was better. The best part was the grilled mushrooms, peppers, tomato and halloumi, but I think something like shawarma, or manti and some meat kibbah instead of cheese kibbah. However, that’s just personal preference.

Returnability: Would we go back to this restaurant? Sure! The waiters were excellent and the food was delicious!

 

Have you eaten here? Did you like it as much as we did? Why or why not?

The Aquarium, Dubai

Where: The Dubai Mall, Dubai, UAE

When: 29th May 2016

Type of attraction: Aquarium and Underwater Zoo in the middle of a huge mall.

Why: Well, why wouldn’t you want to go to a huge aquarium!?

Price: 120 AED each (£23) for three sections of the aquarium

 

This is one of the few things my friend and I decided on before we went for our weekend away. I thought we might struggle to find the aquarium, but then how hard would it be to find a huge aquarium in the middle of a mall? Now, the Dubai Mall is HUGE. We spent about 12 hours there on the Friday and still didn’t see everything!

 

There are a lot of options and activities to do in the aquarium, and there are a lot of happy looking fish. We chose to do the tunnel, underwater zoo, simulator and boat ride for £23! It was pretty busy, especially in the tunnel and underwater zoo, but once we made it up to the simulator it was way better. It was an interesting experience and I’m glad we did it.

 

Service: The staff were very friendly and helpful at all times.

Favourite part: The penguins or the crocodiles, perhaps the sharks. Animals in general I would say.

Can be improved: Signposting! It was very easy to get lost and we had to back track a little to get where we needed to be. The staff were always there to point us in the right direction though, but a guy and his daughter made their way to the underwater zoo to be told that he needed to buy a ticket all the way two floors down at the front desk, so he had to back track to resolve this.

Returnability: I wouldn’t go back unless I was going to do the dive, but then I would prefer to do that in open water. But, you should go!

Have you been here? What did you think? What was your favourite part of Dubai?

Weekend Trip to Bahrain

Overview

A couple of weekends ago my housemate, our friend and I went to Bahrain for a bit of an escape from Saudi and for my housemate’s birthday. We flew at about 6pm on the Thursday night, landing at 7:15pm. I hired a car for our weekend as we thought it would be cheaper and freer than getting taxis everywhere (as it turned out, for silly reasons, it was not – ie accidents!). Our car rental was through Budget Rentals and we were provided an upgrade for our duration. Check out the section below for more details about our ‘experience’ with them! We stayed at Somerset Al Fatah Hotel in Manama, about 20 minutes away from the airport. I am so surprised at how close everything is in Bahrain! During our stay we went to a couple of bars, a couple of malls, and the museum (my favourite part). Here’s how the trip broke down:

 

Thursday Night

Random Irish Bar

We went to an Irish bar near our hotel that was playing live music. I have to admit I can’t remember the name and I sure as gosh wouldn’t go back there. I didn’t think the atmosphere was that friendly, but each to their own. We had one drink and decided that this wasn’t the place for us, so we moved on…

 

Sherlock Holmes Bar

We got a taxi (about £6) to Sherlock Holmes Bar, which is next to the Golf Hotel. The atmosphere in this bar was much nicer and didn’t feel as daunting (remember living in Saudi means we get out of practice of the bar scene). We ordered some food, which was all pretty British but nothing to write home about, and set about enjoying our cocktails. We spotted that the next night was salsa night, and used that we should make our way back to get our dancing shoes on. The cocktails were flowing and we had a great time before making our way back to the hotel.

 

Friday

Breakfast

We had a leisurely morning, as should be had in Bahrain, and took ourselves off to breakfast at the hotel. It had all the usuals of warmed up croissants, toast, cereal, some bread and meats, a small Asian breakfast section and an omelette station. It was adequate for our requirements, but nothing special.

 

Bahrain National Museum

Now, this is a museum. There are lots of reviews here, if you care to take a look, but honestly I’m going to tell you to just GO! The exhibits are comprehensive and have brilliant English translations; in fact they might be the best I have come across yet! There weren’t that many people around, so I never felt as if I was being shuffled, bumbled or pushed around. There was a lot of information about history, culture and country. After finishing the ground floor, we made our way to the café, which was a delight to the senses. They had an aroma of fresh cinnamon sticks and vanilla. It was so calming and kind. The staff were friendly and very helpful and the pieces of cake were huge. We all had a drink and some cake to sustain us for the rest of the day. After this the others were done with the museum (I think I could have stayed there for the rest of the afternoon) so I quickly peeked the Spitfire exhibit and joined them outside for some fun photos with different statues and a rather uncomfortable stone ‘sofa’!

 

Bab Al-Bahrain Souq

Have a look here for any reviews there are. It comes up at the fifth most popular thing to do in Bahrain, but I have to say, I was not convinced. Of course markets are dirty and sometimes smelly, but the atmosphere was not comfortable or inviting. We saw some stunning abayas that we would never get away with wearing in Saudi, though. And while I was tempted to shell out the overpriced money for one, I thought that it simply wasn’t worth it. Possibly because it was a Friday, there were only men around, which meant lots of stares (something we’re all used to by now) but it just isn’t a place I would recommend going to.

 

Central Mall

This was a quick pit stop in order to pick up movie snacks and water for the aparthotel. The mall was packed and parking was a nightmare. We did, however, pick up some interesting chocolate in Carfour. It was dark chocolate with lemon and black pepper – I have searched Amazon to no avail; but I will find that chocolate and write a whole post just on it! Yes, it was that good!

 

Bennigans

Situated about a kilometre away from Somerset Al Fatah, it was a hot but enjoyable walk. We didn’t have to don our abayas while in Bahrain, so it was much more comfortable walking around in the heat and humidity. This Bennigans is next to Cucina Italiana, which looked beautiful but we wanted to go for the down and dirty American bar rather than civilised cuisine 😉 The aircon was playing up in the non-smoking section so we wondered into the smoking section and ordered our first round of drinks. I would have to say that the cocktails were nothing more than juice, but the Hogarten was solid. We ate there as well, ordering ribs for myself while the others had veggie fajitas. Everyone was happy with the food. It was nothing to write home about, but it was a good solid meal for the night ahead of us. We didn’t stay long after finishing our food as the drinks were weak and we were ready to try something else. We found a taxi and made our way back to Sherlock Holmes.

 

Salsa Night at Sherlock Holmes

We arrived very early, so we shared an overpriced bottle of wine, that was actually pretty delicious, followed by a few cocktails, as the night headed into itself. We played Scrabble and cards and then finally the salsa stared. We moved closer to the action and watched and drank a little before the other two were whisked onto the dance floor for some action. Sherlock holds these nights every week and pays teachers to come and teach others how to salsa. It wasn’t traditional salsa, but bachata that they were doing, but it was fun all the same. After a while it was my turn and I was whisked to the floor by a small Filipino man, whose name escapes me at this present moment. We got chatting while talking and he told me he’d lived in Bahrain for 17 years and works as an accountant. He likes his job but dancing is his passion, and boy was he a good teacher. Before long we were twisting and moving and laughing. It was brilliant. The music changed to a group dance, and I was told not not leave the floor but to join in with the group. It was hilarious and so much fun. I never envisioned an evening like the one we had. When I’ve been to salsa evenings in Spain before it was a lot more serious, so having a light-hearted evening of dance was perfect.

 

After a while I was relinquished of my noble steed and placed back on my stood for another fresh cocktail. I looked up after a deep drink to find my two companions surrounded by Saudi men. This is where the evening really gets interesting. In Saudi it is very rare and inappropriate to speak to people of the opposite sex in public. So, while I have had very brief conversations with men who have helped me with something here or there, I have never had the opportunity to actually speak to them properly. I had joined at a good time, when they were being asked all sorts of questions about why they visit Bahrain, where their wives were, how often they come over, what their opinions of westerners and western women are, and all sorts of other probing questions. The answers were interesting, if not a little too long-winded, but I was glad to have met them.

 In the early hours of the morning we made our way back to our aparthotel and crashed for the night.

 

Saturday

Well, none of us were really up in time for breakfast, not that we were hungry. We relaxed all morning; one of us sleeping, the other listening to music and pottering around and me watching Spiderman on the huge TV in the living room. I contacted another friend who just so happened to be in Bahrain at the same time we were there, and arranged a little meet up in the mall in the afternoon before driving to the airport to fly back to Riyadh.

 

Seef Mall

We found parking pretty easily on the top floor of the parking, out in the sun. I didn’t mind as it was less crowded and easy to park out there. We made our way through the mall the Starbucks and ordered and waited patiently. It was a nice place to people watch and enjoy the sights and sounds of normal people going about their daily business. It is so different from Saudi that I could not stop myself from watching and men and women interacted and look at the stunningly colourful abayas that the ladies were wearing. We met my friend and went to the food court for some Just Falafel – yum!

 

Manama Airport

I have to say the airport is well laid out and easy to get around. But enough about that – we found a bar! Yes! After some car issues I needed something to calm my nerves and we found a bar! It is hidden on the upper floor of the airport, opposite the drinks duty free area, near the Costa. If you walk away from Costa toward the Italian restaurant and keep going a few more metres, there is a set of lifts ust after the bathrooms that take you up to the bar and restaurant. Enjoy 😉

 

Review of the bigger things:

Somerset Al Fatah

We got a hotel apartment as there were three of us. It had a beautiful open kitchen dining room, living room arrangement that would have made it the perfect place to stay for a week or two if you were inclined. From the balcony you could see a harbour where a few water sports were being played and jet skis could be spotted splicing through the water. There was a spacious bathroom with a shower (with a leaky door so the whole floor became a puddle), a double bedroom and then another double room with an en suite. The en suite had a bathtub with water jets so you could make yourself a little spa (music and candle optional). Oh, I have to tell you about the beds. The beds! The beds! They were like cushions that enveloped you like a soft warm bear hug and cradled you until you fell into one of the most delicious sleeps of your life. The pillows did not disappoint either. I would pay for those beds alone. Not too hard, not too soft; in fact, maybe they should be called the Goldilocks of beds!

 As well as all of this, the hotel sports a very basic breakfast buffet (free), an outdoor swimming pool, a nice outdoor area where you could spend the evening reading and relaxing if it so took your fancy, a gym, yoga room, a film and book swapping or borrowing area and lots of friendly messages left around for people. I would have to say it was a happy place and one that we all wished we could have spent more time exploring.

 The only real downside was the construction. This is a very up and coming area that sported a couple of building sites nearby. With the windows closed we could still hear some bits and pieces but the construction noises were a little too noisy for open windows. Especially after a night of drinking!

 I would definitely recommend this place for some quality down time. It’d be a great place for the family as well; lots of space and things to do. Although, it might be a little expensive if you use taxis to get around.

 

Car Rental

Honestly, the car they gave us was not all that good. It was a little banged up, which didn’t bother me too much until I bumped into another car while reversing and the back bumper buckled and broke. There was barely a scratch on the other car.  I was backing out slower than usual as the way the Saudi’s drive around car parks in Bahrain was awful and I thought I would have to stop suddenly. So, imagine my surprise when my bumper basically disintegrated. Honestly, I believe it was not my bad driving so much as the car being old, battered and bruised Honesty meant that I had to pay almost £300 in repair costs for the bumper. To top it all off, the guys at the rental counter tried to insinuate that I had done more damage to the car, until I reminded them that I had filmed the car when we took it out for rental and if they wanted to charge me for damage that someone else had done then I wouldn’t be paying for anything. They quickly apologised and I paid them the money for the bumper. So, women beware. People beware. Take videos and pictures of the car you are renting. And always file a police report if something happens (we didn’t have time) to avoid hassles like this. In fact, spend the few pounds more and go with a more reputable company like Sixt – never had a problem with them at all!

  

Have you been to Bahrain or anywhere mentioned in the blog. Would you recommend anything in particular? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve stated? Why? Please share…

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