Category Archives: Trips away

My time in Dubai

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So back in September I went to Dubai for a week, the main reason for my visit was to hang out with my friends Farida and Jeremy and their baby Layla. I’ve known them both for many years and I used to live with them ‘back in the day’. They have been living abroad for 3/4 years and recently relocated to Dubai, so I thought it was about time I visited them and saw a little bit of the Middle East.

Since telling people I was going to Dubai quite a few people have  rolled their eyes and asked if it’s as superficial as it is portrayed. I was well aware of these views before I went and to be honest if friends were not living there it’s unlikely I would have gone, BUT I absolutely loved it there. One week is a long time to spend there and ideally 3-5 days  would do fine, but I was happy to have as much time as possible catching up with Farida as we hadn’t since each other for three years. September is still super hot in Dubai with temperatures in the 40’s and humidity between 50-80%, but everywhere is air conditioned and I found it manageable most of the time, though I expect some people would not be comfortable with these conditions.

As I had a 10 hour overnight flight my first day was spent resting and chilling, though in the evening we did go to Ladies night at the Pure Lounge on 35th floor of the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah Residences. The deal at the Pure Lounge is free pink drinks (fizz and cocktails) from 9-11pm for all ladies. As we were eating there we could access the free drinks from when we arrived which was definitely a bonus. The food we had there was nice, I found the portion size quite small, so we ordered a few dishes and shared, the dessert was the stand out feature though, crème brulee with Pandam leaf. I really enjoyed it here, the vibe was great, there was a big terrace to hang out on and it was a nice,friendly crowd of people.

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For my whole trip I was completely relaxed and not bothered about running round and seeing everything. I was quite happy to lounge by the pool, cook lovely food, chat and drink wine.  A standout meal for me in Dubai was at the Boardwalk restaurant  which is part of Dubai Creek Golf Club it was one of those nights with great food and company and afterwards we went for shisha and mint tea. We also went for afternoon tea at The Palace Hotel.   Dubai has lots of afternoon tea options, we choose this one purely on the basis that it was a 10 minute walk away, but it proved to be a good choice. The Palace Hotel is beautiful and a perfect surrounding for  afternoon tea, I  decided to opt for the Arabic inspired afternoon tea, which contained many baked delights I hadn’t tried before like cardamon and saffron scones and rose-infused cheesecake.

Lounging in the pool with LaylaTea selection at The Palace HotelArabic dessertsAfternoon tea group

It wasn’t all gadding about eating and drinking in fancy restaurants though. We drove to Abu Dhabi one day to visit the Grand Mosque, had breakfast on the beach in front of the Burj al Arab and I visited Dubai museum along with the gold and spice souk and took a boat ride on the creek. Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi IMG_5853Dubai MuseumBreakfast on the beachOne of the highlights of my trip was having for an Emerati breakfast at the Emerati cultural centre. In Dubai I was overwhelmed by how British it felt, this is largely due to the amount of expats and at times it feels like a home from home with lots of British shops and brands. For me my favourite part of travelling is meeting local people and learning about their culture and traditions. The Emerati cultural centre hosts a breakfast where you can eat a typical Emerati breakfast (dates, dungaw, balaleet, chabab and khamir) while eating you are given a talk about different aspects of Emerati culture and invited to ask questions. It’s a very friendly and open atmosphere and I learned a great deal and enjoyed this experience.

Fiona at Emerati cultural Centre

As Farida’s apartment was only a ten minute walk from the Burj Khalifa there was no was I couldn’t go up the tallest building in the world. We decided to go up at sunset which is great to see, but not really the best conditions for getting good photographs as when the light goes you have to rely on the flash, which I don’t particularly like using and doesn’t work well against glass.  It’s crazy busy when you get up there, in my opinion they let too many people go up and getting to the window to get a photo requires some effort, but the views are breathtaking. One of my favourite things about Dubai was the architecture and amazing skyline. I felt completely overwhelmed and in awe driving in on my first day, for me it felt like I was entering a futuristic metropolis.

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On my last day I went sand duning in the desert. Before I came to Dubai I met a few people who had visited and this activity was recommended to me. I booked my trip through Fun Tours, who I thought were good and reasonably priced. The tour includes pickup from your location, sand duning for 20-30 minutes then you are taken to a desert camp for a meal, camel ride, henna painting, and entertainment. To be honest I would have been happy with just the duning as the rest of the experience is very cheesy, but I knew what to expect so just embraced it. As we were duning a massive storm began and we were wizzing over the dunes with lightening striking around us which was both fun and a little scary.

sand duning in Dubai Fiona in the desert in Dubai

All in all I had a great time in Dubai. Believe me I know that Dubai isn’t great for everyone and have read many articles on the pros and cons of visiting.  But overall it exceeded my expectations and I had a fantastic trip.

Dubai 2014

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Summer fun

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It’s getting colder at night now, I can no longer wear sandals and I’ve taken to carrying a cardigan around with me. I’m sad to admit it, but it seems Summer is over. With that in mind I thought I would have a little photo review of my highlights from this Summer. To be honest it has felt like nothing big has happened  and I have just meandered along, but looking through these photos reminds me that I actually did more than I thought. In no particular order here are my highlights..

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My friend Kyle came and visited me again recently. He was staying in an Airbnb place and I went round to check it out and we found some animal heads hidden in a cupboard, as expected we couldn’t resist putting them on and staging a photo. Afterwards we went down to the beach and had a bonfire, burnt table legs and cooked marshmallows. All in all a lovely smokey evening.

ruth and fiona

At the end of July my childhood best friend Ruth got married at Yarlington House in Somerset. It was a beautiful day and setting and great to see lots of old friends who I haven’t seen for a long time. As you can see Ruth looked beautiful too.

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My friend Hülya and I have developed a tradition where on the World Cup final we paint our faces with the flags of the countries in the final and go and watch the game. I’m not a big football fan, but I got into it more this year and it was fun to watch it on the outdoor cinema screen on the beach, even if we did have to sneak under the fence.

Farida, Layla and Fiona Hornimen garden July 2014

I was so happy to meet up with my friend Farida and her daughter Layla, I hadn’t seen Farida since her Wedding day three years ago as she has been living abroad. We had a lovely afternoon in the Horniman Museum gardens chilling out and catching up. One afternoon wasn’t nearly enough time to catch up, so it was a good job I went to Dubai to visit her recently.

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I usually like to make a big deal about my birthday with lots of organisation and forward planning, but this year I was happy to go out for a lovely Mexican meal at Carlito Burrito with lots of tequilla followed by dancing till the early hours. Smiles all round.

Burger in Barcelona

This year I’ve visited Barcelona four times as Daniël has been based there. To be honest I’ve not done much tourist related stuff over there, but have enjoyed hanging out, drinking good coffee, gin and cava and eating lots of food. The above picture shows me enjoying a lovely burger at Pim Pam burger.

Tilda and cone

The above picture shows me almost being speared with an icecream cone by my God daughter Matilda because I attempted to lift her up. Overall she enjoyed her trip to Brighton, but she certainly likes to do things on her own terms.

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Finally I’m recalling Brighton Pride it was my forth pride (I think) and to be honest I find it a little sad how corporate and commercial it has become in a short space of time. Each year the parade seems to be much smaller and full of supermarkets marching, promoting their goods. But as you can see from the picture we still managed to enjoy ourselves and have a good time.

It’s been nice recalling all of these events from the Summer, I’m sure I missed some out, but oh well.

Bluebell Railway

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Every time my mum visits me we always try to plan action-packed, busy days which usually include visiting attractions, lots of walking and lovely food. For a few years we have been wanting to visit the Bluebell Railway, but as we could only get there via public transport logistics have always stopped us going. But as of March 2013 the line was extended to East Grinstead which makes it much easier to access via public transport, so from Brighton we were able to get a bus there.

For those of you who don’t know the Bluebell Railway is a heritage line where you can ride steam trains through preserved stations in East Sussex. My mum was visiting with her friend Judy, and on Saturday morning we all got up early and caught the bus to East Grinstead station. After getting a coffee in the converted carriage cafe we got a single ticket and rode the line through Kingscote, Horstead Keynes and got off at Sheffied Park. All of these stations are beautiful to see as they have been restored to how they would have looked when the stations were operating. At Sheffield Park we were able to go round a fantastic and informative museum and enjoyed some very interesting demonstrations on the steam train and in the signal box. I definitely know a few more things about trains than I did before. Sheffield park is a great station with a well stocked gift shop and very nice restaurant and ice cream stall. We all found the prices very reasonable, as sometimes at attractions refreshments can be very overpriced.

From Sheffield Park I was expecting to have to get a taxi to Lewes, but the staff at Bluebell informed me there was a bus we could get, so we saved a lot of money. All in all we had a fantastic day. It was great to be able to reach an attraction that had been on my radar for a while and the experience of it far exceeded my expectations.

Converted carriage cafeTickets for the railwayTrain signOn the trainold bike at Horstead KeynesTrains at Sheffield ParkSteam trainMe!Signal boxTrain in station

Dieppe

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For years I’ve been wanting to get the ferry over from Newhaven to Dieppe, but for various reasons it never materialised until this weekend. A few months ago my friend Sally and I made a pact to go together and managed to organise it very quickly and more important cheaply.

The ferry crossing takes four hours and cost us just £30 return as foot passengers. We had a very calm and relaxing crossing and it really didn’t feel like it took too long. As we were on the 8:30 am ferry we arrived by 1:30 pm so it was nice to have a lazy afternoon to get our weekend started.

Sally and I both had the same agenda for Dieppe; eating, drinking and lounging round the town. This fitted in perfectly with the location and cozyness of the apartment. It seems like alot of people arrive in Dieppe then immediately drive on to another destination, but it really is worth sticking around and exploring. We spent our days dipping in and out of cafes and restaurants, walking up to the castle, swimming in the outdoor swimming pool and wandering around the town.

A high point of our stay was the apartment we stayed in which we found through airbnb. It was the first time I have used them and we were both thoroughly impressed. Though we were super lucky with the hosts we had, Jean-Marc and Dominque were so friendly and helpful towards us. They picked us up from the ferry, gave us a tour of the town and left lovely local treats for us to try in their amazing apartment. Usually when you stay in accommodation when on holiday it’s pretty sparse and lacks any individual character. But this place was a treasure trove of artifacts, trinkets, and collectables all presented in a stylish manner with an amazing lighting system! Each day I would find myself looking at something new which I had previously missed. 

On our last day rain prevented us going on our planned trip to Rouen, so we stayed in watching French films, eating left over cassoulet that we had made the night before along with Neufchâtel (Normandy soft, crumbly cheese) and bread and more wine!

All in all we had a superb trip, I wasn’t expecting to like Dieppe as much as I did and will definitely be going back at some point.

 

On the ferry to Dieppe          timer onSnacksbeautiful building in Dieppewine glasses doubleView of DieppePanoramaCassoletseeing double 

Diana

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I got my first roll of Diana mini film back the other day. I was rather disappointed that 10 of my pictures didn’t turn out as they were underexposed, but the ones that did turn out I really liked. The pictures were mainly taken in Tarragona, which is a port town about an hour away from Barcelona. It’s a beautiful place with a lovely cathedral and cobbled streets. A great spot for a wander and lunch if you fancy getting out of Barcelona.

0820_0010821_0010819_0010817_001All the tips I have read about the Diana have said that the best results come from shooting on a bright sunny day and this is definitely true. See the picture below I took of the swimming pool below for evidence of this.0814_001
One of the best features of the camera is the half frame option which is pretty self explanatory giving you a split picture.0813_001 0810_001 0809_001Though the best thing about the Diana is the ‘happy accidents’ no idea how the photo below came about, but I love it!0812_001I really like the fact that the pictures look quite aged like they were taken in the 80’s and at the minute I’m definitely more interested in using film cameras as opposed to digital ones. These pictures were taken with 400 ISO film, which I will be using again while I get used to using the camera and mastering different techniques. I will be paying more attention to the focal length setting I use in the future, obviously the point is not to get super sharp results, but I’m keen to see what kind of a difference it makes. I also want to experiment more with double exposures.

 

 

Catching up..

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Argh, I’m poor at keeping up with blogging!  The major change for me that happened a couple of weeks ago is I have finally moved house! This is such an utter relief for me after living in a pretty dire house with awful flatmates for far too long, I have finally managed to find a lovely new place, so am focused on staying positive, moving forward and achieving lots for the rest of this year.

It seems ages ago now, but here are a few things i’ve been up to and enjoying over the past few months.

Love Late Brighton

At the beginning of February in a break between the rain me and my friend Hülya popped to a late night event at Brighton museum called ‘Love Late’. Forcing ourselves to go out in the near continuous rain was a real challenge, but as soon as we got in the door I knew the journey had been worth it. The evening was organised around the theme of Love in view of Valentines day approaching. There were talks about the history of the ‘dirty weekend’, drop in screen printing classes, salsa classes, a big screen showing of Casablanca and a talk from Emily Dubberley about her new book; Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Women’s Sexual Fantasies. For us the best part of the evening was that we could enjoy all of this in costume from the fancy dress box. I have no idea what look I was going for, but think we both, especially Hülya look fantastic. Right before we left we discovered a secret room with a silent disco, so had a quick dance before we left. My only criticism would be I wish the event could have gone on longer, I could have easily stayed till the early hours of the morning, but I’ll remember to get there earlier next time.

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Fondue

After receiving a fondue set for Christmas from my boyfriend’s parents I’ve been getting quite into it. Here is the UK we rarely fondue, I guess it’s seen as being fairly kitch and retro. But since getting this set I’ve organised three fondue parties and everyone loves it. Though to me cheese with bread and wine is a pretty fail-safe combination. I will do a separate post on the set and recipe I use as I’m tweaking it each time I do a party.

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Arundel

In January as part of my bid to get out and about more me and my friend Sally decided to take a trip to Arundel, which is a small town in West Sussex, about 18 miles or just over an hour on the train from Brighton. We spent most of the afternoon looking around the town, popping into antique shops,and having a walk round Arundel park to Hiorne Tower. After all of this we needed a massive roast, a pint of cider and an open fire, luckily we came across The Eagle which fulfilled all of these requests.

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Camera mad.

I’ve gone a bit camera mad lately. For Christmas I receives a Fujifilm Instax 7S which has been on my wish list for a while. This camera is an instant camera that produces credit card sized pictures. The film is not too expensive and easy to get hold of. Mainly for me this is a fun camera to take shots on and share with people. It’s very simple to use and has just four settings (sunny, fine, cloudy, indoors) rather annoying it does flash every time you use it, but I guess you can cover the flash with tape. I’m looking forward to displaying the pictures in interesting ways when I have enough.

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Diana mini

Again I’ve been lusting after one of these for a while but couldn’t justify buying one last year. Luckily they went into the Urban Outfitters sale so no excuses for it not to go into my basket. The Diana mini, is a 35 mm camera where you take square format pictures and also half frame pictures. I’ve read a lot of the camera but really it’s a camera you have to experiment with and see how the film turns out when it’s developed. All those retro lomo filters you see on instagram essentially try to recreate what the Diana mini does. I took this camera with me on my recent trip to Barcelona and am waiting for the film to be developed, my fear is that everything will come out overexposed, but I will just have to wait…

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Olympus OM-2

A couple of weeks ago a work colleague gave me his old Olympus OM-2 SLR camera. I’d been saying for a while that I wanted to acquire an old manual SLR in order to hone my skills. With digital photography you can really get in the habit of taking loads of pictures and not really think about the mechanics of what makes a good picture. I haven’t used this camera at all yet, but am hoping to use it within the next few weeks.

So that’s been some of the highlights from me for the past few months.

 

Las Vegas: The big trip part 1

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So two weeks after getting back from my crazy two and a half week whirlwind trip to Vegas and Chile I am finally starting to feel like a functional human being again.  A twenty-four hour journey back caused me to have the worse jetlag I have ever experienced in my life, but it was worth it. I’m hoping to write a few posts about my trip mixed some update posts and try to be a bit more regular with my blog posts but we will see…

My trip consisted of six days in Las Vegas followed by nine days in Chile. A strange combination you may ask, but the Vegas trip was in the planning stages for four years. A couple of friends and I who I met through gapyear.com decided to go to Vegas four years ago, as we all turned 30 around the same time. Unfortunately when it came to it only one of them was able to follow through with the booking, so the trip became something different to what was originally planned, other people came along and the actual experience was very different from what I thought it be would be mainly due to circumstances that I couldn’t control.  Nevertheless I was determined that I was going to do everything that I wanted to in Vegas.

I was lucky enough to stay in the Bellagio for the first three days of my stay, which is probably the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in. As I knew the accommodation for the rest of my trip would be fairly basic, shared dorm rooms I appreciated the room and made sure to have plenty of baths in the massive bath tub, lounge by the pool and generally relax in the room when I could.

I’d actually forgotten how long the strip is, in your head you imagine it to be quite walkable, but in reality from one end to the other you’re looking at a walk of around 4.5 miles. So take your walking shoes with you or pop on the deuce bus.  Which is probably the better option in the intense Vegas heat.

I thought I would share some of my favourite parts of the trip with you to give you an idea of what I got up to and provide some inspiration if you’re thinking of heading over there soon.

Taking in the show

On this trip I was determined to take in a show, I even put some money aside beforehand to make sure I would follow through with this. When you get to Vegas there are loads of shows to choose from covering acrobatics, comedy, burlesque, music and everything in-between. But I knew beforehand that I wanted to see a Cirque du Soleil show, it was just deciding which one as they pretty much saturate Vegas with over 8 shows. This site explains all the different shows, in the end I went with Mystere, mainly because it was the cheapest show. You can buy tickets directly from your hotel but I found Vegas.com had tickets with really big discounts.

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Pinball Hall of Fame

I found out about this place  when I was googling sights worth seeing outside of Vegas.  This was one of my favourite places I visited in Vegas. It’s basically a room full of retro pinball machines from the 1950’s-1990’s along with some cult arcade machines such as Tron. Most cost a quarter to play, plus they have a photobooth there where you can get two strips of photos for $3, cue the silly poses. I enjoyed  this place alot more than the casinos, to me it had a very local vibe and I do enjoy a bit of nostalgia. Even though it’s pretty far out you can get there relatively easily on the bus. I bought a 24 hour Deuce pass then at the top of the strip just too a bus going along East Tropicana.

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Stratosphere Tower

Yeah, yeah, yeah… it’s super touristy and expensive but I had to do it and yes of course I went on the ride. Best view in Vegas.

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Lounging by the pool

Vegas is hot! If you are staying in a good hotel chances are you are likely to have an amazing pool at your disposal so you should definitely make the most of it especially if you are on holiday. If you are not staying in a hotel with a pool then fear not I know the Palms hotel has a pool open to the public and free of charge Monday – Thursday, so do a bit of research and see what else you can find.

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IMG_3312Grand Canyon Western rim

In my opinion going to the Western rim is a MASSIVE rip off, you pay quite a bit to enter because it’s a reservation site (Hualapai Reservation) while at the other rims you pay nothing. I guess this one is alot closer but in my opinion I didn’t feel it was worth it, maybe because I had visited before. I did also do the skywalk but again this just felt like an over priced tourist cash cow.  Obviously the views of this natural wonder are spectacular but personally I preferred Bryce Canyon.

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Zion National Park and Bryce Caynon

I have a little rule where every time I visit the US I like to go to at least one state that I haven’t been before. I was very aware on this trip that six days in Vegas may be overkill so decided when I was there to take a trip into Utah to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Caynon. I booked my trip through Sweet Tours who I think are one of the only operators to run this trip, the whole trip is around 14 hours and you do a fair bit of driving. But If you don’t have a car this is the only option for you to get to these places.  Bryce is famous for its distinctive hoodoo structures that stretch out for you in shades of red, orange and white. For me it was truly a highlight, I loved taking in the epic landscape and being out in the wilderness.

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zion

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Checking out the hotels

You can spend days just going in and out of hotels checking out the opulent interiors and catching the various shows they have. I planned to catch alot more than I actually did, but in the end time got away from me. The Bellagio fountains were a amazing. One display that was far from impressive for me was the Treasure Island one, I found the language in it describing women very sexist and offensive and left halfway through.

_MG_9347Fremont Street

This is the home of down town, old Las Vegas, $2 beers, cheap cherry pie and interesting characters. For me Fremont Street seems a bit more ‘authentic’ than the rest of Vegas. I had one of my best experiences there, I was in the cocktail bar at the Golden Nugget and I got chatting to these two American guys called Jeff and Jerry we had such a great conversation talking about travel, jobs and differences between American and European culture. One of those random conversations with two strangers who felt like friends by the time I left.

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golden nuggetGambling

I’m not a massive gambler, but in Vegas I was determined to tip my toes into the murky world of gambling. I mainly stuck to the slots, but I did have a go on the roulette my strategy was the random, panicked placing of bets as opposed to applying any logic. Obviously I came away with no money, but I did enjoy it. One word of warning casinos don’t have exit signs as they want you to stay in there for as long as possible, so try and remember the way you came in.

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Vegas sign

An icon of Vegas, I missed out on getting my picture taken here last time I was here, so made it a priority this time. You have to drive up to near the airport and without a car this is a bit tricky to get to, though a few tours do have a photo stop here.

vegas sign good picSo there you have it, Vegas highlights courtesy of me. Well done for getting to the end and feel free to message me if you want any more tips.