In under 7 hours from Heathrow you can find yourself landing in the money rich Emirate of Dubai.
From the moment you arrive it is very apparent how much money has been thrown into Dubai for the tourist trade. There is still quite a lot of building work going on and every month the skyline is changing slightly – I would imagine that just 10 years ago this place looked very different but the current building work does not detract from the overall cleanliness and splendour of this place.
The first taste of Dubai you are likely to experience (apart from the heat which hits you like a brick wall) is your hotel and there are certainly no shortages of hotels in Dubai and most of these are at least 5 star.
I was lucky enough to stay a week in the Ritz Carlton on Jumeirah Beach and this 5 star hotel certainly did not disappoint. It is perfectly situated at the base of the Palm and near the Dubai Marina and The Walk (an area of restaurants and hotels).
I was expecting a high level of service from my first experience of a 5 star hotel but I was surprised when this level of service was also found in almost every restaurant and shop in Dubai – I found the whole experience to be extremely friendly and courteous.
From the beach you can see the Iconic Atlantis hotel in the distance and almost every hour you can see sky divers descend from the clear blue sky.
Although the skyline is not as Iconic as say New York, Dubai does have some interesting buildings (the one above certainly caught my eye). You can definitely see the influences from other countries when looking at the buildings.
Of course one building you will certainly come across in Dubai is the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the World). You can see this monster from anywhere in Dubai and it’s definitely worth a visit although I was disappointed that the observation deck is only on the 124th floor yet it stands at over 200 floors. At the base of this goliath you will find the Dubai Mall. Now the Dubai Mall is a monster as well, with over 1200 stores, you will also find a huge indoor aquarium, an Olympic size ice rink, a Sega park, fountains, water falls and The Village with Dubai’s only retractable roof.
Once you are shopped out and the feet are blistered one of the most popular activities to undertake is a 4×4 desert safari. You’ll be picked up from your hotel and taken by 4×4 into the desert where you will be driven amongst the sand dunes (included in the safari is a visit to a camel farm, belly dancing, a desert BBQ under the stars etc).
Once back in the population most people will try to catch a glimpse of the worlds only 7 star hotel – The Burj Al Arab down on Jumeirah Beach. The only way to actually enter this extravagant creation if you’re not a guest is to book a table for food (I believe the cheapest option is breakfast at about £45.00). I found the best view is to enter the Madinat complex with its Souk and waterway system – this is a fantastic hotel complex with over 40 restaurants and if you pay for a water tour (not very expensive) then you will see the Burj Al Arab on your way round.
If your lucky when your down by the beach you may even see a few camels amongst the white sand.
Overall I was impressed with the level of service that Dubai offers and the cleanliness. There is still a lot of building work going on but it’s not drastic enough to ruin any photo ops. They have strict laws in the Emirates but these are not as strict as you are led to believe and you can get away with most things in the more Westernised areas and hotels. Alcohol is illegal in all public areas except for hotels and restaurants where it is widely available. The weather is hot with it being 20 degrees on its coldest winter day and rising to 53 degrees in the middle of summer but there are great deals to be had if you can handle the heat as this is their off-season.
Plenty to see and do but now I have experienced Dubai I am not sure if I would return any when soon … there are just too many places I would love to visit before returning.
Its our time down here – Latino 777
For years I’ve wanted to visit Croatia as I’ve heard it’s a great place for a holiday and the Dalmatian Coast has always been highly recommended so last month I finally got the chance and took a short break to Dubrovnik … and I’m so glad i did.
First impressions of Dubrovnik were good – we were staying in a villa which was half way up the hillside so the view was fantastic. Dubrovnik is pretty much built on a hillside with the old town and harbour at the foot and the Adriatic coastline sprawling out from the harbour.
This city was made for walking so you do not need to get taxi’s and buses etc but be warned there are an awful lot of steps in Dubrovnik so you do need to be fairly fit. The beach, the old town, the cable car, the old walls – all within easy walking distance of each other and everywhere you look you will find a photo opportunity. This place is very scenic, very clean and very historic.
The beach was our first place of call (as I was travelling with a group of lasses!) – the water is clear, there is fish swimming around your feet and there are plenty of sun loungers. There is a club house on the beach called East West (I think) and this will provide you with drinks, cocktails and food as well as a small nightclub – be warned this is table service only and you will be required to purchase a bottle of Vodka or Champagne at a princely sum.
The only downside of this beach is the lack of sand and the amount of stones! I would strongly recommend a pair of rubber shoes/flip-flops/sandals etc.
After the beach we decided to take on the challenge of one of the Kayaking tours – we did the 7km kayak around Lokrum island which took us to a small cove where we could jump out and do a bit of snorkelling (there was plenty of fish here to view). It was my first time in a Kayak but I loved it, I have to say it was harder than I imagined and with the sun blazing down this made it harder still but nonetheless still a fantastic experience.
Once in Dubrovnik you cannot miss the cable car that elevates up to the top of the hillside. You can see the cable car from almost anywhere in Dubrovnik and it is definitely a worthwhile trip to take. It costs around £7 return but the views are the best you can get of this extremely scenic city. Once at the top there is a great little restaurant overlooking the hillside and a museum in the old battlement reliving the war of 1991 (I would recommend walking around the old city first and then goto the museum as you really get to understand the horror this city faced when viewing the old BBC news clips from 1991).
Dubrovnik has the beach, has the views but it’s not until you enter the old town that you really become enchanted with this little pearl. Firstly the old town is surrounded by the old wall … there are a couple of entrances but none more impressive than the drawbridge entrance by the beach. This will lead you to the harbour with its many boat trips (you can take a glass bottom boat, a galleon, a ferry across to the island or a yacht).
We took the ferry across to Lokrum Island on one of the days. It only cost around £5 return and this included the entrance fee for the island. Once on the island you will find an old monastery that has been converted into a restaurant and an old church as well as an old fort although you will have a bit of a walk to reach this but the views are spectacular once the top has been reached. One thing that may stand out when your on the island is the amount of Peacocks that are roaming free – these birds are everywhere and fairly used to the human interaction. There are plenty of places to go swimming on the island and overall it is a good way of using up a few hours in a more peaceful environment and at the very least you get an extremely cheap boat ride.
Once back in the harbour you can walk back into the old town and onto the Strada (the main street) where you will come across little boutique type shops and an inordinate amount of restaurants (this is not the largest of cities but it surely has the most amount of restaurants than any city I’ve ever been to).
Whether by day or by night the old town captures the imagination as you are transported to another time yet still feeling modern. I’m sure they buffer the floor as it always looks wet and reflects the night lights brilliantly. Do not just stay on the main street, take a side alley and get lost in the maze of streets as this is where you will find many more small shops and galleries. Remember you can’t ever really get lost as the town is surrounded by the wall.
Once you’ve walked around the old town there is really only one place left to go and that’s onto the walls of the old town. For around £8 you can walk the entire length of the old walls which provide a fantastic view of the old town and harbour from every angle (it takes about an hour an a half but there are places to stop and get a drink on the way round).
Overall I was very impressed with Dubrovnik, I have been to many cities all over the world and this is certainly one of the most scenic I’ve seen. The food and drink are not cheap but then again it’s not as expensive as other European cities but the food is of good quality and the local beer is not that bad (and that can be cheap).
One thing I did enjoy about Dubrovnik is the fact that they have kept commercialism away from the city – you will not find a McDonald’s or a Burger King here, you will not find any shopping malls or big brand names. This is a city with a romantic hold on the past and this is what makes it stand out from the rest.
Can I recommend Dubrovnik? absolutely and we are already looking to go back next year.
Its our time down here – Latino 777
Another rain filled day in the South of England and once again my mind has started to wander. I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to a fair few places over the years but there are so many that I have yet to experience.
So lets start with my most eager destination … Cape Town, S Africa. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to experience a cage dive with the Great White Sharks and Cape Town seems to be a great place to experience this. With Seal Island, Gansbaai & False Bay in close proximity this city seems to be ideal. I’ve done some research and Apex Predators would be my preferred company to go with. Chris & Monique Fallows run this company which has been used for many TV documentaries and their knowledge & respect of Great White Sharks seems second to none.
If you fancy a dip in the ocean with the planets fiercest predator then check out www.apexpredators.com
If I survive the encounter with Jaws then an abseil down Table Mountain must surely be next on the list – the highest commercial abseil in the World … and what a view you must get as you lean back over the backdrop of Cape Town.
Next on my list of destinations would be something a little different and that is Greenland. Disko Bay and the llulisat Icefjord looks absolutley stunning with Icebergs and untouched scenery. It would be great to dissapear from the rat race for a week and enter this land of serenity and ice. The skies look amazing with no artificial light and would feel quite overwhelming to stand under the stars in this landscape. Apparently the sun shines over 300 days of the year here!
Although Dubai has exploded in the last 10 years into a multi billion dollar tourist destination and is no longer a real reflection of the Middle East I would still love to experience this Emirate simply because of its ‘over the top’ mentality and its craving to be THE place to visit. The view from the Burj Khalifa must be out of this world (almost literally!) and I wouldn’t mind ordering an extremely small lunch at the Burj Al Arab just to experience 6 star dining or is it 7 stars? Maybe I’ll just order a Coke.
West Coast of America
I’ve travelled all up the Eastern Seaboard but never been across to the West coast as yet. I would love to visit San Francisco with its streets and harbour and I’ve always wanted to visit the giant redwoods. Alcatraz would also be very high on my list. Las Vegas would be a fantastic experience and The Grand Canyon is a must (the camera would be hot that day). Cannon Beach in Oregon would be a life time wish for me as this is the beach where the Goonies was filmed (one of my all time favourite movies). I guess you would have to visit Los Angeles as well if you were doing a tour of the West Coast and the 17 mile drive would be a pretty stretch of road to drive.
If I ever get married (and thats a big ‘IF’) then I can’t think of a better honeymoon destination that the Maldives. Exotic, remote, serene and beautiful with crystal clear waters and great food but as this is set aside for the honeymoon we’ll move swiftly on …
The Norwegian Fjords
I’ve never really been attracted to the cruise ship experience but if I was to holiday on a ship then the Norwegian Fjords would be where I would like to cruise. From the greenlands of the South to the snow capped mountains of the North you would see such a diverse side to this Scandinavian country.
Kenya & Tanzania
Kenya would be my ultimate destination for a Safari – camping out under the stars, slumming it with the African game … Awesome and Tanzania is home to Mount Kilimanjaro which is just shouting out for me to attempt to climb (I have commenced training).
Well I guess until I win the lottery I will only write about most of these places but I hope some of them will get experienced … and to those of you who have already had the pleasure of these destinations I am green with envy.
Latino777 – Its our time down here
Its been a while since my last post but I thought I’d write and re-live my memories of a recent trip to Reykjavik the capital of Iceland and the adventure playground of kings.
Firstly from the UK Iceland is only 2 hours away and there is no time difference so it’s easily accessible and not too expensive to get to either. After you land at Keflavik airport you have a 45 min bus ride to Reykjavik – this gives you a taste of what Iceland is … a mixture of glaciers and Volcanoes.
At this stage the landscape is desolate and dry – don’t expect to see much greenery, just lava rocks covered in moss. Looking around you feel like you could almost be on a different planet!
Then you enter civilisation and the city know as Reykjavik. With less than 300,000 inhabitants, it’s not a particularly large city but its big enough. The city center however is not that big and can be walked around in half a day with ease. During my last visit I stayed at the Leiffur Eriksson in the city center, a perfectly adequate hotel in a fantastic location with the Hallgrimskirkja church immediately opposite which is the tallest building in Reykjavik so you know where your hotel is anywhere in the city.
For a small fee you can visit the observation deck in the church for a great 360 view of the city and harbour.
So you’ve arrived at your hotel and now you want to explore the city .. what can you expect? There are a decent amount of shops but not as many as you would find in most other capital cities but there are ample coffee houses and restaurants If you get a chance grab a coffee in Cafe Babalu, its small but distinctly unique in its bohemian and serial killer way!
One of Reykjavik’s most famous restaurants in the Perlan. strangely enough a pearl shaped restaurant sitting atop a hill overlooking the city – even if you don’t fancy eating it’s still worth a visit for the views. It is also only minutes from Reykjavik’s geothermal beach where you will find golden sand and be able to swim in the sea.
Fish is the delicacy of Iceland but you can just as easy get hamburger and chips. One thing you may notice walking around – there are no McDonald’s!!!! that’s right, I did not see one McDonald’s in the whole city. This leads me to the second thing you may notice when perusing the shops … its expensive in Iceland! I’m guessing due to the cost it is not feasible to open many fast food joints – I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – yes the food can be pricey but all the food I ate was fantastic. I experienced the best steak and caramelised onion baguette I’ve ever had during my stay.
Staying in the city for the moment, what is there to do when the sun goes down? Reykjavik has a nightlife like every other capital city and it comes alive at the weekend with many clubs and bars rammed to capacity. You will not be disappointed with the choice although the clubs do not start getting full until midnight. As with the food, the alcohol is also expensive … very expensive and you should expect to pay around £7-£8 a pint! (did you know beer was only legalised in Iceland in 1989).
So you’ve walked around the city, seen the sights, had a coffee and something to eat … now what??? Well this is why you come to Iceland.
Iceland has many tours and experiences that you will find hard to compare to with other major cities. The most popular tour is the Golden Circle tour which takes you to the Geysir, the Gulfoss waterfall and the tectonic plates where Europe meets America.
The Geysir erupts every couple of minutes so you will not be disappointed.
The path leads you right down to the plateau so you get as close as you possibly can to this impressive waterfall.
Along with this tour I also went caving which was a great experience and snorkeling in Lake Silfra (this lake has some of the clearest and cleanest water in the world – so clean you can drink from it as the water comes directly from the nearby glacier). The water is cold though – so cold you have to wear a dry suit but the view under the water is dramatic and as almost as far as the eye can see.
If this doesn’t float your boat how about whale watching or horse-riding on a black sandy beach? Maybe you’d like to take a helicopter to the top of a volcano or land on a glacier – yes you can do all this and much, much more.
If you fancy staying up til 2am you can go hunting for the Northern Lights – I have been extremely fortuitous to have seen the lights and wow what an experience. If you don’t manage to see them on your first trip, the tour operator usually allows you to go on every tour during the week (free of charge) until you see them.
So lets recap … you’ve seen Reykjavik and all it has to offer, you have been on a few tours, seen some volcanoes, paid £8 for a pint and maybe been lucky enough to see the sky light up with dancing colours – is this the end of your trip? hell no, on your way back to the airport almost everyone stops by the Blue Lagoon. This is a geothermal outdoor spa experience like no other. Yes its most likely cold outside and maybe you think all the people in their speedo’s and bikini’s are slightly mad when you first walk in but honestly its one of the best experiences you’ll have on this trip.
For around £25 you can spend as much time as your flight back allows. The water is naturally heated and is very warm so you really want it to be cold outside, there are jacuzzi’s and steam rooms, as well as a swim-up-to bar and always plenty of room for you to relax until your flight back home.
Would I recommend Iceland? Absolutely. It may not have much sun and the temperature may not appeal to all but you will experience things that you can probably only experience in Iceland.
One last note … although its cold in Iceland, don’t let that put you off, it’s not as cold as you may think, the temperature rarely falls below -2 in the winter so a good coat, hat, scarf and gloves and your all set. For the summer months you probably won’t even need that.
So until the next time öruggur og hamingjusamur ferðast (safe and happy travelling).
Latino777 – Its our time down here.
Part one uncovered some of my fondest memories of my favourite city so lets take a few more bites out of the big apple.
New York is not all shopping and sightseeing, in fact there is a lot of play to be had for the child at heart visitor. FAO Schwartz is one of my favourite stores, full of giant stuffed animals and expensive movie memorabilia as well as the giant floor piano made famous by Tom Hanks in the film BIG and its definitely not just the kids that play on that!!!! This is probably the store the Beckhams would shop in for their kids as you can pick up a childs motorised 4×4 for the same price you would pay for a full size one!!!
My favourite fun store has got to be Toys R Us in Times Square. This store is the largest Toys r Us store in the world and when you enter your greeted by a full size working ferris wheel! 3 floors of fun but beware you may just hear the roar of a life-size T Rex!!!!
If you’re not quite ready to grow up after visits to the Disney store, FAO Schwartz & Toys r Us then why not head to Central Park where a ride in a horse & carriage is just the done thing or maybe head to the Central Park Zoo – maybe not the biggest zoo in the world and you’re not going to see all your favourite characters from Madagascar but its good for the money and you may even see a polar bear! If you go during the colder months you can always grab a pair of skates and whizz round the ice but unlike the zoo this is not cheap here, it’s probably cheaper to head over to Rockefeller albeit not as picturesque.
If you ever find yourself in NY during the summer months then Central Park is an absolute must. It’s an exciting hive of activity with holidaymakers and locals both heading into the vast greenery within the concrete jungle. You’ll find little league teams playing baseball and extremely talented break dancers strutting their stuff for a few dollars. You can have your portrait painted, sketched or cartoonised or maybe you’d prefer to have your name put on a grain of rice – you can find it all in the park.
One year we stumbled across a gay roller disco and what an eye opener that was – easily took an hour of our visit watching guys in tutu’s and girls in leather spinning to gay anthems.
On another visit we went down to 5th Ave to visit the museum of sex (as you do) and came across New Yorks Gay Pride Parade – if we thought the roller disco was an eye opener then this took the biscuit!!!! first came the bikers (about 500 of them) then the police, fire and paramedics, politicians and dancers hand in hand (literally) and then just an endless show of colour and costume to show their pride for being gay.
First comes colour
Then comes costume
and finally …
Hmmm well moving on let’s get back on track and something to even out the testosterone. How about an aircraft carrier fully laden with all manner of awesome steel birds – of course I’m talking about the majestic Intrepid, now a museum showcasing some of America’s flighted heroes of the past including the blackbird! I have to admit for a film buff I thought it was kinda cool re-enacting the scene where Will Smith smashed golf balls into an overgrown and derelict Manhattan in I am Legend. You can also find one of the old Concords here which you can board and see how the fortunate used to fly cross atlantic (have to admit I was shocked at how cramped everything looked, not my idea of luxury).
If you want to grab a sea view of the Intrepid I would definitely recommend the Duck Tour – the amphibian vehicle that takes you through Times, down 5th Ave and then into the Hudson for a sea view of the Manhattan skyline and for just $25 it’s great value.
Now all this frolicking and fun running around the city that never sleeps may just make you hungry and if you’re in a fun mood maybe Mars 2112 will be right up your street. Now don’t get me wrong the food is not brilliant but I haven’t been in too many restaurants where you have to step into a ‘spaceship’ and take a journey to another planet before you eat! Once there you find yourself immersed in a giant red crater surrounded by red mountain ranges and aliens delivering food & entertainment – great if you have kids. No kids? then why not try Hooters … a whole different kind of mountain ranges entirely.
It saddens me to hear that one of my favourite drinking holes has closed its doors (hopefully not for the last time) … The Tavern on the Green was beautiful, ok a bit pricey and definitely a tourist trap but to eat outside in Central Park surrounded by lanterns throughout the tree’s was something special. I sincerely hope someone buys this place and re-opens it just the way it was, rumour has it that Donald Trump is trying to purchase it – lets hope so.
Still one thing that will never close in New York are the theatres and boy does NYC have some theatre houses. Second only to London’s West End (ok so I’m biased) the big apple boasts some of the best theatres and shows anywhere – the last time I was there I went to see Wicked at the Gershwin theatre and for any Wizard of Oz fans this is a must.
So this would certainly be a day that would wipe you out, a day playing in the toy shops, a trip to the zoo, watching a parade, visiting an aircraft carrier, an hour or two in Central Park, something to eat and a show … now all that’s left to do is choose a hotel!!!!! now that’s a whole new blog ha ha.
Til the next time have a good day.
Latino777 – It’s our time down here
As i sit here bored beyond belief I have an overwhelming urge to re-live some of the moments I have been blessed with experiencing during my short stay on this mortal plane.
A while ago I decided to create my own little bucket list and I have to admit they are a fantastic way to push you into getting off the sofa and actually ‘doing’ instead of saying ‘one day’.
I have been truly fortunate to have ticked off so much of my list such as jumping out of an aeroplane and swimming with dolphins.
One of the most memorable days in my life has to be when I took my daughter to Lapland – we flew 3 hours to Finland, crossed the Arctic Circle, spent the day with husky’s & reindeers, experienced skiddooing for the first time, met the real Santa, saw the Northern Lights (what a sight), and flew back – all in a day.
There was a day in an Eastern European country where we were able to fire real guns with real bullets including a pump action shot gun – no experience necessary but they did allow you to drink plenty of beer before taking the gun in hand ha ha.
I’ve only ever been in a helicopter once but it was over Niagara falls – I would love to experience that again … maybe over NYC this time.
Talking of NYC I’ve been lucky enough to visit the sleepless city on quite a few occasions and you haven’t lived until you’ve stepped out on the Empire State Building Observatory in a cloud!!! very eerie but amazing.
I’ve taken a horse & carriage around Central Park and was stood in Times Square when it was announced that Michael Jackson had passed away – very surreal moment (I had a ticket to see him in the O2 … gutted).
I’ve also been lucky enough to see the likes of Stevie Wonder, Eminem, Beyonce & Alicia Keys in concert.
If anyone wants to experience something a little out of the ordinary then I would suggest a trip to Reykjavik and go swimming in the Blue Lagoon – I did this a couple of years ago and would love to go back, swimming outside in minus temperatures is not as crazy as you may think.
One of my more crazy moments led me to getting drunk and booking a holiday to Austalia at 02.00am – it took me a while in the morning to figure out why my passport and credit card was out and the laptop still on but when I realised what I’d done I was just sooo relieved that I wasn’t going that day!!! in fact I had a whole 2 weeks to save ha ha still it was a great experience especially Bondi Beach at dawn.
Of course nothing outweighs the day my daughter was born and we have been so lucky to have experienced some of the above together.
As I put the lid back on the ‘life’ jar its made me want to tick off another experience … and there are still soooo many.
Until the next time … adios
Latino777 – Its our time down here