Dubai

Dubai was never somewhere I had ever thought of visiting, until I met my now-husband. Growing up he’d spent up to 6 weeks of the year in Dubai where his dad often visited for work, and it became a bit of a family tradition for them. (Note, on my family holidays we went to visit my Gran in Scotland, or in our caravan to France, or to Center Parcs or bizarrely named holidays parks like Sandy Balls…yes, really!)

However, he was always keen to return and I, too, quite fancied seeing this place that is growing in popularity, and where a lot of people I had known from school had moved to and now lived and worked.

View from our room

Not long after my husband lost his dad, and very soon after we got engaged (I unknowingly booked it the day before he proposed!), we booked to go on a dream trip. Two nights in Dubai, two nights in Bangkok and 10 nights in Koh Samui, an island off the coast of mainland Thailand.

Hotel

We booked to stay in the hotel in Dubai where my husband stayed as a child with his family, Le Royal Meridien on Jumeriah Beach. Before going, I decided to try my luck via twitter with Le Royal Meridien, to see whether we could get a room similar to those he used to stay in with his family, or even just an acknowledgement from the management in memory of his dad (he had visited this hotel more than 20 times as a child, staying for long periods at a time). They were great! I gave them my husband’s name and our arrival date and they said they’d see what they could do. On arrival, we were upgraded to a Royal Club room in a separate section of the hotel. It was huge and really plush.

Room upgrade

We did notice though that when we opened the balcony door, the heat was so intense all the glass and mirrors in the room steamed up. I found taking pictures a challenge too with the lens steaming up with the change in temperature from the cold air-conditioned room, to the humid outdoors that was hitting 40c by 11am!

We got ourselves ready and went downstairs to go to the pool and sunbathe for a little while. We found a spot and lay down…and got back up pretty sharpish. The heat was so intense and neither of us thought we’d be able to sit out for long. We got into the pool and swam around for a while (mostly cooling off!) and then went to the swim up bar and ordered some smoothies. We decided to give the beach a go, and thought we could perhaps do a little snorkelling off the beach…OH MY LIFE. The sand was absolutely excruciatingly hot. We both had flip flops and the sand was so fluffy that even with shoes on, the sand would scorch your feet. Since my husband last visited they had moved the beach (this is Dubai after all!) and made it a lot longer – so a much longer walk down from the path across the sand to the water. We ended up sprinting but we genuinely did both burn our feet.

We ran into the water…such a strange feeling…the water was hot! It was like lying in a bath. A lot of the time you get in the water to refresh but this felt really weird to be in the sea when its hot! Regardless of this, we swam around and enjoyed ourselves. We were sweeping the sea floor with our hands absent mindedly while chatting when my husband produced a dried starfish! He had scooped it up!

After a while we braved the run back to the walkway across the beach, and then went over to where the boat shack was. We saw that there was a tour of Dubai by water later that afternoon, something my husband had been really keen to do when we were there. We booked on and went back to the room to get ourselves ready.

Later that afternoon we wandered down with about 8 other people and set off on our boat trip. The boat trip was great as you got to see a lot but in the shade of the boat with the cool sea air on you. It travelled around the Palm and over to the Atlantis, then round to the Burj al Arab. We got some great shots of this and the Jumeriah Beach Hotel, and then we were taken past the Sheikh’s yacht parked on his private island – absolutely huge! We then glided through the marina and back to our hotel. The trip was great, and gave you a great perspective of Dubai from the water.

We relaxed and had dinner in the hotel that night – buffet style but absolutely incredible!

Atlantis, The Palm

The next morning we were up early and had breakfast at the hotel – again, absolutely delicious! We then got a cab to a local mall and wandered around for a while. The highlight was the macaroons we bought (divine!). We then got another taxi up to the Atlantis on the Palm.

DubaiThis hotel is incredible – featuring a full-size aquarium within it that you can visit, but throughout the hotel there are walls of glass where you can see the marine life passing by.

There are long shopping arcades and then a part closed off to the public for guests only. I wasn’t really paying attention but my husband led me towards it and the security guard let us through! We went out the poolside and had a quick look around, and up at the impressive building, then went back in.

Dubai

We head back to our hotel, got ourselves ready and got a car to…the Burj Al Arab for Afternoon Tea (see post). As the sun was setting, we came out of the Burj Al Arab and walked across the private bridge to the Jumeriah Beach Hotel (shaped like a wave). It was really nice inside, but for my husband who’d visited so many times before, he was a little disappointed – more about the lack of spectacle, which he felt it used to have.

DubaiWe went back to our hotel and packed our bags, ready for our next leg of our Far Eastern Adventure, Bangkok!

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How to make the most of ‘me’ time

I don’t know about you, but I can get very nervous if I’m on my own with time stretched out before me. Anyone else been there? A bit of scheduled time where you will have time to yourself and then that thought hits you…what am I going to do?!

I call it The Fear.
That feeling that creeps up upon you until you feel like you’re drowning in panic when you have no plans, and there is no-one else around.
When I was younger, I remember saying to people – “I don’t get bored”. When challenged on this, I reassured them – “seriously, you could leave me on a chair for 5 hours on my own and I would not get bored”.
I wonder now what it was that so assured in my younger self that I would be totally happy with no-one but myself. But more than that. Totally happy with nothing but my thoughts.
Now the idea of being alone with nothing to do and no-one to talk to terrifies me.
But how often do we read or see articles about how to make the most of your limited time? How to multitask in life to achieve everything? How often do we feel strung out and need nothing more than a bit of rest time?
But if that time comes unexpectedly, you get The Fear. So here are a couple of relaxing – or at least therapeutic – activities to make the most of the ‘me’ time without getting The Fear:

  1. Paint your nails – a relaxing, absorbing pastime that leaves you feeling and looking better. I dream of having perfectly manicured nails, and I always used to, but now I feel like I don’t have time. Well move aside vegetating on the sofa, these nails need doing! If nails aren’t your thing – just take a bath, or have some sort of pamper. You’re worth it!
    [Note: do not do what I do. Paint nails when you have to be somewhere 30 minutes later…that just ends in tears / smudged nails]
  2. Organise – we all have that one drawer (entire room of the house) that needs sorting. One of those, – four hours later, sat in a pile of papers – kinda sort-outs. But the thought of doing it can be daunting, and it’s one of those things that once you scratch the surface, you’re in it for the long-haul. However, set yourself this kind of challenge when you have time on your hands and you’ll not only be doing something productive but, more often than not, you’ll get engrossed in the task plus stumble across all those nik naks you forgot about.
  3. Photographs – when I was younger I couldn’t wait to finish the film in my camera to go to the chemists (seriously, I was only born in the mid 80s but I sound so old!) to get it developed. Now those days have gone but I think its both a good and a bad thing. You upload your pictures off your SD card and onto your computer or external hard drive – all safe and sound but do you ever look at them?
    Ever have those afternoons as a child where you stumble across faded pictures of your parents on the beach or old men who turn out to be your dad’s great uncle – those opportunities will pass us by if we don’t have hard copies of our pictures.
    How about sort your photos into folders online, by date, and then upload onto a photo printing site like photobox and get them posted to you? You can pick up some cheap photo albums and spend a few free afternoons or evenings reminiscing whilst putting together some great albums of great times.
  4. Indulge – this may differ for people, but I am the type of person who loves getting new toiletries and make-up, but confession time. I’m too scared to use them. Anything that is particularly nice or expensive I squirrel away as I want to keep it good. But why? Its such a waste. I used to do the same with new clothes – didn’t want to take the tag off them. How ridiculous. So I’d be wearing clothes I didn’t really like, cheap or old make-up and standard chemist-bought toiletries, all to ‘keep it good’! So indulge – take the cellophane wrapper off that make-up, pour yourself a bath and use that beautiful bath oil, light those expensive candles. Indulge.
  5. Read a book – now I love reading, but when do you get the chance? Often we’ll feel guilty about sitting doing nothing but reading but do it! Reading exercises our mind and can be a really relaxing pastime.
  6. Clean. Now a lot of you will be groaning at this, but have you ever gutted your house and then sat there feeling amazing? I love that feeling but I hate cleaning. I know this is about ‘me’ time, but some of the ‘me’ time is to actually put your time to good use. Taking care of your home, which is more often than not your biggest expense in your life, is worth the time and trust me – you’ll feel brilliant afterwards.
  7. Reconnect – when you’re so busy and have work, life, family and financial commitments it can be easy to let those carefully nurtured friendships slip away. Use your ‘me’ time productively and reconnect with those people. Go through your phone or social media contacts list and send messages or call those that you haven’t spoken to in a while but want to stay a part of your life. I did this recently and contacted, and eventually met up with, three different people from my life who I don’t have mutual friends with and otherwise would never see. Its great and gives you new perspectives and new topics of conversation. So try it, just contact three people and see what rewards it brings.

TheUnglamorousGirl

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My First Time Camping

Many people have been camping – either with scouts, as kids or even when travelling… I am not one of those people. I had never been in a tent, never slept outdoors, the closest I’ve come is to staying in caravans. My husband had mentioned it several times over the last couple of years but nothing ever came of it.

Until the first weekend in March.

I was having a bad week and feeling really sorry for myself, and my husband asked if perhaps I’d like to go away overnight. That sounded brilliant and just what I needed. He found a place in Wales with glamping pods and suggested we try there. He called back later to say they were fully booked, but that they had camping space…? Of course they did – it was the beginning of March in Britain!

Tent

Cue my husband coming home late one night armed with a full array of camping equipment – a tent, two sleeping bags, a lantern, two torches, a gas stove, replacement gas canisters, two ground mats, a mallet and extra tent pegs (“just in case”). Unbelievably he managed to source all of this for a couple of pounds over £100. By my reckoning, that is what we’d spend on one night in a hotel for the two of us, and so we’ve at least broke even if I try it once and hate it.

So I went along with my husband’s plan. The Saturday morning, we’d pack the car and head off for Wales, pitch a tent, go walking, go to a local pub for dinner and back to our cosy tent with a view over Fishguard Bay in Wales…

So, on the Friday night when my husband was at work, I went back to the camping shop and bought a blow up double bed, foot pump and whistling kettle for the stove – making me sleep outside in Winter is one thing, depriving me of comfort or tea is quite another! I went home, packed everything we’d need, got a few munchie supplies like cans of juice, crisps, bananas, some biscuits and also packed a Tupperware box with breakfast – bacon, sausages and eggs.

I packed some thermal leggings and my brother’s old and cosy fleece that I love, and lots of socks! I packed jogging bottoms for my husband to sleep in and our walking shoes (which I found in the garage after much searching). All was ready!

We got up and headed off around 9am, working our way initially towards Aberystwyth before heading south along the coast to get to Fishguard Bay. On our way over we wound round country roads and saw into some pretty spectacular locations. Not far from Aberystwyth we spotted a really pretty visitor centre and decided to stop for a look. There is no way I’d know how to pronounce this but its definitely worth a stop.

Kestrel trail

Had it not been drizzling and, frankly, freezing cold we would definitely have gone for a walk round the trail as it looked fantastic!

Trail map

We wandered round and popped into the centre and actually ended up having our lunch – I had a brie and cranberry panini – AMAZING! Anyway, I digress…

We got back into the car and continued on our way towards Fishguard. As we had stopped for lunch already we just drove through Aberystwyth and continued to our camping spot. On our way along the coast we did stop a couple of times to soak in the beauty – it was incredible, and even more incredible is realising that this is on your doorstep. There are points where it could have been Canada or California, it was lovely.

View en route

We finally arrived at our campsite at about 2pm. We went into the shop / office and paid £22 for our spot – naturally we had our pick of the pitches as there were no other campers there! The glamping pods we’d originally looked at were full though, as were the static vans (some even had hot tubs). We then got everything out of the boot and stared at it. How were we, two individuals with no real experience between us, going to do this? The answer – with great ease and within 20 minutes! Honestly, I was shocked how easy it was. Our tent had just two poles that crossed and held up the structure, we pushed in the pegs – done! We put the air bed inside and pumped it up from outside – done! A colleague of my husband had also leant us a foldaway table and chairs, something that opens up like a pub bench – that was a lifesaver!

We wandered up to the shop to as we decided that if we were going to go for a full breakfast, bread would be a necessity! When we got there, the lady had told us they’d just sold their last loaf but would we like her to bake us some rolls?! Er, hell yeah! How lovely of her – and the rolls were amazing. I think there is a picture of me enjoying one of them the next morning…

Views 3

We then set off south along the coastal path and it was spectacular. You could see right across the bay and the water was so still. We hiked for about an hour before finding ourselves on the edge of a cliff with a view straight down to the sea. We sat and caught our breaths for a moment, then turned and headed back.Views

We decided to head into Fishguard itself to get some dinner…forgetting that there was a big England vs Wales rugby match on. The place was largely deserted so we wandered around and found ourselves in a tiny pub filled with Wales supporters and the rugby on in the corner. We had a couple of drinks (I ordered in my Scottish accent rather than my husband in his English accent!) and watched a bit of rugby. We then set off in search of food, settling on an Indian takeaway (there really was not much choice). We ordered that and took it back to the campsite, by which time it was – I kid you not – completely dark. We set up our make-shift bench and plastic plates and cutlery and proceeded to eat our Indian food lit by torches! It was actually really fun but getting pretty chilly by this point!

We headed up to the main block, got ourselves ready for bed – by this I mean adding a lot of layers and brushing our teeth – and got into the tent. It was quite cold but we read our books (mine was rathering fittingly Wild by Cheryl Strayed) and then went to sleep. We had a bit of a disturbed night but that’s to be expected with our first time camping but got up in the morning refreshed.

Breakfast!

We then set up our gas cooker and made cups of tea and the most epic bacon and sausage rolls! We sat and munched on those whilst looking out over the bay, heaven! We pottered around for a bit and then packed up ready to head home. It was much easier than I thought and we were on our way by 10:30am. We drove to Aberystwyth which I can highly recommend on a nice day – seaside town with gorgeous views and a nice little town to walk around. We had the obligatory fish and chips on the front, washed down with some brilliant ice creams and we were done. We got back in the car and made our way back to the midlands after an awesome weekend.

Aberystwyth

So the outcome? I would definitely go camping. After seeing how nice and well-equipped the main block was at the campsite I’d have no hesitations in going again for a longer period knowing that there’s some home comforts 30 yards away. I’d definitely get a larger tent if we were going for a longer period of time as we’d bought the basics and the tent was just big enough for us both to lie down in for the night (4 man tent, yeah right!). On top of that, doing this trip made us both realise what beautiful locations and wonderful views there are close to home and that perhaps we don’t always need to go abroad to explore new places – there’s some fantastic places right on our doorstep and we should definitely explore them more!

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