A Travellerspoint blog

Itinerary Change

...reading reviews changed my mind!

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So we had booked Kiwi International Hotel & Hostel for our first stint in Auckland - but after reading the reviews we had to change - some people had bugs in their room NOOOO l will not be sharing a room with an uninvited visitor! So we have changed to Aspen House Hotel its more expensive but the reviews are so much better!

Now we are looking into car hiring in Oz and spending a night down the Great Ocean Road - looking at staying over in Lorne or Port Campbell - but if anyone knows of anywhere good for an over night stay all advice gratefully received!!

So we have booked an overnight stay along the Great Ocean Road - we have hired a car to take us along the road and do it our way instead of doing a day trip. So we are staying in Apollo Bay - thanks to all the TPers who advised that it was a nice place to lay our heads!

Posted by Purdy 14:23 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Well here it is the Australia/New Zealand Itinerary

So here's our itinerary for our trip down under in Dec 06

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DAY ONE Saturday 23rd December 2006

Belfast City Airport – London Heathrow - bmi
13.10 hours 14.30 hours

London Heathrow – Frankfurt – Lufthansa
17.00 hours 19.10 hours

Frankfurt - Singapore – Singapore Airlines
22.20 hours 17.10 hours (24th December)

Singapore - Melbourne – Singapore Airlines
20.50 hours 07.00 hours (25th December)

DAY THREE – 25th December 2006

Check In: THE BEACH, 97 Beaconsfield Parade, Albert Park MELBOURNE
p. 61 (0)3 9690 4642
f. 61 (0)3 9690 4062
e. rooms@thebeachaccommodation.com.au

DAY THREE (25th December 2006) until DAY EIGHT (30th December 2006)

Various activities in Melbourne area including:

• Hit the beach
• Visit to Philip Island
• Day to Great Ocean Road
• Catch up with Fiona & Dave
• Melbourne City Tour
• Melbourne Gaol
• Melbourne Zoo

- Day 5 & 6 (27/28 Dec 06)

Overnight trip along Great Ocean Road - over night stay in Apollo Bay, have hired a car

DAY EIGHT (30th December 2006)

Melbourne to Sydney
07.30 hours – 08.50 hours QF119

Check In: Macquarie Boutique Hotel
40-44 Wentworth Ave
Sydney 2010
T. 61 2 82628844
F. 61 2 92675037

DAY EIGHT (30th December 2006) until DAY THIRTEEN (4th January 2007)

Various activities in Sydney area including:

• Catch up with Gillian T
• NYE in Sydney @ Harbour
• Sydney Harbour Cruise/City Tour
• Hit the Beach – Bondi/Manley/Coogee
• Blue Mountains Trip
• Wine Trip into Hunter Valley

DAY THIRTEEN (4th January 2007)

Fly from Sydney to Auckland

Air New Zealand depart 09.30 arrive 14.30

Staying: Aspen House
Auckland

Activities around Auckland:

• Rotuarua - have hired a car
• Waitamo Caves
• Wander around City
• Auckland Zoo

DAY SIXTEEN (7th January 2007)

Fly from Auckland to Wellington

Air New Zealand depart 11.00 arrive 12.00

Overnight in Wellington – see the capital city of New Zealand.

Staying: Downtown Backpackers
1 Bunny Street,
Wellington
New Zealand
Telephone: 64-4-473-8482,
Email: db@downtownbackpackers.co.nz

DAY SEVENTEEN (8th January 2007)

Interislander Ferry from Wellington to Picton – 14.00 hours – journey time 3 hours

Staying – The Villa, Backpackers Hostel
34 Auckland Street, Picton, Marlborough, NZ
Ph +64 35736598 Email: stay@thevilla.co.nz

Evening in Picton.

DAY SEVENTEEN (8th January 2007) until DAY TWENTY (11th January 2007)

Based in Picton Area – activities to include:

• Cruise around Queen Charlotte Sound
• Marlborough Wine Area

DAY TWENTY (11th January 2007) – DAY TWENTY TWO (13th January 2007)

Hire Car – itinerary open – travel around Blenheim enroute to Kaikoura.

Staying:- DONEGAL HOUSE
Schoolhouse Road, Kaikoura.
Phone/Fax 03 319 5083. Reservations 0800 346 873
Email: donegalhouse@xtra.co.nz
Website: http://www.donegalhouse.co.nz/

Activities in Kaikoura:

Whale Watching
Swim with Seals or Dolphins

DAY TWENTY THREE (14th January 2007) – DAY TWENTY FIVE (16th January 2007)

Travel from Kaikoura to Christchurch

Staying: Thomas's Hotel - on Hereford
36 Hereford Street
Christchurch
New Zealand,
Phone: 03 3799 536,
Email: chch@thomashotel.co.nz

DAY TWENTY FIVE (16th January 2007)

Fly from Christchurch to Queenstown

Air New Zealand Depart 13.25 Arrive 14.30

DAY TWENTY FIVE (16th January 2007) – DAY THIRTY (20th January 2007)

Staying: Discovery Lodge Queenstown
47-49 Shotover Street,
Queenstown, New Zealand
Telephone: 0064 3441 1185
(In NZ 0800 462 4877),
Email: info@dlq.co.nz

Activities in Queenstown include

• Gondola ride
• Day Trip to Milford Sound
• Day Trip to Doubtful Sound
• Jet boat ride

DAY THIRTY (20th January 2007)

Queenstown to Christchurch – Air New Zealand
10.20 hours – 11.05 hours

Christchurch to Auckland – Air New Zealand
12.20 hours – 14.45 hours

Overnight in Auckland

Staying:- Hilton Auckland
Princes Wharf, 147 Quay Street
Auckland, New Zealand,
(0)64-9-9782000(0)
www.hilton.com

DAY THIRTY ONE (21st JANUARY 2007)

Spend day in Auckland

Auckland to London Heathrow via Los Angles – Air New Zealand
23.00 hours – 10.35 hours (22/1/07)

DAY THIRTY TWO (22nd JANUARY 2007)

London Heathrow – Belfast City – bmi
13.20 hours 14.40 hours

Home & back to work!!

So thats it the dates are more or less set in stone BUT what we do is open so any hints or tips or suggestions are all gratefully received!!

Posted by Purdy 12:21 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Beijing in June 06

This entry is long overdue!!

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Well we spent a lovely week in China at the start of June and yes it has nearly taken me 2 months to finally update my blog so l have no doubt there will be parts l have forgotten!

THE JOURNEY

So our flight details were - bmi Belfast to London, Lufthansa London to Frankfurt and Lufthansa to Beijing. So that was the plan.............. Well that went a bit pear shaped!

Checking in at Lufthansa we were told the flight was over sold and we were being put on standby at that point my face dropped - but then we were told as we were both star alliance gold members we would be upgrade to either business class or first RESULT!! We just had to speak to the Lufthansa staff in Frankfurt! I was happy!

We got to London ok only to find our our flight was delayed to Frankfurt - ok we have a few hours to spend before our 17.15 flight to Beijing - should be ok, may have to forgo chilling out in lounge and a drink or two but no biggie RIGHT - WRONG! The hour delay turned into 2 hour delay, we were touching down as our Beijing flight was taking off - BUGGER. We were only going away for 7 nights it was going to eat into our holiday time. The flight crew announced passengers who they knew their connection flights were affected - NO MENTION of us...... Ding dong and a lovely German lady attends us and we explain our predicament - she trots off to find out more information. Came back yes the Beijing flight has gone but once we got off we would be directed to a transfer desk and they would sort us out.

Off the flight we queue the rumour is that we would be transfered into an China Airways flight leaving later that evening - phew only a few hours delay. Just as we were about to approach the desk another staff member looks at our travel documents and tells us the transfer flight is fully booked and we need to go through to the main desk and the would re-book us onto the next flight leaving 24 hours next day. WHAT?????

So out we go into a very long queue at the Lufthansa desk eventually we get to the desk explain the lady checks our details and looks strangly at us - apparently we were booked onto China Airways and they should of booked us through at the transfer desk. So our boarding cards are stamped and we were sent down to the China Airways desk. To cut along story short we trotted up and down between desks for ages EVENTUALLY getting our boarding cards for the new flight!

So we head back into to departures and chill out for an hour in the Lufthansa lounge. The China Airways flight was cramped, with screaming babies and screaming male passengers! It was a long 9 hours but we eventually got there!

Our hotel was nonedescript basic room, adequate size, clean enough and well placed to walk to most places or a subway so it was grand!! We had a kip for a few hours and dragged ourselves up around 8pm.

Beijing our first night we wandered down Wafunjung Street (l hope l spelt that right) and l was surprised at how westernised it was - all the shops l would expect to see on a UK high street. So we bit the bullet and went for Beijing Duck - we went to a restaurant (huge) and were sent to the 7th floor. We were told it would be a 15 minute wait but it was more like 5 minutes. We sat down and ordered our duck. It came out with all the trimmings, it was carved at our table and we got stuck in - delicious.

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After this we wandered down with the intention of walking to T'ianamen Square - we didnt think it was too far - but it was! And it started to rain!!! But we got there after being hassled by rickshaw men the entire way - l will give them that they are persistent!

Tia'amen Sq.JPG

After a few shots of Mao's tomb (for want of a better word) we walked back to our hotel - shattered!

DAY 2

Today our intention was to book our trip to the Great Wall and take in the Forbidden City - and thats what we did.

We booked our trip to Badaling at a hostel close by our hotel and got it for 500 RMB including hotel transfers and lunch, it also included a trip to the Ming Tombs also.

The Forbidden City was huge - we spent around 4 hours here. Quite a bit of it was under construction which was not great for photos but we made the most of it. To be honest l wasnt as impressed with it as l thought l was going to be but it was great to be there, the intrigate pieces of architecture was cool l loved the the Emperor effiages and dragons. There were various rooms showing the robes, musical instruments, weaponry and coinage.

Chinese Lettering F C.JPG

At the end of the Forbidden City was a garden which l really liked. This then lead out and we walked accross to a park which l THINK was Bai Hai Park - this was great - we sat down had a beer for about 40pence (result) for a big bottle, afer indulging in a few beers we wandered around the park, watched the families out on the paddle boats, listened to some Chinese people playing instruments.

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We easily caught a cab back to our hotel and with a wash up and change of clothes we headed to a Thai restaurant which was delicious and then as it was a Saturday night we went over to Salitun (yes l know it was touristy expat land but l was a tourist!!) and had a few more beers!

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DAY 3

We lay in today and rested then decided to go to the Silk market shopping.

I must note now that Bread Talk in one of the shopping malls was where we breakfasted most mornings - a savoury and sweet piece of bread went down well!

So we got the subway to the market which took us out right at the market. After a quick wander around to see what was available - some of that was a scary - hands and voices everywhere - do you want a scarf, a bag, a watch, sunglasses etc etc!! So after we had a soft drink and then we went back into the hoards and bought loads of pressys for friends and families - it was counterfiet heaven!!

DAY 4

This was our trip to the Great Wall, we went to Badaling. So, it was an early start - this was interesting to be up early to see all the Beijing bicycles commute to work! Our trip out of the city we saw all the the construction work for arenas for the Olympics and the Olympic Village.

Our first stop was at a jade factory (shock!) we walked around looked and then stopped outside until the rest of the group finished shopping.

It was then off to Ming Tombs - this was rather an unevent l think l was expecting a TOMB but it was more of a mound!! Still it was fun having to walk through a gate way shouting in chinese to leave the spirits of the dead world behind!

Donations ..g Tombs.JPG

Then another JADE factory - this time Paul and l stopped outside! There was a camel chilling in the shade across the road from us which we found amusing!

It was then time for lunch which was at a porcelain factory! And a big government tourist shop! Lunch was a buffet affair - fish, chicken, soup, rice and fruit! It was really nice!

The it was off to the wall. The part we went to at Badaling was totally reconstructed and had some many towers/turrets - so off we went. Well l was shocked - l think l expected an undulating wall which would be a nice dander - OH NO!! It was at a really high pitch and deep steps the entire way! In the beating down sun this was not good! Im not really good with heights and l made it up about 10-20 steps and could no no further! Still l sat at the bottom whilst Paul did the walk and people watched!!

Great Wall1.JPG

Locking in..at wall.JPG

After the Wall we were taken back into Beijing but not to our hotels now we went to a tea house!! Another con to make us buy more! We were shown different teas and how to taste and drink them- it was quite interesting l suppose - but we could buy the same leaves so much cheaper in town!!

DAY 5

Today we went to the Temple of Heaven - which again was under construction for quite a bit, but in my view this was a much nicer site than the Forbidden city- the buildings more interesting. Circular buildings to give praise for harvest. Plus there were elderly chinese folk singing in the park which was nice to watch.

Heather at.. Heaven.JPG

After catching a cab back to the hotel l decided to go for a foot massage at a parlour behing our hotel - it cost around £6 stg but it was the most traumatic experience l have had in a long time - a male masseure had the pleasure of my foot rub, after pushing himself into me under the guise of a shoulder rub! I really thought l was going to have to run out of the place for fear of being attacked! The foot rub was fine then he decided to rub my legs and for my mind it was a bit to close to the bone if you ask me!! Anyway it was over l threw my cash down and ran out.

Dinner was at the Outback Steak house for some western fare!!

DAY 6

This was my birthday and we spent it going shopping to get the rest of our gifts, then we went to the Pennisula hotel which was like the most expensive hotel in the city, and l was bought a Tiffany bangle, we then went for a few glasses of chilled white wine which were so expensive.

That evening we had a salubrious dinner of KFC! We then wandered down the snack street night market and saw the deep fried bugs, amd even starfish which looked to be alive on a stick!!

Bugs for dinner.JPG

DAY 7

Again up and at em early we went out to the summer palace. This was my most favourite site! Such a lovely breeze coming off the lake. We wandered over the bridges, saw the marble boat, stood on half moon bridges! It was great to sit in the wonderful surroundings and watch the world go by!

Marble Boa.. Palace.JPG

Bridge Summer Palace.JPG

After spending around 5 or 6 hours there we headed back to the hotel and as this was our last night in Beijing we decided to go for Beijing Duck again.

After this we head down some Hutongs and took our final few snaps.

Waifujung Snack St.JPG

Heather Ri..Statute.JPG

GOING HOME

We got home fine, my only side line was that our cab to the airport was awful l spent the entire trip with my eyes squezzed shut praying we would not crash!!

OVERALL

Our trip to China & Beijing was definately interesting, some things really annoyed me - the traffic which was on a points system to plow down pedistrians, the spitting that was simply disgusting and the smog it was thick over the city for our first few days. But it was a city that grew on you and l can now say lve seen some of the most wonderful sites of China! Im glad we went but l dont think we will either feel a mad pull to go back there just in the near future!!

Posted by Purdy 12:37 Archived in China Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Its getting closer

The final countdown to Beijing

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I cannot believe how quickly time flies! We are off to China on Thursday - 5 whole days away - l really need to start getting my ass in gear and sorting myself out!

So l have sorted out my clothes (ie pulled out likely candidates of stuff l could take and dumped them onto the spare bed!), our passports are currently in Dublin having themselves had a week long vacation in the Chinese Embassy to get our visas, Paul picks those up on Tuesday.

We will lift our travel spends on Thursday at the airport before we fly to London - just need to pre book that online.

Gotta sort our travel insurance - our annual insurance runs out about now so that needs renewed although it will see us through for the Austrailia trip and some inital searches are coming up with quotes for about £60 for the year for both of us!

Tomorrow, Purdy the cat goes on her holidays for almost 2 weeks to her grans - she doesnt know yet cos l dont think she will be amused about the car journey!!!

So today l really need to focus on packing and ironing and seeing if there are any last minute things l need to pick up! AND, lm trying to ignore a cold which is trying infiltrate my system!!

More to follow!

Posted by Purdy 02:27 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Viva Las Vegas

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December 2005 we spent 5 days in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. The true city that never sleeps, anything and everyone goes. It shuns the healthy image portrayed by other US states such as neighbouring California - smoking is the norm - everywhere - it's the done thing to get boozed up and gamble your life away. Vegas is truly and adult playground and not for the faint hearted or for those out to relax and chill - yet l may contradict my self on that last statement as some of the hotels on the strip do have oasis's of peace and relaxation.

We booked our trip through Expedia - which was a totally painless experience and we would definitely recommend using them again. We even received an email when we got home, hoping that we had a good time and asking for our recommendations so that they could be passed on to other travellers - good customer service.

We didn't fly direct - Virgin Atlantic, BMI and BA do direct flights. We chose to fly with United Airlines to Los Angles and then flying from LAX on to Vegas. It was in all probably a 15 hour journey.

We stayed in the Stratosphere Tower Hotel at the end of the strip. A decent hotel with all the usual facilities - it is a bit far out although there is a bus which is 24 hours and travels from Downtown up the length of the strip so there were no problems. I think on hindsight we wouldn't stay here again but the hotel was fine no major complaints.

Arrival

McCarran International Airport - 6th busiest airport in the world apparently according to the PR - is so close to the city you are almost on the strip! Our transfer took 20 minutes to our hotel. It was great flying into McCarran - it was dark so you could see the strip at its neon best - picking out the sights l had read about in the guide book brought me around from the severe tiredness which was definitely kicking in!

In true Vegas style McCarran is a hive of active - neon lights and boards advertise all the shows on at the strip hotels, slots are everywhere and everywhere is noise hustle and bustle.

We booked our transfer with Expedia which worked out at £12 return for 2 adults. There are lots of transfer bus desks just outside the main terminal for those who don't pre-book but they do cost slightly more. Cabs are readily available and you should expect to pay at the most $20.

Climate

As l have noted we stayed during the start of December and the weather was chilly. During the day time we were lucky enough it was warm enough to where short sleeves - around 18° C maximum but temperatures rapidly fell to around 2 to 3° C at night. So sweaters and jackets were required. During the day it was bright and it didn't really rain, we had one overcast day which dulled the photographs but on the whole the weather was fine. During the summer months though - expect to be baked - Vegas is set in the desert so expect desert temperatures and don't forget your sunscreen.

Hotel Accommodation

There is a level of accommodation for everyone in Vegas - from 6 star luxury of the Wynn Hotel - the most expensive hotel and opulent in the world to that of B&B and hostels. Our hotel was middle of the road - it had its own Casino which was well air conditioned so the smoking wasn't obvious, a smattering of diners and restaurants, a Starbucks, Theatres for shows, gift shops, a shopping level, and its main attraction - the Stratosphere Tower - where you can visit for a fee to see the sights of Vegas Strip. Up on the tower for the insane are rides that swing you about so you dangle with nothing between you and the ground meters and meters away!! Also there is a revolving restaurant - which we lunched in - you get the view without paying the entrance fee to the Tower - the food was excellent but expect to pay for it, and l would guess it was the dearest meal we ate whilst in Vegas around £20 a head (for lunch).

I found the hotel itself to be adequate - the rooms were of a decent size - television, hairdryer, towels, iron and board. The bathroom was of a decent size and the shower was powerful. I do have a few complaints that being the walls were paper thin - l could hear our neighbours in the shower or their alarms going off; and guest services were slow with making up the rooms - we left one day at 10am to go out for the day - and we were back by 6pm to get ready to take in a show that evening - our room was still not made up.

There is a wealth of accommodation as l said and on the strip - the hotels themselves are the attractions with something going on to draw in the unsuspecting tourist and to swipe away their dollars.

My Favourite Strip Hotels

To go through the hotels on the strip would require a book and l would guess everyone's interpretation of them is different therefore these are my favourites - l cannot comment on the service and state of the rooms as l did not stay in them.

The Belliago

Named after an Italian town and costing $1.6 billion to built - its themed after its namesake and inspired by its lakeside beauty. You can expect to see Tuscan architecture, and a huge man made lake outside the hotel - opulence and elegance and the buzz words! The fountains draw in the tourists nightly - and from nightfall every thirty minutes the fountain show stops people in their tracks - the fountains elegantly dance to music to entertain the throngs.

There is a fabulous shopping mall - where if you are like me you simper past wishing for a lottery win - Fendi, Prada and Tiffany are the stores to expect.

The Casino as one would expect judging from the rest of the hotel is elegant and chic - but as l found with EVERY single Las Vegas hotel static electric shocks - Paul would take my hand and we would be blown apart with the shock!

There are many restaurants inside, we ate at the Belliago Buffet - around $26 ahead for all you want to eat - soft drinks and coffee are included in the price but alcohol is separate. The buffet was huge (and is very popular in Vegas) - seafood, American, Italian, Mexican and Asian, along with a superb selection of deserts to tantalise any taste bud! And the best thing about it - it's all you can eat!

Vegas is renowned for its spectacular shows and the show at the Belliago is believed to be one of the best in town. Prices are not cheap expect tickets to start at around $120 dollars and if you really want to see this show pre booking is not a bad idea - it was totally sold out when we were there - and December isn't peak season! The show on at the moment is the Cirque du Soleil's O - a water based spectacular.

The Christmas decorations were fabulous in the Belliago - with dancing water fountains at the foot of a massive tree, the Coca Cola Penguins and Polar Bears which moved and all this with softly piped Christmas music in the background.

The Venetian

Out my listed hotels the Venetian is possibly my favourite. Expect gondoliers gliding by on the Grand Canal whilst you experience a replicated Venice - to scale. It opened in 1999 at a cost of $1.5 billion - the attention to detail is fantastic - beautiful archways, gondoliers with voices of angels punting lovers along the flowing canals, and cobbled walk ways.

There's another shopping mall, not of the opulence of the designer Belliago but still set apart from the usual high street shops. There are 15 restaurants - we ate at the Mexican set by the Grand Canal so we were able to watch and listen to the gondoliers as we ate. Food was reasonable and a decent Mexican for the price - around $70 for main course for 2 and drinks.

We also saw a show in the Venetian - the world acclaimed Blue Man Group - who have their own Theatre named after them. Again tickets do not come cheap although availability was much easier than that in the Belliago. The tickets cost $90 each and the show lasted just over 2 hours with no intermission. Whilst there is no actual dialogue the Blue Men communicate through rhythm and comedy. They have a fantastic backing band and actively encourage (and seek) audience participation. We thoroughly enjoyed the show.

It goes without saying there is the ubiquitous Casino as with all Vegas hotels - we did play the slots for a time - but really lm no gambler so l was never going to win a fortune!

Mandalay Bay

To be found right at the end of the strip - towering above the others and in a golden colour so instantly recognisable. While we were in town - Rocky VI was being filmed in this hotel - and they were looking for volunteers for the crowd scene! The hit West End Musical Mama Mia was also playing in the Mandalay Bay. This hotel cost slightly less than the previous 2 l have mentioned a mere $950 million only!

Mandalay Bay is based around an Asia Tropical paradise and its pool area is based in sand and has man made waves which gently lap to the shore. I'm sure this is a haven for relaxation.

Attractions include that of Shark Reef - which we did visit - but l really would not waste my cash again - lm sure kiddies thought it was great - the attraction an aquarium featured mainly sharks and the main tank had a moving walk way for visitors to watch the marine life in action. It lasted around 40 minutes and cost $16 per adult.

There is a monorail which runs between the Egyptian themed Luxor Hotel and the Knights of the Round Table themed Excalibur Hotel which saves your feet and is free.

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There was a nice atmosphere about this hotel - it was big and spacious and something attracted me to its atmosphere.

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Well l think the name of this hotel gives the theme of it away really. A miniature Manhattan awaits those visiting this hotel. It cost $485 million to build and really is a must see - even from the outside only. Expect The Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty and a façade of NYC skyscrapers.

Visitors can get up close and personal with these buildings as a roller coaster - accessed from inside the hotel - twirls, zooms and whips you through the Manhattan Sky Line! From what lm told not for the faint hearted - me lm not insane and like to keep my feet on terra firma!

There's as usual the Casino inside with bars such as Coyote Ugly - made famous in the movie, Nine long Irish Men - funnily an Irish Themed pub and many NYC style diners.

Another Cirque du Soleil Show can be seen in New York New York - that called Zumanity which is apparently more risqué than other shows in its books. Again tickets are around $100

As you see l could write a book on the strip hotels - others worth a brief mention include Cesar's Palace - where Celine Deon is currently warbling; Aladdin - a fantastic mall which actually recreates a tropical rain storm; The Mirage - see the Volcano erupt nightly and Treasure Island - where the sirens of Treasure Island perform nightly shows outside on pirate ships.

Trips Outside of Town

I'm will be brief as this tour really deserves a tour of its own. Vegas is a perfect location for visitors to take a day trip out to the Grand Canyon - pass through Boulder City and the Hoover Dam. We did a bus tour and it cost around £85 for each of use but it included a fully guided tour, hotel pickup, stopping for pictures at Hoover Dam, a visit to a range and a horse cart ride with some cowboys; a visit to an Indian reserve, food and of course the Canyon itself. For an addition cost a helicopter tour was available.

The Canyon is mammoth, phenomenal and awe inspiring. The colours are constantly changing and looking down into its vast depth really makes you feel small and insignificant in this world. The trip is highly recommended to all who visit Vegas.

We picked up our trip from a street vendor on the Strip - just down the street from Coca Cola world and Gameworks, in the Grand Canyon Shop - but street vendors are ten a penny. There are numerous trips from a few hours helicopter tour, to boat rides along the famous Colorado River to the romantic champagne and sunset tours, whatever tour you choose believe me you will enjoy it.

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I hope l have given you a taste of Vegas life - there is really something for everyone whether it is shopping, gambling, food or the shows. Kids will not be disappointed either as lm sure their parents will entertain them! The day trip to the Grand Canyon was fabulous for me and l highly recommend it. An area l didn't go into detail about but is worth a visit is downtown to Freemont Street where the giant canopy covering the street with the animation and visuals every half hour is jaw dropping. It can be seedy but don't let that put you off. Vegas does have its nastys - those handing out flyers for girls to come to your room and the like but ignore it (or not if that's your bag!) just as we did. The buffets are fabulous and l would recommend a champagne brunch at Mirage - delicious with as much bubbly as you can take!

Posted by Purdy 08:50 Archived in USA Comments (0)

A weekend break to Edinburgh

albeit for a family get together

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May 6th until May 8th 2006 we were in Edinburgh, Scotland - mainly to see Joanne, Paul and Carys - who was the main focus of the weekend as it was her dedication service on Sunday the 7th May.

We stayed in a travel lodge near Musselborough where Joanne lives, it was handy and had car parking - but that is about it - the facilities were basic, rooms non-descript it stank of stale smoke even though the room was NON smoking, and the Little Chef next door was dire! Still it had a bed and shower!

We did a quick open top bus tour around the city on Monday and whilst quite blustery the sun did shine, and it was a nice way to while away a few hours before heading back to the airport for our Easy jet flight back to Belfast. It took in the major sites and cost £9 for an adult. We hopped on at Ocean Terminal where we were able to park up for free, and hopped off at Princess St so we could grab some food, then back on again for the trip back to Ocean Terminal. There was a pre-recorded voice over giving out local sites and "funny" antedotes! The musical sound track was awful and l think my cat could have sung better!

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Once back at Ocean Terminal, mum, dad, Lucy, Lynda & Carys decided to wander around the shops whilst Robert, Paul, Joanne & myself went to see the Royal Yatch Britania to while away an hour. It was good enough costing £9 to enter with the remote hand held speakers which gave you a guide in English included in the price also. Britiania.JPG

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After this is was a rush back to the airport to drop off the hire car for 5pm and then check in and wait for our quick flight back to Belfast.

Posted by Purdy 08:10 Archived in Scotland Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Singapore June 2005

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We visited Singapore in June 2005 as part of our summer vacation which took in Bali, Indonesia for 10 nights and 5 nights in Singapore. It was my first visit to Singapore but having vacationed in Thailand the year previous l had some experience of visiting an Asian city and country.

Our trip was booked independently flying with Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) directly from Manchester to Singapore Changi Airport. The airfare which incorporated flying from Manchester to Singapore to Denpsar, Bali to Singapore to Manchester cost us in June 2005 a princely sum of £575 which l do not think was bad at all – and as a side line l would note that Singapore Airlines meet the hype they are well worth flying for if only for the Kris air Entertainment System.

On arrival (13 hours later) into Changi International Airport l was extremely impressed with the quality of the airport building – it was a quite hum of activity, clean, cool and sophisticated. Changi is a world class airport – lots of shopping, eating and drinking establishments to be found. There is an airport pool for transit visitors to chill out at also which is quite original – although l doesn’t think Heathrow really has the weather for passengers to make use of such a facility! Something which really impressed me at Changi was that transit visitors who have a minimum of 5 hours wait to catch their next flight (usually on to Australia or New Zealand) can book a free 2 hour tour of Singapore City, which runs between 10am and 5pm daily.

I can’t really remember much about immigration – so it must have passed quite smoothly without a hitch, l certainly don’t remember queuing or being made to wait. Then again l would be surprised if we did have to queue. In Singapore everything is so efficient.

Transit between Changi and the city can take various modes:

Taxi Cab – these can be found outside both Terminals 1 & 2 at the arrival hall level. Expect a taxi cab fare to cost around $15-20 plus airport surcharges which are not displayed on the meter.

Bus – found at basement level again at both Terminal 1 & 2 and they depart from 6 in the morning until midnight.

Shuttle Bus – operating between the airport and most major hotels and tickets are $10 approximately for adults. Desks selling tickets for the shuttle bus are readily available and found in both terminals.

MRT (Tube) – found in Terminal 2 and leaves every 12 minutes to take you to the City Hall MRT station, the journey is around half hour and costs $1.50. This was by far the cheapest option and the one we chose – we were not jet lagged having spent the 10 days previous in Bali therefore able to cope with the experience!

First Impressions

Having been in Bali and Thailand l think l was expecting another chaotic Asian city on par with Bangkok – oh no! Singapore is very British. That’s the only way l describe the city – genteel and polite! The roadways are very uniform, with colonial style buildings to be found dating back to Imperialistic times. There is a quite calm not like Bangkok at all where everything is hectic and manic! Singapore is very clean also. I’m sure you have all heard about the laws banning chewing gum from Singapore (and its true you cannot buy chewie in the corner shops) and that you can be jailed for not flushing the loo! Colleagues also told me of days gone by with the Singaporean authorities would have refused entry to those who turned up at immigration looking scruffy! Things are not just as bad now but the city is very clean and tidy, with the inhabitants following suit.

Accommodation

There is a wealth of accommodation from all levels to be found in Singapore from the luxurious down to the budget traveller. Websites such as www.expedia.co.uk or www.travelocity.com can help you choose which is right for you pocket – one tip always read the travellers recommendations – not only do you get a feel for the hotel but also there are good top tips about near by amenities and so on.

Eating Out

Again – depending on how frugal or not you want to be you can eat expensively in a top class restaurant or in food hall where a wealth of local food can be picked up for a minute cost. We ate quite a bit at Boat Quay & Clarke Quay – where as long as you are prepared to ignore the touts trying to get you into their establishment and make your own mind up you can get a reasonably priced meal. We ate jumbo prawns at one of these open air restaurants one evening and l must say l have not had prawns like that since – absolutely wonderful. A Singaporean speciality which l am kicking myself l did not try is that of Chilli Crab – as long as you are prepared to get stuck in with your fingers and thumbs it is apparently a wonderful treat.

Shopping

I found Singapore to be shoppers paradise – when we were there in June it coincided with the Great Singapore Sale and all the shops had great discount sales on! Shopping in the Suntec City Mall – where in the evening you can be entertained by the Fountain of Wealth and Orchard Road. Both are serviced by the MRT. Also there are the stalls in Chinatown & Little India where you can barter to your hearts content. I got a fantastic Chinese Style dress made for under £70 – silk and fully lined – which was totally unique – for friends wedding. And l came home with 5 handbags (my fetish lm afraid) in my suitcase!

Sight Seeing

Singapore Zoo – open daily from 8.30am – 6pm (www.zoo.com.sg) the zoo occupies an area of 69 acres beside Upper Seletar Reservoir. There are animals from all over the global, but the one exhibit which l found most inspiring was the walk through canopy – here butterflies of all shapes sizes and colours fluttered by your head, up in the tree canopy a sloth took a nappy, a mouse deer peeped timidly out from behind a bush and friendly staff informed you of what you were gazing at. At one point l thought l was done for as a huge lizard trundled my way – boy can they move when they want too. Another highlight for me was watching the Komodo Dragons. Also there is a fantastic oraganutan community – with lots of babies to coo over. The zoo is extremely well run and the animals look happy with lots of space to live in. We spent an entire day at the zoo and took public transport to and from the city centre. The usual smattering of fast food conveniences are too be found and if you should tire of walking in the heat a bus has strategically placed stops in each zone to take you too and from exhibitions.

Sentosa Island – this island lies off mainland Singapore and has built up the reputation to be resort away from the main city of Singapore. Again using the extensive public transport routes we spent a day at Sentosa. Unfortunately the cable cars which run between Mount Faber and Sentosa Island were closed when we visited so we took the more traditional bus option, after taking an MRT to the Harbour Front stop. There is a nominal admission price onto Sentosa which also included bus trips around the island also. There are numerous beach areas to lounge around as long as you don’t mind a back ground view of huge tankers passing by! On Sentosa there are numerous attractions to fill your day. We visited Underwater World (www.underwaterworld.com.sg) which is noted to be one of the best aquariums in Asia. I found it nothing special and rather crowded. There is 2.8 million litres of water home to 2500 tropical sea creatures. Along with your entrance ticket to Underwater World you get admission to the Dolphin Lagoon which is at Palawan Beach. Here you can be entertained by the Indo-Pacific Humpbacked Dolphins (otherwise known as the Pink Dolphins). You can also meet the Dolphins which l did the charge was $10 which is really nothing – l got into the water and petted and touched the Dolphin and had my photo taken too! This was such a highlight of my trip. There are numerous other sights to see in Sentosa too – Fort Siloso, Musical Fountain, or Images of Singapore – which l cannot really comment on as we did not visit. Sentosa whilst a bit gimmicky was a nice way to spend a day, especially when the weather is lovely, which it was on our visit until home time when the thunder did roar!

Raffles Hotel – one of the most famous landmarks in Singapore and home of the famous cocktail – Singapore Sling. Found at Bras Basah Road corner with Beach Road. This is a Mecca for most visitors to Singapore. We spent a lovely few hours wandering around this little bit of history and l really felt as though we were stepping back in time. Sitting in the lush courtyard gardens sipping the obligatory Singapore Sling really was relaxing and wonderful especially as the sun was high in the sky and l just had been bought a beautiful silver bracelet in Tiffany’s which can be found as one of the shopping tenants in the hotel complex. It costs nothing to wander around the hotel although expect the Singapore Sling to cost around $25 for 2.

The Esplanade Theatre

Whilst we didn’t go inside the Esplanade is a famous landmark along the waters of Marina Bay – famed because it looks like a huge prickly hedgehog – costing $600 million to build and is home to a performing arts centre. It opened as recently as October 2002 and quickly established it’s self as a popular tourist photographic spot. We arrived in Singapore when light was starting to fade and it was awesome to wander along the riverside past Clarke Quay and sit watch the traffic along river and see the evening lights bounce off the spiky façade of the theatre. It has caused debate among some who think it an eyesore but personally l thought it was a remarkable triumph to contemporary architecture.

Merlion

A water feature shaped as half fish half lion and is thought to be the symbol of Singapore. Another photographic point for tourists to be found just past the famous Fullerton Hotel past a lot of swish restaurants. Also whilst walking along the riverside to see the Merlion there are a lot of sculptures done in bronze which depict 5 playful children leaping into the river.

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There are many other sites and sounds in Singapore – including that of the wonderful Chinatown with its bustling markets and Little India which you must experience simply for the exotic smells alone. There are also wonderfully ornate Hindu Temples which depict many religious scenes – again all great for the photograph album. We also did made a trip across the border from Singapore to Malaysia to the border town of Johor Bahur. Regular buses run across the border – be prepared to spend some time in queues and bring your passport as you will get another stamp. I found Johor Bahur to be the seedy cousin to Singapore which is sterile in comparison – if you do have the time on your hands take time to cross the border.

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We spent 5 nights in Singapore and whilst l do not think l would necessarily rush back as we did pretty much everything and saw most of the sites – although l was disappointed the cable car to Mount Faber was not running as l think the views would be stunning – l found the city to be intriguing and a little bit of the west slap bang in the middle of Asia.

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Posted by Purdy 11:41 Archived in Singapore Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

Accomodation Australia

So we have sorted our hostels/hotels for Melbourne & Sydney - thought it wise as its so busy!

Staying for 5 nights in Melbourne @ The Beach Beaconsfield near Albert Park - right on the beach. Whilst in Sydney we are booking Macquarie Boutique Hotel on Wentworth Ave.

Im so into my research lve even got the day drips sorted - and we have another 9 months to wait - how will l cope!!

Posted by Purdy 11:37 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Down Under for Christmas & New Year

We have finally booked Austrailia & New Zealand. Flying out from Belfast on 23rd December 06, to London via Frankfurt (with Lufthansa) to Singapore then on to Melbourne (with Singapore Airlines) - we arrive at 7am on Christmas Day! We then have around 10 days to spend in Austrailia - with New Year in Sydney - before spending 16 nights in New Zealand. We plan to work our our way down the country - Auckland - Rotarua to Wellington over to Blenhim to Christchurch and down toward Queenstown & Fjordland. We finally make our way home on 20th Jan flying from Queenstown to Christchurch and on to Auckland (with Air New Zealand) overnight in Auckland then on 21st January flying back to London via Los Angles getting back to Belfast on 22nd January - with one day to recover and back to work on 24th January!

We booked all these flights with our airmiles and a cost of £170 taxes!!It would cost nearly £1500 otherwise! Now we need to plan more indepth agenda, with our hostels and internal flights/bus trips & day tours!

AND before we do all this we got to visit Beijing too - yes l am a very lucky girly!

Posted by Purdy 11:05 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Asia Beckons Again

Just parted with more cash!

sunny 6 °C

So last night Saturday 25th February whilst sitting in front of the telly, we decided to go for it and booked our trip to China! So through expedia we were able to get flights from London to Frankfurt to Beijing return and hotel for £528 for 7 nights (plus a day to travel. Travelling with Lufthansa - havent a clue what they are like long haul so will be interesting!! So there we go Thursday 1st June until Fri 9th June 2006 we will be in CHINA!!

Staying at Taiwan Hotel which is apparently a decent location, basic but clean hotel where we can walk to everywhere.

Next hurdle is to get our visas sorted - can do this in Dublin but is a torture as we have to deliver and pick up in person.

TRYING ALSO TO GET NEW ZEALAND & AUSTRAILIA SORTED TOO

So we are booking our NZ & Oz flights with airmiles - if l ever get himself motivated into deciding about it! But cant push him too much just sorted China and too much excitement is too much! Still l will commence my continous nagging later (lve just bribed him with chocolate!)

Posted by Purdy 07:25 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged preparation Comments (0)

A London Oydessy

semi-overcast 8 °C

I sent a blog via email from my blackberry - it was a bit pants - those tiny buttons!

So we spent 5 days in our nations capital - London - we had a great time - its so true what they say (whoever they are!) you dont appreciate what is under your nose! The 5 days were in no way enough!

So got there Sat night - we were staying in Kennsington - Holland Park Ave and it was a lovely area - according to some Estate Agencies you really dont get much change from £1 000 000 when buying a house!

Travelled everywhere by tube - getting a day pass £4.90 to take us withing zone 1 & 2.

So what did we get up too?

On a wet and rainy Sunday we took the Ordinary Bus Tour (from Oxford Circus) £16 and travelled on it for around 2 hours, taking the yellow route and saw many of the major sites in the capital. The guide had a voice scarily like Chris Evans!! The ticket was valid for 24 hours being hop on hop off and included a choice of 2 Thames boat trips.

On Sunday afternoon we wandered around Covenant Gdn, Chinatown, Soho before heading out to dinner in Belgravia - The Mango Tree - excellent food along with 50% off our food bill!!

Monday - so we were able to head to Buckingham Palace to witness the Changing of the Guard at 11.30am every other day at this time of year. We got to the Palace (Queenie was out!) via St James Park - which was lovely, just in time to witness the army marching along to thier band. Very impressive. The lack of tolerance of the mounted police to the tourists was great - welcome to the UK!

We then visited St Pauls after lunch - which was impressive - lm not good with heights though so l just about made it into the Whispering Gallery (at one point l though l was going to have to stay there - lm not good with heights!) so l didnt visit the domes - but got some pictures!!

After a tube back to hotel it was back to the West End to Picadilly Theatre, 16 Deman St - to see Guys & Dolls starring Nigel Harman (of Eastenders fame) which was brilliant.

Tuesday - Valentines Day! Firstly an excellent trip on London Eye - we prebooked tickets via the web - it was busy as it was half term but queues were quick moving.

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Then some pictures of Big Ben & Westminister, before visiting Westminsiter Abbey (£10) l found this fasinating - such history - Queen Elizabeth I tomb, Cornonation Chair. Finally off to Tower of London to wander around White Tower and see Crown Jewels (cost £14). Westminister.JPG

On the way back to hotel we popped into Harrods to see what all the hype was about - l really couldnt be much bothered at this point - l was suffering sore feet!
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But all in all a lovely trip and we really need to go back and see the rest!

Heather

Posted by Purdy 14:49 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Sitting in front of the telly

Here in cold Belfast

Ive just set up my very own blog - therefore it is very much a work in progress - as yet l havent been very far this year, but lm off on a long weekend city break to London next weekend therefore l hope kick this off in style!

Posted by Purdy 15:28 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Been To Bali

sunny 30 °C

I was extremely lucky to have visited Bali, Indonesia in June 2005, before the second bombings took place. To have occurred once was horrendous, killing and maiming all those people but for a second time – what has this island paradise and beautiful and gentle people done to deserve this? I don’t want to dwell too much on this incident l want to extol to you (hopefully doing it some justice) the majestic beauty and peaceful tranquillity of this small island and its peoples.

To travel to Bali you will have to connect through one of the more major hubs whether it is Singapore or Bangkok. We flew out of Manchester with Singapore Airlines checking our baggage all the way through to Denpsar in Bali (DPS is the airport code). Flights connecting through Singapore and with a stop over in Singapore on the way home cost less than £600 STG which was excellent value. Expect to travel for practically 24 hours – we had to leave from Belfast therefore it took 3 flights to get to our final destination – with around 17 hours actual flying time. It is long haul at its worst but on arrival it is definitely worth it.

Bali is in the Southern hemisphere only just mind you – less than 150 miles from the equator (8 degrees south apparently) you are in the tropics have no doubt – so come prepared for soaring temperatures and intense heat. As it is an island l didn’t find the humidity to be as fierce as that of a city such as Bangkok – where my hair frizzed as soon as l walked out side! Another preparation before you leave is to visit your GP and ensure you are vaccinated properly – probably a tetanus jab and a Hep B (l think that’s correct) jab – l didn’t need anything this year you see as l was up-to-date from visiting Thailand the year previously. The MASTA website is a good place to check up on what you require. Then ensure you have all the proper sun creams (HIGH factors please) and bug repellents in your bag – throw in a pair of shorts and a bikini (if that floats your boat!) and your all set!

On arrival ensure you have some US dollars as you will have to pay for an entry visa which is stamped into your passport – not this was the case for me as l travel on a UK passport – other countries should consult with the Indonesian Consulate. This was around $30 for both of us. Passport control and immigration move smoothly and the officers were very pleasant – they even had sweeties on the desk for the guests – Jolly Rangers and l had 2!!

We simply grabbed a cab from outside the airport – agreeing a price before we got in l may add – but you will find such cheap in comparison to western standards – approximately £15 for our cab and the trip to our hotel which was off the Nusa Dua peninsula took around half an hour. This is where you get your first glimpse of Bali – well it is mainly roads with families whizzing past you on motorcycles – weaving in and out – horns blaring. It is chaotic and lm not a great passenger at the best of times l must say but l soon got used to it! It might sound all aggressive as a horn blares and a motorcycle skims by your cab – but then you get a huge grin a friendly wave and their off again. Another lovely thing we noticed was if stopped at lights and a family (mummy daddy and a couple of kids) on a bike pulls along usually the kids start to grin and wave profusely – it’s so sweet and welcoming and brings a smile to the hardest of hearts!

We stayed at the Bali Conrad Resort which is to be found in Tanjung Benoa/Nusa Dua area of Bali. It is a quieter part of the Island with a lot of big name hotel resorts. We booked our hotel accommodation through www.travelocity.co.uk. The hotel resort & spa is probably a more upmarket hotel but again as with most holiday resorts there are all levels of accommodation to suit all wallets. The hotel catered for your every desire – it had a fantastic spa and pool, separate pool and beach area, numerous bars and dining areas, a gym, shopping arcade, tour desk and water sports. The room we stayed in was an executive room and was huge with a large bathroom all decorated tastefully in dark woods. There was also a patio area which when opened up had a beautiful view of the sea. Rooms on higher levels had a balcony area as opposed to a patio. The patio was equipped with lounging beds and table and chairs. Each room had a little fabric monkey for guests to take away – each wearing a black and white gingham sarong which in the Hindu religion is to ward of evil spirits – l think it represents the yin and yang – now don’t quote me on that though. It was a glorious hotel and we spent a good few days of our ten night stay enjoying the facilities and the wonderful weather!

We tried to intersperse our holiday with days soaking up the sun along with sight seeing trips. The trips l must say we booked mainly through a website called www.balidiscovery.com and it was interesting as we found it to work out as cheap for us to hire a car/van and tour guide and prepare our own itinerary. I would recommend you surf around the website and see what suits you.

Eating and drinking in Bali was not as cheap as in Thailand – but still compared to restaurants in the west you were still saving. I can definitely recommend:

Bumbu Bali (& cookery school) – we actually went here for my birthday which occurred on holiday. I found it idyllic – whilst my other half found it uncomfortable due to the heat and humidity – the poor soul almost melted in a puddle in front of me meaning he didn’t enjoy the food properly. A free shuttle bus between our hotel and the restaurant meant transportation was not an issue – our concierge desk sorted that out for us. We booked the morning prior to eating there that evening – again sorted out at the concierge desk. It was dark and l can’t really remember much about the exterior of the building – maybe that was the champagne cocktails l had consumed – but as we walked in the chefs in the open plan kitchen all turned to us and shouted a big cheery hello – totally unexpected! After being in here for a while we soon realised that everyone got the same greeting! I was also given an orchid on arrival – something all the females were presented with – l slipped it into my hair it seemed the done thing! We were placed beside a little water feature with fish swimming inside – l did get concerned about mozzies and the running water – so liberally sprayed my ankles with bug spray! The food was authentic Balinese cuisine and it was divine – from memory there were chicken, beef and prawn satay and l remember having a delicious fish coated in spices cooked with in a banana leaf. We had beers and cocktails with the food – and even though the meal was a birthday treat l don’t think it cost much more than £30 for both of us.

In Kuta we ate in a lovely restaurant situated on Poppies II called Kori and l think to my other half this was his best meal of the trip (it came a very close second to Bumbu Bali for my personal choice!). It didn’t look very big from the outside but inside was like a tardis with different levels and nooks and crannies. An open air setting once in side – himself was a lot more comfortable here to enjoy the food! The menu took you across Asia with different specialities for you to choose – satay, Thai food to the Singaporean chilli crab. Food was presented beautifully – we chose a selection of satay skewers to start and it came out on a stone cube inside of which was a little fire so you could keep the food warm. I had the red snapper – l fish which is hard to come by here at home but is an amazingly delicious meaty fish and local to the area so fresh. Rice is the staple side order. Again it was extremely reasonable to eat at. We actually tried to eat here a second evening but luck was against us and the owners had closed to the public for a family occasion.

Finally, l must mention Jimbaran Beach – the area which suffered at the hands of bombers last summer. For any of those wanting a romantic setting and fresh delectable seafood – this place is highly recommended. Come early – maybe around 5pm and enjoy a wander down the beach, watch the wonderfully colourful fishermen’s boats set of for a night of fishing, have a beer and watch the sunset before choosing one of the numerous beach front seafood restaurants to have a meal. We ate at one called Sharkeys – no particular reason – it was the closest we were to when the sun set! Here you choose your fish and pay dependent on the weight – the choice is endless – lobster, snapper, crab, huge prawns or squid – cooked over an open flame grill of coconut husks – the smells wafting to you are simply mouth-watering. It was at Jimbaran that we first encountered Balinese wine! Yes you read correctly – not known as a wine producer but l must say – FABULOUS! I love a NZ Sauvignon Blanc usually and the taste was reminisant – we loved it so much – we picked up a couple of bottles to bring home – l still have the bottle unfortunately the contents is long gone! Just checked the bottle – Bali Hatten Aga Wine produced in Sanur.

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Just a word about spa treatments – most resort hotels will have a spa facility and from personal experience l can thoroughly recommend them! I took 2 treatments myself and even got himself coerced into joining me for a couples treatment as a third! I had an invigorating body scrub, a fresh facial – all the products used were edible and we then and a couples foot and leg massage. All of which were amazing – the therapists were like angels and had truly magic fingers. Cost is so much less than we would pay at home – all three treatments worked out at around £55 STG.

Bali has some amazing scenery so it is an absolute must that if you are there you see as much as possible.

Our first trip took us took us in an open top jeep – which on hindsight was not such a good idea with the day time heat beating off us and nothing to shelter under and the suspension on the jeep wasn’t the greatest! Still the scenery and sights certain made up for whatever discomfort. We visited:
Tirta Empul – the most holy spring in Bali enshrined in a temple of 1000 years in age. Our guide was great in telling us all about the Hindu ceremonies and rituals that took place here, and indeed we were able to witness locals going about their religious doings.

Batur Volcano – here is where we experienced the discomfort! We went off road and crossed the black lava fields on our way to vantage point where we were able to view the still active volcano – l had though we went to the crater but sadly no.

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Ubud – the local town renowned for the number of local artists which reside here. There was also a market to potter around and do a bit of shopping. I didn’t really shop much here – l was flagging from the heat!

Goa Gajah – again another holy shrine – locally known as the Elephant Cave because of all the ancient carvings.

It something l should note that local culture states proper dress attire which is that of wearing a sarong – our guide provided sarongs for us to wear and even dressed us properly in them.

This trip lasted a full day with plenty of stops for water and food. I cant really quote costs as these are all tailor made and would definitely recommend you check out the website l mentioned before.

Another site not to be missed and one of the most famous Balinese tourist spots was a sunset trip to the Tanah Lot Sea Temple. This temple is over 1000 years old and is probably the most photographed. It perches on a high cliff and when the sunsets the view is spectacular with the rays dancing on the sea and glowing through the temple. Only the Balinese can actually go inside the temple but it is still we worth visiting.

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A further trip took us to Alas Kedaton Holy Monkey Forest – in the forest surrounding the temple hundreds of allegedly tame monkeys live. I found the monkeys to be quite forward and indeed aggressive so it was good our guide was with us! I had one perch on my head and eat snacks from my hand! Another tried to steal my camera case! Great photographic opportunity but do approach the animals with caution – and make sure you inoculations are up-to-date as if they don’t get what they want apparently they can become aggressive and even bite.

Kuta Beach is a wonderful golden beach – but rife with touts selling their wares from fake sunglasses and watches to offering massage or hair beading. We headed down for sunset again and himself got some excellent shots. The resort of Kuta is where the main night life is to be found for tourists with lots of restaurants bars and clubs to be found at Poppies I & II. There are the usual market stalls selling local crafts and knock off bags and the like. We spent a few evenings wandering around and also went to pay our respects at the memorial where the first bombing killed so main innocent lives. Kuta is also a Mecca for surfers so expect to meet a lot of long blonde haired lithe Australians out to catch the waves.
What l have given you is really only a snap shot of Bali, there is so much to see and do in this little island in Indonesia. Although at the moment l am not sure what the Foreign Office recommends about visiting Indonesia due to terrorism which is a bloody crying shame as these people rely on tourism to sustain there economy. The island is amazing from the towering volcanoes, to the sparkling blue lakes, to the amazing temples thousands of years old to the ingenious rice terraces. It has wonderful balmy hot weather, excellent cuisine and the people are so gentle and polite.

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Posted by Purdy 00:00 Archived in Indonesia Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

Niagara in February

snow -9 °C

We went to Toronto last Feb for a city break - wish we had left the city to warmer weather though - the path system is wonderful BUT not alot to do when you are kept in doors by freezing weather. So we didnt get to see the wonderful islands and so on - so l guess will have to visit again!

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Anyway one thing l am SO glad we did was visit Niagara Falls in freezing weather - it was less congested, and the views were SPECTACULAR - to see huge icicles hanging off trees and the roar of the Falls with ice chunks in the flow was amazing. We went with a tour which was small and wonderful - run by an amazing lady called JOJO - totally recommend that!

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Posted by Purdy 00:00 Archived in Canada Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

San Francisco in Sept 04

Though l didnt wear any flowers in my hair!

sunny 20 °C

I love California, to be precise, San Francisco. We are just back from a fantastic week there from the 11th to 18th September. There was amazing weather even though l was warned by everyone that SF is notorious for being cold and foggy. To be honest l saw fog once - on our first morning there l woke up to find the most amazing dense fog l have ever saw in my life – but this disappeared by lunch into a glorious day.

So San Francisco, in Northern California, set on a bay – a more laid back yet cosmopolitan city you could not find. It is a very tolerant city – renowned for its gay quarter in Castro and back in the 60’s was a haven for hippies and beatniks. What l did notice and found quite disconcerting was the numbers of homeless on the streets. When l was in New York l didn’t see any street people, having been told the city had made a concerted effort to get people off the streets and indeed “clean up” the city so to speak. So when l hit the streets of SF l think l was expecting more of the same yet on every corner in every district there was someone sleeping rough or begging for cash. Apparently because of the mild weather it is a lot more conducive for sleeping rough than the streets of New York.

We got to San Francisco via a flight from Belfast to London and London direct to San Francisco. The flight took a little over 9 hours and we actually arrived half an hour earlier that anticipated. We flew direct with United Airways although others such as Virgin Atlantic and BA both fly direct to the city also. Now the queues to go through immigration were phenomenal – but l would expect that any US airport to have the same queues – a necessary evil we will simply have to endure lm afraid.

We had booked the super shuttle bus before we left the UK for our transfer from the airport to the hotel (www.supershuttle.com) which cost $28 for 2, and picked us up directly from the international terminal straight to our hotel. It should be noted too that super shuttle will cover lots of other US cities too.

We stated in the Union Square area – that of O’Farrell Street. It was the Hilton San Francisco. This opinion is not about our hotel, just a simple by line to say that this is a decent 4 star hotel, large – in fact the largest in the city and international. Our rooms were of decent size – we were on the 34th floor so had excellent views of the city – there was everything you would expect of a hotel of such caliber – hairdryer, TV, towels, business traveller facilities and over priced minibar. I would say that the Union Square area was a great central place to base our stay in SF at, central to shopping, restaurants, cable car turn arounds and bus stops.

So on to the city itself – what does it have to offer?

ALCATRAZ ISLAND & STATE PENITENTUARY

This is the most popular visitor attraction within the city. Once the world renowned and notorious prison known to all as the Rock. Thought to be inescapable – in fact although attempts have been made it is unknown if those actually made it to the free world or drown in the bay. Alcatraz is Spanish for Pelican – and is still today a sanctuary for bird and wild life. The site is now run by the National Park Service and visitors can not only learn about the prison life, but also about the wild life living on the island and indeed the Indian occupation of the island.

To get to Alcatraz l had to pre book tickets – it really is that popular an attraction. To do so go to www.blueandgoldfleet.com – this is the only tour company running scheduled ferries from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Island. Our tour cost $16 each and this included an audio tour of the cell house. I would recommend this great tour. You follow the lines of your feet and listen to former prisoners and wardens talk about “The Rock”.

The cell house is really rundown and worn, but this really adds to the atmosphere of the place, the spooky eeriness of what must have been hell on earth. Step inside a minuscule cell and image the confinement or pop into solitary and shut the door, try and stop yourself panicicking – they really shut men up in these black boxes for weeks on end. This is really one trip in San Francisco that you cannot miss.

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FISHERMAN’S WHARF/PIER 39 & SEALIONS

If there is one area know for its tourists, then it’s the Fisherman’s Wharf area of the city. This is where you get the tacky tourists shops, street artists, ferries and boats touring the bay. It is also where you meet your blue and gold line ferry to Alcatraz. The area during the day is a hive of activity – whether it be tour buses dropping off or picking up passengers, street artists singing, thrashing drums, miming or even those darned pan pipes who seem to get everywhere to wandering tourists walking around wondering what to do next! Here you can gain entry to the Aquarium of the Bay (this costs $12 for adults) – which takes around half an hour to walk around - has a few touch tanks with stingrays, sea cumbers and star fish – but really aint that worth it (which we found out!) There is also the Wax Works and Ripley’s Believe it or believe it not – neither of which we visited – there’s plenty more to enjoy and spend your money on!

Also at the wharf area you will find the really star attraction – which is free and great entertainment – that of the sea lions! These sea lions located themselves just off the main Pier 39 and became instant attractions after they were affected by the earthquake of 1989. Tourists flock to see the sea lions – both young and old alike. The antics are quite amusing and you really can while away some time watching the young sea lions annoy the older ones and watch them laze the afternoon away.

Finally there is Pier 39 – this as l have said previously this is the main Pier for tourists. Here there is shopping galore – any tacky souvenirs you may wish to purchase (although expect to pay through the nose for them here), college shops – get your sweater with Berkley or USC, Dept 59 – a shop where you can by seasonal displays – Halloween was all the rage when we were there! There is also every style of restaurant under the sun – Seafood – clam chowder in a sourdough bowl – fills you up for the day, Italian – a feast of a slice of pizza – your choice, American burger bars, or Mexican – whatever your appetite it will be catered for. At night you will find live music giving the place more of an atmosphere. Also there is the old fashioned carousel which the kids will adore.

Another 2 areas down by the Wharf worth a mention were Ghirardelli Square and the Cannery. Ghirardelli Square used to be a chocolate factory of the same name – this is now a boutique shopping area and restaurant area – try out Gaylord Indian or Louis Diner. Also you got to go get some Ghirardelli chocolate (there was a 2 day choccie festival on when we were visiting – chocolate strawberries and chocolate beer!!) call into the shop and you will be given a free square! There’s also an ice cream parlour. The Cannery used to be an old Del Monte fruit cannery – now converted into and pubs and eateries area – live music at nights.

The Wharf is well worth a visit and you can catch the historic street and cable cars down to the beginning and take a walk along. I was quite surprised at night – although it does cool down quite a bit l did think it would be a lot busier and lit up at night.

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LOMARD STREET

Catch a Powell and Hyde cable car and jump off at the top of Lombard Street – take the steps down the hill and turn around and watch cars slowly navigate the bendiest and windiest street in the world. It is very pretty with grassy areas and flower boxes. It is actually a residential street. At the bottom lots of silly tourists stand in the middle of the road and play dodge with traffic to try and get a picture of the cars coming down the street. A free attraction which takes half an hour out of your day.

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UNION SQUARE

This as l have said before is the area where we stayed. This is the main shopping area in the city. There are plenty to the shoppers amongst us busy. The biggest being the renown US store Macys – this is a huge store a block in size, and has everything under one roof one could need. It’s great for clothing, cosmetics or even household goods. Top tip being – those visitors from out of town – take your passport to the visitors centre on the 6th floor and you can get a discount card – watch out though – it’s not available to use on cosmetics or fragrances. On the top floor of Macy’s is the Cheesecake Factory and restaurant. The cheese cake is nice – not great nice. Paul got a chocolate and peanut butter slice – way to rich, my original was much better. The problem being with the Cheesecake Factory – portion size – they could feed a small family on one portion! The cheesecake is also available for take away – but be warned be prepared to cue!

There are Tiffany’s Jewelers. Banana Republic, Nike World – all the usual suspects. Borders book store stays open to 11pm each night and has a coffee shop. There are Starbucks on every corner of every block!

The Nordstrom centre – is a big shopping mall – with the likes of Old Navy, Abercrombie & Fitch, or American Eagle as residents. I must admit l carried out serious card damage in Abercrombie!

CABLE/STREET CARS

The cable cars are world renown in San Fran – a real symbol of the city. There are 3 lines Powell & Hyde, Powell & Market - both leading to the Wharf and California line. We mostly rod the Powell and Hyde line – the other Powell line was closed. It’s an experience which costs $3 and you have to be prepared to wait. Head down to the Powell St turnaround and watch the Cable Car guy physically turn the car around. Ride the car all the way to the Wharf – the operators are real characters – they will give you a rundown of the city and help with directions. There is also a cable car museum where you can learn all about the cable cars and how they operate and their history.

The street car is slightly different its not manual but still quite historic – the F line takes you from Union Square area to the Wharf is cheaper than the Cable Car at $1.75 a ride and quicker as well.

A top tip if you are in the city for more than a few days is purchase a MUNI pass – 1 day for $10, 3 days for $15 and 7 days for $20 – you will get free rides on buses, street and cable cars.

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San Francisco has a plethora of other attractions to view and visits including a huge Chinatown – visit and check out the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and pick up a bag for around $3, Coit Tower at Telegraph Hill, Alamo Square – Victorian Houses or the Transamerica Building which is the triangular shaped building.

There are also trips out of town – we took a wine country tour – with Tower Towers (www.towertours.com) out to Napa Valley and Sonoma Valleys. We visited 3 wineries – Madonna, Viansam and Cline – none which l had heard off – but l drank and tasted the wines. Lunch was in the town of Sonoma – this is somewhere l would like to visit for longer than an hour – its very picturesque – craft and antique shops, wine shops selling the local produce and lovely restaurants.

In the city itself there are an abundance of places to eat – you are spoilt for choice – there is great seafood, Chinese, Thai, Indian, and of course American – amongst all the other choices for you. There are numerous sports bars and Irish bars – where you will find a welcome. I would recommend trying out the Anchor Beer – mmmmm!

Posted by Purdy 17:29 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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