08 October 2009

25 Sep-5 Oct 2009: Sharks Bay, Egypt

Having been without a holiday since the US in June, I thought I had better take one before I started experiencing withdrawal symptoms! The choice was hard, but I decided on sun, scuba diving and slumming on a beach...thus the Red Sea.

I went through a UK company called OonasDivers (the one I went through also for my liveaboard 2 years ago...see the post from Nov 07) and booked myself on a 9-day scuba package to Umbi Diving Village, Sharks Bay (about 20mins from Sharm El Sheik airport and further away still from Sharm itself...thank god!). I invited my very good friend Sera and her very good friend Ria. And what a blast we had!!

Umbi Diving Village is fab_u_lous...lots of character and well run. The accommodation we chose was great (air con, bathroom, balcony, view) and the dive school very well run. My only criticism would be the quality of their dive gear (leaking tanks are not a good way to start any dive holiday!). But other than that the dive guides were fun and professional, the boats in very good running order, and never more than 4 divers to a guide. They were catering to everyone from complete beginner to those who had over 500 dives under their belts.

I can't say I saw anything larger (or should I say more dangerous) than a very large napoleon fish which was about half the size of a human. But the coral was amazing, the fish life opulent, and not that many boats around as it wasn't peak season. We chose the best time as the weather was about 35 during the day/25 during the night, low humidity, not busy and the water temp around 28 degrees. Couldn't ask for more.

I can't say we actually did much outside of diving (me), snorkelling, and lying on the beach (Sera, Ria and me), but that was fine as we had our duty free alcohol, our balcony and each other. We also socialised with other divers who were a great bunch to be around, and enjoyed the array of fab (if not limited) Egyptian food on offer.

Saying that, Ria and myself did an all-day boat trip out to Tiran Island...and unbeknown to us, the boat will filled with 28 Egyptians and 2 of us! We were the only westerners onboard and I think we were more a shock to them then they were to us!! It was funny though...particularly when we stopped for snorkelling as half of them couldn't swim at all, and so they wore life jackets (although only 3 were available on the whole boat) and the snorkelling guide had to have a life saving ring with him to drag them along!

All in all, we had a brilliant time and though I stayed on an extra 2 days after Sera/Ria went home, I could have stayed there for another week. Oh, well, I'll just have to go back next year!

More photos:

10 July 2009

May/June 2009: Boston, New York and Canada (Ontario, Quebec)

During the summer this year I had six weeks off to go and enjoy myself in the US and Canada. The first thing on my agenda was seeing my brother, sister-in-law and two nephews and niece in Boston, then I took a train down to New York for some serious fun (i.e. sightseeing and shopping), and then I joined up with a TrekAmerica trip that went to Niagara, Ontario, Quebec and back down to Maine. And here is a little of what I got up to...not everything of course, as that would be telling..... :)

The reason for going to Boston was two-fold...to see my brother, sister-in-law, nephews and niece, and to also have a look around Boston. My brother Geoff and his family live about 40mins outside of Boston but very near to Plum Island which has some very nice beaches. They also live close to Newberryport which is very idyllic...similar feel to English seaside villages. I loved catching up with my nephews and niece and to experience living in a house with 3 kids under the age of 9!

Boston is a lovely city...quite condense and lots of things to do. I would really recommend the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, going out to Harvard University campus (I was there the day after graduation so it was pretty dead), and the Bunker Hill monument. I have to admit, I even have a photo of me standing outside the bar Cheers!

New York
After spending a week in Boston I caught the train down to New York. I was staying in a hostel called Village Inn and it was situated in Greenwich/East Village part of NY. I was basically in the middle of Manhatten so I could either head up to Times Square area or down to Statue of Liberty.

Walking NY is extremely tiring...the first day I must have been walking for at least 8 hours straight and then gradually less and less as I saw more and more. Luckily the weather was on my side and didn't get rained on at all. I really recommend the following things in NY:

  • Seeing Statue of Liberty up close and personal (if you want to actually go into the statue you need to get a free pass BEFORE heading out on the boat)
  • Going up the top of the Rockerfeller Building rather than the Empire State Building (this way you get to take photos of NY with the ES Building in the background)
  • World Trade Centre museum and guided walk (well worth taking as the guide is usually someone who was there on the day)
  • Natural History Museum (we have all seen 'A Night at the Museum')
  • Crossing Brooklyn Bridge (take the metro to Brooklyn and walk back as the view is much better)
  • Walking in Central Park
  • Guggenheimer Museum
  • Shopping on 5th Avenue (it has to be done)

Trip into Canada
The TrekAmerica camping trip 'Canadian Pioneer' was brilliant - a fantastic trip with great people (we only got rained on for two evenings - both times we decided to get other accommodation other than our tents!). There was a mixture of nationalities and everyone was a similar age...no one too old or too young! The first stop was Niagara Falls (US side) - it was exhilerating going out on the Maid in the Mist boat but well worth doing that to get a close up.

Then we headed into Canada. First on our agenda was Toronto (just another city) and then Algonquin NP. If was full of mossies and it was only spring. We all went on a canoe trip and after two people capsized we sent out a rescue party to go and get help as we were on an island in the middle of the lake and the wind was up which meant there were waves and strong currents. They capsized but managed to get a rescue boat out to us!

After that adventure we then headed to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec. Ottawa felt like Wellington, NZ with its parliament, and Montreal and Quebec very French! I loved Montreal with its harbour, and cafes / restaurants (went to a restaurant called 'ONoir' where we had dinner in the pitch dark - very freaky but great fun). It is also home to Cirque du Soliel (I saw the latest show called 'Ovo'), and has gorgeous parks and amazing night life. I recommend Montral to everyone.

After spending a week in Canada (where we did see a moose or two, but no bears) we headed back out to the good ole US of A. We spent a day in Maine and the Acadia National Park where it rained for most of the time. We did get to cycle around for the day which really was good fun and very beautiful. Then we coasted down through Rhodes Island and then back to New York.

I spent another 5 days in NY seeing everything I didn't get around to (ie. Brooklyn Bridge, nearly seeing Obama in Times Square), then back to Boston for 4 days before heading back to London.

I loved every minute of the trip and would go back to New York again for sure. And of course I will have to visit my brother and his family again before my nephews and niece forget about me!

More photos...

25 January 2009

Xmas / New Year 2008: Florida, US

Organising a trip so far in advance (we started talking about this from February) made the anticipation even greater for the four of us (Lu, Chi, Teressa and myself)!


We eventually got to Orlando after what seemed like days...massive queues at Heathrow (surprise, surprise), queues at US Immigration and then more queues to get our hire car!! Then we get to our hotel (we went on a timeshare package), found the Welcome Centre very unwelcoming, had to attend our first 'tour' (having someone try to hard-sell you a timeshare for c.4hrs) the next day at midday instead of 8am, and then had to change rooms as there were no windows! This will be the first and last time I will mention the words 'timeshare' and 'tour' as they are dirty words and ones I have banned forever from my vocab.....!

It wasn't until the second day that we got to Disney...(which was Christmas eve)...and it was packed by midday. We got a 3-day ticket to DisneyWorld which includes Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, MGM, waterparks, and Epcot. Everyone working at Magic Kingdom seemed to be on happy pills as they were always polite, helpful and smiling...sincerely I must admit. It is definitely worth experiencing the atmosphere, parades, shows, and feeling like you are a kid again (i.e. see the photo of 3 of us with Mickey - it had to be done!). That evening we went to Epcot park for dinner to help celebrate Lu's birthday (I won't mention how old she was turning :).

On our second day (Christmas day) we went to Blizzard Beach water park after swapping presents and going for a Xmas buffet-all-you-can-eat meal. At the water park there is a 60ft vertical (straight down) slide where people can get up to 50 miles/hr - heart stopping ride and one that I screamed all the way down! Then that evening we went to MGM Studios (don't leave until you do the Tower of Terror - a truly thrilling ride) and back to Magic Kingdom for the fire works in the evening...spectacular is the only word to use! Another not-to-be-missed thing to do at MGM is see the Dance of Lights - it is a set of buildings that are lit up and then the lights 'dance' to the music - see the photos below.

The third day was spent at Animal Kingdom (the safari and Everest ride were the main attractions here) where it was much more peaceful, laidback than the other parks.

It wasn't until the end of the trip that we came back to Orlando and did Universal, Seaworld, and some shopping! These are much more adult-like activities and I have to say my favourite rides are at Universal were the Hulk, and Spiderman (4D show where you are on a rollercoaster and experiencing a 3D show at the same time....).

As for the shopping....there are outlet malls all across Orlando...just choose your brand and there will be an outlet shop that caters to it!


Our next destination was Daytona - the only things really to do here was visit the speedway (interesting) and hang out on the beach (which was too cold to swim in). You can drive onto this beach (10m/hr max) and park up where you want to sunbath and unload from the car (this is where lots of kids come for their spring break). But we needed to relax after a hectic 5 days so this was the place to do it!

Fort Lauderdale

We then headed south to Fort Lauderdale, but found we were actually staying outside of it. We only had a day here as half a day was spent doing another t... (I can't say it...). So Lu gathered her courage and drove us into Miami. Pleasant enough heading in as it was only 50mins and it gave us a chance to have a look at Little Havana and then South Beach, but chaotic at 5pm driving back out (10 lanes of traffic all up)!!!

Bahamas cruise

This is what we had been waiting for! R&R...and a big party thrown in to celebrate New Years. We got on as soon as we could (4hr before sailing), grabbed our deck chairs and started on the cocktails. Which led into more drinks over dinner and then more to celebrate New Years.

I can't say I much worse-for-wear come the next day as myself and Lu got off and hit Nassau at about 9am that morning. Unfortunately most things were closed (including Starbucks) so we did a really interesting 3hr tour around the island, visited the Atlantis Hotel (very big, very posh and has a fish tank that fits everything from sharks to small fish!) and then saw their New Year's Day parade (similar to Nottinghill Carnival) before getting back on the cruise ship, grabbing our deck chairs and starting on the cocktails....

The food was excellent on board (including breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, evening snack, after midnight snack...) and was all free - the only thing to pay for was alcohol. The passengers were mostly families and the only eye-candy were 18-year boys who were dragged onboard by their parents!!

The 'Florida keys'

After the cruise we hit the Florida Keys...beautiful coastline and one hell of a drive...and drive we did for most of the day. We did get to Key West for the sunset which is as spectacular as most people say it is. Very quaint area with lots of interesting architecture but we could literally only spend an hour or so here before heading back towards Orlando.

That drive back took most of the next day and then it was back to the theme parks, shopping and trying to pack everything into a 'who shrunk the suitcase' suitcase!

(The journey back to London was much less eventful and stressful except for having a shackled prisoner onboard with 4 burly armed guards looking after him - seen by every passenger before they boarded!).