Sunday, 9 March 2014

Middle East Myth Buster

I recently made a trip to Abu Dhabi and thought I should jot down my thoughts as a woman traveling there as I wish I had known a few more things about the place before I went. The United Arab Emirates is predominately Muslim and with that comes traditions and customs one should abide by. However, the rules aren't quite as strict as you may think. 

In Abu Dhabi as a Western woman you do get stared at a lot by men, so you just have to deal with that. As far as dress goes a lot of Muslim women where Western clothing, tight fitting jeans, sky scrapper heels and animal print blouses. It seems as long as no skin is really on show anything goes. You do see women walking around in knee length shorts or skirts so there is no problem if you don't want to completely cover up. The only must do really is to cover your shoulders, perhaps wear a t-shirt rather than a spaghetti strap top.

Be prepared to see Muslim women who, although are covered in a burka, have the heaviest make up on you've ever seen in your life and towering stiletto's on their feet. It's quite odd but you see it a lot. 

Yes you can wear a bikini on the beach just as long as you cover up when you go out of the beach area. A lot of what I'm saying is common sense but you do hear of people going out to the Middle East with a complete lack of respect for other people's cultures or just not knowing how to behave.

You can drink alcohol in bars but just don't get off your head otherwise taxi drivers will take you straight to a police station. All the cabs are state run so it's part of their duty if they see anyone behaving inappropriately to report it. You can pay abut £30 for a "cheap" bottle of wine so you may want to drink it slowly anyway rather than gulping it down!

Other than that there is not really anything else to report. If you're going to Abu Dhabi for a cultural break you have got the wrong place. Most of the city is still being built so everywhere you turn there are cranes and building sites. It's not pretty. Plus the roads are wide and busy. It's not the kind of place where you can just go for a pleasant walk. Even by the beach there is a dual carriage way by British standards right next to it! You look one way and there is crystal blue water, you turn around and it's just sprawling tower blocks and roads. 

Even the 'souk' in Abu Dhabi is half empty and still being built. Souk is Arabic for open air market, in Abu Dhabi it's more like a standard shopping mall. There are no market stalls as such and everywhere is just very clinical and a bit like shopping at an airport lounge. 

It's  a strange place, I'm not quite sure why people go to Abu Dhabi on holiday because all you can really do is eat, drink and shop. That may sound perfect for some people but it's not quite my cup of tea. Maybe there is more to the place than I make out and to be fair once I realised it is what it is, I actually enjoyed it more. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Her name is Rio

Rio De Janeiro is just an amazing place and that's that!I don't think I was quite expecting such a vibrant mix of beach, city, shops, buildings and more beach! There is so much to explore in this wonderful place that I would have like to have stayed a week longer. But I am a sun lover so the beaches were where it was at for me and they are exactly how you imagine them to be. Lots of women leaving very little to the imagination and men flexing their muscles. There are also lots of beach gyms and people playing volleyball. I read a lot about people being nervous on the beach because of pick pockets and criminal activity. It's not worse than any other beach in Europe. Just keep your wits about you, don't take stupid amounts of money and expensive technology with you, then you'll be fine.

I stayed in the Ipanema region of the city which is popular with tourists as it is slightly cheaper than staying near the Copacabana. Having said that accommodation is pretty pricey wherever you go. I stayed in the Lighthouse Hostel which was friendly and reasonably priced. The kitchen is quite small but I visited in low season so there weren't that many people there using it. Also you can arrange an airport pick up through the hostel if you are arriving late, otherwise there is an airport bus which goes frequently along the beach which is good. In the city there are also tours to the Favelas which you can go on but I thought that was a bit odd so didn't do it. I did go to a football match at the Maracana Stadium which was brilliant.

Plus you have Sugarloaf mountain, the 'big jesus' as I call it - otherwise known as the Christ the Redeemer statue and the colourful steps 'Escadaria Selaron'. I really enjoyed the juice drink called Acai juice made out of the berries. It's lovely. It's got quite an unusual flavour so It's not to everyones taste.

Rio is a laid back but vibrant city. So much going on, so colourful and just amazing.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Tango Country

Buenos Aires is a very European city and extremely cosmopolitan. Coffee shops, bars and restaurants are in abundance. There are also lots of currency touts that shout 'cambio' who want your American Dollars to change to Argentinian Pesos. Be warned though, if you change your money then want to change Pesos before you leave Argentina, a lot of places won't change it for you or if they do, they need a receipt of your transaction.

Buenow Aires is great city to walk around and discover. You can go visit the Boca Stadium. You can walk to the stadium from the city centre if you have a free morning or afternoon. The official tours are pretty prices so unless your a die hard footy fan I wouldn't bother if you're on a budget.

Calle Florida is the place to be on a Sunday. The street just goes on and on and is full of little pop up shops and street sellers all interlaced with impromptu tango dancers. Great if you want a few bits and pieces before you fly home. Also a great night out is a Tango show. It sounds cliche but they are fabulous. I booked my ticket through Tango Tix  and went to see a show at El Querandi. I booked a dinner and dance show and it was fabulous. You get a three course meal and a bottle of wine. The food is lovely and there is a good selection, all tastes catered for. I would recommend going for the house trifle as it's not really a trifle and tastes truly magnificent. From all the Tango shows / Tango dinner nights, this one looked the most reasonable and it certainly exceeded my expectations. Here is a taster...

The sound of the city:

Saturday, 7 September 2013


I had heard a lot about North Patagonia's biggest city before visiting. How it's lake was the centre piece of an Andean dream.When I arrived it did not disappoint. I stayed at Hostel Penthouse 1004 near the centre.Even though I arrived at night in the pouring rain,I awoke to find a stunning view from the hostels balcony and a welcome touch of home made bread and jam to start the day.

The view:
The bread:

Bariloche itself is saturated with chocolate shops and ski shops. In summer it attracts people for hiking,kayaking and biking. In the winter the slopes are the main event.

There is a bus from Bariloche you can get to the ski resort. At the bottom of the slopes you can hire ski gear which you can pick up everyday you ski. I went skiing for a couple of days and I think to hire skis and poles for two days was about £80 and then a ski pass for two days was about £80 too. The view from the top of the mountain is beautiful and slopes are vast and white. There are also plenty of bars and cafes dotted about the slopes with lovely fires too. If you are in the season and go skiing, it's well worth it.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


El Calafate in Patagonia, Argentina, is where the journey to Patagonia for most people starts. It's a fairly small town but has everything you need. On the recommendation of another traveller I stayed at the America del Sur hostel. It's a short walk just out of the main town centre and it's situated on top of a hill so the views are brilliant. It's clean, friendly, really warm and the staff are really friendly. The people who work there will also help you book tour and buses to other parts of Argentina. I walked into town to see if we were going to be paying more by booking it through the hostel but it wasn't the case. A tip for Argentina is take lots of American Dollars. It's easier to pay for things in dollars and the rate is generally better if you change dollars.

Apart from changing currency, the first on the list was the Perito Moreno Glacier. There are boat trips that take you to see lots of glaciers but there are also day trips that let you see the Perito Moreno Glacier and then go walking on it. I opted for the day trip which included the glacier hike. The actual glacier is breathtaking. The sheer size of it is just phenomenal. There are viewing platforms opposite the glacier so you can really appreciate its size and beauty. I saw a pice of ice fall away from the side which was magnificent. Take a look for yourself...

Day tours cost around £70 but the whole day is worth it, especially if you go walking on the glacier. You get a little treat of whiskey at the end of the walk which was sublime!

Another great place to visit n Southern Argentina is El Chalten. It's a smaller town than El Calafate so if the weather is bad you can't really do anything. But from El Chalten you can do lots of walks. There are paths leading out of the town up to lakes and mountains. Monte Fitz Roy is a huge mountain which dominates the landscape and it is beautiful. I went in winter so I was lucky with the weather. If you get a bad snow storm or it's overcast you can still walk but the views aren't as great. The best thing about this area is that all the walks are free and getting into the National Park around El Chalten is free.

 As I was there in the winter there weren't that many people in the town but I can imagine that in the summer the paths are packed with tourists from abroad and Argentina. Depending on the weather I would spend about 2 nights in El Chalten in winter. You could camp and stay for about a week or so in summer I should think.

I found it was hard to find travel information during the winter months in Patagonia. There are buses but the routes and times are limited during winter. It's also worth noting that most buses from the south go from Rio Gallegos. So if you want to travel from El Chalten up to Bariloche, you would have to go back to Rio Gallegos to get a bus, rather than travel up the middle of Argentina. I think the roads are open during the summer so it's easier, but in the winter, some of the roads are shut.

Visiting El Chalten and El Calafate was a highlight of my South America trip. It is more expensive in Southern Argentina than other places but it's worth it.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The End of the World

I travelled to Ushuaia from Punta Arenas in Chile which is about 16 hour bus journey.Including a ferry crossing,border control and some of the most diverse landscapes I have seen,it's a long but rewarding journey. I travelled with Techni Austral and even though the bus was cold and you don't get any food on the journey,you are escorted through the border which is pretty good.

Ushuaia has a lot to offer. I stayed in Ahnen Hostel which turned out to be one of the best places I've stayed. My room was upgraded at no extra cost to a self catering small house!It was brilliant!I cooked a bit of a roast and apple crumble-bliss.

Ushuaia itself is fairly small but a busy place with lots of shops and lots of tour operators offering whatever the weather allows you to do.I went on a boat trip. I was due to go in the morning but the weather was too bad and the sea was rough so I had to cross my fingers hoping the weather would clear.Luckily it did and at 1500 I was off on a boat with four Argentinians.

It's hard to recreate with words the magical scenes the Beagle Channel has to offer.I just couldn't get out of my head that Antarctica was just over 1000km away. The Beagle Channel is not the only thing to be named after the infamous ship.Beagle beer is another delight.It's a lovely pale ale and accompanies the rigid landscape beautifully.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Salar de Uyuni

The Salt Flats of Bolivia lie near the border to Northern Chile. You can book tours to go and visit them from La Paz and other Bolivian towns. Some of the most popular are three day tours which leave from Uyuni. You can get buses to Uyuni quite easily. I got an overnight bus from La Paz and stayed in Uyuni for the night. Be prepared though, hostels are more expensive here and it is cold!

The actual tours, you go in a small group of four or six in a 4x4 and spend the entire tour with those people.As you travel at your own pace, you don't really see many other people when you are driving over the flats and through the mountains.

There are not many things that separate the different tours and it really is hit and miss as to who it turns out. The one that I was on, the second night there was no hostel booked for our group so we had to stay in a really horrible hostel. I was feeling very well either so I was not impressed when we got told we had no where to stay. The guides you have don't necessarily speak English so try and make sure you travel with someone who is fluent in Spanish. Even if the tour operator says the guides are bilingual it isn't necessarily so.

You do go through some stunning countryside, it's a shame you can't get out and walk around a bit more. You are pretty much in the 4x4 all the time. I opted to get a tour which dropped you in Chile which was good. You got picked up at the border and taken to a near by Chilean town.

I thought the tour was a really good way of seeing the sights and crossing the border. I wouldn't do anymore than the three days though.