El Gouna, Elle Gooooounaaa. It was a lovely phrase to say but I had no idea where it was when the opportunity to visit first came up. I Google Earthed the location and discovered an Egyptian town surrounded by desert and ocean, lagoons and reefs, beaches and mountains. I wanted a closer look.
I giggled nervously as we drove up to the complex. “This is going to be the best most bizarre thing we have ever done,” I said to my boyfriend/the designated driver.
We were half way between Reykjavik and the airport, in a land that I could have sworn was Mars. We’d left the highway and were heading straight for a large geothermal plant in the shadow of a volcano (or mountain? I’m not quite sure!). To the side of the factory, in a mist of white smoke, was a glittery turquoise lagoon, and we were about to bathe in it.
The temperature reading on the car dashboard said 7 degrees, outside in the wind it felt like minus 7. And I was supposed to be taking my clothes off and having a swim?!
I’ve never written a budget post before because I have never stuck to a budget – it’s just not my style! Everyone warned me Ibiza would be expensive before we went but it didn’t really sink in until we got there. I tweeted a lot during my trip about how extortionate everything was, but I thought I would share with you here just how much I spent, on what, and why I don’t regret it for a minute.
I’m not usually a fan of geology and rocks. I’m more of a pretty beach and local market kind of girl. And I hate the cold. So to be entirely honest Iceland wasn’t at the top of my travel wish list. But when the guys at Dohop (an Icelandic based travel company who I have followed on twitter for 2 years) announced a contest to win a trip to visit their homeland, I thought it was worth a try. Then I won, I visited Iceland, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Whilst I gather my thoughts (and slowly defrost) from what turned out to be an epic weekend in Iceland, I thought I would share with you some of the trip highlights as recorded by my Instagram account.
We kicked the weekend off in style with a visit to the No1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick South. I couldn’t get enough of the free cakes – and a cheeky glass of vino too! (To book visit Essential Travel)
Touch down in Reykjavik and this is the view from our room at CentreHotel Plaza.
If Carlsberg made hotels I’d reckon they would have: PlayStation 3’s and huge flat screen TV’s in the bedrooms, pool parties hosted by the best DJ’s in the world and they would probably build one on the sexiest strip of beach on one of the world’s best party islands. I bet Carlsberg wish they had made Ushuaia Ibiza Beach Hotel.
For Ushuaia is not just an Ibiza hotel. Ushuaia is a destination, an ‘it’ venue. The events at Ushuaia are not merely pool parties, they are carnivals; festivals of light and sound with circus acts and banging tunes. I’m not going to lie, the F*** Me I’m Famous Closing Party I attended at Ushuaia over the Bank Holiday weekend, actually blew my mind.
When looking for restaurant options on the Greek Island of Skiathos we were immediately drawn to the harbour of Skiathos Town. A plethora of twinkly-lit restaurants overlook the shiny, super-yachts. But although the setting was superb; the food was frankly odd.
You know when you read about the ‘stunning beaches’ of the Greek Islands and you think it is just marketing bull? Skiathos proves you wrong. This “Aegean Paradise” surprised and impressed me in many ways, but none more so than the prolific and consistently beautiful beaches. Following the one main coastal road from the airport in the east to Koukounaries in the west you could pull into any cove and feel like you had found a piece of paradise. So we hired a jeep and did exactly that.
The first beach we came across was Agia Paraskevi. It wasn’t our local beach, Vromolimnos was, but we hadn’t yet spotted it hidden over a hill from where we were staying. Paraskevi was a great find, however, because of the Skiathos Princess Hotel which has a restaurant on the beach that serves an epic Greek Salad overlooking the ocean.
Ok I admit it; I’ll hold up my hands and say I wasn’t looking forward to the Olympics. I had swallowed all the pessimistic (typical) British media about the Olympics causing chaos and much expense to my home city, so much so I had gone so far as to book a flight out of here the day they started. I couldn’t care less about the fact that London was going to be at the center of the world’s attention and I am ashamed to say I had no interest in Team GB and their potential (and I thought unlikely) success.
And then the games started. As I watched the Opening Ceremony at an airport hotel, something in me was moved. I began to register what a massive spectacle was about to take place in MY London and was suitably impressed when it looked like we were going to pull it off.
Forgive me Reader, for I have sinned. This globe-trotting, independent adventurer has just come back from (gulp) a package holiday in Greece!
When I was a kid (brat) and my parents booked our family package summer holiday in Greece EVERY year I thought they were so boring. (I wished my parents would be more fun and take us to places like Orlando or Sri Lanka where all the cool kids went.) Fast forward 10 years and almost 40 countries and I find myself booking a package summer break for me and my boyfriend to Skiathos, a stunning island in, err, Greece.
I read with interest an article in last week’s Metro about slum tourism being on the rise. The piece didn’t condemn the practise of tourists paying to visit the poorest parts of a popular city, but merely stated the numbers and questioned the motivation of visitors. As someone who has visited 3 of the world’s most well known slums – Dharavi in Mumbai, Soweto in Johannesburg and Rocinha in Rio – I guess you can label me a slum tourist. It’s not a badge I wear with honour, but not something I am ashamed to admit either. Each of the slums I visited taught me more about the city I was in than any guidebook or movie ever could. It was not a morbid curiosity that drew me to any of the sites, but an inquisitive nature and, on some level, my sense of adventure. Not only did the slum tours present me with a fuller picture about the area I was visiting but they each taught me a little more about myself – about how I react in unfamiliar settings, about how I hope those settings will one day change.