Egypt: Round Two

Monaco

There’s only one thing to do when your Mum turns 50 and its been a quarter of a century since this photo was taken in Monaco…reunite on another holiday. March birthdays tend to limit hot destinations within reach of shorthaul flights in Europe, so Egypt was the natural choice. Despite having been to Sharm el Sheikh before it was easy breaking my vow of returning to destinations already visited thanks to the lure of off season diving in the Red Sea.

The only drawback about diving at this time is the water temperature, I was wearing a shorty over a long wetsuit and still managed to freeze. No amount of tea personally delivered to a cabana, whilst your wrapped in towels laying in the direct sun will warm your bones. The biggest thing to overcome after a long absence from diving was thew shock news that a swimmer had died from a shark attack nearby just days before. It was impossible to not take advantage of the lack of tourists and take some quiet dives. This culminated in a special boat trip on Mum’s birthday where my auntie bravely jumped in to the blue to see the reefs I had been raving about. It felt amazing to be back with the bubbles after over a year of drought since Honduras.

Despite being in the lap of luxury and with a busy set of dives on a week trip, I couldn’t resist the temptation to fly to Luxor to see the Valley of the Kings. The childhood travel explorer in me could not pass the opportunity given that I still use the hieroglyph bookmark my auntie brought back as souvenir 20 years ago. The sites were absolutely mind boggling, and given that there were hardly any tourists, having the time to fully explore with space around you was heaven. It still breaks my heart that Egypt has to prostitute itself to exploit its natural wonders with very little protection, knowing full well that future generations won’t have the privilege to see any of it. This makes me feel all the luckier to have such a golden chance.

Overall I’m certainly not one for all inclusive resort holidays, but certain life events call for this kind of treatment. Egypt’s tourist industry is on its knees, which is a crying shame given the millennia of fascinating cultural heritage it has to offer. Given the bonus of amazing dive sites and visibility, I’m sure I’ll be back again.

 

Morocco: Marakkech & Tamraght. Surfing & Yoga

You know those times when you laugh so hard that your ribs ache and your cheeks hurt? Imagine that for seven straight days. It sounds exhausting but it was pure infectious week of medicine for the soul in Morocco. It’s not often that I recommend particular places to stay as I usually take the cheapest bed available and spend all of my time away from accommodation, however in these circumstances I cannot recommend these places highly enough.

It was an EXTREMELY impromptu last minute trip decided during a yoga studio afternoon tea party. Two wonderful friends are both primary school teachers, so we took advantage of their holidays. Weirdly we had been researching Tamraght individually for a surf and yoga holiday, the universe brought us together and we had the most hysterical week of exercise and laughter. There are truly hundreds of surf schools north of Agadir,but Surf Star Morocco is utterly unbeatable. The accommodation is awesome, we took a triple room and ended up with a huge apartment to ourselves. The rooftop has beautiful views for dawn and dusk yoga, and the food is out of this world. The team of people working at the camp feel like a giant extended family.  October is just at the start of the season and totally worth a trip if you book your flights in advance, don’t get caught out with last minute bookings!

If you’re thinking of giving surfing a try, be warned the waves are packed and you’ll be dodging other beginners all day long. I learned the hard way on day one and bit through my lip after kissing the board in a wave. I spent the rest of the week looking like Pete Burns. Most camps will have yoga teachers that take a day off so there will be a yoga free day, perfect either for day trips, or for me an opportunity to teach.

It was really hard leaving camp after a week of dysfunctional family life but a final night in a suite at the Riad Assouel in the heart of the Medina in Marrakech was calling. Normally hotel photos exaggerate beyond belief, but in this case no picture can show just how amazing this riad truly is, what’s more absolutely nothing can capture the beautiful fragrance. The painstakingly restored medieval architecture and carefully chosen furniture make you feel like Moroccan royalty. From the riad you can take a short walk to Le Jardin, prefect for dinner in the candlelit garden oasis.

I’ve spent years hoping to visit Morocco and this did not disappoint. A truly fabulous week spent with the very best company imaginable.

Pfingsten weekend to Northern Italy – staying alive behind the wheel

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Another long weekend away, this time for Pfingsten and I was solo driving…in Italy. There are no words to actually describe what being on Italian roads is like, you have to experience it to believe. I had been forewarned on numerous occasions that Italy is full of insane drivers and the roads are lawless. Never had I appreciated it more until I was actually driving a car there. Crossing the streets in Rome or catching the bus to Venice never really phased me when I was younger, most likely because I wasn’t the one behind the wheel. This time I was facing oncoming traffic hurtling round corners on the wrong side of the road with sheer drops into Lago Como below, and cars trying to overtake me on either side of the motorway at 120kmph. Can’t wait to do it all over again in August. I honestly think I’d feel safer with the labrador pictured above driving.
We set off in fear from Zurich worrying about the queue for the Gotthard tunnel, but it was a breeze and we made it to Lago Como for sunset where we car camped by the road side for the first night with a beautiful view of the lake. Once we woke up and realised we had a few more kilometers of winding roads ahead of us we braved it on to Bellagio. The weather was unbelievably good, so a refreshing lake swim was really worth it. Eating pizza out of the box and drinking wine from a paper cup for some reason has been one of life’s little romantic pleasures. I don’t mean sitting in a playground eating a Domino’s and drinking value box wine. When you’re sat lakeside in Como the romance is the real deal.DSC_0843It was really difficult leaving Bellagio, we knew we wanted to see Milano but we were in such a peaceful setting it was hard to move on to a city. But it was well worth the sweaty drive. We parked up at a metro station on the outskirts of town and headed in to the centre. We climbed a top of the Duomo in the midday sun to view the Gothic turrets. It was totally hustified to climb staircases in the sun to see the stunning architecture. We then walked on to the old town to see the Castello district, where they were hosting a dog run. a late Sunday afternoon canine and their owners race. I was in heaven surrounded by excited dogs to play with. Next up was some Nutella gelato in the hipster district of Porto Genova where we watched some river wake boarding. Red Bull seriously know how to sponsor cool events, I envy their branding team’s jobs. Getting out of Milan was an utter ball ache, the sat nav made us do figures of 8 circuits on and off the motorway several times, before we arrived at a toll where we were forced to pay 2 Euros before getting off at the first exit only 200m later!
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We were relieved to cross the border on to safe Swiss roads again. Italian drivers don’t even slow down after passing motorbikes on fire on the roadside. It was easy to find a lakeside spot in Maroggia to sleep for the night, after a bottle of slightly fizzy red (eurgh) at a pool party. We took a classy homeless early morning swim in the empty lake to wash ourselves and sticky hair, before moving on the Bellinzona. If there is one place to host an outdoor event with a stunning panorama in Switzerland it should be inside the grassy courtyard of the Castelgrande. Then we got to cool off on the long drive home through the San Bernadino Pass by stopping roadside for lunch and rubbing snow into our hot skin. Some of the most beautiful Swiss sights so far all in one day.
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2000+ km, 3 cities and 4 days – a road trip to Hungary and back via Vienna

ImageSo one of the many wonderful things about living in Switzerland is the sheer number of bank holidays. May was full of them, but now June has some back to back too. Auffahrt bank holiday is on a Thursday and most employers encourage staff to take ‘the bridge’, taking Friday off to give you a 4 day weekend. We saw this as an opportunity to go on a road trip. So we did, quite a long one to be precise, from Zürich to Budapest through the night. We tag teamed the driving sessions, but driving on the German autobahn with minimal traffic was one of the coolest driving experiences of my life. Friends also took some slightly more impressive cars than our family VW, and managed to speed through after the traffic jams at 245kmph in their Cadillac.
We arrived weary in the city first thing in the morning but stopped by at our road trip buddy’s grandparents to drop of some Swiss goodies. In return we were rewarded with some home made treats. So we rocked up outside our car park, slept on the floor in the back of the Sharan for a couple of hours then had some home fried chicken out of a bag for breakfast. Living the classy gypsy dream!
After a quick power nap we checked into the best value for money hostel I’ve stayed in for a long time. The Budapest Budget Hostel is really well located, and the private rooms are enormous with really high ceilings. We then bowled down to the biggest baths in Europe on a gloriously sunny afternoon to recover our muscles after driving. There were some amazing steam rooms, saunas and hot spas, but it has to be the most impressive place I have ever swum lanes. The surrounding yellow buildings are stunning in the golden afternoon sun.
The weekend will forever be known as the weekend of bending. Like Bender the Futurama robot, we decided that we could fuel ourselves only on beer, no sleep and just power through bending Budapest. This lasted until around 3 am where we decided to call it a night in Instant, quite possibly the coolest club I have ever seen. The city is often referred to as the ‘next Berlin’ and its easy to see why.  The city is really affordable with lots of creative talent, so they are able to showcase their art and creativity on an incomparable level. Instant is several floors and many rooms of interestingly decorated and well thought out entertainment spaces, each with its own DJ. You could wander around getting lost in this labyrinth all night and not get bored.
On day two we saw all of the obligatory city sights with our incredible Hungarian friend and personal tour guide. We were repeatedly told that in terms of architecture it has the faded glamour of Vienna. Having now visited both, I totally get it. The buildings are incredible, in particular the parliament building is said to be one of the smallest yet most expensive ever built, right down on the Danube in all its glory. I also loved the warning sign on the egg shaped tunnel next to the funicular railway that warns you to only enter at your own risk due to its lack of ventilation.
We continued to bend it like Beckham that night and continued on to a pub crawl. At first we had a lovely little mixed bag group, but then all hell broke loose when an English stag do turned up late. I have to say I seem to have gotten pretty good at beer pong somehow, never expected that, my hand eye coordination in sports has always been rather below par. We saw some brilliant hidden bars and danced our hearts out.
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ow if a picture could say a thousand words, this would be ‘if it doesn’t feel right, don’t try and take it’. I walked past this scenario at a soviet block the previous day on foot and decided against getting the camera out. This time we were in the car and in the mere 15 seconds that we stopped and wound the window down, a resident was trying to hurl object at us from a balcony above. So we sped off as fast as we could before they would realise that we had Swiss number plates. I just really liked the scene of the kids playing. I’ve always had quite a strong stance on only photgraphing people from a distance and close up portraits. I’m quite anti because I feel its very invasive and I’ve been on the receiving end myself whilst asleep on a train in China. So this was quite a bold move for me, something I won’t be doing again.
Next stop was Vienna, by this time some of us were starting to get ill (possibly from all the bending). Weirdly our visit coincided with the Life Ball, one of the world’s largest balls dedicated to raising awareness and funds for HIV prevention. Pure coinkydinks that we were in town, tickets were obviously all sold out but we took a look from outside. Really impressive stuff, but then the whole city is really to be fair. The architecture is out of this world, and there is such an abundance of outdoor space that it feels really open and green at the same time. The upkeep for the immaculate buildings must be such hard work because they are spotless.
Luckily there isn’t too much nightlife in Vienna but we still managed to stay out until 5:30am with Seb’s wonderful surfer friends. Getting home through the Karl Marx Block labyrinth which is of one of Europe’s largest social housing estates was an absolute mare. But it was cool to see such a lefty approach to housing in such a wealthy city.
All in all a fantastic but utterly knackering weekend. We got stuck in jam after jam on the motorways returning to Zurich but were greeted to the sound of the Rolling Stones playing live at the football stadium, so you know, every cloud eh?
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Rejected Couchsurfing request based on the recent MEI referendum – is this guy for real?

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So I spoke too quickly about only having superb Couchsurfing experiences. We have been beyond lucky with the hospitality we have received from hosts all over the world, so as you can imagine I was more than a little shocked when opening a reply to a polite request last week. The message really took me back, granted the day before I had been rejected by a gay couple because they didn’t accept females in their home which was bad enough but this took the biscuit.  How you are not supposed to take being discriminated against based on your nationality personally, I will never know. Couchsurfing is a group of like open minded people in a community with open doors to people from every background. I really don’t think this guy fits the motif.
But this goes to show the sheer impact of the referendum in Switzerland and how it effects completely the wrong cohort. First of all Erasmus removed Switzerland from its programs which only inhibits students who wish to study overseas. They aren’t exactly the ones voting for an increased migration quota are they, nor are travelers who wish to share their experiences with people around the world regardless of borders. In part I agree that Switzerland should feel the effects of its recent decisions, but it should stop harming the people who never voted in favour of it in the first place.
Not only is the Masseneinwanderungsinitiative a ridiculous policy for a nation with over 20% of its population made up of international migrants, but it is probably the longest policy name in history. The MEI has brought about much controversy but I think it is high time that people understood how others are affected indirectly on a personal level as a result of this ‘democratic decision’.

Closed shoe vs the flip flop saga

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All along your travels you will inevitably face the dilema of deciding which shoes to pack. Early on I decided not to pack hiking boots in favour of the dashing velcro sandals with socks combo. I managed to survive the Americas with only a pair of flip flops, velcro sandals and espadrilles.  Two of which perished early on in a thunderstorm in Mexico. I knew that I could rent boots in hiking locations and save myself lugging unecessary weight. In hindsight it was completely worth it. My toes have been naked for most of this trip, and boy does it feel good. I’m dreading returning to Europe and wearing socks again after 6 months without. So if you find yourself packingnfor mostly tropical climates and you think you can cope without a closed shoe, makenthe right decision and leave those monstrously cumbersome hiking boots at home. Just don’t, like me, get in fights with the idiots that rent you them!

Social media users – Do you know how lucky you really are? Spare a thought for fellow Ukranian and Venezuelan bloggers

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Sincere apologies for the insomniac rants to follow but I can’t seem to get this off my mind. Its early morning here in Rio de Janeiro and whilst I am excited for the week to follow in this glorious city, I can’t help to appreciate how privileged I am to revel in my own freedom of speech. Granted sometimes this allows me to witter on uncontrollably about whatever nonsense I deem fit for press but that’s the beauty of, the blog/twitter/Facebook-osphere, its free, its open to all users around the world to share their thoughts. It might be as banal as what you had for breakfast, but in more important cases it is the only scope for someone to share an insight into their less priveledged world. Right now the latter could not be more apparent anywhere else than for the people of Venezuela and Ukraine.
The current situations that have errupted in Kiev and Caracas have dumbfounded me. As a traveler I get an occasional glimpse into the outside world through news updates, otherwise I’m pretty tunnel visioned whilst focusing on my latest new surroundings. Checking in to the BBC news home page every now and again reveals freak weather or World Cup updates, but being in the neighbouring country to Venezuela here in Brazil at the moment has brought this new development on to my radar. News reports will go into far more accurate and specific details than I am able to shed light on, but my basic understanding is that extremely vulnerable people have had their one outlet turned off by their governments.
No longer are peaceful marchers in Venezuela able to communicate with the outside world and share the atrocities of the police forces on the streets right now. Nor are Ukrainians able to voice their political opinions whilst their president flees the country to avoid criminal convictions for ordering the execution of their fellow protestors. For this I am truly unable to understand how helpless the people in these nations must be feeling. When your only source of expression is turned off and you cannot see the support the rest of the world has for you in return, you must only be left with a horrific sense of loneliness and abandonment.  In times of mass crisis and panic there is no way to share your opinions with the outside world and this must be a truly scary environment to be voiceless in.
Therefore it is with the utmost sincerity that I wish to share my support for the people unable to use social media right now. Not those who have lost 3g signal on the bus and wish to tell you how amazeballs their Friday night out was, or how great their Angry Bird score is, but those who live in a nation with leaders that can’t get their shit together and instead disable social media networks to keep their people afraid of their power.
We are all guilty of sharing unecessary day to day trivial updates on our lives, so if you, like me, wish to share something a little more important today, share your support for those who cannot make significantly more important updates. Social media is indeed at times quite the devil incarnate, but it is also the unique driving force of our times with truly worthwhile causes all over the globe. So I’ll endeavour to share my support today for #Euromaidan and #SOSVenezuela. This is not a reflection of my political stance on these issues but merely my support for those people who cannot have open debate about the things going on in their own countries. I implore you to read and learn more about these precarious situations and think about people who wish to upload photos of riots instead of a cat with a grumpy face.