Abu Dhabi to London: Desert dunes to dungeons..
We have now wised up to the fact that long haul flights pretty much suck. No kidding you say? :)
A bit slow on the uptake, we are...;)
So it's time for us to get off and have a look around a new city or country, instead of waiting in the transit lounge for 3 hours, after flying for 13, just to get back on a plane for 5 more...
A man on the moon? Haha.
Flying to London in May 2018 to pick up our Baltics cruise, we were pleasantly surprised that some places virtually PAY you to get off.
Abu Dhabi is one. You can get two nights for the price of one in a selection of great of hotels, and the flight cost, broken up like that, was even slightly cheaper too.
We opted for the extravagant, palace like 'Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi ' and seriously, wow, what a great choice!!! Easily paying over AUD$500 a night for a joint like this elsewhere, here we only had to pay AUD$134 per night, over two glorious nights, in a king suite, overlooking the magnificent pool complex.
Now, that's what I'm talking about! What a view..:) Why would you only have one night here? Yes, this is all the one complex...Fabulous!
The outlook from our lobby; the glorious Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a must see, and in my opinion, the best mosque outside of Istanbul. So close, and yet the On/Off Bus picks you up at the front here. Brilliant.
There is a lot to do here, so give yourself a couple of days, and enjoy the culture difference.
That said, maybe don't go during Ramadan, like we did!
However, Abu Dhabi is starting to relax a little, and it's strict codes of 'no food or drink during daylight hours' are becoming a little more tourist friendly... as some cafes and restaurants simply draw their curtains or put up a temporary divider, as to not offend the people of Islamic faith. However, on the other hand, a lot of places are
simply closed during the day. Come back at night when it's cooler anyway. :)
(Ladies, it helps to often carry a sarong or large light scarf in your bag...I've also seen men have to use one to cover their knees in Jerusalem, and it wasn't Ramadan. Best to be aware of the do's and don't's.)
Desert tours are cool as well, and had no problem with us having our water bottles, sometimes its good be aware of where you are, and if you have any doubts, just ask.
Mind you, when the sun goes down, the parties begin!
I have a dear friend who I have known for nearly 30 years, that lives and works over here, so I couldn't wait to let her know of our stay, albeit brief, and to invite her to come and eat, drink and swim with us, yeay, during Ramadan, at the hotel. I was hoping she'd oblige. She did. :)
Bec is the Manager of Al Hawajer Arabian Horse Stud, just outside of Abu Dhabi, and as we hadn't seen each other in years, the chatter was incessant, poor Trev... We could talk underwater with a mouthful of marbles.
So, after a day of coffees, lunch, swimming and a couple of cocktails, Bec drove us back to her stud for the remainder of the day, taking the time to walk the property with us and showing us not only their stallions, but also all the mares with their foals at foot.
One of their beautiful young stallions, (at the time, he has since been sold..)
Mabkut Al Hawajer.
As an Arabian horse owner myself, I was in horsey heaven.
Dropping us back to the hotel later that evening, ( a 3 and 1/2 hour round trip all up, you're awesome, Bec, thank you), I think we finally crashed about 10.30pm...after arriving in at 6am, following a long and sleepless flight...suffice to say - we were stuffed, but it was a fabulous day.
Such is how we roll. Trev has no idea how big the next 2 days are I have planned...like I said, we are wicked, hence, there is no rest for us!
By the time we get to the cruise ship, I think we'll collapse for a day. We still have more friends to visit with outside of London, before we board the ship in Southhampton.
Sleep is for the dead!
After a well earned lie-in, a new day beckoned, so we jumped on the On/Off Big Bus for a cruise around the city. These buses are such the way to go, particularly if there are a lot of places of interest...Think Paris, Rome, London...these are great cities for an all day pass.
London's one includes the open topped boat along the Thames, and other places like Paris, Copenhagen, Helsinki even Cape Town, also offer water cruises as part of the bus pass.
We needed to get over to the Grand Mosque as it has limited opening times during Ramadan, so always check before you go.
And watch what you are wearing...
If you are inappropriately dressed, they will loan you clothing to cover up once you are there. No need to ask, they will usher you into a tent to change. No choice in the matter.
Women need to be covered fully, from wrists to ankles, and hair covered. Men can have a short sleeved shirt (no singlets), but long pants are a must. We both failed, so I was given a super hot, and I don't mean sexy hot, synthetic abaya to wear, and Trev was given some sexy track pants.
At 44 deg celcius, when I handed it back it was more than a tad sweaty, and it was only just given to the next poor unsuspecting western lady to wear.
Ugh. Sorry Luv!
As per normal rules of a mosque, your shoes are removed before entry. The middle here is where hundreds would come to kneel, bow and pray. Walking around these marble floors, I have never felt a place so immaculately clean. How do they do it in just a sandy, dusty environment?
It was beyond pristine.
This was nothing compared to the inside.
The Persian carpets were the softest you'd ever imagine. The ornate chandeliers, as glorious as could be.
It was superb, and very much worth seeing.
These ornate chandeliers were enormous, and so different compared to other churches.
Departing the Mosque, we continued on the bus around town, conscious that we had to be back around 3 pm for our pickup to take us on our desert safari.
Really looking forward to that!
We had a few places on the route to stop at first, but it was so excruciatingly hot, sometimes leaving the air-conditioning of the bus was a measured decision. ;)
They have built a new Louvre museum here, and will shortly, it's rumoured, be displaying the 'Lost DaVinci', the Salvator Mundi, that was recently purchased for a record price of $450 million.
But we were too early. Bummer. It would have been amazing to see...only 24 known paintings are left of this great artist.
Okay, it's Desert Safari time!
One thing's for certain, you don't have to drive too far around here to hit the desert, and just a little further to drive into the areas set aside for the 4 X 4 dune bashing. Well, I hope its set aside, 'cause when you head straight over a tall dune and go almost vertically down the other side, you wouldn't want to be hitting a camel train!
First stop was for the obligatory desert pics...you know, the jumping in the air ones? Yeah, nah, getting too old and 'un-co' for that, so we left that for the youngsters! Then it was off the a camel breeding farm.
Lots of cute calves, still suckling and getting drowned by the mother's milk.
Awwwwww, milk speckles.
Time for some serious off road fun!!
This was a blast for us, right up our adrenaline alley, however, the parents in the back of the car never really gave a thought that their 5 year daughter may not think as we did...
The car was filled with screaming...my screams of delight,
and the child's screams of sheer terror.
That said, I don't think we ended up going quite as hard as normal...however the other car travelling with us fared worse...vomit. So the little girl finally got into it, once we moved her so she actually see where she going! She eventually was laughing too. :)
Exhausted from the fun, and possibly even a little bruised from the jolting around,
(I'm tough- yet soft, and bruise easily...Trev was fine);
we arrived at our destination...a 'Bedouin Styled' camp, ready for a BBQ feast under the stars, some henna tattoos, shisha pipes, falconry,
but as it was Ramadan, sadly for us, no belly dance styled show tonight. Poor Trev. ;)
I made the most of getting a traditonal henna tattoo on my hand, that came out really well despite nearly melting off in the heat, as well as getting a quick, 3 minute
'around the yard' camel ride... :)
Looking up, we knew were in for a natural treat... the sunset presenting over the dunes was well worth the red faced effort of heaving oneself up the steep, soft sand dunes in 40+ heat to get there...It was breathtaking..
(Not that I had any left...haha. Did I really do Kilimanjaro?
Hard to tell these days, it's been a while! lol.)
A buffet BBQ of middle eastern cuisine was enjoyed whilst seated on colourful cushions and carpets, chatting with new found international friends...
Following our feast we were all invited, well, whoever was brave enough to try, to share some shisha. Seeing that Trev and I are deadset non smokers, we thought we'd give this a bash...it's vapour, right? Hehe.
One for our family at home to laugh at...
This took me back to my rebellious teenage days, that's for sure. It was hilarious, and I was proud that Trev gave it a crack. If we were EVER to give this a go, a Bedouin safari set in the desert dunes in the Emirates, was the place to do it!
Another super full, action packed day, still no rest, and up early tomorrow morning for our flight to London. Hang in there Trev, a bit more to do and see before getting onboard,
(you can nap on the plane), and the best part,
is we get to catch up and stay with dear friends we met last year on our New Zealand cruise.
I'll recap our short time here in good ol' London town and in Southsea before we board our ship for The Baltics...(which will be a separate travel blog), and the one day back in London after the cruise. There is SOOOOOO much to see in London, we only just scratched the surface of this amazing city. But, with some enthusiasm and a good pair of walking shoes, you can smash out quite a lot, especially using the On/Off Buses.
(Also, even though we arrived only a week after the Royal Wedding between everyone's favourite; Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle, there was clearly still a good vibe in the air!)
We had chosen a hotel in Kensington, turning out to be just a street back from Kensington Palace, and, as an avid Princess Diana devotee, it was great to be able to squeeze in a wander around this historic palace, right at the end of the day's travels.
First stop though, a London Pub for a glass of rosé for moi, and a refreshing ale for Trev. When in Rome, hey? ;)
With Hyde Park on the right, the stroll up the famous avenue towards the golden front gates of Kensington Palace, only evokes vivid memories of a road filled with tributes of flowers, cards, candles, and the tears of a nation.
Diana's presence is still very much felt here, and her life is honoured inside in so many ways, particularly with a collection of some of her most beautiful dresses and jewels that she wore as a Princess. Queen Victoria also grew up in these corridors, playing hopscotch alone on the checkered tiled floor, which is still there today. The gardens are equally as lovely, and with Hyde park adjacent, it is certainly a wonderful place for the public to enjoy, be it walking, cycling or picnicking, on a warm and sunny, rainless London day...
Back to the Goat Tavern, where we had started previously with an ale (or possibly two), for an early dinner this time, yeah, pensioner's hour today for us as we so need the rest!
Love these English Pubs....not quite as rustic as they used to be, as the whole 'gastro dining' thing has been elevated...personally, gross as it may sound, but I loved the days of fish and chips wrapped in newspaper! ;)
A new day brings new adventures with new friends.
We originally were going to have 2 nights in London before heading to Southhampton to board our cruise ship, but after making firm friends with a great couple last year on our NZ cruise, we had lined up to get together with them as they live nearby, for some local sightseeing, sumptuous home cooking and a few more laughter fuelled drinks.
After meeting 'Pete and Shaz' at their local train station, with a;
'slow motion- run down the platform- with outstretched arms- because we've missed you'... kind of greeting...really, like Bo Derek on '10.'..(well, our version of it anyway...haha), it was a wonderful sign of our friendship that has formed, and a great indication of the fabulous day and a half we will have together.
Squeeze every drop out, I say!
The idea of fish and chips on the seashore sounded like a brilliant plan, so we all wandered down to the SouthSea waterfront for a feast of local seafood, Trev ordering instead what I knew he would, a meat pie with mushy peas...
It's always about the local 'delicacies', right? :)
Along the way we strolled through ancient forts, and well as seeing the sculptures and plaques that marked where The First Fleet sailed from England, full of convicts, to form our new nation of Australia. It was super cool, as an Aussie, to see where it all began for us, just over 200 years ago.
The four of us feel like we have known each other for years...Trev and Pete look like cheeky brothers, and act like it too.
Shaz... I love her like the sister I never had. Around their kitchen table we made plans to catch up over the next 3 years with some exciting adventures pencilled in. We have already booked our flights to Paris for next May, where we are meeting each other under the Eiffel Tower....(Picture the slow motion run into each other's arms again, hehe)...
Maybe I should GoPro that?...
Or maybe not, my kids would gag...
Of course I will...
Watch this space, and remember those names, Pete and Shaz, they will feature again and again. We adore them. A wonderful evening of amazing cookery, thanks Shaz, and plans for the future for us all.
The Southsea/Portsmouth area is a fantastic seaside place to visit, and if you love history, even more so. They have a D-Day war museum there, (which we visited yesterday), as well as an historical naval site where not only can you see Henry VIII's flagship that sunk immediately 'The Mary Rose' on display after 471 years...but also Lord Nelson's warship, 'HMS Victory.' We had limited time today, so we opted to do the self guided audio tour of The Victory.
Wow, what a warship, and so impeccably restored. Three levels of cannons, you can almost smell the gunpowder, and visualise the splintered wood over bloodstained decks...You see the site where Nelson was mortally wounded, and it was from this spot that he was stretchered below deck... where he asked for a handkerchief to conceal his face - his identity...as to not distract and sadden his crew from the battle at hand. It really is an incredible story, this Battle of Trafalgar. WELL worth the visit.
Now, it's off to Southhampton, to yet another very famous site ...where the Titanic left from...to board our ship which will take us north via Scandinavia, Estonia and to Russia. Sad to leave our friends. Excited for the journey ahead.
If you want continuity of this trip, go to my Scandinavia and Russia blog, as that's too much to add in here. Then come back here as we returned to head back to London for one final hoorah.
Okay, so we have returned from the lands of Vikings and Tsars...wow, what a great trip!
Time to revisit London, and pile in as many sights as we can possibly fit in one day. Shaz was most kind to meet us off the ship and drive us to the local train station for our trip to Waterloo. Perfect chance for more coffee and chit-chat, as it will be year till we meet again. Darn living on opposite sides of the world from such great people!
London... in a day!
It is possible.
I even wore flip flops...albeit, good comfy Skechers ones.
Grab yourself a one day 'On/Off Bus' pass, directly from the driver. There are a few different companies...all do the same job. Tip: Make sure it's the route you want. Grab a map from the bus stop and decide, then only catch THAT bus...(Colour coded...yellow line, red line etc)
Some lines go a lot further than others... We just wanted the main points... Big Ben/ Westminster Abbey Buckingham Palace St Paul's Cathedral Tower of London Tower Bridge London Eye All very centrally located. That, along with queues as well as the Thames boat ride, is probably a comfortable day's sightseeing. There is of course many other sights to see...The Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Palace (which we did both on our first day), also Madam Tussauds, Tate Gallery, The Royal Mews, and I'm sure many others. We only had one last day, so decided to hit the 'biggies'! London traffic was CRAZY!
So you must factor that into your day as well.
Ok, so the first stop of Westminster/Big Ben, sadly for us, was disappointing...
It was closed. These things happen. Firstly, Big Ben is covered in scaffolding...the irony here is, that the only other time I was here, in 1985, it was also covered then! Westminster, was closed for a 'private function'. Bugger, we thought!
Until we heard why. Stephen Hawking was being interred, right near the great Isaac Newton. Okay, forgiven.
Such a great man and deserves every bit this final, private tribute.
Next time, and there WILL be a next time, we LOVE London...we will visit this beautiful, historical and sacred Abbey.
Righto, carry on!
Next stop, as Trev calls it; Buckinghuge Palace! Timing personified...there were thousands of people, we were thinking, who's here? Who's arriving? The Queen?
Nope, just the Changing of the Guard. Doesn't happen every day now, so we were at the right place, at the right time. Brilliant!
St Paul's Cathedral was coming up on our double decker bus route.
Anyway, I was a little surprised that you weren't allowed to take photos inside...like WT? Maybe at an alter, I get that, but the whole place?
Silly really. I may have accidentally taken one, before I saw the sign of 'no photos'. This time I was actually telling the truth.
It was a boo-boo...but did I erase it?
Oh, then we found out we could climb to the top of the dome...
548 steps! Excellent. Not. Ugh, up we go...!
This I would only attempt after I was assured that my claustrophobia wouldn't get the better of me. I did, however, keep count...its helps knowing how far you have to go.
It wasn't that confined, thankfully, not like the Duomo in Florence...that just about did my head in...Over the years, my claustrophobia has really kicked in...so much so that I must have the aisle seat even on a bus. Its all about working with your limitations. I'm still booked in for a shark cage dive next year...that'll be fun...haha...yikes!
St Paul's Cathedral, from below - and above!
The Tower of London is next on the agenda, the 'dungeon' part of title of this blog. This place is enormous, and such a complex history. It's worth the read of the link I shared above.
I must admit, I was of the impression that this was mainly used as a prison, but that was only a secondary purpose. It was originally built as a royal palace and primary residence for the Royals.
It also housed the royal zoo animals, hence the wire sculptures above, and it still houses the Crown Jewels, of which we didn't line up for hours to see. Would have been great, however the line was terribly long, and it hardly moved all the while we sat and ate an icecream and watched it... :)
Don't these guys just epitomise London?
I was so excited to finally see the Tower Bridge, which I could just espy through the trees from the Tower of London.
I have always had the Sydney Harbour Bridge as my favourite, not just the fact I was born and bred there....but it's such a great structure, and alongside the Opera House, it is a legendary Aussie landmark. That said, it's now a clear # 2. This is my new favourite. And, it opened right in front of us...apparently that doesn't happen all too often. Once again, right place, right time!
Now that we were alongside the Thames, we hopped on a canal boat to take a load off our feet, and enjoy the scenery, and yes, with a glass of wine.
We did a couple of laps, from the Tower Bridge, up to Westminster and back, just sucking it all in and checking out which restaurant will have the best view for dinner. Firstly, we thought we'd go for a sunset ride on the London Eye, but as it's summer, the twilight just goes on for hours, so we had a 'not-quite' sunset ride on the giant wheel.
Now, I'm a bit of a thrill seeker, but getting on a giant ferris wheel at a fairground, isn't my thing. I hate getting stuck at the top whilst people get on and off below. However, this one is fantastic.
So orderly, the capsules are huge and air conditioned, and it was smooth and most enjoyable. The views, of course, are second to none.
Wow, what an extraordinary day. Walked our feet off, saw most of the big sights, and now it's just time to find a spot to eat, to suck in our last day on holiday, and to enjoy this amazing city view one last time.
This time next week, it'll be a Friday night and we'll be deciding who is going out to pick up takeaway from the local fish and chip shop! But not now.
One last meal. A leisurely stroll along the Thames was heavenly, and being a Friday night the places were packed with tourists, locals and business-folk alike. All out to enjoy a bevvie or two on the banks of this iconic river. We picked a winner, scored the corner table with a view of St Paul's Cathedral, and chowed down on whitebait, (gross, like cat treats but Trev gave it a crack), calamari, and the last drop of English wine and cider for a good while.