A visit from Mum

What a fab five days I’ve just had!!!

My mum was over from England to stay with me in The Netherlands. I love having visitors – and a Mum visit is one of the best!

We’ve done so much in those five days: a canal trip through The Hague, meals out, a cinema trip, an IKEA visit (and yes we DID have meatballs), shopping in Leiden, shopping in The Hague and more meals…

The only problem with people coming to stay is that you have to say goodbye. Airport goodbyes are so sad!

Bye Mum! Come back soon.

My mum and me

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Beautiful Bali: Where calm meets chaos.

When you arrive in Bali (at Denpasar airport) there is an immediate feeling that you have stepped back in time. The airport has a 1980s/1990s feel about it. Things just are not as modern here.

Once you have shown passports to security, who are seated by little wooden crates (bizarre I know), you collect your bags and head out. Next you are faced with a row of cubicles (all glassed in) with money exchange workers all frantically waving and smiling to get your attention. It feels as though you’re in a red-light district with ‘ladies-in-the-window’ and is somewhat unnerving. It’s difficult not to stare (or laugh) at the weirdness of it all and so you find yourself quickly dashing along. I managed to avoid being lured in to any of the stares. Phew!

Outside the airport there are streams of taxis everywhere. Luckily we had a pre-arranged minbus transfer arranged to take us from the airport to our villa, but it seemed easy enough for people to flag one down. The carpark is chaos and if that’s anything to judge Bali by…..it gets busier. The road from the airport to Seminyak (normally 20 minutes drive) was packed and the journey took over an hour.

Seminyak is one of Bali’s hotspots. Located on the south of the island, by Denpasar (the island’s capital), Seminyak boasts a huge number of private villas, restaurants and bars. It draws in tourists from all over the world, but in particular Australians (many of whom are enjoying their hen-weekends or stag-dos).

So many of Bali’s visitors stay in private villas. I can see why. Behind the doors, away from the chaos of traffic and tourists passing by is a tranquil and harmonius villa. Inside the villa, my eyes quickly did the dream-holiday-checklist. Pool. Open-space. Lounge. Kitchen (I don’t plan on using it, but still….). Bedroom one (huge). En-suite (love it). Bedroom two (also huge). Another en-suite. Decking around the pool. Water feature. My eyes at this stage are flashing from one place to another. I’m greedily taking it all in. Heaven.

Staying in a villa in Bali can be a dangerous move. It’s not life threatening. It’s culturally dangerous. You might become so relaxed and ‘chilled-out’ behind the closed doors that you end up spending your time there instead of exploring. Don’t be too chilled. You must explore.

The nightlife in Seminyak is mixed. It doesn’t have the feel of a stag-do and hen-do holiday destination. It’s not like Blackpool (UK) or Amsterdam (Holland)….. or anywhere else that you find pre-wedding groups drinking their last moments of freedom away. It all seems slightly more classy here in Bali. There are security guards EVERYWHERE. Do not panic. They stand at the road side by every villa, bar and restaurant. If anything you feel safe with them all around, but I did wonder whether they were security or hotel staff (the strict uniform can be quite deceiving). They all carry lightsabers which I found very amusing. Not quite up to the standard and length of Darth Vader, although they still light up red and look great fun at night.

A day trip is a must. Taking a taxi for the entire day is easy and innexpensive in Bali. The staff wherever you stay are more than likely to assist in the arrangement. Our three butlers were brilliant at helping to organise our days. The service is always at its best. The taxi ride is a mouth-opening, extreme sight-seeing and epic journey. The roads are crazy. Busy. Packed……

There are cars. Bicycles. Motorbikes. Mopeds…… For every car there are about 10 mopeds zooming beside you. Think mayhem. Controlled mayhem, although I wouldn’t dare get on a moped in Seminyak.

Next, you see what they are carrying. We’re talking full loads. Mopeds with 4 passengers (oh, plus the driver)…..and one of the passengers is carrying a adult-sized bike on the back. It’s crazy!

Along the road side there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of shops selling wooden carvings, stone work, mosaic bowls, kites and more….and more…..and more. The shops repeat and repeat and repeat themselves along the longest straightest road. My poor camera.

There are lots of hot spots to visit. We choose to visit Ubud with the rice fields. If you have never visited places like this (like me) then all expectations are blown out of the water. The rice fields were great! I wasn’t expecting the slopes to be quite so steep. The driver let us wander and explore. We sat by the edge of the rice fields and had something local to eat. Yum.

The journey back was just as interesting – more shops and sights to see.

In Bali, aside from the wonderful Ubud and the shops we also ventured along the coast. The sandy beaches are beautiful. Palm trees line the coast and add to the holiday feel.

Bali. Simply brilliant.

Exploring Asia #1: Malaysia

“Bags packed. Tickets printed. Passports checked and double checked. Malaysia here we come”. (Well, that was a few weeks ago – and this is my review).

Flying with Emirates from Amsterdam to Dubai and then Dubai onto Kuala Lumpur is a real treat. From the moment you step on board the flight there is a welcoming atmosphere and a feeling of luxury. I knew I was going to enjoy the flight, even if it was to be hours and hours long. There is the uncomfortable moment, however, as you walk through the First Class section of the plane where you are given ‘looks’ from the rather smug looking passengers in their reclining seats. They sip on their complimentary champagne and give you the ‘you wish you were here in First too, don’t you’ look. Sheepishly, the Economy passengers, myself included proceed to our zone.

Seats with TV screens, or should I say ‘entertainment consoles’ are the highlight of the journey. Almost every passenger feels the need, even before take-off, to play with the remote control. There is so much choice that you cannot possibly decide how to be entertained first. Should you watch a film? Maybe a TV episode would be best? The music channels sound good too? But there’s also a relaxation channel…. Limitless.

Landing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city, you find yourself in a series of ‘capsule’ gates. These gates are connected by a monorail which speedily carries thousands of passengers from one terminal to another. There is immediately a sense of organisation and cleanliness. Once through the passport control (and receiving the ‘okay’ from Immigration) you collect bags and join the queue for taxis at a special taxi office. They have the system worked out to perfection here. You tell one person where you would like to go, pay a standard fee (no meters used for airport runs) and then you take your ticket to the taxi stand outside. It was simple and stress-free.

The airports in KL are quite a distance from the city. The views from the taxi are of endless tropical plants and trees. Malaysia has palm trees growing in every available spot. They make a great deal of money from the sale of palm oils.

The skyline of Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur nests amongst the hills and towers up from the ground. The skyline though is far from impressive with the exception of the Petronas Twin Towers. Standing proudly amongst some rather bland looking tower blocks, the Petronas Towers amaze by the day and simply stun you by night. With a skywalk linking the two and a huge shopping mall contained within the lower floors, it is a must-see in the city.

KL's Petronas Twin Towers (by night).

The number of shopping malls in KL is astounding. There are simply not enough shoppers to fill the shops themselves. You can easily find yourself wandering through a mall, then leaving and discovering one even bigger and more impressive five minutes away. If you like to shop then KL is definitely worth a visit.

Where KL boasts in its shopping choice it lacks in character and heart. It feels as though there is something missing when you travel through the city. There is no river or coast to give the city a focal point, something which can seem almost alien to the European traveller. In order to see the city there are a variety of choices available. You can attempt to explore on foot, but as I discovered KL is equipped with adequate pavements for pedestrians. The heat can be overpowering for anyone who wishes to tip-toe along the streets with unfinished streets. Taxis are everywhere and you never have to wait more than a couple of minutes to flag one down. There are city buses for tourists to take you to all the major sites, however it feels like an endless loop once you’re on board.

China Town and the old central market are really worth a visit once you’ve seen the Petronas Towers. KL can be explored in a day or two, but while you’re there you must enjoy a massage from one of the wonderful massage parlours (superb quality and great value). Manicures and pedicures along with any other form of relaxation treatment and pampering will make you feel wonderful (I know I did). Evenings are filled by enjoying cocktails and a wide selection of meals ranging from typical Malay, to Chinese, to Thai and more. The choice is endless. 

Away from KL there are other sights which must not be missed. We arranged for a taxi driver to look after us for 1 day for a set price, something which is common amongst tourists. About 2 hours away from KL is the Kuala Gandah Elephant Orphanage Sanctuary. At the edge of a tiny village you can explore the sanctuary and meet some young elephants. Many of the elephants have been rescued from a variety of situations. After a video documentary explaining the work done at the sanctuary there is the possibility to feed the elephants and ride them. Some visitors are even brave enough to bathe with them.

Kuala Gandah (small village by the elephant sanctuary).

One of the young elephant orphans.

An amazing, yet uncomfortable ride on a 37 year old elephant.

Batu Caves is a surreal tourist ‘hot-spot’. A  42.7 metre (140.09 ft) high, the world’s tallest statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity, stands at the base of the steps. The 272 steps lead up into the limestone cave where Hindu shrines can be found. The steps and caves are full of monkeys which are far from shy. They leap from post to post and surprise many of the tourists (myself included).

The huge golden statue stands proudly at the Batu Caves entrance.

 

My Malaysia Highlights:

  • Elephant sanctuary
  • Massages
  • Shopping at the Petronas Towers
  • Batu Caves
  • Cocktails at the skybar in the Traders Hotel (with great views of the Petronas Towers)
  • Restaurant choice

Great Guidebooks: Don’t travel without one.

 
The start of my collection…

I’m not a fan of bulky travel guides. They may be suitable for travelling by car, but when there are flights involved then it’s far better to have something light and easy that pops in your pocket.

I’m also not a big fan of large fold-out maps – who thought that they would be a great idea. Once unfolded they become a wind trap, they rip easily and are practically impossible to fold back together. I’m no origami expert!

That said, I was chuffed pleased thilled to discover the Everyman May Guides. A guidebook and a map all rolled into one perfect, pocket-sized friend. I love them! I’ve used them on a couple of trips and they pass the tourist test of mine.

Happy traveller here! (Recent trips to Amsterdam, Prague, Berlin, Barcelona and Munich).

One of the fold out district maps (Amsterdam).

Each city is divided into districts. Each double page inside looks at one district and lists restaurants, pubs, bars, music venues and shops that are worth a visit. The page then folds out to reveal a small map with that section of the city. Perfect! It folds out – It folds away. The next double page had more of the same. Handy information for the part of the city that you’re actually in.

The guide also contains an overview map (showing the districts – all colour coded) and transport information. It’s all in the book! Everything you need it one little book.

Surely travel is meant to be simple. Sometimes it is better to spend time on trips and holidays enjoying the sights rather than reading through a bulky 700 page guide.

Happy travels everyone!

 You may also like to read some of my travel posts:

My travel map so far (as of Nov ’10)

Booking disaster!

A flight to remember.

Preparation and organisation tips.

Prague: Czech it out and check the John Lennon Wall out too.

Prague: Czech it out.

Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic is a stunner! A weekend trip there just is not enough. (My visit was #2 on my list of things for 2011). I checked my camera today and saw that I had taken 194 photographs in two days! I really couldn’t capture it enough. My camera is attached to my hand at all times.

Here is a snap-shot of picturesque Prague.

(Click on the picture to enlarge).

I stayed very close to the centre. Literally 5 minutes from our apartment and we were at the central Old Town Square. Prague is conveniently close to the airport. The transfer taxis are great value! It was also quite strange visiting a European country without the Euro (and that’s coming from a Brit).

I loved the Charles Bridge (in one of the photos). I came home and wanted to do a little research as to why people were touching the plaques. I found out that:

One statue receives a great deal of attention from both Czechs and foreigners; this is the statue of Jan Nepomucky (John of Nepomuk), who was thrown from the bridge in chains. The base of this statue has two bronze plaques, each well-polished by thousands of hands touching it. The belief is that touching the plaque portraying the martyrdom of John of Nepomuk is lucky, and that the person touching it will return to Prague. Many people make wishes when they touch the plaque. (Thanks to BlogKingWencelas for the info).

Now I wish that I’d touched it too – instead of taking so many pictures. Hey ho – who needs luck?

More to come about Prague. I had many more discoveries in that great city! I think I may need to revisit this summer.

St. Patrick’s Day

Lucky, lucky, lucky.

Ireland always celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style. Even outside of Ireland, the Irish will have decked out bars and pubs with green and orange to celebrate their special day. But, what is it all about?

Here are some facts about St. Patrick’s Day:

  • St. Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17 because that is the feast day of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. It is believed that he died on March 17 in the year 461 AD. It is also a worldwide celebration of Irish culture and history. St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland, and a provincial holiday in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
  • In Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, people traditionally wear a small bunch of shamrocks on their jackets or caps. Children wear orange, white and green badges, and women and girls wear green ribbons in their hair.
  • Many cities have a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Dublin, the capital of Ireland, has a huge St. Patrick’s Day festival from March 15-19, that features a parade, family carnivals, treasure hunt, dance, theatre and more. In North American, parades are often held on the Sunday before March 17. Some paint the yellow street lines green for the day! In Chicago, the Chicago River is dyed green with a special dye that only lasts a few hours. There has been a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston, Massachusetts since 1737. Montreal is home to Canada’s longest running St. Patrick’s Day parade, which began in 1824.
  •  

  • But oh, the best facts are saved for last.  The real St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish. He was born in Britain around A.D. 390 to an aristocratic Christian family with a townhouse, a country villa, and plenty of slaves. At 16, Patrick’s world turned: He was kidnapped and sent overseas to tend sheep as a slave in the chilly, mountainous countryside of Ireland for seven years.
  • …..and finally.

    75 year old Jimmy Ford, who arrived on stage dressed as a Leprechaun.
  • The joys of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’…. The word ‘talent’ is used very loosely. I think I need a Guinness now.

    A very well travelled bear.

    Wesley Bear

    This is Wesley Bear. He is possibly one of the most well travelled bears in the world. For the last 11 years he has been part of my class. When I started training to be a teacher I bought adopted Wesley (He was already named).

    Helping in the kitchen

    When I got my first class (4 year olds) – We called it ‘Reception class’ then – I introduced Wesley Bear to the class bear. Each and every weekend he would (and still does) go home with one of the children. (A great reward for good behaviour).

    Wesley goes sailing (One of the mums made a lifejacket for him)

    The children in the class, and in all the classes that I have taught, have fallen in love with Wesley Bear. They cannot wait to have their turn to look after him.

    He’s been taken on some wonderful trips around the world. There are times that I wish I could swap places with my teddy so that I could travel in his place. (I wish). The idea is for the children to look after him and to show him wonderful sights around the world. They take photographs, send postcards back to the school and add a little stamp to his passport. He’s been on more that 100 trips abroad!

    Wesley in San Marino

    After 11 years of travelling around the world with the children in my classes, with family and friends and with colleagues, I have quite a collection of photos. The children love to look at them and it provides a wonderful tool for exploring holidays and travel in class.

    Just a couple of Wesley's holiday snaps!

    He’s met dolphins in Israel, camels in the Canary Islands, lizards and seals in the Galapagus Islands and enjoyed Champagne in France! Oh what a life for a bear!

    This shows where Wesley Bear has been taken since March 6th 2000.

    This beats my map of world travel.

    One of the best parts is listening to the children when they bring Wesley Bear back to school. They are alive with enthusiasm and are eager to tell stories of what he’s been up to. Some of the children tell me that Wesley has been naughty, he’s made their bedrooms a mess or that he’s had a holiday romance. Oh yes, I’ve heard a lot.

    My favourite picture.