Ten “Off the Beaten Path” You Need to Take In 2019
Wait, you haven’t seen it yet. Here’s a list of ten “off the beaten paths” you need to take in 2019.
1. The Wahkan Valley in Tajikistan Ever heard of Pamir Mountains? Well…
2. Sandy Beaches of Vanuata in FijiHere’s a real pacific island experience without the crowds – blue holes, wreck diving et al.
3. Omo Valley in Ethiopia (Africa) Escape the modern world with a trip to the villages. You need to spend time with the tribes.
4. Abu Dhabi Forget Dubai, Abu Dhabi is the real deal.
5. Iran You got it right, Iran! And there is more than you know.
6. Svalbard in Norway Do all you can in 24 hours - day and night. Amazing right?
7. Christmas Island in Australia 1, 2, 3... 50 million red crabs. This is an eco-paradise.
8. Tonga Island in Haapai Experience a real laid back feeling with beautiful palm trees.
9. The Solomon Islands Some 992 islands to explore, it’s the real deal.
10. Kyrgystan People from all walks of life, culture, religion and race met to trade. It’s a wealth of history
You maybe the king of the streets in New York or the business guru in the U.S. but are less informed of the corporate practice outside of the borders. It’s fine; to an extent, we all are in the same boat. If you plan to travel for work, you should know that our ways of doing things often remain left behind and new ones often embrace us right from the airport to the hotels and conference rooms.
Significance of Preparation
“It’s not only important to prepare for a business trip outside of the borders, it’s essential.” This is according to Dale Kurow, a New York-based travel coach. He says that one must pay enough attention to learning about the country and people s/he intends to visit and stay with respectively, especially if it’s a first trip out. You’ll need to pick up the local country-specific business acumen.
“It is important to remember that when you travel for work outside the country, you are not just representing yourself but the country, your company, and your department, which means that you are an ambassador and therefore should act accordingly.” This is according to Andy Teach, the author of From Graduation to Corporation and host of the Youtube channel FromGrradToCorp.
The Necessity of Research
The truth is that you are often at liberty to do whatever you please on vacation but not when you travel for work. Lack of proper preparation will not only make you naïve and unsophisticated, but it also bears the risk of embarrassing your host and making you seem less ready for a similar role or position. Lack of proper preparation also bears the risk of negative impact on your future career.
This calls for doing some research into the culture and customs of the natives. This would help avoid the possibility of offending the people you are supposed to work and or stay with. It would also come in handy as a security cushion in the sense that you’ll be able to appear more of a local than a tourist. You could do this by reading books or consulting with people who have been to the country.
Brief Guide What to Know
“With so much on the line for an overseas business trip, every detail must be thoroughly examined,” added Teach. Rules and customs also vary. It’s important to know specifics. Ask yourself these:
It’s also important that you know how to show respect in the country you’re traveling to, how to make the initial introduction, what rules apply to tipping and who pays for the meals. In Japan, for instance, business cards are exchanged using both hands and so are gifts. Dressing is also more conservative than in the U.S. You may want to buy more dark business suits for the conferences.
The other thing that’s necessary to know is that whichever country you intend to travel to; you will need to master the art of necessary silence while observing how others speak and act. One more thing you need to know is that websites and books are a rich source of information regarding local concerns as customs and foreign regulations. It will help to grab a book or read the local newspaper.
Just came back from a week long trip to Maui. Aloha does magic to one’s soul. The water, breezy lanai, food, people and the mountains ... just magical.
Here’s my quick round up:
Where to stay? Honua Kai Resort and Spa I Lahaina
On this trip, we took an alternative route rather than taking the more popular trails such as Road to Hana. Of course, a foodie - designed trip as well!
But what I will share with you today are the favorite local eats :
Reservations a must:
Star Noodle - https://www.starnoodle.com/menu/
Mixed Plates, Shave Ice ,Malasadas etc :
Ululani’s Shave Ice - https://www.ululanishawaiianshaveice.com/locations/
(Request the classic mac nut ice cream bottom)
Island Cream Co. (dessert) - http://www.islandcreamco.com
Sweet Aloha Baking Company (malasadas) - https://www.sweetalohabaking.com
Ono Kau Kau - https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60634-d18995…
Paia Fish Market - https://paiafishmarket.com
Maui FishMarket - https://fishmarketmaui.com
Aloha Mixed Plate - https://www.alohamixedplate.com
Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie -http://www.leodas.com (tip: call in your order for pick up and then hit the road)
Date night spots:
Kimo’s - http://www.kimosmaui.com/mobile
Monkeypod Kitchen (by Ka’anapali) - https://www.monkeypodkitchen.com
Hula Grill - http://www.hulagrillkaanapali.com/mobile
Treats to bring home other than Mac nuts:
Honolulu Cookie Company - Front St in Lahaina
For a java run before going to the beach for a swim or to snorkel:
The Coffee Store (Napili) - https://www.napilicoffeestore.com
Where to bring the kids for breakfast:
Slappy Cakes - https://www.slappycakesmaui.com
There is hardly enough time for a career woman to pack her stuff in the wake of a business trip. Most often than not, we realize at our destination that we have forgotten a lot of important things that should have topped our packing list. As a career woman, I sometimes forget my laptop charger while on a business trip. I had to buy a new one which is more expensive than the one I would have purchased from my home country.
Leaving out necessary items for the trip can sometimes be blamed on our busy schedule of trying to balance between being a successful professional, a wife, and, or a mother.
This article is therefore intended to help us, women figure out a checklist as we look forward to having a successful trip. The secret to ensuring stress free travel and not miss out on anything, is early planning.
There are trips that we are notified on short notice while others take two weeks, one month, or six months to prepare for.
If you have a higher likelihood of going for short notice trips, depending on the nature of your business/job, then you will have to be very swift. Unfortunately, however no matter how hard we try, we still miss out a few things here and there.
But this can be avoided, more so if you are a regular traveler.There are things like toiletries that you do not have to unpack every time you come back from a trip. Knowing that a prepared toiletry bag has been packed lessens the thinking what to carry for the next trip.
If anything, we should just check what needs replenishing and make sure we replace these before our next travel date.
But those who have adequate time to prepare should have no excuse whatsoever when it comes to early planning.
This stage is important because it saves you both time and money. You are wondering how, right? See this. A report from a corporate-travel firm- Carson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) found out that women save their firms approximately $17 a trip, around 2% of the ticket price because they prefer to do their business flights earlier than men.
Planning ahead is key when you want to avoid checking in of bags that come with additional fees and sometimes could be hefty.
What documents does one needs to check before travelling?
Trave documents comprise several important things that you can not do without in most circumstances, and are very relevant in ensuring a safe, peaceful trip.
Ensure enough cash is handy to avoid being stuck. If travelling overseas, know the local currency’s exchange rate. The money we usually carry will help us in sorting out taxi bills and for any other relevant transactions.
We can also play safe by carrying your credit cards and ATM cards. But be proactive, check for bank charges when used overseas and notify your bank in advance regarding your travel time and destinations.
I usually carry clothing items with basic colors like black, blue or brown for skirts and pants to reduce the weight that I will need to carry. The dark colors come in handy since they do not easily show dirt or inner wears. It doesn’t harm to put it on one more time if we run out of clean clothes. Tops should be able to match the selected bottoms. Always pick out materials that are light and do not take up a lot of space.
Don’t forget to add a jacket or blazer that has a solid color scheme and matches the selected bottoms. Do not forget to pack a pajama suit if you know you cannot sleep without one.
All work and no play is no fun, pack workout clothes that are not heavy but can dry quickly since you may be forced to wash on the sink and dry them through hanging after exercising.
Throw in one or two evening dresses depending on the time table. Don’t over pack shoes. One or two pairs are just enough, so long as they match with the outfits that have been pre-selected.
Having a pencil pouch where you can stack in pens, small notebook, glue sticks, diary, Business cards, personal address book, maps, guidebooks, phrase books, and telephone access numbers among other items is always handy. I lived in Japan twice and this is something I learned there.
You are wondering if a pencil pouch/case can be used by a business woman? Of course yes. The pencil case is very versatile and functional. Most importantly, it brings order to your collection of writing instruments and other knick knacks.
Don’t forget to pack personal items like toilet paper, anti-bacterial wipes, nail cutters, a small tube of moisturizing cream or lotion, small bottle of anti-bacterial soap or hand sanitizer, Cotton ear bud, toothbrush and paste, shampoo, deodorant, a small unbreakable mirror, sewing kit, safety pins, wash cloth and menstrual pads or tampons. Yep, these things we could NOT live without.
Carry chargers for all electronics. Be it for cameras, phones,or lap tops. It does not matter whether you will travel away for a few hours or couple of days.
If you will be using a camera, remember to carry lenses, batteries, extrtra memory cards, and flash as needed.
For the lap tops, remember to pack a flash disk, hard drive, power cord and network cable.
If you are the type that gets affected by environmental change or jet lag when you travel, remember to carry a few painkillers of your choice, infection treatment, antihistamine incase you suffer from allergies, malaria tablets, mosquito net or insect repellent, a sun screen, lip balm, contraceptives and any necessary medication (with prescription if required to have one).
Lastly, a tip I learned from a close friend who is a frequent traveller, make it a habit to have different suit cases for different travel trips. For short trips that take a few days, a small bag or an overnight bag is usually enough. But in case you are travelling abroad and intend to stay for long, say more than two weeks , get a spacious suit case or luggage. I prefer the box type luggages that are not heavy but are sturdy.
With all the above suggestions based from my experiences, you are set for your journey and assured of comfort that will make you feel at ease while travelling and relaxed as you embark on your business trip. Bon voyage!
Here’s the 411 for a short JORDAN trip - 2 Travel Options and Trip Notes
*** For our trip, we prioritized Petra + Wadi Rum + Dead Sea + Israel for a 4-day trip, therefore, a combination of Option 1 and Option 2***
Day 1 Arrival in Amman from Cairo, Egypt - early morning flight ,from the airport straight to Madaba to see the 6th century mosaic of Palestine at St George’s Church - Mt Nebo, where Moses gazed upon the Holy Land - Petra for our first overnight stay.
Dinner at Wadi Musa (Petra) - we dined at Al Wadi Restaurant ( view the Trip Advisor review at http://bit.ly/2C0XQvH )- I highly recommend this gem! The owner even gave us a complimentary tea and chatted with our small group about his restaurant’s recent renovation. Wise decision: requested a box lunch for all of us to be prepared right after our Petra tour the following day. Just give them a call once you exit “The Siq”.
Day 2 Petra for 1/2 a day with our tour guide,make sure to have a good breakfast from your hotel to power up. Start at 0800 is possible and shoot to be done by 11am. After Petra, head to Wadi Rum for some 4x4 adventure. Late night arrival at Dead Sea. Overnight at Dead Sea.
Day 3 Again, power up for breakfast and shoot to leave your Dead Sea Hotel at 7:30am this way, you are by the Jordanian side to cross the King Hussain/Allenby Bridge. Remember: Bring the manifest your tour agent provided you after arrival in Amman (this is the proof that your travel agent covered your visa fee --check if this is part of your package IF NOT, any proof that you have paid your visa--have an extra copy on hand or take a photo). A departure tax of $15 per person is required. Our driver/escort took care of all of this for us and emphasized not to lose all our documents = visa, passports, exit fee, receipts... There is a waiting lounge where you will be waiting to board the bus that will cross you to Israel via Allenby bridge. Don’t fret when the agents take your passport, they will return this to you. Have cash with you to pay for the bus fee once inside the bus. The whole process of crossing to Israel may take anywhere from 2-3 hrs so plan accordingly.
Once you have crossed Allenby Bridge, the bus will take you to the Israel side, no visa required at this point. Make sure to ask for the time the port closes, usually 4 pm but earlier on a Friday.You don’t want to get stuck.
Again, if you have booked with a travel agent, their representative should be contacting you the whole time to monitor your arrival. They will pick you up from the Israel port...more likely you will have between 4-6 hrs to visit Jerusalem.
Crossing back to Jordan is much easier and make sure you pay your Israel Departure Tax for $52 each person.
Day 4 Enjoy the Dead Sea from your hotel , depending on your travel plans, you need to make sure that you are aware that from the Dead Sea to Amman is 2 hrs. So, if flying out the same day, plan accoridngly.
Tour Operators for Jordan and Israel:
(1) Jordan Road Travel and Tourism (we used this one) booked via Tour Egypt Club with Nasser -
Contact: Ziad Hamze, Operational Manager of Jordan Road Travel and Tourism, firstname.lastname@example.org, Phone: +962-6465-8810
(2) Isram Israel
40 Aliyat Hanoar Street
Tel Aviv, Israel
Phone: (+972) 3-694-7777
Fax: (+972) 3-696-6677
708 Third Avenue, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10017
Tollfree: 844-9-ISRAEL (844-947-7235)
Here’s our trip of the Southern Caucasus: August 2017, 2 Adults and (1) 6 year old in tow
Fly Dubai: Manama to Baku, Yerevan to Manama
Overnight Train: Tbilisi to Yerevan
Part I: Baku, Azerbaijan
Apply for the ASAN electronic visa here: http://washington.mfa.gov.az/content/79
Cost: $45 per person - standard
Airport: Heydar Aliyev Intl Airport - one of the architecturally savvy airport I have seen
Hotel: Sheraton Baku Airport - 3 nights, http://www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=3688&language=en_US
Walking distance from the airport. GOOD decision even if this is further from the city center as we hit a speed bump on our plan to take a train to Tbilisi from Baku. Plus, our room has a nice view of the airport. Friendly airport and we enjoyed the lounge area and business center as we tweaked our travel plans.
We used UBER and skipped on renting a car. At the airport, we bought our SIM card so we can have wifi connection to navigate and get an Uber ride. I saw a tour group offering day tours and city tours (same place where we bought our SIM card) at the airport - My Tour Baku on FB: mytourbaku.
Currency: 1 USD = 1.7 AZN (Azerbaijan Manat) - http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/convert/?Amount=1&From=USD&To=AZN
Tour Costs from My Tour Baku - https://www.navigator.az/en/firm/23591/info/ (the website is not in English)
A. City Tour: Old City Tour 35 AZN per person, Baku City Tour 30 AZN per person
*if traveling as a group the per person rate is lower by 5 AZN
B. Day Trip Baku:
Package: Gobustan, Mud Volcano, Yanar Dag, Ateshgah, Gala Village, Mosque, H. Aliyev Center 80 AZN per person, 50 AZN per person if group
What To Do and Where To Eat in Baku:
(1) Free Walking Tour by https://bakufreetour.com/ -- daily tours at 10:30am and 3:00pm. Ganni (our guide) is very knowledgeable and provided really interesting in-depth views about his country and Azeri history and society. Our walking tour lasted for 3 hrs.
We booked our trip at: https://bakufreetour.com/booking/
– Explore oldest part of the city on 2.5 hours walking tour
– Hear legends about prominent Oil Barons
– Understand social dynamics of city life
– Soak up the atmosphere in oldest part of city
– Romanticize streets Ali&Nino used to hang out
– Led by a local guide
– Tour ends with a free cup of tea at a local cafe (Coffee Moffie, the tour group’s HQ)
Areas covered: Ahid Garden, Miniature Book Museum, Shirvanshahs Palace, Gubernator’s Garden, Walled Old City (Icheri Sheher), Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall, Maiden Tower Modern central streets, and Palace of Happiness.
Yep, totally free walking tour. Tips are accepted.
(2) Azerbaijan History Museum
Azerbaijan Museum is the major archaeological and historical museum in Tabriz, in the northwest part of Iran (East Azerbaijan province). It was established on April 1958. The museum consists of three major halls, a side yard, office rooms and a library. It mostly contains objects discovered from excavations in Iranian Azerbaijan, also some artworks and sculptures of artists. Its library contains more than 2500 books, both handwritten and printed, about history, archaeology, art and Iranian culture. Apart from National Museum of Iran in Tehran, Azerbaijan Museum has the largest collection belonging to different periods of Iran's history. Source: WikipediaSpecial tip: Museum ticket costs 5 AZN for adults & 2 AZN for children(3) Stroll along Baku Boulevard
Baku Boulevard is a promenade established in 1909 which runs parallel to Baku's seafront. Its history goes back more than 100 years, to a time when Baku oil barons built their mansions along the Caspian shore and when the seafront was artificially built up inch by inch. The boulevard is about 3 km in length and 750 m wide and is located on the south coast of the Caspian Sea.
(4) Visit Fountain Square
Fountains Square is a public square in Baku city centre. The square was previously called Parapet and is often referenced to by the same name now. The name of the fountains square derives from the presence of dozens of fountains throughout the square first constructed during Soviet rule of Azerbaijan.
(5) Carpet Museum
Azerbaijan Carpet Museum displays Azerbaijani carpets and rug items demonstrating various weaving techniques and materials from several periods. It has the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world and is now housed in a new purpose built facility on the Baku's seafront park. The museum was established in 1967 and was initially located in the Juma Mosque in Icheri Sheher.
(6) Marvel at the architectural grandeur of Haydar Aliyev Center
The Heydar Aliyev Center is a 619,000-square-foot building designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid and noted for its distinctive architecture and flowing, curved style that eschews sharp angles. The center is named after Heydar Aliyev, the leader of Soviet-era Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982, and president of Azerbaijan from October 1993 to October 2003.
(7) Schedule a day tour outside the city
Here are options to choose from: https://azerbaijantraveller.com/toursandtrips/ and also from above My Tour Baku.
Where to eat? We enjoyed our meal at FIRUZE Restoran - https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293934-d2704158-Reviews-Firuze-Baku_Absheron_Region.html
This restaurant is BUSY and has a lot of character!
Ganni (free walking tour guide) recommended a local hole in the wall and the place was downright local but I totally forgot the name as it is not in English :-(
Notes: Knowing how difficult it was to purchase the overnight trains between cities, we went ahead and booked our Tbilisi, Georgia to Yerevan,Armenia using https://www.advantour.com/georgia/trains/tbilisi-yerevan.htm
We used this weblink for overnight train info: https://www.seat61.com/Caucasus.htm Please note that train tickets could not be bought in advance and the train/railway websites are not in English. We spent 2 hours in Baku’s train station waiting in line to buy a ticket, only to be told that it was sold out for the day we needed to reach Tbilisi.
Part II: Tbilisi, Georgia
Visa: No need for visa
We decided to fly out to Tbilisi and not push through with taking the train as the train from Baku to Tbilisi on the date we need to take was already full. We booked ourselves using Azerbaijan Airlines: https://www.azal.az/buy
There was NO Uber after arrival at the airport, we bought ourselves a SIM card. and rented a taxi to take us to our hotel. A Tourist Information Kiosk is available at the airport for questions and they were a good resource for us in estimating the distance and cost for taxi from the airport to the hotel. ATM at the airport is available for local currency.
Currency: 1 USD = 2.45 GEL (Georgian Lari) http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/convert/?Amount=1&From=USD&To=GEL
Hotel: Ibis Styles Tbilisi Center - 3 nights, http://www.ibis.com/gb/hotel-A413-ibis-styles-tbilisi-center-/index.shtml
This is a lovely budget hotel, the design is very kid-friendly. Breakfast buffet could be very busy during the weekend so head down early. The rooftop bar is a welcome sight after we arrived in the evening from Baku. Perfect central location. A nearby cafe for coffee and pastries and a couple of restaurants nearby. The front desk staff were all very helpful, ATM on site which we used, and our train tickets to Yerevan was delivered to the front desk by Advan Tours for our convenience. The location is perfect, very close to Freedom Square or Pushkin Park (meeting point for the walking tour and day tour) and for walking around Old Tbilisi.
Things to do:
(1) Join a free walking tour
It became a tradition for us to scope the city by joining a free walking tour group, there are two popular groups. We decided to go with Levan at www.tbilisifreewalkingtours.com. You may pick and choose the kind of walking tour that is ideal for you. Tours are 12:00 PM and 6:00PM, meeting place: Pushkin Park’s Tourist Information Center. We went with The Backstreets of Tbilisi, offered every Tuesday. They also have paid tours available. For the free walking tours, tips are much appreciated.
(2) Ride the cable car and visit Narikala Fortress and Mother Georgia
Narikala (Georgian: ნარიყალა) is an ancient fortress overlooking Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and the Kura River. The fortress was established in the 4th century as Shuris-tsikhe (i.e., "Invidious Fort") and it was a Persian citadel. It was considerably expanded by the Umayyads in the 7th century and later, by king David the Builder (1089–1125). The Mongols renamed it "Narin Qala" (i.e., "Little Fortress"). Most of extant fortifications date from the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1827, parts of the fortress were damaged by an earthquake and demolished. Source: Wikipedia
(3) Watch the dancing and musical fountains at night and join the locals for music and dancing at Rike Park.
(4) Experience the sulfur baths at the bathhouses in Old Tbilisi
(5) Stop by the Leaning Clock Tower in Old Town
(6) Enjoy the food scene at Bamba (cotton row) and Chardin Street
(7) Peace Bridge
(8) Dry Bridge Bazaar
This extraordinary flea market will keep you entertained for hours. There is a mesmerising assortment of antiques, jewellery and bric-a-brac on sale. In the tough days of Perestroika and the early years of independence, the Dry Bridge is where hard-up citizens of Tbilisi would come to sell their possessions in order to make a little cash. For some people that is still the case today, though for others this is their main business. Everything is laid out on the ground, often carefully arranged on on sheets of material, other times it is a haphazard collection. One person might be trying to sell you twenty-year-old batteries or an old toothbrush, while their neighbour will be touting antique amber and silver jewellery. If you want to buy anything remember to haggle. Prices may be inflated, especially for tourists. Open daily if the weather is good, from 10:00 - 17:00. At weekends there are usually more sellers, but more tourists too.
(9) Take a day tour outside the city
We used Tkemali Tour, www.tkemalitour.com and chose Kazbegi as our destination, http://tkemalitour.com/holiday/kazbegi-i-voenno-gruzinskaya-doroga/. Cost: $30 for each adult, $15 for each child. Additional $10 each for the lunch. Duration: 6-8 hrs.
Our meeting place was the same spot for the walking tour at Pushkin Square in front of the Tourist Information Center. We rode a comfortable, air conditioned medium-sized van along with 8 other travelers. Good experience overall!
(10) Enjoy the food and wine
Restaurants we enjoyed:
Sakhli #11 which is a few meters from our hotel - local https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g294195-d3923866-Reviews-Sakhli_11-Tbilisi.html
Kafe Leila - vegetarian, the decor alone is the reason why you need to visit!
Stelzen Haus - late night eats
Part III: Yerevan, Armenia
Visa: No need for visa
THE TRAIN RIDE a.k.a. The Soviet-Era Train Experience Of A Lifetime
The tickets delivered to us at our hotel by Advan Tour were all in Cyrillic, pretty cool to guess how our names were written. All we needed to know was the date, time of departure and our compartment number. Not that we understand the writing, but there were symbols that we could tell - calendar for the date, train for the compartment number, and “chair -like” for the seat number.
From Tbilisi we took the overnight train to Yerevan. My advice is to bring food and drinks particularly water with you for the ride. We opted for the second class cabin (4-berth compartment) good for 4 and bought 4 tickets for our party of 3. Not going to take our chances of having 1 stranger join us. Total expense: $300 for the train tickets for 4 people.
We used these helpful websites as guide:
https://www.reinisfischer.com/tbilisi-central-railway-station - to pinpoint HOW to get to the train station. The staff at Ibis Styles hotel called a taxi for us to bring us to the Tbilisi Central Railway Station. Whew!
https://www.seat61.com/Caucasus.htm#Tbilisi_or_Batumi_to_Yerevan - general overview
https://wander-lush.org/how-to-travel-by-overnight-train-between-tbilisi-georgia-and-yerevan-armenia/ - excellent blog to guide you step by step on the train ride + immigration + other important stuff
Now, as this train is soviet-era, there will be no AC, noisy, and if someone decides to smoke inside, you will get a whiff of it. I barely slept during the train ride and tried my best not to go to the restroom...heaven knows I will freak out! Blessings that my daughter found this experience exciting and she enjoyed the trip plus she slept through the 8-hour train ride. Linens were provided but I prepared before hand and brought our own travel blankets.
The train leaves at about 8:20PM. There was a lounge area with a little cafeteria while we waited for the train to arrive. The announcement was not in English so spot for foreigners and ask if they are waiting for the same train. Once the train arrives, look for your compartment number based on your ticket.
Note that the staff at the train station and for the train DO NOT speak English.
When you board the train, one of the staff will check for your tickets and passports. You will be ushered inside your compartment. At about 1.5-2 hrs from the train leaving Tbilisi, a Georgian border immigration inspector will knock and ask for your passport and will come back to return it. I checked and I saw they have stamped our passports as we exited Georgia. Close to 1 am, possibly as we near the Armenian border, an Armenian Immigration Inspector knocked to check and stamp our passports. As I am already aware of the issue between Armenia and Azerbaijan, I pre-printed all our air tickets, hotel reservations, and itinerary before hand in case the border inspectors will require it. The only question he asked was the reason we were in Baku, we told him for “tourism”. Again, the conversation was not in full sentences as the Immigration Officer does not speak English as well. No hassle, easy peasy :-)
I waited for sunrise and had a glimpse of Mt Ararat while in the train --that made the train experience a truly memorable adventure. At 6:20am we arrived in Yerevan. We used the ATM at the train station to take out cash. The train station will have a LOT of taxis. We opted to walk further out and dodge the taxi drivers closer to the train station. At first glance, you may even feel unsafe in this part of Yerevan ...fear not, Yerevan is an amazing city and the people are friendly.
Hotel: Hyatt Place Yerevan - 3 nights, https://yerevan.place.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html
The service and the staff at this hotel are wonderful! Though we arrived at their doorstep at roughly 7:45am without calling them for an early check in...they made an effort to get our room ready in 1 hour. While waiting, we enjoyed the breakfast buffet which is heaven sent and a wonderful welcome after our “very interesting” overnight train ride. The location of the hotel proved to be very central, walking distance to all the sights and of course, heart of the city - The Republic Square.
Hotel ATM is convenient as we took out local currency. We found a cellphone store, Viva Cell, www.mts.am right on Republic Square. When we went out of the hotel we veered left and found it to buy a SIM card. There were major hotel chains, restaurants and cafes around the area.
Currency: 1 USD = 480.73 AMD (Armenian Dram)
** Yep, so much cheaper in Armenia compared to Baku and Tbilisi.**
Things to Do:
(1) Free Walking Tour
We joined Vako’s big group for the walking tour, https://www.freetour.com/yerevan/yerevan-free-walking-tour
We learned about Armenia’s history including pop culture too ahem, ahem Kanye and Kim K. He also shared with us Sir Winston Churchill’s favorite whisky and how it was instrumental to a few political decisions made for Armenia. A notable tidbit is the last name of most Armenians.
Join us to see Yerevan from a different angle. Walk with us around 2.5 hours in the center of the city and you'll find out things that are not written in guide books; over 25 Yerevan points of interest and stories as well as info about Armenia in general, from history to culture, from art to recent events.
We will see the historic center (Armenian, Persian, Imperial Russian and Soviet periods), go to the back alleys, see the modern architecture, stop for coffee, discuss about food and drinks. We also touch upon history from ancient Armenian kingdoms, to Soviet times and independence.
The tour ends at the sculpture park and the iconic Cascade stairs, where travelers can stay for to see the sunset over Yerevan or continue to a bar or restaurant.
This activity includes:
Republic Square - 19th century buildings - Parks and markets - St Sargis and St Katoghike Churches - Blue Mosque - Mashtots Ave and Abovyan Street - Opera House - The Cascades - Northern Avenue - Sculpture park - Swan lake
**While at the top of the Cascades, we met Kara - she and I started chatting because we were seated beside each other admiring the scenery. After the tour, we walked around the area and exchanged numbers so we can meet up again.
(2) History Museum of Armenia - located at the Republic Square, https://historymuseum.am/en/
See the world’s oldest shoe at this museum.
Armenia is the first country to embrace Christianity. You will see that the most important symbol for this country is the KHACHKARS or Armenian cross-stones. When we went to visit Jerusalem after our trip so the Southern Caucasus, I easily spotted a Khachkar to mark the Armenian Quarter.
(3) Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral
(4) Vernissage Market -- THE place for souvenir shopping
(5) Stroll around Republic Square and you will see how vibrant this city even at night! Restaurants and cafes do not disappoint AND among the 3 places we visited hands down Yerevan is the cheapest! Baku was the most expensive.
(6) Join a local for a concert and dinner -Thanks to Kara, on our last night in Yerevan, she brought us to a local outdoor concert and dinner at Tavern Yerevan. Definitely, the highlight of our trip! Our daughter enjoyed Tavern Yerevan where she can view how Armenian bread is made.
(7) Take a day trip outside the city
We decided to have the hotel staff book our private day trip since the tour company, https://www.envoytours.com/armenia/armenia-tours/ did not offer the Lake Sevan tour we wanted on the specific day we requested..so book early if you wish to take a day trip outside Yerevan. Total cost for our private tour with our guide, driver and own vehicle: $200 for the 3 of us.
Another tour group that I researched is https://hyurservice.com/eng/
We went to Geghard, Garni, and Sevan and the tour was about 5 hrs total (lunch excluded) . Our guide brought us to this wonderful family-owned restaurant at Lake Sevan --- the fresh fish (trout) grilled perfectly , salad, bread, etc = perfect! At Geghard Monastery, when we went, it was the perfect timing as there was a lovely choir singing inside the “cave” monastery -- to me, it was such a lovely, solemn experience. Since we have our own private tour guide, he was able to secure the key to the baths by Garni pagan temple and showed us the ancients baths. At Sevan, atop the monastery, there was a crew filming an Armenian dance crew --- what a scenery with Lake Sevan as the backdrop. We had a great time enjoying the impromptu dancing and music.
DAY TOUR INFO:
A day tour that starts in Yerevan and includes Garni pagan temple, Geghard monastery complex and Sevan lake with Sevanavank.
The tour starts 9:30 in the morning. You will be picked up from hotel and your first stop will be the Arc of Ararat, where you can enjoy the fantastic view of mount Ararat. You will then move onto Garni pagan temple, which is the only pagan temple in Armenia. Pagan Temple referred to as the well known symbol of pre-Christian Armenia that was converted into a royal summer house. Then you will be taken to UNESCO listed Geghard monastery complex of 13th century. The tour continues to Sevan lake and Sevanavank, where you can enjoy the lunch with Sevan lake Iishkhan (trout). You will then be transferred to Yerevan.What’s included
We did not rush ourselves in enjoying each city. We took our time, picked the pace we preferred and lived like a local. The walking tours were helpful in getting us acquainted with the layout of each city. Aside from the insider knowledge from the tours, we gained new friends along the way, the guides and walking tour group members included. There was this Spanish couple we met in Tbilisi with our walking tour group and the next thing we know, we saw them again and in the same walking tour group with us in Yerevan! We exchanged notes from our own travels and shared their notes from their own travels as well. The world becomes smaller when we open ourselves to new adventures.
From the 3 cities, I would love to go back to Yerevan again...Armenia has a magical draw to me and perhaps I will visit Batumi in Georgia next time --this is a promise to our new found friend in Yerevan, Kara.
Taking the overnight train is not for the faint of heart but it was the best teacher to learn in-depth the people and the ways of life in the Southern Caucasus and if asked if we will do it again...why not!
Everyone has their own goal when they are in a new city. Some people can’t stop studying the culture and looking for traditional activities. Others love to visit museums, national history and shopping. But for the others, they just go some place new to have a hassle-free stay and be adventurous in trying exotic food. To start the year right, we listed Top 10 things to do in Bahrain for 2017.
Al-Fatih Mosque (Great Mosque) (Manama)
It is one of the largest mosques in the world, encompassing 6,500 square meters and having the capacity to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time. It was built by the late Sheikh Isa ibn Salman Al Khalifa in 1987 and was named after Ahmed Al Fateh, the founder of Bahrain. In 2006, Al-Fateh became the site of the National Library of Bahrain.
Bahrain National Museum (Manama)
It is the largest and one of the oldest public museums in Bahrain. It was built near the King Faisal Highway in Manama and opened in December 1988. The US$30 million museum complex covers 27,800 sq meters and consists of two buildings. The building contains the original nine major galleries, educational hall, gift shop and a cafeteria, in addition to administrative offices, laboratories and warehouses for the Conservation of holdings and parking.
Bahrain International Circuit (Manama)
The Bahrain International Circuit is a motor sport venue opened in 2004 and used for drag racing, GP2 Series and the annual Bahrain Grand Prix. The 2004 Grand Prix was the first held in the Middle East. It hosted a number of high profile series, including the FIA Formula One World Championship, the FIA World Endurance Championship, the GP2 Series, Chevrolet Lumina Series, Thunder Arabia and Radical. Also every year there is the traditional 24 Hours of Bahrain.
Qalat al Bahrain (Manama)
It also known as the Bahrain Fort or Fort of Bahrain and previously as the Portugal Fort (Qal'at al Portugal) is an archaeological site located in Bahrain, on the Arabian Peninsula. Archaeological excavations carried out since 1954 have unearthed antiquities from an artificial mound of 12 m (39 ft) height containing seven stratified layers, created by various occupants from 2300 BC up to the 18th century, including Kassites, Greeks, Portuguese and Persians. It was once the capital of the Dilmun civilization and was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
Bab el-Bahrain Souk (Manama)
Bab Al Bahrain literally means Gateway of Bahrain. It is is a historical building located in the Customs Square in Manama's former central business district. It marks the main entrance to the Manama Souq. Designed by Sir Charles Belgrave, adviser to the Emir and completed in 1949, Bab Al Bahrain once stood close to the water's edge. Due to extensive land reclamation in the later years, the sea is located a few kilometers north.
Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park (Manama)
Set as Bahrain's biggest waterpark, It covers an overall area of approximately 77,000 square metres, with a built-up area of 45,000 square metres and about 20,000 square metres. Each aspect of the park is based on the history of the Dilmun period, reflected by unique stone sculptures and architecture that encompasses the theme. Over 18 slides and attractions are blended seamlessly to create a desert oasis and garden of paradise for guests to enjoy
Wahooo! Waterpark (Manama)
It is the first ever indoor-outdoor waterpark that offers amazing water activates. Slides, splash, rides and other attractions suitable for all ages. It set over a whopping 15,000 square-meters, Wahooo! guarantees hours of joy and is a major fun destination if looking for things to do in Bahrain.
Royal Camel Farm (Manama)
It is the home to 600+ camels. It this Bahrain attraction on the outskirts of Manama is more of working farm than a tourist trap. It is a hobby farm started by the uncle of the King, Sheikh Mohammed.
Seef Mall (Manama)
Seef Mall is the second largest mall in the Kingdom of Bahrain. It is located in the Seef district of the capital city, Manama. The Seef Mall is directly connected to Fraser Suites at the western end of the mall.
Tree Of Life (Manama)
The Tree of Life (Shajarat-al-Hayat) in Bahrain is an approximately 400-year-old, 9.75 m (32 ft) high Prosopis cineraria tree located 2 km (1.2 mi) from Jebel Dukhan. It is the only major tree growing in the area, and approximately visited by approximately 50,000 tourists every year. It is very popular because it is believed to be growing in the middle of nowhere, with no water source and has never been watered once throughout history. Bahrain also has little to no rain throughout the year. As a result, it is also believed to be the site for cults practicing ancient rites.
Duration: 6Days 5Nights
Family of 3 (child is 5 years old + 2 adults)
Game Plan: Use Paphos as home base and travel around via rental car
Trivia: Paphos in 2017 was identified the European center of arts and culture.
Tip: Have Euro in cash for admission fees on sites and museums
Leave Bahrain via Gulf Air –check Skyscanner for flights, Qatar Airways also flies regularly to Larnaca
Direct (non stop) Flight: 3 hrs max one-way
Arrive at Larnaca Airport
Upon arrival at Larnaca Airport, pick up free maps and guide books from the Cyprus Tourism Organization kiosk by the baggage claim area. You will spot this easily before you head towards the exit.
Pick up rental car (previously reserved) from Europcar and include a mobile wifi for navigation –we used Google Maps and Waze apps to help us go to various destinations. Cars are right-hand drive in Cyprus, stay on the left side of the road.
Drive towards Paphos from Larnaca Airport: 90-120 minutes
Arrive at Meltemi Villas and meet with the owner, Constantinos. He sent us confirmation e-mail and provided us details on how to get to Paphos from Larnaca. He even included local restaurants to check and other tips prior to arrival.
Meltemi Villas - https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g190384-d2664245-Reviews-Meltemi_Villas-Paphos_Paphos_District.html
Owner: Constantinos Drymiotes at email@example.com
The reviews from Trip Advisor are accurate! They have 8 villas for rent and we enjoyed our stay here. Too bad the weather is not suitable for swimming in the month of February when we visited.
Villa #4 – 2-storey villa with a pool, 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms (1 downstairs and 2 upstairs). Clean, more than spacious for the 3 of us, parking space, and the kitchen is well furnished so you can prepare meals.
Added bonus: Constantinos’ wife even prepared us her homemade spinach and feta cheese pie upon arrival! He even stocked our refrigerator with wine, beer, milk, cheese, eggs, ham etc PLUS, we have bread, cookies, jam, and other snacks. The supplies provided is good for 4 days!!! They even gave our daughter, Elise toys as a welcome gift. Now, that is topnotch customer service!!!
Aside from an amazing owner and the villa itself, the location is quiet and the view of the ocean is wonderful! About 300 meters the beach is right there…walk during sunrise or sunset –the place is magnificent.
Constantinos even took his time to provide us tips based on the maps he gave us where to go for groceries (LIDL about 5 minutes from our villa), nearby local restaurants, the best local Sunday brunch place, and of course places to visit. He is a wealth of information! He even gave us a heads up that in the mornings we may see his father-in-law checking the villas for any repairs that need to be done. He was actually the city’s Mayor for a number of years!!! We actually met him one morning and we chatted with him for a bit.
There is so much to do, see and eat in Paphos alone. As we snacked on the wonderful spinach and feta cheese pie, we mapped out where we wanted to go around Cyprus.
First evening, we drove towards Paphos’ or Pafos Marina.
Trivia #2: The entire town of Paphos is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site, in ancient times it is considered to be Cyprus’ capital.
Medieval Fort of Paphos
Dinner at Pelican Restaurant (pricey as this is a tourist area)
Breakfast at villa
Morning walk to the beach close to the villa
Drove around Paphos to familiarize ourselves with the area. The Tomb of the Kings is very close from the villa!
Went to LIDL grocery store and bought some food supplies for dinner.
Went back towards Paphos Marina to walk around the “boardwalk” have coffee and pastries. Bought a few eye catching souvenirs.
Sites we explored in the Kato Pafos Area:
Early Christian Basilica-St. Paul’s Pillar- Chrysopolitissa/A.G. Kyriaki Church (St. Paul’s Pillar is in the church’s courtyard)
Agia Solomoni Christian Catacomb
Kato Pafos Archaelogical Park – 4.50 Euro each for adults, kids – free (entrance fee)
-important monuments to see: Odeon, Agora, Saranta Kolones (Forty Columns) Fortress, etc
-mosaics are considered the finest in the Mediterranean look for them at the House of Dionysos, Theseus, Aeon, Orpheus
Breakfast at villa
Day to explore Nicosia or Lefkosa
History about Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus: http://www.stwing.upenn.edu/~durduran/dergi/kalou1.htm
Sites we explored in Nicosia:
Cyprus Museum, http://www.nicosia.org.cy/en-GB/discover/museums/cyprus-museum/
**the museum has a child-friedly activity for kids, just ask the staff
Entrance fee: 4.5 Euro for each adult
Parking Space is around the corner 3 Euro for the whole day. We have to repark to be closer to Faneromini Square , another 3 Euro for parking.
Lunch at Faneromenis Square, the heart of the walled city and a classic to visit.
Cross the Green Line Walk, the artificial border dividing the city into two. Also called the Buffer Zone, where the Blue Berets of the UN peacekeeping forces are on duty.
We used the busiest crossing point in the heart of the city, Ledras Checkpoint to visit Turkish Cyprus. Bring your passports, you will have to show your passport twice.
After reaching the other side, you will notice the difference between these two worlds.
Sites we visited:
The Great Khan (Buyuk Han) – Cyprus’ most important Ottoman-Turkish architectural work
The Church of St Nicholas (Bedesten)
Old City Wall by Eleftherias Square
Breakfast at Villa
Limassol or Lemesos Trip
Carnival event –mega traffic!
Sites we visited:
Lemesos Medieval Castle/Museum – Legend has it that it is in this castle that King Richard the Lionheart of England & Leader of the 3rd Crusade married Berengaria of Navarre in 1191.
Lemesos Old Port
Lunch at one of the restaurants in front of the Medieval Castle –Cypriot cuisine is aaahmazing! Tried the Beef Stifado
Kolossi Medieval Castle
Sanctuary of Apollon Hylates – entrance fee 2.50 Euro for adults
Breakfast to go
Sites we visited—last day to drive around --
Very early to catch the sunrise at Aphrodite’s Rock or Petra Tou Romiou – Birthplace of Aphrodite
We hiked to a little hill across Petra Tou Romiou to get the best sunrise shot –it did not disappoint!
The sunrise, calm and quiet, Aphrodite must be there –it was so serene and beautiful!
Kourion Archaeological Site –Entrance Fee: 4.5 Euro each adult
-most impressive archaeological site in Cyprus
- see the magnificent fully restored 2AD Greco-Roman Theater
- House of Eustolios
-House of Achilles and the House of Gladiators because of their mosaic floors
Lunch at Kourion Beach –there are two places to choose from
Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Palapaifos Museum
Trivia: Palapaifos was one of the most celebrated pilgrimage centers of the classical Greek world and one of the city-kingdoms of Cyprus in antiquity
Check out from villa
Drove towards Larnaca or Larnaka
-Larnaca is built on the site where ancient Kition once stood
One last stop to see on the way to the airport –Kamares Aqueduct, an 18th century aqueduct, built in 1746 by the Turkish Governor of Larnaca.
Return car rental at airport. Check in. Signs are easy to find around the airport. Same with the road signs –clear and easy to follow.
BONUS from Constantinos, Owner of Meltemi Villas:
FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS / EVENT DINING
Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant located near Coral Bay.
Excellent food cooked right in front of you. Teppanyaki chefs are very entertaining.
Reservation highly recommended. A bit pricey but worth it.
TRADITIONAL MEZE TAVERNA
Ta Perix Tavern
One of the best restaurants for traditional meze.
Reservation for Saturday is highly advised. I believe that they are closed on Sundays.
Their telephone number for reservation is +357 99628701
It will be rather crowded by locals but if you want the authentic taste, this is it.
One advantage, compared to other restaurants, is that instead of bringing you a set number of dishes, they give you a list in the beginning where they list everything on offer and you mark only the dishes that you like, plus the quantity desired. The waiters are very helpful; they will even tell you if you order too much, so there's no chance of ordering things to be wasted.
It is located in the middle of a residential area. GPS coordinates: 34°46'59.9"N 32°25'00.1"E.
REAL TRADITIONAL FOOD
Food like it used to be eaten by the locals decades ago. This is authentic Cypriot cuisine with high quality ingredients; more like home-cooked dishes than a typical restaurant.
Open daily for lunch except Sundays. Also open every Tuesday and Friday evening. Contact the restaurant and make sure that they are actually open; until two weeks ago they were closed because the road in front of the restaurant was closed because of road works.
Their website: http://laonarestaurant.blogspot.com/
SUNDAY BUFFET LUNCH
Excellent Sunday lunch buffet menu and very good value for money.
For Sunday buffet, early reservation a must.
I highly recommend this restaurant for your Sunday lunch. Great buffet and excellent value for money. You have to book a few days in advance because it is very popular with British expats and locals.
OTHER GOOD RESTAURANTS
It is what I would call a Fusion tavern. Combines old favourites with new ideas and tastes. Where possible, all ingredients are locally sourced.
See their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lengotavern
Their review by Cyprus Mail: http://cyprus-mail.com/2014/04/07/restaurant-review-lengo-tavern-paphos/
See the Chefs/Owners Facebook place at https://www.facebook.com/petros.mavros
Masa Soura Tavern
It is located at the village square of Tala Village.
Their TripAdvisor page can be found below:
It is the favorite restaurant of (of all people) the Archbishop of Cyprus, who is well know for his love of great food (and he has the pot belly to prove it).
Great for meze (more than 20 meze dishes)
Just 300m from your villa. Excellent local food.
Very good casual dining Italian restaurant. Just 1Km from the villa.
Excellent Sunday lunch buffet. Driving time around 20 minutes.
For Sunday buffet, early reservation a must.
High quality international cuisine restaurant. Pricey. Best for special occasions.
Great traditional tavern. Excellent food, following the traditional recipes.
If you want a taste of what the locals eat, this is one of the best places.
Just 1Km away, located at the Chloraka village square, very near the church.
Also, Kathikas village, where Petradaki Tavern is located has many other good taverns. I advise that you check in TripAdvisor for them
TRIP COST: $2,616.00++
RT Airfare for 3 via Gulf Air: $1,738.00
Car Rental: $84.00 (Feb 16-21, 2017)
Meltemi Villas (5 nights): $694.00
Travel Insurance: $100+
Part I: 4 Days in Sydney, Australia
How to explore Sydney and things to remember before you go:
BEFORE you leave, check your passport’s validity -it must be valid for at least 6 months. Apply for your Australian visa or Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), guidance - https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Australia.html . Apply for your ETA on line at https://www.eta.immi.gov.au/ETAS3/etas --cost AUD $20 per person.
There is no better way to explore Sydney than on foot, these are the 3 best walking tours of Sydney:
Tour 1 - Circular Quay to Hyde Park
Sydney Opera House , Royal Botanic Garden, Government House, Mrs Macquarrie’s Chair, Art Gallery of NSW, Hyde Park Barracks, St Mary’s Cathedral, Australian Museum, Hyde Park and Anzac Memorial
Tour 2 - Hyde Park to Darling Harbour
Sydney Tower Eye, Queen Victoria Building, Sydney Town Hall, Chinatown, Chinese Garden of Friendship, Powerhouse Museum, Australian National Maritime Museum, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, Sea Life Sydney Aquarium and Madame Tussauds Sydney
Tour 3 - The Rocks to Walsh Bay
Customs House, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA), The Rocks Discovery Museum, Pylon Lookout, Dawes Point “Tar-ra Park”, Sydney Theater Company & Sydney Dance Company, Sydney Observatory
Resources for planning:
www.sydney.com and visitnsw.com
Hop On/ Hop Off Bus - the australianexplorer.com.au
Is UBER readily available? YES
Top 3 Brunch Spots when in Sydney: (1) About Life at aboutlife.com.au (2) The Boathouse at Balmoral Beach at theboathousebb.com.au (3) Bills (Bondi Beach) at bills.com.au
Tipping? Tipping in Sydney is not compulsory . However, if you’re happy with the service, 10% is acceptable.
Get the wiggles out for the kiddos - we love Darling Harbour Children’s Park which is super close to our hotel and we walked around the area! They have cafes and restaurants close by so you can grab a cuppa and let the kiddos enjoy, https://www.darlingharbour.com/things-to-do/darling-harbour-childrens-playground/
Where to stay? We stayed atNovotel Sydney Darling Square (formerly Novotel Rockford Darling Harbour)17 Little Pier Street, Sydney NSW 2000Darling Harbour https://www.darlingharbour.com/things-to-do/ is a good base for us, we did not rent a car but used Uber to go around and it worked perfectly well.Part II: Camper Van Road Trip (10 days) from South Island to North Island, New Zealand
Kia Ora to the land of the long white cloud! If you want to understand what makes New Zealand tick, hop on a camper van and immerse yourself to its beauty.
From Christ Church, New Zealand
Upon arrival at Christ Church airport, our shuttle (courtesy of Britz) took us Britz Christchurch Branch- 159 Orchard Rd, Christchurch Airport Phone: +64 3357-5610, we picked up our Sprinter and we are on our own!
Cost of camper van rental (10 days): $2,833.56
(1) SIGHTSEE in CHRISTCHURCH: Christchurch is one of the identified South Island campervan pick-up points and I recommend spending a day here to check out the great food, shopping and wonderful sights. Don’t miss the International Antarctic Centre where you can see the penguins, Orana Wildlife Park, Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Christchurch Arts Centre, Church of St Michael and All Angels, Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and Canterbury Museum.
City Walking Route - (1) Botanic Gardens (2) Arts Precinct, Arts Center, Art Gallery (3) Re: Start Mall (4) Cathedral Square (5) Cathedral Junction (6) New Regent Street (7)Margaret Mahy Playground (8) Cardboard Cathedral (9)Poplar Lane
Trivia for yeah - Christchurch is the oldest city in NZ. In 2010/2011, the city was hit by a series of seismic activities.
Overnight at Mt Somers Holiday Park - to hike Mt Sunday aka EDORAS - reaching the summit is amazing and what a great view! http://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/canterbury/places/hakatere-conservation-park/things-to-do/tracks/mount-sunday-track/
Mount Sunday: The capital of Rohan and home to Meduseld, the hall of King Theoden.
Hakatere Conservation Park
Access to Edoras: Hakatere Potts Rd, walk up Mount Sunday
(2) KAIKOURA - provides an unforgettable location to enjoy NZ’s eco-tourism : Whale watch, www.whalewatch.co.nz ; Kayak www.kaikourakayaks.nz, make sure to stop by the Kaikoura Sea Colony and walk - https://www.freewalks.nz/south-island-walking-tracks/kaikoura-coast-seal-colony-walk/track
Watch out for these side of the road eats as quick pit stops -
Nin’s Bin, https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g255374-d1978588-Reviews-Nin_s_Bin-Kaikoura_Canterbury_Region_South_Island.html
Kaikoura Seafood and BBQ, https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g255374-d2083994-r467742924-Kaikoura_Seafood_BBQ-Kaikoura_Canterbury_Region_South_Island.html
(3) PICTON - is a village with 1/5 of NZ’s entire coastline stretching out from its natural harbor, www.visitpicton.co.nz
Travelling between the North and South Islands of New Zealand means crossing the Cook Strait. The only way to do this with a vehicle is by taking a ferry with either the Interislander or Bluebridge which both arrive and depart from Picton and Wellington.
The Cook Strait crossing (Raukawa Moana in Māori) is the connection between the Tasman Sea on the West, the South Pacific Ocean on the East and the North and South Islands of Aotearoa.
Considered one of New Zealand’s most iconic tourist experiences, and one of the most spectacular ferry crossings in the world, crossing the Cook Strait is a top to-do on many travellers bucket list. As with many stunning vistas though, the Cook Strait is also considered one of the most dangerous and unpredictable pieces of aquatic paradise around.
The Strait often experiences rough water and heavy swells from strong winds, especially from the South. New Zealand’s position is directly athwart the roaring forties, meaning the Strait funnels westerly winds and deflects them into northerlies, further aggravating wave heights. This, combined with the tides from the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean being out of phase with each other, creates a challenge for anyone operating a work-boat in the region.
DO NOT FORGET to grab your treats while on the ferry from the Picton Village Bakery, https://www.facebook.com/PictonVillageBakery/ --thank me for it later :-)
Cost: 2 adults + 1 child (5 yrs old) + 1 camper van = $398.00
Eco World Aquarium for the kiddos - touch a living fossil (Tuatara)! at www.ecoworldnz.com
Yay! You have explored the south island and crossed the famous Cook’s Strait. Now off we go to the North Island delights.
(1) WELLINGTON - craft beer + city central + a visit to Te Papa (New Zealand’s National Museum) + Weta Workshop . For a walking tour: www.walkwellington.org.nz - this should be your first experience of this wonderful city to familiarize yourself on what to do and where to eat.
Trivia for yeah: Wellington is famous for its coffee culture and known as the “coolest little capital in the world”
(2) TAUPO - there is only one site that I will recommend you to stop, relax,indulge, and spend the night --yep, I spent my birthday here -- Waikite Valley Thermal Pools! Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit, flip flops and towels! Go to www.hotpools.co.nz, by chance we were able to grab the LAST camping spot for our camper van for this place (so lucky!)
Adrenalin junky? Yes, Taupo Bungy, www.taupobungy.co.nz
(3) ROTORUA - set amongst lakes, forest, and volcanic peaks, Rotorua is the grand daddy of NZ tourism--which is why we concentrated most of our activities here :-)
Rainbow Springs - www.rainbowsprings.co.nz
Zorbing - Did you know that Rotorua is the FIRST official Zorbing site in the world? Zorbing? Check it out www.zorb.com/world/rotorua
Skyline - www.skyline.co.nz/rotorua
Redwoods Tree Walk - (our fave!) www.treewalk.co.nz
Kawaru Jet - one of our most fun rides at Lake Rotorua, https://www.nzjetboat.co.nz
Spend a day at Te Puia - Maori culture + geothermal wonder + famous Pohotu geyser, www.tepuia.com
*you may also want to visit Whakarewarewa: The Living Maori Village, www.whakewarewa.com, Tamaki Maori Village, www.tamakimaorivillage.co.nz, or Ohinemutu
Spa? why yes...www.polynesianspa.co.nz -- a much needed pampering after spending a few days roughin’ it in a camper van
(4) WAIKATO - discover the eerie subterranean world of caverns, grottoes,then explore craggy coastlines, peaceful pastures and gorgeous gardens.
Checkout the famous limestone cave system and the glow worm caves - www.waitomo.com
You are getting closer to Middle Earth - adjacent to Waikato is the Matamata/Piako district where fans of LOTR trilogy and The Hobbit can tour the Hobbiton Movie Set.
(5) Matamata- an unexpected journey to Middle Earth
Book your visit at www.hobbitontours.com and step into the hobbit’s world. Package trips? Book a combination of tours at www. themiddle-earthtrilogy.com
(5) AUCKLAND - aaaah, end of our journey! As any city, a walking tour is great to orient yourself of what the see can offer to you.
To see, expl0re and do:
Auckland Museum - www.aucklandmuseum.com
Getting around is faster, easier and cheaper with HOP, www.myhop.co.nz
Skywalk - www.skywalk.co.nz
Culture? Auckland Art Gallery and The Auckland War Memorial Museum are top spots
Family Friendly Attractions: Sky Tower, www.skytower.co.nz ; Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium, www.kellytarltons.co.nz; Auckland Zoo, www.aucklandzoo.co.nz; Motat, www.motat.org.nz; Rainbow’s End, www.rainbowsend.co.nz; and Butterfly Creek, www.butterflycreek.co.nz
Returned the camper van at the Britz Auckland branch - 36 Richards Pearse Drive Mangere, Auckland. Checked in at Ibis Budget Auckland Airport, https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-7865-ibis-budget-auckland-airport/index.shtml - tiny room but good enough for one night. There is a nearby strip mall for restaurants and cafe. A shuttle to the airport (very close!) is available, perfect for a super early AM flight out.
A few things or trip notes (wisdom gained from the trip):
*When is a good time to go? Spring offers a snapshot of NZ’s stunning diverse landscape. Match it with milder temperatures, longer days, and less crowded landscapes. September - November is ideal (we went mid October)
*Reserve as early as you can your camper van. Choices - Maui, Britz, Mighty Campers, search for the one that fits the size and other requirements you have.
For Britz, we used - www.britz.co.nz/
* Decide whether you wish to go far south as Queenstown or start at Christchurch, we opted for the latter because we only have 10/11 days.
*Map out your stops for the holiday parks. Download Rankers to identify your camping locations - https://www.rankers.co.nz/about/official-camping-nz-app
*Take with you basic necessities as if going camping, first aid kit is a must!
*Decide whether you will rough it out all the way (no Air BnB’s or hotels) or you will do a combination of. This way, you can map out the holiday parks where you will stop at AND/OR Air B N B locations.
*Tipping is not expected for regular service but if you wish to extend your gratitude for something above and beyond, 15% is ideal.
We opted to stay at the gated community of Nusa Dua in Bali and chose Sofitel to accrue Accorhotel points.
Total cost for 8 days: $1,260.21
The hotel has a Kid’s Club so it was perfect if you wish to spend some quiet beach time, spa date with hubby or explore the nearby areas. There is a corresponding fee.
Treat yourself and your hubby for a day of massage and facial at So Spa at the Sofitel :-)
Local Eats We Enjoyed - say Hi! (for me) to the staff when you go and visit them!
Coffee and breakfast - Secret Cafe, https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g297698-d7084197-Reviews-Secret_Cafe-Nusa_Dua_Nusa_Dua_Peninsula_Bali.html
Local ‘hole in the wall’ restaurant or warung - Warung Bule and Susy , https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g297698-d3802947-Reviews-Warung_Bule_Susy-Nusa_Dua_Nusa_Dua_Peninsula_Bali.html
For a sunset view with seafood dinner must be booked at Jimbaran Beach --there are a few restaurants to choose from but we went to Menega Cafe and enjoyed our last dinner on the island - https://www.menega.com/
What to do at Nusa Dua? Here are resources and ideas -
Of course, when in Bali...aside from visiting various temples and shopping, a trip to UBUD is in order -
We went for the Quad Tour for a day trip in Ubud, you can check out www.baliquad.com or www.pertiwiquadadventure.com. They picked us up from Sofitel Bali Nusa Dua and brought us back after the day trip. A lunch buffet is included. If doing this trip--you will get dirty, muddy -- bring a backpack with change of clothes -a clean, shower area with fresh towels are available.
All the things helpful as travel trips before heading to Bali, we made sure we took note of are here, have a browse at: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/indonesia/bali/travel-tips-and-articles/essential-bali-travel-tips-what-to-know-before-you-go/40625c8c-8a11-5710-a052-1479d277522a
We decided not to jam pack our Bali leg of the trip, we wanted to enjoy the beach, spa, and the seafood --all affordable (waaaaay more affordable) than Australia and NZ. Bali was meant for us to decompress and prepare to head back to Bahrain. Overall, our family trip ended on an excellent note.
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