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Edinburgh

Sad circumstance brought us to Scotland with the passing away of Kirsten’s great aunt. After a few days in Glasgow, where we attended the funeral, we made our way to Edinburgh and spent a few days unwinding, shopping and sightseeing.

Edinburgh’s a lovely city with a lot to see and do: museums, fabulous restaurants (the haggis is consistently excellent), shopping, entertainment, etc. It’s really good fun, and highly recommended.

We stayed at the Balmoral Hotel; it’s a really good hotel because it’s well-kept, centrally located and has great views of Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh’s definitely worth a visit, despite the often appalling weather.

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Egypt: Tut, tut, tut

For our first break of 2013 we decided that we’d get some diving in at the Red Sea. I’ll pre-empt this entry by stating that this quick vacation was anything but a successful holiday.

For starters, our early flight out of Dubai was delayed by five hours due to heavy fog – this naturally meant that we missed our connecting flight in Cairo to Sharm El Sheikh and the next available flight meant that we had to wait for eight hours for the next available flight. As one does, we got a private taxi to the Four Seasons, Nile Plaza. Since this is Cairo that we’re speaking about, it took us 90 minutes to get from the airport to the hotel in the most insane traffic I’ve ever seen. Once in the safe haven of the Four Seasons, we settled down to a nice dinner and tried to relax. Killing time on vacation is never optimal, and we headed back to the airport, via Tahrir Square no less (where we watched the unrest kick off the following day on the news), and finally got on the plane to Sharm El Sheikh where we arrived at midnight (12 hours later than our scheduled arrival).

We got collected by our driver, and after a quick drive we were dropped off at the Four Seasons, Sharm El Sheikh.

Kirsten and I have stayed at numerous Four Seasons hotels around the world, and for the first time we were incredibly disappointed by what the FS Sharm El Sheikh delivered; the property is old, a bit rundown and the service is lacking.

To make matters worse, the weather was horrible. It was overcast, gloomy, windy, cold and rainy for our entire trip which really put a dampener on things, since our main motivation to come here was to do some diving and get some sun. Which brings us to the dive center – we are both still newbie divers, so when you get a five-star resort where the equipment is old and rundown, it simply doesn’t instil you with any sense of confidence. Kirsten’s equipment kept leaking air prior to the first dive, and our dive instructor told us not to be concerned with that because she’d been diving with a faulty O-ring for months that she just hadn’t bothered to get around to fixing. So much for safety. We did, however, eventually get three dives in, two with decent-ish instructors.

People we’d spoken to have raved about diving in the Red Sea and how amazing it is – honestly, it does not compare with anything that we’ve experienced in the Maldives. The only really nice thing we did get around to seeing was the fan coral (which were huge and really impressive), but other than that, there was very little to report. And did we mention that the water was freezing?

So, all in all, not the world’s most enthralling holiday, but at least we got to see Cairo and Sharm El Sheikh, and we got back home to Dubai in one piece.

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Waves of fun on our anniversary!

Atlantis Hotel – One night stay 7th September 2012 – Wedding Anniversary.

We booked into the infamous Atlantic Hotel at the weekend just to so we could celebrate our wedding anniversary with some light fun and relaxation.

 

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Dubai during Ramadan

For the first time in the past three years, Ramadan has been a significantly quiet time in Dubai. The roads have been desolate and the summer exodus has been noticeable as expats head home for a few weeks to get away from the scorching heat.

Since it’s been so quiet, with little or nothing to do, I figured I’d post some pictures of Dubai showing, amongst other things, the Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai Marina, The Dubai Mall and Atlantis on The Palm.

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Qualified Divers

Well, it’s official; Kirsten and I are now officially certified open water divers. We completed the course and training as part of our  latest vacation in the Maldives under the vigilant eye of our PADI instructor, Moto. We did our theory looking out at the beautiful Indian Ocean from the luxury of our sun beds, and we did all the practical exercises in the sea… this has to be the way to do it as opposed to a swimming pool.

The diving bug bit as part of our trip to the Maldives earlier this year when we did our “Discover Scuba” experience with Stefano (our eccentric Italian instructor). Kirsten adapted to diving like the proverbial fish, but it was far more of a struggle for me where while each dive was interesting, it was also an exercise to not die and run out of oxygen.

Nevertheless, it’s good to be certified and we’re planning our next holiday based on where we can dive next – the Red Sea is a strong contender at the moment.

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Believe it or not, we’re back again

Five short months since our last vacation here, we’re back again! The Dusit Thani is now becoming an established property, and while they have some way to still match the Four Seasons in terms of service and attention to detail, it’s still a great place to vacation in the Maldives.

We got a bit lucky with the weather, because it had rained solidly for a week before our arrival, and we brought some of the Dubai sunshine with us – the wind though, was still strong, making the water choppier than normal which made snorkelling a less than relaxing activity. This, however, led us to make the decision to do our scuba diving course (more in the next post on that).

The Maldives, as ever, is spectacular and we just loving coming back. The whole experience is just awesome as the sea taxi whisks you across the azure waters to a remote island which really feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere.

The Dusit’s great, but they need to be careful as their pricing is a bit ‘suspect’, and something I’ve covered in an earlier post. Provided that they keep their prices steadier, we will probably come back again.

 

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Maldivian hat-trick

We’re starting to make a habit of coming to the Maldives; and who can resist because this place is just so amazing? For the first time, we’re also not staying at the Four Seasons, Landaa Giraavaru because Kirsten caught wind of the Dusit Thani’s soft opening, so we figured we should capitalise on the opening special offers and have a change of scenary.

The Dusit didn’t disappoint – the island was in pristine shape, and the only noticeable difference was in the quality of service, which wasn’t as sharp as the FS. I also thought that the food at the Dusit was very overpriced in areas; while the food was consistently good, it’s difficult to justify how a cheese and ham sandwich can be priced at $18 ++.

The Dusit is not cheap when it comes to activities and food, and you should be very careful to not get overcharged. Their cocktails are also on the very pricey side, and they aren’t very strong either, not to mention that some of their recipes of cocktail classic (like the pina colada) are extremely suspect.

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Hampshire Time

Reuniting after a few days apart (where I was in Liverpool watching football, and Kirsten was with her grandparents in Eastbourne) we wrapped up this English journey with a few days in Hampshire, having already taken in East Sussex, Kent and many other counties earlier in the year.

We stayed at the Four Seasons Hampshire, which turned out to be a bit of an oddity as a FS property. The property itself is a restored Georgian manor house, but what strikes you is that the grounds, which are vast, are devoid of trees which makes you feel like you’re located on the middle of a massive field. The lack of trees, which is odd because this part of England is so green and lush, means that while you’re having breakfast and look out of the window, all you can see is a large field and power lines.

That aside, the staff and service was excellent, and the entrance and lobby to the property exude a definite feeling of elegance.

Getting into your car and driving around the surrounding areas reveals some charming villages, many of which have lovely antique shops, boutiques and galleries, and the pubs serve some great English culinary classics.