Cyprus in the summer

16 06 2010

Well the summer is upon us and the good thing about living in Cyprus is that we get lots of visitors.
First an english couple are coming – I’m betting they’re going to find it pretty hot – it was 35 Degrees Celsius today. For those of you who use Farenheit that’s getting towards the hundred mark.
So we have decided to meet them in the Troodos Mountains. It’s a lovely shady spot with lots of pine trees and waterfalls and the temperature is usually about 10 degrees cooler. So a good place a have a Greek meze with plenty of feta, dolmades (minced pork wrapped in vine leaves) and freshly caught cyprus trout.
The following day we are going on a boat trip from Ayios Georgios in Paphos along the Akamas coast. There should be some spectacular views and we’re planning to stop for some swimming along the way near to Lara Bay where the turtles nest.
The next weekend family are coming and they want to see one of the famous Cyprus monasteries. So we’ll do some research over the coming weeks and let you know which are the ten best monasteries to visit in Cyprus.
Finally a friend is coming all the way from Los Angeles to Cyprus. He’s Jewish and he often goes to Tel Aviv in the summer which is only half an hour away by plane. He wanted to find out about getting a boat across to save money but I told him it’s probably not a good idea at the moment! He is actually getting a free ticket to go to Israel from Los Angeles as part of an American Jewish organisation. I’m very keen to find out more about this so as soon as I know I’ll pass on the information.
Anyway hope you all have a good weekend and if you’re at a loss about what to do why not pop over to Cyprus? Everyone else is!





Review of the Arcotel Wimberger, Vienna

6 04 2010

I just got back from a long weekend in Vienna where I stayed in the Arcotel Wimberger. Here’s a quick review of my stay there.

I booked my stay at the Arcotel Wimberger through lastminute and it average at about 50 GBP per night. The hotel is located in the same area as most of the other main hotels and is just next to West Banhoff train station. The airport has a bus which will transfer you directly to West Banhoff for 11.50 euros return. It takes about 35 minutes.

The hotel is not very beautiful from the outside but once you are inside, it is peaceful and elegant. The staff were all very helpful and polite.

Our room was lovely and quiet. Although it wasn’t that attractively decorated. The hotel has a good restaurant as well as an indoor pool, gym, jacuzzi and sauna.

As the hotel is next to west banhoff, it’s very easy to get anywhere in the city. There is also a good cafe about 5 minutes walk from the hotel as well as a big street of shops about 10 minutes walk from the hotel.





Capital Coast Resort & Spa, Cyprus

2 03 2010

One of the benefits of living on a small Mediterranean island is that you can make use of all the off-season bargains. Although the winter in Cyprus is quite mild, it is still not warm enough to swim for at least 6 months of the year. This means most of the hotels are pretty empty. The recession has also hit the Cypriot tourism industry quite badly. One would therefore expect to spend the low season enjoying luxury hotels at half the price. Alas no!

The hotels in Cyprus have not quite grasped the idea that booking 100 people at half the price is better than booking 10 people at full price. However, this winter we found one hotel which is actually offering reduced rates. The Capital Coast Resort & Spa in Cyprus has been doing significantly reduced rates for the past few months. The deals can be found on the bookcyprus website and expedia. We managed to stay there for only 37 euros per night! Unfortunately, recently the price has crept up to about 50 euros per night (including breakfast) but it is still a bargain.

The price includes breakfast, a one bedroom apartment with cooking facilities and a balcony. The rooms are clean and often they will give you a partial sea view too. Unlike most hotels in Cyprus, the rooms have TVs which actually show decent channels such as BBC1 and ITV – a big perk for an expat with no TV!

The absolute best thing about Capital Coast Resort & Spa is that it has a fully equipped gym, indoor pool, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi and plunge pool. All of these facilities can be used for free – in many of the hotels in Limassol they actually charge you to use their facilities.

Obviously there is a catch. The hotel is quite shabby in places. It could definitely do with some TLC and if you were paying full price, you might consider asking for your money back. However, at these prices, you have nothing to complain about!





Petra, Jordan

30 10 2009
The Jordanian Royal Family

The Jordanian Royal Family

During our stay in Jordan, we of course made time to visit Jordan’s most famous attraction – Petra! Petra is such an amazing place that even the ever-wandering Bedouins choose to remain there. It is also the place the movie directors pick when wanting to film in a land time forgot – both Indiana Jones and The Transformers have been filmed there.

 The hostel we planned to stay at in Wadi Musa (just outside Petra) arranged for a taxi driver to pick us up from Amman. The journey from Amman to Petra should not cost more than 50JD and we paid a little extra so that we could stop off at various spots along the way. You can also catch a local bus from Amman to Jordan – this will usually cost 5JD each. I would recommend that you do one leg of the trip by taxi as the journey takes 3 hours and the highway is quite dull so it’s worth doing a few stop-offs to break it up.

Our taxi driver was a lovely guy who pulled in at a cafe and picked us up some delicious falafel to snack on along the way. During our drive we were stopped numerous times by police to have our IDs checked. This was quite reasonable as the road we were on went past Jordan’s borders with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Jordan feels like a very safe country and you can tell that the authorities are doing their best to keep the country stable. The Royal family is incredibly popular and you will see their photos everywhere. Whatever they are doing is working because the country is prosperous and most people seem contented. In places there does seem to be poverty but I would say that that is more to do with living in such a harsh climate.

The Dead Sea

The Dead sea

First stop was at the Dead Sea. Stupidly we had not packed any swimwear as we had not been planning on going to the Dead Sea. It is not the most picturesque coastline but it is dramatic. Sharp cliffs meet with a dark sea and in the distance you can see the coast line of Israel. There are few areas where you can access the water but here and there you can see people floating about in the salty brine or painting their bodies with the black mud. We bought some of the mud and I shall let you know if it does anything miraculous to my skin.

After a short stop (I think our driver was somewhat disappointed that we didn’t stop longer for a swim as he was having a good chinwag with some pals of his), we headed onwards along the coast road. Our driver suddenly pulled over at the side of the road and pointed out a small pillar of rocks up on a cliff. Turns out that in front of us was Lot’s wife, the lady who turned back for one last look and got turned into a pillar of salt. That’s the amazing thing about Jordan, it is absolutely steeped in ancient history and myth.

On we went. The drive was pretty arduous and took about 5 hours so not one for anyone prone to car sickness. Next up was the village of Dana which we stopped to look at from a distance. It is a traditional Bedouin village. We then headed up into the mountains and stopped to visit a local Bedouin man. He invited us into his home (built into the rock face) and offered us some very tasty sage tea. He was very friendly and showed us some of his handmade items as well as his collection of ancient coins. People in Jordan are often trying to sell you something but they are always polite if you say no and do not tend to be as forceful as people can be in other Middle Eastern countries. I bought a bracelet and a necklace from him for a very reasonable price (with a bit of haggling). He genuinely seemed to enjoy meeting us and we enjoyed meeting him. If you are ever travelling up the mountain road to Shobak castle then do stop to see him.

Shobak Castle

Shobak Castle

Shobak castle was built in 1115  and located up on the top of a conical mountain, surrounded by desert. It was built to guard the road from Egypt to Damascus and was fought over by many different people during the crusades. Not much remains of it but one can still feel that it was once a very important building.

Our driver then took us onto the small town just next to the site of Petra. We stayed at the Petra Gate hostel and I would definitely recommend it. It is clean and the staff are very friendly, especially the owner (Nasser) who was always available to answer questions and give advice. For a very reasonable price you also get a good breakfast. The next day we woke up early and were taken for free by Nasser to the entrance of Petra.

Words simply cannot describe Petra. There is nothing like it in the world; it combines both the geological magnificence of the grand canyon with the archeological spendour of the pyramids.  You approach Petra via a short hike through a gorge known as Bab Al-Siq. Lining the route are various engravings and tombs. The whole way you can easily imagine how Petra was once a bustling city and one cannot help but think of all the explorers and adventurers who have trod the path before you.

Entrance to the treasury

Entrance to the treasury

At the end of your hike you come to a narrow opening through which you can just catch a glimpse of the treasury. Walking through, the treasury is revealed in all it’s glory. This quote from two commanders from the Royal Navy in 1818 best sums it up, “We do not know with what to compare this scene, perhaps there is nothing in the world that resembles it.”

As we only had one day in Petra, we decided to climb up to the high place of sacrifice in order to get a good view of the whole site. The climb was arduous but worth it as the view was spectacular and, as it required some fitness, there were less people around. Reaching the summit we then opted to take a different route back down which also took us past a number of other sites and allowed us a great view of the royal tombs.  Walking down, we came into the city centre and the colonnaded street. By this time we had been walking for about four hours and were pretty tired. The monastery is at the top of another mountain and is about a 4 hour round trip. If you are only there one day then I think the high place of sacrifice is better to visit, as the round trip takes you past almost everything.

The Treasury

The Treasury

The amphitheatre

The amphitheatre

The street of facades

The street of facades

On our return walk, we got chatting to some young Jordanian girls on a school trip as well as a very sweet Bedouin girl called Riza. They were all delightful and keen to practice their english on us.

By the time we got back to the Petra Gate hostel, our legs were aching but we were exhilirated by the sights we had seen. We ventured out for a kebab before opting for an early night to rest our weary limbs. The food in Petra is not as good as the food in Amman and expect to pay slightly inflated prices.

We opted to do our return trip to Amman by local bus. The journey was on the desert highway and only took about 3 hours. Using the local bus is a great experience as you get an insight into local life. I must say that I am in awe of Jordan’s strong sense of family values. There was a pair of gorgeous little boys on the bus and everyone got involved with playing with them and keeping them entertained.

Jordan is a very moderate Islamic country which allows people to have freedom of religion as well as giving women relatively equal treatment. Many women, as well as men, opt to wear head-dresses but, personally, I think this is mainly a practical adaption for living in a hot, dusty country. Generally, the women seemed to be respected and looked after.

Having been to Petra, I can honestly say that there is nowhere like it and that it would be a shame to never visit it. As one of the new seven wonders of the world and having been built by the Nabateans in 100BC, visiting it is a truly a memorable experience.





Amman, Jordan

29 10 2009

I have just returned from a trip to Jordan, a country which is well worth a visit. We flew to Jordan using Royal Jordanian airlines. I would not say that we had a great experience with Royal Jordanian. Their booking system is hard to navigate and their in-flight meal is meagre to say the least (a muffin and a tiny cup of orange juice). However, there were no delays and the staff were pleasant.  Having investigated a number of different airlines, they seemed to offer the best priced flight from Cyprus at approximately 200 euros each, return.

On arrival in Amman we got the airport bus into the centre of Amman and then a taxi to our hotel. As with most countries in the Middle East, you need to have an idea of how much things should cost and be very prepared to haggle. Any taxi trip within the centre of Amman should never cost more than 5 JD (approx 5 euros) and will usually cost a lot less if you make sure the driver is on the meter. The airport bus cost 6JD each and if you do decide to splurge on a taxi instead of the bus then don’t pay more than 35JD.Alternatively you can rent car hire Amman at www.rhinocarhire.com/Car-Hire/Jordan-Car-Hire.aspx

Roman-Ruins--Amman

We stayed at the Gardenia Hotel in Amman for one night. It was reasonably priced and provided us with a much needed good night’s sleep before the big adventure began – Petra. Amman is very much a working city and therefore has little to offer tourists. There is an 8th century palace and a Roman amphitheatre but that is pretty much it. However, it’s a great place to get a real feel of Jordanian life and enjoy a bit of Middle Eastern food. On our first evening in Amman, we visited Rainbow street which was recommended on Wikipedia. First stop was Books@cafe which was mentioned on many websites. The cafe had a terrace which looked out over the Amman skyline and I have to say the view was spectacular. Amman is a hilly city and when sitting on the terrace, the hills rise above you lit up.  However, Books@cafe is not somewhere to go if you want to experience any of the local culture. Most of the clientele are expats and wealthy Jordanians. Apart from the splendid view, it is not dissimilar to any fashionable cafe in any city. We then went on to a cafe opposite called Old View which also had a beautiful terrace which was lit with candles. Listening to Middle Eastern music whilst eating humus and looking at the view, we felt like we had finally arrived in Amman. There are plenty of intriguing drinks on the menu if you want to taste something authentic – I tried a cold drink called tamerhind (contains tamarind) and a hot, tangy drink called karkadeh.amman-jordan

The next day we set off on our trip to Petra which I shall write about in another post.

After our trip to Petra, we stayed in Amman for one more night before flying home. We were lucky enough to have booked into The Palace Hotel on King Faisal street. The lady who ran the place was very helpful as were all the members of staff. It is clean, attractive, well located and cheap. A great combination!

Feeling peckish, we stopped off at a nearby cafe called Hashem. Hashem’s serves a set meal of falafel, flat bread, humus and a salad of mint, tomato and onion. The meal was tasty and clearly the place is popular with locals – even the Royal family occasionally visits.

We spent the afternoon browsing the nearby shops. Personally I love a good haggle so the shopping was great for me and I got quite a few bargains – in Morocco I was told that I am just like a Bedouin woman. However, if you are not comfortable with haggling the stick to stores with price labels – there are many malls in Jordan. Overall though the Jordanians are not overly greedy so you will still pay less than you probably do back home even without haggling.

We also briefly checked out the Roman amphitheatre which is right in the centre of the city. It is still in good condition but after the marvels of Petra it was not that amazing to look at.

In the evening we went to a place called Abdoun Circle which is where the fashionable Jordanians gather. Dining at a restaurant called Noodasia which serves a range of Asian food, we were grateful for a break from the usually tepid food of Cyprus. Grabbing a taxi, we then headed for one last visit to Rainbow street (recently visited by Brangelina). This time I tried a drink called mint lemonade which is made of fresh lime juice mixed with mint leaves and ice. It’s definitely worth trying!

The next day we were homeward bound and sad to leave a country filled with such welcoming people and so much history.