Where to go for your honeymoon?

The honeymoon trip is probably the most important vacation of your life. Wedding stress over, it`s a time to send your marriage off to a good start, to be remembered and cherished over the years, often to be repeated either to renew the vows or to rekindle romance when the marriage has hit the rocks. Get your decision of where to go wrong and it can have dire consequences not like any other trip where reality did not meet your expectations.

The choice of your destination depends (apart from the budget) entirely on the taste of the newly weds and their ability to agree. I have divided my suggestions in three ´themes´so to speak, Luxury and Glamour, Adventure and Romance. And I have added a forth, which, although often a favorite, can, in my very personal opinion lead to an early divorce.

Luxury and glamour

My favorite for that category is Miami in Florida. You can´t beat the glitz and glamour of South Beach, the plethora of clubs for entertainment at night and the fabulous shopping in Lincoln´s Road by day.

There is no shortage of 5 star hotels for the vacation of a lifetime in South Beach either, although my favorite remains the time honored Delano. There are less expensive hotels too , all along Ocean Drive with the added advantage that some of them are located in the famed art deco buildings.

When you have enough of lounging on the beach or dancing the night away, you may want to head for Downtown Miami, polish up on history at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida in Flagler Street, visit the Bayside Market of the Mary Brickell Village and have the best  (biggest and cheapest) steak in Miami´s oldest pub: Tobacco Road near the Miami River.

tob-300x224

Talking about that, many visitors to Miami do not realize that there actually is  a river, a big and busy one at that. You can take a boat trip along the river and learn more about Miami history along the way.

Another trip not to be missed is  a ride on an airboat in the Everglades. And if you want to venture further afield, drive across the bridges with stunning views all the way to watch the sunset in Key West.

Adventure

The choice for adventure trips is huge, you could actually honeymoon all year long to catch them all. Few will have this luxury, so my suggestion is Jordan.

Not to be missed is a visit to Petra, the rose colored ancient city discovered by chance. Arrive early in the morning before the tourist buses descend, make your way on foot or horseback along the narrow gouge and alight with an ‘ohhh’ of admiration on your lips when you catch the first glimpse of the stunning treasury.

Petra

Petra

But there is more to Jordan than Petra. Rent a car and venture out on the highway leading through the desert, but watch out for wild camels which cross the road at their leisure. Visit the best Roman ancient site  and temples outside Italy in Jerrash and the castle of Ayun.

Temple in Jerrash

Temple in Jerrash

Dip your toes and cover yourself in healing mud at Amman Beach, a Dead Sea resort, or relive the stories of the bible by a trip to Mount Nabo where Moses first caught sight of the Holy Land.

Amman beach resort

Amman beach resort

If you want truly adventure, book a trip to Wadi Rum. This is something you cannot do on your own as guides and 4x4s are required to reach the wild, wild destination where you will camp and sleep under the stars. As you can see, a touch of romance is added to the adventure.

Romance

Why not head for Europe if you chosen honeymoon  theme is romance? In particular to Salzburg in Austria, city of Mozart and Sachertorte. Maybe my association with romance and Salzburg results from the fact that on my fist visit I happened upon a lavish wedding in one of the many parks, complete with sunshine and horse drawn carriage.

Wedding in Salzburg

Wedding in Salzburg

Salzburg invites to leisurely strolls through the old part of town rather than physical exhaustion unless  you decide to make your way to the impressive Festung Salzburg on foot. You can easily take the cable car and enjoy the view from the top.

And then of course, there is the world famous Café Sacher and the chocolate cake called Sachertorte. Sit  and look at the wall of fame and the river Salzach which flows at your feet.

Cafe Sacher

Cafe Sacher

Visit Mozart´s birth house and the museum and if you don´t happen to be there at the time of the Festspiele you can still listen to concerts  year around.

If you feel like an excursion, you might take the train to Munich or the Chiemsee to look at King Ludwig´s last (and unfinished) castle Herrenchiemsee.

The people of Salzburg have a soft spot for honeymooners. Just mention the fact and you´ll find that you´ll  get even better treatment  including a few extras than you would get anyway.

 The danger choice: cruises

I know that what I have to say about cruises will probably invite controversy. However, I am only expressing my personal experience and what I thought of this choice as a honeymoon destination at the time.

It sounds fabulous, gliding across the sea on a swimming palace, never to have to deal with luggage, food no end and at any time of day or night and your every whim catered for by countless  stewards and maids.

This is of course all true, but…..after two days I started to feel claustrophobic. By then you have explored every nook and cranny of the boat and there is nowhere else to go. Your ability to live together as a married couple is tested to the limit. The same applies to your co-passengers. It´s always the same people you happen upon, whether you like them or not. You share the same table  unless you opt to eat a la carte or use the self service facilities , gym space and deck space is also limited.

Sure, there are land excursions  but unless you decide to go off on your own, as I did, it´s guided tours and, again, the same people all the time.

Cruise ship in St. Thomas

Cruise ship in St. Thomas

From start to finish you are tagged and processed, there is little room for individual freedom and all of this may put a strain on a brand new marriage and, in the worst of cases, lead to an early divorce!

I´ll be interested to hear your opinion if and how I am wrong.

 

 

 

 

So many words for one ‘necessity’

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another ‘necessity’ which has so many different words to describe it. I am talking about the good old toilet. Here are a few words:

 

Toilet

Rest room

WC

Powder room

Lady’s and Gent’s

There are of course some much ruder words in different languages which I will leave to your imagination. This is, after all, supposed to be and elegant and sophisticated blog, no bad language here.

 

Then, there are signs: from lipstick and fan to bowler hats and pipes. Or the stick men and women which sometimes can lead to confusion.

I often wondered if the distinction of ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’ as opposed to ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ reflects on the presumption or snobbishness of the establishment or on the’ social class’ of the potential users. If you are a rather smelly bag lady, are you allowed in the ‘Ladies’ (because you are after all a lady) or are you relegated to the ‘Women’. If you are a man but don’t wear a suit and tie, can you still ‘go’ to the ‘Gentlemen’?

Or maybe, the distinction has to do with the quality of the amenity? Three layer loo paper in the ‘Ladies’, one layer in the ‘Women’?

Here are two pictures of very original toilets I found during my travel.

Feel free to add!

 

Toilet doubling as an art gallery in Jordan

 

Photo of the owner’s wife indicating the toilet in a restaurant in Beirut

Castles in the sand in Jordan

My trip to Jordan was only for four days and meant as a sort of ‘teaser’ to myself. I often do that, visit a country for a short period of time to get an impression and an overview and then return at a later date to look at things that interest me in more detail. By then I have worked out the logistics, know how best to get around, found my bearings , can concentrate on the details and don’t waste any time on things that are not so great. That’s just the way I travel.

Jordan is one of the countries that absolutely cry out for another visit, or, if you can only go once, you can easily spend two weeks. It’s so incredibly full of a variety of sights and things to do, from visiting such breathtaking world famous sites like Petra, to exploring Amman, to floating in the Dead Sea,  to  water sports and diving in Aqaba, to camping in the wilderness of Wadi Rum to… do I have to say more?

This time around I didn’t even get to see the Desert Castles which really aren’t castles at all but a conglomerate of scattered pavilions, baths and  caravanserais  to be found all over the black basalt desert east of Amman. These isolated buildings were once part of a cultural and trade center of the Umayyads (661 – 750 AD) Muslim Arabs who transformed the fringes of the desert into well watered settlements and are widely regarded as representatives of early Islamic art. A visit there is a full day trip, but my trusted Hani wanted me to have a look at at least two castles in the sand which were on our way.

One was Ajlun castle which stands atop Jabal , approx. 30 minutes drive from Jaresh. It’s an Islamic fortress which was built in 1184 to defend against the crusaders and is surrounded by a deep fosse. The castle has seen history and battles and suffered from two major earthquakes in 1837 and 1927 but has undergone restoration which continues.

Aljun castle

 

A closer view

 

The 'split' tower

 

Climbing around and up the corner tower affords splendid views of the valley below. I just loved the interior, where you can visit a small museum which interesting exhibits, like the huge rock canon balls. The castle is just such an unexpected sight when it suddenly looms up on its hill after your round a bend on the road from Jaresh.

They crossed our road.

Imagine being hit by one of them!!!

 

The next castle Hani took me to was Shoback castle on the way to the Dead Sea on my third day in Jordan. Shoback castle, built in 1115 is a crusader castle and remarkable because of its round towers which show the  influence of Armenian architecture. This is truly a castle in the sand as it rises high above the desert highway and is as unexpected a sight as Ajlun castle.

Another impressive castle

 

No travel in Jordan without a coffee break

 

My driver Hani

So, despite the limited time, I got my taste of Jordanian castles in the sand, but next time, I won’t miss the desert castles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oman – my next destination

In 10 days time, I’m finally off to my often postponed trip to Oman. I guess, every traveler has a favorite part of the world which they will visit again and again. For me, it’s the Middle East. I like the heat, I like the desert, I like the many, many ancient sites, I like the culture, I like the food, I even like the sound of the Arabic language, although my mastery of it extends to about 5 words. I can read the alphabet but it doesn’t do me much good if I don’t have a clue what the words mean. No problem, I sail through smoothly with English and/or French.

So far, I have been to the Lebanon, Jordan, Sharjah and Dubai. I had made plans to visit Syria which, sadly,  is no-go as are my other dream destinations: Libya and Mali. Although it’s not the Middle East, I’m an avid visitor to Morocco  too. I have lost count of the times I visited, particularly when I was living in the South of Spain and hopping across to Casablanca all the time. Or to Ceuta for a  whiff of the exotic.

Pidgeon Rock/ Beirut

 

Petra/Jordan

 

Soukhs/ Sharja

 

Sunset in Dubai

Now it’s Oman with a short stop over in Bahrain. Apart from taking me back to my favorite part of the world, this trip is also a rarity for me, because, for once, I’m not traveling on my own. My dear friend Wendy is coming with me. Like me she will do anything,  go anywhere, try any food and poke her nose into every secret corner. We had a smashing time together in Morocco, the only other occasion when I was traveling in company.

Wendy cooling off in Marrakesh

Wendy has a little foible though which makes me laugh: being British she just LOVES animals. In Morocco she couldn’t pass any stray cat, dog or donkey without talking to it, stroking it or throwing it a morsel. She even fed a Polo mint to a donkey in Marrakesh. What did the ungrateful animal do? Spit it out, it didn’t want to have fresh breath!!

The donkey which didn’t like fresh breath

This habit however makes for very slow progress when you go exploring on foot. This time she is only allowed to pay attention to every third donkey and leave the dogs and cats alone. Do they have donkeys in Oman? Maybe I get lucky and they don’t. They do have fabulous horses though.

Nobody in their right mind goes to Oman in August because it’s the hottest months. Temperatures are well into the 100s and it doesn’t cool down much at night. But, like me, Wendy thrives on heat. When it’s cold, we just want to shrivel up and hibernate until the warm weather rolls around again. Inside there is plenty of AC, so we will be fine. And, of course, there is the big advantage of low prices. My  return flight from Istanbul costs all of $400. We have parked ourselves in the fabulous 5 star Crowne Plaza Hotel with private beach and all other luxuries for approx. $130 per night per person.

Crowne Plaza Hotel Muscat

You may think that this is rather stiff, but in full season it would cost twice as much. I have  also often found that people are under the misapprehension that Middle East equals cheap. Not so. You can eat cheaply if you are not afraid to venture into holes in the walls (we both just love to do that), get around by taxi if you bargain fiercely in advance, but otherwise it’s not what you would call a budget destination. We could have saved a few bucks by sharing a room, but some off time and privacy makes for a much more enjoyable trip if you travel in company. So, it’s well worth the additional money.

Oman is a much more traditional country than say Dubai and on top of it, it’s Ramadan. So, we are faced with a fashion challenge because, outside, we have to cover our arms, legs and head. Instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, I love the idea of putting light but cover all outfits together. And so does Wendy.

It is another misapprehension which I have encountered often: people think they will stay cooler if they wear as little clothes as possible. Again, not so: Wide, long sleeves and trousers, flowing long dresses or skirts allow what little air there is to circulate and prevent the sun from burning your skin. On top of it, you always look good and elegant, whereas halter tops and short  shorts don’t do anything for anyone over 25.

I haven’t told you much about Oman itself,  that is reserved for my upcoming stories once we are in situ. Our base is the capital Muscat with many excursions planned from there, among them to fly to Salalah in the south and to visit Sohar and Nizwa a bit closer to Muscat. The sound of the names alone makes me already dream.

Nizwa Castle/Oman

 

 

 

 

Upcoming summer trips: Turkey, Oman and Jordan

Now that I have decided  to postpone my house hunting in Spain until the beginning of next year, I’m free again to travel at my leisure and for my pleasure. I’m going to take full advantage of the summer months ahead and to stay put as little as possible. Seeing, that I’m now back in Turkey, I’ll visit some places I have not yet been too.

#1 trip starts on Monday and takes me to Turkey’s Black Sea coast. I have been near a few years ago when I discovered the marvels of Amasya. This time, I’m going further up and east, to Trabzon to be precise.  The longest bus ride, ever, 24 hours from Didim to Trabzon, but who cares given that Turkish long distance coaches are very comfortable and stop frequently. Trabzon itself has a lot to offer, among historical sites, Trabzon is famous for hazelnuts, cherries and anchovies. But, the greatest attraction is the nearby Sümela monastery, glued to a steep mountainside of  the Pontic mountains and the beautiful Uzungöl lake.

The fort of Trabzon

 

Sümela monastery

#2 starts on August 15th when I fulfill a life long dream and finally visit Oman. I’ll be based in the capital Muscat and then go on trips to visit the many castles, the desert, the souks and, in between, lounge on the fabulous beaches of the Arabian Sea.

Nizwa castle

#3 in September I will return to Jordan. I have already visited Petra, the Dead Sea and several other places, but I missed out on a trip to Wadhi Rum. This time, I want to go on one of the tours (you can’t go on your own) and spend the night under the desert stars.

Wadhi Rum

 

In between there will be shorter Turkey trips to Fetiye, Cesme and back towards to east and the Taurus mountains as well as the colossal statues of Mount Nemrut.

The statutes of Mount Nemrut

Frankly, I can’t wait for Monday to come around.