Tag Archives: europe

Brilliant Budapest

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I know very little about eastern Europe. The only thing I could tell you off the top of my head about Hungary is goulash and dumplings, and I’m honestly not a huge fan!

I visited Budapest for the first time in April of this year. The weather was, for the most part, beautiful, but we got rained out later in our tour of the city so I don’t have too many photos to share. But I’m definitely hoping to visit again when the weather is pleasant.

Our very knowledgeable tour guide was able to educate us on a lot of the history of Budapest, which was originally two different cities that merged into one – you guessed it – Buda and Pest.

Our first visit was to Heroes’ Square, where we were lucky to happen upon the city’s Budapest sign, which had just been erected that morning, and was only up for a few days the week prior.

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Heroes’ Square is in the Pest side of the city, and  features the Seven Cheiftans of the Magyars, and other important national leaders, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.IMG_6769IMG_6774IMG_6772IMG_6773IMG_6775

Afterwards, we stopped by the check out what’s called a “ruin bar”, an abandoned apartment building that was turned into a bar. It seems to be a thing in Budapest – the owners bring in wacky and thrifty finds or get local artists to decorate and create installations. It apparently has some great nightlife but due to our schedule, we didn’t spend much time here.

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This is Szimpla Kert, the original ruin bar that started the trend in 2001. It’s one of the biggest and still one of the most popular ruin bars in Budapest.

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A sign in the toilet

A sign in the toilet

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And just a few steps away was a trendy little spot made up of faux food carts where we grabbed a bite to eat.

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We then crossed the Danube River to the Buda side to visit Castle Hill, and Buda Castle. At this point it began to sprinkle and I brilliantly didn’t dress warm enough, so our time here was fairly short.

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Great view of the city

Great view of the city

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With the weather being uncooperative, we ended our tour at this point and headed back to the hotel. Once the rain stopped, I stepped out to explore the area near the hotel, and was lucky enough to experience the Budapest Food Festival!

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The square was filled with food booths, local artists’ stalls and live music. I was ecstatic to be able to purchase some beautiful locally made jewelry for my friends and family. Any opportunity I get, I love supporting the local economy and especially talented artists.

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And the food?

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YUM!!! Fall off the bone pork, fresh vegetables and potatoes! The last thing I picked up on my way back to the hotel was a traditional Hungarian doll. As an avid doll collector, I search and pick up dolls unique to a country or culture. I think this calls for a doll post soon…

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Budapest was a beautiful sight, and I will definitely being looking forward to my return trip there some day soon!

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Summer 2014 Part 2: England and Paris

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Continuing from Part 1 of my eventful summer!

Back in Guildford, we spent a peaceful afternoon with a picnic and seeing more green than I have ever seen in one day; Dubai is definitely a concrete jungle, but even my hometown of Phoenix lacks this much green!

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He took me to a place called “Silent Pond”.. while pretty, I’m not sure what its purpose is…

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We paid a visit to the amazingly astonishing Harry Potter Studio Tour, but it is so magnificent, it’s getting it’s own blog post and I will link it here when it’s finished! And here it is!

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And at one point, I forced Alan to find a Chipotle, it’s my new mission to visit one in every country they’re in… (Yes, we did get to Chipotle in Paris but no pics! And I also have been in Frankfurt, too!)

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The weather had been so sunny and warm that we decided to have a barbecue at the end of the week on Friday, as it was near the end of our summer vacation and a good time to gather all of our friends around. As luck would have it, it rained all day, up until the late afternoon when we started to barbecue! Good ol’ English weather. Our friend Shaddy that we know from Dubai was staying in Southampton studying, so we invited him over.

Is he doing it right?

Is he doing it right?

Alan, Shaddy, and Alan's brother Tom

Alan, Shaddy, and Alan’s brother Tom

Alan’s friend, Alex, had asked me to bring graham crackers so that we could make authentic s’mores. FYI, a s’more consists of the said cracker, melted chocolate and slightly charred marshmallows. It’s a staple for American campfires. To be honest, I had never even had a s’more myself! But I happened to be on a US layover, so I picked up a few boxes and yes, I did pack it in my suitcase and take it to England.

I actually had to check Youtube for proper s'more preparing techniques...

I actually had to check Youtube for proper s’more preparing techniques…

Alan tries his very first s'more.

Alan tries his very first s’more.

Oh, did I mention we had more clotted cream, jam and scones?! Seriously, this is the best invention to come out of England. If you haven’t had it, have one PROPERLY! But I know the debate is on… I like my cream first, and THEN the jam.

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On the weekend, the family headed back out to Southampton for Alan’s cousin’s wedding. This one was a change from the Indian wedding, set in a barn with a nice, DIY vintage feel. It was complete with Pimm’s Cup during cocktail hour and a “wedding breakfast”. What is a wedding breakfast? Well, it’s simply the first meal the couple has as a married couple, thus the use of “breakfast” since it’s typically the first meal of the day. You weird Brits!

My second fascinator! My first was worn to the Dubai World Cup

My second fascinator! My first was worn to the Dubai World Cup

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Somewhere in the middle of all this British-ness, Alan and I spent a few days in Paris because.. well, why not?

I was back in Dubai in between Brit visits, so I flew to Paris and Alan flew from London to meet me. We booked our very first AirBnb.com apartment. It was very cheap and in a good location, and the host was very kind, but the apartment was literally just a box with a bed, kitchen and toilet. But it got the job done. We spent most of our time seeing Paris.

I’d been to Paris a few times before, but this was a first for Alan. So we hit up the usual spots, although no one told me how unbelievably HOT Paris summers are, and we became quite exhausted quickly. But we powered through!

First stop was of course the Eiffel Tower. I’d already been twice, but never climbed it. I couldn’t book an elevator ride because it was sold out all summer, but we were “pleasantly” surprised to find that you could climb to the second level via stairs. I wasn’t at all ecstatic at the thought of stairs, but I knew we shouldn’t miss this chance to climb it.

The first floor.. this made my legs feel like jelly!

The first floor.. this made my legs feel like jelly!

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The line below for the elevator. I believe the wait was 3 hours. We completed our tour in less than that.

The line below for the elevator. I believe the wait was 3 hours. We completed our tour in less than that.

Alan’s a personal trainer, so this was just like no big thang to him, but I needed lots of rest and breaks!!! And can you believe we climbed….

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SIX HUNDRED AND SIXTY-NINE STEPS WHAT?! And that’s only to the second floor. And note when I say “second floor” it’s actually about 38 stories above ground!! It marks about halfway up the tower.

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And of course, we had to do our usual pictures…

Our #elfie... no explanation needed

Our #elfie… no explanation needed

Love this photo so much, we are using it as our Save The Date cards!

Love this photo so much, we are using it as our Save The Date cards!

Next, we paddled on over to the Louvre Museum, hitting up only a few exhibits since we were a bit strapped for time. The ancient Egypt exhibit is always my favorite!

Cat mummies!

Cat mummies!

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Later that evening, we ventured down to the world famous Moulin Rouge! Of course I love the movie, but it was just a must-do on our short Paris trip. It’s too difficult to get there while on a layover, so it was the only chance I had. The tickets were a steep 100EUR without drinks, so we snagged them, but somehow were must have been mysteriously upgraded to a table right by the stage and a bottle of bubbly!

Unfortunately,  I couldn’t take any photos of the show (Understandably so, but I snuck one in!) but it was incredible! I loved that every routine had a theme (I think my favorite was the Egyptian/Asian one.. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but it ended with the stage floor opening up to a huge tank of water with three HUMONGOUS snakes and a girl jumping in to join them!). I would have loved to see more of the traditional can-can dance, as it was only their final number, but I highly recommend checking it out. Honestly, I don’t care if people say “Even Parisians don’t go to the Moulin Rouge!” it’s quite a spectacle and if you can afford it, get a bottle of bubbly!

You guessed it... our #meflie

You guessed it… our #meflie

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The next day, we ventured out to Disneyland. If anyone knows me, they know I love Disneyland! But I have only been to the one in Anaheim so far, so this was quite exciting. Although I mostly enjoyed our day at Disney, there were loads of downsides. Firstly, it was extremely hot. It must have been about 90F and in the wait tunnels there was absolutely no AC or fans, and the temperature must have been climbing to 100F in some of them. Secondly, the staff weren’t really into it. I have heard they often have disputes over the working conditions and pay (although didn’t I just read that Air France pilots are on strike? Again? It seems to be a common thing in France…) and don’t really adhere to the “magic” that makes Disney what it is. Thirdly, some of the sister rides were a bit disappointing, like for example, the Indiana Jones ride in Anaheim is probably one of the best rides in that park, but in France, it’s a silly little outdoor coaster. But to make up for it, Space Mountain: Mission 2 in France is by far THE BEST ride of both parks, even outdoing its predecessor.

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Sadly, I lost those clip in Minnie ears on the Indiana Jones ride! 😦 They don’t sell them anymore.. in fact, they were for babies!

And because I have waaaay too many photos, here are the thumbnails, just click on them for the larger size:

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The closing show was absolutely spectacular! They used Sleeping Beauty’s castle as a screen and projected images onto it. Amazing.

On our last day, we paid a dutiful visit to the Ponts des Arts bridge to do what every crazy couple in love does… seal their love for eternity on the Love Lock bridge! I know they’ve been removing locks as of late to preserve the bridge, so I was thoughtful and brought a small lock.. I was shocked to see people STILL putting ridiculous massive locks on the bridge.

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Here’s me throwing the key into the River Seine…

We spotted some awesome street art…

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And last but not least, picked up an appropriate souvenir from Thomas Sabo…

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And that wraps up my pretty epic summer vacay! With the exception of the Harry Potter studio tour, which is coming soon! How was your summer?

Zipping Through Zurich

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I really didn’t know much about Switzerland expect that it can get cold and something about Swiss banks and cheese. And chocolate.

Anyhow, Zurich introduced itself as a beautiful city with both old European charm and modern flair. I paid a visit during the summer, so that whole cold thing wasn’t a bother.

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The weather was so accommodating, so when we landed we immediately set out into the city via the train.

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This quaint little city is made up of alleyways filled with boutiques, cafes and other interesting sights to see.

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We decided one of the best ways to experience the city in a short amount of time was a ferry ride on the Limmat River, which runs right through Zurich.

Look! The Alps!

Look! The Alps!

As we waited to board our ferry, we occupied ourselves by watching the collection of foul at the docks, as well as the surrounding artwork.

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While on the ferry, we decided it was probably best to enjoy the tour with a taste of the local brew…

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And the Lindt chocolate factory!

And the Lindt chocolate factory!

Circus in town

Circus in town

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Locals enjoying the extremely lovely weather along the Limmat River

Locals enjoying the extremely lovely weather along the Limmat River

After disembarking, we stopped off at a cafe for a meal and drinks while exploring what bit of the city we saw on our way back to the station.

A singing choir passed and serenaded while we dined

A singing choir passed and serenaded while we dined

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Local arts

Local arts

The next morning, myself and a few others got up early, borrowed bicycles from the hotel and went for a fresh air bike ride in the small woods and farms just behind the hotel.

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At the end of our bike ride, it was about time to fly back to Dubai. Zurich was a lovely little breath of fresh air from our usual daily Dubai lives.

Vibrant Venice

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My first visit to beautiful Venice, Italy was back in August. The weather was perfect for sightseeing and exploring the city. We promptly hopped on a shuttle fro our hotel into the city, found a water taxi and traveled down to the San Marco Palace. The boatride alone just down the main canal to San Marco plaza was filled with interesting sights – which I’m sure is just another day for the local Venetians.

We eventually approached and crossed under the famous and stunning Rialto Bridge.

We docked off and took a short walk to the San Marco Palace plaza.

And took in the surroundings while we wandered aimlessly through the alleys of Venice. I could have spent all day just darting around and admiring all the buildings and shop windows.

 

We stopped off for lunch, and of course, I need pizza and a glass of wine.

Diavola... YUM!

Diavola… YUM!

I also absolutely love how dog-friendly Venice is.. and how friendly all the dogs are!

Buongiorno.. arf arf!

Buongiorno.. arf arf!

Although I was tired from the flight, we spent all afternoon on foot and took a late bus back to the hotel. Venice is extremely beautiful, and completely unique with its waterways replacing roads. I hope to be able to come back and spend more time exploring fascinating Venice.

 

 

Magnificent Milano

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My first trip to Italy was to beautiful Milan in March 2011. It was a bit chilly but it didn’t stop me from seeing the amazing architecture and history that awaits in the city.

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The Duomo di Milano (Cathedral Milan)

The Duomo di Milano (Cathedral Milan

Selfie with the duomo!

Selfie with the duomo!

Inside the stunning Duomo di Milano

And of course, you can’t leave Milan without trying Italian food you know.. the way Italians eat it. Surprisingly, genuine Italian food is prepared with minimal embellishments and is kept quite simple, and it actually tastes amazingly good.


Mesmerizing Moscow

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The first time I visited Moscow in early 2012, it was snowing, and I had a cold. So the only thing I saw was the blankets of white snow from my hotel window. I didn’t dare step outside.

However, when I paid a visit the following summer, I made it a point to leave and visit the city in case I wasn’t back again before it snowed. The crew ventured out to the city limits and made our way down to the famous Red Square. Since I don’t really know where we went (literally EVERYTHING is in Russian) I’m just going to leave the photos here…

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Red Square

Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square

McDonald's in Russian.. in case you were wondering.

McDonald’s in Russian.. in case you were wondering.

Just me, chillin', in Moscow.

Just me, chillin’, in Moscow.

After discovering what we could of the city while the sun was up, we stumbled upon a hidden upstairs hookah lounge/bar that was cozy and dark. No shoes were allowed!

Does this not look like the coolest entrance to a lounge?

Does this not look like the coolest entrance to a lounge?

Cinnabon.. in Russian.. in case you were also wondering...

Cinnabon.. in Russian.. in case you were also wondering…

Another Day Another Bay, Our Turkish Sailing Holiday

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Holy procrastination, Batman! I just accept the fact that I am terrible at keeping a blog. Anyway!

Before I delve into the depth of this current blog, I will update you all with info that I would have normally blogged straight away if it wasn’t for this horrible monster looming over me called laziness procrastination.

He put a ring on it!

He even proposed in a castle.. well, it used to be a castle..

Yay! So yeah, that happened in Turkey. We got a lovely heirloom ring from his grandmother, and we sneaked a peak at it early in the holiday from Mummy Bones. I knew it was going to happen on the trip, I just didn’t know when. So when he asked a stranger to take a photo of us, I should have known better, but I was happily surprised when he got down on one knee (and almost freaked because just before this he almost slipped and fell!) The ring is a beautiful sapphire surrounded by diamonds. When we received it, it was in dire need of TLC (a slight chip in the sapphire) and the band was yellow gold, and about 8x too big. Once back in Dubai, we ventured to the Gold & Diamond Park, and at Gem Mart they lovingly fixed up my ring and made a matching band, as well as creating a band for Alan (he doesn’t get to wear it yet though!)

Our cozy little (emphasize little!) cabin

Our cozy little (emphasize little!) cabin

Okay, so back to the topic at hand! Alan’s parents retired from cold life in the United Kingdom (yes, Alan is British, and I’m a Yank…) to sail the turquoise blue waters of the Mediterranean. They predominantly stay around Turkey because it’s the most affordable, but sometimes venture into Greece and Spain. In July, we spent an amazing 10 days on their boat, The Wild One, and explored the various bays and fishing towns off the western coast of Turkey.

Our travels included a flight from Dubai to Istanbul, and then a domestic flight from Istanbul to Antalya. We flew low cost carrier, Onur Air, with delays and little information, we were not impressed. But we eventually made it into Antalya, and after some worry and about an hour later (and a squatting toilet in the airport later) we found our ground transport and took a private taxi for an hour’s ride to Kemer Marina. Kemer is quite the tourist spot – which we later learn is mostly visited by Russians (Russian night at the local club, anyone?) It’s quite a popular spot for boaters, so Alan’s parents only stay the night to pick us up. Docking often can get expensive, but the payoff is of course the amenities (a real toilet and shower?!) and of course, electricity. After waking up the first morning on the boat, we shower in the grounds facilities, take a short tour of the marina, and then head off into the great blue sea.

Sailing was definitely something new to me. I’d been on boats and yachts before, but only a few hours at a time, and usually drunk (hey, I said I like to party). I did go on a cruise back in high school, but I know there is a huge difference between large ships and boats. For me, I’m much more at home on a tiny metal tube 40,000 feet in the air, so spending a lengthy time at sea was something I knew nothing about. In preparation, I took some Stugeron (motion sickness prevention pills) but unfortunately was so affected by the drug that I spent most of the day dozing in and out of consciousness. Of course, snoozing under the sun to the sound of rushing waves is pretty soothing, so it wasn’t all that bad. After that day, I never took another Stugeron and was perfectly fine the rest of the trip.

I made him sit above London.. cuz, you know, he's from London..

I made him sit above London.. cuz, you know, he’s from London..

Rule of thumb: always try the local brew!

Rule of thumb: always try the local brew!

One of our first stops was Kekova, a tiny fishing village only accessible by boat. We docked in the bay and took the dingy to shore as the sun came down to feast on our first full night of holiday. The town was quaint and cute, and at night the only main restaurant there was bustling with visitors surrounded by the local strays of cats and dogs waiting for a handout. We sat upstairs and was greeted by the owner, who spoke fairly decent English, but was more than happy to see us. Remember how much I love food? I was excited about the prospects of a fresh fish dinner..

Amazingly delicious local tilapia

... aaaaand it's gone.

… aaaaand it’s gone.

Various sarcophagi and city ruins that litter the Turkish islands

Various sarcophagi and city ruins that litter the Turkish islands

12978_10151600633178857_1918698771_nThe next day, we got up bright and early to take a tour around the nearby city called Kalekoy and castle ruins. Kalekoy castle is situated just next to Kekova, but still only accessible by boat. These and surrounding islands display many ruins and sarcophagi dating as far back to the ancient Lycian era (around 1200-500 BC). A massive earthquake devastated the area, causing much of the city to sink underwater. The ancient Lycian city of Simena can be seen on glass-bottomed boat tours and is protected by the government from snorkeling to preserve it. Many places you can see steps leading into the water and doorways going nowhere. The sarcophagi are said to have housed the bodies of important people of the city, but have since all been pilfered and ransacked (don’t worry, any bodies inside have been long disintegrated and gone). At the top of this small town lies what used to be a castle and for a few Turkish lira, you can hike your way up and get amazing views of the islands.

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Lunch with a sarcophagi view

Lunch with a sarcophagi view

After Kekova, we stopped off at a popular snorkeling spot called “The Aquarium”, water so crystal clear it was a must-see for all the touring and party boats (much to Alan’s dad’s dismay). Unfortunately there wasn’t too much fish to see but it was a lovely opportunity to play with Daddy Bone’s new underwater camera!

I've already assimilated Alan into American culture.. mwahahaha.

I’ve already assimilated Alan into American culture.. mwahahaha.

Did I mention afternoon ice cream and cake?! Daily?!

Did I mention afternoon ice cream and cake?! Daily?!

Always time for a snorkel!

Always time for a snorkel!

After a few nights of docking in random (but beautiful and serene) bays, was off to Nuri’s Beach, probably my favorite destination on the whole trip. While I absolutely loved this new adventure of sailing the ocean blue, the only downside was sleeping in our sauna of a cabin. Since it was the middle of summer, and using electricity while in a bay sucked the battery power, we went without any fans or a windsock, causing the little cabin to get hot during the night and especially as soon as the sun came up. It wasn’t all that bad though, because apparently yachties (as Alan’s parents affectionately describe themselves and their friends as) incorporate many naps into their every day schedules. Spending all day in a bikini and randomly napping in the sun? I could get used to this!

Nuri’s Beach is a tiny (and I mean tiny) town (wait, can it even be classified as a town?!) comprising of one restaurant, a handful of bungalows and a beach bar. It’s owned by one family, and sees many visitors, particularly from the much bigger town of Kas across the sea. Ferries filled with beachgoers cross the sea in droves as Kas lacks any kind of traditional beach. But I’ll get to Kas in a minute. First, Nuri’s Beach!

My new favorite drink, the I Love Cool Lovers!

My new favorite drink, the I Love Cool Lovers!

This little gem reminded me a bit of my favorite spot in Dubai, Barasti Beach, where you can enter for free and drink on the beach to your heart’s content, only this place was like our little secret. The small marina is occupied by tourists and yachties alike, and with no docking fee, it’s no surprise people tend to stay for long periods of time. But who can argue? The beach is cozy and the drinks are free flowing, and the food in the restaurant is SIMPLY AMAZING – Alan’s parents swear by the shrimps casserole, which I can testify is super yummy. We caved in for one night and rented a bungalow – hey, we needed some private time, and, well, air conditioning – which got us a discount on all our food and drinks.

The morning view of our cozy bingalow

The morning view of our cozy bungalow

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I don't think this kayak is made for 2!

I don’t think this kayak is made for 2!

The next day, we hopped on one of the water taxis and shuffled over to Kas. As we approach the city, we can see the city has no real beach, mostly just cliffs dotted with umbrellas and chairs where lots of the locals jump off into the sea near some big scary rocks – yikes. We have a stroll to an ancient amphitheater, and then have a nice lunch with a beautiful view.

Those seats don't look comfy.. can I get my money back?

Those seats don’t look comfy.. can I get my money back?

After picking up some necessities and scouting out a bit more of the city (aka SHOPPING!) we hopped back onto the boat to our beloved Nuri’s beach. The next day, we sailed onto a few more bays before making our way across to Greece.

One of said bays, appropriately titled Seagull Bay, and the only time I actually saw seagulls!

One of said bays, appropriately titled Seagull Bay, and the only time I actually saw seagulls!

The island of Castellorizo is a tiny Greek island just about 2 km off the southern coast of Turkey and was once owned under the Turkish government. We set out for St. George’s bay for a quick snorkel and swim before heading to the main island.

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Finally, our last stop before our departure back to Dubai via Dalaman airport was a nightstop in a neighboring bay with one single restaurant. (Though throughout the trip I learn that this is quite a common site, as many people find that setting up shop in a lonely bay attracts many boaters and ends up being very fruitful). The next morning, we load up the dingy (yes, the dingy!) with our luggages, say good by to Mummy Bones, and hitch a ride with Daddy Bones to the neighboring marina where our taxi driver dutifully awaits. So our journey home consisted of a boat ride, car ride, and finally a plane ride. Who can say that?! Okay, probably a lot of you…

Here’s the last bit of random pics I couldn’t find places to fit in throughout the blog:

Donkey found in another random bay stop

Donkey found in another random bay stop

What our parking spot looked like on most days

What our parking spot looked like on most days

A most stunning sunrise

A most stunning sunrise

The bay that the donkey above calls home

The bay that the donkey above calls home

Um, how do I drive this thing?!

Um, how do I drive this thing?!

After hoping to spot them, I finally saw dolphins!

After hoping to spot them, I finally saw dolphins!

Our last stop.. the end!

Our last stop.. the end!