"We travel not to escape our life, but to stop life from escaping us"
When you're thinking about a holiday destination lets all be honest, relaxing with a coffee at Stars and Bucks (the West Bank version of Starbucks) doesn't usually come up, but it should. So here are my 5 reasons to visit the West Bank and Palestine sooner rather than later.
1. Whatever you think you, you’re wrong
We all think we know what going on in the West Bank and have our preconceptions of what it’s like. I did, I’m not afraid to say that I was even a little apprehensive traveling there with my wife and young children. How wrong I was. Spending even a little time in the West Bank is enlighten, saddening, uplifting, and educational all at the same time. There are so many facets to this place it’s hard to process everything but I can guarantee you that you will still be thinking and talking about your visit there long after you’ve left.
2. Palestinian's can’t wait to meet you
Palestinian people literally can’t wait to meet you. A smile and a welcome from nearly everyone we pass. They are a warm and friendly people, happy to sit and tell their story. My girls played dolls with the daughter of our host and then ran out to play football in the street with some local kids while we ate an amazing lunch and chatted about life, the world and social media. When we had to leave all Lucy wanted to know was when they could come back and play.
3. You get a bang for you buck.
Because the tourist industry is still building up you’ll see a lot for your money. Especially if you can spend a few days with the same guide. From lunches with locals to hidden gems the money you pay to travel in Palestine will give you more experience than you can ever think of.
4. The guides are passionate
I’ve been on a lot of tours in a lot of countries and sometimes you can see they are just going through the motions, especially in place with a fully developed tourist industry. However Palestine is different, the tourist industry is still building. This means that the guides still talk with verdant enthusiasm about the place they live, the history, the culture and the life they live. They aren’t reeling off lines from a script they are educating tourists with a passion that I love when I’m seeing a new part of the world. (If you are looking for a guide contact Muhanned, he is a great local guide)
5. It’s disappearing
Although it shouldn’t be, the Palestinian area of the West Bank is shrinking. With the building of the separation wall and new Israel settlement being developed every year its making it harder and harder for people to justify staying. In reality if you are planning to visit Palestine in 5-10 years time you may have missed the boat (although I hope this isn’t so). We visited one area now called the ghost town in Hebron where a once thriving market street now has only three Palestinian families living there and nothing but closed store fronts. So the best thing to do. Book now and book with a local.
We flew early in the morning for our first day in Oman. This gave us a day to get the feel of things and also to explore Muscat. Muscat is Oman’s port capital city and has a history dating back to antiquity which means that there is a lot to see.
N.B. If you are wondering how the ‘on arrival visa’ process works it’s pretty simple. When you land you’ll head into the terminal and see a Travelex money exchange and a country to the left. This is where you pay for your on arrival visa. At the time I write this the charge is 20 OMR per person. Once you have your receipt head right and take the receipt and your passport to the customs agents to be checked and stamped, after that you are all good to go grab you bags and head outside.
There are a couple of options in Muscat for getting around. First you could go with a prearranged private city tour. These are usually on the more costly side but do guarantee you see everything you want. Second there is a double-decker bus that travels to all the most popular sites its hop on and hop of so pretty convenient however it is timetabled so if you miss it then you have to wait for the next one to come along. Also with this option you will be getting on and off with (in general) lots of other people going to the same spot at the same time, which can feel a little crowded. We went for option three, once we got the hotel and put our bags in we called for a cab and then asked the cab driver how much it would be to just have him drive us around to the sites for the day and then back to the hotel. After a little back a forward the great price of 30 Rials for 6 hours of touring was agreed upon and we jumped in and headed on our way (we had 3 adults and 2 kids so this was a great deal compared to other options).
Seeing The Sites
We wanted to see the main site but also had a few spots we wanted to see. Here is the order we went in and some notes about what we got up to:
Sultans Palace, you aren’t able to go inside the ground so most picture are through or in front of the big gates out front but the palace is beautiful and the area outside is great to stretch your legs.
Al Mirani & Al Jalali Forts, these forts are pretty cool to visit. They flank each side of the harbor and provide great view. You can also get a view of the back side to the Sultans Palace and gardens.
The Watch Tower, this light house looking tower is tucked away behind some rocks of the Al Bahri Road. You can park and climb up to the top for a great view all around.
Incense Burner & Riyam Park, across the road from the watch tower you can see the beautiful incense burner that overlooks Riyam Park. The burner is closed to the public but still amazing even from the bottom of the hill. The park offers a beautiful place to walk and also if you have kids a play park.
Mutrah Souq, this large market has a multitude of offerings from pots and pans to gold to souvenirs. Definitely take a couple of hour to really get lost and have a look around. Also never pay the first, second or even third price that’s offered especially on souvenirs, you can get some great deals with a little bartering.
Blue Mosque, although not the famous blue mosque of Turkey this one is just up the road from the Mutrah Souq and has a very beautiful minara (minaret) decorated in patterned blue.
Snacks At The Market And Back To The Hotel
According to lonely planet Al Ahli coffee shop is a good place to check out inside the Mutrah Souq but we could find it for the life of us. What we did find just down the road towards the mosque with a blue decorated minara (minaret) was a small coffee shop that did a good plate of samosa’s, falafel and bhaji’s for just over 1 Rial (including two bottle of water). If you are hungry for a snack definitely check it out.
As our time came to a close Jimal our friendly driver for the day, meandered us back toward our hotel and offered to take us out further afield tomorrow. We had already pre-planned travel for the next few days but he happily gave us his card and told us if we were back in Muscat to give him a call to drive for us again. What a great driver, and what a great day.
The hiss of steam and the sway of a river, there is nothing quite like a ride on a steam train or trip on a ferry so why not combine both. We took the steam train to Kingswear and ferry to Dartmouth for a family day trip.
Full Steam Ahead
Our kids love taking the train anywhere. There is something about a train journey where they can watch the world go by from out the windows on both sides of the train that makes them love the experience. The steam train from Paignton to Kingswear (across the water from Dartmouth) is unique because it’s a steam engine. The hiss of steam and the chug-chug of the train as it rolls to its destination just add to the experience. We took the 10:30 am train, which let us relax and have breakfast but still have some good time in Dartmouth to explore. Past beaches and through tunnels the train rolls along. People stand at crossings waving and our girls eagerly reply with a smile and an enthusiastic wave back.
Pulling In And Shipping Out
We pull into the station at Kingswear and head out of the train onto a platform that hasn’t changed much since it was first opened. Down the platform past the café and onto the dock towards the Ferry that will take us across the river to Dartmouth. The trip is only 5-10 minutes across to the other side of the river and you can either sit inside or adventure outside (like we did) and ride on at the front of the ferry watching the other boats and birds bob up and down as we pass them. The ferry jostles in against the dock and everyone file out and up the dockside back onto dry land ready to explore Dartmouth.
Parks And Markets
Take a right out of the ferry and have a walk along the river side to stroll through Royal avenue gardens. Although it’s by no mean a huge site to see, taking the short walk usually separates you from any crowds that took the ferry with you who head straight out into the town. The gardens have some interesting statues, a bandstand and fountain plus when you leave at the other end you are perfectly placed to head up Duke Street and cut down Foss Street for a walk away from the cars past galleries and stores. At the end of the street loop around to the left and head back toward the old town market that offers a selection of different shops and if you are feeling adventurous a fish monger that offers fish filleting lessons and a taste of some great local catch.
A True Devon Lunch
After this bit of exploration it time for lunch! We head to the Smith Street Deli for one of the best ploughman’s lunches I have had in many years. For everyone who doesn’t know about the ploughman’s then here is the low down. The ploughman’s lunch usually consists of a thick slice of ham and of mature English cheddar accompanied but crusty bread, pickled onions and relish however at Smith Street they add a great little fresh salad which fit perfectly with the meal. Other than the ploughman’s they offer homemade soups with fresh crusty bread, sandwiches and a whole host of other great meals plus some great coffee and tea. If you are looking for a delicious lunch this is the place to go in my opinion, you can even buy some tasty cheese, olives and crackers to take home for an evening snack, what more do you need.
Memories in Art
After filling up on lunch there is time to explore the rest of the shops and streets on Dartmouth. Stores offering handmade soaps and other artisan products all the way to the standard tourist items are dotted around the narrow streets. If you’re looking for a different and unique present or souvenir head over to Paul Barclay Designs. A former dock master turned artist has a distinctive style and offer a great range of prints and original art for everyone budget. If you catch Paul there he is keen to answer questions about what goes into creating art and hear about where you are from and what brings you to the area. Like I say, if you are looking for a unique gift or a souvenir for yourself this is the place to check out.
Carb lines and Lifeboats
Before catching the ferry back check out the RLNI lifeboat visitor’s center to learn about the amazing work they do keeping people safe when they are out on the water and across the road you might find people dropping lines into the water with small bags of meat on the end. Our girls were delighted when they were pulled back up with two or three crabs attached which were then dropped into a bucket for them to see (no hooks are used and all the crabs are usually returned to the water after). If you fancy trying it yourself duck into one of the tourist shop and they will point you towards what you need.
After watching the crabbing we walk along the river side and jump onto the ferry back to Kingswear and the train station. Make sure you get on the ferry about 20-30 minutes before your train is set to leave just to make sure you don’t miss it. Tired from a day of walking around our girls sit on the train and the slow chugging begins to lull them to sleep…..yea right, how could they wave to all the people the train passes by if they are asleep plus they wouldn’t want to miss it if the train drivers decided to let out a ‘woo wooooo’ before we get to the station.
Kenora is a beautiful place and a go to for our family for weekend getaways or a stopover on the way to or back from Toronto. So here are 7 of our families top things to do out and about around the Lake Of The Woods.
As we drive up to the interpretive center the first thing that strikes us all is the building. Almost like a modern bunker set into the marsh. Lucy looks at it and tells me how cool it looks but really once we get inside then you see the real magic.
From a long glass wall of window looking out over the marsh to the display showing the animals of the marsh this center is packed with great activities for the family. We roll up to reception and book onto a voyager canoe paddle while the girls excitedly try to name all the animals in the display.
We set off into the center and the girls dart around each area. They explore sensory activities, look through microscopes and make nests. As we walk around trying out each new activity and learning about the ecosystem in the marsh it ready to see that this place is getting it right. Our girls are engaged and excited and almost sad when we say we have to head outside to meet our canoe guide. However that doesn’t last long once they get out and the paddle shed doors open.
After a short safety talk we are handed our paddling gear. Lucy and Tilley almost lose their mind when they find out that they too get mini paddles and can help push the canoe along. They spend the next 5 minutes practicing paddling while walking back and forward waiting for the other in the group to don their gear.
We make our way down to the dock with our canoe guide Abby and all hop into the big voyager style canoe. Paddle in the water we move off and Abby tells us about the marsh and its history while she steers the boat through the reeds, around the banks and past a few muskrat nests. Lucy and Tilley paddle eagerly and surprisingly we only have one dropped paddle (which is quickly scooped up by our guide and handed back).
As we turn in to the dock there is a muskrat sitting over between the reeds which is a perfect finish to an enjoyable and fun paddle. We head up the dock and hand back our gear then after snack it’s time to head back home. So looking for somewhere to go that’s close to Winnipeg. Try Oak hammock marsh it’s educational, active and most of all so much fun.
As always, if you enjoyed this post then don't forget to share it and follow the Dadventurist on Instagram and Facebook for more updates on adventures!
Tilley in one arm and Lucy on my shoulders. I step up to Indian immigration with papers in hand. The officer eyes our little rabble and looks at the paper work. He thumbs through the passports and visa, looking up from them at us from behind the desk comparing our pictures. Lastly, out of the crisp manila envelop, he pulls the letter that confirms Sheena (my wife) knows we are traveling. A few stamps later and we are off on our adventure, ready to start exploring.
So today I though I would write about a few things you can do to make traveling alone with your kids, through a international boarder crossing a little less stressful. Firstly, if you are traveling alone with your kids as mentioned above a notarized letter signed by you and their other parent is gold to an immigration officer. We pulled a template of a letter from the web and rewrote it to suit us. After that we took it to the local notary and after signing in front of him he stamped it and we were good to go. Now when I say this is gold to an immigration officer I mean it makes their life much easier. Having an official document, sign by both parents and notarized by a credible source means they can make a fairly quick and easy decision about weather you traveling legitimately with your kids or up to no good.
Next, there is nothing worse for you or the person behind the desk at the boarder than someone who arrives still digging out their documents and papers. Have your travel documents organized and out ready to show or at least together and easily accessible This will also mean that you can hand it all over quickly then concentrate on keeping the kids together are calm while the officer looks at everything.
Lastly, probably the biggest things that will easy the pain of going through immigration, prepare your kids. We start early, making sure they eat some snacks and use the bathroom. I'm also never above bribing my kids. It's surprising what the promise of a chocolate bar or ice cream can do to keep my kids subdued while passing through immigration. The more prep you can do the better. Keep your kids happy through the process is the key to passing through an international boarder happily and efficiently.
Traveling Is amazing, but we have all heard horror stories either on the news, through the 'grapevine' or first hand accounts of when travel goes wrong. I'm not one to buy into some of the sensationalist news we are shown for the most part. However I do use some very easy techniques when I travel alone or with my family to help keep us safe and I thought I would share them. So here are my top ten tips for safe travel.
1. Research Your Destination
This is one of the quickest and easiest way to stay safe while traveling. Nothing beats a bit of prior research on the country or countries your are planning to visit. I regularly use both the Canadian and British government travel advisory websites for threat level updates on countries I am visiting. Also a quick search of travel forums/ message board can be invaluable for the latest news on your travel destination.
2. Leave Your Itinerary With Someone
Once you have planned out when and where you are going take a few minute to type up or jot down your travel plans and give it to someone your trust. Let them know that about your travels and when you should be back. If they something goes wrong or if they don't hear form you by a certain time give them a number to call (embassy, police, family member). It maybe you only life line in a situation gone wrong.
3. Copy All Your Documents
Visa's, passports, letters of permission, flight tickets, reservations anything that you think is important and would make life really hard of you lost make a copy and have it somewhere available. By available I mean in your email, cloud or Dropbox. If you lose anything or have the unfortunate luck of being robbed at least you have everything you need to make it home. Just remember to delete your online file copies once you get home as part of good online security.
4. Carry An Embassy Card
If you are on holiday/traveling a great asset in your time of real need is your countries embassy. However this is no good if you don't know where it is. When travelling I will look up the nearest embassy to where we will be and put the address on a business card that I keep with me. Sometime I will even make a simple map from my hotel to the embassy on the back of the business card. It may sound like a strange thing to do but you'll be glad you have it if you ever really need it.
5. Know When To Speak The Language (and when not to)
Traveling is a great opportunity for expanding you linguistic talents. I love being immersed in a culture and language and find its the best way to practice a learn. However its also good to realize that not ever situation is a time to practice your skills. For instance, if you travel in Russia and are asked something by the security forces if you answer in Russian they will then exclusively talk to you in Russia and no other language. Your can see the problem here if you aren't completely fluent. In most situation find local people will enjoy you trying to communicate in their national tongue but definitely be mindful of who and why your are communicating to and you can avoid any communiation breakdowns.
6. Practice Situational Awareness
Situational awareness is probably the tip that will keep you most safe during your travels. Being able to pick out key indicators, analyze them and use the information can make all the difference at home and away. Taking note of people, places and things will allow you to make better decision faster and hopefully with a more successful outcome. when it come to people be aware of body language, vocal volume, emotion, and grouping. All of these thing can give you a heads up on the development of a problem and allow you to exit before it becomes unsafe. Thinking about places simply means looking around and asking yourself questions. Are there any exits and where are they? if I have to leave where will I go? where is my nearest form of transportation? what around me could help or impede me from making an exit? Asking these question regularly will not only keep you safer but give you more confidence to act if something does go wrong. Now Things, this can be a tricky one and can range from animals to vehicle to landmines (in the extreme). Be aware of things that can place you in immediate danger, it may sound stupid but if you are on safari maybe don't take that night stroll alone in the dark. Paying attention to your common sense and reading warning sign is a great way of avoiding a needlessly risky situation.
7. Know When To Bug Out And How To Communicate It
The problem with uncomfortable situations while traveling (or anywhere) is that no one person is going to have the same comfort level. What I might be complete fine about my wife could be completely stressed over and vise versa. Having a word or phrase that indicate to your travel companions that you think its time to go and listening and acting when you hear that word or phrase is a great tool. They may have noticed something you haven't and by being able to call you attention with alerting anyone else you can stay safe and keep your travels rolling with minimum bumps. When it comes to choosing a what to use a word or phrase we tend to mix it up. Something that rolls off the tongue naturally in person, email or on the phone but would be unlikely to be used in everyday communications. Example of phrases could be: asking where something is (is the passport in the blue folder?), expressing interest in something (do you fancy ... for dinner tonight). Alternatively it can just be a word used in a sentence whatever it is agree on it before and don't misuse it.
8. Separate valuables
If you a out and about try to split up your valuable (money, passports etc) buy keeping them separate if you do come up to the unfortunate situation of being robbed you may get away with minimal loses and hold ups in your travel. A good example of this is a friend of mine who, when sleeping in vehicle during is travel puts his passport in his underwear. This may sound crazy but the one time his bus was stopped in Thailand and robbed he only lost the small amount of money he was carrying in his pocket., not so crazy now.
9. Stay Healthy
Part of staying safe while traveling is staying healthy or in other words avoiding illness. Researching and getting vaccinations, using water filtering aids and carrying a first aid kit stocked with basic first aid supplies and medicine and all help you from falling ill or help you recover if you do. Think about specialty item as well that you may wan to bring. Are you in a remote area hiking with no access to medical facilities? maybe think about a surgical staple gun (its a lot easier to pull a trigger than sew yourself together). Are you somewhere very hot? stock up on hydration salts. In a place that has unclean water? Using a water bottle that filters out the bad stuff may be a good purchase.
10. Above All Trust Your Gut
This is the most under rated from of safety precaution. If you have a bad feeling about something, if something just isn't right then don't do it and express you concern to the people your are traveling with. It may be nothing but why take the risk. If you are getting a gut feeling about something it going to make you more stressed and uneasy which in turn and cause situations to turn bad in itself. If you realize later your gut feeling was just that extra dumpling you had at breakfast you can always try again and you will probably enjoy it more without the overhanging black clouds.
If you are expecting a hotel resort with all the modern comforts and I want to say upfront Seljavallalaug is probably not for you. However if you are up for an adventure and feel like getting an authentic old style Icelandic experience thermal pool then this is definitely somewhere you should carve out time to visit.
Take this road all the way to the end, park and then look into the distance and your will see a 'V' where the valley is. Walk towards that 'V' for about 20-25 minutes and you will find it. These were the direction given to us and we were also told ' don't turn back before 2 minutes, you might think you are lost but keep going'. So this is what we did, driving up a bumpy road to the end we parked our car and got out to look around. As described we could see the 'V' in the valley out in the distance so packed our bag and set out on our hike into nowhere.
Surrounded by amazing views, a river meandering along beside us the hike alone is worth the trip. We walk easily and Lucy takes a shoulder ride we check our watch to see how long we have been hiking for every so often. Just when we are starting to think we had taken a wrong turn or had driven up the wrong road, around a small corner to the left sat a pool. At the far end a white building with a landmark sign written in Icelandic and various pipes protruding from the rock cliff the pool is built against feeding warm water in.
The 'changing room' is a little like a stable and the water is completely unfiltered or treat which does mean it has a greeny tinge, but for us this only added to it. We dive into the changing rooms and put on our swim gear then into the hot pool for some swimming, playing and relaxing. A few more people arrive to swim but other than that we have the entire hot spring to ourselves. We spend the next few hours enjoying the pool and the amazing scenery until we are forced to hike back due to the fading light.
Now, I could tell you how to get to Seljavallaug. Drop a pin in a map or give a step by step guide but where would the fun in that be. You have the name and a rough idea. Half the fun of going somewhere like this is finding your own way. If you do then you can expect to enjoy your own little slice of an authentic Icelandic experience and man does it make for a good travel tale.
Our taxi drive waves to the man in uniform standing at a big metal gate and he swings it open to let us pass. We step out and are greeted immediate by Sharon who takes us to the main building for a glass of fresh lemonade as our bags are taken to our room. On the way we meet Vikrum who is carrying on his fathers dream of turning a once baron piece of land into a beautiful yet natural place to stay. Looking at what it is now, the dream is alive and healthy, because it feels like we're in an oasis and we're definitely going to make the most of it.
The jungle hut is one of the oldest accommodations in the area and already from the customer service and the beautiful surrounding I can see why it's kept going from strength to strength. We pass the kids area with tree house and trampoline and up for our lemonade. A tour of the main area let's us see the games cupboard (which both my girls loved) and the swimming pool (also a huge hit) and then we sat down for a delicious lunch.
Post lunch it's time to check out the room. Down to hut 5, a small building with a wrap around veranda. Opening the door the cool AC is a welcome break from the dry heat outside and we lay our bags down as the girls jump on the bed and check out the bathroom. The room is simple but has everything we need and we love it!
Over the course of the next two days we take tours (temples and tigers) and enjoy the included meals at breakfast lunch and dinner. Each meal is tastier than the last. A mix of cuisines from traditional Indian to lasagna. Malay chats with us in the dinning room and gives advice on flavor combinations to try. Relaxing while the girls make the most of the games cupboard, Sharon sits down with us and talks about the area and how they source all organic and pesticide free veg for their cooking. Her love for the area and the jungle hut family are apparent in the the way she talks about it lovingly.
By the morning of our last day we've climbed into the tree house, taken a dip in the pool and eaten more delicious meals than I can describe. The girls say goodbye as do we and we hop in our taxi to Mysore almost sad to be leaving such a friendly beautiful place. I think the jungle hut is a pretty special place and the people there are amazing, if you come to southern India and miss the it, you're missing out, in a big way!
We step off the plans and almost instantly break into a swear. It's 35 degrees C as we stroll across the Tarmac to the arrival building after a 3 hour flight from Delhi. Lucy and Tilley are both asleep still as we pass through the arrivals building. Inside there are groups of people waiting around the baggage Carousel and a few booths offering pre-paid Taxi's and sight seeing tours. We meander out into the street hop on a local bus to Fort Cochin.
When planning our itinerary I looked into lots of modes of transport between different places we wanted to see in India (plane,train,bus, boat, tuk tuk, taxi). The problem for us was time. We wanted to see a lot and had a couple week to squeeze it in. We were able to use the train system but for time saving a couple of internal flights really helped us out. India has a few airline that provide internal flights to hubs inside the country. After check the main ones we landed on using Vistara. They seemed to offer the times that worked best for us with tickets under $60 each were a bargain for the time we saved getting between places.
Our flight was Delhi to Cochin. The night before we left Vistara handily messaged me, updating me on my flight time, check in area and time, which was a great perk as thats something i'm always rushing to do before a run out the door before a flight anyway. The next day as we board the plane, Lucy and Tilley are out for the count and we are given blankets and pillow to make them, and us more comfortable by the cabin attendants. It's refreshing to have cabin attendants that seem to really want to help you. Unfortunately I think that been lost over the last few years so I definitely like to make a point of writing about it when the service is way above the norm. After take off we are served us followed by our meals. When we booked we were given a huge choice of complimentary meals but settled on Hindi and Asian vegetarian. These translated into curry with bread, and noodles with stir fried veg, both accompanied by and chocolate sponge and a yoga granola bar, yum!
Our flight was around 3 hours. A few captain updates, a short nap and a cup of tea later and we arrived almost exactly on time. The cabin crew helped us out and waved us on our way with a smile. So don't be fooled by the cheap prices that Vistara offer, these short internal flight give you bang for your buck and if you're short on time definitely think about checking them. I will be using them again for sure.