On 23rd September, 2000, I married a Travel Agent. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
They say that opposites attract. And in our case, it’s been largely true.
One of us is an extravert. Intrepid, bold and assertive; a real go-getter, make-it-happen kind of guy- (the type that might jump out of an aeroplane!)
The other one of us is an introvert. Dreamy, head-in-the-clouds, cautious – perhaps more inclined to read about the wide and wonderful world in a book, rather than travel much beyond the garden gate to see it for herself.
Eighteen years later, we have four amazing kids and two tabby cats and we’ve travelled to some truly incredible places. I’m so grateful to God for this man – for this life – and for all our adventures together!
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.
After 2 days in Lisbon, we packed up our belongings and caught a train to Cascais, an idyllic seaside town, just under 17 miles along the Lisbon coast.
Do you remember that old slogan: “Let the train take the strain”? Well there’s definitely something to be said for rolling along a railway track, gazing out of the window the entire time, with not a care in the world! No fiddling about with maps, or having to figure out how to drive on the wrong side of the road. No stressful arguments with your spouse about navigation. No sense of concern about how much a taxi fare might end up costing. So relaxing!
Travelling by train is also a really good way to get snapshots of your surroundings. Passing through pretty places, such as Estoril, only further convinced me that there is so much more of Portugal that I want to see.
Once in Cascais, we flagged down a taxi and made our way to our hotel. The Villa Gale was good, but nothing to write home about – it was a bit dark and dated in places, and huge crowds of people made breakfast times feel like a military operation! But it was clean and comfortable, and very conveniently located – and Emily enjoyed the swimming pool and the small children’s playground.
Cascais started out as a typical Portugese fishing town, and apparently became the preferred summer retreat of the Portugese Nobility. But over the years, it has grown into a wonderful fusion of 19th Century architecture, mingled with artisan shops, all kinds of eateries and an attractive marina. There are beaches, museums and parks, so you can take your pick as to how you’re going to spend your day.
We strolled downtown just as evening was descending…
Celebrated Nathan’s birthday with an unforgettable meal at O Pescador, an award winning seafood restaurant, tucked down an unobtrusive little side-street,
Mooched around the boutique style shops,
Took a ride on a carousel,
And bumped into a big, grizzly bear!
Everywhere you looked there were smart hotels with floodlit terraces, and plenty of those typical Portuguese streets adorned with swirling mosaic. Palm trees lined the central thouroughfare, reminiscent of the French Riviera. It really was a very pretty place.
Walking back to the hotel, we kept looking over our shoulders to catch one more glimpse of the town – so beautiful with its lights mirrored in the stillness of the ocean.
And stopped by the bridge, to take in the sight of this picturesque stately home.
After a good night’s rest, we were eager to head into Lisbon City Centre to see the sights.
We took the Metro to a popular area of Lisbon known as Baixa which is a busy commercial centre with plenty of interesting shops, eateries and charming cobbly streets that rambled uphill and down.
There were so many wonderful shops to explore, such as this inviting bakery:
And this very quirky shop that sold nothing but tinned sardines!
The elegant streets and city Squares, adorned with fountains and moasics, oozed history and charm. And in the midday heat, it was difficult to resist the urge to stop for an iced coffee or a beer in the shade.
Praca Do Commercio
Many of the busy streets meandered down towards the Praco Do Commercio, which means Commerce/Royal Square.
This impressive, historic gateway into the City, with it’s smart yellow facade, is situated near the River Tagus and would have once been a place of bustling trade and industry. Sadly, much of this area was destroyed in a great Earthquake in 1755, but was later rebuilt.
And of course, no trip to Lisbon would be complete without a ride on the iconic Tram 28.
Even if it was a bit hairy at times!
As it was Nathan’s birthday week, we ended our grand day out with a glass of wine (actually one of us had two! ) in a lovely bar that had tables outside.
Nathan couldn’t believe his luck when he got the bill – 11 Euros for 3 glasses of wine and an apple juice! Not bad at all!
All in all, we had a fabulous and very memorable day in Lisbon. For a country-loving girl, I was surprised at just how taken I was with this beguiling, old City. Elegant, charming, and even a little bit romantic, in the evening sun. Lisbon – we hope to visit again some day!
When your teenagers go off to Bible Camp for the week, what on earth do you do with yourselves? Well, you could stay at home and enjoy the peace and quiet….But when you’re married to a travel agent, that’s never going to happen! Before I could say lickety-split, Nathan, Emily and I were on board an aeroplane. Our destination – Lisbon!
Now I must admit, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy a City Break. Ask me what I prefer – city or countryside – and I would definitely say I am drawn to the green field, the running river and the rustic farmhouse!
Little did I know what a treat I was in for!
You can fly from London to Lisbon, quicker than you could drive to Manchester! It takes around 2 hrs 20 mins. There is no time difference, so you don’t even need to reset your watch when you arrive. This was good for me, as naturally, with the kids away at camp, I wanted to make sure we could get back fairly fast in an emergency!
Outside the airport it was very easy to find a bus that would drop us to the door of our hotel. It only cost around 2 euros each and the bus ride gave us a good view of the outskirts of the City.
The hotel Corinthia was modern, clean and comfortable and served a good continental breakfast. Although the hotel was not in the heart of the city, it made an ideal base from which to explore. The staff were helpful, and happy to suggest good places to eat, make reservations give directions etc. It was also a calm and tranquil place to come back to after a day amid the hustle and bustle of the City.
The Corinthia is situated just across the road from the Metro Station, which was a real plus point. The Metro is affordable and very straight forward to use – in fact, if you’re at all familiar with the London Tube, then it’s a doddle!
As we arrived in Lisbon fairly late in the afternoon, we decided to leave our exploring until the following morning. However, we did go out for dinner. The hotel recommended a good Italian restaurant, Come Prima, not too far away, which we got to by taxi.
If you’re looking for a bit of good, honest grub, then you must visit Come Prima! It was wonderful. Nothing too fancy on the outside – but everything was just how you’d want an Italian Restaurant to be. The setting, with it’s dimmed lighting, felt cosy, authentic, and relaxing. Our server, who was probably the Manager, was superb – extremely friendly, and he made such a fuss of Emily, even when she asked for Tomato Ketchup on her Spaghetti Bolognese! Oh the horror!
The wine and food were excellent and everything tasted fresh, delicious and home-made. By the end of that first evening we felt like the whole trip would have been worth it just for that meal!
One of the most memorable things about the Maldives, was the incredible opportunity to spot all kinds of interesting creatures.
Every evening, at 10 o’clock, was Shark Feeding time! Hotel guests were invited to gather on the jetty, to witness this fascinating spectacle. What amazed me was that about 10 minutes before the shark feeders emerged, dozens of Black Tipped Reef Shark and Manta Ray had already began to gather, circling the jetty in slightly menacing anticipation. Who told them it was almost 10 o’clock? Amazing creatures!
Fruit bats were a common sight, flying about the hotel grounds, and you could occasionally get quite close to them if you were lucky enough to spot one hanging upside down in a tree.
Sunset Dolphin Cruise
The Kuda Huura offered the opportunity to go out on a boat, on a Sunset Dolphin Cruise. Apart from being a very relaxing way to spend the late afternoon, it was wonderful to witness a pod of Spinner Dolphins, performing their incredible acrobatic flips and spins! A real joy to watch. And sailing back to the hotel just as the sun was beginning to set was the icing on the cake.
Swimming With Manta Ray
If you’d have told me ten years ago that one day I’d be swimming in the Indian Ocean with Manta Ray, I would never have believed you! But every once in a while, life offers you a golden opportunity! The Landa Giravaaru issued us with a beeper, that would only go off once a Manta sighting had been confirmed. Some days, reportedly, it didn’t happen. Luckily, for us, it did! When that beeper went off, it was a case of literally abandoning your Pina Colada and making your way to the Marine Centre! Here, we were kitted out with flippers, snorkels and goggles, and off we went on a boat to the middle of the open sea. After plucking up the courage to dive in, it was an incredible thrill! There were so many of these mysterious creatures, which can reach up to 7m in width, swimming beneath us. They are named Manta Ray, after the Spanish/Portugese word for cloak or mantle – When you’re swimming above them, it’s easy to see why, as they glide about gracefully in the water.
As previously posted, the Kuda Huura have a Turtle Sanctuary on site, where guests can find out all about the work of the Marine Biologists, and help feed the injured turtles. Many of the turtles are amputees, with flippers missing, due to getting them tangled in ghost nets. Now and again, lucky guests will get to witness a turtle, after a period of successful rehabilitation, being reintroduced into the ocean.
The Maldives really is a dream destination – it’s got something for everyone. Whether you fancy lounging in utter paradise, reading a book, or enjoying an amazing spa treatment, or whether you’re up for an adventure: snorkelling, kayaking, or swimming with a whole host of marine creatures, it’s all here.
The Maldives really was the trip of a lifetime for me – It broadened my horizons, and gave me the opportunity to do things I would NEVER have imagined myself doing. And isn’t that what travelling is all about?
So, when life offers you an unexpected opportunity …grab it with both hands! You never know how much fun it might turn out to be!
Landaa Giravaaru is a totally extraordinary resort! Travelling in by seaplane and speedboat is actually a very fitting way to arrive – It’s certainly not the norm! But then, nothing about this hotel is the norm.
I don’t think I’ve ever been shown to a room that made my jaw drop more than this one.
In fact you couldn’t really call it a room. It was more like a house. Parked outside were a pair of his and hers bicycles, with our initials monogrammed on the front! I guess, when you have an island to explore, the most scenic way to go is by bike!
The room was situated on a HUGE plot with lushly planted front and rear gardens – much bigger than our back garden at home – with the added benefit of a path that meandered down to a secluded beach! We had a large swimming pool all to ourselves. The room also came with a pavillion style ‘outhouse’. Underneath the canopy were a myriad of chairs and loungers plus a table for snacks or a game of cards. A winding staircase took you up to a mezzanine balcony, complete with large sunlounger and hammock – just the place to curl up with a good book, or be lulled to sleep by the hypnotic rythmn of the sea.
The only challenge we seemed to be faced with over those fleeting few days, was choosing exactly where to relax…there were just so many options.
Although we knew there were other guests at the hotel, somehow it felt like you had the whole island to yourself. The beach was a stretch of pristine white, powdery sand, gently caressed by the calmest of turquoise waters.
The restaurants and eateries were amazing – the highlight being an incredible Italian, called Blu, which gave you the feeling of being suspended over the ocean. I’ll never foget eating one of our meals in the middle of a tropical downpour – giggling at the frantic race of the waiters to batten down the hatches and shut up all the shutters!
For a mother of four, who spends her busy days running the kids here, there and everywhere, doing school runs, countless trips to the supermarket, cooking meal after meal and wading through endless piles of laundry – it felt as though I’d just been given the greatest gift! Four days of total relaxation. I will always be grateful that I had these moments.
Our prize-of-a-lifetime, trip for two to the Maldives was doubly sweet. Spending 3 nights in the beautiful Kuda Huura Hotel was only just the beginning. The next leg of the journey, was a four night stay in the exclusive Four Seasons resort, Landaa Giravaaru.
It was sad to say goodbye to the Kuda Huura, and we were given a wonderful send-off. Yet there was a sense of excitement for what was next in store.
Our transfer was in a tiny Maldivian Sea-Plane. This in itself was an incredible experience! I have never taken-off or landed in the sea before! It was all a bit of an adventure, to say the least. We had to wear ear plugs that looked a bit like cheesy Watsits!
Flying over the Maldives is an astonishing sight. Atol after atol like shimmering pearls amidst the irridescent jewel-like ocean.
Around 40 minutes later, our destination came into view. We had certainly arrived in style!
Two years later, I still look back and pinch myself.
One of the best things about the Maldives is the opportunity to get up close and personal with all sorts of sea creatures.
The Four Seasons, Kuda Huura Hotel, a joint participant of an initiative called Marine Savers, houses its very own Turtle Sanctuary, which offers guests of all ages a chance to help feed the turtles, as well as an enthralling glimpse into the job of a Marine Biologist.
The Turtle, is one of the National Emblems of the Maldives. These graceful creatures can live for up to 60 years.
Five types of Turtle can be found in the Indian Ocean:
Olive Ridley Turtle
Sadly, many of these turtles are on the endangered species list – the Hawksbill, hunted for the beautiful markings on its shell, is on the critically endangered list (last category before extinction).
Although fishing with nets is not permitted in the Maldives, sometimes discarded nets, known as “ghost nets” can drift on ocean currents from neighbouring countries. These ghost nets attract turtles, (and other marine creatures) who end up entangled in them.
Most of the turtles that are housed at the Kuda Huura Sanctuary have been found by locals or visitors, caught up in ghost nets, which do irrepairable damage to their flippers.
The rescue centre work hard to carefully remove the netting, often having to amputate one or more flippers. The turtles are weighed, fed and cared for on a daily basis until, hopefully, they are strong enough to be re-released back into the wild.