London, Scotland 1998

First time I had ever been traveling and boy was I introduced to a whole new world.  This trip really opened my eyes to people, places and companions.  It really opened up so many doors for me and got me hooked on travel.  I was scared and skeptical but thrilled at the things I saw,  learned and took away from this trip on so many levels.  My personal passion for life was reinvented on this trip and I was never the same person nor did I look at places, people, or history the same after this.

Brad and Angela -  London

Brad and Angela Wright - London 1998

*Its hard to go on a trip with a travel companion that is a know-it-all.  All you hear about is how they have been everywhere and know everything and it can make it hard to enjoy certain places and really take in the experience if all you here is that person talk all the time.  Even the smallest of experiences like staying at a B&B or going into an ancient castle can be ruined by these kind of people.  Its best to travel with those who want to share your experience with you, even the smallest details.  Rather than with someone who tends to take the fun out of it all by telling you that he or she already knows what the experience is going to be like.  Try to avoid these kinds of travel companions at all costs.  You want to be able to soak in the experience for yourself not spend the entire time listening to them talk about how they are the beat all and end all of travelers who want to suck the fun out of your entire trip.   We did not learn our lesson for several years regarding this particular traveler but we no longer choose these kinds of people to travel with. 

London is a busy busy place.  Lots of traffic and crowded.  But its fantastic.  The old buildings and churches, to see where Lady Diana was married, Parliament, to watch the double-decker red buses for the first time.  The architecture, the history, was so amazing.  I just wanted to stand around and look at everything.  We saw the clock tower Big Ben, which might not seem like a big deal since everyone sees it, but its pretty fascinating.  And there are so many angles to get great photos of it. 

You can watch the Thames river run underneath the bridge, it runs very fast and is very busy.  It is the second longest river in the UK and the longest river in England.  Everything happens for London from this river, Power, Food, Drink, and water.  Its a great day when you can sit and watch the activities of the river. 

My first real odd experience was that you don’t really get ice in Europe.  There refrigeration is different than we are used too so you usually get your drinks warm or room temp.  You can ask for ice, but of course they look at you weird and then bring you a cube or two. 

I don’t think the food in London is that great, its kind of typical, Fish and Chips, salads, pizza.  I found nothing extraordinary about the food myself.  But the beer is good and the English are always prepared to have a good time. 

You can walk and walk through London and always have something to see.  I would go back here and have been back since this trip.  I think that you will enjoy your stay here.  But be ready for it to be expensive.

London, Scotland and Norway 2007

This was a most fantastic trip.  We went to Scotland for our second time and decided this time, since we had no restrictions of awful travel companions, that we would visit as many distilleries as possible and stay in some amazing B&B’s and see as much of the land, and scenery as possible.  To make new and better memories.   We rented a car and drove from one of Scotland to the other.  From Aberdeen to the Isle of Skyy.  We saw Glen Grant distillery, McCullan, Glenfiddich,  Highland Park, Scapa, Ardmore, Dalwhinnie, Blair Athol, Glennmorangie (this is where I fell and chipped my knee cap and put a whole in my knee to the bone.  It was an experience that I wont forget.  Dont do it, it hurts very much bad) 🙂  There were many other distilleries that we saw on this trip.  In the winter time you cannot tour many of them so be prepared to not see anything but the grounds and perhaps get a taste of scotch at the front desk.

But the weather is very much like Seattle, damp and grey mostly.  Its not cold but cool even during the day so wear layers for the unpredictable day to day weather.  Also its best to wear good walking shoes, with the dampness things are slippery and wet and muddy in some parts and because there are lots of stone walkways and stone steps you can get hurt if your shoes are not proper for walking.  I slipped on some wet wooden stairs when the day was very rainy and I was not being smart about my shoe choice for the day.

You will want to venture to the banks of Lochness and many waterways so be prepared that you are going to get muddy in some places.

See as many castles as you can get into and or stand.  They are amazing.  The history is fascinating and I have been nowhere even to this day where the castles have been as well preserved as they are in Scotland.  Stirling Castle is my favorite, it is well preserved and it has a great view.  You can see Wallace Monument from one side of it (think BraveHeart)  You can get some amazing shots there.  (we had to replace some shots from a previous trip, they were lost in a divorce. And probably at this point sold illegally to someone since they are all copyrighted.  But we got some amazing stuff)  The weather if it is good and sunny will give you the best photography and you can stay there for hours.  This time we even got to see some reenactments of sword fighting. It was wonderful!

We drove 800 miles on this trip, seeing everything, eating at every pub, talking to all the locals and just having a relaxing marvelous time.  I was so glad that we decided to go back here, my memories were so much better and so amazing and so much more relaxed on this trip. 

I recommend Scotland to anyone and everyone, it is a beautiful place.  I dont think anyone will regret there time here.  Give yourself at least 10 days, w.out travel time to roam around here.  We are very familiar with most areas and most B&B’s so if you plan to go here let us know we can recommend where to stay and what to avoid.

B&B’s are your best bet in Scotland.  They are all privately owned and run.  And they are everywhere so you have many to choose from.  They are not very expensive and breakfast to order is usually included.  They are clean, unique and very family oriented.  You will not regret your adventures if you take it all in.

(more to come)

Fiji 2007

Brad and Angela Wright

Brad and Angela Wright in Fiji

We stayed in a resort while here and though the resort was clean it was not necessarily a place I would stay again.  The food was not very good and they had a limited menu.  You were pretty much told what you were going to eat at each meal and it was difficult to ask for anything special or different because the wait staff didn’t speak hardly any english.  And it was SO hot that just walking to the dining area, which was outside overlooking the water,  you were dripping in sweat.

Most of the resorts there are owned by New Zealanders, rich New Zealanders.  Which is not necessarily and issue except that it pained us to see how they treated the staff.  They barely paid them a wage, made them work 7 days a week, day and nite and told them they had to live on site of the resort and made them pay their own rents and for their own food.  If they talked back or get complaints they were fired and many of them were asked to leave the island.  That made us sad because these people were locals, this was their land and they were given very few choices about life.

Though they appreciated the work, it was sad to see how impoverished they were even with wages being paid.

We did not like the resort because it was full of children, and it was small.  The rooms were small and hot and dark and there was not a lot of room to relax or really enjoy yourself unless you went up to the main resort house.  We didn’t like to do that because it was so hot and the children were always there running around and were terribly behaved.

The diving was good, easy but good.  It takes about 45 minutes to get to any dive site from the resort.  And its a real pain to have to drag your gear back and forth from your room to the dive boat every day.  The dive boats are very small.  But the dive masters are helpful and friendly and know their diving.  Corinne got her Open Water Certification in Fiji and they treated her very well.

It is hard to get to Fiji, we flew Air New Zealand, which is the only airline that flies there out of LAX.  And it only flies 2 times a week.  It’s about 15 hours from LA to Fiji (Nadi International Airport)  and about a two-hour drive from the Nadi airport to anywhere.

The airline is never on time, and be prepared for it to cancel or change your reservations without telling you.  And if you are stuck somewhere because of their total incompetence do not expect to get reimbursed for anything, a hotel, meals, nothing. They will ignore your requests and your calls and you will never get your money back or get an apology for anything.

Fiji is pretty but poor.  Most people live in huts, or in make shift box homes, or on the streets.  They work just to provide enough food for their families for one day.  It’s a hard life and there is wealth all around them.

They are a very friendly people.  They smile a lot and treat you well.  They seem to love their island and helping people out and seeing you come to visit.

There isn’t much to do in Fiji, except lay on the beach, drink, read, dive.  But if that is your thing than this might be the place for you.   I am certain we will not go back.

Be prepared for it to be very hot, humid and flourishing with bugs.

Fiji, 2007

Fiji, 2007

Bahamas 2009

Live Aboard dive boat.  My daughter received her advanced Open Water SCUBA cert while on this trip. 

As with most dive boats there are always those that you either like or hate, get along with right away or not.  There were some folks on the boat from Detroit.  And they were very gossipy, secretive etc.  They didnt like to follow the diver masters instructions, they always wanted to go their own way and they were always having to be bailed out of a jam because they were not even very good divers.  Though if you were to ask them, they were the best.

We did meet some nice folks, two brothers from Brooklyn.  They were very friendly and they had been traveling together since they were kids. They were nice and they enjoyed dinner with us most nites.

We had the largest cabin on the boat and as I have found out on dive boats, if you are the one with the largest cabin, be prepared to be talked about by the others on board.

They start to ask you questions about your job, how much you make, what kind of car you drive.  Its very competitive on a dive boat.  Though i have not for the life of me figured out why. Diving is a hard sport, takes training and can be dangerous.  You dont have to be rich to do it, and you dont have to be famous to enjoy it.  Yet dive boats have the most interesting, jealous group of people onboard, most of the time.  I can see why my husbands first wife had trouble with people on board these boats, with her know-it-all, selfish and flaunting conversations.  I am sure it upset most people and became down right rude most of the time.

You can pretty much tell right away on a live a board who you will get along with and who you wont.  And you end up staying away from some people most of the time on the boat.

We had the unfortunate situation of one man on the boat who was always the one who had to talk the loudest and be the biggest and he and Brad got into it one nite when he started bad mouthing Microsoft.  It was not a pretty few days after that.  The guy was just a jerk and I was glad when we were off the boat away from him

This boat was not as nice as some I have gone on.  Especially after being on this fantastic boat for our honeymoon in the Red Sea in Egypt.  Now that was a fantastic boat!  But it was ok, the food was decent but not great, the diving was good and easy and the sites were lovely.  It was a good place to just relax and enjoy if you could get away from annoying people.

(more to come soon)

Israel, Jordan and Egypt

One thing I cannot stress enough, especially to women traveling to the Middle East which are heavily Jewish and Muslim countries, is Dress Modestly.  It is essential that you understand the Do’s and Dont’s of fashion when traveling to these areas.   

Always pack a head covering of some kind, like a scarf.  (a hat would not be appropriate) Keep it in your bag, or jacket or pants and be ready to use it when entering certain religious sites.  Always wear a shirt (or over shirt) that covers your chest, arms and wrists.  Always wear long pants or a long skirt.  

Many mosques, synagogues, and sometimes Christian churches require that you dress modestly before you enter them.  Remember this is “their” country and you are a guest.  You may not like, understand or appreciate their customs but you should by all means respect them while traveling.   

If you enter a place of worship and there is some kind of service going on, or a prayer of some kind be polite.  Do not talk or videothe service or take photos.  People are there to worship and this is their sacred place.  You are visiting and it would be rude and IS rude not to show proper respect for their worship time.  And besides that,  it makes you look like a foolish and annoying tourist.   

Red in Tel-Aviv Israel

Red in Tel-Aviv Israel 2009

I noticed this kind of rude “tourist” behavior most of my time in Egypt especially.  The German and Beijing tourist groups were so rude all the time.  Not once showing any kindness or respect for the places they were visiting or the locals that were worshiping or working entered; I was embarrassed for them.  They would push their way through sites, yell, scream, stand in everyones way and not once show any respect by tipping or thanking the locals that might have been there helping out or directing them.  

If you are going to do a lot of walking and I assume you will, do not wear flip-flops or high heels.  Wear good, comfortable shoes for touring and lots of walking.  And its best to wear socks, for a couple of reasons.  One is because some of the places of worship that you will visit require you to remove your shoes before entering.  You wont want to walk on the floors barefoot where thousands of people walk each day, it’s neither clean nor appealing. Two, the streets in expecially in Egypt, are filthy.  They are covered with garbage and feces from humans and animals, rotting food, urine etc.  Flip flops are not a good clean way to travel.  Also the cities are old and many of them either have dirt roads or large stones and bowlders for walking on.  A good pair of walking shoes with support is essential.   

Be smart when packing for trips, know your terrain, your weather.  It would be inappropriate to dress as if you are trying out for Americas next top model or as if you just jump out of a Banana Republic catalog from 1980.  Be modest, be comfortable, and be smart about any attire you wear while traveling.   You don’t want to stand out and you don’t want to be uncomfortable or it can ruin your whole experience.  

Using the restrooms in Egypt is going to take you by surprise, maybe.  First of all Egypt is filthy, period.  It is third world so be prepared for things you wont have or find that we as expecially as Amercians, take for granted.  There is never toilet paper, paper towels or soap in most if not all of the bathrooms in Egypt or Jordan.  Israel you get a little more cleanliness but not much.  You will find that you will be expected to tip the person at the bathroom entrance.  One Egyptian LE is about sufficient.  If and when you do this, ask them for T.P before you enter the stall or have your own tissue with you, for there will be none in the stall.  You will also have to use T.P to dry your hands, paper towels are pretty much none existant in Egypt. Bring plenty of handi-wipes and disinfectant so that you can use it as you leave the restroom, you will need and want to use it after leaving the restroom or leaving a place where many tourists and locals frequent.   

       *DO NOT tip the bathroom attendants at the Museum in Cairo.  They will ask you for a hand out but there is a sign that says DO NOT tip them.  

Chances are you will walk a lot of streets and go to Bazaars while in Egypt.  The merchants will drive you nuts if you are not prepared.  Everyone is looking to make a buck.  They will stop in front of you, sometimes even toss something at you or on you, like a scarf and tell you that you now have to pay, and how much are you willing to pay.  Try your best to walk by the shops and ignore these people.  Keep walking, sternly say “NO” and don’t look them in the eye.   

If you do decide to buy something from a street merchant, do not take their first price and do not listen to them tell you that it’s a good price, it’s not.  If you pay more than $6.00 for a scarf, than you have paid too much.   

For example I wanted a silly stuffed camel (my husband buys me something like this from every trip) and we wanted these pyramid-shaped paper weight set (you can buy them everywhere in every color and stone) The merchant we stopped at started at 500 LE (egyptian pounds) not only did we laugh we walked out of his store.  He kept yelling, 400 LE, 300 LE etc.  We just kept walking and then later returned down the same street.  He saw us, of course and  yelled, 100 LE, my husband said 40, they said 80, my husband said 50 LE, SOLD!  So you see, there is always bargaining to do.  Dont let them rip you off, stand firm and make a deal.  

If you find that you are walking through a market or a bizarre and someone randomly walks up to you and starts giving you directions, or walking with you and talking to you and asking you about your travels, random questions etc. ask him to leave you alone.  He now thinks he is your tour guide and will in the end expect a tip of some kind.   

     * NOTHING is free in Egypt  

In places where you must remove your shoes, if there is someone there collecting your shoes, they will expect a tip to give them back to you.  

My husband and I do not take tour buses or cruises.  Though we see many sites that tourists usually see, we also see many sites that large groups do not get to see or cannot get too.  We usually hire a private guide and driver for our trips through a reputable agency in whatever country we are in.  That way we can get into sites quickly, get good photos, see things others do not get to see and do all this on our own terms and usually without too many tourists around.   

Beware though even of private guides.  They are corrupt and they will try to sell you everything they can.  They will ask to take you to shops, owned and operated by friends, they will show you photos of jewelry and music Cd’s asking you to buy these things.  They are making a profit and so are their friends, and in most cases none of this is legal.  Dont get stuck buying things you don’t want, say NO.  

If you travel to Giza to see the large/main pyramids it is a good idea to get a full, all around view of all 9 of them.  To properly do this you will need to go to the back side of them, through the desert by camel.  (you can walk it if you want but even by slow camel its a 45 minute trip around) The ride is about 100-150 LE a person.  It’s not scary (though I admit I was hesitant at first) and the person pulling or managing the camels is experienced, usually a kid whos father owns and raises them.  Beware of one thing, as you ride there will be someone in the desert riding a donkey or horse who starts talking to you and asking you how you like things etc.  Then he will open up a soda and hand it to you, even if you say no he is very insistent.  If you take the soda, he will then ask you to pay for it.  And no matter what you give him, it wont be enough or good enough.  One of the most popular phrases in Egypt when you tip is “are you happy with this?”  Meaning are you sure you are happy with this tip, wouldnt you like to give more.   

It’s best to have your own water before getting on the camel, you can usually by it right there at a vendor, and avoid the soda selling person if you can.  He will be waiting for you in the desert.  

The kid or person pulling the camel will ask for a tip (of course) and whatever tip you decide he wont be happy with it.  We gave a small tip because our kid was busier talking on his cell phone than he was guiding the camels and telling us about the pyramids, very annoying!  

Do not drink the water in Egypt.  Their only source of water is from the Nile and they treat it with complete disrespect.  Mostly because they are poor and ignorant of how to properly care for such a precious resource.  Along the banks of the Nile, especially in Cairo, there is garbage lining the banks, and floating in the water.  There is also dead animals and you will see people urinating and bathing and washing their clothes in the river.  So don’t even let the water touch your lips in the shower and don’t use ice in your drinks.  Dont eat the salad or any fruit that is not peeled or vegetables that are not peeled and properly cooked.  All these things have been washed in the Nile and you will get a nasty stomach bug that will ruin your vacation.  Also be careful not to eat the cheese if it has not been pasteurized.   

It is a good idea to carry a prescription of Cypro with you to combat a stomach bug.  I followed all the rules of food and water and we stayed at all the best 5 star hotels like Mena House  http://www.oberoihotels.com/oberoi_menahouse/index.asp and I still ended up with a stomach bug.  So be very careful with your food and beverage intake.  

In Israel water is safe to drink from the tap, and most food is safe to eat.  Israel is considered more of a 2nd world country so they tend to be cleaner and they treat their water supply with better care.  

In Israel do not be surprised by all the young people walking around in Army fatigues carrying M16’s around their bodies, acting as if nothing is wrong.  They do it because they are required too and they are being trained that if a situation breaks out, they are prepared.  Honestly I am not sure how a bunch of young people fresh out of High School can be prepared for what one of these countries might instantly throw at them, but I respect the way they are trained to get in there and be part of  it.  I admit that one nite in a restaurant when all these kids came in with these guns around there necks and just sat a table next to us and had a leisurely dinner, it was odd and a little unnerving at first.  But you get over that feeling after a month in the Middle East.  

Dead Sea Scroll excavation   

ISRAEL:  It is filled with history.  Anyone who is a bible scholar of anykind will truly appreciate this place.  The old wall of Jerusalem, the Wailing Wall, The garden of Gethsemane, The Mt of Olives, The river Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lots wife, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea, Capernaum, Cessarea,  the Dead Sea Scrolls, Mt. Hermon etc.  Any and all biblical places that you have learned about and are familiar with you can see in such awe here.  I loved Israel, I loved the people and the places and the history and I would go back over and over again.   

PETRA:  One of the most amazing places I have ever seen. The structures, the beauty of the red stone, rocks, carvings. The first moment you come around that corner to see the very first glimpse through the stone of the front of the Treasury.. man, words cannot express the amazing structure, and the way your heart sinks to see such an amazing piece of craftmanship.  I have waited my whole life to see this place, and in those few moments, I knew it was worth the wait.
Petra in Jordan

Front of Treasury at Petra in Jordan