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Friday
Apr132012

The Kempinski Ishtar, Jordan


After our disappointing hotel experience in Petra, the Kempinski at the Dead Sea was a welcome change. I am normally not a fan of large hotels or chains, but in this region we were left with little other option. The Boyfriend’s Jordanian friend had also advised us that the Kempsinki was the best hotel in Jordan.


The Dead Sea holds two main titles. Its the lowest point on earth (400 m below sea level) and also the saltiest body of water on earth, at ten times saltier than your average sea. This means there’s no chance of running into any live fish, and buoyancy is incredibly high making floating about a particularly fun experience.


We arrived, exhausted and sweaty after another 12-hour day in the blistering heat. We were meet by a minimalist air-conditioned lobby, friendly staff and a golf cart to drive us to our room.

We were staying in the Ishtar section of the hotel, a selection of villas located between the main building and the beach. This proved to be more beneficial than first realized, as the site is massive, and from one end to the other is a ten or so minute walk. As the Italian restaurant and most of the pools are located closer to the beach it spared our worn muscles a lot of unnecessary work.


The room was again minimalist and nothing particularly exciting, although a flat screen TV, Internet in the room, and a comfy duvet felt extraordinarily luxurious over the past three days. A separate area leading to the bathroom continued a large wardrobe but as per usual very few hangers. The bathroom was particularly tasteful, lined with gorgeous stone tiles. A balcony with a couple of chairs but sea view completed the picture. In typical Kempsinki fashion there were extra touches. As it was Easter Sunday, a tray contained a couple of Easter Eggs and they had a dedicated movie night menu complete with cinema snacks and a DVD list.


Breakfast the next day served in the Obelisk restaurant was an impressive buffet selection complete with complimentary champagne. My favourite way to start the day.

After a quick breakfast the boyfriend and I headed to one of the six pools, the one located closest to the beach. An hour or so later, with the arrival of a dozen or so very excitable children we made an escape to the beach where we tried another major perk of the hotel access to the worlds largest totally free spa - the dead sea and its mud, known for having miraculous effects on the skin.


The shores of the Dead Sea are particularly unattractive. There’s no "beach" although the Kempsinki has imported sand to create a fake beach out of reach of the water, so instead there’s a rocky shore line caked with salt deposits.We floated for about 10 minutes at which point the novelty wore off and both The B and I had managed to get the salt water in orifices that are not recommended, we left to collect mud from a basin sat next to a full length mirror. We artfully applied the stuff along with several other people marveling at how strange we all looked. A couple of photos later we were back in the sea to wash the dried mud off and to inspect our new shiny skin.

After a quick lunch at one of the restaurants, we went in search of a childfree pool, and ended up at the spa pool, a tranquil garden far removed from the beach, yelling and splashing. It was heaven.

We ended the day with drinks at one of the bars, where we watched the sunset over Israel and the sea. Dinner was taken at the Italian restaurant. The food was on the whole distinctly average, and one of our choices; a rack of lamb was served completely uncooked in the middle. Service was also frustratingly slow. After an hour and fifty minutes, we managed to get the offending main course removed, but rather than wait another hour for a new plate to show up, The Boyfriend just shared my main course. Getting the bill would be another battle so we opted to just go to the till and pay. Throughout the evening this ended up being the typical course of action for those wanting service, hanging out in front of the kitchen entrance and asking for whatever they needed. To add insult to injury the bill was extortionate for what we received – two glasses of wine (one Jordanian), water, two starters and a plate of pasta came to just under 90JD, or approximately £90. Lunch had been similarly expensive, a sandwich, meze plate, a cocktail and glass of wine coming to just under 60JD although overall of much a higher quality.


We had similar problems with service the next day. A lizard had decided to make its home in our sink, a scary site first in the morning. I had no problem with the lizard itself, we were in a natural area and something’s just can’t be controlled but the hotels reaction to the event was dreadful. The Boyfriend immediately rang The Butler service to find the lizard a new home, whilst I kept watch over the lizard to make sure it didn’t decide to start playing with my makeup or toothbrush. Forty minutes, and three phone calls later someone finally bothered to show up. For a hotel that prides itself on high quality service, this felt like they were taking the piss.

Both of us felt our stay had been far too short, and that this hotel was a perfectly good alternative to our typical winter sun break Dubai, although management really needs to sort itself out.

Tuesday
Apr102012

Wadi Rum, Jordan


The third day of our four day trip to Jordan was dedicated a trip to Wadi Rum, the desert made infamous by its use in the film Lawrence of Arabia.Wadi Rum, an hour and a half or so from Petra, covers significant mileage in the South of Jordan stretching to Saudi Arabia. Unlike most normal deserts, Wadi Rum, is defined by its massive outcrops of basalt, granite and sandstone, that give the landscape a lunar like quality but also paint the landscape in a rainbow of different coloured sands, with dark pink at one end of the spectrum and white at the other.


Our trip around the area was with Ecco tours chosen for the quality of the drivers (experienced Bedouins), and their four by fours which unlike many companies offering the same service actually have roofs, something I would think is a necessity if your spending three hours driving around a windy desert. It involved a three hour trip around the main sites: the seven pillars of wisdom, Lawrence’s house, spring and valley and the rock bridges, in the four by four with our driver, who spoke wonderful English and provided us with a heap of information.


I was wary of the tour, as I figured after about one and a half hours my attention was bound to wane. On the contrary the constantly changing beautiful landscape, the different coloured sands, and the Nabatean drawings kept me engaged for the whole time.


Mid way through our journey, we stopped at a Bedouin camp, where were offered tea (which we bought it was so good), and the chance to be dressed up as a Bedouin.


The whole experience was calming (there’s something about the place, that is truly peaceful) and exhilarating at the same time. It was the highlight of the four days, and I would love to go back to camp.


What to wear:

- Trousers and a top that covers the shoulders (its disrespectful to the Bedouins to show off too much skin)

- A hat (always useful)

- Sunglasses that will keep out sand being thrown about in the wind

- Shoes that can get sandy and with enough grip to climb up a steep rock face to the rock bridge

Tuesday
Apr102012

Petra, Jordan

 

The Treasury

The Boyfriend and I spent one day in Petra, as all tourists to Jordan do, on our four day trip around the country. Given I couldn't stress about the practical details of our holiday as it was all taken care of by Audley Travel, who did a great job, I turned my energy on what to wear.

Petra throws up an interesting outfit choice, constrained by mid 20 degree heat, unrelenting sunshine, sand, strenuous hiking and respect for both the local Jordanians and Bedouins, ie no showing lots of skin skin.

 In the eleven hours we spent in the site, we saw a lot of incredible things and a lot of either inappropriate outfits.

 

The view from the High Place

 

Things not to wear in Petra (all of which were in fact seen around the site)

  • Short shorts (disrespectful and tacky and mornings in the shade can prove to be chilly)
  • Mini dresses
  • Tights  
  • Tube tops (see above and quite difficult for hiking)
  • Flip flops/ Ballet flats/Heels: From the site entrance to the end of the typical tour, near the main restaurants, the distance is 4km, or 8 km round trip, walking that in flip flops would be possibly the least comfortable experience. Throw in the fact that its sandy and windy and walking shoes become a necessity.
  • Heavy handbags

 

Near The Monastery

The above may sound a little hardcore, but this takes into account that you could be doing hiking. The most impressive sites in Petra, are definitely the high place, and the monastery, which together will take at least five hours of intense hiking. The monastery alone is 808 steps, or the equivalent of a forty storey building, and whilst you can take a donkey up for 6JD a person, its still quite an energy draining trip. The high place, involves fewer steps, but the route we took, up past the Lion Fountain, and the Roman Soldier’s temple, and back down the stairs felt even more taxing.

The Monastery

After a morning guided tour, that took us the typical four km route, The Boyfriend and I hoped on a donkey up to the monastery mainly to save time. After we arrived at the top, and inspected both the building and also the view over the surrounding area, we walked back down to take lunch at the Petra Basin, run by the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The food was average, and expensive for what it was 17JD a head, a theme in Jordan. 

Sunset at The High Place

Content with food we headed to the Royal Tombs to take a up close look. We then started our last hike to the high place.  Around two hours later, we made it to the top, where the view was spectacular. We spent an hour at the top enjoying the view and the peace and quiet. We left just after the sun began to set, and headed back down to the entrance

 

What to bring to Petra:

In april this is what the Boyfriend and I brought, and managed to fit in two small backpacks

- sunscreen

- guide book

- light jacket

- hairbrush (its windy if you have long hair and intend to take photos its a necessity)

- lip balm

- camera

- extra camera battery/memory card

- painkillers/bandaids/tissues (eternally useful)

- phone ( just in case)

- water

- hat

- cash

- Visa credit/debt card (Visa seems to be the only the card thats universally accepted in Jordan)

- Light scarf

 

Wednesday
Apr042012

Flying to Jordan with Royal Jordanian Airlines

As I have discussed here, I have a certain love for flying BA. I find it comforting to say the least, but when The Boyfriend and I decided to go to Jordan for Easter, we were left with little other choice than to fly RJ, out of Heathrow Terminal Three.Sadly, The Boyfriend who had been caught up in work, managed to get to check in about 50 minutes before our flight left, meaning I was forced to miss my normal flying ritual – throwing back three or so glasses of wine (self medication for a fear of flying) and buying a truck load of reading material at Smiths. The lateness meant we had a stressful start to the journey, especially when BAA decided to put the gate as far away as humanly possible.

The plane, was fine, an Airbus 321, but at least with entertainment systems in every seat, along with pillows and blankets. The Entertainment system, whilst offering a wide range of entertainment, was the most frustrating technological device I’ve encountered in a while. It had no “up”, “down”, “left” or “right” buttons just a tab key which meant it took an irritatingly long time to get to anything. Add in a “home” button where select should naturally be making the chance of ending up at home and starting the whole process again pretty high.The seats where average in size, as was the screen, not a patch on my last Turkish Airlines flight. Food was average, and wine was of a very low quality.

The return flight was much less stressful. The entertainment system on this plane was also much improved but the selection of films shorter. Overall it was a good experience.

Sunday
Mar252012

Flying Turkish Airlines to Istanbul

I love BA with a passion. I think it’s a British thing, a bit like my obsession with the perfect breakfast tea, or Radio Four in the mornings. I find there is something incredibly satisfying about British Airways, the accent that comes over the speakers, high life magazine, and of course T5.

I’m also a sucker for a bargain, so flying Turkish Airlines to Istanbul ended up as a given when I looked at prices. It was a good step. Firstly, it meant I ended up in T3, which meant I had access to the infamous Heathrow Chanel store. Secondly, it is actually a great airline.

I loved the fact that these are long-haul planes complete with all the perks on a short haul flight. There is extensive inflight entertainment, larger than average in headrest screens, blankets and pillows (BA take note). I adored the fact that I started watching Money Ball on the runway and watched it all though take-off and then The Descendants until I landed, which distracted me from my normal fear of flying. I loved that the plane left at a very reasonable 4.10pm getting us in at around 10 o’clock pm. Even more I loved the fact that my seat had a USB port and that the food was of an okay standard, practically Michelin star for flights.

The way back was a slightly different story. It started well, The Turkish Air Lounge at Ataturk airport is great. Much better design and more interesting than any BA lounge I've seen. Sadly, this is where the perks ended. The plane I ended up one was the same as every depressing model seen on most short-haul BA flights and really there was little difference in the quality of service.

I'll still be flying Turkish Air on the off chance, that I'll have my outbound experience again, and to pay a visit to the Chanel store, of course.