Holiday in Lebanon – Jounieh & Byblos (sept’13)

If you are looking for an alternative getaway to the usual European package holiday then Lebanon has that Mediterranean escape vibe with a Middle Eastern twist. It has a wonderful climate, tasty food and breathtaking scenery. We were fortunate enough to be invited to attend our friends wedding and jumped at the chance to be there. We had week to fit in sightseeing, relaxation, a hen & stag do and most importantly a wedding. This is part of what is wonderful about Lebanon. It is roughly the size of Greater Manchester so you are really not far from the main attractions. We are all aware of the civil war that devastated the country and many lives from (1975-1990) and subsequent conflicts and fragility ever since, and even when we were there. However, not once did we ever feel unsafe or at risk. I think that is mainly down to the well natured, resilient temperament, enjoying life attitude of the Lebanese people we met whilst we were there! So here are some pictures, info and recommendations of what we did in Lebanon. Note we flew into Beirut but chose not to stay and sightsee there, as we wanted to explore the coast and due to having wedding commitments didn’t have the time. Always worth saving something back, so a future trip is essential. So after a relatively easy trip 7 hours including change in Paris flying Air France (£400 return) we landed in Beirut. 15km drive north we checked in to our hotel in Jounieh. Jounieh is a charming little town with lots of cafes, restaurants, pubs and boutiques. We stayed at Queens Land Hotel. Basic, clean and friendly staff for around £50 per night inc breakfast and 5 mins walk to the 1st attraction that was on our must do list. The Teleferique up to the Harrisaa mountain where Our Lady of Lebanon towers over the bay. I would recommend going at sunset as you have wonderful views of the sun going down over the bay. IMG_5016 IMG_5041 IMG_5043 IMG_5052 http://www.teleferiquelb.com/ Another must see when you are in Lebanon is the Jeita Grottos, 20km north of Beirut and 10 km from Jounieh. You are not aloud to take cameras into the caves but visit these website to get a glimse of the jaw dropping limestone caves. If you only do 1 thing in Lebanon this has to be this!! http://www.jeitagrotto.com/ http://world.new7wonders.com/the-new7wonders-of-nature/jeita-grotto-lebanon/ IMG_5079 So after 2 nights in Jounieh we headed a further 18 km to Byblos where the rest of the wedding party were staying. We all stayed in Aleph Boutique Hotel. http://www.alephboutiquehotel.com/ Individual themed rooms, lovely comfortable beds, modern bathroom, friendly attentive staff and 5 mins walk to the beach, cafes, bars and restaurants. IMG_5089 IMG_5092 IMG_5222 The city of Byblos dates back to Neolithic times and any archaeology/history enthusiasts will love walking around The Crusader Castle. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/295 IMG_5493 IMG_5518 IMG_5509 Byblos provided a wonderful mix for everyone in the wedding party. The brides family from the UK of all ages had chance to do things that suited everyone. If its chilling on the beach or going to a beach club or enjoying the more traditional side of Byblos on the fishing harbour and walking around the souks, there really is something for everyone. Some excellent restaurants we ate at were Feniqia & Bab El-Mina. Both great value for money but there is penalty of places to try with a great variety of Lebanese, Middle Eastern, European and Mediterranean cuisine. http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g298264-d2019823-Reviews-Feniqia-Byblos_Mount_Lebanon_Governorate.html IMG_5095 IMG_5103 IMG_5234 For a 7 day trip in Lebanon I would recommend maybe to do 2-3 night exploring Beirut then go straight to Byblos for 4-5 nights for a more beachy holiday vibe. Stopping off at the Teleferique in Jounieh then on to the Grottos for a fews hours or you could arrange a day trip out there once you get to Byblos. Lebanon really does have a great mix of everything you could possibly want in a holiday. Oozing with culture, history, amazing food, nightlife, beaches, walks and most importantly really welcoming friendly people. IMG_5374 IMG_5399 IMG_5462 IMG_5463 Overall our trip to Lebanon was possibly one of the best experiences of our lives and can not wait to go back to explore more of this fascinating country.

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Back to Blogging

Ok so we have been so busy the last year and not had chance to update the blog with all the stuff we have been upto. We’ve had holidays/essays to write/food to eat/dogs to walk etc etc but will get to uploading our pictures of places we’ve been and seen. Also, Will has been buying lots of camera/telescope equipment so stay tuned for detailed reviews/pics if you into that kind of thing.

Here is a little taste of things to come…..

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Lebanon – byblos

burg

Dubai

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Pwllheli Beach

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Our wedding video

It’s taken a year to get round to this but we now have a final version of our wedding video (at least as good as it will get). Here is is:

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Review of Trixie wicker dog basket

We got this through eBay but were pretty unimpressed by how it fixed to our bike, certainly not wanting to put our little yorkie Ruby at risk with! So back it goes. See the flaws in this video. I think we’re going to try a Topeak basket from Evans cycles next

 

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Video review of St Mary’s Holiday Park in Prestatyn, North Wales

Just a short(ish) video review we took of this great campsite a couple of miles out of Prestatyn. Giving a bit of a guided tour and description of the facilities. Also giving some ideas on a couple of places/things to do locally on foot with directions. I had some things to say at the end so I used a bit of footage of our Yorkie Ruby enjoying the large dog walking field.

This is a great campsite. Mix of touring caravans, motorhomes and tents. Very friendly (including for well behaved dogs), well laid out, clean, but not too mega formal. Walking distance from the sea and dunes where there is tons of wildlife, but also backed up by easy access into the countryside. I only hinted at it, but we rode our bikes one day from the campsite to Prestatyn and then took the Prestatyn to Dyserth Way (http://goo.gl/bDRa7) which is a disused railway line that they converted to a cycle path between the two towns. Great route up into the hills to Dyserth which has a great pub and an impressive waterfall. Even if you don’t have bikes you can walk it.

We’d also highly recommend a tour around Prestatyn town for lots of individual shops, a wealth of charity shops, but also this new shopping area they built also in centre of town which is pretty good (including Next, M&S (food too), Next, River Island, Tesco etc. free parking.

It took about an hour from Liverpool via Runcorn. I hope you enjoy – We want to move there!

 

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Review of Plumen pendant set

We have been changing the lighting in our communal rooms from the tacky Ikea halogens (which bulbs seemed to go continuously) to light fittings that take standard bulbs (read: energy efficiency drive). We could have gone with your standard pendant set from b&q such as this but instead opted for a fashionable Plumen pendant set. I was not impressed I’m afraid as can be seen in this video:

Worth knowing:

  • No instructions included
  • No inside to the ceiling rose so a very unsatisfactory quality of fitting – you will either have a gap between rose and ceiling or be in fear of it falling down with your valuable glass lamp shade
  • The wire is far from the fabric wire as advertised – it’s a black plastic wire with faux fish net covering.
  • Instead make your own set for peanuts out of black wire, a black lamp holder and painted black ceiling rose, or look around for something higher quality like this remade 1940’s bakerlite set

 

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Putting up an Ikea Pax Tonnes wardrobe on uneven floorboards

We made this short video which explains how we finally managed to put up our new Pax Tonnes wardrobe despite our wonky uneven floorboards. This wardrobe is great at what it does to keep all of our clothes together and organised rather than strewn across the floor. It’s got the space and organisation options we required. As our house is quite old (1900’s red brick terrace, high ceilings, wooden floorboards) we were worried that anything that resembled ‘fitted wardrobe’ would not suit, but the Pax Tonnes with glass doors and asian inspired cherry blossom design fits in very well, does not do away with the heritage of the house but instead just is.

But construction must surely be easier in a new build with level flooring. Our floor must have sunk slightly, as the joists and floorboards aren’t level any more. Not noticably so, but when putting up each of the components of the wardrobe (four individual cupboards screwed together) I noticed up to an inch difference in height. And for the rail and door system to fit/work they must be completely in line. Hence I packed each cupboard using varying amounts of ply to obtain an equal height. It took more than one effort.

Here’s the video:

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Kindle Fire review & comparison with Kindle 3

In this video we took a look at the Kindle Fire mini tablet device. This was from a viewpoint of which we have been using the Kindle 3 ebook reader for a number of years now, so it was interesting to compare and contrast both models. What is apparent is that these two devices serve two very different purposes and both are good at what they do.

If you want to get this device predominantly to read ebooks (like the ones you get from the Amazon Store then you still absolutely cannot go wrong with an ‘e-ink’ device such as the original Kindles (i.e. Kindle 3). The screen is much nicer on the eyes as it does not require a backlight which could otherwise be tiring to look at – but it’s only monochromatic which means good for black and white text and pictures. The battery life is astounding, probably about a month with reading every day. And it’s simple and easy to use. Works with the Amazon store, plus easy to email books to it (for example free books from Project Gutenburg). It does have a simple (albeit slow) web browser, can play mp3s through it’s onboard speakers, and does things like text-to-speech.

On the otherhand if you want something a bit more exciting, above and beyond just than consuming ebooks, then the Kindle Fire is your fella. This does it all: ebooks, movies, videos, music, newspapers, comics, the web. It is definitely a veritable iPad killer, the screen is more than adequate, media playback is good, the browser fully equipped, and it’s about a third of the price. Out of the box the Kindle Fire comes with a month free trial of LoveFilm which has a massive collection of videos to watch, which stream through your wifi connection (normally £5/month). There are also free trials for newspaper subscriptions. We thought that for reading ebooks however, the screen would feel too bright to use at length, also it was quite a hefty weight. Plus the battery will last you about 4-6 hours so get ready to charge everyday (or will it become just another piece of kit that is too much hassle to keep remembering to charge and you eventually top using regularly?)

So in conclusion:

Kindle Fire

  • Great for rich-media consumption
  • Make sure you factor in £5/month for the LoveFilm subscription (worth it if you go for the Fire)
  • Make sure you’ve got wifi in the places that you intend to use LoveFilm

Kindle 3

  • The superior ebook reader
  • Light and confortable screen to use
  • Simple menu system (screen reader for great accessibility)
  • Battery life is great
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Riu Hotels in Playacar, Mexico

We present videos from our honeymoon in Mexico that review the two hotels we stayed at, booked through Thomson holidays. The long and short of it is that we weren’t happy with initial hotel the Riu Playacar (our fault we didn’t work out what we wanted and also were a bit wowed with the trip to see through the marketing), so we paid for an upgrade to the Riu Palace Mexico which was much better for us, although even then we got a bit fed up with the whole all-inclusive thing (didn’t really sit with out usual individual choice of holiday. Anyway read on and watch them videos!

Initially we’d booked in at the Riu Playacar, Playa Del Carmen for the full two weeks. Fine for a holiday, but not for this one off occasion all the way over in Mexico, when you can get the same level pretty much standard closer to home.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vupcjig-Hkg

Things not great for our honeymoon:

  1. Basic rooms
  2. A large bed but made up of two beds pushed together (ok maybe that’s the norm here but at this hotel no effort to create one large bed, i.e. separate sheets and quilt
  3. Poor quality of spirits in the room. No brands apart from the tequila. The other spirits non-descript in label and taste and with these you’re not really tempted to use the all-inclusive because they’re not a pleasure to drink!
  4. Entertainment hall right outside the balacony so feels like being on a Butlins camp ’til late at night
  5. Food in the restaurants was ok but nothing more. Basically a large buffer restaurant where three-quarters of the food is weird mass produced garbage (colourful but basically chopped peppers and spam salads. Breakfast here was nice though. Then in evening there are two pop-up restaurants which are actually the one restaurant room split into two
  6. The traders that the management let into the hotel compound tend to setup their stalls in a way that makes it difficult to walk around at night and spoil the tranquility.

It sounds like we’re really hard to please! There were some good things: the breakfast was great, and also the bloody mary’s the guy in the lobby bar serves up (actually better than the Riu Palace does).

Normally we’d be very happy with this, but not when we spent so much money with Thomsons, to go halfway across the world, on our one (and hopefully only) honeymoon!

 

So after a couple of days we made the decision that if we did not ask to be moved to another hotel, we’d end up not enjoying our honeymoon. So we the Thomson rep organised a transfer to the Riu next door the Riu Palace. Unfortunately Thomson were unable to give us any kind of concessions to us on an upgrade so we had to pay the extra (can’t really complain about this), but they also passed on a £400 ‘cancellation’ fee (really annoying considering it was actually an upgrade and they were taking more money from us for the paid upgrade). We paid up because we felt we had little choice, we tried to ask for money on return after looking into it but no joy, nice way to start married life with another £2k debt. We had bought premium seat upgrade on plane, multiple excursions etc. Moldy buggers! Any honeymooners flying with Thomson you might want to check our paperwork below.

pdf

Complaint to Thomson about cancellation fee

Paperwork provided in-hotel about cancellation fee

Thomson After Travel response to our complaint

 

 

Anyway gave us an opportunity to carry out a further video review, and in the end we were very pleased we did make the move. The general hotel accomodation was much more luxurious and facilitating. The grounds were nice to walk through. Lots more restaurant choices as detailed in the video.

 

All in all, looking back now, it’s amazing that we went to Mexico. It was very relaxing for us after all the tiring and worrying preparations of our wedding. And we had a good time.

As an all-inclusive virgin I’m not sure I’d do it again. Foods an enjoyable part of the holiday for us as I’m sure it is for a lot of people, not just pile it high stuff, but tasting food that is unique from an area, traditional and basic quality. Neither hotels could deliver on this. I guess this is because they have to cut costs and they’re limited in their food selection being where they are on the Yukatan peninsula. But some of the restaurants were really hit and miss, and looking in the brochure they offer the same menus worldwide. The fusion restaurant ‘Krystal’ was absolutely dreadful! Most of the other restaurants absolutely piled on the salt into their dishes, and many dishes/sauces had some weird chlorine taste going on. Surprisingly the mexican food itself wasn’t up to much either (we did have good mexican food out one day when we visited Coba so we knew that it was about). The other tourists we spoke to were really surprised that we were there for two weeks – I guess that US visitors are there for shorter breaks during which time there is still a novelty factor. By the end of the holiday I was looking forward to getting back to our home kitchen and be the preparer of our own meals!

Update – The Riu Palace has gone undergone an update to their rooms, see a tour of the new accommodation in our video Riu Palace Mexico Playacar renovation 2012

So our advise for other honeymooners -

think wisely about what you are after. If you are after luxury see if you can find a smaller establishment that maybe provides just a bed and a breakfast but then leaves you and your tastebuds to make up your own mind for other meals out. See if you can get a better deal and time by staying in Europe. We had a fantastic holiday a couple of years ago at Palolem Beach in Goa India. We stayed at a place called Ciaran’s which was a small collection of beach huts, but didn’t feel like roughing it at all, very boho and beautiful and probably a good site cheaper than anything the Riu can do: http://ciarans.com/

pdf

Complaint to Thomson about cancellation fee

Paperwork provided in-hotel about cancellation fee

Thomson After Travel response to our complaint

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Watch “Tim Burton’s Queen of Hearts fancy dress make up” on YouTube

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