A Jam-packed January

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I can’t believe January is already over! My memories of travelling are slipping further and further away and I am getting back into the swing of life in Dubai. I still have many travel stories to write and hope I will find the time this month. Although I am embracing being back in Dubai I am missing South America a lot. I am grateful for January’s array of events and being able to catch up with old friends as well as meeting many new people. I also had my grandma in town so it was nice to spend time with her, she loves flowers so I took her to Dubai’s miracle gardens which was lovely! There are lots of new venues opening up and it was a great but busy month here are my highlights:

New Years fireworks in Dubai are always fantastic but this year they outdid themselves by placing the worlds largest LED screen on the Burj Khalifa, they had a wonderful light show combined with the fireworks, the lightshow remained on until January the 8th. I booked a table on the balcony at the Rivington Grill in Souk al Bahar so that I could have a delicious dinner accompanied by a fantastic show:

I was happy to be back in the sunshine so enjoyed Market OTB which was a daytime event in Southridge park. Another nice family day out was Dubai’s Miracle Gardens, It takes about an hour and a half to see it all with stopping for pictures and they have little restaurants and cafés. The flowers are all the same but beautiful nonetheless and its incredible how they have made monuments out of them such as the Burj Khalifa, beautiful peacocks, houses and cars.

Theres a fantastic new restaurant in town called Tribeca Kitchen & Grill in JA Oceanview hotel in JBR. It was a really cool venue, huge and artsy and had a real cool loungy feel. They provide a platform for local entertainment – I loved the band they had for the launch. They have healthy and organic food, I tried a couple of the salads…they were ok, the cheesecake was pretty good. Will have to go back and sample some of the food, it serves Mediterranean and American contemporary cuisine. I think its definitely got a great vibe and is a nice place to hang out, it fills a gap in the market with it being a lounge that is also a creative space, it felt unpretentious despite the launch crowd which was full of Dubai’s socialites.

Another great restaurant that has opened up is the Delphine Restaurant at the H hotel. It has a chic art deco inspired venue with marble floors and crystals fringing the bar. The original restaurant is a popular celebrity haunt in West Hollywood, California. It certainly was a fine dining experience, the service was perfect and the food was delicious, I enjoyed everything…even a raw meat “kibbeh” dish which I was apprehensive to try. Afterwards we headed up to the 40th floor to check out 40 Kong, it is a beautiful venue but was very crowded as anticipated. I think its somewhere you can fully enjoy with a table reservation.

40 kong

40 Kong

It was V-Cloud’s one year anniversary party,  V-Cloud offers a world of unique opportunities, refined tastes and unparalleled exclusivity. It is a one of its kind rewards and privileges program designed to enhance your experience in the lap of luxury. We had a wonderful night at their lavish birthday party.

My most anticipated event was the Latin American festival, it was the first of its kind in Dubai and I was really excited to see what it would be like. I think they underestimated the turnout as it was jam packed but it was a really fun event. It was in an alley in Al Quoz, the street was lined with stalls selling Art, South American food and there were crowds around the salsa dancers who were performing. I picked up a few trinkets and was happy to practice my Spanish. I hope they have more events like that, it was a great night!

Guatape, A Colourful Paradise

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Colombia was the first trip that I did without any research or preparation but I had a plan. I just jotted down recommendations from people and facebook pictures of places I thought looked nice. I felt very unprepared, I didn’t even have a guide book, usually on the way to somewhere I would read about it but this time I was going in blind. It was actually a very exciting way to travel, just knowing that I would probably like the place but having no idea whether it was historical, cultural, touristy, dangerous, good for night-life or good for hiking.

On the way to Guatape I knew it had a massive rock that you can climb and that it looked beautiful and was surrounded by water. I knew I wanted to climb the rock and try and find a boat to take me for a little cruise around and everything else would be a surprise. The bus drops you to the bottom of a hill on which stands the gigantic rock, scattered around are the most vibrant Motos (tuk-tuk/Rickshaws) I have ever seen and trust me, India has some colourful ones so they were pretty epic. I looked at the rock standing over 200m high and thought it will be exhausting climbing those 649 steps to the top so the moto taxi till the bottom of the rock would be a good idea to conserve my energy. It ended up being slightly faster then walking as at some points it felt like it was going to start going backwards but we got there in the end.

The way the rock was formed was incredible, it had a crack through the middle in which they had built stairs. You could see it from miles away, it stood higher then any of the mountains around and the landscape was stunning. The walk up the rock took about 20 minutes, I stopped every few minutes to catch my breath and admire the incredible views. There were so many tiny islands around us, I had never seen anything like it, it was gorgeous and the higher you climbed the better the views, the islands continued for as far as I could see and nestled in the centre of the islands were some very colourful buildingst. When I got to the top of the rock I was exhausted, they had built a viewing deck on top of a turret with a further 100 stairs or so. I walked around the top to admire the different views on every side and then proceeded to climb the final 100. It was gorgeous up there, I could have literally stood there for hours. There was a gift shop and restaurant up there and we sat and had some ice-cream before climbing back down.

The moto driver was still there, he asked us if we wanted to go to the town and pointed to the colourful buildings I had seen earlier. The drive there was bumpy but beautiful, the picturesque landscape continued and as we got closer the town came into view and it was so bright and colourful. As we stepped out I couldn’t stop taking pictures, the buildings were all different colours and the walls were adorned with paintings and colourful wood panels. The motos did not stand out in that town, they just blended in. They even painted the ceilings of their motos! We wandered around the quaint streets and then headed for the waterfront to find somewhere to eat. We had a great meal with a wonderful view and then I began the hunt for someone to take us on a boat ride. After bargaining for ages we found a guy to take us on his speedboat for half an hour, it was pricey and if you have more time I would recommend waiting for the big ferry tours. It was a beautiful ride and even from miles away you could see the huge rock. I could have spent longer in Guatape, it was so colourful and cute and it just made me happy! From the boat you could see the islands had huge mansions on them and our driver showed us some cottages that you could rent for holidays, I would love to stay there for a few days. There were many water-sports on offer and it was just serene and a wonderful place to unwind. I hope one day I get to go back to Guatape 🙂

Medellin, A Story of Hope

DSC_0147My first two weeks in Colombia were not very culturally rich, most days consisted of chilling in hammocks, by pools or beaches and most nights were spent checking out the night-life. In fact I think the most cultural thing I had done until Medellin was to go on a party bus which played typical Colombian music and attracted a South American crowd. So far Colombia had been a pleasant surprise because in the Western world we are only fed negative stories and are painted a picture of a very unstable, unsafe country. We tend to associate Colombia with cocaine and the infamous King Of Cocaine, Pablo Escobar. We are generally told one side of his story, the one where he is portrayed as a Robin Hood character, the best way to hear the other side of the story was to go to his home-town of Medellin where he took his first steps on his criminal career ladder as an alleged grave-stone robber. Here he climbed the ladder to a thief, kidnapper, drug cartel and mass murderer.

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Pablo Escobar

My first night at the hostel, I asked some Colombians what they thought of Escobar, whether he did help his people or whether they felt he had ruined their country, one wasn’t bothered and the other completely flipped out saying not to speak about him around her as she didn’t want to hear his name. This strong reaction was the more common one, most people hated him and hated that tourists gave him such importance. They felt he had ruined them and caused years of suppression and war and hated that Colombia was associated with him.

I went on a walking tour of Medellin which I would highly recommend, you can book it HERE, this further solidified that this view was the more popular one. Our tour-guide began his introduction by saying he knew a number of us would want to ask about Pablo Escobar but to please refer to him as “the famous criminal” as it would cause problems if passers-by heard us saying his name. He explained that it was obvious that we were tourists and if he was heard telling a bunch of gringos about Escobar, they would assume he was glorifying his name and associating Colombia with him thereby giving him importance he didn’t deserve as the country had a lot more to offer.

Parque de las luces symbolising Hope

Parque de las luces symbolising Hope

We went to the Parque de las luces (Park of Lights). As we stood there, our guide explained that just 15 years ago that square was like hell on earth. He said his mother would be afraid of sending him to school as he had to walk through it and bombs would blast or people would be kidnapped or mugged. He said that Medellin was the worst city in the world, that people lived in terror and were afraid to leave their homes. As his story progressed to the present day, he beamed with pride as he described the transformation that had taken place. How the lights in this square represented hope for the people of Medellin and how a building that was previously a refuge for drug addicts had been transformed into a library as Medellin wanted to forget its tumultuous past and promote hope and education to inspire the next generation to be better. Forbes Magazine recently voted Medellin as the most innovative city in the whole world!

First Train Network in Colombia

First Train Network in Colombia

We travelled by train there, this was incredible as it was the only city to have a train network in Colombia and it was a good one. Trains were regular and simple to get and it symbolised modernisation and moving forward. I was fascinated that they had escalators in the slums, they felt people already living a hard life shouldn’t have to struggle, that after they had finished a days work, they shouldn’t have to climb up hills for hours to get to their houses and wanted to make their lives easier so they installed escalators. The poor areas were the first to be invested in as these were where people really needed to feel cared for and to realise that they mattered too. They then installed cable cars which went through the slums allowing people to get to their houses safely without having to walk for hours through dangerous areas at night. I went on these cable cars and found it so amazing that the poorest region had the slickest transport system! Our guide had told us that you will never find people eating, doing graffiti or scratching windows on public transport as it was something that they were incredibly proud of. It put London to shame as I looked around and realised despite being almost 20 years old it was immaculate.

Incredible Views

Incredible Views

The views were beautiful although we were riding over slums, the backdrop was green mountains and the cityscape. One of the routes takes you over the mountains to a beautiful national park, Parque Arvi. We did a quick walking tour and our guide showed us various species of plants as we walked through the forest.

Botero donated many sculptures to the city to add value and make Medellin even more beautiful. I was touched by the story of how one of his sculptures of a bird was blown up at a concert, killing and injuring many. The council wanted to remove the sculpture but he insisted its remains were kept on display as a reminder of lives lost and Colombia’s terrible past. He made a new sculpture of a bird standing proud with a puffed up chest which he placed next to it, this symbolised the present, a transformation that Colombians can be proud of.

Symbolising the new and old Medellin

Symbolising the new and old Medellin

Colombians are some of the friendliest people I have ever met, they want to show you around and tell you all the best places to see as tourism is something new for them. They finally have a country that isn’t hostile and they are so proud to be able to share it and will take time out of their day to ensure that you have a good experience without wanting anything in return which is something that made Colombia a rare and beautiful experience for me.

A friend of mine also blogged her experiences of Medellin, you can check that out here