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It all starts with our arrival at the hotel pre-race in Jo’Burg, We’re looking around wondering who else is taking part;some are obvious; wearing old race shirts, others not at all like us, dressed like we are off on holiday knocking back a few beers; and then the ‘Austrian Army’ dressed in their team colours with ‘KAEM’ emblazoned across their kit, very obvious.  We all start to congregate the following morning ready for the flight to Upington & start to make our introductions.  Flying into Upington the starkness of the surrounds starts to dawn on all of us crammed into a tiny little plane, pretty much full of runners, as we look out the windows down below.  It’s not long before we’ve landed & bussed the remainder of the distance to the Kalahari Augrabies Falls Lodge, a last taste of luxury & our pre-race base.  On arrival we meet Nadia & Estienne Arndt, the masterminds behind this awesome challenge & are presented with our goodie bags, map & keys to our respective lodges. For the runners not travelling with a friend, the opportunity to meet their new room mate.  Lucky for us running together, so we know our roomie very well indeed.
It’s funny how you meet people & quickly form your ‘group’ from the very first night & start to make the unbreakable bonds we now all share after sharing such an amazing experience together.  Our first dinner together is a traditional South African ‘potje’, with plenty of Namaqua wine on tap (one of the race sponsors) and sit down to get to know our new friends.
The next morning is registration & briefing.  Estienne talks us through how the race will be marked, how the checkpoints work and some of the do’s & don’ts for the next week whilst the midges make an attack on all of us, and the local monkeys scamper about in the background wreaking havoc.  It’s then the process of getting all our kit checked out by the officials to make sure we have all the mandatory kit & of course enough calories to last us.  We are all busy checking out each other’s kit, checking out who has brought what, relief when you see others have the same or similar bits, and questions when you see other bits & pieces.  We get a final weigh in and a cursory chat with the medics to make sure we are all certifiably sane!  Then it’s time for the serious business of lunch, burgers & cordial, whilst fending off the monkeys & chatting to the fellow competitors about your final dry weight (pack without water), what food you’ve got for along the way, & of course how we all seem to have put on 2kgs before the race even started!  Think the scales might have been off!  We don’t hang around too long as other peoples comments about your food that you don’t have enough, or you don’t have the right stuff, start to get in your head so you’re best off not really getting into it; it’s too late to change anything anyway, and we had done enough research that we felt comfortable with what we had.  That evening we all meet again for a group dinner, a bit more subdued than the night before as people start to get the pre-race nerves, so it’s a quiet night for all ready for the big week ahead.
Race Day
It’s finally here!  Quite hard to believe that all that a training, preparation & hard work is now about to culminate into the adventure of a life time!  Temperature is a bit cooler than previous years to start, and for this we are eternally grateful for.  We are told that due to the high river levels we are going to have to start the day going through a river crossing, advising us to perhaps take our shoes & socks off to save them getting wet & perhaps resulting in blisters….not for us, hardened by running in the Manchester rain, why would we avoid the water, we spend most of our time running with wet shoes!  So we make the decision to run straight through as this is also what the front runners would be doing.  We get a final role call & we all line up under the starting banner just as a massive Gemsbok joins us for our start.  With a final wish of luck, we are off!  We make a strong start & Lucja actually hits the river crossing with the Gemsbok beside her which is an exciting start to her race, running eye to eye with him through the water.  It’s pretty much a warm up for the week with today’s stage totalling 26km (16miles).  Lucja runs though the first 2 checkpoints strongly, filling up with water along the way & am astonished to be told at the 3rd checkpoint that she’s 2nd lady! Shit!  Hardly able to believe that, she heads down a monstrous downhill (she hates steep rocky descents) and worry the whole way that the rest of the field will come tearing past me on this stretch.  Dion was already way ahead in any case, probably already finished for the day.  The downhill finally came to a close at a lake and then the long boulder hopping phase commenced.  Grateful in this section to have long legs we mange to clamber through. Thinking we are finally at the finish, the path takes a sharp turn left to finish the last 2kms through some thick, heavy sand, perfect to really zap the legs.  Neil Thubron has caught up with Lucja by here so they walk the last bit together, chatting away, putting in a final ‘run’ to the line.  What a day, Lucja is over the moon to find out she’s 2nd lady and in the low teens overall, with Dion in the top ten! What a start.  Dion has reserved a spot beside him in the camp so we go about doing some stretching, rehydrating & refuelling and setting up bed for the night.  The first night routine sticks the entire week, with Dion getting in first & the rest of our gang arriving & placing ourselves around him, we make sure we stretch thoroughly, get changed into camp casuals, drink, eat, drink, eat & make sure we book in for a massage (a half hour with Jess everyday was a Godsend) and making sure we spend plenty of time relaxing.  It was great to receive the messages of support that friends & family had emailed in each day, that was a real boost. Of course there is plenty of chit chat around the camp & it was truly spectacular to get to meet 62 fantastic competitors.  We had a blind runner, Patricia, taking part, lead strongly by Jess her guide, so we would all congregate at the finish to cheer them in, the first day in particular brought a tear to your eye, especially thinking about that horrible descent & the boulder stage which was tough enough when you could see where you were going.  Each night you get given your starting time depending on your placing, so the next day saw us both heading off at 8am with the latest group to start.
Day 2
After a restless night, not really campers, we all start the process of getting ready.  We’re amazed at how our legs feel, not half as sore and tender as after a marathon or even a half, so really keen to get going.  Each morning Lucja would do some Bikram Yoga poses to make sure she was stretching well & Dion stuck to stretching up well too.  We all would cheer the earlier group heading off, wishing them well & wondering when we would see them again, hopefully passing them along the way was always the plan!  A slightly longer leg today of 33kms(20.5 miles) with some very strange weather coming to the Kalahari…..rain! It never rains in the Kalahari they say, but rain it did! A dramatic thunderstorm complete with strong shards of lightning gave the scenery a dramatic & theatrical edge.  It was fun running today catching up to the slower runners, learning who was who along the way & quick bursts of chatter along the way.  The one thing you notice quickly is how supportive we all are of each other, it’s a great week of hearing how amazing you are and a great chance to shower your new friends with equally gracious compliments.  Lucja thought for sure she’d slow down today and the rightful 2nd lady would show her face…but no, she continues on with another strong day, finishing in the same position, as does Dion.  Well chuffed with that, we enjoy our rehydrated meals for the night, pondering how we are going to keep this up for another 5 days.
Day 3
Again, another 8am start, so after yet another restless night trying to sleep whilst the barrage of snoring kept Lucja awake, Dion wisely had earplugs but still didn’t get a great sleep either.  We enjoy yet another flapjack breakfast & cup of tea and get ready to go.  The mileage is building up, 37km (23 miles) today, so we try and pace myself, as Dion kept saying “run your own race, don’t worry about what anyone else is doing” which is easier said than done. One, we’ve never done multi day events so we only know how to run the race for that day, and two, we were both putting ourselves under pressure to hold our great positions, we certainly didn’t want to lose that even though our goal was to come here and ‘just’ finish.  The weather was starting to warm up a bit now, but not quite the Kalahari oven just yet, so it made sense to use that to my advantage whilst we could.  Finishing strongly again, though it probably didn’t look so strong after pushing through the last 5km through a never ending sandy, sand filled, sanded riverbed (did we mention sand?), absolutely soul & leg destroying it was a great surprise to find camp had a ‘pool’, a salty knee high thing of freezing water in which we flung ourselves in with all our kit for what felt like an ice bath.  After a few sandy days without a shower it was a welcome experience. It was also good to get back into camp to rest up as the sun got hotter.  Definitely an advantage to finishing quicker is that you spend less time in the sun, less time on your feet and you get more time to rest and recuperate.
Day 4
The long stage.  This is what we have been building for, and this is the day that can make or break you.  At 75km (46.6 miles) it’s a big day on your feet regardless of who are.  The earliest runners are off at 6am, Lucja was off at 10, Dion at 12, and the very top runners at 1pm, truly in the hottest part of the day.  Lucja headed off with ‘Princess’ our affectionately named Ginger Dane, Peter.  He was setting a cracking pace & she enjoyed running with him for a bit even though she knew she had set off too quick, and shortly before checkpoint 3 had to let him go.  The Kalahari was now showing her true colours with the heat coming in at full force.  During this Dion got his start, which was tough going in the heat to begin with, especially starting with the experienced runners.  Lucja got reprimanded at the 3rd checkpoint for not drinking enough water, & made a conscious effort to increase this as much as she could.  We had 3 withdrawals on this day, one down to pure dehydration, who got put on a drip, pretty scary stuff.  It was a long hard day & plenty of walk run scenarios going on. The sun was really taking it out of everyone to be fair, and we couldn’t wait for sun to come down.  We were going past the slower runners, but at the same time some of the faster runners were coming past us as well, remember the lead runners left at 1pm!  Lucja was wondering how long it would be before Dion caught her up too.  There were some low points, feeling pretty exhausted Lucja was keen for it all just to be over.  She passed the girls at checkpoint 7, Polly & Annelise who appeared to be having a great time, she was seriously struggling as she went shuffling past them.  It wasn’t long after that that her shuffling ceased to a walk, joined by Bakiya (last years female winner), before the girls caught them up again as they were powering on with an army style march.  Lucja knew she had to hang on to them to carry her through the last bit as she was quite literally fading away.  They got her to checkpoint 8 & could see that she had nothing left in the tank, & quite frankly couldn’t be bothered to eat now.  But they made her, they cooked up some instant mash & mug shot pasta for themselves & shared some mouthfuls with her.  Bakiya was also struggling so the four of them agreed to head off together as it was now pitch dark so it would be better together. Dion passed them just as we left the checkpoint, with a cursory check on Lucja, he carried on into the night going strong, still holding a great pace through the night.  6km’s later at the last checkpoint the food hit Lucja & she had a sudden burst of energy, and they started running, she checked with the girls but they were going back to a walk run, so off she went on my own through the night to reach the end.  The camp could have heard her coming, stumbling & groaning through the sand to reach the finish. It’s funny to see the video now, but having a camera thrust in her face after 12hrs on my feet, all she could manage was ‘I need some rest!’ Not quite the witty response one would have envisaged.  Happy to be reunited, but we were all cream crackered.  Wisely we did make sure we had our recovery shakes (chocolate For Goodness Shakes) & some dinner as the girls made it in & we all hunkered down to try & get some shut eye as a steady stream of people came through the night.  Can’t recall what time it was but it must have been about 8.30am the following morning when we were made aware that Patricia & Jessy were nearly there, so it was a good excuse to get up & stretch the legs to cheer them in after what was no doubt the longest day & night of their lives.
Rest Day – Day 5
Our camp was in a lovely spot, along the banks of the Orange River, with Namibia in swimming distance.  There was no way Lucja was missing out on the opportunity for a swim, so headed down to the river with the girls & managed to scavenge some shampoo from Annelise for a delightful hair wash!  The water was freezing, but so worth it, until she saw the size of the massive fish! Glad that was done, she washed out all her kit & dried off in the sun for a bit.  We spent the day just chilling, taking some video footage of the others with their thoughts & just eating and drinking as much as possible.  Everyone was in really high spirits and there was a really good vibe around the camp.  It was resembling a refugee camp with people walking in slow motion, some hobbling, some with the bodies being held together with tape and some with some seriously sore looking feet.  It was bloody hot though, so it was a matter of trying to lay still & keep as cool as possible.  We all went to bed early, as you do every night, when the sun goes down it’s time for bed, and apart from me having to ask a couple of ladies politely to stop chit chatting (they’d had all day for that!) I actually had a really good sleep.  You just start to get so tired that it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable you are, you are going to sleep at some point.

Day 6
This being the 2nd last day & what sounded like a walk in the park at 45km’s (28miles, just over a marathon); we were all lulled into a false sense of the downhill stretch.  Ha! Not likely.  The wind had come up along with the heat and it was in sandstorm conditions that we headed off.  We were off again in the 8am group with all the top 20, having held onto our positions.  Dion was off like a shot with Princess and they had a really strong race for most of the way together, coming across a snake, and getting slightly lost for a few minutes.  This day was Lucja’s worst and best rolled into one.  It was unbelievably tough.  The conditions weren’t pleasant to say the least & getting tired, pushing as hard as she could and had to fight back tears along the way.  She had Bakiya behind her for most of it, not wanting her to pass her and start to eat into her hour lead she had on her, so the main goal was to keep her at bay or at least keep her in my sights as Lucja knew as an experienced ultra runner she was coming into her strength.  She did come past her at checkpoint 5, so she followed her, which was hard to do as the trail was quite all over the place & rough she must have got a long way ahead of as I couldn’t see her anymore which deflated me even more, unbeknownst to me she had gotten lost and was actually behind her again.  Lucja managed the stage in just under 6 hrs which is actually an amazing time for that distance all things considered, but when she crossed the line to see Dion waiting for her, burst into tears.  It was unashamedly the hardest thing we have ever done. At the same time we were so happy to have accomplished it that they were years of joy as well.  We were pleased to hear that most people had shed some tears and found it equally as tough, and kept welling up each time another friend would arrive and also burst into tears.  It was an emotional day for us all, but this was it, we would all finish now, with one day to go of 26kms, we knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park but we were all going to make it!  The wind didn’t die down until nearly nightfall so we were all utterly exhausted & covered with sand from head to toe and in any & every orifice, so it was a pretty gritty night.

Day 7
The earliest runners left at 5:30am, Lucja was off at 7:30 and Dion at 8am.  This was quite literally the downhill stretch of 26km (16miles) though there were a few hills to conquer and we soldiered on.  It was pleasing to see Moon rock which we had to climb over indicating we were only a few Km’s from the finish, and this is where it went wrong for Lucja, the only part of the race that was poorly marked and she got lost.  Actually quite a few people got lost.  Dion had overtaken her without knowing it as she was lost which was a shame as we probably would have finished together.  It was so great to see that finish line and cross it.  Everyone felt like a celebrity when they crossed as all the focus was on you with everyone wanting to hug you and congratulate you.  It was truly wonderful.  What a welcome relief to find cold beers & sandwiches awaiting!  They went down an absolute treat, normally drying out sandwiches made with way too much butter spread on would turn me off, but these never tasted so good!  There was a swimming pool at the finish which we duly dived into with all our kit! How good did that feel!  A final weigh in showed Lucja had lost 4.5kgs during the week, and Dion 6.5kgs which we probably put back on in the first night!
After cheering everyone in we were given our keys& off we went for our long awaited showers.  It was great to get cleaned up and into some normal clothes and eat some real food.  We don’t know how many bacon & egg burgers the lodge sold that lunchtime, but it was a lot! Princess even ate 2! Dinner was a traditional Braai, with loads of beers & wine followed by a series of 10 shots! Why oh why!
The Finale
It was a day of leisure to prepare for the awards ceremony, and we made use of that by hiking about 10km along the Klipsinger trail back to Moon Rock so Dion could show Lucja where she had gone wrong. We weren’t the only ones with that idea and we caught up with quite a few others along the way.  We even found one of the Fluro trail markers that even the sweeper had missed it was so hard to find!

The awards night was really well done, the tables were all done up nicely & we all donned our nice clothes and it was a truly special night.  The presented us with our trophies and each person got the same recognition, from 59th to 2nd (1st has to get a bit more!). It was great.  Lucja’s first ever podium finish! She was so excited! And so proud!  Lucja was 14th overall and 2nd lady with 33hrs 39mins.  Dion was 6th overall which was absolutely amazing in 28hrs 20min.  What on earth could happen next?!?! The night finished with an auction for the race map on canvas which Dion bid for and duly won!  What a great reminder of our first ever multi stage race, along with our stunning trophies and our treasured memories.
What a fantastic event, it was so well organised, the people were fantastic; from the runners to the volunteers; and such a magical part of the world.  We were sceptical at first about the talk on the website about how everyone becomes family (a bit cynical if you will) but now we get it, I really get it.  We are already missing our new family & we can see us doing this event again in years to come.

For more information visit http://www.extrememarathons.com/

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3 weeks in India, what a dream come true…But barely scratching the surface of such a vast & beautiful country. Oh well, we’ll just have to come back!

We started our holiday in Magical Mumbai, the city that never sleeps, we did though, very well indeed at some superb establishments such as the Sofitel at the start of the holiday and the ‘piece de resistance’ at the end, the opulent Taj. That’s one off the bucket list! Mumbai surprises you around every corner with ever changing sights and sounds, a city of contrasts from the extreme luxury of being waited on hand & foot at The Taj to the day to day living of Dharavi slums. The slums aren’t what you expect, it’s not about feeling sad and sorry for the inhabitants, theses are their homes that are not cheap, and the people work hard to be able to live there. Of course there is poverty to be seen on the streets but with a city with a population of over 20 million, you’re bound to see that, as in every city. We split our time in Mumbai in two, so after a few days in Mumbai, it was time to head to the sandy shores of Goa for 5 nights of sun, sand & Goan curries!

We’re ‘Goan’ to have a good time! And that was not hard to accomplish in beautiful, idyllic, laid back South Goa where we headed next. Morning runs along the beach followed by long, lazy days soaking up the sun, sand & surf, enjoying chilled Kingfisher beers & Goan prawn curries were perfect for this part of the trip to truly unwind. Dion departed a day early to fly via Chennai to catch the last day of the India Vs Australia test cricket, leaving Dutchie to her own devices. Making full use of alone time, it was a definite must for a blissful Thai foot, head & back massage (wait I thought we were in India? But who am I to be picky…massage away!). Getting an early start at dawn to watch the sunrise & fit in a glorious 16 mile run along the beach the following morning, Dion’s probably glad he missed that treat! 5 nights flew and before we knew it, we were off to Kerala for the next instalment of our holiday.

Our week in Kerala consisted of cruising through the Kerala backwaters on a houseboat, watching daily life along the water ways; searching for tigers in Periyar Tiger Reserve trekking along the borders of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, not finding any tigers, but a plethora of wildlife; and sipping tea and viewing the spectacular vistas of Munnar tea plantations high up in the mountains.

Incredible India, a holiday that takes you out of your regular life and throws colour, sights, sounds and smells at you to truly give you an incredible experience, India we will see you again soon!

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Our 2 week Moroccan holiday started with a challenge; to climb North Africa’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal at 4,167m elevation.  It was a fantastic 3 day trek which we did with our own guide, mule and muleteer who cooked for us along the way cooking up delicious feasts of tagines, couscous and Berber whisky (mint tea!).  We left left Imlil, which is at 1,740m already to Lipeney Mountain Refuge at 3,000m. Day 2 was described quite righthly as a fairly stiff climb through the Aguelzim Mountain pass at 3,560m to spend the night at the Toubkal base camp (Niltner Hut).  An early start of 4am on day 3 saw us be the first climbers to reach the summit, apart from Oscar Perez an ultra marathon runner we met on-route who had spent the night up there cosied up in his sleeping bag!  Was a glorious climb to reach the summit, starting with head torches in the dark, to watching the sun come up over the Atlas mountains, it was a sight to behold.  After taking in the sights on what felt like the top of the world, we had a 2,500m descent all the way back to Imlil for the night.  How we wish we had brought walking sticks, that was hard going on the knees and quads that’s for sure!
The next few days saw us doing a tiki tour through stunning gorges of Dades and Todra, a massive fault in the Atlas mountains, visiting tiny berber villages and Kasbahs along the way.  Passing through Ouarzazate, where the Atlas film studios (The Mummy, Sex and the City2) are located and visiting Ait Ben Haddou, an ancient fortified city Unesco World Heritage site.  Ait Ben Haddou is stunning with crumbling earthen buildings making up the Kasbah where movies such as The Mummy, Gladiator & Lawrence of Arabia were filmed, they were busy filming an African movie when we were there.  We did a great run there running through landscape that looked like something from Mars!
Overnight in the Sahara dessert after a camel safari from Merzouga was spectacular, complete quiet and darkness, soaking up the stars in the night sky.  Though we can remember why we haven’t ridden a camel since our Rajasthan, India trip in 2007 – ouch!
With a one night stop over in Marrakesh we made the most of  Djeema El Fna and ate at the nightly food markets, enjoying the traditional sheeps head.  We took the bus to Essaouira, spotting goats in the Argan trees along the way which is a funny sight.  We relaxed in the coastal town of Essaouira for 3 days, relaxing along the beach, bartering with the local fisherman for fresh tasty sardines and the Berbers for some local art & craft pieces.  We got to enjoy some Moroccan beers, Flag & Casablanaca, as well as some tasty wines from Meknes to rejuvinate before catching a train via Casablanca heading over to the hustle and bustle of Fes where we explored its crazy medina and leather tanneries.
http://www.atlastrekshop.co.uk/
http://www.riad-darloussia.com/en

Leonards’ of Arabia

Posted: June 16, 2012 in Travel
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Viewing Jordan from the air on arrival, we were stunned by how remote and sparse the country appeared. How wrong we were! Yes, it’s not built up like our western societies but the deeper you delve into the thousand colours of the desert, sit back and really look, you find life and action everywhere. You think you are completely alone in the middle of the desert of in a valley and upon closer inspection you see a Bedouin (someone who was born & raised in the desert or in the mountains, living side by side with nature in black tents or caves), and you are promptly invited to ‘chai’ (tea).

We were looked after fabulously by Mohammed from Zaman Tours, who organised an awesome itinerary to make the most of our 9 days in Jordan. We arrived in Amman and visited the best preserved Roman cities in the world, in the city of Jerash. Experienced the surreal feeling of being covered in black mud before soaking our time away in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth, it’s impossible to sink in there due to the high salt content, it’s a surreal feeling. We viewed the promised land from Mount Nebo where Moses was given the same view before he died, and hence has become an important place of Christian Pilgrimage. Roughly midway between Amman and Petra, stands the imposing Kerak Castle which is a large crusader castle which served as a base for one of the Crusaders’ most notorious characters, Reynald of Chatillon who used to like flinging prisoners off the high jagged battlements onto the rocks below. Full of numerous vaulted passageways, you feel like a real explorer wandering through the fortress and its dungeons.

Before our walk through the Dana Biosphere Reserve, we stayed perched on the edge of the cliffs of the Wadi Dana looking into the valley below where we would hike the next day, taking in a glorious sunset. The Guest house was absolutely charming, and it helps nature and people through business, employing all local people and using only local produce. We hiked the next day 14km through the valley to the unique, candle lit Feynan Ecolodge which is deep in Wadi Araba’s remote landscape. What a fantastic experience, we met Bedouins along the way and enjoyed their hospitality whilst admiring the glorious landscapes and wildlife.

Touring through various desert landscapes we ventured through the rugged mountain terrain of the Jordan Valleys and the Rift Mountains. The road itself is worth the trip, as long as you can encourage your driver to stay well away from the edge. The views are something else! Impossible to capture on camera but absolutely breathtaking. After a white knuckle drive we took in the sites of Little Petra, discovering ancient cave paintings, before bunking down to a glorious nights’ sleep at the Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, who would have thought we would enjoy camping so much (however this would be classed more as glamping!). Then it was time to view Petra, the reason most people come to Jordan; a historical & archaeological city. It is a city hidden amid the dramatic rock formations of Wadi Musa, the stunning facades were carved out of the red-hued rock by hand over 2,000 years ago.

A day in Wadi Rum was just not enough to explore this stunning desert. It’s known as the valley of the moon, and a trip up in a microlight flight showed us why. It is a valley cut into the sandstone and granite rock and is a spectacular desert that is just begging to be hiked, ran and scrambled around to really enjoy all it has to offer! Wadi Rum we will be back!

We finished off our time in Jordan, taking a dip in the Red Sea at the Radisson Blu, Aqaba, only 9km from the border of Saudi Arabia. We took full advantage of the facilities, relaxing in the infinity pool, great massage and of course quite a few cold beers and cocktails to finish off with!

Want to go to Jordan:

Speak to Mohammed from Zaman Tours – he was fab!  http://www.zamantours.com

Definite recommendations to stay at:

Feynan Eco-Lodge & Dana Reserve Guest House http://www.rscn.org.jo/orgsite/wj/Group2/CampsiteslodgesandGuesthouses/tabid/171/default.aspx

Microlight Flights Wadi Rum – http://www.your-guide-to-aqaba-jordan.com/microlight-flight-in-wadi-rum.html

For a Bedouin Camp experience – http://www.sevenwondersbedouincamp.com/

Aqaba Red Sea relaxation – www.radissonblu.com/resort-aqaba

 

 

Telford Tigers to Lapland, Wales

Posted: December 27, 2011 in Travel

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With Tad & Rina visiting from Holland, we took them on a tour of Telford and Wales.  Arriving in Manchester they were treated by Dion to a wonderful treat of Fish n Chips at Fosters in Didsbury, a quick visit to Old Trafford and then off to Telford.  We wandered through the old Victorian Village of Blists Hill and watched the Telford Tigers take on the Peterborough Phantoms in a game of Ice Hockey, unfortunately Telford lost, but it was a great game!  On Sunday we jumped on the Santa Special, an old steam train, from Langollen to Lapland in Wales, enjoying Mulled wine and mince pies along the way and a visit with Santa!

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The Philly marathon beckoned, and after a long 5 months of training the day had arrived.  We were spoilt with a gorgeous day in Philly, sunshine for Dion, the cheer squad, and cool temps for Lucja, running.  Rocky set approximately 25,000 people off with a bang outside the Museum of Art, with half the croud running the half marathon and the rest the full marathon, all 26.2 miles of it.  A fantastic atmosphere through the city streets, with plenty of supporters, live music and even a beer stand along the way.  Dutchie couldn’t have done as well without Dion supporting along the way, especially at 24 miles when the going was tough!  Medal awarded, and we were off to the airport for a well deserved Philly steak and beer before a flight to Sin City, Vegas.

The oppulent Caesers Palace, as seen in the movie ‘The Hangover’ was our home for the week in Vegas, and was just perfect.  Unbelievable array of shops, bars, restaurants and gambling along with so many bedrooms, all in the one place!  We caught up with our old friends Shaun and Sheree, who have made their home in Vegas, was fantastic after nearly 10 years since we saw them last.  From enjoying Cosmos at the Cosmo, rollercoasting through New York New York, Water fountains at Bellagio, shopping the Black Friday Sales (girls), Go Karting in the desert (guys) to Man Vs Food meals at Hash n Go Go, we were up and down ‘The Strip’ soaking up the bright lights of this city that never sleeps.

Back in Philly for a few days  gave us an opportunity to explore the city in a way that we didn’t have the chance to on our shorter visit last year, exploring the city in more detail and getting more into the local way of life.  We made sure we saw as many of the original Rocky sights as possible.  From a hairy visit to Kensington (it’s pretty rough out that way to say the least) to see 1818 Tusculum (Rocky’s original house) and Mick’s Gym to running the steps at the Museum  of Art.

Crazy, Chic, Cool….ombia

Posted: July 31, 2011 in Travel

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Crazy, Chic, Cool….ombia

Our first ever trip to South America and we decided to venture into Colombia.  We arrived in the capital city of Bogota and our eyebrows were raised travelling to our hotel seeing machine gun wielding guards every 200m along the road.  Though initially unnerving, we settled in quickly and discovered how friendly the rolo’s (local Colombians) are.  Filled with anticipation we hit the streets of Bogota exploring the old famous part of town, La Calanderia, a bohemian district, savouring the local delicacies in particular Chicken Ajaico, a tasty mix of 3 types of potatoes, chicken, massive juicy corn, avocado and cream, enjoyed with some superb Colombian coffee.  We caught the cable car up to the dizzying heights of Monseratte, 3,152m above sea level, which is a Pilgrim destination with a church and shrine rising high above the capital city.  Bogota is the 3rd highest city in South America as it is, and it definitely caused us to be short of breath walking up the shortest of hills.  We travelled out of the city into the Andes mountains and spent a day hiking about and seeing an operating coffee plantation in action, with plenty of testers.  They make a superb brew!  Definitely brought back some samples of the beans to keep us going for a while.

We caught a domestic flight to the Caribbean coastline, to Cartagena.  We rented out a house for the week in the old town neighbourhood of Getsemani so we could be living in amongst the locals rather than staying in a hotel, which was fantastic.  There was a small square around the church where every night the locals (and us) gathered, and enjoyed chilled beers and eating food of the BBQ carts that were set up, or dined in the little cafes that lined the streets.  It was so entertaining just watching the daily life, and at 9pm each night the locals would do an impromptu aerobics class and salsa dancing!  We never did join in, with a belly full of food and beer that never seemed like a good idea!

Cartagena was so colouful, the buildings were magnificently painted in bright colours, with the people equally as colourful!  The brightest and freshest of fruit was available, tasty seafood, all washed down with Aguila for the gentleman and Mojito for the lady (Cafe Del Mar rocks!).  85% humidity meant a pretty laid back way of life in this town that was surrounded by fortified walls, so we spent the week in slow mo, appreciating the sights, smells, sounds and wonders of this beautiful place.

So much more to see in a fantastic country, we will defnitely be back!!

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