Tag Archives: travel

Kyoto – a step back in time…

Kind and beautiful Kyoto…

Konichiwa all. Morning. I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop in Kyoto train station awaiting my bullet train back to Tokyo. I’m feeling a bit emotional to be honest. Let me explain why.

I was here in Japan on business. The last week was spent at a conference in Tokyo. That was great fun, but so exhausting. Normally on these business trips (and the first week was no exception) we go from airport to hotel, to meetings to dinner and to sleep. A bit like the song – Eat, sleep, network, repeat. Or something along those lines… (see the tired eyes below)

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Japan is a country I have longed to visit, but for one reason or another it hasn’t quite happened. So  as I am here for 11 days on business I decided to escape for the weekend to the old Capital of Japan – Kyoto.

Friday I left the amazing Capitol Tokyu hotel (who kindly kept my suitcase for me until I get back to Tokyo – that’s not a big thing here) with my wekekend bag, my matcha latte and my guide book. I hopped on the Subway (so easy, all lines are colour coded like the UK) and headed to Tokyo station to catch the Shakinsesen (bullet train). Kyoto is 536 miles away, and the train covers that in 2 hours and ten minutes. I treated myself to a green ticket (first class here) as it was only £20 more! Total return – £165.

Embarking the train was an experience – the crew bowed to me, and escorted me to my seat (Network Rail & all UK train companies take note).  The seats are huge. They recline, and have footrests. I laid back, put my feet up, and thought of Kyoto.  Until we sped up. Then I was not so comfortable. It was a little weird to begin with – a kinda out of body weird. However, after the initial stages of panic, it all became quite a pleasant experience! If you ever get the train, sit on the right to see Mount Fuji. What a delight, even on a grey day.

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Mount Fiji – stunning!

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Before I knew it we had arrived. I’m staying at the Westin Kyoto, as they offer free shuttle buses & Japanese style accommodations (Ryokans). I’m not brave enough on my own to go fully local! Many Ryokan owners do not speak any English, and although they provide traditional breakfast and dinner each day, I want to explore more. This option gives me the best of both worlds.

My room was beautiful- a traditional layout with low seating and a plunge cedar wood bath. Just walking into the room made me feel calm and serene. Japanese culture is one of respect, calmness and happiness- something I really wish we could do more.

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Despite the rain I decided to take a walk. Due to the rain not much was open, but I found somewhere to sit and stare at a temple whilst sipping some tea. A pure moment after the weeks work excursions!

Tired and hungry I headed back via the sushi counter (see the piccie below). I could literally eat my body weight in the stuff (currently quite large). As I headed to my room, my futon had been made up for me and I fell asleep in seconds – first time this week!

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However, my slumber didn’t last long – I was woken by a dripping noise on my futon. I had a leaky roof. Not what you need at that time of the night. So after a call to reception, a lot of apologising I was moved to the normal part of the hotel. Gutted to say the least! Even more gutted when I was told the hotel was fully booked the rest of the weekend and I needed to move hotels. However, the Regency Hyatt was an amazing alternative! Well worth the price. So welcoming and beautiful. Rooms were clean, comfy, and with a huge walk in shower certainly washed away the aches and pains from the sightseeing- over 22km in 2 days was tiring!

Saturday morning (after moving hotels) It was time to see the old Japan. Via various shrines and temples I headed on foot to Gion, renowned for its traditional way of life. With its miriad of little lanes, full of wonderful Japanese style shops and restaurants it was truly breathtaking – I felt like I had walked into another world, or jumped back in time. After some perusing I stopped for lunch in a traditional restaurant serving a set menu (called Teisoko). Only 4 tables, very serene and calm. A break from the world outside with its bustling and winding streets. My beautiful lunch of fish, sushi, vegetables, pickles, rice made me human again. Followed by a wonderful ice cream from red beans. Delicious! Ready for the afternoon! As I left, I was so lucky to catch a glimpse of 2 beautiful Geisha girls scurrying along the street to their next appointment – a rare and beautiful sight which left me mesmerised and brimming with joy.

 

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I spent the afternoon meandering around Downtown Kyoto – not forgetting the sensory overload that is the food market. Wow. Small alleyways laden with produce – from fish of ALL kinds, to vegtables, noodles to rice, spices to teas the place is a MUST for anyone visitors Kyoto. Full of bargains, I only wish I could bring it all home! Instead I settled for squid on a stick, and a cucumber on a stick to munch on as I browsed. Both delicious as you can see (suprisingly!).

To my delight I found a tea shop. Here I bought some wonderful teas which are roasted gently in house on traditional and old roasters then mixed to make a perfect blend. The owner didn’t speak a word of English, but he ushered me to a seat to try 4 types – kind of a try before you buy gig. Needless to say I left with 2 kinds, and a very big smile.

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Downtown Kyoto is a mix of Western chain stores and small coffee bars, cake shops, bars and restaurants. Totally fabulous. I spent hours here trying the local delights – mainly all delicious (avoid the omelette and blue tofu though). Sake sampled I wandered back a little hazey to my hotel, bath and bed exhausted but buzzing from the day..

Sunday – I woke up feeling the effects of the day before.  My legs were sore, but it was time to grab breakfast and head to the Temple (it is Sunday). And if you are going to visit any Temple make it a Golden One! Kita-Ku (golden pavilion) is a UNESCO world heritage sight, and deservedly so. A truly beautiful area of natural beauty – with the most amazing golden temple.  I didn’t expect it to be so shiny! I sat up on a hill just taking it all in – the vibe was so peaceful despite the crowds. People flock in their thousands to visit here and I can totally see why. I can’t describe how it made me feel, I guess the best phrase is ‘at peace’. Not something I experience very much it has to be said.

After a quick visit to the Imperial Palace (don’t bother) I headed to Fushimi Ku. Yes, another temple and shrine – but one of architectural brilliance. Time out describes it as “unmissable  ”

First – lunch. I stumbled off the train into a ramen shop. It what a hidden gem. The staff and chef were so friendly as I watched them cook everything freshly for its 10 customers (maximum capacity). I was gobsmacked to see gluten free fried chicken by using a little rice flour to hold the marinade, keeping it juicy and crisp. This led to a mini cookery lesson from the larger than life chef – and a plate devoured by moi. Along with a bowl of ramen (rice noodles) I was so gluttonous I had to leave before I burst!

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Off I rolled to the shrine itself. Like all places in Japan despite the crowds, everyone is polite and calm. Maybe it’s all the temples and good vibes! Let’s just say Time Out were not wrong. What a marvel. I wandered along the pathways through the beams, marvelling at the sheer brilliance of it all. Photos do not do it justice at all, but hopefully you get a sense of how amazing it is here.

My legs and feet told my brain it was time to head back to rest a little, so off I went. Always good to listen to the mind and body when they agree! Snooze complete I headed to dinner. I decided to treat myself at Touzan – the stunning restaurant in the Hyatt. It was a delight. Small, perfect portions (after ramen and fried chicken I wasn’t starving!) of dreamy sushi, figs in miso, and Wagyu beef all washed down with a super sake, amd a matcha ice cream to end.

Bedtime called, signalling the end of my Kyoto weekender. It was a certainly a special one – brain button reset, ready to head back to the madness of Tokyo for my last 48 hours in Japan to work and play hard. And what an amazing few days it was… next instalment to follow!

Axx

Singapore, Sleep and the last days of Summer…

 

Hey all, Happy Sunday!

Just a little update on what has been going on since we spoke 2 weeks ago.  If I remember, I wrote to you all when I was heading to the airport for my trip to Singapore for work.  I was not exactly enthusiastic about my trip – until I got to check in and found @britishairways had upgraded me to First! Woohhhhoooo.

Now I am lucky enough to travel for my job, and get to go Business Class on many long haul trips.  I am spoilt now and try to go business class on my own cash (not always possible).  There is a difference in experiences, and BA usually are an 8/10.  So I was extremely interested to see the difference.

Good start – at Heathrow you get your own check in area.  It has more staff than passengers for check in and your own security area – both meaning no queues (hallelujah). This leads you straight into the BA lounge – no fuss, no trekking through the airport.  This is sheer bliss to a traveller like myself (my grumpiness levels began to decrease).

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As I was travelling first, I was allowed into the Concorde Lounge – BA’s premier lounge at T5.  This has its own bar – serving amazing wines, cocktails and pretty much any drink you fancy.  You could also sit and dine at their mini restaurant serving full 3 course meals – again a delight if you are about to get on a long haul plane and want to rest.

I decided to sip some pink bubbles, eat a healthy chicken salad and relax.  I did notice how empty this area was, but maybe that was down to the time of day – 8pm on a Saturday night is hardly premium time for flights!

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I was greeted when I got on the plane by the Pilot (Kim who was hilarious).  Always nice banter with them.  Reassuringly BA!  A glass of champagne was handed to me while I settled into my seat, with my own mini wardrobe to hang my clothes as i got MY OWN PJS’!  Now the idea of putting my pyjamas on in front of a group of strangers was not one I was particularly comfortable with.  But as the stewardess said, think of it as a quiet Saturday night in with your Pj’s, an amazing meal, films and food.  Now when you put it like that.. grumpiness now gone.

IMG_6474.jpgI settled down to my 3 course meal which was fab.  Not too heavy, a light fish dish, fruit for desert and a wonderful glass of bubbles to wash it all down.  My only critisism was there was no pink champange (first world problems I know) if it is in the lounge it should be on the plane – thanks BA.

I watched a few films, but I have to say I was not overly impressed with the film selection.  I watched La La Land (weird but good) and Lion (great film – please watch!) and then it was time for a sleep.  The stewardess made up my bed – well, put the chair flat, put my mini cover mattress thingy and my quilt on.  I snuggled down and slept for 7 hours straight. Bliss.

On waking, breakfast was served.  A wonderful omelette and coffee sorted me out.  Copious amounts of mint tea and wonderful service kept me going.  Thanks to the wonderful crew on my flight, you truly made this girl happy.

Finally 13 hours later we landed.  I did feel refreshed, and able to focus.  Shame as it was 6pm local time, so I needed to quickly unpack and meet my colleague for a quick dinner and back to sleep.  Tomorrow we start at 8am…..

4am I was wide awake.  Jet lag damn you.  After attempting to sleep for an hour I decided to go to the gym – kill or cure.  I felt ok, and thought I may as well get some kind of workout in as I was awake!  It certainly helped, although it was not my best performance.  After a wonderful breakfast, it was time to hit the streets to the office – that 6 minute walk was a delight in the basking sun with its busy pathways ferrying everyone to work.  Always love to see how other cultures commute.  Quick walking and coffee always prevails!

The week was a long one – sat in an office from 8-6 each day was tough, but my colleagues in Singapore were so welcoming and wonderful, the week was a breeze.  Except for my jet lag.  Every morning  I woke at 4. Luckily my hotel was amazing – the Fullerton in Singapore Marina Bay is truly splendid.  It was the old Post Office when it was built, and its splendour is there for everyone to admire.  The gym facilities are great, rooms opulent and comfortable – and the bath is amazing!  That became my 5am sanctuary, to doze in the tub for an hour pre brekkie.  I think that is what kept my sane!

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Before I knew it less than 5 days later, I was back on plane home.  Same wonderful service home, but very disappointing food choices.  I would expect more from @britishairways especially in First.  I have to say, the bed and the staff were amazing – but the rest is so not worth it.  Business class for me (remind me to take my own PJ’s next time).

I landed at 5am Bank Holiday Friday and was back home by 7:30 – thanks to some wonderful Cab services from Whitstable Cars.  Always reliable!  I decided to go to yoga and go for the double hit of Emma’s and Nikki’s classes.  Great idea.  I came back tired but awake if you know what I mean!!  As the day went on I started to flag, and was in bed and asleep by 7pm.  I slept till 7am the next morning – I guess I needed to catch up on the weeks sleep deficit!  Despite that I managed Park run although I was slow and it bloody hurt!  That truly drained me I have to admit, so it was lovely when friends arrived for the weekend and we just chilled drinking wine and eating my FIRST BBQ in my finally finished garden – big love to Max and Zep for pretty much doing all the cooking… Mwah!

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Bank holiday Sunday, and I was so excited.  One of my Summer list places to visit was Broadstairs.  Only 40 minutes away, with a proper sandy beach I have been dying to go.  Today was the day, the sun was out and it was one of the hottest days of the year!  Despite that, we were woefully unprepared – and needed to purchase emergency bikinis and shorts!  However, I did remember all the blankets, suncream and sunglasses.  We had a lovely few hours laying on the beach listening to the inane rubbish that people chat!  Normally on such a beautiful sandy beach we would be abroad and wouldn’t be able to understand the conversations – but it was a lot of fun to listen and laugh!!  Bravo Broadstairs folk for entertaining me and my crew!

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After an amazing ice cream and a wander, we headed home on a mission.  I am constantly boring everyone with the stunning sunsets we have here in Tankerton.  I really love it when friends get to see them too.  So off to the beach we went, fish and chips in hand (with bubbles obvs) and watched the beautiful sun go down on another amazing weekend.

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Bank holiday Monday the tiredness hit me, so it took it easy in the garden.  I caught up on work emails and assessed the Hurricane Harvey devastation – how awful.  From a professional point of view I have to put my work head on and get on with adding up potential losses, but my heart really does go out to Houston.  Friends and colleagues are there, and I just am so gutted for them.  Some are effected, some have been lucky.  All I know is it will take years to recover.  I have had the pleasure to visit many times, it is a wonderful and vibrant City – lets hope the damage can be repaired soon – I certainly know the people have the heart!

This week was back to work.  NOT GOOD.  The reason I say that was down to the debacle that was the train service provided by Southeastern this week.  I am aware there was major engineering planned with the upgrades happening at London Bridge, so I was able to work from home 2 days.  But the two days I was in was a shambles.  2 hours each way.  Southeastern could have solved all that by allowing people to use the high speed for free – saving me half hour each way.  But oh no, they insist you pay for it – that means an extra £10 a day for me.  Outrageous and a disgrace.  To top it all off I was delayed on both journeys home – so 2 and a half hours each way.  Not the way to treat your passengers, and not the return to work I wanted.

Luckily Thursday and Friday I could work from home.  It makes such a difference to me and not just the travel.  I get so much done at home, I am currently fully up to date with work even after a 3 week break.  MY time in the office is always less productive  as I am in meetings, or catching up with my team, Clients and Brokers.  I love that side of my job, but working from home means I am more organised, structured and productive.  Those 2 days are a godsend, and I can get to the gym both evenings.  Win win.

This weekend we were blessed with the last of the summer sun, and more visitors!  You could tell summer was ending as it was a little cooler, but we had a wonderful beach day, a glass of wine at the Wine Shop in Tankerton (go if you are ever passing) and a chilled out dinner at home.  Bliss.  Good friends make everything better.

IMG_1904.jpgSo now Summer is done, the last sunset beach walk done, garden tidied and packed away, all washing done and house tidied.  Autumn is definitely coming, and to be honest I can not bloody wait.

Lots of exciting stuff coming guys, so stay tuned for the next update!

Thanks for reading and speak soon

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Jamaica? Nah, she went on her own….

Sorry, couldn’t resist it.

This year for my January lay down after the end of year chaos of my world,  I chose Jamaica. Why? Half of Europe were under snow, Asia seemed 3 hours too far for a week, and basically I love the Caribean!

I was given a tip off through Instagram  by the wonderful Clara Amfo – Radio 1’s finest. Clara had been there recently and her pictures were beautiful- and just what I was looking for. A laid back, relaxed, not fussy place to hide for a week and recharge. No one bothering me – except to feed me & teach me some yoga a couple of times a day.

I landed after a fabulous day flight with British Airways – yes I am loyal. They are in my opinion are still the best airline and take care of me whilst travelling, important when you spend as much time on planes as I do! Job done. Already chilled out, and raring to relax.

Now, here is my one complaint about Jamaica – sort out your roads! From a chilled flight to a two and a half hour drive across the bumpiest and dangerous roads. Relaxed out of the window – quite literally!

Finally, I arrived at my destination – tired, semi whiplashed and just wanting to sleep amongst beautiful scenery and peace (unlike the drive) here to Go Natural.

Go Natural Jamaica is just that. Natural. No frills, all ethical and truly beautiful. I didn’t realise how beautiful until the next morning when I stepped spend of my 10 hour coma (that never happens at home) and saw this….

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Now for the kinda weird bit. Well it was for me. We naturally started the day with yoga (perfect and one of the main reasons I am here for) but prior to that – Oil Pulling. No, not in that way you cheeky lot and nothing to do with Oil so to say (given what my day job entails working with Oil Companies, I was slightly freaked out), this is the Ayurveda principal for good oral hygiene and dental care which involves putting a tablespoon of oil (coconut in this case) into my mouth and swilling it around for a minimum of 5 minutes. Now, for those of you who know me and have had the pleasure of my Company first thing in the morning, I’m not exactly cheery or up for a challenge – especially putting oil i my mouth first thing – always tea in my world.   However, I persevered and gave it a go. I won’t lie, like most things the first time was not a pretty sight or one I wish to remember, & followed by tongue scraping with a bit of copper I did wonder what I was doing here. Had I finally gone insane!  Sometimes you need to push those boundaries, and after an hour and a half of yoga and a wonderful brekkie of the most amazing selection (DIY Granola in this case) I calmed down a bit and cancelled my flight home the next day! (only joking).

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The days progressed with beach visits (blue skies and white beaches), waterfall trips (quite scary – take waterproof shoes & pray) all very relaxed and easy. No airs and graces, a little rough around the edges, but I felt so welcome by all the peeps I met who are so wonderfully chilled and friendly, and with these surroundings, who can blame them.

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The yoga was great for me, lots of new versions that I can take home with me and try to do outside of my usual classes at home (thanks Lisa!) and some of it literally either made me elated, chilled or wanting to cry (letting go apparently). But all of it made me feel good. Every night I slept at least 9 hours, and as each day progressed I felt a LITTLE cheerier in the morning. Baby steps.  And with these views by sunset, who could resist.

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I learnt a lot about food too. Now, as a 40 year old food lover I thought I was an expert, but I learnt how to eat. Finally my Mum would say. Food combining makes sense – protein and carbs separately and fruit on its own basically! And the results show. The practicality is a little different without a full time chef on hand, but I am trying to adopt it as much as I can.

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Some of the lessons on natural cosmetics passed me by to be honest, I’m sure they work but not for me. I’m happy to buy them. Sorry!

I can highly recommend Go Natural for a chilled time.  It is down to earth, friendly and simple, in the most wonderful surroundings (mainly viewed from this hammock)…..

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Jamaica still has its challenges and where I stayed at Go Natural was not in a tourist area, but was perfectly safe and extremely welcoming. There is plenty to see, across the island and the locals are more than happy to take you along for the ride.

So my advice – bite the bullet and go, push your boundaries and mind – Oil pulling not required.

See you all soon

Al xx

Oh my…. Oman 

So,the time had come. Work was done, and my driver had collected me from my office in Dubai to drive me across the border to Oman, destination – The 5 star, and stunning Six Senses resort in Zighy Bay. Now, as a bit of background, I had booked this only 8 days before I arrived, desperate for some me time, I was well and truly on empty. My body looks the worst it has in years, and my brain can’t take anymore pressure. The valve needed releasing to say the least. 

When we crossed the border (only 1 hour and 45 million minutes from my office) it was dark. So climbing the mountain and going down into the resort was a little scary but no worries from my driver who took it all in his stride (despite me gasping for breath and worrying).  

As we pulled up to reception my arrival team awaited. Literally. I was whisked into reception, seated, given a hot towel, a date and mango smoothie (delicious) and the warmest of welcomes. I was escorted to my Villa (yes Villa for 1) by my Guest Experience Manager (GEM) who was utterly charming and friendly. He explained all the stuff I got included, along with his services 24 hours a day. Wow. 

The Villas are beautiful. Spacious, but large features! Large bed (I slept diagonally most nights) a bath to get lost in (or have a party in 😉), separate indoor and outdoor showers, living area with a full tea/coffee/fridge/wine cooler fully stocked arrangement. You also have a stunning pool with water as warm as a bath, sitting area, sun beds and a mini shack for seating in – a Bedouin area. All lit in the warmest and comforting way. 

  

I flopped into bed after a lovely dinner in the restaurant accompanied by a cracking Chenin blanc (organic so good for you) and slept like a baby for 12 hours. I woke to the sun streaming through my window, and with the biggest smile on my face. 

I strolled up to breakfast, and was stunned at the high quality and variety of food on offer. Juices, smoothies, any combo you wish. Fresh fruit, breads, fruits, nuts, sugar free jams, wow. Heaven indeed. I sat out on the balcony scoffing my vast choices for a good hour, with the most wonderful attentive staff who throughout my whole trip knew when to serve, clear or ask if all was ok, without being over the top or ignorant. Now that’s quite a skill, especially when I travel alone, some people find it necessary to practically sit with you out of pity (note to waiters – I’m cool on my own I choose to be!), or ignore you pretty much as I should be grateful for any service only spending money on one meal! Not here. I’ve never been anywhere that gets it spot on, thank you! 

  

The day continued with a trip to the private beach, where I was refilled with ice cold water every half hour, and refreshed with fruit kebabs at regular intervals. And what a beautiful beach it is, white sands and turquoise seas, it truly is stunning. With plenty of activities on hand (paddle boarding, boat trips, or,for the more adventurous of you paragliding! Too scared for that personally, but it looked fab!

  
Now, the point of me being here was to relax the body and mind, but to restart my health campaign. Work has kinda got in the way over the last year, and I am sooo unfit and flabby. Here no one knows me, so I can get to the beetroot face/cowboy walk stage without fear of ridicule! The spa here has a gym area, with all the kit you need. I decided to have a little workout on ,y first day, them get my free Personal Training sesh the day after forgetting how unfit I was……

After my workout (beetroot face from sweating and sun) I decided to use the outdoor shower. How liberating! And refreshing. Showers will never be the same again post gym. My reward – a fab dinner from a stunning buffet of local foods, BBQ seafood, salads and sides to die for. Food coma onset, I retreated for another nights sleep setting my alarm for a 6.30 AM start, in order to join the 7am yoga. Now, if you know me I am NOT a morning person, but I do love my yoga so the early start seemed worth it. It certainly was, not just for the yoga but the stunning sunrise observed from my villa sipping a coffee. It actually brought tears to my eyes, and that doesn’t happen often. And here is why. 

   
 
Inspired and Gym kit on, off I trotted for my personal training session. Trotted is the word as I was hurting a lot from my,first session on my own yesterday, as if I needed any obstacles! But my trainer Daniel got it spot on. The exercises were challenging, but didn’t make me want to throw up or faint (past horrific trainer experiences). An hour flew by, with me triumphantly finishing feeling energised and very happy. That post gym feeling I’d forgotten about. Happy, tired Al.

Every day after I had a training session with Daniel, and it was worth every penny. Thank you Daniel for getting me back on track and making me laugh all at the same time (quite an achievement I am a grumpy gym bunny normally). 

Each day I had the pleasure of a Spa treatment, mostly stunningly relaxant restorative. I did opt for one session that didn’t work for me. I do not like it when I don’t know what is going to be done, so the special guest for that week didn’t do it for me. Holistic doesn’t work in my world, so don’t not tell me what you are going to do, don’t flick things on me, and then just leave the room when the treatment is over without some kind of indication the session has ended! I’m being picky, but it did not sit well with me, and I didn’t think it was worth the money. However, my deep,tissue massage and reflexology done by the Spas regular therapist was the best i have ever had. 

  

The daily routine continued- Sunrise, Gym, outdoor shower, breakfast for a good leisurely hour, beach, pool, spa, dinner, sleep. For 4 whole days. That doesn’t sound like long but it was the most restorative and invigorating 4 days I have ever had the pleasure of. 
Soon enough it was time to leave. I didn’t want to. I’d experienced such serenity and a sense of wellbeing eye, whilst being made to feel like a Princess. I know that’s what I paid for, but on many of my trips that is not how it feels! So with a heavy heart, but a reinvigorated one, I was whisked back up the mountain and out of the resort back to Dubai Airport in under 2 hours. That two hours gave me time to make myself some promises. Work less, exercise more. Eat well, laugh more. Be adventurous. Smile more. Breathe deeply. Wake up earlier. Live life how I want to, not how I think I should to please others. So thank you Six Sense Zighy Bay. You’ve rebuilt Al, and I won’t forget you anytime soon. 

  

#alsadventures #sixsenses #zighybay #spa #fitness