Do you ever have one of those dreams where you show up for class and didn’t do your homework? Going to Jordan for the first time was like that for us, only in a good way. We were floored by how much we loved Jordan. It is a breathtakingly beautiful country. We were absolutely taken by surprise. Candidly, we came to the region primarily to see Israel. Check out our trip report on Israel A visit to the Holy Land . Jordan was intended as a side trip for us. In the end, we fell in love with Jordan. Let us tell you why.
The capital city of Amman has a major international airport and regular flights from Europe are easily found. Our entry into Jordan was a little unique. We came over at the border crossing at the port city of Aqaba. A little about how to get into Jordan, before we tell you the wonders of Aqaba.
We spend a great deal of our focus on our advance research about border crossings including what to expect and what is needed for entry. Mike loves checking countries off of his list! Our research on this crossing made us concerned. You read rumors of not being able to enter and exit if you have ever set foot in Israel (flat out wrong!). We heard that you are not able to enter if you have the wrong stamp in your passport—also wrong! Crossing was very straight forward. Really no reason for concern. Security is tight; no surprise there. Take it step by step, and the entire process takes 45 minutes on a good day. If you are traveling during a holiday, or during rush, it could take hours.
You will not be able to take your rental car from Israel into Jordan. There is a massive dirt parking lot on the Israeli side where there are hundreds of cars parked. No charge. Don’t leave valuables, as it is not secure, but it is safe. We crossed the border on foot and caught a taxi on the Jordan side. You are going to need to heft your luggage the distance. Make sure you are thoughtful about how much you pack. Check the State Department of your respective country for any changes.
Perched on the north shore of the Red Sea, Aqaba is across the Israeli city of Eilat. Aqaba is roughly twice the size of Eilat. Both have a wide array of accommodations. We elected to stay at the DoubleTree on the Jordanian side booked with points. Our room overlooked the Red Sea and below are the sounds we captured in our first few mins in the room: a very moving rendition of the Islamic call to prayer over the Sea. It really was at this moment that we realized that we were somewhere special.
There is actually plenty to do in Aqaba: great food, scuba diving in the marine park and visiting a historic fort. The city is 6,000 years old! Along the waterfront, there are a number of native cuisine restaurants and fish houses. English is widely spoken in these tourist areas. As we always recommend, it doesn’t hurt to know some words in the local language.
Our first full day in Jordan we enjoyed the massive breakfast spread at the DoubleTree. Before going any further into Jordan, make sure you exchange some of your cash for Jordan Dinars. Next, we picked up our rental car and headed north. Roads are straight forward and in reasonable condition. Yes, there are camels along the roads. ….and yes we stopped to take a picture of every single one of them! We travel with one of the mobile hotspots for Wifi and it worked like a charm, providing us with GPS on our iPhones. Freeways in Jordan are well maintained. There are plenty of petrol stations along major roads.
Our first destination was the desert of Wadi Rum. Once only accessible by camel and Omar Sharif, today Wadi Rum is a major tourist destination. Drive 15 miles north of Aqaba and turn right at the Wadi Rum sign. Follow the signs further to Wadi Village. In advance, book one of the many desert camps. We elected to stay at Wadi Rum Night Luxury Camp http://www.wadirumnight.com/. We highly recommend this camp, but having not stayed at others, it is hard to judge how it compares. The food was really good, accommodations were clean, staff friendly, and the atmosphere out of this world. The setting was nothing short of magical.
When you arrive in a large parking lot in Wadi Village, attendants sort your luggage and direct you to your pickup by which camp you are staying. You are limited to one bag, keep that in mind. There are many, many camps and all of them depart from this location. We were directed to our truck and off we went into the dusty desert. Our journey in the back of the pick up took roughly and hour and was incredible. The red desert is stunning. Giant rocks spring out of the desert floor. They look like sky scrappers!
We arrived at the camp at the base of one of these red rock monoliths. Check in and hydration was done efficiently. Our tent had full facilities: shower, toilet and air conditioner! We didn’t elect for one of the igloo looking things as luxury tents were cheaper. The bed was comfy and there was power for electronics charging. We did need an adapter.
We had arranged for two activities: a Jeep tour of the desert and camel riding. Both are highly recommended. The Jeep tour took us to Lawrence of Arabia and The Martian sites, as well as the famed Jordan Arch. The entire desert is photogenic. Spend the money and bring a solid camera. Check out these pictures:
Once we ended our Jeep tour, we boarded our “Rolls of the Desert.” The camel ride was a fun activity. We were led by a camel keeper and found the camels docile and offered a real perspective of desert life. We highly recommend.
In the evening, we dressed for dinner and there was a great array of fruits, breads, meats and other dishes. They make fresh naan right there in front of you. After dinner, the camp hosts a bonfire and pass around the hookah. Sitting around the fire, the cinnamon smell of the hookah looking at the bright stars, was a moment that we will never forget.
Our next stop on our Jordanian adventure was the ancient city of Petra. The drive from Wadi Rum to Petra takes about an hour and a half. Again, the roads are well marked and in good condition. There are a number of western hotels in the Petra area including some upscale accommodations like Movenpick (yes, it serves the famous ice cream!). We stayed at the Marriott up the hill. It was a little drive down to the city, so we recommend you stay closer to the entrance to Petra.
Petra is a Unesco site and as such, the entry prices and crowds are more than you would expect. We went through Petra in a day, and were left feeling like we should have planned for two days. Once you pass through the gates, the hike begins. You head downhill through narrow canyon walls. There are hundreds of tourists making this trek along with horse drawn carriages. At one of the bends, you gain a partial glimpse of the Treasury. Yes-it is an Indiana Jones moment! The Petra Treasury is perhaps one of the most photographed structures in the world. It is even better in person. Don’t worry about being disappointed about the overplayed Instagramming, seeing it with your own eyes is powerful.
The Treasury is just the tip of the iceberg with Petra. There are hundreds of tombs, ruins and temples that are all along the path. One day is simply not enough to see everything as we found out belatedly. Wear some really good hiking shoes, and pack a lot of water. It can be dry, dusty and hot.
One of the hidden secrets of Petra is the Monastery. It is quite a hike, thus not for the faint in heart. Located at the very end of the city, begins the arduous hike up to the structure. It’s 54 flights of stairs to the top. It’s bigger than the Treasury and better preserved. We highly recommend it!
Petra at Night
One thing we were disappointed by was Petra by starlight. At the close of the day, you are asked to leave the park and pay to reenter. The hike back down the hill after a day a trekking was a little daunting. The path is lined by candle light which was really beautiful. When we arrived back down at the Treasury, there were hundreds of people. Many were attempting unsuccessfully to take pictures with flash of the dimly lit treasury. It was loud and annoying and not in worth the price. We left early.
Jordan was beautiful beyond our expectations. The place is definitely on our list to explore further. Please reach out to us on social media if we can help you in any way plan you trip to Jordan.
There are a lot of destinations that call themselves holy. With that said, few places can claim that three of the world’s major faiths call the place sacred. The land we speak of is Israel. We recently returned from a two week visit and want to give you the ultimate guide to seeing the sacred sites. This will be a two part post, with the first highlighting the religious sites of Israel, and the second will be about a side trip into Jordan. Both are must dos, and compliment each other well.
Ok. First off, let’s take on the biggest reservation we hear about visiting the region. “Is it safe?” The answer is yes and no. Will an AK-47 armed terrorist kidnap you and hold you for ransom? No. Will you run over a roadside bomb driving your rented Toyota down the freeway? No. Could you be pick pocketed in a busy street loaded with tourists? Yes. Could a valuable in your parked car be taken? Yes. If you wander into the wrong area late at night, might you meet some baddies? Perhaps.
Our advice to staying safe is simple. Be aware.
Be careful. And be kind. With these three simple guiding principles,
you are extremely unlikely to have any issues.
To Tour or Not to Tour
Ok, with that big one out of the way. Let’s take on the second big one. Do I need to go with a tour? To this we offer a resounding NO! Somehow, you found our blog. This leads us to believe that you are the type of person that can do a basic internet search. If you can do that, you can navigate Israel on your own. That simple. If you can read and speak basic English, you will have no challenges there.
A word of disclosure. This was Mike’s second visit to Israel. The first time he traveled with the American Jewish Committee as a part of a leadership exchange. This offered a uniquely Judeo-view of both the history and the spiritual perspectives. We are practicing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) and we traveled this time with another couple who are devout Roman Catholics. We will try out best to offer insights on all three of these perspectives. Regardless of your level of religiosity, you will find the history of the region compelling.
If you need some help packing, not forget the Fighting Couple Packing Guide.
Getting there/Tel Aviv
The major gateway in and out of the country is Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is the secular capital of Israel; Jerusalem is of course the spiritual one. Many of the world’s leading airlines have regular flights there. The airport sits roughly 10 miles west of Tel Aviv. There are many shuttles back and forth. We highly recommend that you rent a car. All of the major rental car companies have representation there.
Once you arrive, depending on the timing, you may wish to overnight in Tel Aviv. Early arrivals will give you the leg up on getting to Jerusalem. The City of David is roughly an hour drive from Tel Aviv. It is all freeway, and could not be easier. If you are accustomed to driving on US or European freeways, you will be very comfortable.
We recommend doing a large circle route: starting in Tel Aviv and driving to Jerusalem. Use Jerusalem as a base to see the sights of the town and then take a day trip to the Dead sea and to Bethlehem. From there drive north to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. We then recommend driving out to the coastal town of Acre and following the freeway south along the Mediterranean back to Tel Aviv.
We took a total of 12 days in see Israel on the route listed
above, and saw Wadi Rum and Petra, Jordan.
The first thing you need to know about Jerusalem: there is the city, and then there is the old city, which is a city within a city. Most of the historic religious sites lie within the walls of the old city. Park your car for the time you are in Jerusalem. All sites can be seen by walking and public transport.
The Old City
The old city is divided into four sections: the Jewish Quarter, Muslim, Armenia and the Christian quarter. Armenia is represented, and has a long connection with the city, as they were the first country that officially named Christianity as the state religion. The entire old city is surrounded by a massive wall built in the early 16th Century by the Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. There are seven gates into the city…ok we lied, there are really eight, but one is no longer in use…and there is an interesting story about that. (https://new.goisrael.com/article/252).
A great way to really get a feel for highpoints of the
Christen sites is to follow the Via Dolorosa.
This follows the path of Christ’s last moments. To those of the Catholic faith, each of these
stops will ring very familiar. https://www.dolr.org/stations-of-the-cross/jerusalem
The walk begins where Christ was condemned to die, walking to where he sees his mother and where Simon takes up the cross for the Savior, and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The path is mostly cobblestones and pavement. You will definitely want good walking shoes. There are plenty of places to stop along the path for water or refreshment.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchure
The last four stations of the Via Dolorosa are contained in the church. It is massive. Here you will see the slab of rock that Christ was placed after his crucifixion. Many other sites were identified by St. Helena. Constantine the Great converted to Christianity in 312AD. Shortly thereafter, he dispatched his mother, Helena to the region to begin the process of identifying where the stories of the Bible took place. By inspiration, advice, and some other more interesting methods, she was able to key in on were everything happened. On her direction, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was constructed on the site of an old pagan temple. It has expanded and changed over the centuries since. A mixture of crusades, Muslim protection, earthquakes, and internal architectural disputes have led this building to be one of the most interesting and disputed structures ever built. One of more intriguing stories is the “immoveable ladder.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immovable_Ladder
Today it is the home of six Christian orders with each sect battling an internal turf war within the building for control and real estate. Often these disputes turn to fisticuffs. Make sure and read the Wikipedia profile of the Church. Very helpful: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre If you wish, a number of parishioners call be “locked” into the church overnight.
To those of the LDS faith and others, visiting this site can be a bit overwhelming. While held in reverence by so many sects, the crowded, smoke filled church is constantly loud, contentious, gaudy and combined with forceful docents, we found it difficult to make a strong spiritual connection to Christ while inside the church. Luci got yelled at while trying to go inside the tomb by a demanding priest who wanted people to hurry and our friends got kicked out of mass even though they are Catholic. However, we should note that we were befriended by an Armenian priest, who blessed us with holy oil and that was the highlight of the visit to the church.
One of the biggest challenges for us as Latter-day Saints and others is the desire to stand, or be near the exact spot “where it happened.” Few places exist today were one can say with sureness that “this is the place,” where the Savior stood. Yes, you are within hundreds of feet of where these events took place, but exactness is hard to come by. In addition, the real stones the Savior would have walked are typically 80 to 100 feet below you as the city has been conquered and rebuilt. In the end, we learned that it’s ok to be “ok” with this. As the “Fighting Couple” always says… “make sure you are fighting for the right things.”
The Garden of Gethsemane
Across the valley from the old city is the Garden of Gethsemane. The word Gethsemane translated means “oil press.” It is here that tradition holds that Christ prayed, as his disciples slept the night, before his crucifixion. Today the Church of All Nations is on the site. The ceiling is a stunning blue and décor is incredible.
We felt a strong connection to Christ in this area. It was less crowded, and being among the 2000+ year old olive trees really lends to quiet refection on the Atonement. We also bought small bottles of olive oil here.
The Garden Tomb
One of the most peaceful places we have found in Jerusalem is the Garden Tomb. Many Protestant groups claim this as the tomb of Christ. It is located just outside the Damascus Gate. Those of the LDS faith will immediately recognize this setting. Pictures of the Garden tomb appear in many versions of the standard works. It was unearthed in the mid 1850s. It is surrounded by a peaceful garden and is an ideal setting to contemplate.
Many claim John’s comment, “Now in the place where he
was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein
was never man yet laid.” KJV (John 19:41) to be evidence of the correct
location. Again, it is nearly impossible
to pinpoint the exact location of the Tomb.
Perhaps the most sacred spot for Jews is the remnant of the temple wall. Jews come from all around the world to pray, and worship at the foot of what would have been the temple. Especially at the close of Shabbat, or sabbath the place is filled with songs, prayers and rejoicing. The Western Wall is separated into a men’s and women’s side. Jew and Gentile must cover their heads as they approach the wall. You can also write prayers and stuff them into one of the cracks in the wall.
The Dome of the Rock
The most recognizable structure in all of Israel is the beautiful Dome of the Rock. It is one of the most sacred houses of worship for Muslims. Its beautiful blue octagon walls and golden dome rival any temple we have seen. The location is believed by Jews to be the place were Adam was created. It is also believed to be the location where the Old Testament prophet Abraham attempted to sacrifice his son Issac. This is also believed to be the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. While you cannot enter the mosque as a non-believer, you can enjoy the peacefulness and beauty of this site.
BYU JerusalemLocated on the Mount of Olives is the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. The center is a satellite campus of Brigham Young University, one of the largest religious universities in the world. A few hundred students reside at the center for a semester. The center is open for tours and often offers free concerts from their concert hall overlooking the old city. It is a view not to be missed. The LDS Church leases the property, thus it is difficult to know how long the center will remain in its current location.
Dead Sea and Masada National Park
One of the side trips we highly recommend is a three hour drive south east to the Dead Sea. Swimming in the Dead Sea is a once in a lifetime opportunity. There is nothing like it. You will float no matter how hard you try not too! The water feels slick like a truck load of essential oils were dumped in it. To get the most of the experience, cover yourself in mud, let it bake, and swim in the sea to dissolve it. Your skin will feel like you just left a five star spa. There are a number of public beaches that have changing facilities and you can buy mud at local stores.
Looking down on the Dead Sea is the might fortress of Masada. Once a last refuge from the Romans, Masada is a collection of ruins atop a lofty plateau that can be accessed by a strenuous hike or a comfortable tram. This is an important and moving place for Jews. It symbolized the rebellion against Roman invaders and a last desperate act against domination. It is both a spiritual and patriotic place for Jews. For Americans it would be like combining Valley Forge and the National Cathedral. The views of the area are worth the price of admission. A couple hours is really adequate in our eyes to see the area. Check out the museum which has the actual rocks or lots where the men of Masada wrote their names as too who would be killed next.
The birthplace of Christ is a must see during your visit. Bethlehem is located 5 miles south of Jerusalem. The city is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It has a very different vibe than what you have been experiencing in Jerusalem. The Church of the Nativity is being remodeled at the time of this writing. In the grotto you can visit what is believed to the be manager where Christ was born. Take a public bus to get there from outside the Old City. We suggest bus #21. It’s safe and easy. It will drop you off a ten minute walk to the Church of the Nativity. Taxi cabs in Jerusalem will try to swindle you by charging $200 to $500 to take you to the Church.
While there is not a definitive spot where tradition holds the Savior was baptized, the Jordan River holds a special place in the Christian tradition. Just south of the Sea of Galilee, in a wide spot in river, is a commercial baptism center. Here patrons can be baptized. It felt a bit like the baptism scene in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.” There is a changing station if you want to pay to get baptized and a sizable gift shop. You can put your feet in the water without paying, but swimming is discouraged.
Capernaum and the Mt. of Beatitudes
On the north shore of the Sea of Galilee are the ruins of the City of Capernaum. During Christ’s ministry, he spent a great deal of time here. It is here that he met Peter and a number of his other apostles including Andrew, James, and John. He taught, lived, and worshiped here. We learn of many healings that took place in the city:
Mark 2:1-5 And again he entered into Capernaum after some
days; and it was noised that he was in the house.
2 And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that
there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he
preached the word unto them.
3 And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy,
which was borne of four.
4 And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press,
they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let
down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.
5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the
palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
Today you can walk around the ruins of the city and there are a number of alcoves and areas you can stop for reflection. In the center is the octagonal church. It is here were Catholic tradition holds that an invalid was lowed through the roof and was healed by Christ. One of the highlights for us is as you walk in through the front gates, there is a statue of Christ on a park bench. It almost looks like it is a vagrant taking a nap. It is only after you see the nail prints in his hands and feet to you realize who the person is. It is very impressive.
Just above Capernaum is where tradition holds that the Savior would have given the Sermon on the Mount. With its lofty view of the Sea of Galilee, it is perhaps one of the best views in the Holy Land. A peaceful and reflective spot!
Nazareth is the town that Jesus was raised. Here you will find the Basilica of the Annunciation. This is by far, one of our favorite churches in the Holy Land. It was built to feel like it was made of wood. There are many stunning stained glass windows throughout. The theme of this church is the figure of Mary. There are many colorful pieces of artwork, done by artists around the globe that surround the outer courtyard and the inner basilica.
According to Catholic tradition, this is the spot where
Mary’s childhood home would have stood.
The current church there was built in 1969, on the top of an earlier
Crusader era church. It has been
classified as a minor basilica. Mass is
celebrated there in multiple languages.
On the way back
You have hit the major religious sites if you have followed our plan above. Now how about some sun, sand and surf? Head east till you need a boat. The Mediterranean Sea is a beautiful and warm reward for tired bodies. We spent some time in the Medieval city of Acre. Very interesting history and architecture. We highly recommend spending a day or two unwinding before you head back to busy Tel Aviv.
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Ok…you have booked your trip to Barcelona! Congrats! You are about to set foot in one of the most storied cities in all of Europe. You are about to indulge is masterful art and architecture, a compelling history, complex cuisine, and meet warm and friendly Catalonians as they call themselves. A few of the basics: Barcelona is perched on the sun drenched Mediterranean Sea. It is a kaleidoscope of culture. The city is perhaps best known for its championship football team, aka “Barca”. They call Camp Nou home, it is a shrine to the game, a must see for any soccer fan. There are many lodging options, everything from the very basic to luxury apartment rentals in Barcelona.
Barcelona international Airport “El Prat” is the gateway into the city. Flights from Europe and the rest of the world arrive there each day. Some 47 million passengers arrive each year at El Prat. The airport is some ways away from the downtown area. There are a number of options for transfer/transportation including: rental car, bus, metro and smaller shuttles called Rapid shuttle. Barcelona is actually a very drivable city, if you elect to rent a car, you will have additional freedom to explore the entire region.
Navigating around the city is simple. They have a very advanced metro system. You can easily purchase tickets in the underground and navigate yourself around the city. We suggest the weekly card for extended stays. There are a number of aps that help you design your routes. You can combine bus and metro to get to all of the key areas, as well as the outlying areas. As with any large city, keep an eye on your belongings and be situationally aware.
Barcelona offers a wide variety of lodging options. You can choose from everything from luxury accommodations to the very basic spartan lodging. We elected to stay just outside the city, in a very nice business class hotel, and found the commute easy via the metro, and our dollars went a lot further.
Lets go see the city! A quick primer. The city’s skyline and history is dominated by one name: Gaudi. Antoni Gaudi (25 June 1852 – 10 June 1926) was a famed artist and architect. His work is one of a kind. You see his fingerprints all across the city. The best way to get a feel of the entire town is to take one of the double decker open bus tours. I know, I know, they are bit basic, but the hop on hop off buses really give you a lay of the land for your visit. Take note of the sights that interest you the most and build your itinerary. If you are traveling with your sweet heart, check out our post on the best places to Kiss in Barcelona.
The other dominate thread throughout the city is the Olympics. The city played host to the 1992 summer games. There are a number venues that are still in place and operating. The Olympic museum is a fun visit and is a tribute to sport and friendship. The diving platform with views of the city is one of the iconic camera shots from the game.
The view from the top of Park Guell
Hands down, our fave place to visit in Barcelona is the Park Gurell. (https://www.parkguell.cat/en/) This is truely one of Guadi’s grand visions. Originally, it was intended to be an upscale planned community. Fortunately for today’s visitors, Gaudi’s vision was a little deeper than the pockets of prospective investors. Today, the entire development has been transformed into a public park and greenspace. It is a masterpiece. Wander around the grounds then climb the Instagram worthy lizard stairs. There are a number of vistas of the city and of the grand Sagrada Familia Cathedral. The park is the perfect place to picnic or cool down during a warm afternoon. There is a nominal charge for entering the park.
Once you have had a view of Sagrada Familia from a distance, time to go discover the work of art up close. First things first. This place is very popular. By popular we mean there are throngs of people that que up to see the inside and take pictures of the quirky characters that adorn the exterior of the building. We recommend making this a first or last stop during the day to avoid the herds.
So what exactly is this?
Dreamed up and designed by Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) cathedral is Gaudi’s tribute to his beloved religion, Catholicism. He spent every last peso on its development and construction. He died leaving the building only 25% finished. Construction was commenced 1883 and continues to this day. Construction has been interrupted by civil war, construction company disagreements and most of all lack of funding. With all of that turmoil it is one of the most unique and intriguing structures. The way the entire building is filled with light, the shapes, curves, and spires make it an icon.
One of the most underrated parts of town is the water front. While Barcelona proper doesn’t have any prime beaches, it does have some stellar fish houses along the water. You can dine on some seafood paella and watch the boats come in and out. Don’t forget to snap a picture of one of you fellow travelers- Christopher Columbus!
The Fountains of MontJuic
Once you have had your dinner, head over to the city center and watch the magic fountains of Montjuic. The display is made up of hundreds of jets shooting water high into the air, and the entire show is set to music. It is a wonderful mix of water, color and sounds! Not to be missed.
Barcelona is truly one of those places that change the way you travel. You immediately want to dive deeper and understand the architecture, culture and the vibrant and engaging people of this city. Did we miss something? Have you been? Please let us a comment below.
On a regular basis we receive glossy travel advertisements in the mail. They show pictures of remote Africa savannahs with robust looking guides driving Range Rovers dressed in Green or khaki. They often are pointing off into the distance at some incredible animal. Our reaction to these appeals: Sign us up! Take our money! Then reality sets in. We don’t have $20k stuffed in our mattress. (we did find a quarter last week!)
What to do?
After lengthy research, we were able to piece together the idea of doing a self-guided safari. We settled on South Africa as out destination as the flights there are very reasonable and plentiful. We selected Kruger National Park for our self-guided safari.
Kruger National Park
Kruger park is one of the largest game reserves in the world. The entire park covers 7, 500 square miles and is 250 miles top to bottom and 50 miles wide. Roughly the same size as Massachusetts! It is a massive park. The park is home to the classic Big 5 including: lion, leopard, black rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. Beyond these incredible animals, you will likely encounter hundreds of other animals large and small. The park is home to over 100 species of reptiles and 30 amphibians.
The Gate to Kruger Park
Getting around the Park
Your first stop for research on the park should be the park’s website (https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/) The site is extremely helpful, especially keeping current on road closures, conditions and weather. There are 9 main gates into the park. These entry points are for paying fees, securing maps, and getting current info on park conditions.
Roads in the park are in varied condition. You go from paved tarmac to dusty gravel roads. A good map, and in some cases, even a decent GPS will help you navigate the park. At each of the rest camps you will find a crowd sourced “animal” board where other visitors post animal sightings. This can prove helpful as you quest to see the complete Big 5.
There a number of different lodging options for your self guided adventure. The park’s website will give you the option to see photos of the “camps”. You can reserve everything from humble bush camps to the luxury lodge option. Pick the right option for you. Each camp is surrounded by high fences that prevent animals from entering. Each camp has set hours for entry, when the gate closes, it closes for the night. There is a significant fee to open after hours. We nearly learned this the hard way. WE were caught up watching a pride of lions, and lost track of time. Not good. We had to step on it to barely make the deadline. Each area is unique in its food and amenities. Be aware of what is available. Some camps have spartan restaurants. Most offer some sort of food offering. The bush camps do not offer food, they are strictly self catering.
What is the difference?
So what are the key differences between a true-guided safari and the self guided option?
The biggest difference from our experience is the cost. You will likely see the same animals, you will see the same flora and fauna. Many of the guided safari tours are in and around Kruger Park. They both offer very similar habitats for the animals. Top end guides are good at knowing where the animals like to hide out. Not having to drive to see the animals is also a definite advantage of the guided option. Park rangers can help with some information, but would not be able to offer the in person perspective that would be provided in a guided situation.
What to drive
The question we get asked most often about our self-guided experience is what we drove. We rented a basic sedan at the airport in Johannesburg. We would recommend something with a little more ground clearance. A small suv would be ideal. You definitely don’t need a jeep or a range rover to get around Kruger.
A Word of Caution
Kruger national park is not a petting zoo. It is wild. The animals reign here. Do not leave your vehicle outside to the gated camps. Do not “hike” the park. Just because you don’t see any animals, doesn’t mean that they cannot see you. You very well could be dinner. It is tempting to exit your vehicle to take the perfect picture. We recommend you position your vehicle to take the picture then use your camera lens to get you close. Regardless if you are on a guided safari or self guided, the rules are the same, don’t approach the animals….ever. Stay on the road. Keep an eye on the weather and the environment around you. You will have the adventure of a lifetime.
What we wished we had known:
We purchased our first “real” camera and long distance camera lens for this trip. We were glad we did. Candidly, we wished we have invested more in longer range lens. Spend the money. The pictures will be priceless.
Expectations: The second thing we wish we had known, was advice given to us by one of the game wardens at one of the camps. “Don’t expect to see anything…then you will be in constant amazement, you will see everything!”. Such wise advice. Don’t come with a list of things to see, be open to the experience and seeing whatever comes your way that day. This is hard for those of us that love lists. Be open to whatever happens.
Enjoy your Safari!
Safaris are wonderful, but if your dream is climbing Kilimanjaro Give our friends at Mojhi a look. They have a wonderful guide for making this dream a reality. There are 7 different routes you can take to the top. Each of the trails offer astounding views of the entire area. They also rate the difficulty of each of the routes to help you match your ability.
Take the world by a storm? That’s just what Kate and Jeremy Storm have been doing full time for the past two years! We put this globe trotting couple to the test with our 7 questions. If you are wondering if the fight, stay tuned!
1) Tell us a little bit about yourselves. How did you meet? What inspired you to travel together?
We met 10 years ago at an afterschool job in a fast food restaurant–we were both high school students at the time! We were both excited about the idea of traveling the world, but neither of us had ever left the USA, and of course, we didn’t really have the time and money to make travel happen at that time.
After we got married and took our honeymoon in the Bahamas (our first time out of the USA!) and quickly followed that up with a trip to Paris, we knew we were hooked: within 3 years we had sold almost everything we owned and set off on a RTW trip that has now morphed into a location-independent lifestyle.
2) If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be? (this person can be living, historical or mythical?)
He Said: Ernest Hemingway–he knows all the good bars!
She Said: Hmm… probably my mom, because I’ve been trying to get her to come travel for years! I think she’d love it, and also, I’m picky about who I spend that much time with.
3)What has been your favorite destination in your wanderings? Why?
He said: Koh Tao, Thailand: it’s a laid-back island with lots of great (and cheap) food. It’s also where I learned to scuba dive, a sport I now love.
She said: It’s impossible to pick one, but I will never be tired of returning to Italy. The food alone is enough to keep me coming back!
4) One of our favorite posts on your site is “Fire on the Utila” Tell us the story!
He said: I remember that we were returning bikes that we had rented, and I suddenly heard people shouting about collecting buckets in Spanish… it took a minute to realize what was going on, but as soon as I did, I ran in to help.
It was a bit chaotic at first, but once we got the bucket line going, things started to progress.
It was definitely strange see a fire somewhere without a proper fire department–it was quite the reminder of how vulnerable places can be.
She said: Jeremy spotted the fire first, and immediately jumped in to help. It’s was all a whirlwind, but within a few minutes we were both on a bucket line, hauling water and trying to help get the fire put out as fast as possible.
Luckily, it wasn’t too scary of a situation–everyone was calm and helpful–but I remember we were all concerned about nearby buildings catching fire and causing the fire to spread.
5) We love one of the themes of your blog is traveling on a budget. So important for couples! What are your best tips for traveling with limited funds?
He said: Try to remember that not everything has to be organized or cost money. One of my favorite things to do in cities is to pick up some local street food and wander around aimlessly. We find tons of cool spots when we do that, and also end up having some of our cheapest days on the road.
She said: Track everything! The easiest way to go over budget (or to stress about being over budget when you’re actually under budget, which can happen too) is to not know exactly where your money is going. I write down our purchases every day, and it helps us stay focused.
6) If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?
He said: Hunger. It’s a travesty that given how much food that we produce as a planet that we have failed at managing it so badly that there are still hundreds of millions of food insecure people in the world.
She said: Wow, that’s hard. I would say making sure all children are in quality schools until the age of 18–I believe a lot of problems in the world could be solved via a ripple effect if we address that issue.
7)You knew it was coming….What has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?
He said: It’s cliche, but we spend a lot of time arguing about what we’re going to eat. It can be hard for both of us to make decisions, and we often crave different foods on the road.
She said: It’s hard to remember one in particular, but I’m sure it had something to do with getting lost. Not knowing where we are is always a big stress point for us, and sometimes causes us to bicker.
A huge thanks to Kate and Jeremy for sharing their story! Give them a follow!
The best things in life are the perfect mix of two ingredients: strawberries and cream, jam and toast, peanut butter and jelly. We have found the perfect combination of the carefree Caribbean and the flair of Latin American: Belize.
We’ve put together the perfect couple’s itinerary for your visit to this paradise. We found 10 days was ideal to relax and see the key sites.
The exchange rate with United States dollar is set at one dollar for every two Belizean dollars. This makes monetary conversions very simple. Most places take American dollars and credit cards. English is widely spoken, it doesn’t hurt to have a little Spanish in your back pocket.
Belize has one major airport in Belize City. It is easily accessible from just about anywhere in the lower 48 states. Major departure cities include: Miami, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Houston. We elected the three-hour flight from Dallas. It could not have been easier.
Once you arrive, take a taxi into Belize City. The airport is a ways out-of-town, about 10 miles. It should cost US $25. Don’t pay more than that. (You are already paying double what the locals pay.) Candidly, we didn’t find much to see in Belize City. There are some rough spots, make sure you take precautions for personal safety, especially at night. Have your taxi drop you off at the boat terminal. From here you can purchase tickets and board boats to the many island locations. We elected to take a boat to Ambergris Caye. If time is an issue you can also book a short flight from the Belize City to San Pedro. The boat takes roughly an hour and a half. The flight will get you there in 30 minutes. The boat ride can be a little rough depending on weather.
Costa Blu Belize
We highly recommend that you start your vacation on the beach. Select from one of many resort locations along the ocean. You can get everything from simple accommodations to five-star resorts. Definitely pick one with the pool. We elected to stay at the beautiful Costa Blu Resort at Ambergris Caye. It is an intimate resort that focuses on providing world-class diving. The staff is friendly, and the food on premises is really good. We highly recommend the conch ceviche!
Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world. Definitely bring your Go Pro camera! Your resort can help you in booking snorkeling trips. We elected to use Tuff N Nuff. We went out for two different half day excursions: shark alley, and Mexico rocks. We would recommend both to you. The excellent dive masters were so helpful and patient. Eric was especially nice to Luci who had trouble with her mask at first. They provide all the gear that you need. They also offer insights into the flora and fauna you will see. If you are scuba certified or would like to become so, there are so many places that offer this service. Again they provide all of the equipment and excellent dive masters. On our visit to Mexico rocks, we swam with nurse sharks, turtles, and even an moray eel. It was incredible.
Chill at the pool/beach
Arriving in Belize you immediately go into relax mode. Whether it’s sitting by the beach or enjoying the sun by the pool, you cannot help at leave all your worries behind. We elected to have a couples massage right on the beach. Our resort arranged it and the cost was reasonable. We paid $90 for a 90 minute massage with the sounds of the sea and breeze tickling our faces.
Shopping at San Pedro
The major town located on the peninsula is called San Pedro. This rough and tumble beach town gives you access to a wonderful restaurants, souvenir shops, and more T-shirt shops and you can shake a stick at. We highly recommend Elvi’s restaurant for lunch or dinner. You’re not going to find high-end retail shops here. Just the sort that offer fun little trinkets to remember your trip.
Once your stress has melted away when you’re ready for adventure hop on the boat or plane back to the mainland. Here you’re going to need to rent a car. After doing our research there’s only one place that could offer the border transfer documents into Guatemala and that is Crystal Auto. They have a solid selection of vehicles, it is not a bad idea to rent a jeep Buy the GPS. Cell service is a little spotty there. The main roads in Belize are fine, but you have a lot of large speed bumps and potholes the size of Texas or a German Shepherd. There is one major road running north and south and east to west.
Tikal Mayan Ruins
Day trip to Tikal Mayan Ruins
We highly recommend a side trip to Tikal, the ruins in western Guatemala. It is a beautiful four-hour drive from Belize City. Well worth the travel. You will need to have a rental car that allows you to leave Belize and enter Guatemala. Crossing the border is a bit of an adventure. The Belize side is fairly straightforward, the Guatemalan side not so much. You will need to trade some Belizean dollars into Guatemalan dollars. Keep in mind, border agents only speak Spanish on the Guatemalan side. Be prepared for a lot of gestures and pointing. There are a lot of teenage boys and men more than willing to help you figure out the border procedures, especially if you have a car. We let them help us and tipped them afterwards.
IMPORTANT: You also need some Guatemalan dollars in order to enter in the Tikal National Park. We made the mistake of not having cash, we had to drive all the way back roughly an hour each way to get cash. Do not make this mistake.
There are two hotels in the park. Accommodations are not stellar. Both are a bit rustic. We recommend staying inside the park as travel in and out of the park takes a lot of time. There are many guides that are available via your hotel. Please visit with them before you book your tour. The command of good English is not widespread. If you keep walking at a good pace you can see the entire complex in one day. You will definitely want to take pictures in the morning and evening, as the light is best. Pack gallons of mosquito spray and sunscreen: both will be an issue. We elected to take the sunrise tour. This was a mistake. We did not check the weather. Eight out of ten days you will not be able to see the sunrise. The fog is too thick. Have your hotel check the weather forecast for the morning.
There is definitely a different feel in Guatemala. The language barrier is significant at times. The culture is remarkably different. With that said, well worth the adventure.
Hands-down our favorite activity in Belize was visiting the ATM cave. You will need to book a trip in advance with a tour company that leads small groups through to Cave. You will need to be able to: swim, climb, and be ready for a significant hike. The ATM cave complex is ancient Mayan religious site. The cave is filled with archaeological artifacts and geological formations. Cameras and video cameras are not allowed in the cave. Sorry we don’t have any pictures. You begin the morning about 8 a.m.. Your guides will pick you up from your hotel. From the main parking lot, your guide will take you on a short jungle hike, which includes a river crossing. There is a rope stretched across the river to use your crossing.
At the mouth of the cave you guide will give you a short introduction of what you will see in the caves and the will emphasize importance of staying together. The company will supply you with a helmet and a flashlight for your helmet. There is a moderate creek that runs through the cave. At the mouth of the cave your swim roughly 50 yards The rest of the journey will be hiking and climbing.
Toward the end of the hike you will climb a ladder remove your shoes and walk into the main sacrificial chamber. There you will see a well-preserved skeleton of a sacrificed Mayan as well as interesting pottery and other ancient artifacts.
The entire experience was impressive. It was unlike anything we have ever done. We highly recommend it. It is a bit on the expensive side running roughly US$100 per person. The guide service provides lunch, and transportation to and from your hotel in the area.
If you’re up for another day of exploring Mayan ruins. We highly recommend Caracol ruins. Getting there is a wonderful adventure. You will need a high clearance or a jeep type vehicle to get there. There are several small river crossings as well as some jungle jeeping to get to the location. It is roughly 2 hour drive on a rough unpaved road. Toward the end of the journey you will need an armed guard to get to the ruins. Each day the Belizean army runs an armed guard service from the army base into the ruins. There’s no cost for this service but you have to be on time. There’s a sign in & out location there. Don’t let this scare you away, it is really straight forward and safe.
Caracol Mayan Ruins
Make sure you have plenty of fuel as well as food as there are no services on the entire road into the ruins. There are guide services that can take you on this trip if you would like. Candidly, the drive in and out of Carocol is a lot of fun. What makes the ruins better than Tikal would be the number of people. There were only other 15 people at the entire complex during our visit. This makes for great pictures and you can take your time and seeing each of the ruins.
Enjoy your trip to Belize! The country offers something for the body and soul. Relax on the beach, swim with schools of fish, then explore the ruins of an ancient civilization.
Have you ever wondered how to stay fit while on the road constantly? The couple we are featuring this week are pros! Not only do they keep their bodies healthy, they also work hard on keeping their relationship strong. Meet Scott and Collette of Roamaroo.com. They recently penned a great article for Elite Daily titled: “10 Ways My Husband and I Keep Our Spark Burning While Traveling.”
1) How many countries visited between the two of you?
We’ve visited 45 countries together! Collette has visited 66 countries. Scott has visited 46 countries.
Scott and Collette of Roamaroo
2) If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be? (this person can be living, historical or mythical?.)
She said: Mike Rowe for his witty banter, incredible vocabulary, and carpe diem personality. How cool would it be to be included in an epic Mike Rowe story? Maybe he’d even sing it in his Opera voice…
He said: Superman – I wouldn’t have to worry about paying for plane tickets again. Also, he could fly me around to get some cool “Drone” shots of all the great places.
3)What has been your favorite destination in your wanderings? Why? Any tips for someone that has never been?
She said: It’s a toss up between South Africa and New Zealand. When we visited South Africa, we went on a safari in the Sabi Sands area of Kruger National Park. There is nothing more primal than being surrounded by nature’s greatest beasts.
New Zealand will always have my heart for its pure beauty. We road tripped around the south island for 2 weeks, sleeping in a van and cooking beans and rice. It was romantic, it was intimate, it was exploration at its purest. No frills, no fuss, just two explorers finding meaning in Mother Nature. If you find your way to New Zealand, we highly recommend renting a campervan to explore the country. Don’t make too many plans and leave your options open to chance!
He said: Istanbul and Iceland. Istanbul is such a culturally rich city with a fascinating history. The Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque are some of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen. A great thing to do is to take an Uber boat down the Bosphorus. We took one to Reina restaurant at night. There’s nothing fancier than arriving to a turkish club/restaurant on a boat.
Another favorite location of mine is Iceland. The vast beauty, dramatic waterfalls, and welcoming people make Iceland unforgettable. We drove a campervan around Iceland for a week. Every morning we woke up somewhere new and beautiful. My favorite experience was when we cooked breakfast in our camper while overlooking the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Watching the brilliantly blue ice while enjoying our morning coffee was something no hotel or restaurant could offer.
4) You both are uber healthy! We are not brave enough to try Crossfit. Tell us, what are you secrets for eating and exercising on the road?
She said: For me, exercise is both a mental and physical necessity. Exercising is my own moving meditation. It clears my mind, keeps my body in tip top shape, and makes me a better person. I even wrote a book about staying fit while traveling called Passport to Fitness!
He said: I love to do Crossfit and it’s a great way to meet locals. We’ve made some great friends at gyms who have been nice enough to show us around or take us to dinner. One of my healthy travel tips is to fast on travel days. Most people hate the idea of fasting, but new research is showing some amazing anti aging benefits benefits to fasting. If we have a travel day filled with sitting on trains or planes, it’s easy to fast for the day since they’re no caloric need for large meals.
Collette in Cambodia.
5) We really enjoyed your posts on Cambodia. Tell us what your impressions were? Any recommendations? How was the food?
She said: Cambodia was one of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had. From a 4:30 am cotton candy sunrise over Angkor Wat to visiting local Khmer villages on the Mekong River, it was one of the most gratifying and eye opening trips of our journey. One memory stands out above the rest and that is when we were cruising down the Mekong River and stopped at a remote village. We ended up having a dance party with the locals under the glowing Cambodian moonlight. Although we don’t speak Khmer and they didn’t speak English, we were all able to communicate via dance.
He said: Cambodia was a great country to visit, I especially loved Siem Reap. Climbing the temples of Angkor Wat with our local tuk-tuk driver was an unforgettable day. Due to the horrible actions of Pol Pot in the 1970’s, the people of Cambodia are struggling to rebuild the country. You can see this in everyday life as many people live without basic technology of developed countries. Tip for Angkor Wat: Most hotels will organize tours of Angkor Wat, but if you want to save money, book directly with a tuk tuk driver. You’ll save 75%. Just ask any tuk-tuk driver (who has a nice tuk-tuk) if they do tours of Angkor Wat. Then negotiate a good price. It’s best to ask a few drivers to find the best price.
6) If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?
She said: I would love to absolve the fear that people have of other cultures, religions, and differences. Travel is about celebrating and accepting differences, learning other beliefs, and co-existing.
He said: As cheesy as it sounds, it would be world peace. If we didn’t spend the billions of dollars, time, and resources on defence we could solve countless problems within the world. We could dedicate resources to the hungry, creating better communities, advance society, and space travel. Call me selfish, but I would like to visit the moon!
7)You knew it was coming….What has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?
She said: Setting the alarm! I am not a morning person, especially when you mix in jet lag. Sometimes I like to wake up naturally and not have to worry about an alarm waking me up everyday. Scott likes the regimented alarm, but he hardly ever wakes up from the noise. I however, always wake up from his alarm and have to wake him up. He said: Every time we board a flight, Collette likes to be the first one in line. I’m a little more relaxed when it comes to getting on the plane. This always caused a rift between us in the beginning. Now, Collette just gives me my ticket and we meet on the plane.
1000Fights: Thanks again to our friends Scott and Collette for sharing a little about their adventure! Give them a follow!
The fjords of Norway are one of nature’s wonders: gigantic and rugged mountains teeming with waterfalls that churn into deep inlets that empty to the sea. Most people think that the only way to see Norway’s fjords is via an expensive cruise. Not true. We recently partnered with our friends at Auto Europe to explore the fjords via automobile. If you haven’t already, we recommend reading part one of this feature :”The Perfect Norway Roadtrip“. It highlights our recommendations for the wonderful capital city of Norway: Oslo. Here is a map of our trip:
Before we give you a detailed plan of what to see in Norway, we think we need to put the debate to rest about the whole fjord cruising thing. Yes, being on the water is incredible. But the problem with the cruise ship is twofold: you have to go where the ship goes or swim really well. The worst thing about cruising: where the boat goes a whole lotta people go as well. No fun. Having the flexibility of driving a car enables you to see what you want to see. It allows you to spend as much time as you want staring at a magnificent waterfall. It also allows you to be alone with your lover at the base of a majestic lake all by yourself. We did both of these and felt sorry for the hordes of cruisers who never experienced Norway the way we did.
Part one of our series focused on Oslo to Lillehammer. Now it’s time to head north towards Andalsnes.
Located just 18 km from Andalsnes is a beautiful collection of cabins overlooking a lush forest and deep blue lake. You can rent cabins large or small depending on number of your party. It is perfect for traveling with families. What we love most about this location is the ability to take little row boats out onto the lake. It is truly a surreal setting. You are completely surrounded by the majestic Romsdal Mountains. Of all of the areas of Norway, this spot mimicked the views from the Disney cartoon, Frozen. This is a great base to explore the fjords and the deep lakes that are in the surrounding area. As we mentioned in our previous post, Norway is extremely expensive. One of the advantages of renting a small cabin is the ability to do your own cooking thus saving you money.
Once you have your fill of alpine living, it’s time to head for the water. Drive northwest for another hundred miles and you will come to the charming seaside city of Alesund. The old city is filled with Norwegian charm. Architecture and colors combine to create a beautiful tapestry that is pure Norway. The city is known for its art-deco architecture. Hotels here don’t come cheap. This is a great place to use your points. There is a very nice Radisson blu right on the water. They have big rooms and a massive breakfast.
The must do’s in Alesund include climbing or driving to the lookout perch above the city. We would highly advise you to head up there anytime the weather looks clear, which is not very often for this part Norway. Taking a good picture up there is a challenge. The location is quite popular, so try the early morning if you get clear skies. The hike up to the top is quite rigorous, but the steps make it very doable. As you can see above, this is the best we could do.
The second must do is shopping. There are so many little eclectic stores that have Norwegian folk items, Maritime trinkets, and your standard tourist souvenirs. We found some good deals on some clothing including hats, gloves, and coats all handmade with bright Norwegian colors.
For our tour of the fjords, this is as far north as we’re going to go. From here drive south toward the hamlet of Hornindal. It is approximately two hours drive south. You will follow some of the worlds most stunning scenery. Cascading waterfalls are in view at just about every turn. Yes, we stopped a lot!
Once you arrive in Hornindal, we highly recommend the First Hotel Raftenvold. It is perched on the banks of Hornindalsvatnet Lake. Try saying that name three times fast! At a depth of 514 metres (1,686 ft) it is the deepest lake in all of Europe! The hotel is located right on the edge of the water. You can even take a swim if you wish!
They’re not a whole lot of places in this area to eat. We do recommend eating in the hotel restaurant. A word of warning: do be careful because the hours are a little bit confining. Mike took his sweet time getting ready for dinner and they were ready not to serve him because he was five minutes late. Be on time!
The next morning we continued our quest. We drove to the charming town located on a stunning fjord called Aurland. We stayed at the Vangsgaarden Gjestgiveri. It has great little cabins right on the fjords, affording you a wonderful view to wave at the cruise ships as they pass by. The hotel has a rich history, it was once home to the Norwegian Sea captain Juell circa 1770.
The city of Aurland is located on Europe’s deepest Fjord, the Sognefjord. It is 1,308 m deep and 204km long! It is known as the king of the Fjords. Here you will have easy access to Geriangerfjord, the Briksdal glacier and Vestkapp Mountian. This area is considered by many to be the most beautiful place on the planet.
Just outside of town, and up a zig zagging road is the fjord viewpoint called Stegastein. Sounds like some kind of dinosaur? The viewpoint includes a laminated wood and steel viewing platform that is visually stunning. It is has won numerous international design awards. It juts 30 meters out into the air and affords some incredible selfies with the fjord in the background.
A little Odda
Our road trip now takes us further south to the little fishing village of Odda. Odda turned out to be one of our favorite places during our stay in Norway. It has a number of little restaurants, beautiful water, and some amazing waterfalls. Prices can be a bit steep in town, we elected to rent a cabin at Seljestad Cottages just 20 minutes outside the city.
Ten minutes outside of Odda on our way to our cabin, are Latefossen Falls. Latefossen must mean car wash in Norwegian. You actually drive your car through the waterfall! We struggled to keep our camera dry as we braved the torrent of mist to take photos. Definitely stop and take some pictures!
The most famous attraction near Odda is Trolltunga (translated, the Troll’s Tongue). Type it into Google and you will see some stunning pictures of the rock outcropping that will make anyone scared of heights go into freak out mode. We elected not to take on the 15-mile hike. It was a bit much for our hiking abilities. But, good news for you, our friends at www.norwaytonowhere.com did. Here is their report.
Norway is perfect for driving. The roads are in good condition. Petrol in the county is cheap and plentiful, and the rental rates from our friends at @autoeurope are affordable. Skip the cruise and take a drive that will envelop you in some of the world’s most beautiful scenery.
1)Tell us how you met? What inspired you to travel together? How do you make couple travel work?
They said: Kimwas finishing her MBA in Tennessee and randomly met two guys from Australia at a conference. She asked them what it’s like to live on an island (yes, she’s part londe!), and kept in touch via email for 8 months. She clearly made an impression, as then she was invited to head over to Oz for a 3-month working holiday. She met Rob at work, here he fixed her computer. They fell in love, and now he fixes all her problems ;)
We were inspired to travel because we just knew we weren’t living the life we dreamed of. We were “stuck” – not that we were miserable – we were comfortable with good jobs and great friends and family near by. We just knew there was something more to life, so decided to act on it! More on this in question 6.
We definitely haven’t mastered couple travel yet, but we make it work by being open, learning and adapting along the way. Arguing, fighting, forgiving and moving on, It’s part of the fun of it all (most the time anyways).
Kim and Rob of Simply Traveled
2)If you had to travel with someone else besides your travel partner, who would it be? (this person can be living, historical or mythical)
He Said: If it was long term it would have to be my mate Hearschy. We’ve known each other for over 10 years, lived together and both love adventure.
She Said: My beautiful sister, Jennifer! She’s a bit more organized than me, yet enough spontaneous to go with the flow. We see-saw from keeping each other on the straight and narrow to letting loose, knowing there’s a time for everything, so it’s a great balance. In the couple of trips we’ve been on together, we didn’t want to kill each other, so I think she’d make the perfect travel companion!
3) What has been your favorite destination in your wanderings?
He said: It’s a close one but I’d have to say Hawaii. We only spent two weeks there, but it was an awesome place. I love being outdoors and Kauai especially tailored to this passion with stunning beaches, amazing hiking and picturesque landscapes. Oh and I had the best pork burritos ever!
She said: Ahhh, such a tough one! I’m absolutely in love with New Orleans – the food, music and culture are the perfect combination for a sublime getaway! Outside of that, the Philippines completely stole my heart – I’ll elaborate on this one in question 5 ;)
4) I know you guys recently went to the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh. Tell us a little more about the experience.
He said: It’s a sobering experience and definitely worth visiting. I found the S-21 audio tour and museum to be the more moving of the two sites to visit. The stories are gut wrenching and it makes you question how man can be so evil.
She said: An utterly heartbreaking reality! I’m reading the book now, and I still can’t wrap my head around how something so horrible happens. And the fact that history keeps repeating itself makes me incredibly sad. But, without harping on the obvious negatives of genocide, the Cambodian people were some of the loveliest people I’ve met on my travels, so it was great to see the country and its people getting back on top!
Couple’s cooking school
5)Tell us about the Philippines. It is on our list. What were some of the highlights? Sights? Food? Culture?
Highlights/Sights: Luzon in the North was amazing. The word famous rice terraces were unbelievable and I loved the hiking along the narrow pathways. Apo Island was an authenticate island experience and the snorkelling with turtles was really fun.
Food: Garlic rice with corned beef and fried eggs became a staple. I had it at our homestay and it was some of the best food I ate in the country.
Culture: I can’t think of anything specific but the people were very welcoming, helpful and had great English skills.
She said: Ok, to start on a negative, the food is not amazing (sad but true) – but it’s not horrible either, and actually, the mangos are to die for! The rice terraces in Northern Luzon were phenomenal, and definitely a highlight. Sagada was one of my favourite towns for the quaint nature and laid back mountain vibe. My favourite island was Cebu – we travelled top to bottom, learning to dive on Malapascua Island (home of the thresher shark), before heading south to Moalboal. Pronounced “mwoal-bwoal,” it is a beautiful beachfront town, where you can snorkel with sea turtles and thousands of sardines. I can say I found my real love for the water in the Philippines!
6)If you could solve one problem in the world what would it be?
He said: Pollution/rubbish. You really notice how bad of a problem it is when visiting Asia. A more sustainable way to fuel society and better practices around waste disposal would benefit everyone.
She said: Oooh, good one. Previously I’ve always thought of this question in the context of poverty. However, due to reflections on our current journey, I’ve got a different perspective on this one. The problem I’d solve is two-fold: 1. People realizing their potential and 2. Not being afraid of using it! I see so many people with the brains, the means and the support network to do incredible things that often just “settle” and it drives me crazy! I’m pretty certain if these same people (and I’ve definitely been one of them before) followed their dreams, the world would be a much better place!
7) You knew it was coming….What has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?
He said: Generally our worst fights are after we have had a few drinks. Nashville springs to mind. I’m not sure what I said, though I dodged a bottle of water being thrown at my head whilst I was making my way to the vending machine. The next day it was all a big laugh!
She said: Haha, is it bad that I’m completely oblivious and didn’t actually see this question coming at all!?! Ok, let me think…it’s probably not our biggest fight, but it was recent, so timely. We took a 4 hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh. Instead of getting organized for where we’d stay when we arrived (yes, we had free wifi on the bus), we read our books and listened to music instead. When we arrived, it was raining and Rob suggested we take a minute at the station to work out where to go while we had a signal. I was like – are you kidding? Hello! we just had 4 hours to get organized, but you want to do it now? Nope – lets start walking. So off we went. An hour and a half later we were still circling around the city trying to find District 1. To stop from killing each other, we decided to take a break to fuel our bellies and connect to wifi to get a grasp on where we were. Attempting to defuse the situation, I suggested to Rob we just ‘agree to disagree.’ He said, “Nope!” I called him some choice words and walked away. I returned to him and apologized, we ate, walked the 30 minutes to our final destination and lived happily ever after!
1000 Fights: A huge thanks to Rob and Kim for sharing their love story and a few tips for traveling together.
So often we hear that the best way to see Norway is by taking a cruise. We could not disagree more! The best way to see Norway is by taking a road trip! Norway’s stunning natural beauty, friendly people, and captivating history make it a great place for traveling couples. The fjords of Norway are unlike any place we have ever visited and we can’t wait to share with you a few of our tips and tricks for making your road trip successful.
Most international flights bring you to Norway via one of three “Oslo” airports. None of the airports are near the city. The (OSL) Oslo Airport Gardermoen it Is located 47 km north-east of Oslo. The Rygge Airport (RYG) is located at 66 kilometers south-east of Oslo and finally the Torp Airport TRF is located 110 km south-west of Oslo. Do not fret about which airport you arrive at as there is easy access to rental cars at each. There are actually many pros to staying your first night outside of Oslo proper. We elected to stay in the small hamlet of Fredrikstad and had a great experience.
Picking the Right Rental
We’ve written a recent post will help you select the right rental car. Please keep in mind that there are a lot of mountains, climbs, and weather in Norway. Don’t go cheap on the rental car. We used and highly recommend our friends at Auto Europe for rentals in Norway and the rest of Europe.
The bustling capital of Norway is truly beautiful. Perched on the edge of the sea. Cruise ships park right in the center of downtown. Norwegians have long been a seafaring people. Sailboats, motorboats and rafts line the harbors and almost outnumber the cars. Your road trip we’ll start with a couple days in Oslo. Holding off on renting your car until the time you’re ready to leave Oslo is also an option. The public transportation is actually very good. As we will address later Norway is very expensive. Oslo is extremely expensive. We stayed at the Radisson Blu on points. It is a beautiful hotel. If you have hotel points Oslo is the place to use them as hotel chains are rare as you head north.
Key things to see in Oslo:
Nobel Peace Prize Museum: we put this one first because it was by far our favorite. Few museums leave you wanting more museum. The Nobel Peace Prize Museum is one of those select few. It is a two-story museum located along the harbor. There is a nominal fee for entry, and then you proceed upstairs to view different exhibits about the winners of the award. It is extremely moving.
National Museum of Art: the second must-see in Oslo is the National Museum of Art. It houses the best-known artists from Norway. King of the Norwegian artists is of course much. You must find the scream. The crowds tend to block the view, but be patient and the opportunity to snap a good picture we’ll certainly come. Munch is an interesting character. You really should do some reading on him prior to your visit. An entire museum dedicated to him is in construction as we speak.
Oslo Opera House
The Oslo Opera HouseOne of the most stunning pieces of architecture in the world is the Oslo Opera House. Its shape and placement reflect the shape of an iceberg. The inside is even more stunning than the outside. We highly recommend taking the full tour of the Opera House. They take you backstage, which is it technological paradise. You also visit the ballerina dressing rooms, musicians preparation areas, and a number of other workshops for production of the sets. Really cool! The tours are led by pensioners who have retired from their work with the opera house. They know the place inside and out. Our guide had great stories about some of the performances and performers. One of the best souvenirs we purchased was a used shoe. In the gift shop of the opera house you can purchase used ballet shoes used in actual performances.
Inside of the Oslo Opera House. Each pattern on every chair is unique.
The Crying Baby
Vigeland-Land– The famed Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland has a complete museum and even an entire park dedicated to displaying his work. One of his famous pieces is the crying baby. People come from the four corners of the earth to see this baby throwing a tantrum. The park is stunning. It is a great place to take a picnic or there are small cafés located throughout the park are great places to grab some ice cream or a cake. When word of warning about visiting the museum. It is definitely rated PG 13. There are a number of works that depict human sexuality in less than a discrete manner. The park is fine but the museum may not be appropriate for families.
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Oslo Food Scene
The best food on our trip was found in Oslo. You can get just about any type of cuisine in the city. Our favorite spot is an Indian place called Mister India (http://www.mister-india.no/). Located on one of the side streets in downtown, the food is incredible. There are red & green Curry that is to die for. You maybe wondering why we elected to go to an Indian ethnic place. We figured we’d get plenty of Norwegian traditional food on the road trip up north. This definitely proved to be the case. It’s okay to check out couple ethnic restaurants in Oslo and still call yourself an authentic explorer.
There are number of really good Fish houses along the harbor.
Once you have conquered all of Oslo it’s time to head north. Our first stop is at city whose name is very familiar to sports fans. Willie Hammer was the home of the Olympics in 1994. There are a number of museum displays that celebrate the Winter Olympics. There is a huge hockey stadium that has a bobsled you can check out. Lillehammer also has a World War II museum that is very interesting.
End of Part One of the Norway Road Trip! Stay tuned for the second half!
We worked worked with our friends at @autoeurope to present this post.