A Regal Vacation at the Makadi Palace

The Makadi Palace is a salubrious resort situated on Makadi Bay in Egypt’s fabulous Red Sea area. Featuring a private beach and just 30 minutes in a free shuttle bus from the Grand Mall in Hurghada, it’s the perfect place to while away a few idyllic days with the family.

1 There are 475 rooms on 5 floors in the Makadi Palace and each room has a balcony from where guests can enjoy stunning views of the resort’s gardens, swimming pools or the Red Sea. It’s easy to see why the resort is often compared to a Moorish Palace. Air conditioning, satellite television, minibar and safety deposit box are all included in standard rooms.

There’s so much to do at the Makadi Palace it’s no surprise that some people barely leave the resort for the duration of their break. With 4 large swimming pools, 5 tennis courts and a football pitch, the opportunities for engaging in sport are immense here. Other activities offered include beach volleyball, water polo, aerobics and aqua-aerobics.

2Apart from the feel good factor you get from all of the exercise, it’s a great way to meet and make friends with some of the other guests in the resort. And with a unique daily sports program, featuring lots of fun games and competitions, there’s really no excuse not to get involved.

However, if sport is too much like hard work to you, other ways you can spend your time at the Makadi Palace include getting a massage from one of the fully qualified masseuses working full time at the resort or enrolling in a free Arabic language course. The only stipulation for the language course is there must be enough demand from guests to run it.

3Dining in the Makadi Palace is one of the highlights of a stay here. Guests have a wide range of options available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Dome and Melange restaurants offer breakfast including American, English and continental style selections and both also offer full lunch buffets. Another option for lunch includes the Sunset Grill which has a mouth-watering menu of grilled dishes.

4For the main evening meal buffets are available from the Dome, Melange and Discovery restaurants. Aficionados of Thai food though will probably spend most of their time in the Thai Garden which serves delicious, authentic Thai dishes for lunch and dinner. And if you’re worried about what the kids will eat there’s no need to be, a children’s buffet is available daily from 10am to 5pm and includes all the snacks that kids love.

After the sun sets, the atmosphere at the Makadi Palace becomes more tranquil as guests enjoy a few drinks in the Piano Bar. Every night a different act performs live music and if you still feel like dancing after this, you can get your groove on in the resort’s nightclub, which is open until the early hours every night of the week.

5The Makadi Palace also offers an extensive entertainment package for kids. There are various kids’ clubs run by the hotel, including one at Sunwing Waterworld. And if the little ones need to practice their swimming for this they have their own designated swimming pool at the Makadi Palace. Selections of children’s movies are also shown throughout the day and an evening disco completes the entertainment package.

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Big Bad Quito

“You’ll get robbed” they said.
“Quito is a hell hole full of mugs, low life’s and degenerates.”
“You’ll be lucky to leave with both kidneys intact, let alone your laptop.”

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Quito, and it’s generally not pleasant. ‘The most dangerous place in South America’ had been bandied about while I was in Ecuador, and based on what I had heard, I was pleasantly surprised to get out alive.

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Melbourne as a Backpacker

This post is supposed to be about doing Melbourne, Australia (my home town) as a backpacker. I wanted to write something on how those of us with itchy feet who want to be travelling but can’t (work commitments, saving money etc) can still do the little things to get that ‘on the road’ feeling back, by seeing our cities through new eyes. I wanted to do all the things I would do as a backpacker, but never do as a resident. So I did the research, got the maps, charged the camera and was ready to hit the town when I realised that Melbourne, while a spectacular city to live in, just isn’t that great as a backpacker.

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Some Destinations Aren’t as Glorious as Advertised

I’m so sick of the travel section of most mainstream newspapers. The Saturday ‘Traveller’ section of my local paper is pretty much pages and pages of advertisements thinly disguised as destination reviews. I’ve noticed that it’s pretty rare to find a less than flattering review written journalists that travel as ‘guests’ of the tour groups, government tourism departments or airlines that they are writing about. They might point out one or two minor niggles but I’d say 95% of the content in those articles are absolutely glowing reviews of the service or company in question.

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The Untouristed Thailand

So you want to visit Thailand. That’s cool. It’s a great place to travel to. Got your guidebook yet? Have you noticed all those ‘Must see’ destinations, and the ‘Hidden Gems’?

Well guess what. They aren’t so hidden any more.

You can expect that “deserted beach with powder soft white sand and turquoise blue water” to be full of fat Australians with tribal tattoos drinking buckets of watered down expensive alcohol. That “charming little village with smiling locals and cheap phad thai” is now a backpacker slum bursting with tattoo parlors and crazy Germans on scooters, oh and those locals aren’t exactly smiling because of you, though they are pretty happy to see your baht.

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The End of the World – Ushuaia, Argentina

The four hour flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia gives passengers amazing views of Patagonia and the snow-capped Andes mountains that stretch all the way down through South America.  Flying in, it’s hard to imagine there is a modern city anywhere in the vicinity.

Ushuaia is considered the southern-most city in the world.  Battling with Puerto Williams, Chile (officially not a recognized city) for the title, Ushuaia is connected to the rest of Argentina by Route 30 and a small but modern airport.  Even five minutes from landing, there is absolutely nothing in sight other than most impressive mountain range in the entire world.

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Havana Cuba, Frozen in Communism

For many travelers there is a certain Mystique that Cuba and in particular Havana holds. The largest Island in the Caribbean is a treasure of Spanish Colonial architecture, breath taking beaches, classic American Cars and being one of the final bastions of communism. Frozen in time is one of the descriptions I use to convey the feeling and emotion of being in Havana. Every where you cast your eyes you cannot be but reminded of being in a place that has changed little since the late fifties.

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Working in a Hostel While Traveling

OK, you’ve handed in your notice, packed your bags, said bye to mum, paid off the credit card (well, most of it) and you’re off on your yearlong adventure. Problem is if you are anything like me you’ve spent a little too long in Europe, enjoyed a couple extra flights in lieu of excruciating overnight chicken buses, sampled a few too many brews in Mexico and before you realize it you are not quite half way through your trip and over three quarters through your budget.

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Budapest, the Beautiful Danube, and Expensive Hungarian Food

I first considered visiting Budapest after reading Tim Leffel’s blog (Tim is the author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money is Worth a Fortune).  I didn’t pay much attention to the date it was posted and decided it would be my big fall trip thanks to a college graduation present I was ready to cash in.

The first thing I noticed during my pre-planning (I do much less than you would expect) was that there was an impressive amount of hostels listed on HostelWorld. 83 to be exact, as of this posting.  As a comparison, Paris only has 15 listed.

It turns out that it’s rather simple to set up a hostel in a converted apartment and many people are taking advantage of it and the increase in tourism that Hungary has been experiencing over the past decade or so.  Both hostels I stayed in were pretty small but modern, clean and well run.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

One of the things that I always consider when traveling is how easily I can survive on a limited budget.  Budapest was advertised as the secret budget destination in Eastern Europe and your money could go a long way.  Part of the EU, yet still clinging to their currency, the Hungarian Forint, the dollar was said to go much further than elsewhere in Europe.  In some ways, Budapest lived up to this claim, but in others, it exceeded any expectation one could have for larger, more popular European cities.

Széchenyi Baths

Széchenyi Baths

For instance, the average price of a hostel bed was around $15-20 which is certainly acceptable for Europe and much cheaper than Paris or London.  A day at the enormous and beautiful Széchenyi Baths was only about $10 and a full guided tour of surprisingly tight caves ran around $25.  I wouldn’t expect any of these to be much cheaper and they were all worth the price.

Then came the food.  For some reason, food was incredibly expensive.  I can’t recall spending more on a meal in any country, city, or state… anywhere.  My guidebook recommended a restaurant around the corner from the hostel I was staying at which offered traditional Hungarian meals for around $5-7.  It had been a year since the guidebook was published and the restaurant owner must have gotten wind of his literary mention.  It’s a common occurrence along the typical tourist trails for hostels, hotels, and restaurants to increase their price once they get a nod in a guidebook, but what I experienced was much higher than anyone could expect, and not only for the places that were published.  In Budapest every normal restaurant, regardless of the area it was in, charged at least $20 for a typical meal.  The bargains were actually on the heavily trafficked tourist districts in Pest which all offered set “tourist” menus.  The downside was that they were very small and left much to be desired.  Even a stop in a Subway chain for lunch cost me about $10 for a 6″ turkey sandwich.  The price of food was bewildering, to say the least.

DSCN0494While Hungarian cuisine is definitely highly recommended, there is much more to Budapest than overpriced restaurants luckily.  Budapest is a very beautiful town with beautiful castles across the Danube River and great architecture across the entire city.  A great day can be had by simply walking around the city with no destination taking in the sights.  Heroes Square and City Park give a taste of history and nature that helps you quickly forget about the hustle and bustle of Budapest’s busy city streets.  Don’t forget that Budapest is Hungary’s center of culture and home to both art and history museums like the House of Terror which reminds visitors of atrocious crimes that occurred during Hungary’s Stalinist regime and WWII.

One of the most impressive things about Budapest though was the amount of people who speak great English.  Obviously it’s in response to the tourist boom, but it’s impressive how friendly and willing to chat most Hungarians are especially seeing how this country was completely communist less than 20 years ago and experienced very little tourism.  Things have changed though and tourism has become a huge source of income for many businesses in Budapest.

If you want to explore the rest of Hungary (or go to just about any neighboring country) nearly all the trains in Hungary run right through Budapest.  I managed to head south three hours to Pécs which is one of the larger cities in Hungary, yet very small when compared to Budapest.  You can cross the entire town on foot in about 15 minutes but it’ll take you an entire day stopping at the many sights like modern art museum or the Mosque Church.  The later is quite impressive.  In the 16th-century the Turks built a mosque with the stones of a ruined church.  When the Turks were forced out of Hungary the mosque became a church again but kept the classic dome and still retains several touches of Moorish design.  There are even a few scribbles of Arabic around the church that can be found if you keep your eyes open.

Mosque Church

Mosque Church

For what it’s worth, Pécs also had the best food I experienced in Hungary and at much more reasonable prices.

DSCN0590For more photos from my trip to Hungary, check out the set on Flickr.

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All You Need to Know About Hostels

“You stay in hostels?” people often ask when I talk to them about the way I travel.  “Aren’t you afraid of getting robbed or murdered?”

Thanks a lot Eli Roth for scaring the bejeezus out of inexperienced travelers and causing them to think they’re going to get murdered if they stay in a hostel.  I personally haven’t bothered watching his films Hostel and Hostel II, but I can assure you that there are very few similarities.  In fact, if you want to consider your personal safety, aren’t you safer in the small confines of a hostel with other travelers in the same room or nearby than you would be in a hotel?  Just saying.

The truth is that hostels actually provide a great option for budget travelers and with their affordable prices, allow many people to see the world they otherwise couldn’t afford.

What is a hostel?

OK, let’s start from the beginning in case you aren’t very familiar with hostels. A hostel is typically much smaller than a hotel and has fewer rooms.  The majority of rooms are dorm-style accommodations and have multiple (usually bunk) beds.  These rooms can house anywhere from 6 to 12 people usually and may or may not have an attached bathroom.

Doesn’t sound all that glamorous, and it’s not, but they’re cheap.  Depending on where the hostel is located, they can cost between $5-$25 on average.  Obviously, big European cities are going to be more expensive than smaller towns in South America, but no matter where you are, hostels are going to be considerably cheaper than a hotel room.

Need more privacy?

Nobody wants to share a room with strangers, but some people may flat out refuse to do so.  If that’s the case, many hostels also offer private rooms.  These typically have a couple of beds and can be a good option if you are traveling with a friend or small group.  The prices are higher obviously, but usually still cheaper than a hotel room.  It is worth your while to check around though because sometimes you might find a better deal on a hotel room.  I’ve seen some overly priced private rooms before and it doesn’t always  make sense.

What else does a hostel offer?

Not all hostels are the same but the trend over the past couple of years is for hostels to offer more and more amenities for their guests.  Many hostels provide maps and information on the area and some even arrange their own tours.  Sometimes these are complimentary or cheap, but often they will help book tours with local tour companies.  You should be aware that the hostel usually gets a commission for setting you up with a tour company, but most hostels have already done the work to figure out which companies are trustworthy and a good deal.  With the word-of-mouth nature of hostel guests, it’s in their best interest to be honest and helpful as word will get around quickly if they are not.

Most hostels also provide a kitchen where you can store and cook your own food.  While I always recommend enjoying the local cuisine and dining out, many travelers choose to cook in order to keep their costs down.  Some hostels also include continental style breakfast and a few I’ve seen sell their own food and drinks.  In fact, the second-best restaurant I found in Costa Rica was conveniently in the Arenal Backpackers Hostel in La Fortuna.

Another thing that is becoming popular in hostels is free computer use and/or free WiFi.  For travelers with their own computer or wireless-enabled phone this can be a godsend for sending emails or planning many aspects of their trip.

A great form of social interaction

Just like a hotel, you probably want to spend most of your time away from the hostel enjoying wherever you may be traveling, but for lazy days or early nights, hostels can be a great way to socialize.  Whether you are by yourself or with friends, you’ll quickly meet people in a hostel.

Many hostels provide a common room or area with a TV, music, a pool, or just a place to sit and eat and this is usually where most people congregate.  Sooner or later you’ll be enjoying a drink with a handful of people speaking several different languages.  This is one of my favorite things about staying at hostels and I have made some good friends like this.

What you should bring

Nearly all hostels now provide bedding but I’m sure there are still a few out there that don’t, or still charge a small fee for it.  Some people travel with a sleeping bag or bed sheet but this is very rare these days.  You will want to bring your own toiletries as things like soap and shampoo aren’t provided.  Also, my favorite thing to bring is a pair of ear plugs.  Inevitably you’ll have at least one night with somebody who snores so these can really save your night.

The safety of your belongings should also be a concern and while I have been less than smart about keeping my things secure in the past without any negative results, you shouldn’t try your luck.  Many hostels provide lockers but you’ll probably need your own lock.  It’s safe enough to leave your clothes and stuff lying out on your bed, but keep your passport, money, and any valuables like a camera with you just to be safe.  While theft in hostels isn’t prevalent, it does happen.

Another thing you should bring is a towel.  I recommend a thin, quick drying towel made for traveling or camping.  These take up very little space in your backpack and dry fast so they don’t start to stink when packed.  Many hostels do provide towels but not all of them.  Some do, but charge a dollar or two.  Having your own certainly makes life easier.

How to find a hostel

The best website out there for booking and researching hostels is HostelWorld which is why I have a convenient form on the right of this web page to search for them.  There are plenty of reviews for most hostels along with pictures that can help you visualize the place.  It’s easy to reserve a bed or room in a hostel through HostelWorld but I also recommend playing things by ear a little bit.  If you know that your destination isn’t incredibly busy, try only booking for a night or two and then seeing how the rest of your time goes.  Maybe you won’t like the hostel and want to move to a different one.  Perhaps you’ll decide to move on to another city.  Not booking too many nights in advance will allow you a bit of freedom.  Just make sure you discuss the situation about extending your stay when you arrive because many hostels fill up quickly during peak times.  Having at least one night booked to begin with will certainly make things easier when you arrive though so it’s nice to have something arranged ahead of time.

If you are yet to experience a hostel I hope this shed some light on them for you.  I highly recommend them not only for the cost savings, but the experience as well.  If you have any comments or questions about sleeping at hostels feel free to post them in the comments section.

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