Matt’s 2004 trip

Hey guys! Welcome back! Sorry it’s been a little while since my last post, but I’ve been flat out with work and family!

Anyway, today I thought I’d talk about a wonderful trip I took with my brother in 2004 when I was 19 years old. As soon as my university winter holidays started, we embarked on a luxurious journey headed to 7 countries flying business class Emirates. Our first destination was England. We picked up our rent-a-car in London and headed west to see Stonehenge. It was such a mysterious place in the middle of nowhere.

Following Stonehenge, we travelled northwest to Bath, which is a beautiful old town famous for its amazing old Roman-built baths. We walked around the baths and found some beautiful old townhouses, too. The UK really has some great architecture!

Next, we drove up to Wales and saw Cardiff Castle. If you’ve never seen any medieval things, this is a must! We also found a very interesting roundabout a bit further up the road. I’ve never seen so many traffic signs in one place!

After Cardiff, we continued north through Brecon Beacons National Park. There were amazing long winding mountains covered in only grass. We found a random really steep mountain and decided to climb it, as you do! We finally made it to the top just as a thunderstorm was approaching. Being in the clouds when a thunderstorm is rolling through isn’t the best idea, so we decided to scoot down the mountain by sliding down the wet grassy slope on our backsides. A few holes in the pants later, we made it down safely!

After Wales, we headed to Scotland. This was a LONG drive. We had a couple pit stops along the way, but it was basically a get-there-as-soon-as-possible drive. I supposedly slept a lot of the way and don’t remember much but my brother drove overnight to get there. We eventually got to Inverness and drove down to Loch Ness in search of the Loch Ness monster! The best thing we could find was a shadow in the water which my brother was convinced was Nessie haha!

We then returned back to Inverness for a night out on the town. It was great to meet some local Scottish girls, although far too many pints were downed. The next morning, we went north up the coast a bit to see Dunrobin Castle. The castle is really amazing, like something out of a Disney movie.

Our next stop was Eilean Donan Castle, one of Scotland’s most iconic castles. It appeared in some blockbuster movies like Entrapment and James Bond – The World is Not Enough. Then, two and half hours down the road, we stumbled across a picturesque landscape we couldn’t pass up taking pics of. The mountain is called Stob Dearg. After doing a bit of research, I found out that it’s actually one of the most photographed mountains in all of Scotland! What a coincidence!

After that, we visited the National Wallace Monument in Stirling. This was built to commemorate Sir William Wallace. If you don’t know who that is (OMG!?), then watch the movie Braveheart with Mel Gibson.

My brother and I are big fans of good whiskey, so naturally we had to take a tour of the Johnny Walker factory in Kilmarnock. Unfortunately, the factory had stopped giving tours, so we decided to just visit a local pub and meet some locals and have some beers. I have to be honest, we stayed for about 2 hours at the pub, and I probably understood like 5 words all up. The local Scottish accent was impossible to understand. I just sat there, smiled and laughed every now and then haha!

We then realized that our flight from London to Spain was leaving in a few hours after mixing up the days, so we had to race all the way down to London to make the flight. After arriving in Bilbao, Spain, we drove to Pamplona for the San Fermin Festival, which includes the internationally renowned Running of the Bulls. The festival runs for a week and is outright crazy! Everyone dresses up in red and white clothing, gets plastered drunk and walks around the streets, all after having watched/joined the incredibly dangerous bull race in the morning. We watched it from a local’s balcony who we had paid. Travel insurance doesn’t cover injuries/death in an event like this so we decided not to do the run haha! Every day in the late afternoon, there are bull fights in the local bullring. Every single day, the bullring is completely full with people overflowing from the stands. One day, we actually sat right in front of where the President of Spain was sitting. How’s that for luck!? While I don’t entirely agree with the sport as it is extremely cruel, it is their tradition and I have to respect that.

Following 2 days of chaos and extreme liver damage, we decided to hike it out of Pamplona and start on our way to France. Along the way east we took a wrong turn and got lost. We ended up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by open farms. At that point, we noticed some lights and dust being cast up into the air out in a field. We noticed it was the headlights of a car. So, we chucked a uey and parked our car facing it directly with our high beams on. I stayed in the car while my brother went to investigate. As he approached the passenger side door, seeing the windshield smashed, he noticed someone slumped over the steering wheel. My brother yelled out to him and the man sat up covered in blood with his forehead hanging over his eyes. We tried to get the man an ambulance but he insisted he didn’t want one, most likely as he reeked of alcohol. That was definitely a scary experience!

We continued east stumbling upon an eerie deserted town in the middle of nowhere. After a little research, I found out that it’s an abandoned ghost town called Janovas.

Continuing on, we headed up north from Ainsa, Spain, through the Pyrenees. The mountain range is quite a sight! We found a great big dam called Barrage de Cap de Long. A little down the road was this little hut tucked into the side of a hill. It was strange to be in the middle of nowhere and looked like something a Hobbit would live in.

Our next stop was Pic du Midi de Bigorre, a great mountain which stands at 2877m. There’s an astronomical observatory at the summit. NASA actually installed a telescope up there in ’63 to take detailed pics of the surface of the Moon in preparation for the Apollo missions. It was freezing up there, but what a view!

Moving on to Lourdes, France. The town, in particular the Grotto, is an extremely famous place for pilgrims to visit as it’s said the Virgin Mary appeared to a young girl in 1858. It’s believed that touching the ‘holy water’ will heal you of anything. Unfortunately, my brother and I were disappointed to see hundreds of people, some in wheelchairs, some on hospital beds, lined up to receive a ‘miracle.’ It was a disturbing sight, honestly. Nonetheless, Lourdes is a beautiful town.

Next, we drove further north to Cognac and Jarnac to visit the Hennessy, Remy Martin and Courvoisier distilleries. We had high hopes for the Hennessy tour, but the Remy Martin tour turned out to be the best. We bought a few bottles, the outright best being the Courvoisier Initiale Extra which was like something from another world!

We then headed back down to the Pauillac region to check out Chateau Lafite Rothschild wine estate where some of the world’s best wines come from. We bought a few bottles and continued on our way to Biarittz. We stayed at a fantastic hotel called Hotel du Palais which was built by Napoleon III as his summer residence. We found a secret little cave on the beach with a magnificent view out onto the water. After a couple nights, we headed back to London via Bilbao, Spain. We stayed 1 night in The Ritz London and then took off to Egypt for the next big leg of the trip.

After checking in to the Marriot Hotel in Cairo and meeting up with our Insight tour group, we headed to the Muhammad Ali Mosque (not the boxer!). There was a great view of The Mosque-Madrasa of Sultan Hassan. Later that evening, we watched a light-up show of the Pyramids.

The next morning, we got on a dodgy flight with Egypt Air and flew to Luxor to start our Nile cruise. In Luxor, we visited the Karnak ruins and surrounding areas which were absolutely incredible.

The next day, after seeing the Colossi of Memnon, we headed to the Valley of the Kings. It was amazing to see all the tombs of the different Rameses Kings, as well as King Tut’s. Next was the Temple of Hatshepsut with its extraordinary architecture. My brother and I were interested in what was inside, but we weren’t allowed to go in, unfortunately.

Further down the Nile, we stopped in Edfu to see Edfu Temple. The detailed inscriptions on the walls and pillars were just amazing! Then, we moved onto the Temple of Kom Ombo. Again, more great ruins and history with an interesting crocodile museum next door with mummified crocodiles which had been buried nearby thousands of years ago.

That evening, the cruise held a galabeya party in which everyone dresses up in a galabeya (local dress) and plays some fun (silly?) games.

The next day, we headed further south to see the Unfinished Obelisk of Aswan and the Temple of Philae which was the last temple built in the classical Egyptian style. Afterwards, we travelled a little further south to see the Aswan High Dam which is the world’s largest embankment dam and has resulted in greater protection from flooding of the Nile in Egypt.

From Aswan, we flew south to Abu Simbel. This place was my second favorite in Egypt, behind the Great Pyramids in Giza. After that, we did a U-turn and headed back up the Nile seeing various random sights. Upon reaching Luxor, we visited the great Luxor Temple with its still standing obelisk at the front entrance.

We then flew back to Cairo and headed down to Saqqara to check out the Pyramid of Djoser, or Step Pyramid. This pyramid is older than the ones in Giza and was built in the 27th century BC, pretty old hey?! Afterwards, we visited a local carpet school where mostly children hand-weave beautiful carpets.

Next, we headed east to Memphis to see the great statue of Ramesses II and the Sphinx of Memphis.

Now we had some “free time” away from the guided tour where we could do whatever we wanted. My bro and I, of course, decided to check out the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx. Words can’t describe how good this place is. The 2 bigger pyramids, Khufu and Khafre, are gigantic. They’re bigger than they look! We paid a local guy under the table to get a secret private tour up into Khufu Pyramid to the Grand Gallery and King’s Chamber. The other members of the tour didn’t go in. It was about 45 degrees outside, but a chilly 20 degrees inside. Great natural air conditioning! We also went for a camel ride near the Pyramids.

We then walked down to the Great Sphinx. It was such a sight! I wonder what mysteries lie beneath it!? Afterwards we checked into the Le Meridien Hotel & Spa, which overlooked the Pyramids and Sphinx with a swim-up pool bar.

The following day we ventured to the Cairo Zoo. This was no ordinary zoo! If you pay the zookeepers, they will give you special treatment. We got to hold some teenaged lions, a young crocodile, a chimpanzee, and some snakes, with a special behind the scenes tour of the cat cages.

Then, we headed back to London for a few days to stay at the Ritz again and to do some sightseeing. We were booked in to a regular room at the Ritz, but seeing as though we had a Platinum AMEX, we were entitled to a free upgrade to a better room (we took advantage of this throughout the trip). However, having pride a mile high, the Ritz staff bluntly refused. After some arm twisting, they finally agreed and we were put in the Green Park Suite. Little did we know that they would actually charge us the extra fee for the upgrade, so it wasn’t free after all! Boy, were we mad!

Anyway, our first stop was the Millennium Wheel, or The London Eye, which is an iconic ferris wheel and provides great sights of London. There’s a great view of the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben from the top!

Later that day, we headed to the British Museum which is probably my favourite museum in the whole world. You could spend days there trying to see everything!

We then walked over to Buckingham Palace to see the Changing of the Guard. After that, we headed back over to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the London Bridge.

Next stop was the Tower of London and the Royal Armouries. Lots of history to be learned here.

The next day, we went to see Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory Greenwich where Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) starts and is used as a reference for every time zone around the world.

Later that day, we went to the London Dungeon (not recommended!) and then Madame Tussauds, the famous wax museum in London. This place was fantastic. They all looked so real!

Our last stop in London was the British Natural History Museum. Like the British Museum, this place was amazing. If you’re like me and enjoy learning about history, this place is highly recommended!

Next, for our last destination we flew to Dubai to stay at the Burj al Arab, the only 7-star hotel in the world. This hotel is something else! It has its own private island and is still an icon of Dubai with its yacht-like design. Our chauffeur from the airport to the hotel drove a BMW 7 series, but at the end of the stay, the return chauffeur drove a Rolls Royce. Dubai, in 2004, was still in its early development stage with many buildings and hotels still under construction. We enjoyed driving around the desert dunes in dune buggies for an hour or so. We also rented an SUV and my brother tried driving the dunes, which wasn’t easy! We went to the Wild Wadi Waterpark next door and enjoyed the high life for a few days. On the last night, we ordered a “lamb ouzi” dish. We weren’t expecting a whole baby lamb! The hotel staff asked how many people they would be serving that night haha! Little did they know it was just my brother and I!

Anyway, the whole trip was amazing, albeit tiring at times. I highly recommend that, once this stupid pandemic goes away, you go on a trip somewhere and enjoy the world we have. Thanks for reading this far! Until next time, peace out!