Cosmos Tours | Western Wonders | Days 8 – 12

Day 8 – Las Vegas to Mammoth Lakes

Really just a day of travel and contrast, we left the desert plains of Las Vegas and headed for the snow capped Sierra Nevada.

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Arriving close to night fall, we found ourselves a little lost and tired. We wandered into the set of shops for a meal and then back to bed. The cold fresh air however was definitely a refreshing change.

Hotel: Sierra Nevada Lodge

Day 9 – Mammoth Lakes to Modesto via Yosemite National Park

Today was Yosemite day! I had been really looking forward to seeing this natural wonder. I did wonder if it would match up to my new found love of the Canadian Rockies, the challenge was on.

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Entering Yosemite we were greeted with traffic gridlock. It was a slow and painful process, luckily the towering pinnacles and surrounding forest could help pass the time.

Upon arrival we had some free time for lunch (we purchased a roll at our morning tea stop) and to explore the nearby waterfalls. Cascading down these waterfalls provided a prime photo opportunity amongst the mist, but truly a highlight that day.

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Next was a bus shuttle (approx. 2 hour tour) around different parks of Yosemite. This was a great way to skip the traffic and catch a glimpses of this world famous park.  From spotting rock climbers perched high into the skyline, to rolling river bends, towering pinnacles and forest paths, I strongly recommend this option.

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It will not compare to those able to spend days sight seeing the park, but it does provide some insight into the sheer size of this natural wonderland.

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I won’t lie, the few hours we got a Yosemite was merely a tease and like the rest of my group, coming back to explore it further is on everyone’s list.

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From here, we arrived at the worst place on the tour, Modesto. I mean this simply as the accommodation was the worst one all tour and there was little to do, but it was just one of things!
Ladies, perhaps plan to wash your hair and paint your nails this evening!

Hotel: Days Inn Modesto

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Day 10 – Modesto to San Francisco

San Fransisco was the place I was most keen to visit. Almost everyone I knew that had been, loved it and raved about it, so I had high expectations.

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Our first stop, and lets hope you get it too was a scenic photo stop. Over looking San Francisco, it’s an impressive first glimpse at this city and definitely worth the trip for those Instagram worthy pics.

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Moving on we arrive into the hive of the city action.  We are given a couple of free hours to explore. I head down to the Ferry Building Marketplace – Pier 1, with a girlfriend.  Not to kid you, we set a cracking pace to get down there, but it was worth it. Inside the sheds, it had a range of merchants selling produce from fresh pies, to seafood, to cheeses and coffee. I highly recommend going down for a bite or wander if you get the chance. We wish had more time as we would have liked to enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants along the waterside, and sipped wine in the sun.

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This evening we had a great time, squeezing ourselves onto a famous cable car for a short trip, followed by a multi course meal at a Chinese restaurant. The food was actually really delicious and lots of fun.

Day 11 – San Francisco

The next morning was a highlight and bucket list excursion for me, Alcatraz Prison. Part of the reason I choose this tour was because unlike many others, it actually included this as part of the tour. So collectively as a group we were taken to the ferries for transport, tickets organised, however toured the prison at our own pace. An absolute highlight of the trip for me.

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After Alcatraz, we had time to explore Fisherman’s Wharf. Taking photo’s of the famous seals and wandering across the pier is a relaxing option.  Prior to my trip, everyone told me to try a seafood chowder.

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I won’t lie, the thought wasn’t overly appealing, however felt I should do it and managed to convince one of my new travelling companions to share/try one with me.  Whilst it isn’t my favourite meal in the world, I’m glad I tried it and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. I had a great time here, however it is geared up for tourists, so prices are more expensive and most restaurants offered the same food.

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The rest of the day was relatively at leisure and at our own device. We got a trip back to the hotel, where I re-packed the suitcase ready for my early departure tomorrow. As a group we organised our own farewell dinner just down from the hotel.

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Cells in Alcatraz

For me this trip ensured I covered all the main items I wanted to see in this trip. Some accommodations were better than others, however given this is a 3* star level tour group, you get what you pay for. This was a cost effective trip for me, and I recommend doing many of the optional excursions to maximise your time. All in all, I loved my time exploring the Western Wonders of USA

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Happy travels

Love Sparkle Palm x

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Cosmos Tours | Western Wonders | Days 1 – 7

With limited time and mindful of costs, I picked Cosmos’ Western Wonders as my tour to see my bucket list items in LA, Vegas & San Fran.

NOTE: I’ve split this tour in half as we covered so  much it was looking overwhelming as a single blog! The balance of this tour can be found on days 8 – 12!

Day 1 – Los Angeles

This day is really an arrival day or in my case as I arrived to LA a few days ago, a free day. I met my tour guide later in the day in the hotel to check the next day’s departure time, introduce myself etc but there was no formal group meeting like other tours.

Hotel: The L.A Hotel Downtown

Beverly Hills

I took the Hop On, Hop Off bus around to Beverly Hills on this day in case I’d miss anything once the tour started.

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Hollywood sign way in the distance
Rodeo Drive

Day 2 – Los Angeles

This morning was day one of tour and it started with a sight seeing trip around LA. We went through the main stops such as Hollywood walk of fame, TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard.  Whilst I had explored most of this on my own, it was still good that it was included for those who hadn’t visited before.

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Our afternoon was free with an option to Universal Studios. Before this trip I had gone back and forth about doing this or a day trip to Disneyland, but I can say I’m really glad I went to Universal Studios and recommend doing this.

Being a kid @ Universal Studios

Transfers to and from were taken care of, always a good start. We have several hours at the park to explore by ourselves.  Based on friends/family input, the studio tour was a must see so one of my new friends and I waited in the long queue and ticked this off the list first. Again I definitely recommend doing this if you’ve made the effort to go to Universal. The queue was long, but it moved and the shade and cool mist helped.

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The Chinese Theatre

We followed up by some generally exploring of Harry Potter wands and outfits and then did the new ride. I haven’t been on a ride in years, and it showed. Having woken up feeling a little average already, such a ride turned me white and doing controlled breathing so I wasn’t sick. Of the parts I did open my eyes to watch it was an amazing ride – just don’t recommend if you’re feeling off.

Hogwarts Express – Universal Studios

Needing some recovery time, we found a spot to sit. My friend tucked into lunch, whilst I attempted fruit salad and sculled water. It was nice sitting down, relaxing to some music and watching the hive of activity that buzzed around us. We also used this time to plan the rest of our attack. We agreed we wanted to do the Transformers ride, so we set off, maps in hand and mission in our steps.

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

Feeling much better by this stage I decided to brave another ride of being thrown in every direction and accept the feeling of flying through a city. Again, absolutely incredible even as a grown adult and recommend!

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After plenty more walking and exploring, a quick donut stop off we met everyone back at the bus parking and were transferred back to our hotel.  Tonight we went for a wander to Wholefoods for dinner and general stroll of downtown LA.

Hotel: The L.A Hotel Downtown

 

Day 3 – LA to Scottsdale via Palm Springs

Today we set off to the Wild West. I hadn’t really experienced desert before, so I was really looking to this aspect of the trip. What I wasn’t prepared for was 47 C weather! In Australia I’m used to warm/hot weather, was this was suffocating and made exploring hard.

Gorgeous palms in Palm Springs

Nevertheless we had a stop in Palm Springs. I walked the main strip as best I could without passing out and ducking into shops for air conditioning relief. Perhaps I had envisaged something else. When I hear or read about Palm Springs, I think of luxe hotels built around retro glamour pools, palm trees and the uber rich. I don’t think I found it in my little experience. I would definitely like to go back on my own accord and explore this town further to get the experience I was hoping for.

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After some more desert driving we arrived in Scottsdale and to our hotel. My normal approach to a pool and heat, is race to my room, bathers on and swim time. However the scorching sun got the better of me and I hid in my room doing a social media session until it was time to leave again.

Tonight was an optional dinner to one of Arizona’s cowboy steakhouses, of which I said yes, even sans cowboy boots.

Rustlers Rooste is the name of the restaurant (may have changed) and American cowboy, wild west vibes were felt from the moment we set foot on the property. From the live bull upon entry, to the slide to enter the restaurant, I knew this was going to be different from what I’m used too. But that’s why I travel! After nagivating our way through the hay covered floors we were seated and enjoyed a meal. The was a live band playing through the night which helped set the scene. There was plenty of food (we had to pre-select our main meal) and the first time the bulk of us had really spent time together.

In between courses, I strongly recommend going outside to catch the sunset – the view from this restaurant is awesome!

Watching the sunset from Rustlers Rooste

 

To finish our evening off, we attempted line dancing with some guidance from the waitresses – probably not going to become a professional line dancer, but certainly a good laugh and fun end to the night.

Hotel: Saguaro Scottsdale

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Day 4 – Scottsdale

Ready to tackle another day forecast at 47 degrees we began with an including sight seeing tour of downtown and Old Town Scottsdale. We had the option of be dropped off at Scottsdale Fashion Square. Whilst I wouldn’t normally spend my time on holidays walking through malls, the idea of being in air conditioned comfort for a little while was appealing. It is huge and I could easily max out a credit card between luxury fashion houses and Sephora, so when a group of us agreed to meet at a certain time for lunch, I was happy too. From there we simply caught a public bus back to our hotel – very straight forward and the help/information desks at the mall were very friendly and providing clear instructions.

 

Upon return to Old Town Scottsdale we mustered up some energy to walk the streets for a little, using The Sugar Bowl as a reward from the heat. What a gorgeous place. It reminded me of another era between the interior and the menu.  Not the place for someone concerned about calories as they serve milkshakes, spiders, desserts, ice creams and a range of lunch/snack options.

Was it worth? Absolutely, I loved the feel of the place and my strawberry milk shake was delicious! Definitely make time to swing by and try something!

Old Town Scottsdale is a town I really enjoyed. It was a world away from modern day concrete jungles, with a real western/cow boy feel. From the wagon wheels, salon doors and timber work it had a classic yet friendly feel about it.

I went to Bandera for dinner that night and I’m happy I did. Seated in a booth, only added to my experience of the wild west! The service was great and the Macho Salad, wow! If it was acceptable to lick a bowl in public I probably would have. It was a scrumptious meal washed down with a lovely wine – I would happily eat here again.

Hotel: Saguaro Scottsdale

 

Day 5 – Scottsdale to Williams via Grand Canyon National Park

With today being the day I was going to check off a bucket list item, the Grand Canyon, I was ready to go this morning. Setting off to our first stop in Sedona, I was mesmerized by the redness of the earth. It was so beautiful in colour and it’s raw beauty. Camera ready for the photo stop!

Mode of transport

Next up, was the optional helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon – if you can afford to it, book it! The Grand Canyon lived up to its name and hype, although the sheer scale of it was still overwhelming.

Helicopter smiles

From the air it seemed never ending, however I can imagine from ground level in the canyon it might almost feel daunting staring at the height of the canyon.

Epic views of the Grand Canyon

Whilst the ride is certainly short, it was more than enough for me to be able to see it and take photo’s. Many of my friends and family have done this but from Las Vegas so their pictures certainly have a different landscape to mine. Which is better? Until I do it from another area, I’m not sure. I have no doubt it’s phenomenal from wherever you see it.

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After our helicopter ride, we were taken to the canyon rim for some free time. It was packed with tourists, and the blistering sun and heat made the idea of walking for miles less than appealing. I did walk a couple of kilometers to ensure I felt content with what I saw should I never get the opportunity to return – and I did.

Grand Canyon from the Helicopter

After my work out, I indulged in a bowl of ice cream along with the rest of the crowds.

Please be mindful, there are cheeky chip monks everywhere who are more than happy to eat your ice cream should you put your bowl down for a moment and turn your back! Trust me from experience.

This cheeky one stole my food!

Onto our last destination for the day, Williams, Arizona. Let me say up front, I loved this town! Staying at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, we were only moments away from the main strip.

Having one of the best preserved sections of Route 66, this town ouzed charm and character. From the neon lights, Mustang lined streets, and quirky souvenirs it had a great feel. We walked the main street from one end to the other (by this time it was dusk) and then decided to rest the feet and adrenaline from the days activities over a meal and wine.  We couldn’t decide where to eat, every restaurant/pub seemed to be busy, with live bands or music, out door seating and outrageous sized meals!

With their distinct neon lights, memorabilia and outdoor seating, we decided to perch ourselves outside at Cruisers Route 66 Café – it’s hard to miss! Feeling like we should embrace this historic town, we ordered burgers!  With soft drink servings rivaling a 1L bottle, we started to be concerned about the size of our incoming burgers. Safe to say, you get your moneys worth. We had a great night here, dining and a couple of drinks and it was buzzing, so I would recommend this place. People from our tour group ate at a range of places in Williams and all were happy with their meals, so enjoy the culture and eat up!

Hotel: Grand Canyon Railway Hotel

 

Day 6 – Williams to Las Vegas

To be honest this day was really all driving until you reach Las Vegas. Having long wanted to visit Vegas, after hearing years of stories (good and bad), seeing it in movies and TV shows, I was intrigued by it and keen to explore and make my own decision about this world famous playground.

 

Arriving late afternoon, there wasn’t a huge amount of time between getting into your room and meeting the group again for the optional dinner and show this evening. I choose to do this as I wanted to experience as much as I could given the short time frame I had.

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This optional tour started with a buffet dinner in a nearby hotel restaurant. Yes like many people, the idea of a buffet dinner isn’t great, but in fairness they had a huge range of food and it was yummy.  The dessert station was a hit!

Next stop was the show. It was no Cirque de Soleil, but it was more a story about the history of Vegas with a range of music covering the years.  Once the show had finished we headed to Freemont Street – this was worth the evening!

Seeing the original Vegas, and casinos like the Golden Nugget. It was great to be able to wonder the street, see the lights, music, street performers and the imagery on the ceiling.

Whilst the show didn’t do much for me personally, I enjoyed the dinner and really enjoyed my time in Freemont Street.

Hotel: Harrah’s

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Day 7 – Las Vegas

Today was a free day. There were plenty of optional excursion options for today such as Hoover Dam so everyone really did their own thing. I arranged to meet some of them around 6ish in the foyer so we could go out for dinner and walk Vegas at night as we wanted to see the Bellagio fountains, the Volcano and the strip in general.

I decided to spend my day doing the strip – yep walking from end to the other, visiting the hotels. I walked up to the Luxor Hotel and started walking back down the left side visiting New York, The Monte Carlo, the Cosmopolitan, Bellagio, Caesars Palace and the Mirage, then crossed the road. Heading back, it was the Venetian, Flamingo & Planet Hollywood.

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Everyone has an opinion on what to do in Vegas, but given my limited time, I really enjoyed exploring the hotels, their foyers and themes as well as some alone time.

Key places I loved and recommend visiting was firstly the flower theme inside the Bellagio foyers. The colours, the theme, the creativity and beauty of it meant for a visually stunning stop, and best of all, its free! Make sure you swing by!

Bellagio Casino, Las Vegas

My next favourite was the Venetian.  Having been to Venice, it certainly isn’t the real thing, but in it’s own way a fun and exciting hotel. Walking along the canals, with gondalas and the unmissable Italian singers, I loved it.

Exploring inside the Venetian

After a day of walking I reclined to my room for some quick down town and freshen up, then back down to meet some friends for the evening. As mentioned we had a list of items we wanted to see this evening and had researched what times they were all on. First stop however was dinner – more food! We dined in the Venetian at a Mexican restaurant – divine!!! It didn’t feel like we were in this crazy world of Vegas, it felt relaxing, calm and we thoroughly enjoyed our days catch up over some delicious food and wine!

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Next stop was the Volcano around dusk. We were fortunate enough to have a jaw dropping sunset at the same time, you couldn’t move without running into a camera lens or selfie stick – myself included! After dark we joined the masses the watch the Bellagio fountains.  I’d seen Oceans Eleven a dozen times and always remember the final scene, I had long waited to see this! It was beautiful and romantic, even as a single, and again another free attraction that should be on your Vegas to do list!

Hotel: Harrah’s

 

Please see days 8-12 of this trip on blog post, Cosmos Tours | Western Wonders | Days 8-12

 

Fairmont Banff Springs

“Castle in the Rockies” as it’s often referred too, is perched above the alpine town of Banff set amongst surrounding mountains and the forest of Banff National Park.

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Castle in the Rockies – yes this is my picture from a nearby viewing platform!

To me this hotel represents the Canadian Rockies, a symbol of luxury lodge accommodation amongst some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.  My expectations were high on all accounts, and after my stay here, they were certainly met and exceeded.

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As part of a tour, we first arrived at a side entrance to the hotel, which was fine. However the front/main entrance is certainly the way to arrive.  With high ceilings, the modern rustic charm sets you up for your stay.  As you walk through the hallways, you can feel the history this hotel has lived through.

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The Pool @ the Fairmont Banff Springs

My room was located a few levels up and again provided the alpine coziness and comfort the Fairmont alpine hotels are famous for.  My plush looking bed, bathroom and desk all provided the essentials and my view over the nearby river and mountains ensured I felt like a princess in a castle.

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Entry Hall

Dining in this exquisite hotel are plentiful with 9 options ranging from grills, to sushi bars, to lounges and pubs.  I wish I had time to dine in them all!

What felt like the hub of the hotel, Rundle Lounge is a must do even for just a drink. With its charming décor, attentive staff and stylish cocktail menu you’ll be tempted to stay longer than just a drink.  The setting was relaxed and oozed a more modern style given the old warm charm throughout the hotel.

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With my friends dining scattered at many of the restaurants, one thing was apparent – everyone raved about their dining experience regardless of which one they had!

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One thing I recommend is taking some time to walk around the castle grounds. From perfectly manicured lawns, to swimming pools, gyms and patios it is nothing short of impressive.  Internally the hotel has hosted royalty, movie stars and famously Marilyn Monroe.

I suggest taking one of the hotel tours to hear about the hotel history, its famous guests, and to explore some of its grand ballrooms.  Once you have finished exploring, you can walk or take the bus down to the city center. Easy marked and numbered buses made this trip return trip hassle free.

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I’m not sure this review does the hotel justice or perhaps my photo’s either. All I can say is this is possibly my favorite hotel to date that I’ve stayed in.  The staff were friendly, polished and helpful; the food delightful regardless of which restaurant; the actual architecture of the building itself is glorious; the scenery surrounding this icon is majestic.

I don’t have a negative thing to say about it and I’ve talked about it to death to family and friends. Do yourself a favour and experience alpine luxury at its best at the Fairmont Banff Springs.

Love Sparkle Palm xxx

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Wendy Wu | Simply China

As of January 2015, I hadn’t heard of Wendy Wu tours – perhaps naïve given I love to travel. Fast forward a few months and I had booked myself on what seemed a “too cheap to pass up” all-inclusive trip to China! Admittedly,  China was on my long list of places to see, but it was not in my top 10. After some internet searching of holidays, including the words “cheap”, “all inclusive” and the likes I came across this tour on their website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the time it was approx. $2000!!! I promptly made enquiries with my trusty travel agent.  She promised me it was a reputable company and they had 3 dates that year which this price applied too. I picked a Saturday – Sunday option, meaning only 5 days off work. I was drawn to the fact this package included my international flights and most meals.  Once I included a single supplement (under $250 from memory which is unheard of) and a visa, I think I got change out of $2,500. BARGIN!

NOTE: This exact tour is no longer available, but they offer very similar tours and still fabulous prices!

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As the day approached, my enthusiasm had depleted. A rushed trip to China, stopping at major cities. At the time, this tour was going to see the Pandas at a wildlife sanctuary, however it was cancelled a few weeks prior to department due to the Pandas having a virus. I was advised, I’d see them at the zoo.

I was gutted, who goes to China and doesn’t want to see a Panda? I did appreciate being notified before leaving in writing, but I wasn’t thrilled. Nevertheless, the Saturday came around and off I went on a morning flight to Beijing. My flight was with Cathy Pacific, it had been years since I’d flown with them. The flight was inclusive of checked luggage and meals thankfully.

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I arrived into Beijing late that night, and met several other travellers at a meeting point in the airport and we were taken to our hotel.  Exhausted and feeling unwell, I got my key, checked into my room and tried to sleep off my illness.

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The next morning, whilst still functioning less than average, I noticed how spacious my room was.  Upon entry, I had a lounge room with couches and fridge and a separate toilet. Through the doors into my bedroom, with king sized bed and study desk area.  The final section was my marble style bathroom with shower and separate bathtub, another toilet, shelving area and sink.  Definitely one of the best rooms I’ve stayed in on a tour.  The only downside was the hard bed. I had been warned and read plenty of forums advising of hard beds throughout China and this one lived up to expectation!

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After a buffet breakfast, it was time for sight seeing.  Somehow we were lucky, we had clear skies this day as we visited Tiananmen Square and learnt the history of this iconic place in history.  We were able to have some free time to wander around.

The highlight of today for me was Forbidden City – absolutely amazing!  I had under estimated this UNESCO site, spanning around 180 acres that was previously home to the Ming and Qing dynasties.  We had a couple of hours here to walk around ourselves which I thought great, although a number of people got lost when trying to meet up at the end.

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The next day was another day to tick off a bucket list item – love these days! The Great Wall of China.  Perhaps I should have done more research, but I had the impression we would arrive at the wall (a high section overlooking the surrounding lands) and meander along it. How wrong I was.  I say this, because I wish I had dressed more appropriately for today – I wish I wore gym/athletic gear.

I had a dress, and thank fully packed a pair of Tom’s in my bag which quickly replaced my thongs.  We were there earlier than many other tourist groups,  which was nice, but it was still busy early in the day. Thankfully at this time the sun had not yet come out, but the humidity ensured I worked up a sweat like every person around me.

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You will need to walk steps to access the walk. They are uneven, worn and steep, so be careful.  Luckily I had a long dress on, but a tip of advice ladies – don’t wear a short dress or skirt unless your happy to show it all off! Sometimes the angles on the steps are so steep you can see straight up!

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There are sections along the way that plateau to enable you to catch your breathe then stop and appreciate this true master piece.  The higher you go, the better the views, but people stopped at all different stages – generally based on fitness.

The way back down was almost harder than the way up, holding onto handrails in sections and almost climbing down – I am short, so perhaps those with longer legs would be fine.  But please don’t let this scare you, there were children, elderly and people of every fitness level walking and climbing on the bridge and all I can say is, make sure you do too!

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This afternoon we got to visit the Summer Palace, absolutely wonderful. The gardens are stunning, and the walk way around the water is lovely to stroll along.  We stayed on it until we reached the impressive Marble Boat – a true highlight of our time in the Palace.

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With plenty of space, gardens and places to rest, you could easily spend a day here leisurely enjoying it like royalty would have many years ago.  If you keep a steady fast past you will see a lot in the time you have to explore – try to make the most of it!  By the end of today, your legs might feel tired – time to eat up, have a drink and good night sleep.

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Next stop was Xian, I was very excited to be going to the home of the Terracotta Warriors. I had wanted to see them for many years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bullet train was a good experience as we got to see some country side and the 5 hours went relatively quickly between chatting with fellow tourists, reading some magazines and eating! Although I do recommend bringing some food with you as the food on the train wasn’t that great or appealing.

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The Terracotta Warriors were as magnificent as I had hoped, and you can get closer to them than I thought possible.  You get a couple of hours here to explore. I planned my time to ensure I could see everything I wanted too and didn’t miss out on anything. The maps are easy to assist you with directions.

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Today also took us past the Little Wild Goose Pagoda, a lovely stop to again walk around and see some of China’s history.

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Next and final stop is Shanghai.  A bustling city showcasing the blend of old and new with a picture perfect skyline.  I really enjoyed the French Quarter as it reminded me of Europe, so it was nice to stop for a moment and grab a quick drink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also recommend stopping into the beautiful Fairmont Peace Hotel.  The Peace Hall has been restored and is a sensational masterpiece oozing luxury and charm.  Perhaps the key to the city is its waterfront promenade, The Bund. Historic buildings on one angle and modern skyscrapers on the next.  Make sure you find the time to walk along the river side and have the camera ready.

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The night cruise along the river is worth it, Shanghai is a glorious city lit up at night and a great end to an action packed tour.

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The accommodation I had was overall excellent. The dud of the three was Xian and our guide advised us of this.  Unmaintained and much smaller room sizes were my key reasons. Whilst I felt my bed was clean, I just felt the hotel didn’t feel as clean as those we stayed at in Beijing and Shanghai.

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I loved my accommodation in Shanghai, a spacious room and bathroom including a bathtub to watch TV from!  Not in the best location for other sight seeing, but catching a taxi to nearby main shopping centre was quick, cheap and safe.

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Most meals were included on this tour which is a nice bonus. Was the food always amazing – no it wasn’t, and I believe I have better Peking Duck back in Melbourne!

Non the less, meals always ensured a range of meat dishes, rice and vegetables and there was plenty of it. It was also nice having shared meals via lazy Suzanne’s so we could interact as a group.

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I was really impressed with this tour and Wendy Wu as a tour company.  Whilst this tour was busy with little time for rest, I felt like I ticked all the major icons of China that I would want to see, should I never get the chance to return.  I felt the cost was cheap given the inclusions and I have not seen another tour come close to this. I now keep my eye on other tours with this company and will definitely be using them again!

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Royal Zanzibar Hotel

Originally after my time in Africa I intended to go to Dubai for a few nights then home.  My dream quickly because crushed with a $3500 quote for accommodation for my 2/3 days.  Dishearten, my agent came back with the option of a week at an all-inclusive beach resort in Zanzibar for approx. $1200. Done.

Then I thought, where and what is Zanzibar???  I was sent the links about the hotel and Zanzibar to look at, as Stone Town was where my tour was ending, so this would be an easy transfer to the resort.  If you haven’t already, do the following. Go to Google, type Zanzibar and click on images – it’s paradise in Africa!

Where the pool meets the ocean
Where the pool meets the ocean

At this stage of the planning process I was starting to feel the financial pinch, so a week at a resort with all meals AND beverages (yes including alcohol) included, seemed a perfect way to enjoy the end of a once in a lifetime adventure.

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Beach at the edge of the resort

I was picked up by a private transfer from a hotel my fellow tour friends were staying at after saying some sad goodbyes, headed north through villages and windy roads to the north coastal town of Nungwi.

Along a main dirt road and past a number of luxury resort signs we entered the property of Royal Zanzibar Beach Resort – perfect!

Ensuring I arrived after check in time, the sign in process was quick and friendly. I was given a wrist band to wear for the duration of my stay as part of the all inclusive package and promptly headed to my room.

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Tropical strolls through the hotel

Upon opening my door I felt like I had won the accommodation lottery. Hallway, with hanging room for my clothes and a safe, lead into a very spacious (approx. 80sqm) room.  With a 4 poster bed in the middle, desk area, outside balcony, seating and a huge bathroom, I could have cried.   My reaction was perhaps slightly heightened by the fact I had spent the past 3 weeks living in a tent, having only had 3 hot showers and actually lived out of a suitcase. This would not be 5 star compared to the luxury in Asia or London, but it was perfect for a relaxing beach week and beautiful compared to other hotels I’d seen along the way in Africa.

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One of the large pools

Set on almost 20 acres, this resort has everything you need. From the four pools, fitness centre, spa, gift shop, restaurants and direct access onto the beach of white sand and turquoise water, you’ll feel in heaven.

If you need to feel like you’ve burned some calories so you can keep eating, they do have free water aerobics and beach volley ball.  I did a water aerobic class one morning, it was a great way to start my day!

When I had to step away from the postcard setting and belting Africa sun, it was generally only to eat!  Being able to leave my wallet and dwindling cash locked away for the week was a really nice feeling and meant I didn’t have to be mindful of my dining options

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One of the pools

My day generally went like this: Wake up, shower and head down to breakfast. Back to the room, get organized and spend the morning poolside. Take a break for lunch and some time out of the blazing sun, then return for an afternoon pool session. I’d meet some new found British friends for a “after pool” cocktail/wine. Then back to the room, to shower, get dressed and return to the bar to watch the sunset and have a pre dinner drink. Then onto dinner at Spices, followed by a drink at the bar and bed! This may should like a lot of eating and drinking, and it certainly was given I may only have a wine once or twice a week at home, not several times a day, but this was holiday time!

Eat, swim, eat, swim, eat, drink, sleep – repeat!

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Beach from the resort

 

I know a lot of people get really critical of buffets, but I’m not so much. Buffets are mass produced food, not a Michelin Star restaurant, so I think it’s best to remember that. Definitely some buffets are better than others and I found this to be in the better half.

 

A storm is coming
A storm is coming

Breakfast served at Spice – Plenty of options including a range of egg options, there was hot and cold food, sweets and savories, fruit and plenty more.  You should have no problems fueling up for the day.  You can have breakfast smoothies/juices which you order from your waitress, I ended up doing so every morning as they were yummy!

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Poolside

Lunch – I generally ate at Spices for lunch as it provided a huge array of options. Every lunch (and dinner) they had a pizza and pasta bar, so you could make your own combinations, salads, meats, desserts and so on.

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Entrance to the hotel

 

I did have lunch at Samaki one day to mix it up. It was an a la carte menu, which was still part of the all inclusive package and beautifully positioned overlooking the beach.

 

Zanzibar
Zanzibar

 

Dinner – probably my favourite meal time at this resort as there were different flavours each night.  My highlight was the Asian themed night. I was able to pick all the fresh ingredients I wanted (ensuring coriander was no where to be seen) and it was absolutely delicious.

 

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Pool

Royal Zanzibar Beach Hotel is definitely a hotel I would recommend and happily stay again. I’m sure there are some more glamorous hotels in the area, but I really enjoyed my time here. The location – spectacular, the staff – friendly, chatty and helpful, the room – spacious and clean, the bathroom – huge open walk in shower and separate bath, the activities – plenty of free fun activities for all ages if you choose, the food – all inclusive, delicious food with plenty of variety.

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Sunset perfection

Enjoy Royal Zanzibar Beach Hotel

Love Sparkle Palm

xxx

Beach views
Pure Bliss
Heaven on earth
Heaven on Earth