As I wrote it on 28 June 2014
This was the very first travel we had as a family, just exploring. No relatives to visit, not our hometown, just traveled purely because we want to see the world.
This trip was a milestone for us, like for real, the very first time I was bitten by a travel bug. I have not been cured since and it has infected the rest of my family, much to my delight.
Alex was only 12, Jason was 8 and we did not have JD yet. :)
This was when The Walkaroos was born. Our very first Walkaroos shot was taken from our AirBnB home in Old Town Prague.
We flew via KLM and so the journey was pretty long with a pit stop in Amsterdam but it was all worth it. We enjoyed the adventure and we look forward to a quickie tour of Amsterdam on our way back.
Different passengers have different experience
With the big plane from Dubai to Amsterdam, everyone's happy. We then had to transfer to a smaller plane called Fokker. The name made my boys' giggle a bit.... fine! They giggled a lot! They're the ones who read the airline magazines and told me about it.
It was a nice small plane used specifically for short distances. KLM calls them City Hopper.
Jason got scared while Alex loved it. It was a lovely day with clouds looking like pearly white cotton candies,,, I think the plane was alright.
They were mesmerising. My boys' have to ask, "is it possible to stand on them?"
The snack they serve was so tasty, the boys won't stop talking about it. Mustard ham, egg and cheese. All organic. Crisp. I have not enjoyed a simple sandwich as tasty as that. The boys wanted more but as a spoil sport mom like I am, told them it's only a little over an hour flight and that it's a good idea to reserve our tummy for Czech treats.
*Not knowing what I knew now, I could have asked for more for the boys because it's not a big deal. Plus what's the worst that they could have said to me? "sorry, we are all out" and then they'll give the boys something else to munch on. I was much too embarrassed to ask then. A newbie in traveling.
It's true... altitude makes you bloat. My face before boarding in Dubai was starved... as we take this picture in Prague, I looked like I was fed mercilessly.
The plan was to take the plunge, full immersion (or our version of full immersion), ride the public bus to the train station and then take the metro to Namesti Republiky and walk. Sink or swim baby or in our case... get lost.
Because we were tourists, and novice at it and the lady at the counter was a pretty one with blue eyes, Joseph convinced me that that was the counter for the Public bus. Apparently not. The public bus was the long one (obviously) and we saw it on our way to the shuttle.
Even though it's not a public bus, it only cost (Koruna) CZK 600 for the four of us, which is practically AED 30 each. Darn cheap compare to their European counterparts.
The shuttle bus was a saving grace because when we got off Namesti Republiky station, we walked and walked and walked, lost for about 30 minutes. That was a long time searching for a small street.
We were armed with 2 maps, but still got lost. We were so disoriented that when a gentleman driving a car stopped at us and asked if we are her sister's guests from Saudi, we didn't put two and two together!
By the way, the worst part was, we have no data on our phones. No matter how much she messaged us through my AirBnB account, I was not able to read it. Her mother called us too, giving us landmarks which really does not click in our heads because we have been walking for 30 minutes! Why because we were so disoriented! And honestly, telling me that it's next to a nun's convent won't mean squat to me.
When we finally found the house, there was no one there. Why? Because the man was driving around somewhere looking for 2 idiots (with two poor kids) who are from Saudi (because to most, Dubai and Saudi is pretty much the same).
Alas we got the keys, left all by ourselves, we collapsed in exhaustion. Remember, we had one back pack each but they are dang heavy. It was then when we discovered that wherever we travel, if it's a home we will stay in, the first order of the day is to be lost. To the point that in every new city, my FB update right after we land is,,, "time to get lost!" :)
Next week's (Wednesday) throwback post will be about our first AirBnB experience. We cannot talk highly enough of all our experience with various home and hosts... well apart from one of the houses we stayed in, in Roma. That's another story for another day.
Currency is in Czech Koruna
The cost is pretty much like how it is in Dubai.
I always get asked how did I come to know TREKKUP and why I think it's the best thing ever after the discovery of chocolates.
2017. I wanted to do something different, travel with more authenticity, more back door attraction, less on the cliches, less attention on the unnecessary, perhaps not after what is comfortable but more on the experience.
I saw one of their posts regarding a Sudan trip. Something about the Tree of Life looking like that tree in the Avatar movie. There was something about having proper encounter with Tribesmen. It really looks like one of those unique, once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. I cannot remember why I didn't sign up but perhaps because the trip was intimidating for an adventure-newbie like me and I didn't have any more vacation days from work. I did not sign up for the trip but did join the group.
I remember receiving announcements of trips after trips each coming weekend, admiring the descriptions and dreaming of being there, wherever they will be.
Then one day, I saw a trip to experience Sunrise at Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka!
I remember on a date trip to Sri Lanka with Joseph the year before, there were talks in the hotel about Adam's Peak. I said perhaps next time because there was not enough time. Upon my return, my boss also asked if we climbed Adam's Peak. Seeing that there's a trip to Sri Lanka and Adam's Peak of all places, I thought how fitting that I have my first Trekkup Trip to Adam's Peak. Which I did! I have no idea about what Adam's Peak was all about, all I knew was everyone's talking about it and it's on a weekend.
A really unique experience for sure. Although it was not really for beginners like me, my knees suffered the brunt of the descent. I truly felt that the mountain conquered me more than I conquered it. I managed to reach the base in one piece but I might as well have smashed my knee caps a million shards. It was such a humbling experience.
I honestly thought I'll be banned to join any more trips as I felt I miserably failed the trip having seemed to have injured my knees. But a month after, I saw a post about cycling trip in Bangkok and an overnight stay in a quaint quiet riverside rafts in Kwai. "What's the worst that could happen if I ask to join the trip?' I found out that the answer is none! They welcomed me and this time there were no busted knees, just a blast of wonderful and extraordinary experience!
My latest trip with TREKKUP was two weeks back. Almaty Kazakhstan for a weekend ski. This time my husband joined me. It was fun and without a shred of a doubt, memorable.
The common theme of all the trips so far is that it's unique, back to basics, contra-concrete jungle, work-vacation-days friendly, reasonably priced and considerably safe with an unconventional mature social setting. A 5-star accommodation definitely goes against Trekkup standards. It happens in freakish rarity and usually comes with an apology from the orgaisers :)
Trekkup culture fits any personality. No judgment, no personal or specific details asked or shared if you are not comfortable to do so. If you want to mingle, you do, if you want to observe (like the omnivert me) quietly (not creepily), do so. If you want to leave and be on your own, feel free to do whatever it is you are comfortable with. The trips are so liberating, it's hard to explain. It's one of those things in life where, "you have to be there to understand".
Once you sign up on a trip via the Meetup page, you'll be added to the Whatsapp Group for the trip along with the rest of interested members. Questions will fly around, cut-off date will be discussed, travel manual with important information will be sent via email. A signed waiver is also a prerequisite to join the trip.
Mobile numbers get added and deleted depending on each prospective member's plan.
Once you pay for the trip via bank transfer, you are then confirmed to be part of the trip.
You'll get to know if the destination requires visa on arrival, visa free or prior to arrival. All prerequisites must be satisfied before the trip. You are responsible for your own arrangement.
Trip usually starts on a Thursday night and you fly back on Sunday morning, ready for the work day. That way, your precious and valuable vacation/leave days remain intact for family plans and events.
As of today, there are 5,408 TREKKUP members. Each trip varies between 4 to 20 participants. The chances of meeting each other again in the next trip is pretty slim, if you do though, it sure will be fun.
The first time I joined, I was highly anxious because everyone was a stranger. We all meet up in a coffee shop, usually Costa in wherever airport terminal we are flying off. Strange thing to hunt for the familiar faces posted in Whatsapp and start with a one word question "Trekkup?". They say "yes", you shake hands and do a little intro. Sort of assuring the stranger in front of you to trust that you are not some psycho, same goes for the other person to you. I learned that the anxiety was only at first. It is replaced by excitement as the number of trips increased.
Once checked-in, you may separate from the group and do your leisurely stroll towards Duty Free sections or stay with the group. No expectation. It's not a group that will instruct you to follow the leader or be herd like sheeps. It's pretty much, "you do you and I do me unless you want to hang out with me, let's meet up in the plane when we board". What a refreshing culture!
For two days, you bond like old friends that has no history. Tabula rasa, a clean slate to draw or write what you want. You do the activity or the purpose of the trip then bring home memories. You then fly back home feeling a bit more familiar with each other. Some will keep in touch but really there is no obligation to do things because of expectations. That is one of the many beauties of TREKKUP.
It's perfect for me as I am not like Joseph who thrives in an active social setting. It is already a stretch and a stressful thing for me to meet a stranger at the airport, let alone travel and spend a weekend with. So to not be obliged to keep in touch is a truly wonderful set-up. My circle of friends is Joseph's friends. If you are my friend before, great but I am not one to create new ones. I like alone time with a book, or playing UNO or on social media or writing my thoughts to ether. Until I met Trekkup, I couldn't picture myself seeing places without my little family. They're like my security blanket. Thanks to Trekkup, I have since had a trip with friends with another one coming up. The world is a safe place and it's okay to venture into the unknown.
Be, how you are
While in Kazakhstan, Joseph and I left dinner early on our first night, he asked "is it okay?" All I can say was, "Trekkups are big boys and girls, just as long as you are not purposely being rude, it's no big deal."
We have a chat group in Whatsapp. We send photos of where we are at particular moments, anyone who wants to join, join. If you prefer to do anything else, no dramas. Everyone knows you joined the trip for "you" not "me" or "us". How un-superficial is that!
It is understood that you didn't join the group to devote your time trying to tip toe around people's sensitivities at the same time looking out for dramas to unfold or purposely waiting when you can be a complete arse. You joined the group for you and there's nothing selfish about it. No one will hold it against you, if anything, we respect you for being true. Just really, don't be intentionally rude.
We all join trips because there is benefit and safety in numbers. Once you are comfortable with the environment, you can tag along with every single activity or you do something else if you wish to. A signed waiver already absolves TREKKUP, ultimately, you are responsible for "yourself".
On our last night in Kazakhstan, 3 or the members went to attend a birthday party in Almaty for a Kazakh they met that day. They invited us but we all decided to decline. We met them at the airport and we were genuinely happy they had a blast while we managed to rest up since we have a long day at work the next day.
TREKKUP. Unique experience without the BS. If you want drama, go watch TV.
As I wrote it on 28 June 2014
This was back in the day when we were only 4. I surprised my little family to a European tour and started with the beautiful Czech Republic.
But first things first, I had to learn how to pack light. My first attempt to committing to the challenge was not entirely a success but I learned, a lot.
One back-pack each! It was a definite challenge but it's needed. This is a 10-day trip to 2 cities, essentially. In August we will be touring more cities and so it's good to practice now and not be stressed-out later on.
Granted I and hubs still carry the boys' bags now and again, I still say it's a must to stick to one-bag rule. No check-in luggage and no wheels to worry on cobbled streets, it's a brilliant idea!
Rick Steves was right when he said, "everytime you travel, do you say, 'I should pack heavier next time?' It's always 'I should pack lighter, right?'"
It is a fact that you don't wear all of the clothes which fell into the "just in case" category. The best strategy indeed is to mix and match and have options to layer if the weather drops.
In the end, I found out that out of the 6 items I brought, 2 were only used once. Eeew I can hear your thoughts! When I say it's used more than once, it's because the house we stayed in is equipped with a really good wash and dry machine. Revolutionary, eh. Every end of the day, we keep the dirty clothes in the hamper and my loving husband fires up the machine. Score!!!
I was supposed to only bring 2 footwear but the weather is confused so I must have the "just in case" piece.
I got my blue suede heels for a dressy dinner booked tonight. I got my Timberland boots for those rainy days. Got my Keds for the sunny days and rubber flip-flops for when I need them. I can always count the flip-flops as my oldest boy's, his feet is the same size as mine and he did not bring a pair.
The rest of my essentials were:
Shorts x 5
Shirts x 8 - I ended up overusing 2 of the shirts and my sister sent me a private message, "did you even bring other clothes? All your FB posts are either the lilac shirt or the stripe long sleeves" 🤪😂
Pair of jeans x 2
Casual Jacket x 1
Hoody x 1
Cardigan x 1
Socks x 5
Inner garments (called by kids these days as bras and panties)
Packing light really means packing for the best case scenario, not the worst case scenario! As you can see, my bag was still ginormous and it was heavy as hell! At the time, I still have few "just in case" pieces.
I am happy to report that my packing skills improved throughout the years.
Do you have any rituals before travel? Any helpful tips you want to share?
Next Wednesday's throw back post will be our journey to Prague, Czech Republic.
On all these travels, you will read a lot of me talking endlessly about Rick Steves. Rick Steves this, Rick Steves that! Whenever Joseph hears me listening to Rick Steves App, he goes,"is that your boyfriend?" I have to admit, I have an undying admiration to anything Rick Steves. He is the guru of travels.
This is asking for a totally new story, it's getting me oh so excited!!! I am eternally grateful to my friend (who happens to have the same name as me, Nina) who introduced me to Rick Steves. She sent me these DVDs about Rick Steves European travel. DVD. Almost dinosaur extinct nowadays.
But yes, Rick Steves is a genius! Imma stop now.
Packpoint (free version) is a handy app that I also use. It creates packing list considering the number of days, activities, city and weather. I use it as a benchmark list, then I cross out the ones which are unnecessary and add things that are specific to me.
Life is hectic and complicated, even moreso when you have children and a full time career to take care of. Add in each individual dreams that are intertwined with the present, life becomes a full time exciting chaos.
We have to live in the present with one eye on the future, it is a constant balancing act.
Joseph and I met at a time when we had to be responsible individuals. We skipped the part of getting "to know you" and straight away had Alex. Naturally, we regressed to getting to know each other in bits and pieces throughout the years. So for us, we are not just living our present and preparing for the future, we are also looking back, way back to have a better understanding of each other's nooks and crannies.
We started taking trips as a couple, 4 years ago (I think). In as much as we miss our children, it's a wonderful time to date and just focus on ourselves. The kids don't mind the idea of being free from us. If I don't know them any better, they probably look forward to parent-free days every year.
It started with a date trip to Sri Lanka, then London, then a break of two years because of our girls' birth and Joseph's new job. This year, we spent a wonderful time in Kazakhstan learning something new together, seeing natural snow for the first time in our lives and experiencing a -30 C freeze.
We had so much fun and sure look forward to more date trips and more "getting to know you" moments.
How about you, do you still go on dates?
Date trips need not be expensive nor have to be outside the country. What's important is each other.
This trip cost AED 2,500 via TREKKUP. It included the flight from Dubai, the ski resort hotel stay with breakfast and dinner. They also covered one day pass to the ski resort which also offers 25% less for the second day access.
Additional cost of USD 150 for the LOI or letter of invitation (paid to TREKKUP and they will coordinate with a tour company in Kazakhstan) and USD 60 for visa application (paid to the Consulate directly).
If you are a passport holder of a country that is on free visa agreement with Kazakhstan, even better! No need for LOI and Visa. The only thing you have to pay for are the daily incidentals like ski equipment rentals and other meals and drinks.
Total cost per person is roughly around AED 3,300 + incidentals
Visa Processing Requirement (at least 5 working days from travel)
--> Must have Letter of Invitation (LOI)
--> Passport and visa copy
--> Original passport
--> NOC from sponsor
--> Travel / medical insurance
--> Kazakhstan Visa Application Form <--
Currency is in Kazakhstani Tenge or Tenge
CLICK on below photo to check out how much meals cost in a nice restaurant:
It has always been one of my frustrations not being able to bring my skating shoes with me in my travels. I always like to try skating rinks in different countries but skating shoes are not particularly light nor small. Whether a solo traveler or with my family, suitcase space is important.
I once tried the skating rink of Rockefeller Center in New York under the watchful eyes of Prometheus and I badly wished I had my shoes with me. Wearing rentals is such a raffle draw, either the blade is too worn out, toe pick damaged or worst.... wet inside soles.
When I found out there is a trip to Kazakhstan for a skiing weekend and found out that they have the highest open skating rink in the world, or so it is claimed, I knew I have to bring them shoes. But perhaps will have to hide the fact from Joseph, he is such a practical traveler, I will earn a disapproving finger wag "no".
As I unzipped my suitcase, I showed the shoes to Joseph and all he can say was, "you brought your shoes?"
It was a proud moment. After so many years of him doing the packing, this is the 3rd trip that I did the packing and managed to squeeze in a pair of skating shoes!
We thought we can squeeze in skating on our first night but it became so windy and the temperature dropped back down to -29 C, without a bit of heat from the sun, it will not be a smart move to do so. As much as I really want to tick it off my bucket list, I do not want to freeze my ass.
But, I know for sure, there is no way I'm leaving Shymbulak without skating. Even if I have to do it alone. I told Joseph, I can go on my own, it's safe, hotel will call the green taxi for me and I'll be back in an hour. I guess he thinks it's cool too so he said he wants to come with me.
On our second day in Shymbulak with an overwhelming feeling of knowing that lessons anew will happen midday, I thought it will be a nice break to skate since my legs won't be tired yet.
We informed reception that we want to go to Medeu Ice Skating Rink and to drive back after an hour. Taxi promptly came and though we both do not understand each other's language, the driver seemed very pleasant and so are we to him. I wanted to show him how much we appreciate his service, I ended up doing a combination of Japanese bow and Malaysian chest touch as we say "thanks for dropping as off and please come back after one hour".
He took Joseph's phone and dialed his phone number. That was as much conversation we had with him that we both understood the meaning clearly.
While we were busy adjusting to the weather and the ice, few guys in red uniform approached us. I know they were photographers who takes professional shots as a living. I gracefully declined and just skated happily.
Joseph then called me and said something about Instagram. Seems like one of the guys managed to catch husband's attention by the word INSTA. I knew it's a ploy but the weather is so good, the place felt magical, I still cannot believe we are here, in Medeu, in Kazakhstan doing things we never thought we ever will. I am with Joseph for a weekend date! Why not? Besides, the guys are a nice bunch and are trying to earn an honest living.
We did the cliche' poses even the Kazakh's pose (which I'm sure is not) and our very own cliche' of a kiss. At least we don't have to look weird with a kiss while eyes are checking if we are in the frame. I had fun and I know husband's happy for me,,, I really am a little girl when it comes to ice rinks.
We had hot chocolate after skating and asked the gentleman at the counter to translate for us. We don't know if our driver is outside, he checked and the driver was.
We head back to the ski resort to face the snow head on... or in my case, either face first or butt first.
Although our second day skiing was much better than what I was expecting and we progressed nicely to higher slopes, I was still so so so unbelievably happy that we managed to skate in Medeu as planned.
I dabbled in gymnastics as a young girl (mom pulled me off the team as I don't eat when I'm tired) and probably would have loved to have been thrown into figure skating if it was accessible then. It became accessible when I reached high school and it's in the city. I used to travel 2-3 hours to get to the only place with ice skating rink and pay an arm and a leg to get in. I have to save up for a few hours of joy. So really, skating in any rink outside the UAE is a big deal for me, let alone on a ski rink with a claim to be something unique in the world.
What an experience! I feel so very blessed for this weekend. I was teary eyed up in the mountains admiring how picturesque the snow covered mountains were and was teary eyed as I turned 360 degrees admiring where the rink is built.
2019, we will be back as a family. We will ski and we will skate and we will have lots and lots of fun!
This used to be us...