23 Nov

HISTORY LIVES IN LUXOR

Luxor Temple

Karnak Temple

Luxor has been called the greatest open-air museum in the world, and I would have to agree.  Luxor was at its best between the 11th and 16th centuries BC.  Coming from a country that is 150 years old, I can not even comprehend that amount of old.  The city of Luxor is built on the east bank of the Nile.  The Valley of the Kings is across the river.

Hatshepsut Mortuary Temple

Luxor and Karnak Temples are the dominant structures in Luxor.  Both complexes are huge, and both are well preserved and the reconstruction is ongoing.  Many parts of both places are in their original state and it is incredible to see how they have withstood the time and elements.

Both temples can easily be visited on your own.  Doing some research before your visit will greatly enhance your time.  I so enjoyed wandering around trying to imagine what things were like when they were built – and also how they were built.  It is so unfortunate the tourism industry in Egypt is currently suffering hard times.  Often there would only be 2 or 3 tour buses in a parking lot that could hold 100.  I felt so fortunate to be able to spend so much time almost alone.

Taking a tour of the West Bank is the easiest option to see the Valley of the Kings, and some of the lesser known sites.  The Valley of the Kings is really just a big gravel pit, but once you enter the tombs the colours and details of the paint is beyond belief.  A 6-hour tour that included transport and guide was less than $3. and none of the admission fees cost more than $6.

I also got to visit Hatshepsut’s, Mortuary Temple.    I felt it was best just seen from a distance. We also stopped to see the two huge Colossi of Memnon statues and Medinet Habu.  The latter was certainly one of my favourites as there was a lot of very well preserved hieroglyphics.  How many man hours did it take to create that incredible work?

Hieroglyphics

Exterior paint that lasted 3500 years Temple. 

I rode a felucca on the Nile to see the sunset, and a hot air balloon over the Valley of the Kings to see the sunrise.

Luxor was a great lesson in history, and the best part – there was no test after.

15 Nov

ASWAN TEMPLES

Colourful Guest House

Police Lookout

I had not been to Aswan before.  I wanted to see the two huge Abu Simbel temples that were moved before the Nile Valley flooded and created Lake Nasser.  Nubians were forced to abandon their homes when the valley flooded, so I thought I would stay at a Nubian Guesthouse.  It was certainly the most colourful place I have stayed.  Abu Simbel is located 230 km. south of Aswan, and is close to the border of Sudan.  Vans and tour buses travel in convoys across the desert, and there are numerous police checkpoints along the way.

Desolate Desert

Abu Simbel Temples

The desert is pretty flat and desolate most of the way.  We did pass one area where there were rocky hills.  We also saw one oasis – a lovely patch of green trees and flowers in the middle of nowhere.

The temples of Abu Simbel were built in 1260 BC.  In 1968 they were relocated to avoid them being submerged when the high dam was built.  They were simply cut into blocks, the blocks were numbered, and they were relocated and reconstructed.  Each block weighed about 20 tons.  There is not a lot to see inside either of the temples, but the outside of each of them is very impressive.  It is incredible how well the hieroglyphics have withstood the test of time.

01 Nov

MY SPIRIT SOARED

Up Up and Away

Beautiful Balloons over the Valley of the Kings

A hot air balloon ride has always been on my bucket list. Unfortunately, it is just not a budget activity – unless you are in Luxor, Egypt.
Early morning balloon rides over the Valley of the Kings are popular and affordable.
I booked my tour with Sindbad Balloons and the experience was professional from beginning to end.

SINDBAD IS GREAT

Captain Adel

The one drawback is pickup time is before 5 am. The sun gets up early in Egypt. We had tea or coffee on our short ferry ride to the west bank of the Nile. A short drive and we were at the launch site. It was so interesting to watch the balloons being inflated, and lift off 6 at a time. We were given a safety briefing to read, and then an oral briefing from the pilot. He made it very clear that they took safety very seriously.

We boarded the basket – it is divided into sections, with the pilot and his tanks in the middle. We slowly rose and it was amazing how smooth and quiet it was. We glided over several temples. The pilot was able to turn the balloon so we each had a 360 -degree panoramic view.
We rose to 500 meters and just floated along in the morning breeze. The green of the agricultural area was a sharp contrast to the desert sand. It was thrilling to see some of the temples from above.


Captain Adel made a textbook landing, barely a bump as we touched down. It was a perfect flight, on a perfect morning, and a perfect way to start a day.

Sindbad Balloons:
Email:   info@sindbadballoons.com
Tel:  +20 95 227 2960    Mobile:  +20100 330 77 08

26 Oct

AMMAN & JERASH JORDAN

I flew from Dubai to Amman.  It was easy to take the shuttle bus from the airport to the bus station.  Once there I began my endless fight with Jordanian taxi drivers.  Even the locals call them “mafia”.  Dubai was all big and shiny – Amman is all box-shaped sand-coloured buildings.  I stayed at a hotel one block from the Roman Theatre.  I think the hotel was built about the same time, but it was clean and the staff were pleasant, so I was fine.

I spent a couple of days just walking around the little streets and enjoying the souks. Amman has some pretty steep hills so walking was usually a workout.  I felt very safe.  As the sun goes down and the temperatures cool off, the city heats up.  Vendors pile their products everywhere and the pressure to “Come and look” increases.  I went to a huge fruit and veggie market.  Some vendors had loudspeakers announcing what they sold, others just yelled.  It was chaos at its finest.  I tried to buy a couple of bananas, but they wanted to charge me $6.

I planned to go to Jerash for a day.  It is a small city within an hour from Amman.  It has incredible Roman ruins.  I took the local bus and spent about 5 hours just wandering around the very large site.  I loved standing in the seating area of the chariot racing track.  I am sure it was the site of lots of excitement in its day.  Many of the ruins were very well preserved.  It could be improved if someone cleaned up the garbage and the endless cigarette butts.  Walking back to catch the bus, I took a wrong turn.  I ended up on a little street.  An old man had a tarp spread out under an olive tree, and he was up a ladder knocking the olives down.  His wife was giving him directions.  They did not speak English, but she got their young son who was able to tell me how to get to the bus.

The day I was leaving I got packed and checked out of my hotel.  As the hotel was on a very steep hill I planned to flag a taxi in front of my hotel. There was NO traffic.  I walked down the hill to a big main street – and there was no traffic there either.  The street was all blocked off as there was a marathon in progress.  I asked a police officer where I could catch a taxi and he pointed and said “5 minutes”.  He certainly must walk faster than I do – it was about 3 kms.  Once again I was so happy my backpack weighs so little.

Jordan is not a budget destination.  As a Western tourist, I am used to paying more than locals in poorer countries.  I felt this was taken to an extreme in Jordan.  A bus trip that cost me 7.5 JD ($10) cost a local $2.  By the time I left the country I felt most locals considered me a walking ATM.  The price difference in much poorer countries has always been much less.

22 Oct

OPEN DOORS – OPEN MINDS – OPEN HEARTS

Jumeirah Mosque

I have lived in a Moslem country and visited many places with mosques, but I had never had the opportunity to tour one.  In an effort to promote understanding, some mosques in UAE now offer tours.  I toured Jumeirah Mosque and found the tour so interesting and informative.  Prior to the tour, we were offered crepes with date syrup and the creamiest, silkiest, nicest cream cheese I have ever tasted. There was also fresh dates and tea and coffee.  The Arabic coffee did not resemble coffee as we know it at all.  I was expecting dark and thick, and this was more like tea. Appropriate clothing was provided free of charge for tour guests.  Women were expected to have heads, shoulders and knees covered, men needed to be covered from above their navel to below their knees.

Our guide explained there are 5 Pillars of Islam and Moslems are expected to:

  1. Declare their faith
  2. Pray 5 times a day
  3. Charity – they are expected to donate 2.5 % of their savings annually
  4. Fast – during the month of Ramadan they do not eat or drink during daylight hours.  This is to teach patience, and act as a reminder there are people in the world who do not get to eat every day
  5. Haj – once during their lifetime they are to make a pilgrimage to Mecca

She went on to explain that the first 2 are mandatory. The other three depend on each person’s situation.She had a young man come in and show their prayer ritual – it takes 2 minutes.  Men are expected to go to the mosque if possible, women are not.

She also explained the dress code.  The Koran simply says that women should dress modestly.  They consider women’s hair very sensual, and so for that reason, it is kept covered.  The abayas are a loose long coat and she says they are cool to wear, and no one can see what is being worn underneath.  She said her daughter has, more than once, attended university classes wearing her pjs under her abaya.  She went on to explain in most countries wearing a veil is a personal choice, and the main reasons for wearing it have nothing to do with modesty etc.  Women wear a veil to prevent their faces from getting sunburned, and to keep the sand out of their mouth!

Jumeirah Mosque was very typical to UAE, not too large and quite understated.   In Abu Dhabi, I visited Sheikh Zayed  Bin Sultan Al Nahyan  Mosque.  It is the burial place of the first President of UAE and is breathtaking.  It cost more than half a billion dollars to build.  It is Italian marble with floors and pillars set with semiprecious stones.  One of the chandeliers weighs 12 tons and it took 1200 women over a year to weave the 5700  sq. meter carpet.

I now have a whole new understanding of the Moslem Religion.

12 Oct

GETTING HIGH IN DUBAI

The tallest structure in the world proudly towers over downtown Dubai.  The Burj Khalifa is a 2722 feet tall beautiful building.  It has 160 floors. Started in 2004 it was completed in 2009 at a cost of $1.5 Billion dollars.  It took 22 million man hours to build and each day on the site there would be 12,000 workers from over 100 different countries. It holds 17 world records including the highest display of fireworks in the world.  Every New Year’s Eve over 1 million people show up to view the spectacle.

Visitors are whisked up 125 floors in one minute on one of the high-speed elevators.  There are two floors dedicated to viewing decks.  I was amazed how far I could see, and they say the tower is visible on a clear day from 100 kms away.

Tickets can cost as little as $27, if you do not want to see the sunset.  Prices increase for sunset and fast track, so you do not have to stand in line for so long.

My ticket was for 5 pm but I did not get to the top until 6:10 because the lines are so long.  If you go, get in line early.

06 Oct

DUBAI IS DECADENT

Dubai is all about being the biggest and the best. ” More is better” certainly shows here.  The United Arab Emirates is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and the wealth and the things that money can buy are very evident.  Not only are malls full of top fashion and jewellery designer shops, there are also endless designer shops for children and babies.  It is not uncommon to see a Baby Dior and also a Dior for Kids shop in the same mall.  The Metro even has “Gold Cars” for those who do not want to sit in the cheap seats.

 

Dubai has the tallest structure in the world, the Burj Khalifa, 163 floors.  Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world, and with the soon-to-open expansion, it will have 20 million sq. feet of shopping,  and a taxi service within the mall.  It also has the largest water show and the largest indoor snow park in the world.  The ski area takes up the size of three football fields.  It is a huge attraction as most people in this part of the world have never experienced snow.  Another mall features an indoor skating rink.

The four tallest hotels in the world are in Dubai, and also the world’s tallest residential building.   The only 7-star hotel in the world sits on its own private island here. There is a building built like a picture frame and one that twists 90 degrees from top to bottom.  The Tiara Towers appear to be wearing tiaras.

With over 45 million flowers Dubai boasts the largest natural flower garden in the world.  It also has the world’s largest man-made marina. The marina area has seen over 200 highrises built in the past 10 years.

The best “biggest” of Dubai has to be Jumeria Palm Island.  It is the first, and smallest of three islands built in the shape of a palm tree.  There are 17 fronds, and each residence on each frond has its own private beach.

People here say if they do not have the biggest – they will soon build it.  An example is the ferris wheel similar to the London Eye.  It is almost completed, and it will come as no surprise – it is bigger than the one in London.

In Dubai you can order a cappuccino with a dusting of 18 k gold powder – for only $25 as you sit and watch the growth of the fastest growing city in the world.

And, if you are needing a dress made of gold – I can tell you where to buy one – DUBAI!! Another detail you might need to know – Uber has helicopter service here – you just call them, they tell you where the nearest helipad is – they are everywhere – and they pick you up and drop you at one close to where you want to go.  Only in Dubai.

08 Jun

KOH LIPE – ONE EXTREME TO ANOTHER

Sunset at Sunset Beach

Too many Sunburns & Tattoos

I so enjoyed my time at Koh Tarulato, quiet and relaxing.  My last stop in Thailand was Koh Lipe.  It was not quiet or relaxing.  Arriving by ferry, our boat backed up close to the beach.  We went down the swim ladder to water well over our knees.  This island was very expensive and the only affordable accommodation I could find was a dorm at a hostel.  I had not done the dorm thing for many years so was quite apprehensive.  The hostel was huge – over 300 beds.  Rooms did not have bunk beds, but more like a capsule, private and comfortable.  Each bed had a locker across from it.  In my room there was a big stack of big suitcases at the end of the lockers.  They belonged to 3 young gals from RIo.  They wore very very tiny thong bikinis during the day, and little slip dresses at night.  All of the clothes I ever saw them wear would have fit in one of my pockets.  What was in the suitcases??? This was a narrow island, Sunrise Beach on one side, Sunset Beach on the other.  There were endless seafood cafes.  This island had a great program idea “Trash Heros”.  Once a week tourists could meet and spend the day cleaning up a beach – boat ride and lunch were included.

Trash Heros

Seafood Cafe

This was a good idea, but they should have started on Koh Lipe.  If you went half a block off any of the main streets there was more trash than I had seen on any island.  I was really quite amazed at how dirty this place was.  It was extremely hot and there was nothing to do but go to the beach, and the beaches were very busy.  Once again, many Europeans in too small swimsuits.  The water was not as nice as the last place, but I did swim a few times.  I was certainly glad I had not decided to stay any longer – it was far too busy and crowded for me.  I stood on the beach one day and looked around – I could have been at a beach resort anywhere in the world – there was nothing “Thai” about this place. One day as I was walking on the beach a supply boat had arrived.  Everything used on this island had to be unloaded from the big boat  – and taken to shore in the longtails, then carried by hand from the boats to the beach.  It was interesting to watch and amazing to see the amount of supplies it takes to run a small island in high season.  This was my last stop in Thailand, and I was not all that sad to leave.  Next stop Malaysia.

Boats full of Supplies

Supplies Arrive

22 May

KOH TARUTAO – JUST WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR

Information

Jungle Road

I wanted it all  – palm trees,  a white sand beach,  and clear warm water.  I also wanted it on a budget, and for myself.  So far I had not found that perfect combination.  The owner of my guesthouse in Trang suggested I visit Koh Tarutao if I was looking for nicer beaches and fewer tourists.  The ferry ride was not long, in calm seas.   This island is one of the stops for the many tour companies offering day trips to 4 or 5 islands.  Some tours only stop here for 15 minutes.  If you are staying, you must pay your park entrance fee, then at the Park office you choose your accommodation – there was not a lot of choices as there are only park bungalows or tents to rent.  I was staying at Ao Molae 4 kilometres from the pier.  As I waited for the shuttle I read signs warning of noseeums, monkeys breaking into cabins, and pythons in trees.

My Bungalow

Outdoor Shower

This island was at one time a prison colony and has never allowed outside development.  My bungalow was perfect, and on a beach that was ideal.  There was a line of garbage just above the high tide line.  The Goddess of the Sea did not want man’s garbage, so this was nature’s way to return it.

A Perfect Beach

Returned Garbage

An outdoor shower served both sides of each bungalow building.  There was one cafe with restricted opening hours.  The staff were armed.  I do not know who thought water guns might be a deterrent to monkeys, obviously, no one told the monkeys as they swooped in and stole food off plates as we ate.  Electricity from solar panels was available from 6 – 11 pm.  There was no wifi.  I swam and walked the beach several times each day.  I always had both the beach and the sea to myself.  The social life revolved around dinner and sunsets at the cafe.  One day I decided to go for a walk down the jungle road. The jungle was so thick you could not see anything, but there were lots of sounds.  Monkeys were playing a wild game of Tarzan.  The trees formed a canopy over the road, and I could not avoid thinking of the warning of snakes in trees, so I did not walk far.  Four days of time alone, on a beach,  and I was rejuvenated to carry on with my adventure.  Every silver lining has a cloud – and the only cloud here was the constant threat of thieving monkeys.  I had found what I was looking for.

12 May

TRANG – CHINESE NEW YEAR

Small and Fancy Tuk-tuks

Another Style of Tuk-tuks

I only went to Trang for a couple of nights.  My plans were indefinite and I was hoping to access more information from there as to my next destinations.  Leaving Koh Lanta I rode in a van with a local woman and her cute little gal.  They were obviously going to a party as the little gal had on a fancy dress and sparkly gold shoes.  She was so shy and moved so her mother was sitting next to me.  I got out my Ipad and showed her some photos of our dog.  Once I did that we were friends and she sat beside me for the entire trip.  Once again only hug taxis were available at the bus terminal.  Again, I stood my ground and got a tuktuk.  Here they were very small and I had to sit hunched over in the back, and as usual, hit my head often.  I had booked a guesthouse in Trang and my room had a balcony.  I expected to sit on my balcony, have my  coffee and write my notes.  Well, my room did have a balcony – and I have posted a couple of photos – certainly no view!

My Balcony

View from my Balcony

 

The Chinese New Year celebrations were taking part only a block from my hotel. Chinese people were setting off firecrackers all day and there were long lineups to buy lottery tickets.  Along the street leading to the celebrations there were a series of large paintings of the former King.  People were lined up to have their photo taken with each of the paintings.  The party  was a fun time with lots of food and entertainment.  Many children were dressed in traditional outfits.  My guesthouse was booked for the following night so I had to move – only a couple of blocks. Before I left I was speaking to the owner and asking his recommendations for places to see.  He said he was sure I would enjoy Koh Tarulao an unspoiled island.   My new place was near the train station, and the night market.  There was a large building across the street that appeared to be under deconstruction.  I learned it had been damaged by a terrorist’s bomb.  Fortunately, the bomb detonated during the night, so no injuries or death.

Chinese New Year

Kids in Cute Outfits