Sunday, May 3, 2015

Scatter Shooting from Home

Our cherry tree in bloom
Returning from a long vacation gives us an opportunity to see “home” and the quotidian and ourselves through a different lens.  Some stray thoughts upon returning home.
·         We just read reports about the American military following Iranian ships through the Gulf of Hormuz and into the Gulf of Aden.  We were just there.  We know what they’re talking about! Travel makes the news come alive.  The only way to know geography is to see it.
·         Men in long white robes are elegant.  Women in long black robes are…well let’s just say I’m glad it’s not me.
·         I was just listening to a radio broadcast on “How to Travel on $50 a Day.”  My days of even wanting to do that are over.  Thank goodness for cruise ships, 3 (tasty) solids a day, cabin staff and being spoiled.  
·         The cruise lines are fooling themselves if they think they can continue to charge $.50 per minute for inferior internet.  The world is used to being connected.  There is no complaint I hear that is louder than lack of connectivity.
·         Places are like people – you get along with some and not with others.  The trick to life is finding the ones you like and sticking by them.
·         Our pilot on Air Canada’s long-haul flight from Dubai to Toronto was a woman -- named Katherine, no less.  You go girl!
·         Unpacking is not much fun. Jet lag is not much fun.  Memories are fun.
·         Human beings probably haven’t changed much in the last 5,000 years. Why can’t we just all get along?  
·         I love big cities, their bustle, excitement and lights, but I’m a small-town girl.  I love living in Durango with its mountains and cobalt blue skies.  I guess sometimes you just have to get away to remind yourself how lucky you are.
And. finally, there is no pollen at sea.  That's a very good reason to cruise in the spring! 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Grand City of Istanbul

I Love Istanbul!

Pera Palace Hotel Istanbul
Istanbul is a Grand City like only a few in the world.  It has the caché of a grand history, grand buildings, and a grand people.  Approaching the city by sea is the perfect introduction to the city with the spires of the Blue Mosque, the Suleiman Mosque and the Hagia Sophia appearing over the ancient walls built by Constantine, the busy ferries and tourist boats buzzing through the harbor, the Bosporus Bridge connecting the continents of Europe and Asia, and the watchful eye of the Galatia Tower looking over the commercial buildings of the Golden Horn.  I love the recent trend of cruise lines to overnight in departure and arrival ports like Istanbul.  It gives you the opportunity to visit the city without the hassle of packing, moving to a hotel, etc.

Coming back to a place you’ve been before is also fun.  It feels like a visit to an old friend.  You don’t
have the anxiety of having to visit all the famous sites in double-quick time.  We were greeted by a cold, drizzly rain on our arrival, so we hung about on the ship for a while hoping it would pass. Finally, we mustered the will to brave the weather.  Our first stop was the Pera Palace Hotel, a Grand Building from the 19th century where Agatha Christie stayed when she wrote Murder on the Orient Express.  They served one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever eaten, and in Grand Style.   

Happy Turkish Restaurant Owner
By the time we left, the sun was shining so we took a taxi to Sultanhamet, the old town, and made our way to the plaza between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.  The plaza, which had been under construction when we were here last, was brilliant with tulips.  The Turks are anxious for the world to know that it was Turkey who gave the tulip to the world, not Holland.  After a brief visit to Hagia Sophia, which was not at its best with half of the interior filled with scaffolding and the other half filled with cruise ship tours, we found a great little restaurant with an enthusiastic Turkish owner and a delicious lamb kebab.  Then back to the ship to pack. 

Great trip!  Time to go home!    

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sailing the Wine Dark Seas of Turkey

Columned Street in Patara

Azamara Club Cruises prides itself on being a destination-oriented cruise line and is constantly looking for new and interesting ports.  They hit the jackpot with Kaş, a southern Turkish village on the Turquoise Coast of the Mediterranean.  Our lecturer confirmed that Greeks had lived there for millennia until a forced resettlement of the Greek peoples under Ataturk.  Forced resettlement of peoples could be a theme of this voyage.  Kaş very much still looks like a Greek village made up of white houses strung up and down the mountainous coast beside gorgeous blue waters.  It has become a principle tourist destination and has attracted many émigrés from Great Britain and Russia.  The area has been settled since Neolithic times; in antiquity, it was known as Lycia.
Our guide was a very nice, very serious Turkish lady who seemed to fear us not having ALL the information possible about the area and Turkey which some of our group didn’t appreciate, but I did.  Did you know that Turkish women were given the vote in 1930, long before many European nations? Did you know that the Lycian constitution was studied by James Madison as a model for the American republic? Did you know that an American congressman (Salarz) had a summer home in Patara and had hoped to convene a congress of world leaders in the ruins of the Lycian meeting hall in a celebration of democracy? 
Lunch in Kalkan
After Patara, we visited the World Heritage site of Xanthos – yet another ancient site with amphitheatre and columned street.  I’m not sure why Xanthos merits the World Heritage Site designation and Patara doesn’t, but my preference was for Patara.  According to the ancient Greeks, Patara was Apollo’s summer home and his Pythia could be consulted there, but archaeologists have yet to find his shrine.  Since the mountains surrounding the area resemble the mountain around Delphi, I can see why Apollo would feel at home.
Sea Bass (this is for you, Kim)
Our lunch by the sea in the Greek-like village of Kalkan was a culinary highlight of the voyage.  We had ultra-fresh mezzes followed by sea bass which must’ve been swimming in the ocean only moments before.  I’m bringing a few extra pounds home with me. 

I've written the last two posts during a marvelous day at sea.  What a delightful voyage this has been, a mixture of emptying out and filling up.  And tomorrow we have a day to spend in the great city of Istanbul.  We're now drinking a nice bottle of Champagne as part of American Express' Cruise Privilege Program.  Thank you AmEx, thank you Azamara, thank you friends of my blog for sailing along with us!

Cyprus – Where East Meets West

"Birthplace" of Aphrodite

It felt good to shake off the controversial and contentious dust of the Middle East and arrive on the island of Cyprus.  History shows, however, that the conflicts lived out on this arid island of the Eastern Mediterranean are even older than the conflicts between Semitic tribes—the conflict between the Greeks and Turks.  I remember the Cypriot crisis of the 60’s and 70’s occupying many of the newscasts of my youth.  It seemed like such an exotic place with the black-robed Greek Archbishop facing off against the romantic Turks.   Although our guide never mentioned it, that dispute still simmers with a modus vivendi reached, but no real solution.  The Green Line, controlled by UN peacekeepers, divides the Turkish north of the island from the Greek south, although only Turkey recognizes the legitimacy of the Turkish Republic of the North.  The British also still have two sovereign areas on Cyprus which they generously retained for themselves when they “gave” the Cypriots their independence.   

House of Dionysus in Paphos

We landed in Limassol, a Greek port in southern Cyprus, and departed for a tour of the ancient city of Paphos.  Our female guide made for a nice change; the male point of view of the Mid-East had become tiresome.  On the way, we passed the rocks where Aphrodite rose from the ocean foam created when Cronus, the son of Uranus, castrated his father and cast the genitals into the sea (speaking of angry young men!).   

Paphos was an unexpected treat.  The ancient city was only uncovered after World War II when the site was occupied by a British airstrip.  Marvelous mosaics have been uncovered and left on the site where they were found; they formed the floors of several rooms of a building that archaeologists speculated had been used as a trading center.  My old buddy Dionysus was prominently displayed, so they must’ve had a good time while trading.

"Good wishes" in Greek
The countryside was arid, like most Greek islands, but our guide informed us that the Cypriots had completed several major dam projects to create water reservoirs easing the chronic water shortage.  I thought that was an interesting project since many activists in the Western US are urging that we tear down our dams.  Sailing over the vast oceans, it becomes interesting to contemplate the scarcity of fresh water and the growing human population. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pearls of the Western Galilee

Our Guide Rafael at Caesarea

On our second day in Israel, we had booked a tour of the Mediterranean coast which was to stop at a couple of places we had not visited on our first visit to Israel.  The tour company picked us up at our hotel at 6:00 a.m.  It would be another long day!

We drove to Tel Aviv without too much traffic and there we changed buses and picked up 9 more tourists, 3 of whom were French.  Our driver also served as our guide.  It was amazing; he would give a running commentary on the road in English and then follow it in perfect French.  Of course, he also speaks Hebrew.  I found out later that he had been born in Egypt and his native tongue was French. 

Palace at Caesarea
Our first stop was the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Caesarea.  Not a natural port but built by King Herod during Roman times, it became one of the most important cities of ancient times.  It was here that the only stele bearing the name of the Roman Governor Pontius Pilot was found.   This was to be the first of many ancient ruins to be seen in coming days.  The theatre is still standing; the palace and hippodrome still remain beside the glistening sea.  It’s a beautiful spot.

We carried on and passed by the Baha’i gardens in Hafia. We had seen them twenty years ago, but they had been rebuilt in 2014 at a cost of $2.4 million.  Baha’i is an interesting religion, believers in peace and one of the first to declare the equality of women, they are the subject of discrimination throughout the Muslim world because they believe (heretically) that prophets have followed Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.  The gardens spilling down the sides of Mt. Carmel are tended with loving care and offer a peaceful respite in a tumultuous world.

Acre Courtyard
We then moved on to the Crusader castle at Acre.  Built in the 12th century and home to many of the crusaders who fought in the Holy Land for two centuries, the site had seen quite a bit more excavation then when we had first visited.  It’s basically a big medieval castle.  Much of the stone and marble which was used to build it was looted from the ruins of Caesarea we were told.  Recycling in the ancient world.

IDF Soldiers in the Acre Souk
The final stop was at the Rosh Hanikra grottos.  This is more of a local tourist attraction than an international attraction, but they are located on the Israel/Lebanon border and the guide loved to titillate by pointing out that the “Iranians and Hezbollah” were just over the mountain, beyond the concertina wire, being constantly monitored by the radar, so we were safe.   

Back to the ship we went in horrendous bumper-to-bumper traffic.  My original plan had been to rent a car in Israel to do some touring….I’m so glad that didn’t work out.  Israel is an interesting country with incredible sites to visit, but the best plan is to rent a villa in the off season, spend a couple of weeks, and take it slow!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Marching to Zion

Dome of the Rock from above
It’s hard to know what to think about Israel and Jerusalem.  For me, it evokes memories of my grandmother singing songs about marching to Zion and crossing the River Jordan as she cooked Sunday dinner.  There are so many places in Israel that serve as metaphors, and to see them come to life in the landscape is very moving.  On the other hand, there is so much violence and 
Jaffa Gate to Jerusalem
intolerance connected with the major religions of the book which claim Jerusalem as their home, it gives one pause.  Monotheism seems to have produced too many angry young men – whether they are Muslims scowling at women telling them to cover all their skin, Armenian priests roughly clearing tourists from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher so they can spread their incense, or Israeli army soldiers (granted, many of these are women) with Uzis hanging from their shoulders, bullying tourists at checkpoints.  Is the Holy Land a place of hurt or hope? 

One thing Israel has become since we were last here about 20 years ago is a place of “more”:  more people; more tall housing blocks; more million dollar homes on the sea (rivaling Dubai); more highways, cars, traffic and traffic jams; more souks with cheap trinkets and tourists to buy them; more walls, checkpoints and guns; more settlements around Jerusalem; and certainly more noise and general commotion (the Arab habit of honking the horn at every intersection seems to have arrived here). 

We were met by our driver shortly after arrival in Haifa port and driven to Jerusalem.  Fortunately, it was the Sabbath so the traffic wasn’t bad.  Unfortunately, it was the Sabbath and I was not to achieve my goal of visiting the Dome of the Rock.  On approaching Jerusalem, we circled to the south on a new highway rimmed on either side by high walls and concertina wire.  I wasn’t sure whether we were on the side of the prisoners or the jailors. We arrived at our hotel, the Dan Boutique, and after settling into our room, took a taxi to the Jaffa Gate.  There we had an incredibly delicious (and expensive!) lunch of Mediterranean mezzes.  Dwight took a taxi back to the hotel since the Old City terrain was unfriendly to his walker. 

The Rabbi
Illicit photo of the Western wall
After a quiet walk through the Jewish Quarter where small groups were celebrating the Sabbath, I arrived at the Western Wall to find it surrounded by security check points.  Most of it was walled off with yet another surly guard who warned us not to take photos—what a change from 20 years ago!  Another guard at the bottom of the walkway to the Dome grunted that the Dome of the Rock was closed for the Sabbath which didn’t make sense to me since the Sabbath is a Jewish holy day and the Dome of the Rock is controlled by Muslims, but I guess that is for the convenience of the guards. 
My main mission having failed, I decided to make for the Christian quarter and maybe there find more of a welcome.  I got lost in the souks and kept getting misdirected, I guess by owners who were unhappy that I wasn’t buying from them.  Signs left you hanging at intersections.  I finally ended up in front of the German Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, a starkly beautiful church which was built by Kaiser Wilhelm in the 19th century.  I paid for entry and climbed the 178 stone circular stairway to the top of the bell tower where I was rewarded with a view of the Dome of the Rock from above with the Garden of Gethsemane in the background. 

Wearily, I made my way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where I worked hard to stay out of the way of surly Armenian priests and gaggles of tourists.  Another wander through the souks finally brought me back to the Jaffa Gate and the taxi stand where they only charged me twice the normal rate to take me to my hotel.  This is a long post, but it was a long and exhausting day in the Holy City!
Mosaic in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ship Me Somewhere East of Suez

Ship me somewhere's east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst…

On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin' fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China
'crost the Bay.
Connection to work on the new Channel

Ferry Boat timing passage between ships on the Canal
Amphitheatre and police station
My Uncle Shelby made rare visits to my grandmother’s home where I grew up; my grandmother would always ask him to serenade us with his beautiful baritone voice.  His concert song of choice was On the Road to Mandalay.  Maybe that’s when I first developed a taste for the exotic and a longing for faraway places.  The Suez Canal is not just a transit between seas, it’s a metaphor.  Like the name Casablanca, Suez evokes thoughts of international intrigue, romance, and drama.  We’re currently parked at the Southern entrance surrounded by ships of various sizes looking ghostly in the morning mist.  Our Captain raced to get to the starting gate a full day early, and it’s paying off.  Delays caused by the widening of the canal have caused a back-up of traffic and had we arrived on time tomorrow, we possibly would have totally missed out next port of Haifa.

6:30 a.m. – We awake to see the pilot boat directly below our stateroom and think our passage must be imminent.  After breakfast on the fantail, we stake out a good position in the Looking Glass forward to watch our departure.  Nothing happens.

12:00 noon – Having waited at anchor since 3:00 a.m. this morning watching a line of ships depart southbound from the channel, we have finally boarded the pilot and are given the number 2 position in the northbound convoy behind a US Navy ship and a large container of automobiles.  We approach the canal slowly with sand bars on our starboard and the surprisingly large town of Port Suez on our port.  There are two southbound convoys each day and one northbound.  The plan is to reach Ismailia sometime around dinnertime and exit the canal completely sometime around midnight.  The famous Azamara White Party, which had been scheduled and cancelled in the Red Sea because of weather is now scheduled for this evening.  We enjoy a leisurely lunch on the pool deck while watching Port Suez pass on the port side.

2:30 p.m. – We reach the first large lake while attending a lecture on the Israeli/Palestinian Arena.  A military helicopter flies overhead carrying missiles and we wave at the soldiers as we pass by one of the checkpoints which have an armed soldier standing on top of a dune every 100 yards or so.   

4:16 p.m. – Wide expanses of sand on either side.  Naptime (even explorers have to rest sometime). 

5:00 p.m. – Time for a sundowner on the balcony as we watch the construction of the dual waterway.  It’s quite a project, costing over $8 million, and just a little behind schedule for a 2015 opening.  The wide expanses of sand have become dunes from the excavated canal.  As we pass Ismailia on the port side, we, on the starboard, are privileged to see some sort of tourist attraction including a huge amphitheatre, an enormous phallic symbol, and a ferry full of merrymakers going home.  We also got a change of pilot in Ismailia.

7:00 p.m. – We head for dinner in Aqualina, the specialty dining room and sit down to dinner as darkness falls and we pass under the Friendship Bridge, a great suspension bridge to nowhere built in conjunction with the Japanese.  One side ends in a large town; the other sends travelers off into the great expanse of the Sinai Peninsula.  That was our last memory of the Suez Canal as we concentrated on the great expanse of food before us, made a short visit to the White Party, and finally toddled off to bed. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rockin’ and Rollin’ in the Red Sea

Dwight on the Sunset Bar
"Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation ... even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind."                                        -- Leonardo da Vinci

Lecture time

Morning Walk
Mosaic Cafe
The Sunset Bar

The minute we left the Gulf of Aden and turned north through the Bab el Mendab and into the Red Sea, we were hit with 25 knot headwinds which kicked up white caps and 6-foot+ swells.  The Captain is racing to Suez in order to get there a day early since several cruise ships have been delayed in the crossing.  The speed just adds to the pitch and roll.  Unfortunately, I’m not a great sailor.  I don’t get actually sick or anything, I just don’t particularly enjoy it.  On the other hand, it’s a good excuse not to do anything at all and that is not a bad thing.  Reading, napping, eating and drinking a little, otherwise thinking about things.  The body may be rusting, but that means it leaves the mind alone to do its own thing.  Thinking, thinking, thinking my way up the Red Sea while rocking and rolling.     


Sunday, April 12, 2015

At Sea – Day Three

Are we bored yet?  Let’s see.  We have nothing to do all day but walk 2 miles round the jogging track, eat, listen to a couple of interesting lectures, read a little, have a massage, watch the sea, eat, walk and read some more, go to a movie if it’s interesting or not if it’s not, watch the dolphins and birds and such, read, take a nap, drink a little wine, watch the sea, read some more, drink a little more wine, wander around the ship to see what’s going on, sit down to dinner with some interesting people, eat, watch the not very interesting show or not, turn out the light and sleep, get up and do it all again.  Nope, not bored yet, but getting pretty mellow! 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Oh My, Oh My, Oman!

Oman was such a beautiful change from Dubai.  Known as an important trading center between West and East since the first century of the Common Era, Muscat, the capital city, sits on a natural bay and is surrounded by large rocky outcrops (I can’t bring myself to call them mountains, although the locals do.)  It has been inhabited by various indigenous tribes, the Persians, the Balochis and Gujaratis, and the Portuguese.  It is currently ruled with what is considered to be a benevolent iron fist by the Sultan Qaboos Said, a very handsome gentleman who has ruled since 1970 and who, surprisingly enough, does not have any heirs.  The guide told us the Sultan recently made a will stating that if his family cannot decide on his successor after his death, the Army should take over.  I guess he never considered letting the people decide.

Oman is, however, a very tolerant and pleasant city.  Women can own property and drive.  It claims to be the second cleanest city in the world after Singapore and, like, Singapore, it is because the Sultan has decided to make it so.  Like in the UAE, the men wear those beautiful pristine white robes and look very elegant.  The Sultan was educated in England and made another good decision in that, unlike Dubai, he does not allow any tall skyscrapers.  Also unlike Dubai which virtually stretches down one or two main thoroughfares, Muscat spreads out extensively into the desert.   It looks and feels very much like an Arab city. 

The Sultan's Palace in Muscat
 The Grand Mosque which was built by Sultan Qaboos and finished in 2007, rivals the Mosque of Abu Dhabi in beauty.  In fact, I guess I would have to put it a notch above because of the beautiful gardens which surround it and the pink tinged marble in some of it courtyards.  Both buildings feel holy and peaceful when you enter the main prayer hall; they make you want to bow or cross yourself or give some other sign of humility because they are so awe-inspiringly beautiful.  I wish they were not marred by the presence of disapproving men who scowl at the women and make us pull our uncomfortable hot scarves more tightly around any sight of skin.  Why would God be offended by two inches of a woman’s skin showing above the wrists?  Why would God be offended by women?

Sultan Qaboos and two predecessors

On our brief morning tour, we also saw the President’s ceremonial palace, where he receives other heads of state, and, of course, the souks where we were tempted by the kaftans and pashmina shawls.  All in all, I wouldn’t mind going back to Oman.  You never hear much about it in news reports, and that is probably a good thing.  It’s a beautiful and peaceful little country.  Insha’Allah, it will stay that way. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Scatter shooting from the Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea

Yesterday we moved from the hotel to the Azamara Quest.  We had planned to visit the meeting of the Rotary Club of Dubai, but it was unfortunately scheduled for 1:30 p.m. while we were stuck on the Quest waiting for access to our cabin, so we just unpacked and enjoyed drinking and dining without having to make any real decisions.  Today we took a taxi to town, visited the Dubai Mall, and rode the elevator all the way to the top (148th floor) of the Burj Khalifa.  Some scattered thoughts:

·         If you’ve seen one mall, you’ve seen ‘em all – until you visit the Dubai Mall.

·         I’m not much of a shopper.

·         We are lucky to live in a country where people generally follow the rule of law (except the occasional old lady who appears on city streets with an “open container”).  Corruption is a way of life in a large part of the world.  While the taxis here have a sign saying “ride is free if meter doesn’t run,” many (NOT ALL) of the taxi drivers want to negotiate.

·         I’m not a very good negotiator.
The Souks in the Dubai Mall

·         The Emirates, from what we’ve seen, are clean and elegant – a refreshing and tolerant island in the chaos that is the Middle East.  It gives one hope.

·         I have no quarrel with Islam which, at its heart, is all about peace.  I do have a problem with angry young men who have no purpose other than destruction.

·         On the 148th floor of the Birj Khalifa, we were at 848 meters.  We live at 2000 meters.  It gives you perspective.

·         If you wear a burka, it solves the problem of, “What shall I wear today?”

·         If you wear a burka, why do you need to shop on Fashion Street at the Dubai Mall?
From the top of the world

·         Sometime I wish I wore a burka.

·         A city on the edge of the desert can be very humid.  I guess because it’s also on the edge of the sea.

·         Pulling away from a port and into the sea is ALWAYS a special moment.  So is pulling into a new port.  Travelling by ship is special.

·         A young Kenyan was part of the security guard at the top of Birj Khalifa.  He didn’t remember when the US Embassy was in the Cotts House in Nairobi.  That was two US Embassies ago.  Made me feel old! 

·         Tonight we had an Elton John performer.  I have friends who love opera and classical music which appeal to the intellect and the emotions.  Elton John appeals to the physical.  I love it!  Made me move. Made me feel young!

·         After the performance, in the lounge, I came across a jigsaw puzzle which had been assembled and folded and placed back in the box.  I dumped it out, tore it apart and thought I was doing a favor to the new voyagers who would have a chance to reassemble it.  It occurred to me, however, that war has been a constant disassembling and reassembling of the same jigsaw puzzle.  Maybe it’s time for the world to come up with a new model for assembly.

·         We’ve been told we’ll have a security detail board the ship in Oman and stay with up through the Suez Canal.  I’m glad.

·         A ship you’ve sailed on before feels like home.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

About Abu Dhabi

Reflecting pool at Sheikh Zayed Mosque
I would like to tell you all about Abu Dhabi, but the problem is that our guide was curiously uninformed about Abu Dhabi.  Knowing what I do now, there is a lot I would do differently about booking anything in the UAE, but then that’s part of the reason for travel and the good news is that makes it tax deductible.  We had a private tour booked and the driver/guide turned out to be the same guide we had had for the Dubai tour.  I think he possibly asked the tour agency to let him escort us after learning about our plans the day before.  He was born in Dubai, but is a citizen of Pakistan, his parents having immigrated here before his birth.  Only descendants of the native Arab tribes are entitled to citizenship in the UAE in spite of their place of birth. 

We headed out early and, after about a 2-hour drive, arrived at the incredibly beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  Sheikh Zayed is the founding father of Abu Dhabi.  Construction on the mosque began on 5 November 1996. The maximum capacity is approximately 41,000 people and the overall structure is 22,412 square meters; the internal prayer halls were initially opened in December 2007.  Seeing the mosque was almost worth the whole trip.  It is a magnificent structure of white marble with decorative mother-of-pearl inlays, bas-relief decorations, crystal chandeliers, tightly woven Arabian carpet, and gold-leaf topped columns grabbing your eye whichever way you turned.  I’ve never seen the Taj Mahal, but this structure must rival it.  The overall feeling of the mosque is one of peace and harmony, making a statement 180° from the Islam presented to the world by radical fundamentalists.  Unfortunately, photos can't really capture it, but I feel privileged to have seen it. 

After leaving the Mosque, our guide drove us around Abu Dhabi without any more stops.  It was all rather bizarre as I got the definite feeling that at times he wasn’t exactly sure where he was going.  At one point we passed some market stalls full of carpets where I would’ve loved to have stopped, but we kept going.  Dwight and I were still somewhat jet lagged, so we didn’t protest the drive.  The only other place we stopped for a brief moment was to watch a super fast roller coaster.  I guess he thought that would amuse us.  It’s a beautiful city.  Unlike Dubai it has parks with greenery, tree-lined parkways, well-spaced skyscrapers, and splendid villas.  We had our guide drop us off in the Marina area of Dubai for another delicious Lebanese Mezzah lunch and a nice (hot) walk down the corniche.  Looking forward to boarding the Azamara Quest tomorrow and seeing Dubai from the sea. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Destination Dubai

Travels of the great 14th Century Muslim explorer Ibn Battuta

What a great feeling for Dwight and me to be off again, bound for faraway places with strange sounding names.  It feels like old times.  Dubai is indeed far away!  It took over 24 hours of cars and planes and waits in airport, the worst part of which was the 6+ hour layover at Washington Dulles. 

Dubai is everything you’ve read about, a modern city built between sand and sea in the last few years.  It represents the best and worst of modern homogenized culture:  the traffic is horrendous; the buildings are spectacular; the crowds are made up of a polyglot of cultures.  It’s all a little overwhelming, but the universality of English makes it feel like you’ve arrived in a Disneyworld mash-up of New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.  Most of the workers are Indian or Pakistani, but there are enough burka-clad women to lend an air of the exotic. 

We had booked a half-day city tour for our first day, so after a good night’s sleep, we headed out to see all the sights.  First stop was Dubai museum which is located in the old Al Fahidi Fort, first established around 1787 on Dubai Creek, an inlet of the Arabian Sea.  Trading dhows used to call here as part of the spice trade.  The Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea were all dotted with Muslim trading posts which managed the lucrative trade between India, the Spice Islands, and Europe.  Trade is probably still the top “industry” in this area of the world.  Now they trade in oil and real estate.  It’s a developer’s dream and a shopper’s paradise.  At the end of our tour we were dropped off at Mall of the Emirates.  If you’ve seen one mall, you’ve seen ‘em all.  After a banana split at the hotel’s rooftop terrace, we’re planning on an early bedtime.  Tomorrow, a trip to the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On Vacation

Whoohoo!  It’s time for my vacation.  The word vacation comes from the Latin vacare which means to be unoccupied.  Where does “unoccupied” end and “boredom” begin?  I plan to make that my course of study over the next few weeks.  My theory is that boredom is a curse of the young.  How can you be bored with books, good food, interesting people, your own thoughts, and the following sea?  Personally, I’m fonder of the second meaning of the verb “vacare” which is “to make empty.”  I plan to vacate all responsibility for daily chores, vacate bad mental habits, and vacate all ideas about dieting.  I plan on emptying it all out and filling it all back up again. 

The idea of taking a “vacation” is a fairly recent phenomenon, maybe two centuries old.  However it came about, I’m in favor of it.   The British still call it a holiday, based on the ancient festival holy days.  Time apart from the daily cares of the world is holy indeed.  Come along with me on my blog and you, too, can have a vacation.  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Change of Course

From time to time, it's desirable or necessary to change directions, maybe even change destinations. I'm taking a new tack on this blog.  Rather than reacting and reporting only on current trips, I'm going to branch out to general travel issues.  I've missed blogging and find the time between trips too long to go without reflecting and writing about travel.

I'm blessed to book travel for a number of clients. I'm privileged to experience their trips vicariously. Seldom, however, am I asked for advice.  My business card used to read Travel Counselor; but most people come to me after they've already done a bit of research.  They know where they want to go and how they want go get there.  My job is to handle all the details that come up in the course of booking.  So I guess my bossy nature has been frustrated, and the New Year feels like a good time to begin a new direction. 

Now the whole world of travel is my subject...from the Artic to Antarctica, from airline tickets to zoos, I'm broadening my blog horizons.   Happy New Year and happy travels in 2015!