Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

An Australian travel guide through Jeddah

I’m so happy to feature my blog’s second guest writer Emma!! I visited Jeddah way back in 2010- it was actually my first trip out of Riyadh my first time here and I’ve been wanting to go back so this blog has some great tips about what to see if Jeddah is on your Saudi travel list. Emma Lawson is a passionate writer, online article editor and a health enthusiast. In her spare time, she likes to do research, and write articles to create awareness regarding healthy lifestyles. You can catch her on Twitter @EmmahLawson

For an Australian traveler, Jeddah is a small goldmine of cultural and historical heritage, culinary surprises, and numerous sites of natural beauty. Home to around 4.3 million people, Jeddah sits on the sea-bound frontier of Saudi Arabia and it’s one of the most captivating cities in the region that is still largely unblemished by mass tourism. Ready to pack your bags and head to the Red Sea pearl for a fair share of holiday fun, thrills, and shopping sprees? You’d better arm yourself with Jeddah travel essentials, just to stay on the safe and well-entertained side of your Saudi adventure.

 

Visa Requirements

Getting a visa for Saudi Arabia isn’t easy, but the red tape and the waiting are definitely worth it. As a western tourist, you’ll need a letter of invitation from a Saudi Arabia national, and it’s also advisable to travel with a travel agency or with a group of at least four other people. You can file for a visa at the closest Saudi Arabian embassy in your country of origin, but be sure to submit the application well in advance, just to stay on the safe side of the travel itinerary. Tourist visas are available only to selected groups on a limited basis.

Due to the strict requirements of Saudi Arabia, women entering the Kingdom alone must be met by a sponsor (and have a letter of invitation) or male relative and have confirmed accommodation for the duration of their stay. Additionally, entry may be refused to any visitor judged as behaving indecently, according to Saudi Arabia law and tradition.

 

How to get there

The best way to get to Jeddah is by plane. Jeddah international airport is situated close to the city center, and Saudi Arabian Airways offers favorable deals for tourists arriving from Europe. A fun fact: tourists aren’t allowed to drink alcohol once the plane crosses over into Saudi Arabian airspace.

Upon landing in Jeddah, you should rent a car as there’s no official public transport in the city. If you can’t drive, your transport options will be limited to private vans, taxis, and your own two feet. Do not cycle or ride a motorbike in Jeddah: streets over here are dangerous and local laws don’t exactly favor two-wheeled transport on city streets.

 

Jeddah Attractions

Although foreigners are advised to keep a level head and stay out of locals’ hair, there are many fun things a western tourist can do in Jeddah.

• King Fahd’s Fountain

Known as the world’s tallest fountain, King Fahd’s Fountain was built back in 1985 with the help of funds donated by the King. The Jeddah fountain releases sprays of water as tall as 850 feet, which means there are as many as 16 tons of H2O up in the air at any point when the fountain is running. Located in the vicinity of Falastin Street, the fountain goes on at sundown and runs all through the night.

• Ta’if

If you can set aside the time and cash for a daytrip outside Jeddah, head to Ta’if. Situated on the slopes of the Sarawat Mountains, Ta’if is the center of the regional agricultural area known for pomegranate, grape, fig, rose and honey production. It’s home to Al Rudaf Natural Park, Shubra Palace museum, remains of a Turkish fort, rock-carving site, Al Hada nature reserve, and a small zoo where tourists can see baboons up close.

• Obhur

A snaking islet of the Red Sea in the northern part of Jeddah, Obhur penetrates inland for about 12 kilometers and is home to fancy houses, hotels, dive shops, and compounds. If you’re up for a jet-ski ride or just want to spend the afternoon sunbathing and sipping mocktails on the beach, Obhur is the place to go.

• Aquatic fun

If you’re into scuba diving, Jeddah will definitely win a spot in your heart. The Red Sea coast is brimming with amazing dive sites, complete with breath-taking coral reefs, warm turquoise sea water, schools of parrotfish and surgeonfish, and an odd dolphin.

• Al-Balad   

Situated in the heart of old Jeddah, Al-Balad is home to picturesque buildings made out of coral reefs brought over from the Red Sea. Here you’ll find the fish market and many traditional souks where you can get local merchandise and souvenirs at a decent price. The neighborhood is no longer in perfect shape, but it’s still well-worth visiting, especially if you’re into old buildings and first-hand encounters with the locals.

• Shopping malls

If you’re short on ideas what to do in Jeddah, head to a local restaurant or a shopping mall. For a delectable local treat, try Shawarma Shakir or Albaik, or indulge your palate by a refreshing drink over at Juice World. As for shopping, you’ll find it hard to grow bored with local offer of jewelry and clothes, and you can also find designer brands for a real bargain.

 
Special considerations

Last but not the least, there are certain lifestyle and cultural rules you’ll need to obey during your visit to Jeddah. If you’re a woman, you’ll have to keep your hair and clothes covered so that your skin doesn’t show in public. You’re not required to cover your face, though, but you’ll have to stay away from the steering wheel during your stay in the city – and much of Saudi Arabia, for that matter. There is no official law that bans women from driving, but religious beliefs prohibit it, with Saudi clerics arguing that female drivers “undermine social values”. On top of that, ladies under 30 must be accompanied by their husband, brother, or father out in public. Islam is the only religion and while you’re not required to take part in daily prayer, you should abandon all hope of finding a religious facility other than a mosque. It may also be a good idea to stay away from alcohol during your visit to Jeddah as spirits are illegal and can’t be purchased in stores and consumed at hotels, on boats, or in vehicles.

Ready to pack your bags and head to Jeddah? Follow the guidelines above and you’re bound to have the time of your life. Bon voyage!

Tribute to My Mom…..

In honour of Mother’s Day being this weekend I thought I’d write a tribute to my mom and write about a few of the things I’ve learned from her over the years.  Since I was young I’ve had more of a friendship with my mom than the typical parent child relationship. My friends would often comment how they wished they could be so open with their own mothers. She instilled in me an openness and an honesty to a point where I never felt like I had to hide things or couldn’t be open with my thoughts and feelings. This hugely spilled over into my relationships with others also. Those of you who know me know that I tend to be an open book- I’ve never really put much worry into whether people might judge my decisions or not. So I’ve always chosen to be open because I long ago stopped trying to live for other peoples expectations.

My mom taught me that nothing was out of my reach. And reach I have. Across the globe I’ve stretched my legs and opened my heart to a world of opportunities I could not have dreamed up as a child. And she has faithfully supported every one of them, even when they might not have been her first choice for me. She has been my cheerleader. Always in my corner. Always ready to take my side against whomever perpetrated a wrong against me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She taught me to have an artistic eye. She is an artist,  a trait I sadly did not inherit. But I did inherit an eye and appreciation for the arts. My only artistic outlet is a love of photography. Playing with lights, shadows and reflections in my pictures. I’ve always loved how the world looks through the lens of a camera.

My mom taught me to be bold. Not just with decisions but with colours and accessories. She herself sports a hair colour that is a fiery orange hue and I’m surprised that she has yet to colour it purple after her most favourite colour. I too have a love of bold colours. Hot pink and emerald green would be my two top contenders and I’ve got a pretty distinct assortment of funky rings and earrings and bracelets that I’ve collected from my travels to jazz up an otherwise mainstream sense of style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She taught me to have empathy for humanity. That the world was wide and vast, as are the people in it. She always had pictures of adopted children she was supporting clipped up on our fridge long before I knew exactly where Cambodia or Bangladesh were on a map. She taught me that people are interconnected regardless of the distance between them. She taught me to view the world in a global view and not just in terms of those who look like me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So mom here’s to you for instilling in me so many lessons that allowed me to spread my wings and truly see the world and for standing behind every crazy decision I’ve ever made. And for continuing to support those same crazy decisions of the future……..Love you mama xxx

Dubrovnik Croatia

If you watch that popular TV show called Game of Thrones then you probably know that part of it is filmed on location in the medieval city of Dubrovnik Croatia. I’ve never seen it, but the city is chalk full of Game of Thrones tours if that happens to be your thing. Last week I returned from a trip to Croatia spending my time in Dubrovnik and Split. Originally I had wanted to visit Luxor Egypt as this has been on my travel bucket list for a long time, but the security situation isn’t ideal right now so the next place I really wanted to go was Croatia. For the first week of this trip I had a travel partner from back home, a guy I met about a month before I returned to Saudi this last time. He hasn’t traveled much but was keen to travel so when I left I told him if he ever wanted to tag along on an adventure with me he was more than welcome. We ended up being great travel partners. He’s low key and went along easily with my shenanigans, so we had a lot of fun. Also he follows directions really well and never let on that he was getting annoyed or tired of being directed to take photos for me (of me.) Don’t get too excited though Mom and start buying wedding gifts- we’re just really good friends.

We met up in Frankfurt and flew into Dubrovnik together. As I’ve mentioned the only way I’m comfortable traveling is medicated, buzzed or exhausted. If I’m sleeping on a flight then I’m not focused on dying which makes it pleasant for myself and whoever I’m traveling with. The previous day I worked a 12 hour shift, came home, showered and took a red eye flight to Frankfurt. I had a 4hour layover so we hit the Lufthansa lounge and got me some wine. Wine + severe lack of sleep were a perfect combo as I didn’t really wake up until we were approaching the airport. Dubrovnik airport is small. Like it makes the tiny airport of my home town look impressive. I had booked us into an Airbnb in the Old Town and the owner sent her husband to come collect us which was super helpful. Dubrovnik is made up of the Old Town and then newer modern bits. The Old Town is built along the water and is basically a walled city, and the newer sections span up and outwards to the hill above it. The first view of the Old Town driving from the airport leaves a lasting impression. It looks medieval and magical and you can hardly wait to start exploring.

Dubrovnik is a photographers dream come true. Pretty much every way you turn your head is a postcard worthy picture. The best views of the entire city are by walking the old walls, from Fort Lovrijenac, or viewed from the hill overlooking the city by way of the cable car. The terracotta roofs offer a perfect contrast to the deep blue of the Adriatic Sea. I took a ton of photos from these locations. Walking the walls of the Old Town requires good walking shoes as it’s steep in sections and bring a hat and water for hot days as there’s little in the way of shade. Dubrovnik is a tourist destination the year round. We were there in the shoulder season when only a few cruise ships were docking and it was still extremely crowded in the Old Town some afternoons. I read that during peak season 10,000 tourists are dropped in Old Town although they are looking at decreasing it to 8000. Personally, I hate traveling during peak months because I find other tourists annoying so I’m willing to risk maybe no so great weather in exchange for me not having a full fledged melt down when someone runs over my toes with a baby stroller for the tenth time that day, or when a large tour group cuts the line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We used Dubrovnik as a base for us to travel from. We spent only a couple days actually exploring it and then did a couple morning trips to the south of Dubrovnik and fit in two day trips to neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to Montenegro, all of which I will fill you in on upcoming blogs. I will also tell you a 7th grade explanation of the Croatian War of which I’m no expert but you should have a basic understanding of prior to visiting the region. Over half of the building in Dubrovnik were damaged in the conflict of the early 1990’s, many in the Old Town. You can assess the damage when you walk the old city walls- the buildings that were damaged all have shiny new roofs. This is one of those places where history and war are intertwined and this war happened not so very long ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spend an entire day just exploring the Old Town. Wandering the streets and alleyways to see where they led. Stopping into churches and Old Buildings and grabbing an afternoon glass of wine. I had no idea prior to going to Croatia that it had such a huge wine culture. Trust me- Croatia has many good wines. I drank enough of them to be sure of that much. And really good oysters and seafood. And you know what pairs well with oysters and seafood. Yep chilled Croatian wine of course. There are two bars on the cliffs overlooking the sea just outside of the city walls- I would highly recommend getting a table at one of them and watching the sunset. You won’t be disappointed. The morning of our last day after my travel partner had left to catch his early morning flight I got up around sunrise and wandered the Old Town taking photos. The streets were pretty much empty save for street cleaners, early morning delivery men, locals walking their dogs, and the odd traveler who had the same idea as me. It was a really nice way to end my time in Dubrovnik- outside, alone with my thoughts and my camera watching the sun peak through the buildings in the Old Town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re pressed for time you could probably explore the Old Town of Dubrovnik in a day. I’ve long ago given up on traveling fast and furious and trying to pack as much in as possible though. For me, spending a week there and allowing for day trips, and afternoons naps, and time to write and sip wine suited me just perfectly. June, July and August are peak tourist time so plan your trip to Croatia accordingly!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for me I’ve got a bunch of blog posts in the works. I’m looking forward to telling you about the rest of my time in Croatia and then planning on writing a series of posts about Pops and my time on the Camino de Santiago this past fall. I’m going to Geneva Switzerland for a long weekend near the end of the month and then I’ve got some vacation time in June that I haven’t quite narrowed down where I’m wanting to go. Georgia (the country) is high on the list as is Ethiopia so I’ll keep you posted. I’ve been mostly laying low since I got back from Croatia. My social life had been pretty hectic the last couple months so I’m a little emotionally burnt out and am being more selective about what I’m getting up to. I’ve also been getting a lot of emails from nurses who are interested in working in Saudi so I’m the process of writing a post to answer some of the most common questions I get asked. So that’s all for me. Hope ya’ll are well and thanks for stopping by.

Edge of the World

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’ve always got a Saudi bucket list an arms length long. It’s really the only reason I keep coming back. Oh, and likely the money and the ridiculous amount of vacation time I get. That definitely helps. One of the things that time after time has remained on that list was to visit a place called the Edge of the World. Sounds cool as hell right?! Who wouldn’t want to go there? This magical place is about 180km north east of Riyadh in a place called the Acacia Valley. Given that it’s unbearably hot most of the year here it’s really best to go in the winter months. There’s like zero shade there, and since I nearly get heat stroke every time I’m outside when it’s hotter than 30C I knew I needed to go soon. As in should’ve probably done it a few months ago.

So a few weeks back myself and my new kiwi sidekick and an American I’ve grown very fond of joined up with Haya tours to go. We did a tour for 2 reasons- it’s far out and unless you go as a caravan with other people it can be a little dangerous in the event of a breakdown, kidnapping, or no cell phone coverage. The second reason was that I’ve been nursing a foot injury and this tour basically drove you to 2 different canyons and you didn’t have to walk much which suited me just fine. Last year before Pops and I walked 700km across Spain I had my first flare up of plantar fasciitis. Basically this meant that I had heel pain to my left foot quite bad in the morning. Ice, ibuprofen and stretching quickly resolved it and amazingly it didn’t bother me when I walked the Camino. That was good because on the Camino I had other things to deal with like blisters, healed blisters, new blisters, and the general aches and pains that go with walking that distance. After the Camino I continued to walk quite a bit as I visited Paris, Amsterdam, Seattle and spend time in Canada. Then in January I started going to the gym and was working out a lot. And around the beginning of February I started getting really bad heel pain. It was different than the plantar fasciitis though, and the longer it went on the more worried I was that I had a stress fracture. Since I’m a nurse I just gritted my teeth and tolerated it for as long as I could. I bought insoles. Then crazy old lady supportive walking shoes. I took ibuprofen around the clock and finally I went to the doctor who x-ray’d it and found a heel spur. So since then I’m having to limit my walking. I can’t stand for long periods of time. I’m grumpy because I’m restricted in what I can do. I’m going to physio to get shock wave therapy and I’ve now got professional orthotics. And it’s not really getting much better. Which is frustrating as hell. So long story short that’s why we took this tour.

We had my driver Joe drop us at the meeting point. There were maybe 10 other people on the tour split between 3 cars. By cars I mean 2 fancy SUV’s and us three with a french lady packed into a Toyota truck that looks like it normally transported camels and not people. The meeting location was conveniently located in a mall that had Tim Horton’s which made me pretty jazzed until we started driving and I promptly spilled my coffee all over the floor. Between our unfiltered language and my coffee fiasco I’m sure that french lady was questioning her mode of transport that day! So off we drove. We made it to the edge of Riyadh and then things started looking weird. There were paved walkways and tons of children’s playgrounds and no houses. There were decorative cement or stone designs along the road or at the center of the roundabouts but there really wasn’t much else around. We were confused. No kids at the play ground. No one walking the paved paths. On we drove.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We turned off the highway onto a dirt path. Driving past a police check point that was really more like a shack than a station. In the distance we could see cliffs  and hills. We arrived at the first cliff which is probably the place most people go. The cars park at the bottom of a hill and there’s an area that’s like a rock window with cliffs to both sides. Make sure to wear good walking shoes (and your orthotics if you’re an old lady like me.) The terrain is rocky and it’s super easy to slip. There are no guard rails or any safety features so don’t act like a jack ass up there as it’s a long way to the bottom. We spend maybe 10 minutes walking up pausing for selfie breaks. My kiwi sidekick is a professional duckface maker- her selfies are the bomb. You can walk out to the farthest part and the coolest part of the cliff but we decided not to. Mostly on account of laziness and that I’m a real klutz. If someone was going to slip and fall high chances it was going to be me. So we took more selfies and  we chatted about recent heartbreaks and dating and a bunch of other things that I’m sure our Yankee sidekick could’ve done without. Men are mildly entertained by girl talk until they are not. We climbed back into the Toyota tow truck and carried on to the next cliff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next stop was at another cliff maybe 10 minutes away. This cliff overlooked the ravine below. There are apparently fossils found there as this area was covered by water forever ago. While the rest of the group went on a fossil expedition we did what we do best- took selfies and chatted. After the rest of the group ohhh’d and ahhh’d over these fossils we got back in the truck and made our way towards the main road. We stopped off in spot with a bunch of trees and had a picnic in the shade. It would’ve been nice had it not been 37C and like a hundred flies buzzing around. It was nice in the shade but the flies were mega annoying. On the way back we passed a caravan of camels and stopped to take pictures.

Once we got to the main road we passed a town on the outskirts of the city. Friday prayer had just ended and the streets were filled with men- not a woman in sight. We passed a bunch of local vegetable markets that I would’ve loved to have stopped at to take pictures but I’m sure we would’ve cause quite the spectacle had we stopped. So back to Riyadh we went- past the empty walkways and apocalyptic play grounds back to civilization.

If you live in Riyadh and haven’t been to the Edge of the World you really, really should. It’s hella cool and makes a great day trip. But go soon or wait until like October when the temperatures start to trend back down. Bring the usual things- sunscreen, hat, gallons and gallons of water and good shoes. Keep any kiddos on a short leash to be safe. Also fun fact: camels come when you roll down the window and make kissing noise. Or at least this guy above did to me. I think he thought he might be getting lucky the way he trotted over. You’re welcome.

Goodbyes

One would think that if there is anything I would be an expert in at this point in my life it should be saying goodbyes and packing. And yet I’m total shit at both. I spend my 20’s bouncing between the states of North Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Arizona, California and Washington. My car loaded to the brim as I would drive cross country to whichever city held my next adventure. Many of these states I yo-yo’d in between, setting up a life in San Francisco and San Diego a couple times, and in Seattle several more times. Since I first left Canada in 2002 I’ve moved at least 26 times. I’m saying at least because my memory isn’t super sharp, and I’m sure there’s one or two moves I may have forgotten. So much packing and unpacking. This is of course spread between Canada, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Each assignment brought with it a new set of friends and a new set of adventures. And a new set of goodbyes.

The expat world is similarly as transient as the world of travel nursing. People come into your life and you form intense bonds over a short period of time and then either you leave, or they leave, or both. It’s the nature of the life style, because especially in Saudi, no one stays forever. Some goodbyes are easy because the world is sprinkled with assholes. Some are gut wrenchingly hard. Sometimes these goodbyes take a long time to get over. The void that’s left takes a while to fill. It’s a blessing and a curse. To allow people to deeply touch you in ways you don’t initially realize, and then have to part ways with them. That the world can feel both so small and enormous at the same time. But such is life. And if I’ve learned one thing it’s that love is infinite. It goes beyond goodbyes. It lives in the spaces in between those goodbyes.

So here’s to those of you who have deeply touched my life. I do so hope that our paths cross again. See you someplace down the road……

“The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and will be.

Maybe we’ve lived a thousand lives before this one and in each if them we’ve found each other.

And maybe each time, we’ve been forced apart by the same reasons.

That means that this goodbye is both a goodbye for the past ten thousand years

and a prelude for what will come”

From the book The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.

 

 

King Abdulaziz Camel Festival

So this past week I went on a real Saudi style adventure with my new kiwi sidekick, and we visited the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival about 140km outside of Riyadh. It’s kinda like Saudi’s version of America’s next top model, except the models are camels. The only real thing I had heard about the festival was that there was a camel beauty pageant and I was like hells yeah I’m in. Over the past few years festivals and local events are often advertised in some form of English although the information isn’t always correct regarding schedule and timings. We took our chances and booked my driver and headed out.

It took us about 90min to reach the location of the festival and let me tell you it was lovely leaving the traffic and congestion of populated Riyadh behind. The first hour we drove mostly through the desert, its colour changing from a sandy brown to a brightening shade of red. We passed Bedouin tents and much of the desert along the roadside was dotted with camels and goats. It was great. The closer we got to the festival location the landscape changed. It became green  and you could see rock canyons in the distance. We came across a large herd of camels being led alongside the road. The camel caravan wound behind a rock wall and we had Joseph my driver stop at the base so we could take some pictures. We scurried up the rock hill making sure not to trip on our abayas and popped over the wall in full view of the approaching caravan. I’m pretty sure two western women were about the last thing they expected to have pop up!! We took videos and photos of them, and they of us, as the camels shuffled past. Many waves and Assalamu Alaykum’s were exchanged. There were maybe 50 camels in the herd and several baby camels. We made our way back to the car, mud wedged into the soles of our shoes and carried on towards the festival grounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On arrival the festival looked exactly like a fair back home. It’s a huge enclosed area with parking areas surrounding the site. There was a main road leading to the main entrance that was blocked off by barriers and security at several points leading up to the main gate. At every check point the security guards would motion for Joseph to pull off and park, but as soon as the windows in the back went down and they saw me and my kiwi sidekick they would yell “VIP” and we would wave and say “hello” and they would move the barricade out of the way and let us drive on to the next one and the same scenario would happen until we were at the main entrance and Joseph was exclaiming “Unbelievable!!” We just giggled with delight. Sometimes blond hair is a curse, sometimes it provides VIP treatment.

We left Joseph and walked towards what looked like a massive arena with stadium style seating. There were very, very few ladies and no other westerners around. There was a lot of staring, but also a lot of “Hellos” and “Welcomes” being yelled at us. We decided to go have a seat with the many other visitors and headed towards the seating area. Oopsie. We tried to sit in the men’s sections. We really should know better and were politely pointed towards a further set of seats of which no one was sitting in. The men’s area was packed. Not a lady in the ladies area. Hmmm? So we walked over and were directed towards some seats. I pointed towards my wrist to ask the security guard what time the show started. He shook his head and said “mafi.” Which means none or no. I pointed towards the packed male seating area with some confusion as to how there wasn’t a camel parade today yet all these men were waiting. At this point a tour bus of Saudi women pulled up so we asked them to translate what was going on. One lady told us that there was no camel parade or contest today but that the next one was tomorrow. I had her ask the guard what all the men were sitting in the stands then waiting for then?! He replied that no one had told them that there wasn’t one today. The Saudi lady and I looked over at the maybe 200 men sitting there and then back at each other and laughed. Then they wanted to take some selfies. So we did. And they asked where we were from, assuming as it is always assumed that we are American. We politely told them we were not. Several of them spoke perfect English so I asked where they worked and they said that they were all teachers. After a few more pictures we then parted ways.

We decided to explore the rest of the festival site. There was the normal Saudi style security to get in. Men on one side and women on the other. The women’s side was wide open and they searched our bags and wanded us down. Before they used that metal detector wand thingy on us a girl asked if I was pregnant. I winked at her and said “Inshallah” and they all three of these Saudi girls started giggling. We were killing it on making friends at the camel festival. There were literally pretty much zero other ladies around and we walked past a food area into a main courtyard area with traditional Arabic music playing and surrounded by statues of camels. Many male attendees wanted to stop us to chat. One young guy asked where we were from and when I said Canada he replied that his uncle lived in Canada and was searching for a second wife for him. Mind you this guy was maybe 20 years old and was looking for a second wife, and I’m 38 and can’t even keep a full-time boyfriend. Oh the irony. I replied that Canadian women love to be second wives, but I don’t think he caught on to the sarcasm. We then ran into a group of four boys who all saluted us and we exchanged photos. One of the funny things about living in Saudi Arabia as a western women is that men of literally all ages will likely find you attractive. Back home 20 year old boys would never ask for my picture, or want their picture taken with me, or try and sneakily take a picture of me. But at this camel festival it was like a full on photo shoot. At one point some kid was taking video footage of us and I told my kiwi mate that I was quite certain we were having a documentary made. Naturally, we took a bunch of photos as well. It does warrant being said that at no point did we feel unsafe. Other than feeling a bit like celebrities, everyone we encountered was very friendly and generally excited that we would want to visit a cultural festival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was starting to get hot so we ducked into a tent that was like a mini indoor market selling spices, and local handicrafts. We did a little shopping and took advantage of the huge AC unit to cool down. We then headed towards the Planetarium. On the way there we passed 2 large walls with pictures of fallen soldiers on it. I think it’s easy to forget that every country has lost service people, and that there are heroes in every culture. Inside the planetarium was a roof mural basically of the constellations and a couple exhibits. The men inside were very educated and happy to explain things to us. By this point we’d been at the Camel festival for like an hour and yet to see an actual camel so we set out to find some. On the outskirts of the festival we ran into a a guy outside the media building. He didn’t speak much English but we asked him “Mafi Camels?” so basically “No Camels?” He then took us on a tour. First stop outside a Bedouin tent where four teenage boys were tending to one camel. They asked if we wanted to ride it and we both declined. I rode a camel in Oman and it was a terrifying experience and I’m not a huge fan of riding animals. Horses, donkeys, elephants, camels. All are terrifying to me. So we took some photos and then were escorted by our new tour guide over to some tents off in the distance all the while being trailed by our new squad of these four teenage boys. Over near this new set of tents were another 15 or so camels spread out with decorative drapes and saddles. We took a bunch more photos and the teenage boys got bored with us and walked away. By now it was almost noon and the sun was directly overhead and it was quite hot. Our unofficial tour guide signaled a golf cart over and we were instructed to climb in and then were driven in a couple circles while a guy with perfect English explained to us about the festival. Almost everyday there is a camel parade. Two weeks of the festival are dedicated to the white camels and two weeks to the black ones. They are judged not as single camels but as a group, in groups of 25, 50 and 100. The cash prizes are very high, I can’t remember the specifics off hand. We were then driven around the festival site and dropped at the main exhibition hall which was closed, but this helpful guy had the security guard open the door and we were left to roam on our own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The main exhibit hall had information about camels. Did you know that the country that has the most camels in the world is Somalia? Or that there are 17 million camels spread around the Middle Eastern countries? This exhibit also had a National Geographic Photography section and some camel related art that I would’ve loved to have bought, but sadly wasn’t for purchase. Once we were finished there it was time to start the drive back to Riyadh, and we returned the same way we arrived. On the drive back we passed a small lake that had formed from the recent rains. There was a tree in the lake and kids were swimming at the base of the tree. We made Joseph turn around so we could go back to take a picture, as I knew I would be disappointed not to capture the carefree nature of these local kids escaping the heat. We walked to the edge of the water and the kids waved and yelled at us “come in!!” Such a great way to end a really special day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The festival ends this weekend. So it’s your last chance if you’re wanting to attend. You can get the schedule and more information here.

A Saudi Update…..

Well. Where has the time gone? I’ve been a very bad blogger as of late. I arrived back on Saudi Arabian soil on the 2nd of February and its been a whirlwind of embassy parties, overcoming jetlag, catching up with old friends over dinners out, and settling back into my old job. This past weekend was the first set of days off where I finally feel like I’ve gotten caught up on sleep. In fact it felt so strange having a day of downtime that the very unfamiliar feeling of being a little lonely crept in, which is not an emotion I’m very well acquainted with. While my body desperately needed some downtime my mind wasn’t quite on board. Thankfully, that uneasy feeling quickly passed!

So what have I been up to since my return? I arrived late on a Wednesday night to my housing unit. When I left Saudi I was in single housing, but this time I’m in a different building sharing with an American girl who arrived a few months ago. I spent the following day running around with my lovely driver Joseph who is a  very dear person here in Saudi for me. We had to visit 3 different stores in order to get my internet reinstated which was priority numero uno for me, and then did a little grocery shopping. Then it was nap time because jet lag is the worst. That first weekend passed with a night out at the American embassy with friends and then a party in the Diplomatic Quarters. One surprising thing about life in Saudi Arabia is that the social scene is anything but dull. The next week involved updating my medical, reopening my bank account, getting a photo shoot for my hospital ID, getting sized for our super sexy white scrubs  and various other work related things. I started work back on my unit. The following weekend was pretty much a repeat of that first weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Arabian return happened to coincide with the Janadriyah festival. This festival is a yearly event in February that is one of my most favourite things to do here. It’s a huge cultural festival with arts, food and local dancers (males only). It’s similar to a county fair in the U.S. minus the rides and beer garden, and where everyone is dressed in traditional Arabian attire. So it’s basically a sea of black and white as far as the eye can see. It has a very jovial feel and the local Saudis are super friendly and it’s a very merry time. I love it a lot and so I dragged a couple girls from work with me. The really great thing about the festival for me is that taking pictures is allowed. Obviously, this means being careful about taking pictures of women, but nobody seems to mind!

Adjusting back to life in Saudi hasn’t been too terribly hard. I’m very familiar with how things work here, and the cultural differences are less jarring the more one is exposed to them. I’m lucky enough to have several friends that are still here which also makes things easier. It is weird for me being here without my kiwi sidekick though- I think I underestimated just how much I relied on her before. Work is work. It was strange returning after having over 5 months off, but after a handful of orientation shifts things fell back into place. I’m still working on a VIP floor that looks after members of the Saudi royal family and other important people. The patient population has definitely changed since I first arrived here in 2010- the patients are much sicker than they were back then, and while our patients do end up staying in the hospital much longer than they would back home (often by personal choice) gone are the days of people admitting themselves to the hospital over a hangnail or sprained ankle (true story).

So that’s pretty much the latest. By some complete stroke of luck I’ve managed to get a ticket to the Irish embassy for St Pats. That might be a bigger deal than that one time I had my birthday party at the Canadian embassy a couple years ago!! So this upcoming weekend is filled with celebrating with the Irish, steak night with the Americans and of course work.  As always I’ve got a long to-do list of things I want to do here including seeing the horse races which end at they end of this month. There’s also an upcoming camel beauty competition but it’s rumored to only be for males attendees. Oh how males get to have all the fun in this country! I also want to plan a couple overnight trips to other parts of Saudi Arabia before the weather gets too hot. Last weekend there was a food festival at the French embassy that showcased local foods from France, Belgium, Cameroon, the Ivory Coast, and few others that I can’t recall off the top of my head. It was one of those events where you could easily forget that you were even in Saudi Arabia. A couple weekends ago I met up with a walking group and we walked the 12km track around the Diplomatic Quarter which had me reminiscing my Camino walking days from this past fall. So apart from embassy gigs there’s still a ton of things to keep ex-pats busy in Saudi Arabia. The important thing is to be motivated enough to take part!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I promise to do my best to get back into a blogging routine. I still have so much to write about from Pops and my Camino experience, and my winter in Paris, Amsterdam and Iceland. I’m trying to find a better balance between being social and also needing time alone to write and reflect. Thanks for being patient with me!

Camino Lessons…..

Pops and I completed our Camino three months ago tomorrow. Where the heck has the time gone? I learned so many things on the Camino and wanted to share these Camino lessons with you. These lessons come from stories told by other pilgrims, notes or messages left literally on the path, or feelings and thoughts I had while walking. Enjoy!

 

1. Anyone can do the Camino- even you! I have met people 40 years older than myself who blew past me on the hills. People who weigh much more than me. People with disabilities. We met a lady who had MS who walked with her daughter and a blind man who walked with a guide. People walk with children. We met a couple who walked with their son who was 20 months old. Our favourite Camino sidekick was a 73 years old American and he carried his backpack the entire way. You too can walk the Camino!!

2. The body is amazing. The changes that you will notice in the period of a few weeks are awesome. Your strength and endurance change quickly. Hills that previously would’ve made you stop and take a breath every few minutes you can suddenly walk without stopping. Pops and I would joke that when we finished we wanted to fly back to the starting point and re-do the hike from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Roncesvalles just to see how much easier crossing the Pyrenees would feel!

3. Nature is good for your soul. It was especially good for mine. Seeing the world at walking pace is like a day long meditation. Everything is slowed down. You take notice of things you otherwise wouldn’t. I loved the quiet and the peacefulness of the walk. In fact I found it very jarring when we occasionally crossed paths with a large group of loudish pilgrims. I would make Pops stop and wait until they were out of hearing distance so I could get my peaceful space back. My eyes tended to focus on the brilliant colours and the texture of the foliage that surrounded us. I’ve never been a real nature junky but this trip changed me. It changed the way I see nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Be kind to yourself and to your Camino. It is your Camino and yours alone. Do it on your own terms. Accept that sometimes it won’t go according to your plans. Ours sure didn’t. We had planned to walk the entire 800km carrying our packs the entire way. That was our “plan.” Our Camino took a different “plan” though. Because I had such painful blisters we were forced to skip about 100km of the walk on the meseta (the flattest portion) and jumped ahead to Leon to rest for 4 days and so I could buy new shoes (breaking in new shoes part way through was definitely not in my plan!) And we ended up shipping our bags several days to give us a break and to help with Pops shin splints. We had to be kind to ourselves and just listen to what our bodies were telling us. And since it came down to making the decision between walking and shipping our packs ahead, or not walking it was pretty easy to let the guilt fall away about shipping our packs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. From now on whenever I get asked what my favourite body part is I will answer that it’s my feet. My feet carried me across nearly an entire country. They blistered and healed and blistered again, and still they walked. I’d never really spent much time thinking about what my feet do for me, but walking that far makes you spend a great deal of time thinking about them. Trust me.  I’ve come to cherish them!

6. I think it’s important to note that it doesn’t matter how old you are- whatever deep seeded insecurities you’ve battled in the past will likely make an appearance some point on the Camino. It’s also a great place to work through them. I’ve always been the type of person who doesn’t easily ask for help, and often because I offer help quickly to others I also expect this in return (although I’d never tell anyone that!) So this is a vicious circle for me- expecting others to know what I need from them in relationships because that’s what I offer, but never actually telling the other person/s and then getting upset when they don’t pick up on this (because I never told them.) It’s definitely not my most mature quality. But post Camino I’m trying very hard to tell those around me what I need from them instead of resenting them when they don’t do that thing that they don’t know I needed in the first place. There was a miserable two days for me on the Camino when a group situation left me feeling ignored, replaceable and left out. It hit a deep childhood pain similar to those of you who may have been picked last for a team when you were a child. I’m glad it happened though because it gave me a chance to take a deep look at myself and what triggered those feelings for me in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. One of the best lessons I learned from the Camino was the importance of looking behind you. Both on the Camino and in life in general. On the Camino since the views ahead were stunning, but especially in the mornings the sun rises behind you and turning around to take in the changing light I was often surprised by how glorious the view was. For those of you like me who are into photography make sure to turn around. The view will endlessly surprise you.

8. There are Camino messages everywhere. Make of them what you will. For me the written messages that line the Camino left by pilgrims of past were inspirational. Some brought tears to my eyes, or made me contemplate things or encouraged me to push on. They were a constant reminder of the massive number of pilgrims who have come before me. Sometimes these messages were of a funny nature also- like the one that exclaimed “Martin Sheen was here!” Or the one advertising “Free Blisters next 16km.” Both made me laugh literally out loud. Thank you to whomever left those!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. I wish I could go back to a time where I was ignorant to bed bugs. We traveled with a Australian guy who had walked the Camino before and regaled us with tales of bedbugs. Thanks to him there wasn’t a night I wasn’t itchy before going to bed. But also thanks to him we knew how to treat bedbugs and what to watch for. We did have one encounter with these little beasts, but somehow ended up not getting bitten and they didn’t end up in our things. I’ll definitely be treating my sleep sac or sleeping bag properly before our next big walk!

10. For me the Camino wasn’t the spiritual awakening I had thought it would be. For me it was mostly about community. About the human spirit and connection. It was about meeting so many amazing people who touched my heart. Many of who I still keep in touch with, many whom I know I will see again. Our paths were meant to cross and they will again at some point in the future. The Camino strips you all down to being the same. There’s no bullshit. No one cares what kind of car you drive, or how big your house is. In fact those things never come up. People care about why you’re walking. What you’ve learned. How you’re feeling physically. People are quick to offer up help- we met a man who bought a young German pilgrim new shoes because hers were too small and she couldn’t afford new ones. That’s the spirit of the Camino. We are all walking in this tiny bubble together. We are all connected. This couldn’t be more evident than at the end of a days walk and you sit down to chat with fellow pilgrims and get word of mouth updates about people you had lost track with. It’s a really amazing network. One that I long to be a part of again!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll end this with a quote from one of my favourite authors Rebecca Solnit. Her book Wanderlust: A History of Walking is a super interesting read if you’re a little obsessed with walking as I recently have become!

“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind,

and walking travels both terrains.”

Don’t you agree…..Happy Walking!

 

 

A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim……

Here’s some insight into a day in the life of a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago….Most likely depending on your budget, who you are traveling with and whether you are a light sleeper will determine how well you slept last night. If you’re on a budget and staying in dorm hostels then hopefully you’ve brought a good set of earplugs with you, otherwise the roaring vibrations of your fellow snoring pilgrims likely lulled you to sleep. Or you might find yourself on a bunk bed above or below a restless sleeper and feel like you’re riding on a ship as the waves toss you from side to side.

If you’re in a dorm room you’ll likely be awoken before 6am by a fellow pilgrim. Some are courteous. Some will flick the lights on and rustle through their bags for a lengthy amount of time. To be fair, unless you are sleeping in your next day clothes, it’s difficult to be super organized in the morning as there’s little room in the dorm areas to lay out the things you need. I’m sure you’ve all read how annoying plastic bags are. Don’t pack your things in them. They make a heck of a lot of noise and are pretty annoying for anyone sharing a room with you.

Most mornings Pops and I got up around 6:20am or 6:30am. It should be noted that when we walked in late September into October the sun rose late. If we had been walking in the spring we would’ve been up earlier. Often someone turns the lights on by 6:30. You get up. Head for the loo. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Get dressed. Pack up. Your feet will now need some attention. Your method of choice will likely included either double layered socks, Vaseline, or covering ever possible inch of skin on your feet with some sort of bandage or tape (this was my method!) You’ll stand up, take a few steps and realize that your socks are bunched up, laces are too tight or loose, or you’ve got a piece of skin not covered by tape. So you’ll drop everything and readjust.

Next it will be time for breakfast. Your alburgue may or may not provide breakfast. If they do lower your expectations greatly. It will likely only include coffee and toast with jam. No protein at all. So if you do manage to find eggs, cheese, or yogurt consider yourself very, very lucky! We stayed in an alburgue where 2 ladies were boiling eggs for their breakfast the following morning. They quickly became geniuses in my book. If your alburgue doesn’t include breakfast then hopefully there’s a bar and it’s open in whichever village you find yourself in. Go there. Get a coffee and a tortilla de potatoe. So good.

Next grab a torch (headlamp/flash light) and hit the trail. In the dark it can be hard to actually make out the yellow arrows that guide every move you make on the Camino. Start walking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With any luck you’ll come to a village with an open bar in the next 1-2 hours. Stop. It’s time for breakfast number two. We ate double breakfast all the time while walking. Especially if you only had toast at the alburgue you’ll want something more substantial. Then, continue walking.

Chat with fellow pilgrims. Focus an absurd amount of time to thinking about your aching muscles, your blisters, or why the heck you packed so much shit in the first place. Ask yourself why it seems that French men always wear the tiniest of knickers and parade around in them, or why you didn’t learn more Spanish for this trip apart from being able to order a couple beers. Get distracted by the scenery.

Next it’s beer o’clock. Which is pretty much anytime after 12pm. Keep walking. Consult your guidebook or phone app to review the upcoming elevation changes. Taking breaks is essential, but rest assured for every break you take it will easily take your body 20 min to get back into walking mode. Everything gets stiff. Mostly I started out every morning and after anytime I sat for more than 5 min hobbling like I was easily double my age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the afternoon gets on it’s time to find a place to sleep for the night. We mostly called it quits around 2-3pm. It’s nice to arrive at an alburgue, get checked in and get your credential stamped. Choose a bed (if you’re in a dorm), drop your pack and either grab a shower or a cold beer. Often beer then shower, but sometimes shower then beer for us. A cold beverage is so rewarding after a long days walk. Every second to third day will be laundry day depending on weather and the washing facilities wherever you are staying. Then chat with fellow pilgrims. Or journal, or plan how far you might want to walk the following day.

Dinner time is often 7pm but sometimes 8pm in the larger cities. Go for the pilgrim menu as it’s normally good bang for your Euro (3 courses with unlimited wine for 9-10 Euros.) And yes, you read that right…..unlimited wine. The menu does tend to get boring after a while though, but the wine is always good. Many of the alburgues have kitchens should you fancy cooking something. We rarely did this but if you’re on a budget this is a good way to keep costs down. Dinners are by far one of my favourite memories from the Camino. That sense of camaraderie is like nothing I have ever experienced before. To sit around and chat with fellow pilgrims from a mixmash of different countries spanning in age from early 20’s into their 70’s or 80’s is a really unique experience. The Camino has a great way of leveling everything so despite our differences, at our core we pilgrims are all the same.

After dinner is finished and you’ve consumed enough wine to make you sleep through your fellow pilgrims snoring, it’s time for bed. Some alburgues will lock the doors so it’s good to know what time that happens at. We met several pilgrims who returned shortly after curfew and weren’t allowed into the alburgue. So go wash your face, brush your teeth and wedge your earplugs in and dream. Night night!

A pilgirms mantra is basically…..WALK>EAT>SLEEP>REPEAT

My Top 10 from 2016

Last year I did a recap of my favourite travel destinations and memories from the previous year. So with the New Year upon us I wanted to write another post about my top 10 destinations from 2016. It was another great year of travel for me. Looking back over the past 12 months it was a busy year. I worked full-time as a VIP nurse in Saudi Arabia from January until September when I left to walk the Camino de Santiago with my Pops. I had a whopping 178 days of travel (mind you almost 3 months of this I was technically unemployed!) I visited 15 countries, 9 of them new for me. I saw a lot, I took a lot of pictures, and I lived it up. I hope this doesn’t sound bragadocious, because it’s not meant to (credit to Donald T for inventing this awesome word!) Some of that travel was with friends from Saudi, and I did some travel through Europe with my mom, and then spent about 7 weeks with my Dad while we walked across Northern Spain. Quite a bit of it was on my own- which I’ve become quite a fan. So here’s my top 10 from 2016 (in no particular order).

1. Romania

Romania is hardly mentioned in the top 10 of most people’s bucket lists, and as per my usual form of travel I did very little research about the country prior to going. Usually when I do very little research about a trip (which is most of the time) I am always pleasantly surprised. Romania was exactly that. I spent a week based in Bucharest and did a couple day trips, one to Transylvania and the other into neighbouring Bulgaria. My favourite memories from that trip were visiting Peles Castle and later Bram Castle which is also known as Dracula’s Castle (although in reality it has very little to do with Dracula.) These castles couldn’t have been more different from one another. Peles Castle is from the late 1800s and built in a Gothic Bavarian style, whereas Bram Castle is an old fortress castle that sits atop a cliff. It dates from the 1400’s and has a very eerie feel to it,  and even though it’s only a tale, I loved the stories of Dracula in relation to Romania History. The other standout thing from this trip was that we did a walking tour in Bucharest that took us to old decaying places which was super cool. Bucharest is also full of urban art and graffiti of which I’m a huge fan. It’s pretty inexpensive, had great restaurants, and was a very walkable city. So add Romania to your list of places to visit in 2017!

Peles Castle

Bram Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Italy

I spent 11 lovely days in Italy solo, splitting my time between Rome and Florence. To say I loved it would be an understatement. I look back on my time in Italy and smile because I was brimming with happiness and confidence. The architecture, the food, the Chianti, the museums were fantastic. Between the two, Florence was my favourite, and I’m sure this was because I booked myself a cheapish hotel that had phenomenal views of the cathedral from my private balcony. It felt like I could just reach across and touch it, and I could hear the street artists below playing music which felt like I had my own private show. This trip was a turning point in solo travel for me, and I became very comfortable in my own skin. I no longer have any issues with eating alone, or going to a bar for a drink, or wandering a city. This trip was a huge confidence boost for me, and made me feel so brave and empowered. Two of my favourite memories of that trip involved random encounters with fellow travelers. I met an American girl around my age who she and her parents adopted me during my time in Rome and it was a real pleasure getting to know them! My other favourite memory was meeting a couple from Texas on a day tour of Tuscany.  We met up for dinner in Florence and then for dinner and drinks my last night in Rome. By drinks I mean bottle after bottle of delicious Chianti. This resulted in a very hungover (possibly still drunk) me trying to get to the airport for my early morning flight! Oh the memories we make while traveling…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. The United Arab Emirates

I visited Dubai a few times over the last year and one of the highlights for me (and a silly Bucket List item) was to stay at the Atlantis resort. So for one night on a huge splurge (and because if you are a Saudi resident you qualify for the GCC discount) I stayed here. As you can imagine it was very nice. There’s a ton to do, so no real need to leave the resort if you don’t want to. We had free admission to the water park which was pretty cool, but the outdoor pool area and the aquarium were highlights for me. Oh, and the food was really good as well. I also visited Abu Dhabi and as I recently blogged about got to visit the iconic Sheikh Zayed mosque which has long been a place I wanted to visit. If you’re in Dubai make the trip to Abu Dhabi to see the mosque- it’s a stunning example of Islamic architecture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The Czech Republic

There’s so much to see in the Czech Republic and this trip was especially special (is that a thing?) as I reunited with a guy I met several years earlier on my first solo trip to Portugal. It was so great to see him and have him take us around his city, and meet his partner, and check out hot Czech guys and eat good food. This was also the trip where my mom and I visited the town we believe is where my Oma (German for grandmother) grew up prior to her time in Germany where my mother was born. We flew into Germany and then spent a few days in Austria before visiting the Czech towns of Cesky Krumlov, Ceske Budejovice, Brno and Prague. We found that it was easier to travel around on the bus than the train (comfortable seats and wifi!) We ended the trip with a few days in Prague which is a fantastically walkable city of which I am always a fan. Also Czech is pretty inexpensive as far as Europe goes so you won’t break the bank while traveling there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Poland

One of the other solo trips I took this past year was to Poland. I only had time to visit Warsaw so obviously a return trip is in order as there are many other places I would like to visit. Warsaw, specifically the old town, is rife with history. It is also rife with graffiti and displays of urban art which brings me a great amount of joy! The city felt very open and green, it was easy to navigate, and I felt totally safe wandering around on my own. The best thing I did while there was take a couple walking tours to learn about Poland’s history in WW2. It was fascinating. In hindsight it might’ve been better had I learned some of this history prior to visiting but seeing as I’m not one for planning or researching much before I go (I’ve become super lazy in my travel style and really only care about where I’m staying) this didn’t happen. Maybe one of my New Years resolutions will be a actually properly research a place before I visit. Somehow I doubt I’ll actually get my shit together and follow through on this. Plus it’s so much more fun making decisions on the fly!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Jordan

This summer my short few day break to Jordan was just the relaxation I needed. The resorts that line the Dead Sea on the Jordan side are fancy with infinity pools and pool boys who will clean your sunglasses, and bring you towels and ice which make for a very happy me. While Petra itself is amazing, I’m so glad that we made the effort to visit the site at night. Especially since there was a full moon when we visited which provided for a lot of ambient light and beautiful pictures. It was also nice to get to revisit Bedouin culture as a trip to Petra at night includes traditional Bedouin music and tea. Even though it is pretty touristy I would recommend seeing Petra both by day and night. It’s stunning in the day but at night it has a magical mystical feel to it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Spain

I’ve spend a lot of time in Spain this past year. Early last year I spent a week split between Barcelona and Madrid with a night in Zaragoza to see the Arabic Palace called Aljaferia, because as we’ve already established I have a major crush on Islamic architecture. Then this fall I spent just over 5 weeks in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago with my Pops. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and an experience that if I’m being honest, I haven’t fully debriefed from (hence my lack of blogging about it yet.) We walked around 700km from the French border to the northwestern Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela. It was the biggest physical accomplishment of my life, one that I’m quite certain I will walk again (or another route). Everyday the scenery we walked was stunning and it really slowed things down for me and made me think about what I want out of life, and about how much stuff we all have that we don’t need. And how stuff does not equal happiness, but being out in the world interacting with people from all different walks of life does make me extremely happy. So more about the Camino in the upcoming weeks. But in the event you are looking for a cheapish European vacation- Spain is very reasonable, especially once you leave the bigger cities. And the Euro is quite low right now and airfare is pretty cheap to Europe so it’s a good time to take advantage of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Paris France

I spent a month in Paris this fall in a cute but run down apartment in the nieghbourhood of Montmartre. It was really nice to be able to settle into a place and feel like a local. Shopping at the same stores and frequenting the same cafes. My Pops was with me for a short while and then I was lucky enough to have a couple visitors. One of those visitors I suspect I will always associate Paris with. I spent my time exploring, but also doing some writing and reading and generally just hanging out. I caught up with a fellow travel nurse I knew from when I lived in San Francisco. I drank a lot of wine and cappucinos and ate my weight in cheese. (Not really but I do LOVE cheese a lot.) I walked much of the city. Coming to Paris directly after walking the Camino was a bit difficult because I very much missed walking (I still do.) But often I would google distances to whatever I wanted to do and if it was 5km away I’d think “oh that’s just a short walk” and opt to not take the metro. I was in Paris during the month of November which was pretty great because I get a little obsessive about Christmas. I love it so much- the decorations and the lights and colder weather. It was great to wander Paris with the store windows all decorated for the season. Paris is lovely. Tourism there is massively down given the recent terror attacks there and throughout Europe. But since I’m not one to live my life in fear I would say don’t let that deter you one bit! I spend a month there because with many places on AirBnb you get a discount if you book for a month and it ended up being cheaper than if I had booked for only 3 weeks. But a month was plenty long enough for me. 3 weeks would’ve been perfect because Paris is wicked break the bank expensive and I’m terrible with a budget so it was time to move on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Amsterdam Netherlands

After Paris I took the train to Amsterdam, a city I had long wanted to explore. And boy oh boy did I love it. Loved it as in it’s maybe my favourite European city ever (or at least tied with Copenhagen) at the very least! I spent a week here in a lovely apartment overlooking one of the main canals and had a grand time. Amsterdam is a very walkable city, and so much cheaper than Paris. A friend whom I met walking the Camino came and visited me for a night which was great. Two things really stood out during my time in Amsterdam. The first was doing a nighttime canal tour. It was the beginning of December when I was there and during the holiday season Amsterdam has numerous illuminated art installations around the city. We took a boat tour along the canals which offers a really cool view of the art itself, but also glimpses of life into the stunning historic canal houses. We sipped mulled wine and oohhhed and ahhhed over the interior decorations, wall colours, and the molded ceilings (but mostly I was just trying to imagine what my life would be like if I was living in any one of these houses!) The other thing I would highly recommend doing when in Amsterdam is taking a tour of the red light district. I mean Amsterdam is known for 2 main things (pot and ladies in windows with red lights overhead) so why not actually learn something about it. I’m not telling you to go to Amsterdam and smoke weed. If you do I have no issues but that’s your own choice. Neither am I telling you to pay for sex. Again, your choice. I’m not going to judge how you spend your money. For me I wanted to take a tour to learn how the red light district came to be, and basically how it works. So I did a tour thru the Prostitute Information Center which leads tours by women who have worked as sex workers in the red light district. It was really informative and I learned the following fun facts…..1/3 of Amsterdam’s prostitutes are over the age of 55. They literally come in all sizes, ages and ethnicity. Also the average time men spend with a lady is 6 minutes. Including getting dressed and undressed. 6. Minutes. But the minimum amount of time a customer must pay for is 15 minutes. Also the ladies are licensed and pay taxes so they basically have their own businesses. I learned a variety of other things as well, but since my Pops reads this I’ll try and keep it clean. Needless to say I left my heart in Amsterdam, and I really want to go back and see more of the Netherlands!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Iceland

Iceland is friggin fantastic. It is very, very photogenic and you can pack a lot into a relatively short visit. I spend 5 nights there in December and it did not disappoint. But while it is beautiful it is not cheap. So bring your money, honey cause you’re going to spend it. Once you get over the initial shock of the price of things I’m quite certain you will have a great time. I mean how can’t you with waterfalls, glaciers, tiny horses and Northern Lights aplenty. I met my best mate there and we spent 4 nights in Reykjavik and had one night on a tour to the southern part of the island with Extreme Iceland. It was fantastic, plus our guide was a riot and super entertaining. We visited waterfalls, and petted Icelandic horses who will come to you when you call them just like dogs do! We ended up getting stuck at a gas station while waiting out a wind storm and were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights in between sipping gas station beers. We walked on a beach covered in icebergs, walked on a black sand beach with a phallic rock formation in the windiest conditions I’ve ever been in. We wore crampons and went on an ice hike and posed straddling a crevasse and ate fermented shark (not at the same time.) As you can imagine fermented shark is not great. It’s one of those odd things that gets worse the longer you chew it, and the taste strengthens in your mouth long after you’ve already swallowed it. Thankfully, copious amounts of Icelandic beer does eventually get the taste out. Our final morning in Iceland we relaxed at the Blue Lagoon which as you can imagine is full of tourists, but pretty awesome. It is good to know that in the winter there is very, very little useful hours of daylight. In fact there was only about 3.5 hrs a day when we were there and I’m being generous with that time frame, as a lot of it was “light” how it is at dusk or dawn. I would love to go back in the summer to see it light until 11pm. I would also love to go back and rent a car and drive the island and have the flexibility to stop at absolutely every thermal pool I came across. I would also stop at every farm that had Icelandic horses and walk up to the fence and call the horses over like the pack of friendly horse/puppies that they are and pet them till my hearts content. Do you really need anymore reasons to go to Iceland? Didn’t think so….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that wraps up my Top 10 from 2016. 2017 is off to a slow and patience trying start. I have decided that I want to return to Saudi Arabia for another year contract, but things are very, very slowly coming together. But fingers crossed they will fall into place in the next week or so. The first time I left Saudi I felt really excited to get an apartment and sign a lease and buy furniture. The current me has none of those deep gut feelings. To be honest I’m clueless as to what country I want to even settle down in, so returning to Saudi feels right and gives me a chance to save  a little more money and see some more things. And you and I both know how much of a fan I am of seeing more things! There are still a couple places in Saudi Arabia I would like to explore. There is a group of islands off the coast of Jeddah called the Farasan Islands that are a protected marine sanctuary that are supposed to be beautiful and I would also love to explore the mountains of Saudi and visit either Abha or Taif. As far as out of Saudi travel I would like to fit in a weekend trip to Oman a place I’ve already seen, and make it over to Africa to visit Ethiopia, Namibia, the Seychelles, or Madagascar. I would also very much like to visit Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia and really any of the Stans. Obviously, I’ll have to pick and choose but these are my top interests. So inshallah in the next couple weeks I’ll have a firmer idea about my return, but in the mean time I’m going to relax and try and get some much overdue blogging about the Camino done.

Wishing all my readers a very happy and healthy 2017. And obviously I wish you some kick-ass travel adventures also…….

 

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