Ok so lets talk about solo female travel for a bit. I wrote this post back in January while on a solo trip to Istanbul and it’s a bit of a vent about my experience while traveling there as a solo female. If you’ve read my blog before you know I’m a pretty seasoned traveler. I’ve been to 77 countries now and at least 30 of those have been on my own. I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia off and on for over 5 years, and I’m pretty comfortable with being in cultures other than my own.
Anyways, I was in Turkey back in 2011 and the one major memory from that trip was how aggressive the men were. Like following you down the street, bombarding you with questions. Not as aggressive as Morocco was. In Turkey no man ever actually put his hands on me, but they were pretty annoying none the less. You’re probably reading this thinking, hang on, someone in Morocco put their hands on you? Yes. More than once. I couldn’t wait to leave. I figured this time Turkey would be different. I mean I’m 40 for god sakes. Surely past the age limit of trying to be picked up on the street. Boy was I wrong.
Now some women who read this will be saying to themselves- hey I traveled to Turkey and Morocco and had zero issues. And to you lucky ladies I say “good on ya.” Living in Saudi Arabia I’m used to not blending in. I mean blonde hair stands out. Same goes for India, all of Asia and the Middle East. One time in Syria I thought I was kinda fooling people because I kept getting asked if I was Russian which I thought was kinda cool until I learned that was code for “working girl”. The most surprising place I blended in though was Ukraine. People kept asking me if I was a local which I took as a compliment because everyone knows Ukrainian women are hella hot.
Whoah. Totally off track. I wrote this while sipping wine by the fire in Cappadocia watching the sunset so you can see how I could easily become distracted. So I arrived in Istanbul fairly uneventfully. I checked into my hotel and made a brisk walk over to the Hagia Sophia because I’m told it closed at 1700. It was like 1610. I got to the entrance and the gate is shut but there’s this helpful chap leaning against the gate who tells me it will open again in the morning at 9am. I stupidly assume he worked there. He asks where I’m from. I’m like Canada. He’s like where are you going now. And the light bulb flashes on in my head. I’m like oh just over to the Blue Mosque. And he’s all, but let me show you something over here and points across the street. And then he gets more insistent saying just 2min 2min. I’m like no. Thank you and I walk the opposite way.
So off to the Blue Mosque I go. Over the next 15min this scenario will repeat itself a couple more times. Hello. Where you from? What’s your name? How long you stay in Istanbul? Now mind you my body language and very active resting bitch face are giving off I’m quite certain zero signs that I’m wanting to be approached. How about I don’t want to tell you my name. Or what country I’m from. Or how long I’m staying because newsflash I don’t want to be talking to you. It’s all so annoying and ruined what should have been a pleasant afternoon.
So later that night I’m walking to a restaurant that the hotel recommended. And I accidentally miss the street. No biggie, it’s all very close to my hotel. As I’m turning around I walk past this dimly lit area where some men are sitting outside. I keep walking. Suddenly I hear…where in Canada are you from? Now I’m not wearing anything that would identify me as a Canadian. And people always just assume I’m American. So I turn back and it’s the same dude from outside the gate of the Hagia Sophia. And so I say near to Vancouver and turn to walk away and he’s like of I’ve been to so and so. And I’m like cool. And he’s like where are you going. And I’m like for dinner. And he’s like meet me for a drink after. And I’m like I can’t. And he’s like why not. And now I’m getting irritated. Because I just really want to say fuck off guy. (Sorry Pops but swear words get my point across better.) So I say because my boyfriend wouldn’t like it. To which he says well he’s not here is he. And so I just meekily say no and walk briskly away.
And then I get pissed. Because I’m so sick of taking this type of shit. As women we are taught to be polite otherwise you’ll be labeled a bitch. And men put us in this position. Like my body language is telling you I’m not interested. And I’m trying to walk away as you talk. So it’s kinda a no-brainer that I’m not down for this convo. And yet they persist. If I want to talk to you, you’ll know. Like I’d maybe make eye contact. Or look in your general direction. I’m a solo traveler so I pretty much know what I want to see and when I want to see it. I do not require random dude on the street’s opinion. And if I do I’ll ask. Sorry for this long vent but it’s annoying as fuck. And after several incidents like that it just made me want to hide in my hotel as opposed to being followed or chatted up by random dudes.
To be fair it’s not only Middle Eastern countries that this happens in. There was the time a friend and I were followed back to our hotel in Barcelona. Or the time in Cyprus where a Nigerian guy tried to follow us home and we quite literally had to run (like actually run) away from him while yelling at him to try and shame him into not following. I’ve had numerous incidents over the years while traveling where men have blocked my way. Often it’s to try and chat or show me something in their store. Either way it’s not ok. Then there is the grabbing that happens. And this has happened to me both in North America and while traveling. Sometimes it has been my wrist being grabbed onto to try and pull me into a store. Other times it’s more sexual in nature. A hand on my ass. A leg rubbing closer or against mine on a plane or train. Sometimes the acts cause me to take a pause as if to ask myself “that can’t really just have happened.” And yet they did. And because I’m a women they will likely happen again.
And I’m kind of at a loss for how to deal with it. Never travel again? Not an option. No more solo travel. Also not an option. I already take what I think are a number of necessary but saddening precautions. I carry a whistle on my key chain. I travel with a door stopper that I will put under my door in a hotel or hostel if it’s feeling at all dodgy. I have perfected the unwelcoming resting bitch face. If I’m in a crowded place sometimes I will put my headphones in to act as a deterrent to random dudes coming up for a chat. Oddly, this did not work at all in Istanbul and they would still come up. Sometimes I will just hold my phone up and pretend to have a conversation to lessen the chances of having unwanted interactions. I think what’s going to have to happen is that I’m just going to have to be ok with being labeled a bitch. As women we are socialized to be polite even with unwanted attention. And if we aren’t polite and thankful that some random stranger has just tried to chat, or asked us out, or said something sexual to us we are often met with being called the dreaded “B” word.
So that’s the vent. I debated whether to post it but I think it’s important to show that travel isn’t just about getting the right shot for instagram. And in no way do I regret solo travel as a woman nor do I think that women shouldn’t travel on their own because for me it has been hugely empowering. I’m also in no way saying not to travel to Morocco or Turkey. Those were just my experiences as a western looking woman. I just wanted to bring to light issues that female travelers face.
Well it’s that time of the year again. The end of the old year and the beginning of the new one. I love looking back at where I was and forward to where I want to go. 2018 was jam packed full of travel. In fact I was out of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for a total of 103 days. I did A LOT of solo travel. I visited 19 countries this year, with 11 of those being new to me, and 12 of them solo. I traveled quite a bit to Europe and saw the remaining Eastern European countries I’d yet visited, and spend a bit of time in my native country of Canada.
2018 seemed really busy to me and my blogging kinda fell to the wayside. I’ve got a great group of friends and my social calendar was pretty full. Then at the end of the summer I met a boy…..and that’s consumed even more of my time, but in a good way. But enough about that. Lets talk about the top places I traveled….
1. Luxor, Egypt
In January I flew to Luxor Egypt via Cairo, with 3 girlfriends for a quick weekend away, to check off a bucket list item for me. I’m not really a “bucket list” person, but hot air ballooning over the Valley of the Kings was definitely on it. We took a sunset sail down the Nile, visited the temples of Karnak, Luxor, Hatshepsut, and Medinet Habu. We walked the Valley of the Kings. Our local guide convinced a rickshaw driver to let me drive his rickshaw. That’s always a highlight for me (and a reoccurring theme of this years travels.)
Luxor was amazing. It felt completely surreal to wander amongst so much history. The temple of Luxor was even more stunning and eerie at night and I’d highly recommend it. The best part of that weekend though was the hot air ballooning. We were under prepared for how cold Egypt was in the early morning hours in January so the four of us “borrowed” our white hotel robes to keep warm. Many thanks to the Hilton for keeping us warm. We must’ve looked like a confusing sight to the locals, but a few of them gave us thumbs up so they obviously appreciated our ingenuity. Anyways, if you go to Luxor make sure to go hot air ballooning. It is magical as the sun is coming up. You have views over the Nile River to one side and the temples of the Valley of the Kings to the other. It was peaceful and awe inspiring and amazing.
In February my Kiwi sidekick and I set out on operation “Shake our Booty in Djibouti.” If you follow my blog at all then you know the trip was a complete success. Djibouti is a country that is off the beaten path, and yet up and coming. For such a small country there is a surprising number of things to see and adventures to have. This was the scene of the 2018 tire mishap, where Kiwi and I ended up in a vehicle which suddenly had only 3 tires on it on an old air tarmac quite literally in the middle of no where. We spend a night camping in the desert and dancing with the locals. At some point I was handed an old wild west style wooden hunting rifle and instructed to dance with said rifle. And dance I did. Harder and faster than ever before, and that was pretty close to being the best travel memory of the year. I also was fortunate enough to drive a rickshaw on Africa’s busiest highway. I loved every minute of it, no body died, and the rickshaw wallah even asked me to join him in a joint business venture. Sadly, I had to decline.
This trip was also a great reminder in the fact that you can make plans and then life just happens. Our flight from Djibouti to Dubai was canceled and we had to scramble to change our plans, which basically meant a bunch of frustrating emails with FlyDubai over their lack of assistance, and us checking back into the hotel we had just checked out of for a pool day. To be fair the hotel was full of military contractors so there was a ton of eye candy at the pool so it felt like a reward in a lot of ways. But it did mean we had to shorten our time in Dubai to only one night. Thankfully though, the Westin took pity on us and upgraded us to our own suite with a massive private balcony. So great!!
3. Farasan Islands, Saudi Arabia
In March I took a weekend trip to the coast of Saudi Arabia. Down near to the border of Yemen about a 90min ferry ride from the port city of Jizan is these chain of islands. To stay they are stunning is a huge understatement. The water is that shade of blue that typically makes you think of the Caribbean. The sandy beaches are secluded and largely devoid of other tourists. It is a snorkeler or diver’s paradise. We spend the weekend on an all day boat tour exploring the beaches and swimming or snorkeling while dining on fresh fish. On the way back our boat broke down and it took some time to get the engine restarted and then we had to battle huge waves that kept splashing over the side of the boat. It was all very exciting and very, very cold as the sun set.
The next day we explored the main island and visited the town of Fursan to see some old merchant houses that have ornate stonework. We visited an old Ottoman Fort from the 18th century and a restored historical village. And we took soooo many pictures. The entire weekend was just perfect, and I had to keep reminding myself that we were still in Saudi Arabia. That these amazingly colourful views were in fact Saudi. Because, lets be honest, these are not the views you would ever associate with this country! If you live in Saudi make sure to visit the Farasan Islands.
In April I did a three week solo trip to Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, and Greece. To be quite honest, I had a really great time in each country, and I found Belgrade, Serbia to be a wonderful place to pass a few days. The city itself is very walkable and full of large urban art installations (graffiti) of which I’m a huge fan. Skopje, Macedonia was a whimsical place which has a dizzying assortment of statues. Most of them weird and confusing, but made it interesting to wander the streets because you didn’t know what odd statue was just around the bend. Statue to breastfeeding women. Check. Statue of a fish. Check. So many horse statues. The countryside of Albania was green and beautiful. One of my favourite sunsets of 2018 was captured in a square in Tirana. But lets talk more about Kosovo…
Kosovo is still pretty off the beaten path. The history in this entire region is complicated to say the least. Kosovo is the youngest country in Europe having declared independence in 2010- some countries recognize it and some countries don’t. There are 4 Christian Orthodox churches/monasteries in Kosovo that are on the UNESCO list. I hired a local guide for a day and we drove the Kosovo countryside while discussing the history of the region and taking in the scenery. The countryside reminded me a lot of driving in parts of Canada, as it was green with snow capped mountains. My favourite part of this trip though was the sweet man I met on the bus from Belgrade to Pristina who went by the name of “Galle.” He read his newspaper to me, and we shared snacks and he told me stories of his time as a pilot in the Yugoslav Army. Random unexpected meetings with kind strangers is one of my favourite things about traveling. When you start off as people from different backgrounds and countries but part as friends.
5. Santorini, Greece
The tail end of my trip to Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania ended with a few days in Athens and then 4 nights on what I coined my “Solomoon.” This basically consisted of me booking myself into a beautiful villa with a private hot tub and drinking absurd amounts of wine. I figured that since I was 39 and yet to have a Honeymoon it was time to take myself on one. I don’t meant this to sound bitter, because I wasn’t bitter while I was there. And it’s not meant to sound pathetic either. It was mostly meant to be empowering from the mindset that I wasn’t going to not treat myself to experiences in romantic places just because I’m not in a relationship. And so I didn’t. I treated myself to fancy dinners, watched the sunset from my hot tub, wandered the island aimlessly, and ate a ton of orange gelato. I read books and took naps and tried to make some big life decisions. It was lovely. I think every single lady should take themselves on a “Solomoon.” That sounded a bit sexist, but I think for those of us older and single it’s really important. And really life is too short, so just take that damn trip to a romantic hot spot.
In August I spend some time on a solo trip through Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. Ukraine was a pretty significant trip for me. For once I’d done some research before going- specifically about the 2014 revolution. If Ukraine is on your travel list I would highly recommend watching the Netflix documentary called “Winter on Fire.” It is intense and I found it really emotional to walk around the city center with scenes from the documentary playing in the back of my head. Many of the protesters killed were young students and there are several memorials throughout the city center.
One of my most random travel memories happened in Kiev when I showed up planning to do a free walking tour of the city, but the guide never turned up. The other travelers that were also at the meeting point banded together and we formed an impromptu tour of our own. We were an international expat conglomerate from Kazakhstan, Australia, Slovenia, the UK, Portugal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka- some living in their home countries and the some residing in India, Germany, Qatar and me in Saudi Arabia. We jumped on the metro and visited some of the major tourist sites, snapping group photos and chatting about our shared love of travel. It was a really memorable afternoon, and one I won’t soon forget.
The other great thing I did in Ukraine was visit the site of Chernobyl. As much as I hate the word it was a “bucket list” item for me. I’ve long been a lover of eerie abandoned places and I really wanted to photograph the area. I joined onto a day tour and was able to explore the safe areas and take photos to my hearts desire.
One word really sums up why Moldova is on my top 10 of 2018 list….Wine. Such amazing wine. Moldova is a trip for wine lovers like me. Many families still produce their own small batch wines from old family recipes to store for personal use. I spent 2 nights in the capital of Chisinau and did a wine tour of Cricova winery which is listed as the countries best. Underneath the town is 120km of underground wine cellars which you can tour by trolley. Word to the wise- if you book a tasting tour this isn’t like tiny sips of tasting that we in North America are used to. It is like full glass of wine, make sure the bottle is empty kinda tastings. You can easily see how this made my list.
I’d been to Portugal once back in 2010 on my first ever solo trip. That seems a lifetime ago and I can still remember how scared I was getting off the plane in Lisbon on my own and so uncertain that solo travel was for me. Flash forward to October of this year when I flew to Porto to meet my Pops for Camino Part Two. We spent a week walking from Portugal and then onwards to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Walking the Camino Portuguese was much easier than when we walked the Camino Frances in the fall of 2016. Albeit the walk from Porto was far shorter (we ended up walking only 280km as opposed to 680km) but it was less populated and so very scenic. We ended up seeing very few pilgrims those first few days. We chatted and bonded and by some miracle my feet were in much better shape than the whole blister fiasco of the Camino Frances. But it was still challenging. We were 2 years older and a little wiser which meant our packs were lighter than our first walk, but everything mostly hurt all the time.
We had a full day in Porto prior to staring our Camino so we explored. Porto is a fantastic city, with stunning views. We visited the Cathedral and picked up our pilgrim passports and then booked a young guy who gave tours in an auto rickshaw at sunset. He took us to a scenic overlook with another spectacular sunset and then I asked him if I could drive. And Pops found himself in his first ever rickshaw being driven in Portugal by his daughter!!
In December I had sometime off and I was dying to visit some European Christmas markets so I flew to Luxembourg, Belgium and then to Berlin Germany to visit my cousin. Luxembourg was cooler than I thought and definitely warrants a few days exploring, and I loved the Christmas markets there. Cheese fondue for 6euros. Need I say more.
I spent 2 night in Bruges which is quaint and adorable as the entire Old Town is on the UNESCO list. It offers great examples of medieval architecture. But the Belgium city of Ghent really stole my heart. It was gritty and urban and reminded me a lot of my second home, Seattle. I loved photographing that city and wandered aimlessly for hours. The December skies added an extra layer to the already photogenic city. I stayed in a building that used to be the Post Office before it was turned into a hotel- my room overlooked the ferris wheel and Christmas market below. From Belgium I flew to Berlin to spend a few days with my cousin and her partner. Operation European Christmas Markets was a total success.
The last trip of the year was probably my most favourite. Right after Christmas I flew to Milan with my new boo to celebrate my 40th birthday. Holy hell how am I 40??! Anyways the thought of celebrating in the desert felt less than ideal so off to Milan we went. Now I’m a seasoned solo traveler and I’ve been single for like 100 years, but traveling with a partner was pretty unfamiliar to me. Boo carried my bag in the airport. Like all I had to do was carry my purse and try and keep up. Mind blown. Not sure how I’ll ever go back to carrying my own stuff again.
Anyways enough about that and onto Milan. We spent 4 nights exploring the city which was a really good amount of time. I had read reviews of people saying to skip Milan or only spend a day there, but we found plenty to do and walked a ton. We went to a 2 star Michelin restaurant and sat at the chef’s table in the kitchen which was really cool, and way less dramatic than Hell’s Kitchen looks on TV. We visited the Milan Cathedral and saw The Last Supper (otherwise coined by yours truly the dinner table Jesus thing when I couldn’t remember what it was called.) We drank lots and lots of wine and did a pub crawl of local bars. But the best part was that we got to spend time together outside of Saudi as a normal couple which was really, really nice.
So that’s my top 10 from 2018. I’ve already got some upcoming travel plans for 2019. I’m off to Istanbul next week with a couple nights in Cappadocia. I’ve already visited both, but not since 2011, and I’ve long wanted to hot air balloon over the area when there’s snow. Fingers crossed there’s snow next weekend. In February I might do a short weekend away to Jordan or Cairo and in March I’m doing a girls boozy brunch weekend in Dubai. Then Tunisia and any of the Stans (minus Afghanistan) are high on my travel list. Bali is always calling me back so maybe a yoga retreat will be on the horizon again. And I’m sure I’ll be back in Europe by the spring- I just can’t seem to stay away and there are like 5 or 6 countries left that I haven’t yet visited.
Otherwise I’ll be in North America in July most likely and that’s all I’ve got planned. I’m going to try and get caught up on my writing in Turkey next week and post in more detail about some of last years trips. From me to you- may your 2019 be full of joy and some epic adventures along the way. Happiest of travels…..
Luxor Egypt has been on my travel list forever. Like seriously years. I’ve dreamed of going hot air ballooning over the Valley of the Kings. Now I’m sure you know that I love to travel. But I don’t do great in the heat, so I knew I needed to go to Luxor before it got too hot. I invited a few girlfriends to go and at the beginning of February we flew via Cairo to Luxor. We had a 4am flight so we arrived to Luxor tired and in need of a nap. That first day would be the only down time we would have and we booked ourselves in for massages and relaxed next to the pool.
I have been to Egypt before. Once to Cairo for a day and then for a long weekend in Sharm el Sheikh. I remember Cairo being overwhelming. While seeing the pyramids at Giza and the Sphynx were really cool, I remember never having a moment to ourselves. In my memory I recall it being similar to India where it felt like someone was trying to sell you something literally every second of every day. Luxor, by comparison was more chill. I had prepped myself and the three other girls I was traveling with for this type of choatic atmosphere. We were pleasantly surprised. That’s not to say that we were approached to buy things, because we were, but far less often that I had anticipated. Within the first 30 min of the first temple we visited we knew that when a random dude says “Hey lady look at this” you didn’t follow him or else you’d be pressured to giving said old man money for showing you whatever random thing it was that he desired to point out. Luxor felt safe. Well as safe as Egypt can feel. There is a large Coptic Christian population in the city, and they live side by side with the Muslim majority. There is a notable security presence.
I had booked a guide for us thru Aladin tours who sent us a lovely local woman named Azza who would be our guide for the next two days. As a tour group of four women I especially like that a woman would be the one guiding us around! Our first stop was to visit Karnak temple. This temple is one of the largest religious structures ever built and it was constructed over some 2000 years from 2055BC to 100AD. The entrance into the site is lined with all these statues of lion bodies with ram heads known as Criosphinx symbolizing a shield. Hypostyle hall is filled with engraved columns which make for really cool pictures. The complex is full of obelisks, small temples, chapels and courts, as well hieroglyphs. We spend easily an hour there wandering the site and taking photos. Later we visited the Luxor museum which is well worth the trip and houses a collections of well preserved statues, mummies, and different artifacts.
Later that day we visited Luxor Temple. Our trip coincided with an Egyptian school holiday, so the vast majority of other tourists were actually Egyptians. There were several school trips happening and the teenage girls were very excited to practice their English with us and take photos. I’m not a fan of being asked to have my picture taken with people, but I will make an exception for girls. Especially teenage girls! We had a full on paparazzi photo shoot at the ticket booth. Luxor temple was built between 1100-1600BC. The outer walls of the temple loom high overhead guarded by enormous statues on either side of the entrance with a massive obelisk. Originally there were two but the other one stands in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Outside of the main entrance was an avenue of sphinx which used to connect Luxor and Karnak temples. On the left hand side as you walk in is an active mosque built overlooking one of the courtyards. It’s pretty surreal to be there when the call to prayer is called out. There are some very well preserved hieroglyphs and sets of columns similar to Karnak although I thought Karnak pillars were more interesting. There were also some carvings of Egyptian men with large genitalia which naturally I needed to take pictures of, but I won’t share them here as not all my readers may appreciate this. I will say that from an anatomy standpoint certain body parts may have been chiselled inaccurately in comparison to the rest of the body if you get my drift. The other really cool thing I liked was in the outer courtyard of this temple is a partially hidden statue of the goddess Isis. She is headless and dressed in Greek clothing. We were all very taken with her. On our last night we made a point of going back to Luxor temple after dark. The temple is lit up and it casts a magical feel to the whole area. As if Egypt doesn’t already feel magical enough I was completely entranced with the temple after dark. Karnak Temple also is open in the evenings, but from what I understand it is more of a touristy light-show type thing which isn’t really my cup of tea.
We ended that first day of touring Luxor with a sunset cruise along the Nile River in a traditional wooden felucca. It was so relaxing. We just sipped tea with the wind blowing thru our hair taking pictures as the sun dipped below the horizon. All four of us expressed gratitude of this shared experience. Egypt is a place that people read about in history books and see art exhibits from in countries around the world. But to walk be able to on Egypt’s soil and float along the waters is an entirely surreal and heart-filling experience.
Day 2 of our Luxor exploration involved us getting up before sunrise to board a minivan that took us to a boat, that was supposed to take us across the Nile River to another minivan that would take us to a hot air balloon. That was the plan. Hot air ballooning is very weather dependent. If it’s too windy or not windy enough or the skies aren’t clear then you don’t go. This was how we found ourselves freezing our unprepared butts off while sipping tea on a docked boat waiting to see if the visibility would clear. The Gods weren’t in our favour that day, so as the sun was coming up we were back in a van being driven across the Nile to the West bank. You’ve probably heard of the East Bank and West Bank and unless you are really really into Egyptology you might not really know what the difference is. Well thank goodness you’re reading this blog post then so I can give you what little research/knowledge I have on the topic! Basically the East bank of the Nile River was where the people lived and worshipped. This is where the temples are. The West bank by contrast was where the dead are buried. This is where the tombs are. There are temples on the West Bank of course but they were for the purpose of being mortuary temples.
So we drove to the West Bank and our first stop was Hatshepsut Temple. This temple is really remarkable as it’s quite large and built at the base of a rock cliff. There’s a large and imposing ramp that connects the ground floor to the first floor and another ramp that connects up to the second floor and the entire front of the temple is garnished with columns (some with the remnants of statues). Hatshepsut was a pharaoh who was born in 1507 BC and died at the age of 50. It’s believed that she reined for 21 years and that she was the longest ruling woman from that time. She has been credited with building hundreds of construction projects during her lifetime- this temple though was the most significant. Interestingly her body was not officially confirmed until 2007- it had previously been mislabeled as the mummy of her wet nurse. We spent about an hour exploring the temple- there was some very well preserved carvings and the cliffs towering to the back of the temple gave it a cool perspective. There was also a chapel dedicated to the goddess Hathor with a few remaining Hathor headed columns. She was referred to as the “Mistress of Heaven.”
From Hatshepsut Temple we stopped off at a small artisan family’s shop to see how alabaster vases and figurines were made. We then drove to the VALLEY OF THE KINGS. Sorry for yelling but I was pretty damn excited about it. It’s a place I have long read about and seen in movies so it was amazing to actually step foot there. To date there are 63 known tombs. The last ones were discovered as recently as 2008 and new tombs are being discovered all the time in the hills in the surrounding area. Some of the tombs are just single rooms where as others are enormous with multiple chambers- the largest totaling 120 rooms. The Pharaohs and nobles and their servants and priests were buried here over a 500 year period from the 16-11th century BC. When you enter the site you can buy varying tickets to several different tombs. Ours included three and on the advice of our guide we did not purchase the additional photography ticket of like $15 U.S. Now in hindsight I so wish I’d bought it because the tombs that we saw were very well preserved and wouldv’e taken great photos. Obviously people don’t buy the photography ticket and still try to take pictures, but there are employees watching for this type of thing and we saw one lady being escorted out with her phone being confiscated. Personally I’d just pay the $15 instead of trying to be sneaky.
From here we visited Habu Temple the mortuary temple dedicated to Ramesses III. For some strange reason this temple reminded me of Vegas. If you’ve ever visited Luxor hotel in Vegas than you will understand. The outer temple walls of Hubu temple were so imposing and well preserved that my immediate thoughts were that it had to be fake. Like it was so cool there was no way that it could be real if that makes any sense at all. The outer hieroglyphs were so well preserved my brain and eyes didn’t know what to make of it. After I realized that I was in fact in Egypt and not in Las Vegas we walked into the temple which equally blew my mind. I took some video where I’m standing in the middle getting a 360 degree view of the temple and it was amazing. The columns were intricate and parts of the archway had remnants of bright colours. Blue and reds were the most visible but you could easily imagine how concentrated those colours must have been in it’s originality. One of the inner courtyards had a row of statues supposedly in dedications to Rameses. Funfact: there is a portion of engraving on part of the temple wall that represents people (men) getting their heads cut off and then below it men getting their penises chopped off and a bunch of these body parts laying on top of each other. This made a great backdrop for selfies. FYI.
On our way back to the East Bank we stopped off at Colossi of Memnon which consists of two statues from 1350 BC. The statues are of Pharaoh Amenhotep III and are in varying states of decay but quite cool to see nonetheless. If you’ve followed my blog for a while then you know that I have a love of three wheeled auto rickshaws. Like I will literally go out of my way to drive one if they are within a 50km radius. Lucky for me on the outskirts of Luxor city there are rickshaws, and after lunch our guide Azza was able to arrange for me to drive one around the neighbourhood. Naturally, it was a bit of a spectacle and I stalled it a few times until my suppressed rickshaw skills took over and I drove like a pro. Well a pro who once drove one 3000km across India!
Early the next morning we woke up early for hot air ballooning attempt number 2. This time proved successful. It should be noted that Egypt in December and January isn’t hot. It’s actually quite cold in the early morning and evening and we were less than prepared. So after freezing the previous morning on hot air ballooning attempt number 1 we were much better prepared. We “borrowed” our hotel robes and wore them to keep warm. We are nothing if not resourceful and plus we looked hella cool. We got compliments on our geniusness from the locals and looks of confusion from the Asian tourists who were also hot air ballooning. Anyways, enough about our wardrobes and more about the hot air ballooning. We arrived to the launch site (I’m not sure it’s called that but it sounds extra cool so let’s just call it that.) The sun was just starting to come up and you could hear the intermittent “whoosh” as the balloons were filled with hot air. All around us colourful balloons started to take shape and rise. We eagerly watched with equal parts fear and excitement. There ended up being about 18 of us in our balloon split between 4 compartments. We ended up flying near to the Valley of the Kings and then over some excavations sites and then a village and some farmlands before facing the River Nile as the sun poked up over the horizon. The colours as the sky changed were mesmerizing and we took a ton of pictures. This is something else I would highly, highly recommend doing if weather and time permit.
I know Egypt hasn’t had the best rep for tourists in recent years and it’s really struggling economically, but I still wouldn’t let that deter you from going. Our weekend was a very reasonable. There are not direct flights from Riyadh but Flynas operates flights a few times a week direct from Jeddah, or you can fly via Cairo on EgyptAir. We stayed at the Hilton which ended up being under $200 U.S. a person for 3 nights. Our 2 day tour via Aladin tours was $125 U.S. a person. We brought U.S. dollars with us to pay our tour and for tips and such. If drinking alcohol is your thing I would recommend bringing it with you (for those of you outside of Saudi) or buying it at the Duty Free in Cairo. While you can easily find alcohol in Luxor it was either A. wickedly overpriced. B. Awful tasting. or C. Both. Mostly I’m referring to the wine of which I’m picky about. That’s just a friendly tip from me to you.
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).
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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…….
Over the past 2 years I’ve been to Dubai several times, but hadn’t had the chance to make my way to Abu Dhabi. The United Arab Emirates is a conglomerate of seven emirates- each emirate is governed by a monarch and together they form a federal council. Some of the smaller emirates are less well known and I’m guessing apart from my Middle Eastern readers many of you may not have heard of Ajman or Sharjah. But I’m pretty certain you know quite a bit about Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I’ve blogged about Dubai before- it’s a great weekend break from Saudi and there’s tons of things to do and see. Many of those things are over the top tourists things like indoor skiing, swimming with dolphins, and tend to have a luxury type travel flare to them. Abu Dhabi by contrast is Dubai’s classier more cultured and sophisticated sister. The economy of the UAE is made up of 2 things- oil and tourism. Dubai is the 5th most popular tourist destination in the world with an estimated 15 million overnight tourists expected in 2016.
Back in August I had a weeks vacation and split it between Dubai and a night in Kuwait. I had originally wanted to just stay in Abu Dhabi but the flight times didn’t work great with meeting up with my friend in Kuwait so I opted to just take a day trip to Abu Dhabi instead. There are so many tour options to get from Dubai to Abu Dhabi depending on what you are wanting to see. For me, the main priority of visiting Abu Dhabi was to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and photograph it. I’d seen so many pictures of this iconic mosque and long ago I fell in love with Islamic architecture so this was really my sole purpose for going. I joined a large day bus tour of which I’m not normally a fan, but this was the cheapest and easiest option.
It takes about 90 minutes by bus to get from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. On route the tour guide pointed out the many many new buildings and tourists attractions being built in the emirates. They do things big here- like record breaking big. So most of the things that are being built are the largest such and such, and tallest such and such, and the first ever such and such of the Middle East. As you can imagine much of the countryside in between Dubai and Abi Dhabi is made up of sandy desert, although it does get significantly greener towards Abu Dhabi. Our first stop on the tour was a stop at the very fancy Viceroy hotel on Yas Island that overlooks the Yas Marina circuit of the Formula 1 races. The hotel as you can imagine is very opulent and it would probably cost me a months salary to spend a night there. The hotel overlooks the race track and we stopped for a cold drink and some obligatory photos. The tour then visited the Abu Dhabi waterfront where we stopped for some photos along the corniche of the Emirates Palace another fancy 5 star hotel. Then there was a trip to a nearby mall for lunch (can you see why I’m never especially jazzed about big group tours?)
Then, after lunch we headed for the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Finally!! Now it should be said that even though everyone on the tour bus had been instructed (and warned multiple times) about the dress code to visit the mosque, many of my fellow tourists didn’t get the message. There seemed to be mass confusion about why shorts and uncovered shoulders weren’t allowed. Why they wouldn’t be allowed in with a sexy tight fitting dresses. It was mildly entertaining to watch- really equal parts entertaining and annoying since the tour guide had already instructed these ladies that they would need to purchase abayas at the mall if they wanted to visit the mosque. So after we all off loaded the tour bus and started walking towards the entrance a security guard came over and started picking those deemed inappropriately dressed out of the group. Luckily, it is possible to also buy an abaya from the gift shop on site. Being a professional abaya wearer I had packed mine from Saudi just for this occasion. Per the mosque website it states that all women MUST wear an abaya, but then also that lose fitting clothes and ankle length skirts are ok. Clothing must not be transparent. Men cannot wear shorts. I do recall that there were women there not wearing abayas, but if you have one I’d err on the side of just bringing it. Women must cover their hair.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque was built in the late 1990s and completed in 2007. It was built by the president for whom the mosque is named after, sadly he passed away in 2004. It’s the largest mosque in the UAE and can hold a reported 40,000 worshipers at a time. The outer courtyard of the mosque is accented with manicured gardens and shallow reflective pools. I didn’t have a chance to see the mosque at night, but from pictures I have seen it is beautifully lit. As you can imagine the mosque is enormous- the whole area is the size of five football fields. It’s built out of white marble and some of that marble is inlaid with pearl and other semi precious stones into colourful flower patterns that reminded me of the Taj Mahal. There are 4 minarets, 82 domes of varying size, 96 columns in the prayer hall with one the worlds largest carpets weighing some 35 tons. We spend about an hour visiting the mosque. Seeing as it was August when I visited it was very hot and humid and the outside courtyard offers very little shade. You then wind your way thru the outer walkway accented by arches into the great room. It’s all very aesthetically pleasing. Everything flows and is very calming and symmetrical as Islamic architecture always is. It’s very cool if you have the chance to be there as the call to prayer goes off. All around are tourists taking selfies. As you walk into the main room shoes are removed and you can feel the cold marble underfoot until you reach the carpet inside. The domes allow light to flow into the room and it’s adorned with decorative chandeliers. I must say that this mosque lived up to my expectations!
From here we started our drive back to Dubai. If you’re in Dubai I would highly recommend making a trip to Abu Dhabi. Seeing the Sheikh Zayed mosque is well worth it!
So I’m sure you’re thinking why the heck would anybody want to visit Kuwait. I mean really what’s there? Why go. If I’m being honest (which I mostly always am) my reasons for visiting Kuwait were completely ridiculous. I have a dream of visiting every country in the Middle East. And Kuwait was the only safe one left that I hadn’t visited during my time living in Saudi. I haven’t been to Yemen, Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, but rest assured, as soon as they move from the avoid all travel warning to exercise a high degree of caution, I’ll be booking tickets. Anyways, back in August I had a last week of holidays to use before I left Saudi Arabia in September. I booked myself a relaxing weekend in Dubai with a day trip to Abu Dhabi and on the way back from Dubai I met a work friend of mine from Saudi in Kuwait for a night.
Apart from knowing that Kuwait was invaded by Saddam in the 1990’s, and having seen pictures of the Kuwait towers I didn’t really know much more than that. Oh, and I knew alcohol was banned. Because when a girl lives in the Middle East and loves the taste of wine she knows which countries are going to prevent her from reaching her full potential. But that’s really all I knew. Kuwait borders the northeastern part of Saudi Arabia and is surrounded by Iraq to the west and north of it. The coastal part of the country lies on the Persian Gulf. Here’s a little back history about Kuwait so you’ll know more than I did when I visited….way back in the 1500’s Kuwait was under Portuguese control. In 1613 a town was built on the spot that is present day Kuwait City. In the mid 1700’s Kuwait was a major shipping route between India and Africa. In 1899 Kuwait became a British protectorate until its independence in 1961. It was the first of the gulf coast countries to establish a constitution and a parliament. Things in the region heated up in the 1980’s with the Iraq-Iran war of which Kuwait supported Iraq. After this war ended tension increased between Iraq and Kuwait as Iraq owed a reported $65 billion US dollars in debt to Kuwait. In August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait which led to American forces eventually driving out Iraq in early 1991. Then in 2003 Kuwait was used as the starting point for the American led invasion of Iraq.
So my Kuwaiti adventure started pretty much from the moment my plane landed. I flew from Dubai direct to Kuwait and the friend that I was meeting flew direct from Saudi Arabia. Our planes were due to arrive at the same time and my friend had booked a hotel transfer for us. I was more than a little confused when we landed at the “airport” and there were no other commercial flights there. There were other planes, oddly a Kuwaiti military place and a Canadian military one. But that was it. In my head I was like “hmmmm. This is weird.” So we exit the plane and walk into basically an airline hanger with a small room with customs and an area off to the side that’s immigration. And it’s chaos. There’s no one to really explain anything. And at this point I’m thinking what the hell city am I in because there’s no way this in Kuwait International Airport. As it turned out since I had flown FlyDubai it arrives into this other airport which would’ve been useful to know prior to arriving.
Here’s what I wrote in my journal as this was taking place (because there was nothing else to do and I was feeling overly dramatic). It was like a scene from a bad movie. You land at a dilapidated airport and you’re momentarily confused that maybe you bought a ticket to somewhere you didn’t mean to. You walk into a room that looks like an 80’s office building and line up to take a ticket from one of those paper ticket dispensers they have at a deli. You try to get a sense of what’s going on since no one is giving directions and there aren’t any visible signs. Some people from this flight have done this before so they’re casually telling people what to do. You need to get in a separate line to make a copy of your passport. Then you have to purchase a stamp from a machine that doesn’t give change and only takes Kuwaiti dinar. There is no bank machine but outside of this room is a money changer. So people are trying to change money. Some nationalities need a stamp and others don’t. There’s a typed sheet of paper taped above the stamp machine with some countries crossed out and others hand written in. In pencil. Seems pretty legit. There’s a desk in this 1980’s themed office building. Behind it sit four Kuwaiti officials. Two men and two women. None of them appear to be working. After about 5 minutes the first number is called. There are at least 60 of us waiting for visas. We wait. Suddenly, only two are working. One is walking around chatting on his mobile phone, and the other has taken a cigarette break in what looks like a tiny open bus shelter in the same room that we are waiting in. An hour passes. And we wait. Now only one number is being called at a time. It appears that they are taking a team approach in processing the visas. That way all four look busy but actually very little work is taking place. I question whether maybe they were trained in Saudi, although truth be told Saudi immigration looks lightening fast compared to this. There’s no wifi so fellow passengers just stare blankly at each other and and give the eye raise look that essentially means “hang in there mate.” By this time I’m quite certain time has literally stopped. Every 5-10 min a ding indicates that a new number has been called. After nearly another hour has passed there seems to be some type of urgency set in. Likely there is a group coffee break coming up and they want to get us through. Nope false alarm. One has left to smoke and the other is back on the phone. The room starts to empty out. Eventually, I make my way out.
Here’s where the major lesson of if you have a shitty attitude then shitty things will happen. I was royally pissed off by the time I got my visa. Because my travel mate was at a different airport than me there wasn’t a taxi waiting. No biggie I thought…. I’ll just catch one outside the airport. Wrong. Dead wrong. No taxis. So I had to pay and wait for a shuttle. I can’t recall ever being to an airport that didn’t have taxis waiting out front. Welcome to Kuwait. So I arrive at the hotel and we had planned on spending a little time at the nice pool that was pictured when we had looked up the hotel. Except there are 2 Movenpick hotels in Kuwait and we have booked ourselves at the one that resembles a Super 8 and not the nice resort one we thought on the water. Oh Shit. Things are not going well. This is otherwise known as the snowball effect and things were rapidly rolling from not great to worse. So we had to pull it together. Like real quick! Luckily, I had made us reservations for this weird museum called the Mirror House so we hailed a taxi and off we went. The Mirror House is literally a house that a quirky Italian lady who married a Kuwaiti artist designed. She literally applied mosaic mirror all over the inside and outside of the house over a period of about 40 years. It was awesome. She is a great host and serves you juice and cake and then tours you around the many rooms of the house. As I’ve mentioned she is a very interesting woman and many of the rooms have astral themes relating to zodiac signs, planet earth and the universe. It was fascinating. In the upstairs of the house is an exhibition area paying tribute to her late husband the famous Kuwaiti artist named Khalifa Qattan whose art was quite controversial and addressed many societal issues regarding religion and gender roles. He also had paintings portraying the Iraqi invasion. It was a very interesting visit to say the least, and it was especially so because we toured with 3 Americans and 3 local Kuwaiti girls.
After our visit to the Mirror House we braved the intense Kuwait heat to hail a taxi back to the hotel. The heat in Kuwait can be scorching and pavement is known to melt. Often it has been recorded as the hottest place on earth. It’s also super humid of which I am not a fan. After a bit of an afternoon siesta and a quick shower we caught a taxi to view the Kuwait Towers. These iconic towers were built in the 70’s and partially serve as water towers as well as a tourist viewing platform. There are 3 towers in total. The largest one has a restaurant and cafe and views over the Persian Gulf. The views would be much nicer if the windows were cleaned at all. It was pretty much impossible to get any clear pictures out the windows on account of dirt, but regardless the sunset was quite nice. These towers were damaged in the Iraqi invasion and sustained gunfire and shrapnel damage that was later repaired. From here we went to a steakhouse located in the hull of a traditional Arab dhow at the Radisson Blue hotel. It was super touristy as you can imagine, but the food was decent and we paired our steak with faux cocktails since as I’ve already mentioned alcohol is a no-go in this country.
The following day we did some shopping prior to our flight. We visited a fancy local mall and a couple art galleries. Kuwait is quite different than Saudi Arabia. Women are not required to cover, but obviously it’s culturally appropriate to dress conservatively. Many women still do wear abayas, but many did not cover their hair. Men tended to wear traditional outfits consisting of a thobe or a dishdasha similar to Saudi with mostly white head scarves. It is ok for men and women to interact in Kuwait. We saw groups and pairs of young men and women hanging out and walking and chatting in the malls, and women can drive in Kuwait which is obviously different than in Saudi. Another difference we noticed was that the houses are more open and not fenced in or built like a compound as they are in Saudi. In Saudi you often have to go thru a gate with a high wall surrounding homes so the front door and main floor isn’t visible from the street. Kuwaiti houses seemed more open and inviting which was nice. Kuwait was similar to Saudi Arabia in that there’s not a lot of tourist infrastructure. There’s not a lot of tourist things to do, so for us one night was perfect. Compared to Saudi taxis there were super expensive and not especially easy to catch if you weren’t getting one from a hotel.
There are 9 islands off the coast of Kuwait. We had initially looked into trying to visit Falaika Island as we read that the island had old ruins and that the island had been evacuated during the Iraqi War which made it an interesting sounding place to visit. Unfortunately, when we actually looked into it, it was going to be very expensive to try and arrange a private tour, as tours don’t go in the summer months, and if we tried to take the public ferry we could likely end up stranded unable to get a ferry back. So we gave it a pass. If I happened upon a more reasonable option I’d be keen to go back to check it out. But this time I’d be sure to fly into the main airport so as to avoid a potential second Kuwaiti nervous breakdown!! So there you have it. That’s the low-down on what to see in Kuwait should you fancy to check that country off your list!
While I was home over the summer I was trying to figure out what to do with a week of holidays I had later in July. My trip home was lovely, but as many of you who live abroad know, it’s enjoyeable, but never very relaxing. When you live abroad trips home mean fitting in as many people you can that you’ve missed dearly in the time you’ve been away, eating and drinking all the things you’ve been craving since you were last there, and likely stocking up on the many, many things you can’t get in your new country, and doing annoying errands like banking, or getting your teeth cleaned or going to your storage unit. I had split my time between my family in Canada, and my important people in Seattle and I was exhausted. One afternoon I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to lay on a beach or by a pool for a few days somewhere fancy. So over a 5 min conversation with my best friend a plan was hatched. Initially I was like “should I go back to the Maldives?” Which after a couple seconds and a quick mental review of my bank account I was like “hmmm maybe not.” And the next thing out of my mouth was “I think I’ll go to the Dead Sea and stay at the Kempinski resort.” Here’s were the magic of synchronicity took over. I’ve been to the Dead Sea before, but we didn’t stay at the Kempinski resort, so I’m not exactly sure where my brain pulled this idea from. After I said it I remembered that I had a friend in Saudi who was thinking of going on a tour of Jordan sometime in July. So I messaged her to see what her plans were. It ended up that she was going to Jordan the same dates I had off, that she had elected not to do a tour, and instead was just going to the Dead Sea to stay at…..you guessed it…..the Kempinski. And she had a room with 2 beds and was going solo so she asked if I wanted to come along. I already had my credit card out and was booking a plane ticket!
As I said I’ve previously been to Jordan. Back in 2010 my best friend and I met in Jordan, traveled around and then crossed into Syria and then into Lebanon. This was pre Arab springs. Whenever anyone asks me where to go in the Middle East I always say Jordan or Oman, because both countries are safe, and they are a great introduction into Middle Eastern culture if you’ve never been exposed to it. My trip this time involved mostly pool time, tanning, chilling, and a visit to Petra at night. The Jordan side of the Dead Sea is lined with resort type hotels of varying class and price. If you’re planning a trip and drink alcohol it’s prudent that you check to see whether the place you are booking does in fact serve alcohol. Some do not, some charge ridiculous prices, as was the case with our hotel. Apparently, it was our hotels policy to also confiscate any food or drink brought into the property although they really weren’t very strict about it. Now, here’s the thing about me and the way I travel. I like nice things. As in nice things I’m actually going to make use of and enjoy, otherwise I’m super cheap. I have no problem paying for a fancy hotel if I’m going to relax and use the facilities. If it’s only a bed to sleep in and nothing else then I don’t want to pay much at all. I also have no problem paying for a really nice meal. But when it’s going to cost me something crazy like $16 US for a shot of vodka or $10 US for a bottle of water I’m taking things into my own hands. Which is why we stopped off at the duty free in Amman airport and I was a cheapskate and mixed my own drinks poolside. Challenge accepted Kempinski!
So I was there for three nights. Two of those days were just totally relaxing days. I’m talking buffet breakfast followed by glass upon glass of champagne with OJ for me, and straight champagne with strawberries for my travel partner. The service at the Kempinski was really good. I’m sure the fact that we were two single gals and I had blond locks only helped our cause but we could hardly finish our glass of champagne without another being put in front of us. Oh, also the summer is off season for the Dead Sea on account of scorching temperatures- and it’s really hot and humid. Because of this there were very, very few other western tourists. So after some champagne we would make our way down to the infinity pool that overlooks the Dead Sea and claim ourselves a couple chairs. Since I burn pretty much immediately mine was always in the shade. From here the rest of the day was bouncing between the pool, the lounge chair, having a nap, writing a bit, and repeat. The service at the pool was awesome- we couldn’t get more ice, cold cloths, our umbrella moved or our sunglasses cleaned fast enough. Being the only two western women during the off-season in Jordan definitely had its perks. Since it was my travel mate’s first time to Jordan we obviously had to do the obligatory float in the Dead Sea. I’d already done it, and it really is a once in a life time thing. As in you do it once, and then you’re good for life. It’s a very odd experience to get into a body of water and come out feeling dirtier than you went in. It’s very oily, and salty as you can imagine. It’s also the lowest point on earth, and scientist say it’s shrinking at an alarming rate so you really should go if you have the chance. It’s almost 10 times saltier than the ocean, so don’t splash around because trust me if you get the water in your eyes it will burn like crazy and heaven forbid the water gets in your mouth it will take a long time to get rid of that taste. Trust me on this.
One of the days we decided to visit Petra at night, and the hotel arranged a driver. Petra is probably best known from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s from the Nabataean Era and was thought to be built in around 312 BC. We left after lunch as it’s about a 3.5 hour drive to get to Wadi Musa the city where Petra is. We stopped off along the way for kebabs and were able to catch the setting sun on the outskirts of Wadi Musa which was stunning. It was a funny experience driving through the tiny villages along the way and for a while I tried to look at it through the eyes of someone who has never been to the Middle East before. How foreign it is from back home. How odd it would be to see signs written in Arabic, and see men in traditional clothing, and mosques everywhere, and how in the Middle East the colours all just sort of blend together. Houses and buildings are often of similar sand or white, or tan or brown colours and just blur together. I thought about how unique it was that I am so comfortable in this environment that is so drastically different from my home culture. It made me think that in my years of living in Saudi how unfortunate it was that my family hadn’t come to visit. How I would’ve loved to share these experiences with them. I’m still in the process of deciding if I will return to Saudi in January so there might be another opportunity to share it with them!
We got dropped in front of the entrance to Petra around 6:30pm. Petra by night tours only operate on Monday, Wednesday and Thursdays at 8:30pm until around 10:30pm. I had read mixed reviews about it, but seeing as I had already seen Petra during the day I was keen to see it lit up at night. We passed the time at a bar near to the visit center that is built in a cave- reportedly it is the oldest bar in the world. I’m not sure how true that really is, but it makes for a great story. After sipping our “Petra” brand local style beer we met up with the group for the 2km walk to the Treasury building. The trail that winds its way towards the Treasury is lined with candles which cast shadows onto the rocks that line the path. We were lucky enough to be there when there was a full moon, and it wasn’t cloudy so the moon cast a lot of natural light. Eventually, we came to the siq which is the narrow rock passage that leads into the Treasury. From here we could hear traditional Bedouin music as we made our way closer. There were hundreds of candles lit in front of the Treasury that cast an eerie sort of light. The next hour or so was filled with more music, a brief talk and then tea was served Bedouin style in tiny teacups that is traditionally how tea is served throughout the Middle East. I was highly distracted and missed most of the music as I was engrossed with taking pictures of the full moon and the Treasury building. I’m not a great night photographer but I did capture some awesome shots. We eventually made our way back out of the park and to our driver for a harrowing 3 hour drive back. The main “highway” we took back was full of potholes and speed bumps and huge trucks overloaded with cargo, so it was a little nerve wracking. Eventually, I had to close my eyes, because looking out the window was way too stressful.
So that wrapped up my quick 3 day trip to Jordan. But you should know there’s a ton more to see. The area around Amman, the country’s capital is full of places to explore. There is a Christian town of Madaba that has some very old mosaics in one of the churches there, you can hike nearby Mt Nebo, visit Jesus’s Baptism site and view Israel on the opposite shore, or visit the Roman ruins of Jerash in the northern part of the country. Jerash was quite a cool ruin site- it’s very well preserved and dates from 129 AD. Originally, the ruins were of Christian origin, until Islam arrived and now there is remnants of a mosque. There are well preserved arches, plazas, and the Roman road. It’s well worth a visit. There’s not a lot of shade though- so wear a hat and sunscreen if visiting in the warmer months.
In the south of the country is Wadi Musa home to Petra. It would be plain foolish to go to Jordan and not see Petra. I would recommend visiting both in the day and at night as they offer very different perspectives on the site. For the night tour you are restricted to only seeing the siq and Treasury as I’ve mentioned before. But during the day you can have free run of the massive area. The area is lined with enormous tombs, rock walls, and amazing views. When we visited we arrived early (like 6am early) when the park opens. This is really the best time as the park is largely empty and the tour buses haven’t yet arrived. Because once they do there will be no less than 20 tourist minimum in every single picture you take. As I mentioned it’s about a 2km walk on a rocky trail into the park. Good shoes, sunscreen and a hat are essential. When we visited it was September and I still nearly died of heat stroke by early afternoon (stupid lily white skin). So go early. And make sure to take the time to climb up to the Monastery, it takes about an hour. We ended up taking donkeys up but I would not recommend this- it was absolutely terrifying and I’m amazed we and the donkeys didn’t topple over the side of the path. Anyways the views from the Monastery are stunning and not to be missed.
A trip to Petra should really be paired with a trip to nearby Wadi Rum. If you have the time I would recommend camping out- we were pressed for time so weren’t able to, but everyone I know who’s done this raved about it. I mean when else are you going to sleep under the stars in a Bedouin camp?? We took a day tour of Wadi Rum with a local Bedouin driver which turned out to be quite the adventure as our old rickety Toyota would break down no less than 20 times that day, and we spent much of the time trying to decipher what our Bedouin driver was saying. The scenery was stunning with the sand dunes a colour of red I was previously unfamiliar with. We climbed sand dunes, and ate lunch in the shade of one of the many large rock formations. I remember thinking it was like being in the desert and the Grand Canyon at the same time. Every view was postcard worthy, and we snapped picture after picture after picture. You can also venture down further south to the port city of Aqaba, which is known for its beaches and diving. I haven’t been yet so I can’t really tell you more than that!
So that’s a bit of an over view of what to do when you’re in Jordan. Again, I felt very safe both times I’ve been and I would happily go again. Tourism there has been massively affected with the war in Syria, but as far as I’m aware there hasn’t been any targeted attacks on tourists. I found the people to be extremely friendly, and many speak English, so language barrier isn’t much of an issue. Jordan is an excellent way to comfortably explore the Middle East. Happy travels…..
During my time in Prague we wandered around the Old Jewish Cemetery and it got me thinking about all the sacred places I’ve visited during my travels. Places where the ugliness of humanity once carried out unimaginable horrors or mother nature intervened in tragic ways, and the different ways people pay their respects and mourn for those that died. In the West we commonly lay wreaths. Have moments of silence or hold candle light vigils. We visit grave sights and place flowers. We bow our heads. We say prayers. Wandering this Jewish cemetery many of the tombstones had rocks placed on the top, or coins, or notes. Some of the notes said “Love from Italy.” Or Florida, or France. Many of the notes were folded in a way that the messages were kept secret. Sealed messages of mourning to honour the dead. I was really moved by this tradition of leaving behind something to acknowledge that we have been there, and that the persons memory is carried on by the living.
I remember one of my first trips abroad and visiting Hiroshima and seeing the Peace Memorial at sunset. In 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped there and some 70 000 people were instantly killed. Today the bombed out remains of one building are all that remain and I remember the building being lit up at night which made the visit very moving and that there was an eerie calmness to the site. In my memories it’s silent except for the sound of the wind thru the nearby trees. I’m sure there were other noises, but all I remember was the light and the setting sun. Since then I have visited Ground Zero in New York City. I’ve walked the beaches of Sri Lanka years after the deadly tsunami that claimed the lives of nearly 37 000 people. When I visited back in 2010 nearly 6 years later parts of the coast looked like a war zone with only the cement frames of houses that were otherwise completely washed away. It was heart wrenching to drive through these small villages and meet people who had lost family members or even their entire family, their houses, and had no choice but to continue living on the coast- in many cases living off the very ocean that took so much from them.
I remember in 2010 when I backpacked thru Syria. Crossing by land from northern Jordan and driving up to Damascus the oldest city in the world. I remember feeling very safe while traveling there- my best friend and I taking public buses to the UNESCO sites of Palmyra in the northeastern part of the country near the Iraqi border and Crac de Chevaliers just outside of Homs. Both sites have been massively damaged in the Syrian conflict not to mention the estimated 250 000 Syrians that have lost their lives. Last year when I was in the Maldives there was a massive earthquake that hit Nepal, a country I had visited the year before. I remember exploring the alleyways of Kathmandu stumbling across tiny temples and statues amongst the hustle and bustle of such a populated city. Much of it was damaged during that earthquake in April 2015.
Palmyra in Syria
Crac de Chevaliers
A few years back I visited the Killing Fields of Cambodia where over 1 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970’s. 1 million. In my lifetime. I remember wandering the memorial site and crying. What took place there was horrific and barbaric. Processing it made the air feel thick and my chest feel heavy. It’s unimaginable. And yet it happened. In recent years it has become a tradition to leave a bracelet to remember the dead at the site of one of the mass graves. Rocks in Jewish cemeteries, bracelets in Cambodia. Different acts and yet the same meaning- to bare witness. To mourn for humanities evil. All of these sites have the same things in common. They are sacred. They instill the visitor with a sense of disbelief and an overwhelming feeling of despair. Apart from my reference to Sri Lanka and Nepal all these events are man made. The darkest parts of humanity did this. And it continues to happen today.
This post wasn’t meant to be depressing but rather to acknowledge the different ways around the world people pay their respects and remember the dead on the actual soil where nature and man has claimed so many lives. I also hope that it motivates you to learn about these dark periods of history and compare them to current events. To bear witness to what is happening around the world today. Lest we not repeat humanities mistakes. That we realize that a life no matter how far away or how different from our own is still a precious life. That it inspires you to get out there and see the world, as the world and climate are always changing and natural events can forever change the face of a place.
As I’ve previously posted, Dubai is luxury at its finest. A place where the police drive lamborghinis and falcons get to fly first class. Neither of those things is untrue. Trust me. So, back in February I spent a weekend in Dubai. Several years ago I was on a single girls cruise to the Bahamas and the boat docked at the Atlantis resort for the day. I remember thinking I want to come back here some time. The beach was fantastic, the aquarium was amazing, and onto my bucket list it went.
Flash forward a couple years and I was living in Saudi (the first time.) I found out that there was also an Atlantis resort in Dubai and was like yep. I’m going. And then the UAE and Canada had a tiff something to do with international flights and Canadians had to pay like $250 to get a visa. And I was like Hell’s no. So alas it never happened.
So in February my kiwi sidekick and I splurged to stay one night at the Atlantis resort. It’s not cheap, but if you book thru their website and are a GCC resident (Gulf Cooperative Council) which if you live in Saudi and have an Igama you are, you get a 10% discount, and admission for 2 to the water park and to the aquarium. Nether of those things are cheap on their own, so it’s pretty easy to convince yourself that you’re actually saving money by staying there (even though you really aren’t.) But it worked for me. Trying to be semi budget conscious we opted to only stay one night and stay somewhere else cheap for the other 2 nights. In theory this sounds great, but I’ve often found that if you’re splurging to stay somewhere fancy for 1 night you should really just do yourself a favor and book for 2 nights. With one night you hardly have enough time to relax, and likely won’t be able to use all the facilities you want to. We sure couldn’t.
As you can imagine the Atlantis is fancy. We went to the water park which has a lovely lazy river that you can float around in. Since it was February the water felt cool, and it was cold late in the afternoon in the shade. There are a bunch of water slides, all of which I found terrifying. There’s something about flying thru a pitch black tube at high speeds that has me screaming like a teenager and demanding to get off. My kiwi sidekick was brave enough to go on the “Leap of Faith”. That’s the one that drops you pretty much straight down and you go thru the shark tank at high speed. Shark tank. No thanks. If you stay at the Atlantis I would recommend eating at the Seafire restaurant. The steak and the sides were amazing, and they have a really good wine selection. We had a California Zinfandel that made me insanely homesick.
We went to Friday bunch at Feast. I’m a big fan of boozy breakfast, but this time I paced myself and was a little bit more classy than the last time we went when I ended up passed out by 5pm and with the hangover from hell later that evening. I guess you might say I’m maturing?!
We hit up Irish Village which is always a good time. Especially on the weekend. We took in a VIP movie. We got VIP tickets to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa. Basically it means you go in a special group (of other VIPs) and get to use a special elevator and make stops on the 125th and the 148th floor. There you are greeted with fresh juices and teeny tiny macaroons and other bite sized desserts. You can stay as long as you want. We timed our visit with sunset. FUNFACT: occasionally the Burj opens for sunrise viewings. That would be pretty cool if you don’t mind getting up at 5:30am on your vacation. The views from the Burj Khalifa towards the Atlantis and the Burj al Arab are spectacular, but weren’t very clear the day we were there as there always tends to be a lot of dust in the air. Still though, it is the tallest building in the world, so really you should go up it if you have the chance.
So here’s my top 5 list of things you should do in Dubai if you have money burning a hole in your pocket, or you fancy living the high life for the weekend:
1. Stay somewhere swanky. Dubai has a TON of 5 star hotels. I would say YOLO (you only live once) so book into the Atlantis.
2. Book high tea at the Burj al Arab. And be sure to get there early so you get a window seat to watch the sunset. It’s pretty lovely.
3. You can’t go to Dubai without experiencing Friday brunch. And you best make it boozy in my opinion. They’re not cheap, but the food is phenomenal and that might be the only time you allow yourself to drink bottles of Moët champers (champagne people.)
4. Make a trip to the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa. Ponder your existence. Take as many selfies with the Dubai skyline as your backdrop as is humanely possible.
5. See a movie as the VIP I know you are. You’ll get a private attendant to get you whatever you need. A lazy boy reclining chair. A pillow and a blanket. Heaven.Especially after a night out on the town. Just don’t fall asleep and miss the entire movie!!
Have you been to Dubai? What’s the most outrageous thing you did while there??
2015 was a pretty epic year of traveling for me. I’ve just switched over to my new 2016 calendar and I counted all the days I was out of Saudi traveling last year. It was 109. 109!!!! How is that even possible? Since the last time I checked I work a full-time gig as a VIP nurse in Saudi Arabia. But apparently I was on the go a lot. I visited 16 countries over the last year, 11 of them new for me, and I thought I would share my top 10 favourite memories from the last year. Enjoy!!
Way back in February I took a trip to Cyprus and my kiwi sidekick and I rented a car and drove around the quaint island. I have 2 favourite memories from this trip. The first was the a day we spend driving in the hills between Limassol and Paphos. The day was cold and dreary and we visited a local winery and then made our way to a small village that was devastated and deserted by an earthquake in 1969. As we arrived in the village a torrential downpour started which only added to the creepiness of our visit, and we got soaked walking around taking photos. The village is on the way to a town called Lemona. The other great memory I have from that trip was the time a stranger gave us his BMW to drive for an afternoon. You can read about that travel tale here.
Two words. Lofoten Islands. Quite possibly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. They are picturesque and have this kinda of awestruck beauty that isolated and desolate places have. Every which way you turn your head was a postcard perfect view. The gagged snow covered peaks drop dramatically into the arctic sea and I would go back in a second. I think an Atheist would have a hard time believing there isn’t a higher power of some sort after visiting this island chain. See for yourself…..
The whole of Scandinavia is awesome, and travel there is pretty easy. It would be a real shame if you went to Sweden and didn’t visit the Ice Hotel, even if only for the day! The Ice Hotel is an artistic marvel in that every year the design and decor is completely different. Different artists take part every year so the theme rooms change, which you have to admit is pretty cool. It is pricey, but well worth the stay. You can sleep in one of the actual ice rooms, or stay in a heated cabin like we did. Oh, and if you go make sure to do the tasting menu at the restaurant there- it is phenomenal. Maybe you’ll luck out and the Northern Lights will come out like they did for us!!
Dog sledding in Lapland has got to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was bloody cold, but so worth it.
This view……I dream about it often. This is one of the most relaxed vacations I have ever had. Ever. It was hard to decide between spa, pool, eat, nap, read, repeat. This is also the place where I attempted to overcome my fear of the water and tried scuba diving.
So VIP culture is huge in the Middles East. You rarely see anything VIP in North America unless it’s in a mocking nature, but over in these parts everything is VIP. VIP movie theaters, hospitals, parking spots, entrances. It’s all a little over the top. That is until you catch a ride over the causeway to Bahrain in a vehicle with diplomatic plates and get to cross via the VIP lanes. Yep. And funfact….they have tea boys who come right up to you car to serve you tea, while you wait in line to cross the border.
I blogged at great length about how difficult it was traveling in Morocco, but one the best things we did while there was take a cooking class thru Souk Cuisine. This class included a shopping trip to buy the needed ingredients in the Medina and was a great way to learn about local ingredients whilst mixing with the locals. Even though Morocco was sometimes very challenging the food was ALWAYS delicious. I would pretty much recommend doing a cooking class or food tour whenever you travel. I’m doing one later this month in Spain and can’t wait!!
8. Bali Indonesia
At the end of August I took part in a retreat on the northern part of the Indonesian island of Bali with 17 other ladies from all over the world. My time there was so needed and really came at a time when I needed to slow down and work through some things on my own. The location was beautiful, as were the many lovely ladies I met. This was a time of much needed R&R and reflection, and I’m so thankful for the wonderful friendships that were formed from my time in Bali.
9. Oktoberfest Germany
Even though I ended up with a GI bug from hell, Oktoberfest was a seriously fun time (while it lasted.) I mean what’s not to love about a group of traditionally costumed and hugely intoxicated people smashing beer steins together while singing traditional German songs at the top of ones lungs. It was a good time, and YOLO you really only do live once so you should go.
10. Sparkling Hills Spa in British Columbia Canada
Last month I took my mom to this spa about an hour from where she lives. This is a place people have been raving about since it opened a few years back and I was keen to see what all the hype was about! The hotel is pretty much the luxury accommodations in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and known for its spa, saunas and heated outdoor infinity pools. The views from the rooms are amazing, as are the 7 saunas and the indoor floating pool with classical music playing under the water. Well worth the visit, and it was a great mother-daughter retreat.
So really that wraps up 2015. It was a pretty great year. I’m really excited to see what is in store for 2016. I’m excited for the new faces I will meet, the new sights I will see, and the changes that will take place inside of me. I found this quote that sums up my thoughts about the upcoming year perfectly, and my hopes for both you and I…..
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.
You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, for all of us, and my wish for myself.
Make new mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.
Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t prefect, whatever it is; art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing. Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”