Adventures in the Middle East

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Mom and step-dad came to Doha in early April for a few days of sightseeing and then a trip to Egypt. In their couple days in Doha they got to see the souq, malls, cornice, and go on a desert safari. Then we hopped on a plane to begin our week in Egypt. I was looking forward to seeing more besides just Sharm el sheikh and getting to show them around a little more authentic/historic part of the middle east. Our first night in Cairo we were very lucky to be invited to dinner at the home of one of my friends who is from Cairo. He and his wife have a lovely home and the dinner was amazing. It was a good introduction to the country.

The next day we dug right in to the "must-see" list for Egypt, starting with the Pyramids at Giza. We learned quickly that nothing is free in Egypt (posing for a picture, directions to a good viewing spot, lowering a rope to a side area. All were eager for a little baksheesh (tip). The same day we saw the step and false pyramids at Sakara and the old city of Memphis. After that busy day we took a short rest and then a stroll along the Nile in search of nice views and a good restaurant (found both).

We woke up on Saturday and started out on a city tour of old and new Cairo. Our first stop was the Citadel where we saw some real relics from Egypt’s military history and the Mosque of Mohammed Ali (not the boxer). Our guide shared a few of his views on Islam and how Egypt had gotten the bad end of

a deal where they traded an ancient Egyptian obelisk for a fancy clock tower that has never worked. The same day we also visited some of Cairo's other religious monuments including a Coptic cathedral where it is said Jesus and Mary slept when they came were hiding from the authorities in Jerusalem. We also saw the Ben Ezra Synagogue which claims to be near the place where the Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses in a basket in the weeds.

Wrapping up the day we spent 4 hours exploring the Egypt museum. We walked through the whole thing but I think it would have taken much longer if we had wanted to give every piece our full attention. It all became a bit overwhelming by the end. It's easy to forget that everything you are looking at is 3000+ years old. The standout collection by far however was the group of artifacts from Tutankhamen’s tomb. While he was not a long-lived, powerful or otherwise noteworthy king, he did have the good

fortune of having is tomb go undiscovered until the 1920's when its contents were catalogued and put on display. It really makes you wonder what the original tombs of some of the more significant kings would have looked like.

If that weren't enough, we boarded a train to take the overnight to Luxor. Straight from the train to a cab we were at the Karnack temples by 630am before most of the crowds. We later went to Luxor temple, wandered around for a couple hours and then arrived at the hotel before noon. At that point, it was time for Lunch on rooftop restaurant and a shower/nap at the hotel to beat the mid-day heat. We stayed at a nice little out-of-the-way place on the West Bank that didn’t see anywhere near the traffic the East Bank did. Later in the afternoon, we caught the ferry across the river and wandered around East bank. During the process, a carriage driver attempted to rip us off on a ride (be sure to be crystal clear about Egyptian pounds vs. UK pounds). Luxor museum was small but filled with excellent pieces, much better preserved than what I saw in Cairo. Unfortunately later we went to the mummification museum which was smaller but infinitely less impressive. Polishing it all off with dinner on the bank of the nile; not bad for the first three days.

The next day we set out for what would be a full day exploring all of the sites on the West Bank. The first site we came to were the Colossi of Memnon. These two Giant statures are part of a temple that is now completely gone, but they stand in the middle of a field, protecting the path to the Valley of the Kings where many of Egypt’s Kings Were buried. The Kings Valley /Queen’s valley and Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir al-Bahri are all spread over a large area and we had a guide and car to get us between the different locations. We saw in the Valley of the Kings, tombs of Ramses I, Ramses IX, Tuthmosis III. The Tuthmosis tomb was one of the best hidden, deep at the head of the valley, down several steep shafts and corridors. . Although it was only April, it was already summer. The sun was beating down and the tombs were filled with stale air made more uncomfortable by the crowds of sweating tourists. The art and carvings in the tombs were interesting but all the artifacts had been removed to museums. Still, it was an experience and worth doing, unless you are not good in confined spaces. The same day we also went to the Valley of the Queens and saw the tomb sof Titi, Khaemwaset, Amunherkhepshef, the wifeand sons of one of the Ramses'.

The next morning we left early to travel down to Aswan stopping at Edfu temple (temple or horus) and Kom Ombo temple on the way. At Kom Ombo we were the only ones in the place which was really special considering all the tourists in most other places in Egypt. After arriving in Aswan we checked into a slightly dodgy hotel with a very dodgy elevator (only stopped working one time) but what do you expect for $10 per night. It did have a great view from the rooftop (see below). Later we had a sunset meal overlooking the Nile and finished night walking through the souqs.

For our first day in Aswan we started on a felluca ride with a captain I met the day before in an internet cafe. A felluca is a traditional sailboat and was a very nice way to move around the river. We made stops in the botanical gardens and elephantine island where we saw a sad little museum and remnants of Temple of Abu. We then hopped in a cab and rushed to see the Nubian museum before it closed for the afternoon. After the museum we grabbed a quick bite of lunch and then later in the evening we went to have dinner at a Nubian Village. The visit to the village ended up being a disaster with a tour guide who was very friendly but not very good. We basically walked up and down a street where we were hassled to buy things and almost run over by camels schlepping tourists. After that we had dinner at someone’s home, no interaction, just dinner by ourselves in the living room. Oh, and they showed us a “Nile Crocidile”, 16 incles long in a fish tank in the living room. Nevertheless, our guide seemed terrified. The night ended with our guide crying and apologizing to do better after I responded to his question of what I thought of the tour.

The next day we got up really early for a 3am departure to visit Abu Simbel, Philae Temple, high dam and the unfinished Obelisk. The only way to travel down to Abu Simbel is a 3 hour bus ride in a convoy at crazy speed on marginal roads. The convoy was an experience; everyone meets at the edge of town before dawn and then easily 100 busses, vans, and cars all take off with police/military in the lead towards Abu Simbel. Then for the next 3 hours they all compete to see how dangerously they can overtake each other (including into oncoming traffic). I recommend sleeping, ignorance is bliss. Once there, Abu Simbel was amazing. It was better preserved than anything else I had seen. What is even more incredible is that it was all cut up and moved block by block in the 1960’s to higher ground to protect it from the rising water of Lake Nasser.

After stopping at the Philae Temple (excellent) and High Dam (not worth it) we decided to skip the unfinished obelisk and make it back to the hotel. After a very full day, got on a train for the overnight trip back to Cairo on the train. At this point in time, I’m sure my parents were thinking it was the last time they ever authorized me to plan as much as possible into one week. Our last day and a half was around Cairo where we got the chance to explore the city in more detail and do some souvenir shopping. We literally spent the entire day walking around old Cairo (10 hours)! It was a great way to see the city and really get a feel for the culture. You know you are doing something right when the street is coursing with people (and animals) and there is not another tourist in site. It was a good way to end our trip. I got on a plane and headed back to Doha and my parents survived another half day on their own before flying back to the US.

More photos at:

In what would the first of a very busy spring for diving, I started out at one of the most famous locations in the world, Sharm el-Sheikh Egypt on the Red Sea. In March of this year I took a 4 day weekend and got in three days diving and one relaxing on the beach. It still was not quite summer temperatures yet to really enjoy the beach but the sun felt great and the diving was excellent. The clarity of the water was great and the number of small fish schooling everywhere was absolutely incredible. Will have to make it back in the future sometime for sure!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I’ve been getting worse and worst at keeping to my regular updates; I guess it has just been a very busy spring. I’m embarrassed this post is almost 2 months post-facto. Just as the weather was getting nice in Doha and starting to be boat/wakeboard weather again, I decided to take a long weekend and check out Moscow. Loosely, the reason for going was to go to a festival called Maslenitsa. Apparently it is some leftover tradition that goes back to the pagan days and celebrates to coming of spring. As you can see from the clothes everyone is wearing in the pictures, it was not quite spring weather. In fact, most of the time I was there it was below freezing and lightly spitting snow. It was the first time that I had been in the snow for a long time (don’t see much of that in Doha). I’m not sure who this guy is but he was one of the characters running around the festival. There were lots of other people (well, mostly children) getting their picture taken with him so I figured I would too.

Besides checking out the festival, there was not too much on the itinerary, just sightseeing around the city in the day and going out at night. I went with a friend from work and we only had three nights in town and our long-delayed departure from Doha on the way out meant that we really only had two nights out on the town. Thanks to my sister and her family employee rate, we were able to get a great deal and stay at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel right next to Red Square. This is THE hotel in Moscow, normally going for $1000+ per night; we paid much, much less. Make no mistakes though, Moscow is an expensive city. We had some great dinners out and went to some great nightclubs but, even with the ruble having fallen 30% against the dollar, it all added up quickly. Part of it could have been that we had the concierge at a $1000 a night hotel giving recommendations. We were also able to meet up with one of our old coworkers and friends from Houston who helped point us in the right direction as well.

The picture above is in Red Square looking back at St. Basil’s cathedral. The hat was a purchase in the market earlier in the day. The fur hat was quite popular, I thought the old soviet symbol on the front was a nice touch. Below is another picture looking the opposite direction in Red Square. The Kremlin is on the left and the GUM department store is on the right. The GUM is a historic building that once was the state distribution center for simple consumer goods. Now it is filled with shops from all the glitziest retail brands in the world.

Monday, January 12, 2009

For the second Eid holiday of 2008 I went with a Coworker to Vietnam and Cambodia for a week and a half. The first two days were around Ho Chi Minh City including a trip around the Mekong river delta in a boat. It was a nice mix of city and countryside between the two. One of the more interesting sites in the city was the "war remembrances museum" which could have been more appropriately named the "American atrocities museum". After the better part of an hour looking at pictures and stories of napalm, destruction of villages, Agent Orange and other warm and fuzzies, my friend and I were hoping that there could be someplace where we could let the locals beat us a little so we could feel better. Despite the rough history between US and Vietnam people were generally very friendly to us the whole time we were there. The picture below is on one of the small river passages on the Mekong.
Another of the sites that we saw around HCMC was the Cu Chi tunnel complex. There they had preserved part of a network of tunnels that the Viet Cong had used in the war to move around without detection by the US Army. The network at this site had over 200 km of tunnels at its peak. In addition to the displays of the different types of booby traps and ways that they could sneakily shoot the Americans they also had a shooting range where you could shoot some of the old guns. Since I had already shot AK-47's and M-16's I decided to go for the big one, a fully automatic M-60 machine gun. Note that my ear protection is an old set of stereo headphones with the cord cut off them.

In Hanoi we met up with a friend from work in Houston who had recently started a job in Hanoi. We got to see a bit of the SE Asian expat lifestyle when we met up at a swanky hotel for drinks with some business associates and he then had his driver take us back to the house where his cook had dinner waiting. Seemed like a pretty nice deal to me. After dinner we headed out to see the town. The bar we ended up at was designed in a Wild West theme with wood paneling and wagon wheels everywhere but most of the surfaces inside had been covered in aluminum foil (presumably on the occasion of Christmas). To top it off they had a Vietnamese band playing cover songs on a stage in the middle of the place. Classic. More seriously in Hanoi, we also visited the Hoa Lo Prison or “Hanoi Hilton” as it was called, where John McCain (flight suit below) and other American POW’s were held during the Vietnam War. According to the exhibits, they were treated very well and allowed to do arts and crafts, and play sports in the courtyard. Something tells me that if you asked someone who lived through it they might have a different story.

After a couple days in Hanoi, we went to Halong Bay for an overnight cruise. The name literally means "bay of descended dragons". The limestone formations jut out of the water like the back of a sleeping dragon. This is the view from a cave called Surprise Cave that we stopped at during our cruise. Our boat crew made delicious seafood for every meal with as much crab, ship and fish as you could want, all very spicy and delicious.
After Vietnam, it was off to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Siem Reap is the town very near to the Angkor temple complex, home to many temples dating from ~1100 AD. The one behind me is Angkor Wat and is one of the best preserved of the temples at the site. The whole complex covers many square miles and takes several days to explore. Fortunately we had a great guide that showed us around to all of the highlights. Unfortunately, this included sunrise from the top of a temple after a long night partying in Siem Reap, stairs have never felt so steep.
One of the coolest things about the Angkor temples is how the jungle has grown around them over the centuries. Trees spring forth from walls and roots arch over doorways making for beautiful scenes. Our guide was quick to point out that Tomb Raider was filmed near this spot and Angelina Jolie had been in town for several weeks. The weekend before we arrived there had been a half marathon around the site where several thousand runners ran around the streets and paths through the temples. There seemed to be restoration crews from all the countries of the world working to rebuild or stabilize the ruins and keep the jungle from reclaiming them. Sadly the biggest enemy of the temples was not time but the soldiers and thieves that destroyed or cut the heads off many of the statues during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

In keeping with the "you went where" theme, my next trip was to the Islamic Republic of Iran. This had been one of my goals of places to visit since I arrived in Qatar. Getting a visa takes several months so I was always putting it off to go to other places. I finally got my application together and two or three months later, I had my visa. As it worked out, I arrived on November 4th, election Tuesday, which ended up providing lots of opportunities to talk politics. As it seems to be with the rest of the world, everyone in Iran was a big Obama fan, so they were happy that he took the election.

One of the most famous sites in Iran is Persepolis. Dating back to the Achaemenid Empire, it is more that 2500 years old and was only partially completed when it was sacked by Alexander the Great. Certain areas are extremely well preserved with intricate carvings of lotus flowers and warriors of many different empires of the time. At its height, the empire stretched from Turkey to India.

On my trip I spent a day in Tehran, 2 days in Shiraz/Persepolis, and 2 in Esfahan. It was a very fast tour around the highlights of the country but with the limited amount of time I had, I still managed to see some great sites. Some of my favorite sites were old palaces of the Shahs. Many had been destroyed over the years or defaced after the Islamic revolution in the 1970’s but there were some that were wonderfully preserved. While most were not very impressive from the outside, when I walked into the inner courtyard I often found that they had great water features and beautifully manicured gardens. The photo below is from Shiraz which is in the south of Iran and has mild weather all year-round. I happened to catch this shot just as the sun was setting and lighting up the clouds with beautiful purple and pink hues.

After Shiraz, I moved on to Esfahan albeit on the second try. My flight was cancelled one night due to weather so I ended up going back to the hotel at 1am and then catching a car the next morning at 7am for the 7 hour drive. The two other flights I took in Iran were also interesting; one was on a 727 which is a plane significantly older than I am. I’m normally an extremely calm flyer but I convinced myself that we were going to have to make an emergency landing as the engines whined and the plane struggled to gain altitude on takeoff. It didn’t help that they had announced at the start of the flight that I was welcomed to Iran airways “in the name of God the compassionate and merciful”. After making a sharp 180 degree turn I was convinced we were heading back but instead we just continued on our way slowly climbing up to cruising altitude.

Esfahan was my favorite city of the three; it is filled with monuments, mosques, and places and has a river that runs trough the middle of the city, making it a very green place. The center of the city is Imam square that has on its 4 sides: Ali Qapu Palace, Imam Mosque, Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque, and the entrance to the Bazar. The square itself used to be a polo field. This picture is from the balcony of the Ali Qapu Palace where the old Shah used to watch polo matches and relax in the outdoor hot-tub.

I had a bit of free time in Esfahan so I ended up wandering around the city but I spent most of that time exploring the bazar. In typical old bazar style, the market was a maze of wandering hallways, side alleys, and small courtyards with no appearance of order. I would just wander around passing from sections where all they sold were plastic kitchenware to others where you could find any size steel pot you could think of. After walking around all day, I spent my last evening in Iran sitting out on a terrace above the entrance to bazar, overlooking the Imam Square. After a bit of sheisha and some tea, I was ready to head to the airport and head back to Doha.

Monday, November 10, 2008

In early October a friend and I met up in Bangladesh for a few days of touring around the country. "Why Bangladesh? Nobody goes there," was the question I got from most people when I told them about my plans. It was also part of the reason why I wanted to go. “Off the beaten track” still exists in Bangladesh. In the 5 days that I was there, I saw 4 other white people, not counting my friend. As such, we were quite the attraction ourselves. If anyone is thinking it would be great to be a celebrity, I recommend they go to Bangladesh for a couple weeks. It gives you a good idea of what the constant attention feels like, stares, people wanting to take their photo with you in the city and on the beach (seriously).One of the days when we were travelling between cities, we got to a ferry crossing and had to wait about 30 minutes for the next ferry to cross. Looking around for some entertainment to kill the time, we soon realized that we were the entertainment. I don't think too many tourists make it through that particular crossing. We became even more of a hit when my friend started gambling in a street game. I did the quick math and figured that the "house" had about a 50% advantage but that wasn’t a reason not to play. My friend as betting around 5 Taka (~$0.10) and managed to win a couple times and lose a couple times, walking away with 2 Taka in winnings. I was tempted to put down a 500 Taka note but I didn't want to risk breaking the bank and turning a good time ugly.
At several different times on our trip, our guide arranged for us to have an armed police escort. While he insisted that it was not really necessary, he still seemed compelled to have it. They were always nice guys but what made the situation awkward was when we rolled up to a small village or tourist site full of Bangladeshis. Having an armed security detail does not help you to close the gap between you and the locals. Everyone was brought down to the same level though when we passed over a particularly slippery section of moss-covered rocks. It didn't matter if you were carrying a camera or a gun; it was all you could do to keep from falling on your backside.
We spent the majority of our trip in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Southeast Bangladesh but on the way there we passed by some of the coastal regions. Bangladesh is one of the biggest ship breakers in the world. Old ships that are going to be taken out of service are brought here and dragged up as far as the can on the beach. Then workers with saws, hammers and torches start cutting pieces off. If you ever wanted a surplus lifeboat, compressor, set of captain’s stateroom furniture, this is your place. Unfortunately for the workers, it is a dangerous job and their living conditions are terrible. This is a picture of one of the villages that was right on the water. It is easy to imagine the devastation that a typhoon could bring to the area.

On the way up into the hill tracts, we stopped in the village of Painam Nagar. It used to be a big trading port on river but now is mostly deserted. There were many colonial buildings and a few Hindu temples. It was many years out of repair and it was neat to see how the jungle was slowly reclaiming it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Have you ever been at a party when a friend says “hey, book a ticket and come to Oktoberfest in Munich tonight”? Neither had I until this year. Obviously, there is only one answer to that question, especially during Ramadan. And so it was 10pm and I had a ticket for a flight that left in four hours. The next morning I woke up on touchdown in Bavaria.

Munich for Oktoberfest is one of those things that everyone needs to check off their list at some point in their life. It was great, like a giant carnival for adults that centers on drinking liters of beer in massive tents. If you show up at 11am, you are late to the party and by 1pm people are standing on benches and best friends with everyone at the tables around them.

I was there for four days which during which I subsisted on beer, brauts, and brezeln (pretzels); little surprise that by the final day we were all dressed in lederhosen and well versed in German drinking songs. The final day my flight left at 10:30pm so I ended up going from the tents to the airport (still in lederhosen). The next morning when my flight landed in Doha (still in lederhosen) it all seemed a bit surreal but certainly a good way to pass the last few days of Ramadan.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lebanon is one of the places that I have wanted to go for most of the time that I have been in Doha. I had heard great things from many different people about its mountains, ruins, beaches, and nightlife. However, it had been in the middle of bit of civil unrest as it failed to elect a government for months until Qatar stepped in and brokered a compromise between the two sides. As things had settled down a little, I got a trip on the calendar started monitoring the news. Lebanon is not a very big country, I did a day tour which covered most of it. The picture above is from Baalbek, an ancient Roman city in the mountains to the East of Beirut. It is said to be one of the top Roman sites in the Middle East and covered quite a large area. Every summer they have a music festival that they setup in one of the ruins or temples. They were making all the preparations as we walked through the site. Missed it by a weekend, something to put on the list for the next time I am there in the summer.

One of the archeological sites that I visited also included a nice exhibit on the Lebanese army and their struggle against the “Zionist invaders” of the Palestinian homeland. I didn’t judge one way or another but I thought it made a cool picture. These guys really don’t like Israel; coming through immigration control on the way into the country two different officials look through every stamp in my passport (and there are a lot now) to see if I had been to Israel before. I guess that is what happens when Hezbollah runs you government.

The terrain in Lebanon is pretty amazing, people say that you can snow ski in the morning on one it’s almost 10,000 foot mountains and then drive down to the beach for the afternoon. It is also famous for its cedar forests. My guide said that this one had been studied and was more than 4,000 years old. It was a nice break to be up in the cooler mountain air after months of summer in Doha.
One of the main reasons for taking the trip to Lebanon on this particular weekend was to see a concert by DJ Tiesto, one of the most famous DJ’s in the world. He was playing in Beirut that weekend, so it seemed like the perfect party to attend in a party city. The nightlife was great, and went all night long. On the last night that I was there, I went to an after-hours club that was in an underground bunker. You drive up to the place and there appears to be nothing but a parking lot but you walk down the stairs and through the heavy metal door and . . . there you are. Best of all though, around 3am I look up and see that the roof is retracting and now the place is open to the night sky. Pretty good last night to the trip.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

So, been a while since the last post but only travel to the US since Cyprus so I though I would wait until I went somewhere a little further a field. This time it was for a visit to Beijing. I was there in late July, just in time to see them making all the final preparations to host the 2008 Olympics. Even better, my friend Michelle was working in Beijing for the summer so I had a place to stay and a very excellent, Chinese-speaking, tour guide. I spent a lot of the time walking around Beijing and looking at temples, monuments and wandering through the backstreets. Below is a picture of the Lama Temple which was one of the highlights of Beijing. I drove by the birds nest (national stadium) and the water cube (national aquatic center) but security was very tight with less than 2 weeks to go to the games, so I couldn’t get any good pictures.

One thing that I can say about Beijing in July/August is that it is HOT and humid. I am glad that I wasn’t running 400m or playing in a soccer match, I was soaked through just walking around the streets. On one of the days I did the obligatory visit to the Great Wall and felt like I deserved a gold medal after over 3 hours of walking up and down. I do mean up and down, I don’t think there were any flat sections in the area where I was walking. That nice looking grey in the background, not mist. Humid, muggy, haze.

One of the best parts of the trip was the food. The Chinese food was great obviously but there were specialties from regions of the country that I had never seen before. Some of the strangest things were “Fire of Ignorance Tofu” which was served along with a tofu version of Peking duck (vegetarian restaurant, not my choice but really good). By far the strangest though was the “squirrel fish” (below). Interesting presentation and very tasty but I don’t think I would have ever ordered it if I had only seen the picture.

I was pretty much at the mercy of Michelle the whole time because almost all of the places we went to had no English on the menu. There might have been something available if we had asked but I like to believe that there wasn’t. Even still, there was a dish the first night that was a mystery. Michelle though the character meant “deer” or “donkey”, we ordered it and it was delicious (later confirmed to be deer). The picture below is Michelle ordering at one of the fancy places we went to. The staff to guest ration had to be approaching 1-to-1; service was amazing as was the setting and the show after dinner. The only thing that creeped me out a little was the woman with a fan-shaped hat and platform shoes standing over my shoulder the whole night waiting to refill my teacup whenever it was less that ¾ full.

Beijing was a great place to visit and walk around; despite the heat there were people out on the streets and sitting in parks. One of the nights we went to one of the restaurant areas to walk around and have a couple drinks. At the entrance there were a huge group of Chinese couples ballroom dancing to Chinese music. Some had some pretty good moves; others just tried really hard and seemed to be having a good time despite apparently being deaf to the music.
I left the day after they opened the Olympic Village and you could feel the excitement of the city growing. Everyone was very proud to be from Beijing and was ready to show the world that they can pull off the biggest sporting event in the world. I can’t wait to see the opening ceremony and the show that China puts on. Here's a link to some more of my pictures:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

So… the trip for April is……Cyprus! Yes, the sunny and politically divided island nation in the eastern Mediterranean. It was time for another weekend trip and Cyprus seemed like a good idea for a little late spring holiday. I also got to meet up with one of my friends from college who was born in Cyprus and currently lives in the capitol.

The water around the island was an amazing shade of blue. The coastline on the West side of the island was quite rocky in places with smooth pebble beaches. This picture is of Petra tou Romiou, allegedly the birthplace of Aphrodite. The beach was covered with smooth, flat, stones that were perfect for skimming across the top of the water.

The capitol of Cyprus is Nicosia and is at the middle of the island’s Turkish/Greek conflict. Since 1974 when the Turks invaded the northern part of the island, Cyprus has been split between the Greek and Turkish parts. Nicosia is split in half by a UN-controlled demilitarized buffer zone. All the streets are blocked along the line except for a few official crossings. Only recently has it been possible to cross the line and travel into the North (which of course I did). It was pretty crazy to see the bullet holes in the sides of buildings and abandoned machinegun bunkers all through the city.

Cyprus did have some amazing ancient Greek and Roman archeological ruins. While I was there I visited several different sites but my favorite was, called Salamis. This was on the eastern part of the island in Northern Cyprus. Since it was north of the line there were very few tourists. It took more than two hours to walk around the entire site but my travel partner and I only saw two or three other people. The site is more than 3000 years old and had amazing views overlooking the ocean. It was easy to see why someone a long time ago would have wanted to build a city there.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It’s been more than a few weeks now, but I am finally getting around to putting up pictures from my trip to India. In later February, I spent a week traveling around the western part of India in the Rajasthan area. The highlight of the trip was the visit to the Taj Mahal; it was amazing.

I was at the Taj at sunset which has to be the best time to be there. It was crowded but the color of the sun on the white marble set against the blue sky was amazing.

This picture is from a Jain temple that I visited on the way from Jodhpur to Udaipur. The whole interior was carved with intricate patterns and figures.

This was a somewhat ‘typical’ street in Delhi although using the word typical is a bit of a misnomer since you never know what you will find on a street in India (up to and including a herd of cows in the middle of the city). I also liked how the power and telephone were just sort of hanging down into the street.

Photo from one of the rooms in the castle of the old Maharaja of Jodhpur. Meherangarh is a palace built high on a hill overlooking the city of Jodhpur. The Maharaja still runs the place but now lives in a nice estate on the outskirts of town. As they say, “it’s good to be the king”

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Last February it was Carnival in Rio, this year it was Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. One of my friends from Houston now works in HK and has an amazing apartment in the heart of the city that was just too cool not to come visit before she moved on. There ended up being 3 of us that visited, myself and another guy from Doha, and a girl from London, all coworkers from Houston now on expat assignments. This is the view from The Peak, overlooking Hong Kong Island and the New Territories.

One of the days that we visited we went to Lantau Island where there is a very large bronze Buddha Statue. Unfortunately for us, we were there on a very cloudy day and it was hard to see well. The mist gave the whole visit a mysterious feeling as we walked between the different smaller statues and temples on the site.

We planned the trip to line up with the celebration of the Lunar New Year so that we could take part in the festivities as the Year of the Rat was ushered in. There were several different events throughout the week including a Flower Market, a parade, and a fireworks show over the harbor. The fireworks were great and it was fun to walk through the Flower Markets; however, the parade left a little something to be desired. Neither punctual nor that impressive, we decided that we could ditch it and went to eat sushi instead.
Saw this sign above a snack food vendor stall… Not sure what they serve but I think I will pass.

One of the days that we were in HK we decided to get on the high-speed ferry and jet over to Macau, the Las Vegas of Asia. We spent most of the day walking around the island and looking at monuments and relics from the island’s past as a Portuguese colony. After the sun went down it was time to hit the tables at the casinos. A few hours of blackjack and craps was enough to get the experience and tick the box. We got on the midnight ferry back to Hong Kong and counted our winnings (my friends) or losses (me). Fortunately, the Honk Kong Dollar is the currency of choice and at $8HK per $1US you feel like big deal when you’re playing $200+ hands of blackjack (ok, HK dollars)