Best decision ever! Here’s to many more!
Chacun a son Gout
Once upon a long time ago Wilf and I were in a pub in London. We were looking at the bar snacks, and on offer were packets of potato chips – crisps – in the flavour ‘roast beef’. I decided that was too weird to eat and passed. And I’ve always kind of regretted that – after all – a bag of chips? Don’t like ’em, don’t eat ’em. Since then we’ve been to Japan twice and Turkey and India and have sort of adopted ‘Sure, I’ll try that’ as a motto to live by.
And then I was in our local Fairways market. And there, in the ‘ethnic’ section was a display of potato chips from Scotland:
Steak flavoured crisps! I’m in. And, after tasting them I’d have to say – apparently texture contributes a lot to the taste of something. Do they taste like steak or beef? No. What do they taste like? I don’t know. But you know what they aren’t? Salty!!! Half the salt of a similar sized package of North American chips.
Of course, if I’m going to continue on my path of ‘brave eating’ I guess I’ll have to go back and get the package that was beside the aberdeen angus steak flavour.
What do you suppose ‘Haggis and cracked black pepper’ is going to taste like?
More adventures in bathing.
And so the great adventure, Autumn 2914 version, begins. We are in Istanbul – we were last here in 1999. It was pretty straightforward to travel from Victoria – Victoria to Toronto direct (~4 hours) followed by Toronto to Istanbul direct (~9 hrs). Long flight, but not complicated.
What I did on my winter vacation
2014 is half gone and I haven’t checked in for an age – so this will be a quick recap.
Rather than take a winter vacation this year we underwent another project.
First – pack up about 85% or our belongings and have them moved to the garage:
Second – have a lot of wood delivered:
Starry, starry night
Once upon a time I was doing some reading about the Byzantine empire, and there was discussion of the mosaics in the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, which are nice, but not as good as the basilica in Ravenna, Italy. Hagia Sofia was pretty impressive, and I figured that would have to do, because what were the odds of going to Ravenna? Well, guess what. Ravenna is 90 minutes east of Bologna. An easy day trip. So of course a trip became part of the 2013 Sharon and Wilf Tour of Churches, and Eating.
Bolonga la Grassa
I think our favourite type of food is Italian – I tend to cook Italian-ish and that’s often our choice in restaurants. And yet, we’ve always found eating well in Italy to be a challenge. It has always seemed darn near impossible to get away from the dreaded tourist menu and the same dozen dishes, often badly done. Venice was the most difficult.
A tale of two cities, Dubai edition
You know how it is – go away on a big trip, come back and fall into life and suddenly almost a month has gone by and the last part of the trip hasn’t been told. Hmmm – sorry about that!
Seeing Dubai was the starting point for this whole adventure, and throughout our trip people kept telling us ‘If you think that’s great, what ‘til you see the one in Dubai’, so we were pretty excited to actually get to the city. A little bit sad, too, because it meant the end of our great adventure, but first – a city to explore.
From our berth at Port Rashid we could look across to the famous skyline. Here’s a shot from later in the day, with the late day sun glinting off the Burj Kahlifa:
The Burj is 163 stories tall, which means that those other buildings around it are also very tall, which in turn means that things are spread out quite a bit further than we first thought. The scale of everything is quite deceptive.
A bus service was in place to take us to the Dubai Mall, which seemed like as good a place as any to begin our adventures. We’re getting used to these giant Asian and Middle Eastern malls right? And the Dubai Mall is connected to the elevated train system, right? Well, yes and no.
Turns out the Dubai Mall is immense – 1200 shops, to begin with. I’ll tell you about it later. And it is connected to the train. By an air-conditioned sky walk (like Calgary’s Plus 15 network on steriods), which was nice. The presence of moving sidewalks throughout should have been a clue. It was probably about a kilometer to the train, but it was interesting, being above the traffic, looking down into one after another construction site.
There is an old town part of Dubai, which we visited on day two. But the city has pretty much been built since the early 1980’s. That does make for a certain kind of organization – there is a main expressway that runs parallel to the coastline, and the metro runs above and to the side of the expressway. On either side is a forest of high rise buildings – mostly office space but lots of condominiums, too. And shopping centres. Moving away from the transit corridor we could see subdivisions of various types laid out.
Reading the guide books most of the attractions seem to be centred around shopping centres – want to go skiing? Mall of the Emirates. Skating or a trip to the aquarium? Dubai Mall. Fancy shopping with an ancient Egyptian motif – there were at least two malls with that theme. We had a suggestion from a friend to check out the Ibn Battuta mall, so we decided to do that first, which was why we found our way to the metro and took the long ride to the suburbs.
I’ll let you look up Ibn Battuta for all the details – short version is that he was a famous scholar and explorer in the Medieval Arabic world. And the mall named in his honour is divided up into sections representing some of the many places that he visited. The guide books are quite sniffy about it, and the concierge at our hotel seemed surprised that we would bother going there. But it was a hoot. Totally over the top. The condescension comes, I believe, from the fact that it is not a really high end mall. No Chanel or fancy French designers. It is 1.3 km long – you can pay a couple of cents for a ride in a cart if you decide you don’t want to walk back and forth. Where else, after all, can you stop in what looks like a mosque and find a Starbucks?
or a full sized Chinese junk dashed on the rocks in China?
Our cart driver took us via Tunisia:
so that we could get back to the exit for the train, which was the Egyptian area:
All around the world, and groceries, too.
From Ibn Battuta we decided to head to another shopping/entertainment complex, so back on the train, then a taxi to the waterfront. We were headed for the Jumeirah district, where among other things they have a souk. We were in the souk in Muscat, which was very interesting. This one would be different, being indoors, for one thing. But since the temperature was about 35outside, indoors seemed like a good idea.
First clue that we’re not in a regular souk – the lapis lazuli inlaid floors:
Everything very pretty, very elegant, very just so for the tourists.
Kind of like the Disney version of the real thing….
While we were in the Emirates is was hot, a bit humid (but not like Asia humid) hazy and threatening rain. In fact we ran into rain showers in all three Emirate cities. What this meant in Dubai was poor visibility. We had talked about going to the Burj al Arab hotel for a drink in the bar and a look at the view out over the Palm Islands, but decided that we probably wouldn’t be able to see anything. Instead we made our way to one of the hotels in the Jumeirah district where we could sit and look at the Burj al Arab itself.
It was very pleasant, and they didn’t seem to mind sweaty, windblown tourists, so we had a beer and read some newspapers and admired the view. What with the rain some of the locals were considering it a bit cool and certainly too chilly to go to the beach, but from where we were sitting we could see the hardy Europeans sitting down on the beach. In the picture above that is a little lake that we over look, with little hire boats to take you about – something to do, don’t you know!
We made our way back via taxi, train, and moving sidewalk to the Dubai Mall – which was now wide awake and going full steam, unlike in the morning when things were just barely opening. We found a familiar site:
for a restorative cup of Timmie’s best before finding our way back to our shuttle bus.
It was all very interesting, but it was strange, too. We had covered a lot of ground and seen many sights. But it was all within the confines of highly organized private spaces. From one shopping centre to another via public transit. Through private walkways to and from the shopping centre. Everything was corporate, branded, managed. It was all perfect, tidy, safe and clean. But there was nothing spontaneous, nothing lively, nothing real.
First two Emirates
So – here we are in the desert – and its raining! Go figure! In fact it has finally cooled down enough at night that the cruise director decided to have our first night time deck party. And then it rains….
We didn’t join any shore excursions in Fujairah. The ship had a shuttle organized to a local mall, so we went along hoping for wi-fi. Sure enough, a Starbucks obliged and we had a chance to check in with the world. Not much to take pictures of – we kind of treated it as another at sea day. In fact we actually spent the afternoon on the pool deck and went for a swim. Usually it is so hot up there that I risk spontaneous combustion if I set foot on the deck.
Abu Dhabi was also rainy and overcast. And this really isn’t a bad thing – it kept us from being just slayed by the sun. Again we decided against any shore excursions, and again a shuttle was laid on for a local shopping centre. While both Muscat and Oman were very low key cities, Abu Dhabi is hugely developed and full of skyscrapers. We went to the Marina Mall, which is huge. And being a Saturday it was packed – locals, expats, tourist. A blizzard of shopping. And of coffee drinking – because it was so chilly outside!
From the mall we could see the very big and very famous Emirates Palace Hotel – we thought we’d walk over for a look see. After about a 45 minute walk around the perimeter we approached the gate, only to be told that long pants were required – for Wilf. So, back to the mall we went.
And still everyone is saying – pffff. Wait til you see Dubai!
And after the lush and tropical part of the trip
then comes the desert. And I must admit when we arrived at Muscat, in Oman my first thought was ‘Wow – they must be some tough people to live here’. The city itself is green enough, but it backs right up against the most desolate range of low mountains. Not a blade of grass to be seen. Until the early 1970’s there was very little here, so the Sultan has gotten a lot done since he took charge.
One of the main things to see is the mosque. There seem to be many ways of measuring how big a mosque is – by some reckonings this one is the third largest in the world. When we saw the mosque in Casablanca it was the second largest – don’t know if it still is. Anyhoo, the mosque in Muscat. Oman is a very conservative country, and we were told repeatedly that we would have to be covered up for this tour – long pants and sleeves for women, nothing low cut and our heads had to be covered. This did not stop many people from showing up on bus in crop pants, short sleeves, you name it. Before we got off the bus the bus driver inspected us and issue abayas (long sleeved, floor length black coats) and or head scarfs to those who didn’t pass. Before being allowed into the grounds we were scrutinized again by a policeman – a few adjustments but no one was rejected.
Was it worth it? Yes, it was. A lovely lovely garden and building. Enormous crystal chandeliers, a huge rug, carvings, tile work – all just beautiful.
After the mosque we visited the souk – one of Oman’s special items is frankincense. It smells fantastic. There was lots of tourist stuff, but it was also a souk for the Omanis, so it was fun to visit.
Even if it was 37C in the burning sun (and less than 30% humidity at the height of the day)