Thursday, June 21, 2018

Czechia - Prague

The capital city of the Czech republic is definitely worth a visit. In fact, it's ideal for a city trip.

As you know, the old town center has been placed on UNESCO's list of World Heritage. And that's not for nothing. One of the nicknames of the city is 'the town of hundred towers' - well, actually Prague has more than 500!

Prague was the seat of the Bohemian kings, some of which ruled of Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The town blossomed under the reign of Charles IV, who ordered the building of the New Town. Many of the town's main attractions date back to this age.

My sister and I took this trip at the end of May. Just a short break to get away from work in her case, but enough to get a feel of the city.

Our hotel was quite near the historical center, and it was easy to just walk into it. Places worth seeing were Old Town Square, with it's astronomical clock tower. Not far off, you're into the Jewish Quarter, with winding streets where the legend of the Golem still lingers.

And of course, you should also see the famous Charles Bridge, spanning the river Vlatava (Moldau). Better still, take a boat trip on the river, so you can see all the beautiful buildings and bridges from the water.

Finally, we went to visit Prague Castle, high on the hill. I'd not recommend to do this walk on foot. Better take a cab, they are quite cheap over there - well, most things are compared to our prices!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Oman - Khasab and Musandam

During our stay in the UAE we also made a full day trip to Oman. More precisely, to the region of Khasab and Musandam.

Khasab is a peaceful town located at the foot of Wadi Khasab and overlooking the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz. Khasab in Arabian means 'fertility' which refers to the large produce of dates (did you know they're about good for nearly everything?) and to the fresh water.

In Khasab we boarded a dhow (traditional boat used in the Arab countries) to explore the fjord of Khor Sham. That's a spectacular sheltered 16 km long fjord with crystal clear water. Because of the presence of mountains around, it has been given the nickname 'The Norway of Arabia'. It truly is very beautiful!

Along the cruise, we were able to see some old villages, dating back ages ago and still inhabited by some families - those of Nadiff, Qanaha and Maqlab - and also passed Telegraph Island where the British built a telegraph station in 1865. They laid an underwater cable from India to Basra in Iraq to get a telegraph connection between England and India. The island was only manned for a very short time. Now it's surrounded by reefs and corals and is one of the best places for swimming and snorkeling. You can also spot dolphins there.

It was a very pleasurable cruise. We were comfortable (I don't mind sitting on cushions) and got everything we needed. At noon we were treated to a nice lunch aboard the vessel. Rice and vegetables and chicken + fruit as much as you liked.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

UAE - Ras Al Khaimah

One of the smaller emirates is Ras Al Khaimah. We only discovered it by accident, while checking for hotels in the wider region of Dubai. Looked up more information on the internet, and decided to also spend a couple of days there.

We were lodged in the Hilton Resort & Spa, a big hotel with various swimming pools, private beach, spa and health club, etc., etc. We had a sumptuous suite (being in a mood to spend some money) and everything was more than fine.

While you can stay in the resort itself and just have a beach holiday (like most tourists, especially those with children) Ras Al Khaimah has other possibilities.

One way to discover the area is doing a tour, preferably with a private guide. We took this opportunity to spend a whole afternoon exploring the area. We drove to Marjan Island, where the most expensive hotels are being built, into the desert where we could watch falcon training and see Arabian horses. We also went to the Dhayah fortress, which is one of the oldest in the region. You have to be fit, though, because you have to mount over 200 steps to reach the top of the mountain on which the fortress is built.

Ras Al Khaimah is near Oman and the Hajar mountains form the border. The highest of these mountains is Jebel Jais. You can drive out to there, have a picknick if you like or do some mountain climbing or try the zip line. They have the longest zip line there, 3 km between two mountain tops! The government of RAK is doing everything to boost tourism, and like everywhere in the emirates it has to be bigger and better than anywhere else!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

UAE - Dubai

When you talk about Dubai to most people they ask: 'Is there anything to see there?' Well, there surely is.

For starters, Dubai is the only town in the UAE which still has an old town. It's very nice to walk around there, finding all kinds of quaint shops. There is also a massive renovation going on (Dubai will host the World Expo in 2020) but here they are doing a good thing. They restore houses and shops just like they used to be ages ago, and you can't even tell the difference!

Next to the palm islands, Dubai has a creek. Our hotel was near to it, and from our room we could watch the dhows go and leave the harbor. A visit to Palm Jumeirah is of course due. You can do that by car, or by helicopter (we did both). On Palm Jumeirah the most expensive hotels are to be found, including two 7-star hotels (Atlantis and Burj Al Arab). You can only enter them if you are a guest there, but you're allowed to take pictures from the outside. Jumeirah also has a marina. Very pricely real estate there, as well!

Most people will have heard about Burj Khalifa, up to now the highest building in the world (though the government intends to build one that's even higher). Tourists can go up to three different levels, and of course the ticket price will correspond. You already have breathtaking views from the 125th floor. When leaving the Burj Khalifa, you can see the fountains that move to music starting at 6 pm. It is really worth waiting for that.

When you get tired of the sun, and want to do something more active than shopping in the many malls and souks, you can go indoor skiing. Ski Dubai is modern and has nice slopes for beginners and experts alike. Outside +32° Celsius and inside -4°. Included in the ticket price is the rental of the material, which is in good quality I must say. We tried it out and it was a very nice day. You can ski, have a warm drink or grab a bite to eat nearby.

Just outside Dubai there's the desert. Different compagnies offer trips into it. We went for a sunset camel trek. We had private transport into the desert (about one hour's drive). The last part of the drive was riding up and down the sand dunes (nice!). Then we went for our camel ride (just take care when the camel gets up) in the early evening. When we returned to the bedouin camp we got some mint tea and dates, and afterwards we could sit down to a traditional dinner. Very tasty, and quite to my liking. After dinner there were traditional dances and opportunity to have a henna tatoo on your hands. You could also pose for pictures with a falcon on your arm.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

UK - Camden (London)

It's a bit off the beaten path for most tourists, but a visit to the neighborhood of Camden really is worth a visit.

We stayed at a hotel in Islington this time (also a bit out of the center already, but near to the tube station of Angel) and from there it's only a short ride by underground (7 minutes) to Camden Town. They have a partly open, partly closed market there and you can find really anything there. Especially when the weather is fine, you can easily spend a couple of hours in this neighborhood.

You won't die of hunger or thirst either. The market provided enough stalls and eateries where you can find food from all over the world.

Camden is also near the canal system which cruises through London. You can take walks along these canals, and they can bring you all through the capital of Great-Britain. We once took a walk from Islington to Regent's Park, but had to take shelter there as it began to pour with rain.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Planning for 2018 is (almost) done

It's been a while since I last posted something in this blog. The main reason is my illness (cancer). I had major health issues in the middle of this year, and you always have to wait and see how it's going to go. I had a succesful removal of the main tumor (plus my right kidney) but there remainssome metastasis: a few dots on my lungs and one on my pancreas. I had to take a CT scan three month after my surgery to see how everything evolves. The lungs have remained the same and seem no reason for concern, but the small growth on the pancreas has somewhat increased in size. So now I'm on a course of medication (a form of chemo, but through pills). I've been taking it for a week yet and don't seem to suffer any of the side-effects (nausea, hair turning white, dizziness, high blood pressure, just name it). My oncologist is relatively optimistic and tells me to go on with my life and make plans.

Alright, so now we can considere what to do in 2018. We had some plans already, before we knew about the cancer. Now we'll have to take care to plan trips which we can always cancel without costs. Because taking an insurance will be impossible for me.

What we have in the planning for 2018 are already three trips to London: two in January and one in May. It's more than possible there will be a fourth trip too. We like seeing shows, and we are going to see Kinky Boots, Chess and watch Ramin Karimloo perform in the Southbank Centre.

At the end of March, we'll be going to the United Arab Emirates. First to Dubai, and then to Ras-al-Khaima.

In May, like said before off to London but also for a couple of days to Prague.

And in July, a trip to Seville (Spain) is planned.

So I'll be posting more in the coming months - while looking forward to more trips in the future.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Spain - Madrid and Toledo

This was a trip we hadn't planned. Due to circumstances (surgery) we had to cancel our planned trip to Tuscany, Italy because the surgeon thought it would perhaps be too early to travel. However, I recovered quickly and at the last checkup, we were told travelling was permitted.

It wasn't easy to find a destination on so short a notice. Either the airplane tickets were too expensive (only business or first class) or the hotels were fully booked. At long last we found something priceworthy plus a hotel that still had rooms. Our destiny became Madrid, Spain. We left early on Monday morning of August 14th and arrived in Madrid before noon. We took a taxi to our hotel (we could have taken the metro, but it would take longer than a taxi ride), which wasn't all that expensive.

We stayed at hotel Vincci The Mint, at the Gran Via, right into the town's center. A wonderful hotel which I can certainly recommend! We had a lovely room, overlooking the busy boulevard, but we didn't hear a thing about the traffic, neither from other rooms. Also the breakfast was more than lovely. When you had booked room with breakfast, you could take whatever item from the menu, as many times you liked! We had something different each morning.

Already that first afternoon we went exploring somewhat. We are not the kind of tourist who plan and plan, reading all kind of travel publications. We just plunge into it. Madrid isn't a town where you can get lost easily, by the way. It's not that big and easy to walk, if you are inclined to do so. It's so nice to just walk around and see all those beautiful buildings.

For the next day (Tuesday) we had bought tickets for the Prado museum online. That's the best thing you can do, as the lines are very long and waiting in the hot sun is not advisable. We could enter straight away. The museum has a large collection, especially of masters of the 15th and 16th centuries. I can tell you, there are a couple of millions hanging on those walls! We took our time seeing everything we were interested in, and paused for a coffee at the museum cafertaria. On leaving the museum, we found a nice place closeby where we had a long lunch.

On Wednesday we took off to Toledo. Departing from the Atocha railway station, there is a Renfe train that brings you to Toledo in about half an hour. You have to buy the tickets in advance, though.  And also be aware, arrive in time because your luggage will be checked.

Now Toledo is a town worth a visit. It's a very old town, where both Christians, Muslims and Jews lived. Each left their mark on the town. We didn't have time to see all of it, but we visited the Jesuit church from which towers you have a most magnificent view over town. There is also the Alcazar, the El Greco house and museum, the Jewish quarter. The speciality of Toledo is marzipan. We went to the convent (don't ask me of which order) where the nuns make marzipan the old way and sell it for a price less than in the many shops. It's quite tasty and not too sweet.

On our last full day in Madrid, we tried to see some more of the city. We went to the park Retiro, close to the Puerta Alcantara. Also saw the Royal Palace but the lines were too long to get inside. And of course, being women, we did some shopping to finish our day!