Friday, May 3, 2013

Awesome Oslo and the end of the 2013 trip

Who knew that Oslo was awesome?  With daylight from 7 AM to 10 PM, gorgeous blue skies and “almost” warm weather... we had a great day here.  (I say "almost" because we were still wearing every layer of clothes we had but at least we were OK instead of frozen). The city is filled with interesting statues and artwork... everywhere. 

We started with a boat trip across the bay to visit the Viking museum.  At the turn of the century, Norwegians found two remarkably intact Viking ships buried in thick blue mud. The mud helped preserve the ships and everything stored inside.  The ships had been used as burial tombs for two wealthy people so they provided great insight into the Viking life and death rituals.

The mud even preserved much of the skeletons

We hit a few other museums and then the Nobel peace center (where the Nobel peace prize is awarded each year). Our scavenge there was to figure out who was awarded the prize in 1991. The answer: Ang San Suu Ki (the Lady of Burma and a personal hero of mine).

The weather was so good that we rented bikes and rode all around town seeing stuff and almost clearing away entire sidewalks. 

A personal favorite was the Oslo opera house: a new building with exceptionally cool architecture.  The building was designed so you can actually walk up the structure to stand on the roof (with an amazing view of the entire city). And all without ever going inside!!

We spent the afternoon riding our bikes around the Vigeland park seeing his monolith of bodies and crazy statues.

Our day ended at the pointy hand statue

Sadly for us... it is pointing home.  Goodbye Europe. We head out today to Iceland and on to Toronto. We’ll be back in  North America by 7:30 PM this evening. Can’t believe another year is over….I’m sulking already. GOODBYE UNTIL NEXT YEAR. 
And - as a quick ode to the wonders of this trip - here's some of my favorite moments:

The children of Nepal: Namaste

Memories of how exhausting this trip can be (Jordan past out in a moving Tuk-Tuk in the dust and grime of Cambodia):

The magic and wonder of the big, wide world out there...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Exhausted in Europe

The Europe leg of this trip is always hard… and this year was no exception.  It’s rough because you have to travel between 4-5 countries on your own… while hauling every ounce of junk you brought with you.  You curse every extra pair of socks you packed.  You contemplate throwing your entire suitcase into the nearest Fjord and just walking away.  You stop over in a town for 1-2 hours and take off running out of the train station to get as much done / seen in your short layover.  Basically: you finish the trip going full-out.   We have spent the last 4 days traveling through Germany, Sweden, Denmark and  landed last night in Oslo, Norway. It's been a whirlwind few days with lots of stories and memories.

We began the leg in Frankfurt Germany with a hospitality dinner: where we all eat together and swap war stories from the road. It was at a traditional German restaurant:  bratwurst, weiner schnitzel, beer... you get the idea!!!

The next morning we started early and got in a healthy dose of religious rituals before breakfast.  (You can never have enough spiritual blessings !!!)

We climbed to the top of the cathedral in Frankfurt for a great view of the city. And it was a CLIMB... in a VERY narrow, dark, interior spiral staircase. I had to do some yoga breathing to overcome the claustrophobia. 

But ...most interesting ... one of the graffiti names scratched into the wall at the top.. was done during World War II. Weird to think about that person and how different their lives and Germany was then.

We then headed out of town to Copenhagen where we spent two nights and got in a full day of exploration. First up, Elsinore castle… supposedly the inspiration for the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

And yes, it was FREEZING. We were wearing virtually every piece of clothes we had brought on the trip.. and were still cold to the bone.
The afternoon was spent in the city of Copenhagen  doing a bunch of scavenges including.. of course… visiting the Little Mermaid 

The answer to the question of whether she has feet or a mermaid tail is... both.  Her feet are a split mermaid tail.

And – for 100 points – one team member had to take a dip (up to your  neck) in the freezing cold Baltic.  Do you believe me now that – on this trip – you will do the craziest things for points? Since I have to eat the yucky food scavenges, Rainey (and Jordan) did the pneumonia-inducing sea bath.

We arrived in Oslo late last night and have been out all day seeing the city. I’ve never been here before and I LOVE it.  We lucked out and today was clear blue skies and much warmer weather.  I’m exhausted now so will upload my Oslo stories tomorrow.  There's a reason this leg is a Par 5... it's hard !!!!  And it's sad because the countdown is on. The trip is almost over.  SIGH !!!!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

QATAR: Camels and Souqs (markets) in the Dollhouse city of Doha

Doha, Qatar… an ultra-modern city erected - from nothing but flat desert sands - by sheer will and a tremendous amount of money. It’s a city without much history or depth.  Doha feels like the MGM movie scene setting… impressive when you look at it but - if you peak around the front – you discover it’s just a pretty façade with nothing of substance behind.
We arrived in Qatar mid-afternoon and – even though Bill opened the Qatar leg at 3 PM – we opted to not leave the hotel that day.  Jordan got very sick on the plane (with roasting fever) so I had the hotel put a cot in my room and put Jordan straight to bed.  I had to wake him several times over the course of the evening and night to give him medicine or have him take a warm bath to control the fever (which came and went and came again ... over and over).  Finally, the next morning – after 14 hours of sleep – he woke up feeling great.  I’m not sure what ailed him to begin with but I’m just so happy it passed.
Saturday morning we headed out to see everything we could of Qatar in one day. Clothing has obviously changed completed. Gone are the beautiful saris. Here only women’s eyes are on display. 

And sometimes not even that. 

Let's be clear: if black is not your color, this is not the country for you.
The men clearly got the better end of this fashion stick with comfortable, thin, white (as opposed to hot black) gowns.  

 Our first expedition was to the Inland Sea (literally a sea or lake-like body of water inland and South of Doha).  Saudi Arabia is on the other side of the water.

To get there we had to go over sand dunes in 4 wheel vehicles and “dune dash” which means that our jeep would come to the edge of a dune cliff and then just slide right over the edge – almost sideways. It was like a scary roller coaster ride. The teens loved it. I was hanging on for dear life: convinced we'd be upside down any moment. 

The drivers actually took air out of their tires before entering the dunes so the tires would grip the sand better. There are stations to replace the air once you leave the Inland Sea. 

Along the way we stopped to ride camels.  After all, one of the recurring challenges to is to ride a Four-Legged-Beastie. So, having done elephants, we now tried our hand at camels.

Here’s Erik Walker: the camel whisperer

Next stop: Souq Waqif (the large market in the center of Doha). 

It is supremely clean (a shock after Nepal) and divided into sections.  Bill loaded us up with things to do at the Souq so we spent much of the afternoon there wandering around. I loved the spice section. 

And the bird section where they were selling brightly colored chicks.

But the most interesting parts of the market:  The Falcon Souq.

Falcon hunting is a popular  – and very expensive – sport in the Middle East.   The birds can cost up to $250,000 and they travel to international competitions in their own plane seat with their handler sitting beside them.  The airline covers the seat with a plastic cloth and installs a wooden bar across the seat handles. The falcon sits there (outside of a cage) free and wearing a hood to blind it so it does not just fly around in the plane. 

Competitive falcons even have their own passport.  And if they get sick… they go to the Falcon Hospital which is far nicer, fancier and better equipped than any human clinic we’ve seen anywhere in SouthEast Asia.  

It’s certainly 16 rungs above the hospital Savannah had to go to during the India rickshaw race in January. At the hospital, the birds can be operated on or have X-Rays

There is a full lab so the birds can have complete and comprehensive blood analysis 

And the bird pharmacy has literally dozens and dozens of different medications.

We also visited the Grand Mosque which was a rude awakening to the second class citizenship of Muslim women.

Women cannot enter through the front door: our entrance is on the side and towards the back.  Women cannot pray in the main prayer hall: our prayer area is on a balcony above the men’s area where you can peek through the holes in the wood and watch the men below.

Women cannot even wash their hands at the same ablution sinks as men.

I felt my inner “I am Woman, Hear me Roar” yelling for an audience even though I recognize that this is their culture and beliefs.
We had to eat a McArabia at McDonald’s (a shawarma type chicken wrap). 

What was clear is that fast food (including all of the saturated fat issues of such food) plagues Qatar the same as it does the U.S. The place was packed. 

A scavenge was to try “Hubbly Bubbly” or flavored tobacco from a water pipe. Jordan’s experience was obviously far better than mine or he was faking better in order to look cool:  

And one of the last scavenges of the night… a sunset boat ride along the Corniche or Doha boardwalk in a Dhow.  Doha is built on a curved bay so the skyline is beautiful from the water. We got to see the lights as they came on after dark to highlight the buildings. 

My two favorites on the skyline: the building that appears to be wearing a tea cozy of lace

And the blue criss-cross building (Isn't this a great photo from Rainey? With the blue building and the tea cozy building reflecting in the highrise to the left).

What’s weird?  Most of these buildings are totally empty.  The Qatar Emir is determined to have a skyline that rivals (or beats) other major cities so dozens of skyscrapers were erected in the past decade.  He’s achieved his goal of a cool photo op but the available office space far outpaces the need. It gives Doha the aura of a dolls house or a façade… elegant to look at but nothing of substance underneath. Let’s hope the adage is correct: “if you build it, they will come.”
I loved this food booth in the market…. It obviously sells poultry but the smell of the food was – in fact – “foul.”

 And a great photo of Booth with his “gear.”  

He’s got hand sanitizer, a hat, a camera, 2 heavy duty clips and his passport and money close at hand plus a backpack with rain jackets and flashlights etc. on his back. No-one can ever accuse Booth of not being a boy scout: always prepared. Thank Goodness. Because I can then carry very little.
We now start the European Leg of the trip.  This leg is a Par 5 and is the hardest part since you have to travel with your luggage every step of the way. Luckily I did good this year and did NOT pack a lot.  My suitcase is small and very manageable. I suspect the competitors with large bags will be cursing every extra pound over the next 5 days. We may be out of contact for a few days as we travel along but I’ll post again as soon as I can. 

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