Bahrain: Beaches & Christmas

December 6, 2014

Bahrain bound!! Finally… after a very stressful morning in Cairo where I desperately attempted to change my flights from Riyadh bound to Bahrain bound… I managed to get on board a flight headed to Bahrain… did one of those “I’m not looking cuz I just can’t cuz this is going to hurt my bank account but I’ll hand over my credit card because I really don’t want to go back to Riyadh yet” moves…

Met up with a friend and spent 4 blissfully relaxing days in Bahrain… at the absolutely gorgeous Ritz Carlton Bahrain Hotel & Spa for the first few nights… and the last night at the Sofitel as there was a big international security conference in Bahrain and a triathlon that weekend so the hotel was fully booked for our last night.

Arriving at the Ritz for the first time on the trip was amazing… the roadway to the hotel bathed in purple light from the many lights strung above the road…

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I was wondering if this was normal for the Ritz… (In Riyadh there’s beautiful lights everywhere, any time of year!)

But when I entered the lobby, I clued in as I saw my first bit of Christmas!!! And what a gorgeous display it was!!!! Living in Saudi, where Christmas is definitely not celebrated or seen in any way… no Christmas trees or Christmas lights anywhere… no aisles full of chocolates and candy canes and delicious Christmas treats… no carols and holiday music playing every where for months… no sign anywhere to indicate Christmas is coming. So I’d kind of forgotten that Christmas was less than a month away. Until I entered the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain and saw the 3 story tree…

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And there were poinsettias everywhere!!! That made me happier than  almost anything else I saw there that weekend!!!! My dad owns greenhouses back in Canada and grows acres of poinsettias every Christmas. So our house is always fully decked out with Christmas red and sparkly poinsettias… and when I walk out to the greenhouse at  it is always a sea of red holiday cheer!!

So I was absolutely thrilled to find poinsettias here!!

imageMoving on. The weather was gorgeous. Sunny. Relatively warm… 20-25 degree during the day… little chilly for chilling on the beach, as I’ve definitely adjusted to Saudi temps and 20-25 is definitely not sit in the sun in a bikini weather anymore!!! Definitely doesn’t feel like it’s winter and nearly Christmas! Nothing like the nearly Christmas weather I’m used to!!

The beach at the Ritz is beautiful!! It’s one of the few hotels in Bahrain that actually has its own beach. And soft blue lagoon with pretty white sand…

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Sitting on a lounge chair, listening to the gentle sound of little waves lapping on the shore line… sipping a ice cold G&T… feeling the warmth of the sun saturating through my clothes… it was wonderful!

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And SO supremely relaxing!After 5 days of crazy rapid travel through Egypt and all the noise and commotion and history overload… it was the perfect way to spend the last weekend of my first week of leave out of Saudi Arabia! The last 5 months of living in Saudi have been really really good and I really didn’t feel overly restricted or at the end of my rope and really needing a break away from Saudi. But being here and being able to fully relax, I realized how much I did need the break away. And relaxing on a beach is definitely my ideal way to truely destress!!

And the beach isn’t the only gorgeous spot at the Ritz Bahrain… the pool area is amazing… there are a bunch of great restaurants and bars… and lovely garden areas. It’s just generally a gorgeous resort!

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There’s even a pond/stream with FLAMINGOS in it!! Apparently at one point there used to be a lot of flamingos on the island, but now they’re nearly extinct on the island… but not here at the Ritz!

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(excuse the flamingo selfie but I just had to :P)

Continuing on with the relaxing, a friend of a friend showed us around Bahrain and took us to heaps of lovely restaurants. It was wonderful to not even have to worry about how to get there and where to eat or anything like that! And every place we went to was incredible! An couple Italian restaurants, Masso and Oliveto’s, a steak house called the Meat Co, a Japanese restaurant: Mirai, and Villa Mamas, a traditional homey little restaurant that had probably the best Arabic food I’ve ever eaten in my life! And apparently Villa Mamas was started by a lady who even grew her own herbs and everything for the restaurant!

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One of my favorite nights was at Olivetos… they had a great live band… I’ve seriously missed live music. Excuse the crappy quality of the video below… but the singer had an incredible voice!! And this is probably one of my favorite songs! Hadn’t heard it in ages either!

For the record, Olivetos is  really pretty too… Huge bonsai trees set all throughout the pool in the center….

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And finally… For the last night/day we moved to the Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa Hotel… a really nice resort… but located a good 20km out of the city center so getting anywhere was a bit more difficult and definitely took a lot longer!! But the resort was beautiful… a lovely beach also and the relaxation just continued.

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I saw one of the most gorgeous sunsets I’d seen in a long time… there’s nothing quite like the sun setting over the ocean!!!

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So when I had to leave on Saturday night to head back to Riyadh to work Sunday… I was definitely disappointed.

But honestly, it was an absolutely wonderful first week out of Riyadh… and I can’t wait to see where the remainder of my 54 days of annual leave take me!!!! Home next?! And now I’m going back to Riyadh feeling refreshed, relaxed, and rejuvinated. Ready to take on Saudi again… the challenges and frustrations but also all the wonderful experiences and life lessons I’m getting! Plus I’ve got so many great friends there… so even though Christmas is coming up and I’ll be away from my family… I’ll have my Saudi family ❤

Next up on the blog… Christmas in Saudi?

Egypt: The End

December 2, 2014

The last day in Luxor… last day in Egypt…

We woke up to no wifi in the hotel. Ahhhh. :S And… almost no water pressure in the sink either. Not panicking yet though. Thought maybe it was just a bad morning and a bit of bad luck or something… should be working in the afternoon though. So we headed out for a day of touristy stuff.

Stopped at a random little coffee shop the guide took us to, because us nurses really can’t do without coffee in the morning!!! It was honestly absolutely the best coffee I’d had the whole trip so far!!!

The weather was gorgeous. Hot and sunny but not too hot. Just beautiful.

On the agenda for today… Valley of the Kings and Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. We started with Valley of the Kings. A relatively brief drive up into the Theban hills… to the most desolate and dry place I’ve seen… outside of Saudi of course 😛

Then… We took a train up the hills into the center of the Valley of the Kings. Thankfully because it would have been such a long, hot walk up!!

The Valley of the Kings was a region where for a period of about 500 years, from the 16th to the 11th century BC, tombs were built for notable pharaoh’s and nobles. It sits on the West Bank of the Nile, opposite Thebes (the ancient name for the modern city of Luxor) in a large wadi (or valley).

image There are 63 known tombs in the valley, some belonging to famous kings and others belongs to nobles and some of the elite or highest members of the royal family. 15 of these tombs are open to the public. They begin as long shafts that head deep underground and terminate in elaborate burial chambers. The walls and ceilings of the shafts and burial chambers are covered with paintings and drawings or engravings of religious scenes and texts to guide the kings into the afterlife. At one point there were many treasures and riches buried in the tombs but those have long since disappeared.

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We visited several tombs… honestly can’t remember which. Probably a Ramses and King Tut I. Some of the tombs have large and noticeable entrances, but others are barely more than a little hole down in to the ground. Creeepy! (In the background of the picture above you can see a small dark square hole… that’s the entrance to one of the tombs we visited.)

Most of the ones we entered were quite large, with plenty of room to move about as you went down the shaft into the burial chamber. But I’d say they’re probably not good for a claustrophobe. The air is dense and heavy and warm… and it smells like ancient secrets and stories. Makes my imagination run wild.

The paintings and engraving are still brilliant with colour as very little light reaches down here so the colours haven’t been spoiled with time.

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Sarcophagus selfie anyone??

imageNext up, Queen Hetshepsut’s temple, technically known as the Mortuary Temple of Hetshepsut. Another very dry and dusty and hot and lifeless place.

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However, the difference here is that you could see life in the distance. The beautiful lush, green farmland surrounding the Nile River.

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Side note: check out google earth sometime when it is night in Egypt and all you will see is lights tracing the path of the Nile River from Southern Egypt to the North and Nile River Delta where the water empties into the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a brilliant illustration of how innhospitable the majority of Egypt is… and how hospitable the land surrounding the Nile River is… as it’s about the only place in Egypt where people actually live.

Anyways…

Queen Hetshepsut’s temple. A beautiful temple… with a backdrop of stunningly steep cliffs… a yellow/brown color against a brilliant blue sky. It is located on the west bank of the Nile River and dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra. It honors both Queen Hetsheptsut and the gods relevant to her afterlife.

In more recent history, it was the site of a massacre of 62 people, mostly tourists, in 1997 by terrorists.

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We walked up the many steps into the temple… saw more beautiful murals and paintings… some also still quite colorful despite the hundreds of years that have passed since some ancient Egyptian splashed colors in a stunning pattern on the walls of the temple…

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It didn’t take long though before we were so hot and dry and dusty that we were about to crumble and join the dusty ground here… so we left. Through this gate i think?

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Our guide convinced us to stop at an Alabaster shop… where we learned how they make alabaster pots in a traditional way… and then were encouraged to purchase something… which we didn’t do cuz what a waste of space in a suitcase! :S

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Anyways… we got back to the hotel, hot and tired and really just wanting a shower and wifi… only to find out that the water was still off and the wifi was still not working either!! ahhhh. It was a bit traumatizing… First world problems… I know. But I had flights to change as I was trying to go straight from Egypt to Bahrain instead of back to Riyadh.

So anyways… that was the last of our crammed tourism session in Egypt… early morning flight back in to Cairo and then on to our next destination… Sandyland for Amelia and hopefully Beachland for me!!!  😛

Moment of reflection:

Egypt. Momtaz!!! Seriously. It’s an amazing country to visit. Pretty sure that there is no where in the world with quite as rich of a history as Egypts.

If the pyramids are on your bucket list, definitely go one day soon and check them out. You will absolutely NOT regret it! Mind blowing. Really. It is worth every Egyptian pound which really is very little compared to American/Canadian dollars… or really almost any currency in the world.

And the whole trip was just incredible. All the history and the beautiful ancient buildings. The tombs where I swear you could feel the afterlife just breathing behind the walls… Definitely Cairo and Luxor are must see destinations.

Perhaps next time I’ll check out Alexandria and Sharm El-Sheik! Do the beachy Mediterranean thing… combined with a little history.

Anyways… hope you enjoyed seeing my pictures and descriptions of Egypt… there’s plenty more to come. As well as more on life in Saudi. (I’m technically at my 9month mark now… so I better seriously catch up on my blogging!! ooops…)

So. Masalaam for now!

xx

 

 

Luxor Loving

December 1, 2014 First day of December and we’re up super early and off to the Cairo airport to travel on to Luxor for a couple days. Cairo has been an incredible experience in so many ways (read below to hear more about it), but I’m excited to get out of the noisy congested town and go somewhere a bit quieter and smaller.

The flight to Luxor was barely an hour… definitely nicer than taking a bus or train the 700kms!! Tired and still half asleep, we were picked up by a driver from the hotel we had booked. It was the oddest car service I’d ever booked in my life… picked up in a sporty little black car with some type of noisy muffler and skulls on the roof and blue-ish lights in the car… it was like a little rave party car!! Lol.

We didn’t have a long drive, maybe 20minutes from the airport, and the driver really was nice. But, when the car first stopped beside a little pharmacy and in front of a little alley, we thought maybe the driver was just getting cigarettes. But no… he was dropping us off. We’re here he proudly announced. Amelia and I looked at each other in shock/surprise/dismay/fear?! Not exactly what we had pictured although for 28$ for 2 nights we shouldn’t have expected more!!

However, we were ushered down the alley to the entrance of the Nefertiti hotel and greeted by the friendliest people we’d encountered so far. The staff of the hotel were absolutely lovely and super accomodating. Our room was clean and neat although small and very simple. But that’s totally ok! The hotel arranged a tour guide for us and after a short nap, we went to go check out a couple of Luxor’s temples.

First stop, Karnak Temple. Honestly, I’d love to be able to tell you everything the guide told us that day because he was so knowledgeable. But, my sleep deprived brain was still feeling the cultural/historical overload, so all I can tell you is that this is probably my favorite historical site of the whole trip. The pyramids where amazing but I just loved all the columns in this temple. You could get lost just wandering through and around all the columns. I think the guide said there were at least 130 columns! All of them covered with hieroglyphics and ancient symbols and stories in a “secret” language that I don’t understand.

This temple is one of the largest open air ancient religious sites in the world… after Angkor Wat… built over a very lengthy period of time with at least 30 Pharaoh’s contributing to it’s building… which enabled it to reach such epic proportions.

We entered the main hall of the temple down a long path lined with sphinxes. The sphinxes actually go all the way from Karnak temple to Luxor temple which is a good km +. But most of the sphinxes are gone now as the city of Luxor was kind of built over top of a lot of them. Ooops. History fail.

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Near where we entered the temple, there was a giant statute of King Ramses I believe. Just guessing cuz he seems to be everywhere here. Apparently he was a big fan of creating things for posterity!

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So the temple actually has 134 columns arranged in 16 rows… most of them with a diameter of at least 3meters and 10 meters tall… they’re massive and gorgeous and just incredible!

imageimageimageimageThere were also beautiful paintings on the walls… some of the colors still so brilliant. You could even see the color on some of the columns and pillars too!

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There was also a statute of King Tut… with some chick…

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A giant hieroglyphic wall. Good luck reading that one. Let me know if you figure it out 😛

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A couple obliesks.

imageWe stopped briefly at what was once the original main entrance to the temple…

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And then this was a smaller exit that lead to the the city of the dead… Clearly not as many people wanted to go there. Obviously. 😛

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Found piles of bits and pieces of artifacts and such that they don’t have a home yet… But walking around through all that rubble gave us a pretty great view of the whole temple grounds. Its pretty huge. Seriously!

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Overall really this temple was just amazing!!!

After viewing Karnak temple, we quickly drove over to the next temple, Luxor temple… just a short drive away… The road once went directly from Karnak temple to Luxor temple and was lined with Sphinxes, but not anymore. Although there are still some areas of the road that exist with the sphinxes… It is not nearly so large as the Karnak temple complex, but it is equally as grand. I think anyways.

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One of the first things we saw at Luxor temple was a very large sculpture of Ramses II. This guy exists everywhere!!! Just his head here…

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Then we walked down a path lined with tall columns to a main square/court…

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We saw more sculptures/statutes of famous kings/queens…

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imageOver all it was pretty amazing as well. This temple specifically went through several different religions… it was a Christian area at one point… as in Christians hid out in the temple while they were being persecuted by some other religious group. There’s also a mosque built on top of another church in this temple also. So it definitely has some interesting religious history!

By the time we’d viewed all these temples, we were definitely history and culture overloaded so we went back to our hotel. Thought we’d wander around through the souq behind the hotel and find a place to eat.

We didn’t find a place to eat back there… everything looked even sketchier than the alley by our hotel. And we were constantly being harrassed by people trying to sell us stuff for ridiculous prices. “No hustle, no hustle” they’d say, but really, that’s exactly what they were trying to do! Hustle us!!! We did find a few beautiful scarfs though… and there were spice shops everywhere and shops selling hideously fascinating trinkets with very large male appendages… not sure what they were supposed to be or signify but they were odd!!!!

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Eventually we wandered back to our hotel as there was a restaurant right beside it. And it was definitely a brilliant decision! We had seriously some of the best food we’d had our entire trip. And for dirt cheap yet too. And fabulous service!!!

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We ordered mulukhiyah… a soup made from some green plant thats basically chopped up really fine with garlic and spices and such… quite delicious in small quantities!!

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And then I had the best mousakkah I’ve had in a very very long time. And the chef even came out and presented it to us with great flair! Clearly took pride in his work and wanted to make sure we were very happy and satisfied with the food! And we were! It was lovely!

And… that was the end of our first day in Luxor!

Tomorrow… heaps more touring about to be done and then we’re out of this country!

Nighto… more to come.