THE ARCTIC: our Polar Adventure

FullSizeRender

 

Our decision to visit the Svalbard Island and the Arctic Pole dates back a few years.   A destination which is not easy to reach, as many are the things to take into consideration before choosing the more suitable trip.  We did not want this to be a proper cruise, one of those cruises in large comfortable boats which offers you the maximum confort but, on the contrary, because of the size of the boat and the large number of passengers, does not take you in all those spots and angles a small ship would do.IMG_8095
For this reason, after a deep search, our choice went to a small Dutch vessel, the Rembrandt Van Rijn, able to accomodate 27 passengers and only 12 professional crew members.  The ideal boat for us for a sailing ship voyage, reaching numerous fjords, glaciers and visiting amazing places in remote areas.IMG_8101
We will sail along the west and northwest cost of Spitsbergen. We will maKe several different types of excursions (different for length, difficulty and duration), using the zodiacs to reach and land on the shores.IMG_7852
After long flights from our home country, we finally reached the Longyearbyen airport located in the Svalbard Island.  Longyearbyen, the capital city of Svalbard island is located the Isfyorden.  It’s a small village of about 2000 inhabitants, most of them dedicated to tourism activities and island administration.  The small airport  connects the island to Norway, the motherland.  There is no much traffic in the village, most people you meet are tourists who stop for a day or two before embarking or disembarking their cruises.
IMG_7216
Once upon a time the main activity was the coal mines and you can still see tracks of it in the mountain around the village and a statue of a miner in the village center in memory of the many men who worked and died doing this job.
SVA_4166
SVL_9987

Here some peculiar things you will find in Longyearbien:

IMG_7164SVL_4404

SVL_4781SVL_9935aSVL_9981aIMG_7203 2IMG_7185IMG_7165

The day after our arrival in the village, at 4pm we were at Bykaia Port where our ship the Rembrandt Van Rijn was waiting for us to board and start our Polar adventure.  SVA_3649  We were welcome by the captain and all the crew and met those who were going to be our guides, Jordi and Adam,  for the whole period as well as all the other 27 passengers coming from different world countries. After the “Safety and sea” briefing and “Abandon Ship” demonstration we were ready to sail.IMG_7208IMG_8094 2IMG_7205
The first night  was a  very rough sailing night, nevertheless early in the morning we are all up, ready for our breakfast in the small dining room.
After the mandatory briefings on several topics we are ready for our first excursion with the zodiacs, but first comes the dressing ritual which takes quite a long time:  heavy  jumpers, warm trousers, boots, parkas, gloves, wool caps, sunglasses and last but not least the safety vest.  This is how we had to be ready and queue for embarking our zodiacs and leave for the three or four hours excursions:  twice a day morning and afternoon!!!SVL_6416
There are strict regulations to observe living in the boat.  One of these is showing your presence on the boat: hanged on wall close to the zodiacs exit there is a billboard with all passengers name and a magnet closed to each name.  When you go out on excursion you move your magnet in the “Out” space, when you return and enter the boat you have to move the same magnet in the “In” space.  If you forget doing this operation and go straight to your cabin….. your name will be called with loudspeaker to check your presence on boat and asked to rush and move the magnet!!!!!IMG_8211IMG_8015 2
POLAR DAY:    full daylight all around the clock is a new great experience for us, used to our day and night life.  It seems strange but being daylight for the 24 hours seems your daily activities never end and you are spurred to continue on your work.  Morpheus never comes to you!!!  This happens of course from March to October, when you have the total day with no light till the next month of March.  Then it comes the opposite, always nighttime, all day long!IMG_8102IMG_8143
IMG_8131THE GLACIERS:  we had the opportunity to visit and see closely many glaciers, such as the Murraybreen Glacier of great scenic beauty and located at the eastern side of Prince Charles Island;   the Horusund Glacier, considered to be the largest one; the Smeerenbugbreen  located in the same fjord in the NW corner;  the Gullybreen glacier in the Magdalena fjord; the 14th of July glacier, name that pays homage to the French National Day and located in the Krossfjord.FullSizeRenderIMG_8022
THE ANIMALS:  Many are the animals you  come across during this trip.  Apart from the Polar Bear, which deserves a special top place in the list, we saw the beautiful reindeer and my mind went immediately to Father Christmas and his sleigh and asking to myself:  “which one  of the 9 reindeers will be that one?  maybe Dasher or Vixen or Rudolph???    We also see seals, walrus,  foxes and many many birds of all species, some of them never seen before as they are endemic in the region_N8V5566-Edit.IMG_8096IMG_8126IMG_8128IMG_8147 2IMG_8136IMG_8097IMG_8137
HIS MAJESTY THE POLAR BEAR:   The view of a female polar bear and her cub creates excitement on the ship.  It’s 2 o’clock at night, we are all sleeping in our cabins when Jordi, our guide, gives the announcement on the loudspeaker:  “Polar bear in the mountain left to our ship…..  please come on the deck”  In less then a minute we are all ready, dressed up someway, with our pajamas under the trousers and parkas ready with our binoculars to see the “scope of our cruise”. IMG_8100    Meanwhile the crew prepare and launch the zodiacs so that we can board and go closer to these lovely creatures.  We stopped sometime to admire them, shoot as many photos as possible.  After a while the female and her baby decide to jump in the cold water, probably searching for something to eat for breakfast!!!   What a lovely experience, we went back to our boat and our cabin but we could not go back to sleep because excited to see and share the photos we took of this lovely white creature!!!IMG_8099IMG_7847

 

NY ALESUND:  it’s a cloudy raining afternoon when we disembark in Ny Alesund  a small village in Kongsfjord, one of the most important places for the exploration of the North Pole.  What is now an international research base, started as a coal mine settlement till 1962 when a serious mining accident happened in the mine killing many workers.  From that came the decision to close definitely the mining activity.    One main road leads you from the small port to the village and from the village square you can reach the 1926-28 airship mast used during the Norge/Italian airship expedition to fly over the North Pole.SQL_4838SVA_3889IMG_8138IMG_8072SVA_3918IMG_8140
THE ICE CATEGORIES:  Sea Ice and Icebergs    Ice comes into many forms and shapes.  Could be Glaciers, Icebergs, Pack ice or Multi year ice.   The DRIFT ICE  is so called when sea water freezes forming the polar ice cap; it ‘s a floating platform and not anchored which roams floating following the sea currents.   FAST ICE  is the ice anchored to the coast or in small lakes or bay.  It does not move but melts and forms again in the same place.  In the Arctic region you can find all these kind of situations.SVA_3032_N8V6473-EditSVA_3059IMG_7964IMG_7955IMG_7945IMG_7953

This Arctic Polar trip is,  together with the Antarctic Expedition, the most interesting experiences I had in my life.  Similar as tours but completely different in landscapes, nature, animals.IMG_7989IMG_8006 2IMG_7970IMG_7927IMG_8013FullSizeRender 2

I close my article with a  quote of  Jean Baptiste Charcot :

“Where does the strange attraction of the polar region lie, so powerful, so gripping that on one’s return from them one forgets all weariness of body and soul and dreams only of going back?  Where does the extraordinary charm of these deserted and terrifying regions lie?  “

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malaysia : Truly Asia!! Selamat Datang!

IMG_6145When you talk about Malaysia, you think of Kuala Lumpur and when you think of Kuala Lumpur soon the  Petronas Twin Towers come to your mind.IMG_5937

Malaysia is an amazing country to discover with prehistoric rainforests and a melting pot of cultures.  Consisting of two regions separated by the South China sea: Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia located in the north part of Borneo. Malaysia is a multi ethnic, multi religions federation of 13 states and 3 federal territories.FullSizeRender

Kuala Lumpur, also known by locals as KL,  is the capital of Malaysia, with boasting gleaming skyscrapers, colonial architecture and many natural attractions.  It is divided into numerous districts, but the main one is the Golden Triangle.   KL  main attraction is of course the Petronas  Twin  Towers, but also the Batu Caves, Sultan Abdul Samed Building and the National Monument are worthwhile visiting.   And for the shopaholics a must visit are the Pavillion and Suria KLCC shopping malls.FullSizeRender (5)IMG_6503

The Petronas Twin Towers,  called in local language “Menara Petronas” are located in KL city center, they  are 452 mt. high and considered the tallest twin towers in the world.  The 88 storey chrome and steel towers are joined at the 41st and 42nd floors (175 mt above street level) by a 58 mt long double decker sky bridge.IMG_5935IMG_6536

A view from above:  Set on level 86 there is the Petronas observation desk where you can get a close up view of the tower’s spire as well as an exhibit of the tower’s history.FullSizeRender (4)

From the double deck skybridge you can enjoy amazing views of the city.IMG_6523

Just outside the Petronas there is a beautiful park ideal for jogging, walking paths and water fountains and relax before having a drink or dinner in one of many restaurants in the area.FullSizeRender

The Batu Caves are located 11 km. north of Kuala Lumpur.  Is a 400 million year old limestone hill best known as the place of the annual Hindu festival of Thaipusam.  The celebrations, which take place at the end of January, attract thousand of visitors who come to see the colorful spectacle of devotees, making it one of the largest gatherings in the world.FullSizeRender (3)FullSizeRenderIMG_6699

Sultan Abdul Samad Building  is one of the city’s most important tourist attractions and also an historical landmark in the city.  The Building, once the Secretariat for the Colonial British Administration, features strong gothic, western and moorish style influences with imposing porch, arches and colonnades.  Nowadays home to several Ministry Offices and used as location for Annual Independence Day parade.IMG_6755

But if you are tired of the city and  looking for a jungle escape, get on a car and drive to  the Taman Negara National Park (originally named King George V National Park) which is considered the oldest rainforest in the world estimated to be 1300 years. The abundance and diversity of nature is phenomenal being one of world most rich ecosystems.IMG_6793

Located at 4 hours drive from Kuala Lumpur plus 3 hours boat,  Taman Negara is the best place to have a natural forest experience.  There are many activities to do in the park, such as: day and/or night walking excursions under guide accompaniment, fishing, river cruises, rafting and canopy walks in 510 mt long suspension bridges between tree tops, where you can enjoy spectacular views at 45 mt. height.FullSizeRenderIMG_6812FullSizeRender (2)IMG_6808

The SABAH region is located in the Borneo Island, bordering with Sarawak, it is known also as “the land below the wind”.  It’s landscape is a mix of thick jungle, sun-kissed lands, towering mountains and undulating valleys.   It’s capital city, Kota Kinabalu, is a friendly city and offers a variety of places to visit.  Among those, the Mount Kinabalu National Park.  Mount Kinabalu is considered the highest peak in South East Asia, 4,095 mt.   The Park itself  offers nice trekkings for the  nature and bird watching lovers.

In the heart of Batang Ali Lake, in the SARAWAK region, we pay visit to the IBAN people, a community known for being headhunters in past times.  The IBAN is the largest tribe in Sarawak.  We are invited in their longhouse which is located along the lake.  In fact, many factors are taken into consideration when choosing a site where to build a longhouse: water, farmland, transportation and jungle resources.IMG_7097IMG_7098

Longhouses are traditional dwellings to almost 150 people and may contain thirty family rooms. The RUAI is the long covered gallery that runs the length of a longhouse and is the place where family members gather to do some works or simply to have a chat together outside their private rooms.IMG_7099

The TUAI RUMAH is the head of the longhouse. We are introduced to him as soon as we enter the longhouse and we are offered with a traditional drink called Tuak, a sort of alcoholic drink made from rice.FullSizeRender (1)

FullSizeRender

We gave him our gifts (biscuits and dried food) which were later distributed to each family member living in the longhouse.  In return, they danced for us  traditional welcome dances  in their local costumes and we were asked to join the dance.

IMG_7124

Our local Guide, together with IBAN ladies, cooked lunch for us using one of the family’s fire.  We had roast chicken, rice and vegetable, fruits and tea to end our meal.  We all sit in the kitchen floor together with other family members and enjoyed our food very  much.IMG_7103

The Semenggok – Orang Utan   wildlife Center is the biggest rehabilitation center in Sarawak  to host wild injured Orang Utan or any adult or adolescent who need particular care.  Currently there are about 25 Orang Utans living in the forest within the nature reserve and they return to the Center at the feeding time.  This is the best opportunity to see them close, hanging and swinging on tree branches, mums and babies playing while eating their food.  Semenggok  has now become also a center for the study of Orang Utan (literally: “person of the forest”) biology and behaviour.

MALAYSIA:  a country of fascinating contrasts, worthwhile visiting,  in one word: Astonishing !!!

IMG_5939

I want to close quoting these words of a famous past times traveller Ibn Battuta:

“TRAVELING – IT LEAVES YOU SPEECHLESS, THEN TURNS YOU INTO A STORYTELLER”

SAMA-SAMA: Welcome to Brunei Darussalam (the Residence of Peace)

14725759_10205396582392554_5434902195127736925_nfullsizerender-4

The small state of BRUNEI, enclave within its neighboring larger state of Malaysia, owes its fortune thanks to natural gas and petroleum resources.  Brunei is a peaceful Sultanate with a long history steeped in culture;  it’s a nature paradise with more than 70% of the country covered by tropical forest.

It gained independence only in 1984 but has the wolrd’s oldest reigning monarchy. The Sultan of Brunei comes from a family line that dates back over 600 years.

image

Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan, is considered to be one of the richest men in the world.  He is in power since 1967.  He rules under a national philosophy known as Malay Islamic Monarchy which promotes Islamic traditions and values and loyalty to the Sultan.

Once a year, and for just 3 days, at the end of the month of Ramadan, the 29th Sultan opens the doors of his fabulous palace  and, together with his family, he welcomes visitors to exchange ritual greetings.  The Royal Palace,  ISTANA NURUL IMAN (“Light of Faith”) is located in the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan, it has 1788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, and a surrounding park area of 200.000 sq.mt.  It is considered to be  the largest royal palace in the world. The Palace was designed and created by Filipino designers and constructers in 1984.img_7378fullsizerender-1fullsizerender

The capital city is a rather small modern city with many new grey cement buildings, constructions which are the result of the  Japanese invasion and consequent city bombing.  Nevertheless,  it has many interesting sites which are worthwhile visiting.

First of all the two Mosques:

OMAR ALI SAIFFUDIN:  built in 1958 and named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, it’s considered as one of the most impressive mosques in South Asia.  It’s located in the very heart of the capital city, surrounded by a peaceful lagoon where a replica of the royal barge reposes.fullsizerender14947826_10205444358426925_5311396984436123108_n

14915711_10205444363467051_1738309766971576250_n

 and  JAME ASR HASSANAL BOLKIAH:  built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of current Sultan reign.  Because the Sultan is his dynasty’s 29th ruler, the mosque is adorned with 29 golden domes. Surrounded by nice fountains and gardens which leads you to the main entrance.14705786_10205444363787059_2970723834250128594_n14925732_10205444364387074_5542982706395289627_n14947937_10205444364147068_1013592599772681753_nimg_7374brunei-900x600

The Water Village (Kampong Ayer):  situated along the Brunei river, it’s a settlement area built on water and equipped with all modern facilities such as schools shops, mosque, clinic, police station, fire brigade, etc.  It is considered that almost 30.000 people are living the village.   The mode of transportation between the village is by water taxi or locally known as Perahn Tambang.   The Italian explorer Pigafetta, who visited it in the 16th century, has called it “The Venice of the East”.fullsizerender-3fullsizerender-1fullsizerender-5fullsizerender-2

Two hours from the capital city there is Temburong National Park: to reach the park you need to get a 40 minutes water jetty, then a car ride for 18 km and again a 30 minutes ride on a traditional longboat.15056343_10205509726981098_7959063644200868759_n

Temburong National Park is protected and preserved for scientific research and offers a rare chance to experience an incredible diversity of flora and fauna found in a virgin rainforest.14523251_10205403550606755_1696446734256681652_n

But to reach the canopy walk from the longboat banks it’s not that easy. An hard long, steep walkway in very humid, slippery conditions no matter the hour you start it.  At first sight the metal cage canopy appears to be as a scaffolding but the more you climb it, the more you are rewarded by the spectacular view around you which pushes you to go up and up and reach the highest peak 90 mt. high. 15094449_10205509727661115_7449266077191228546_n

Looking down the canopy it’s easy to believe you are standing at the top of the world.  Around you there is nothing but the vast rainforest spreading out in every direction.img_7315

img_4114

 

BRUNEI, on the whole, is a pleasant small country to visit.  I found it very different than I expected.  Because of its wealth and richness, I was picturing a country with luxurious and glittering buildings where you could feel and notices the country’s wealth in every angle.  Anyway, I found the  trip experience enriching and I much appreciated  the kindness and hospitality of its people.

SELAMAT TINGGAL!

fullsizerender

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madeira: the “Pearl of the Atlantic”

IMG_5796The Island of Madeira (the Wood Island) is situated geographically nearer to Africa than to Europe.  In fact it is only 500 km. from Moroccan coast and 900 km. from the Portuguese motherland.

The 270.000 inhabitants live in a surface of 741 sq. km. and almost half of them in the capital area: Funchal.FullSizeRender 6IMG_6232

Madeira is a verdant oasis in the Atlantic, an efflorescent green island privileged by a very mild climate.  For this Madeira has been included in the UNESCO list of World Natural Heritage since 1999.

It has an extensive network of paths the “levadas” (walking trails) ranging from different grades:  Easy  –  Moderate  –  Difficult   depending on your ability and strength.  They much differ one from another and without too much change in elevation you can easily discover some of the remotest corners of Madeira.   Walking in Madeira is ideal all year around.  Summer months are not all that hot and winter months are mild.  The Miradouros offer you spectacular stunning views!!!IMG_6003

One of Madeira tourist attraction is its diverse vegetation.  About 140 of the roughly 760 plants species growing wild on the island are endemic, means they grow only in Madeira and nowhere else in the worlIMG_5896d.IMG_6031
IMG_6293

One of these is the so called “Pride of Madeira”, a type of Echium that produces a lovely candle-like blossom mauve-blu color.FullSizeRender

Madeira owes its reputation as the floating garden;  much ornamental flora has been introduced from around the world.  Plants like Lilly of the Nile, Buganvillea, Hibiscus, Birds of Paradise, grow all along the roads.  The latter also called “Parrot flower” has become the botanical symbol of Madeira.IMG_5790

Funchal is the Capital, a city 500 year old, nestled in a great natural amphitheater facing the Atlantic.  Funchal is a city of flowers, lively and festive.FullSizeRender 3IMG_6342FullSizeRender 5IMG_6320IMG_6269FullSizeRender 9

It was founded by Zarco, one of the discoverers of Madeira in a place where it grew abundant the wild fennel, called “Funcho” in Portuguese language, hence its name FUNCHAL.

Typical are the old area of Funchal, most popular and lively, a maze of narrow cobbled streets animated by typical restaurants, shops and old houses with beautiful painted dooIMG_6354rIMG_6218s.IMG_5936FullSizeRender 2

The “Mercado dos Lavradores” (workers market) lively with its colorful stalls of fruit and flowers, attracts many tourisFullSizeRender 7ts.IMG_5941

Don’t miss a visit to the Monte.  A trip by cable car, an ultra scenic tour, until you reach the location situated at 600 mt. above sea level, in the back of Funchal.IMG_6345IMG_5092

Nossa Senhora do Monte, the patron saint of Madeira, is a place of pilgrimage for the inhabitants of Funchal, and the statue of the Vergin, which dates back to 400, is subject of great devotion.FullSizeRender 2

If the cable car to Monte was much exciting, no less it will be a second cable car that connects Monte to the Botanical Garden with a scenic route of 9 minutes over Funchal bay and the verdant Vale do Ribeira.IMG_5908

The Botanical Garden, besides having a beautiful view over the city, has an exceptional variety of plants and flowers from all around the world, arranged in terraces with impressive geometric designs.IMG_5910

But the Island of Madeira needs to be explored as every corner offers surprises and emotions.  There are many beautiful costal villages with their beaches, ports, fishermen and everyday life.  There are many holiday amenities where you can stop for days, good restaurants for lunch or snacks or for just a cup of coffee.IMG_6088FullSizeRender 3FullSizeRender 4IMG_5749IMG_5811FullSizeRender 6FullSizeRender

We were attracted by Machico, a pleasant small village, 16 km. from Funchal, and here we choose a lovely hotel sea view for our 10 days wander around the island.IMG_6152

Machico owes its name to a legend (or probably reality).  It is said that in the middle of year 300 a strong storm forced an English vessel to land on these shores. On board were two young lovers, Robert Machim and Anne d’Arset, who escaped from Bristol to get married.  But the two lovers died shipwrecked.  Their fellow sailors bury them there and soon left the island. But while on sail they are captured by pirates and taken to Morocco. Under torture they recount their adventure and the news of this mysterious island reaches the ears of Henry the Navigator who immediately prepares an expedition to find it. When he arrives and lands in Madeira he finds, under a cedar tree, the tomb and the cross with the names of the two lovers.  He then decides to name this place Machim (as the  he-lover English name), then changed to Machico.FullSizeRender 4IMG_5755

Madeira is an island which has much to offer, under many aspects: the cultural aspect, nature and botanical aspect, beaches where to relax  and enjoy many  sea sport activities. good food and …. why not the Madeira wine!   But my last thought and appreciation goes to the Madeira inhabitants: gentle, friendly and much hospitable!IMG_6334

 

 

Beauty has an address: Oman

AHLAN WA SAHLAN to Oman, a country of breathtaking natural beautysultano-oman_qaboos-bid-said

Oman is a land of rich history and fascinating culture that dates back well over 5000 years.  Modern omani culture still carries many of the traditions of bygone eras. That’s why Oman is often referred as “true Arabia” because its ancient culture has been so preserved.

Souqs are still selling silver and frankincense, cattle and pottery, arms and weapons, in same way as many years back.FullSizeRender 3FullSizeRender 6IMG_4956FullSizeRender 13

CURIOSITY:  Featured on both the national flag and the one rial note, the Khanjar, the curved silver dagger, is the nation’s most iconic emblem.imgres

Omani people are considered for being among the world’s most hospitable: a traditional Welcome in the omani house is a strong hot coffee always served with dates and remember…… one cup is not enough…. you must accept at least 3 cups!!!

CURIOSITY:  Coffee drinking is part of everyday life in Oman.  More spicy than the western blend, this drink is a sign of hospitality, generosity and is always offered to guests.  You will find it in all hotels’s halls served in typical Dallahs (coffee pots) together with dates.bedouin

Oman spectacular land and seascapes offer many opportunities for adventures in mountains and deserts, canyoning, climbing, dune bashing or mountain biking.IMG_4615FullSizeRender 5FullSizeRender 2

Muscat   is Oman’s capital city, described as “Arabia’s jewel”. The city has retained its old-world character with many forts,  castles, mosques and towers doting the landscape. IMG_4411Among them a must to visit:

the MUSCAT GRAND MOSQUE:IMG_4313

quietly imposing from the outside, this piece of modern islamic architecture was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30th year of reign.  The mosque, with its second-large hand loomed Iranian carpet  in the world, can accomodate 20.000 worshippers.IMG_4315

the SULTAN Palace:FullSizeRender

a very modest palace, surrounded by beautiful flower gardens,  was built over the site of former British Embassy. The palace today is largely used for ceremonial purposes as Sultan Qaboos prefers as his residence a quieter seaside residence.IMG_4474

the MUTRAH Souq:IMG_4379

Located along the CornicheFullSizeRender 12

is a must visit when in Muscat. The Souq is like all traditional Arab markets where you can buy almost everything from antiques to textile, hardware and gold.  An experience not to be missed although you have nothing to buy.

In the afternoon you can enjoy a cruise on a dhow from the Yatch Club passing by the Old Muscat Port to Al-Alam palace located between the two portuguese forts of Mirani and Jalali.  Make a stop and wait for a spectacular sunset.FullSizeRender

CURIOSITY:  As described by a great Arab navigator Ahmed bin Majid-al-Majid

“MUSCAT IS A PORT THE LIKE OF WHICH CANNOT BE FOUND IN THE WHOLE WORLD WHERE THERE IS BUSINESS AND GOOD THINGS THAT CANNOT BE FOUND ELSEWHERE

Drive towards south Oman,  crossing the spectacular Wadi Shab, to reach the town of Sur, an old Port on the Indian Ocean.  A quiet seacoast town famous for its Dhows shipyards and presumed home of the legendary Sinbad the Sailor.IMG_4644IMG_4576
FullSizeRender

A long drive thru Wadi Bani Khalid, a spectacular wadi  for its natural beauty,  takes us to Wahiba Sands a large sand stretch with dunes 100-150 mt high in the shades of color from orange to amber. Enjoy the dune bashing experience with a good skilled driver or, if you prefer, take a camel ride more safe but less emotional. Get up early the next morning and out from you tent you can assist to the stunning sunrise on the desert dunes.FullSizeRender 4IMG_4694FullSizeRender 5

NIZWA also called “Pearl of Islam”:  is Oman’s most historic town. This verdant oasis city, it was Oman’s capital during 6th and 7th century. Nizwa Fort, completed in 1650, was the seat of power during the rule of Al YaRuba dynasty. It’s famous also for its 40m tall round tower which is worthwhile climbing to have a fantastic view of date plantations around the town and the Hajar Mountains.IMG_4878FullSizeRender 3FullSizeRender 4

IMG_4970Long  drives are never boring in Oman especially if you go  thru the spectacular deep Wadi Ghul  (better known as Grand Canyon of Arabia) lying alongside, to reach Oman’s highest mountain: JEBEL SHAMS  (literally SUN MOUNTAIN) peak at 3075mt.  It’s chilly up there but you will be so busy taking  photographs to the panorama around you that you’ll soon warm up.IMG_5056FullSizeRender 7FullSizeRender 6

Two hours flight from Muscat and you reach Salalah, the capital city of the Dhofar region in south Oman.   Salalah , nestled in the middle of a plain between the mountains and the Indian Ocean, is full of myths and legends that date back to biblical times. From the tomb of prophet Ayoub on Jebel Qara, to the ruins of the palace reputed to be that of the queen of Sheba.   And also in the countryside on the flanks of the jebels grow the Boswellia sacra a tree from which you can obtain the frankincense, best known to Christians as one of the presents to Baby Jesus by the Magi in the Nativity story.

Salalah is also second preferred residence of Sultan Qaboos, infact Salalah is his mother ‘s home town.IMG_5153FullSizeRender 8

The Frankincense Museum of Salalah is considered one of the country’s most important historical museums, a Unesco World Heritage site recognized for its cultural and archeological importance.IMG_5137

CURIOSITY:   while talking about Frankincense, let’s spend a word about the MAJMAR: Omani incense burner.  Ornately carved, used primarily for burning frankincense, a majmar is also used when a final round of coffee has been served and wafted around  guests’ body to signal that it’s time for them to say goodbye!!!!  A nice polite way to say “we have enough of you for today”!!!!FullSizeRender 2

 

But in Salalah you can also take a break and relax in the beautiful beach resorts on the idyllic shores of the Arabian sea on white sandy beaches.   Comfortably sit on a beach chair you will hear the gentle lap of the ocean in the warm afternoon breeze sipping a fresh drink.

FullSizeRender 11

IMG_5112IMG_5267

 

I left the country with a “luggage” full of beautiful images, emotions, anecdotes and memories, but also with the aromatic wafts of frankincense smoke which pervaded every corner of the country from the traditional souqs to modern hotels.

MASALAAMA OMAN!!!

FullSizeRender 10

FullSizeRender 9

FullSizeRender 7

 

 

 

 

 

Abu Dhabi “Father of the gazelle”

Marhaba to Abu Dhabi!!!!!

Welcome to Abu Dhabi, a city where 1000s of years of unique Arabian culture and traditions combine with modern city life.  An exciting city, cultural as well as political capital of United Arab Emirates.

A fast growing city emerging from the shadow of Dubai, its glamorous northern neighbour.IMG_5445FullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

In just 50 years Abu Dhabi has been transformed from little empty desert inhabited by nomadic tribes into a large city, which remains strongly attached to its culture and roots.FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

Distinguished by a skyline of ultra modern high-rises, the city of Abu Dhabi sits on a T-shaped island, with nearly 200 islands dotted along its coast.

Abu Dhabi offers fantastic leisure activities: from city tours, desert safaris, sporting activities. You can  take a trip to AD Ferrari world , where you can experience the Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster reaching speeds of 240 kmph.  Or you can  immerse yourself in the exhilarating Arabian -themed futuristic Yas waterworld: a  waterpark offering 43 thrill-a-minute rides, slides and attractions.IMG_5390IMG_5401

A MUST visit it to Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the world’s largest mosques with a capacity for 41.000 worshippers.  It has 82 domes, more than 1000 columns, 24 carat gold chandeliers and the world’s largest knotted carpet.   Reflective pools surround the mosque.  The white and gold colours shining in the sun are transformed at night by a unique lighting system which reflects the phases of the moon.IMG_5362IMG_5384FullSizeRenderIMG_5368IMG_5348IMG_5353

Falconry is an ancient art in the Arabic world which dates back in the 7th century.  It is estimated that nearly 2000 falcons are employed on the Arabian Peninsula each year.

Why not visiting then the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital which is located not far from Abu Dhabi international airport. Guided tours, which last nearly 2 hours, include a visit to the falcon museum, the examination room, you can watch a bird having pedicure by the hospital doctors and if you are brave enough, you can hold in your arm these well trained raptors.  An experience you will never forget.IMG_5496IMG_5597FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

You can also enjoy money spending in the many huge shopping malls spread around the city, and, if you cannot afford a stay, you can enjoy a coffee comfortably sitting at the coffee shop of the luxurious Emirates Palace Hotel.IMG_5431IMG_5435IMG_5433IMG_5443

All this and much more you will experience in this fantastic city.

IMG_4633FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ETHIOPIA- Lalibela, the Ethiopian Jerusalem – Timkat celebrations

Ethiopia is a fascinating country in the Horn of Africa. Its culture and traditions date back over 3000 years, with over 80 different ethnic groups with their own language, culture and traditions.
foto 5
The long history assures that there are many historic sites in this country.  In fact historians believe that Ethiopia may well be the beginning of mankind. The fossils of the oldest living mankind “Lucy” was discovered in Ethiopia.  The rest of it can be seen at Adis Ababa National museum.
 CGF_6740
The natural beauty, with high mountains, lakes, water falls as well as arid deserts are among the attractions of Ethopia.foto 2foto 12foto
 
 
 
In addition  Ethiopia offers to its visitors its unchanged traditions.
 
Lalibela, also known as the Jerusalem of Ethiopia, is a village in the mountains and offers its visitors  its monolithic churches carved from a single block and isolated by a deep trench, worked from the outside and perforated for doors, windows, arches and columns;  they represent a unique monument in the world.CGF_6898CGF_6901
During the coptic festivities, Lalibela becomes a place of pilgrimage for all the people of Abyssinia, a set of colors, dances, processions and prayer moments.CGF_7017
 
TIMKAT which means Epiphany in Amharic language, it is the most important and colorful event of the year. it falls every year around mid January and commemorates Jesus Christ’s baptism in River Jordan.CGF_7111
It’s a two day religious ceremony that begins early afternoon in the Timkat eve with the procession of the “tabots”  the holy replicas of the Ark of the Covenant – the sacred chests described in the Book of Exodus as carrying the stone tablets on which the 10 commandments were written.
They are wrapped in luxurious cloths and placed on the head of a priest to be carried out of church in procession with the clergy to the nearby body of water.CGF_7046
Accompanying the procession are thousands of church members and believers chanting, dancing, drum-beating.  As evening falls, the priest and the pious believers participate in overnight vigil around the Ark until dawn.  CGF_7079
Early in the morning at the pre-sun rise celebrations starts:  huge crowds, dressed with their “shamma”, white cotton dresses and small lCGF_6960bisittle candles in their hand gather around the water.  After, the chief priest blesses the water and celebration reaches its climax.fotofoto-1CGF_7048
 
These ceremonial processions take place in every city and village of Ethopia.  Timkat is one of the few opportunities for ethiopians to be close to the Tabot which is considered to be the most sacred item in Ethiopian Orthodox Church.CGF_7054
The festival ends the third day which is dedicated to Archangel Gabriel.  With parades, no less magnificent than the previous two days, the Arks are carried back to their respective churches.CGF_6709foto 6
 foto 9
 CGF_7455