I’m on a Boat…in the Greek Isles

I had the luxury of spending a week on a yacht traveling around some of the Greek Islands. The boat is called Nimir and this is the link if you wish to know more about her. Nimir Yacht

I don’t have loads to say because there isn’t a whole lot to do on these islands. The week was very relaxing, we anchored in a secluded cove every morning and swam, relaxed and had our lunch on board. Then we would move to port and dock, freshen up, walk around town and find a restaurant for dinner.

We visited Kalymnos (known for its sea sponges,) Tilos, Rhodos, Simi and Kos. My culture for the week was the Colosseum at Rhodes and the remains of the temple of Aphrodite.

One photo in the montage will look a bit lame, it is a sailboat with a few guys on board, if you can zoom in, its a good giggle. We pulled into a cove one morning and as we moved alongside this sailboat, we realized that everyone on board was male, and naked! There were at least ten of them, probably closer to 15. They proceeded to swim around our boat and sunbathe on the shore. Which is a bit funnier than it sounds as it was a pebble beach and not smooth pebbles. It wasn’t terribly pleasant to sit on in bathing attire, we brought our shoes to shore to explore around. I can’t imagine sitting there with your boy bits dangling about. We all had a good giggle about them until they left.

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Not Sure why this photo landed in here alone, rather than in with the others, but, it was a really cool little garden on Rhodos, designed to look like a french wrapped bouquet, with the stems visible

 

Bodrum, Turkey

Bodrum doesn’t offer much other than the beach. And tons upon tons of designer knockoffs for sale. But, the beaches were pretty and we stayed at a beautiful resort so it was a nice, relaxing trip.

There are two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. There isn’t much left of either of them. I went to see the Mausoleum but because it doesn’t have much to see and it was far from where I stayed, I skipped the Temple of Artemis.

These two videos show a little of the party atmosphere that is standard at the beach club part of Nikki Beach, where we stayed. For the most part, I sat in the quiet area near the seaside and avoided the pool party. But occasionally it was fun to sit and people watch.

The below phots and video are the view from the balcony of my room. It was stunning!

Mykonos

Stunning! There is something really appealing about the barren hunk of rock, glittery turquoise water and white and blue architecture. But, I highly recommend coming here with a good friend or romantic partner because there isn’t much to do alone.

Mykonos offers beautiful beaches, good restaurants and a hopping nightlife. That is about it. Thank goodness I like to read and don’t really mind being alone.

The only things to go visit are the windmills (that takes about five minutes) (There are currently 16 windmills on Mykonos of which seven are positioned on the landmark hill in Chora. Most of them were built by the Venetians in the 16th century, but their construction continued into the early 20th century. They were primarily used to mill wheat. They were an important source of income for the inhabitants. Their use gradually declined until they ceased production in the middle of the 20th century. The architecture of each of them is similar, all have a round shape, white colour and a pointed roof and very small windows.)

and the island of Delos (Delos is a Greek island and archaeological site in the Aegean Sea’s Cyclades archipelago, near Mykonos. The mythological birthplace of Apollo, it was a major religious center and port during the 1st millennium B.C.)

I would have liked to explore Delos but the boats all left between 9-12 and I work from 9-12 and didn’t have a weekend day this trip. I did go kitesurfing one day and horseback riding another, which I enjoyed.

My mode of transport was a scooter (shh, don’t tell mom) and I did some scoot trips exploring the island. It’s not a very big island and there isn’t much to see inland. Of course, the beautiful coastline is jam packed with buildings and traffic. I enjoyed poking along and seeing the sights.

There are a ton of tiny churches (over 300) and, upon asking, I was told that, when the island initially got modern amenities such as electricity and water, the government would run those amenities to any church that was built. So, you see tons of tiny churches (barely even chapels, I’m talking capacity two people) with huge villas just behind them. But, they are pretty little buildings and I found myself enjoying spotting them.

Anyway, the architecture is typical of the Cyclades islands. They are simply constructed of natural materials and the flat roofs have lips around them for water collection.

As piracy was a problem in the Aegean when the islands were being inhabited, many of the houses were built high on the hillsides to have a good view of anyone arriving via boat. In addition, Mykonos Town, on the sea, is a maze of narrow, winding streets. This was to prevent easy access by pirates. It now serves to trap unsuspecting tourists in the over-priced shopping area!

Enjoy the beauty in the photos. I took way too many and had to edit down. Every time I turned around, I saw something more beautiful than the last thing I took a photo of.

I’ve always a had a fascination with pretty or interesting doors and windows. This is a good place to indulge that.

My goal each day was to seek out a non-tourist beach. I found many beautiful hidden coves such as this one.

The style above came into being on the island due to the conquering sultan’s (Turkish, if I remember correctly) of the time having a fondness for eating pigeon. Apparently pigeons roost in these. (My driver for the horse riding trip is a history teacher during the school year, he was a wealth of knowledge and told me a million things, I remember the one about the pigeons, go figure) It has become a common decorative style in the architecture here.

Back to Lebanon ❤️

I’m behind in my summer travel update. I went back to Lebanon for nine fabulous days! Saw some great friends and some new places.

The beauty of the country and the absolute commitment to having fun sucks me in every time. And shorts me desperately on sleep! I’m caught up now and currently on Mykonos, a stunningly gorgeous little island! Will try to post photos from here before I leave.

On the balcony of my friend’s grandfather’s house in Hammana. The view from here is fabulous and it’s a bit of a tradition to take a photo on the balcony.

The below three photos are from Harissa looking down onto Jounieh. The traffic is pretty from above…much less so when you are stuck in it!

Beirut went crazy when Germany won the match

The below photos are of عيون السمك (aiyoun al samak or eyes of the fish) it is a small village with a large waterfall. The trip up there was a long and the last stretch of road wasn’t in the best shape but it was pretty and had been on my list for a while.

The above photo and the following ones of food were taken at Hallab. I went with three friends to see the waterfall and we stopped at the original Hallab (yummiest Lebanese treats) restaurant on the way up and had lunch and sweets.

Below are photos of my friend’s uncles “house.” He built himself a castle in Lebanon, complete with suits of armor!

I got to spend an afternoon in the mountains in a Jeep, which is a favorite pastime. My friend’s brother in law owns the Jeep and he set me up on a few good rock climbs to see if I could do it. I think I surprised him! The reality is that the Jeep is geared low so it does the climbing on its own. You just have to steer and be confident enough to hold your course. We also did some shooting. I still suck at hitting clays but I managed to get a few of them. I’m in the wrong attire because I went up to their house for lunch…then ended up joining the boys in the mountains.

Ramadan Iftar

So we have entered the holy month of Ramadan here in the kingdom. It has high religious significance for Muslims but it means that most of the country goes into semi shutdown mode.

Anyway, one of the traditions here is iftar tents. They offer great loads of food and are usually a fun, social evening as everyone breaks their fast together. Last night I went to the Leylati tent as a guest of a good friend of mine. It was beautifully decorated and the amount and choices of food were mind boggling! And the sweets, my favorite part of any meal, were amazing!

This is the tamarindy guy. He is serving tamarind juice from that huge container on his back. He leans way forward to get it to pour out of a spout on the front.

Below is video of a guy preparing Arabic ice cream. It is ashta and is a cheese based type of ice cream. It has a delicious creamy flavor and often has pistachios on top. It is a really hard, frozen block that is made up of layers of the cheese. The guy beats it with the stick to flatten and separate the layers. Then he serves a layer into each bowl.

Above is the block of ice cream in the bottom of the frozen compartment.

Below is my take on fasting in this country. I have many acquaintances here who may not agree with my opinion on how it is done here. Feel free to not read it. It is an opinion, we don’t have to agree and I’m not interested in an argument around it. It is a unique event here in Saudi from the way it is done by Muslims in the rest of the world.

In Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to fast from sunup to sundown. In this country that means that all the food service places close down and many stores don’t open until after the evening prayer (at 10 pm.) As it’s a huge pain in the rear end to get food, and as I get invited to quite a few Iftars (the evening breaking of the fast meal) I decided to fast along side everyone else this year. In the past, I only fasted on days that I had an invite to an Iftar.

Tomorrow will be a week. It isn’t really all that difficult. The first few days were tough without water but at this point I’ve become acclimated to it. It’s an interesting experience to me because I chose to do this in an effort to empathize with the people doing it. From my perspective, when I was looking in, it seemed very challenging.

But, being on the inside of it, it’s really no where near as big a challenge as it is made out to be. The custom here is that people only work for limited hours, they sleep a LOT, they don’t work very well even when they go to work, the driving is aggressive and awful. Schools close down completely! Can you imagine? The British school is the only school holding onto academic rigor. The American school even shortens their school days by two hours and they moved some of the end of school year events weeks earlier (which isn’t best practice for the kids) because adults regularly say “it’s Ramadan, we will be fasting.” Forget trying to get any paperwork done at a government office, etc. so I thought that this would be a very challenging thing based on the way people act during this month and I wanted to be able to experience it from their perspective. I’ve found it to be not all that hard and I am working my full hours every day. So I’m not very empathetic! And still feel frustrated that I can’t get my errands done in a reasonable time of the day.

Long story, I haven’t yet sorted out why Ramadan makes things so difficult here. Which was the entire purpose behind my fasting. I’m planning to stick with it, for a while anyway, because I’ve started and I’m not a quitter.

Ramadan Kareem to my friends near and far. I hope this month brings you peace and enlightenment.

Jeddah Diving

I am loving diving. To think that I moved to Saudi and then got to learn to dive in the Red Sea! What a treat. There seem to be loads of clownfish here and I get such a kick out of them. They are not at all shy and actually seem to enjoy coming over to touch your hands or get a close up in your mask. Today my friend caught some silly photos of me goofing around with them.

Random SE Asia

I have photos and videos that I want to share that didn’t easily fit into the day to day posts without making them too long. So, this will be an array of slightly mismatched, both cultural and silly, photos and videos from the trip.

On our arrival day to Siam Reap, we took quads on a tour out of the city center to see the rural aspects of Siam Reap. I loved passing by the houses and people but we moved way too fast to take photos. So, I have a few photos and videos from out in a lotus paddy and not much else. But, it was an interesting evening. Disclaimer: the videos all appear to be sideways or upside down but they play correctly.

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This is one of the rural villages that we passed through. They were more like houses alongside the road, no formal village center. There were cows and water buffalo (above, used for harvesting rice) and many, many dogs. We saw children having baths in wash basins in the yards and people lounging in hammocks. I loved it.

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I found the lotus flowers to be particularly entrancing, not sure why, they aren’t terribly pretty, but something about them fascinated me. It was interesting to see how they are farmed, in wet paddies, similar to rice.

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Onto to some of the less cultural aspects of our trip…the next videos are of us tasting the snake wine ( it contained a cobra.) It was awful and the videos don’t offer much except our funny faces and reactions upon drinking it. Wikipedia says:

Snake wine (蛇酒, pinyin: shéjiǔ; rượu rắn in Vietnamese) is an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The drink was first recorded to have been consumed in China during the Western Zhou dynasty(ca. 1040–770 BC) and considered an important curative and believed to reinvigorate a person according to Traditional Chinese medicine.[2] It can be found in China, Goa (India), Vietnam, and throughout Southeast Asia.

The snakes, preferably venomous ones, are not usually preserved for their meat but to have their “essence” and snake venom dissolved in the liquor. The snake venom poses no threat to the drinker. It is denatured by the ethanol—its proteins are unfolded and therefore inactive—[citation needed] and would be denatured by stomach acid anyways.

I will testify that reinvigorated is not the correct word for the effects of snake wine! But gosh did we laugh that night! It was like being back in college, stupid and funny. At one point I say “this is how people die on SE Asia trips, they do dumb shit,” It is an accurate statement. Regardless, this is how we spent our Valentines evening.

In addition to the snake wine, my friend Mike tried the scorpion. I took a pass on this local treat and also opted to skip the snakes-on-sticks that this vendor was offering. I found it funny that she posted signs that you had to purchase a critter or pay a fee to take a photo. It leads me to believe that she made more money off of being a tourist trap than she did selling her wares to anyone as snacks.

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Back to a more cultural experience, these were dancers in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I found the music here much more appealing than the music in Thailand. This was peaceful and the instruments were interesting.

Last two photos. I have always gotten a kick out of cultural differences, especially the small things that don’t much matter. They catch my eye and make me giggle. These were two such things:

Ladies room sign in Thailand, above, and in Cambodia, below. Clearly recognizable as ladies rooms, but so different from the ones in the US and Saudi.

Tonlé Sap Lake

We visited the fisherman’s villages on Tonlé Sap lake yesterday. Tonlé Sap is:

Tonlé Sap (Khmer: ទន្លេសាប IPA: [tunleː saːp], literally large river (tonle); fresh, not salty (sap), commonly translated to ‘great lake’) refers to a seasonally inundated freshwater lake, the Tonlé Sap Lake and an attached river, the 120 km (75 mi) long Tonlé Sap River, that connects the lake to the Mekong River.[1

Due to it being the dry season, we weren’t able to see the houseboat villages but we were able to see the stilt systems that are erected under the houses along the banks each to raise them up enough to remain above the high water line. These houses are permanent whereas the houseboats come and go during the fishing season.

We took tour boats to see the villages and then arrived at a floating barge where we switched to smaller canoe type boats to take a tour through the mangrove forest.

Most of the large tour boats were operated by men whilst all of the smaller, single paddle canoe type boats had female paddlers.

The mangrove tour took us past many women selling snacks and drinks out of their canoes and ended at a floating restaurant where we climbed back aboard our tour boat to go watch the sunset. It amazes me how the villagers have established an entire tourist trap operation out on the water in tiny boats!

The lake is very muddy from the silty bottom, apparently it is this sediment that makes it great for fish. But, clean water is a problem for the villagers and many of them get sick from using it for drinking and washing dishes. Access to clean water is problem out there.

This first series of photos is of the mangrove forest tour.

Women brought their children along to work with themThis is the “dock” where we switched from the tour boat to the mangrove canoePanos and I on our canoeThis little girl was waving at us as we passed by her canoe. Her mother was selling drinks and snacks alongside the path we took through the mangrovesThis was the floating restaurant where we swapped back into out tour boat. These are some

Of the tour boat operators, taking a snackThese are the mangrove tour boats. We sat on the reed mats behind the women. Most of whom sat and paddled, which looked terrifically inefficient. A few of them kneeled, they paddled much better from that position. But, everyone managed to get their boats through the forest and there wasn’t any great rush for the whole thing so I guess efficiency didn’t really matter much.

Below are photos of the tour boats and the stilt houses. People wash clothes, dishes and themselves in this water, in addition, they toilet and fish in it. I am thankful for hot and cold running water in my life.

The boat engine is interesting. The steering mechanism consists of ropes on pulleys that connect to the propeller.Us on our tour boat. The bunch of bananas threw me off a bit as bananas on boats are superstitious bad luck in the US. Apparently they have something to do with the Chinese New Year holiday that is fast approaching.

These final photos are of the sun setting over the lake.

Angkor Temples

We spent yesterday at the Angkor temple complex in Siam Reap, Cambodia.

The word Angkor is derived from the Sanskritnagara (नगर), meaning “city”.[3] The Angkorian period began in AD 802, when the KhmerHindu monarch Jayavarman II declared himself a “universal monarch” and “god-king”, and lasted until the late 14th century, first falling under Ayutthayan suzerainty in 1351. A Khmer rebellion against Siamese authority resulted in the 1431 sacking of Angkor by Ayutthaya, causing its population to migrate south to Longvek.

The ruins of Angkor are located amid forests and farmland north of the Great Lake (Tonlé Sap) and south of the Kulen Hills, near modern-day Siem Reap city (13°24′N, 103°51′E), in Siem Reap Province. The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the Angkor Wat, said to be the world’s largest single religious monument. Many of the temples at Angkor have been restored, and together, they comprise the most significant site of Khmer architecture. Visitors approach two million annually, and the entire expanse, including Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom is collectively protected as a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site. The popularity of the site among tourists presents multiple challenges to the preservation of the ruins.

In 2007, an international team of researchers using satellite photographs and other modern techniques concluded that Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world, with an elaborate infrastructure system connecting an urban sprawl of at least 1,000 square kilometres (390 sq mi) to the well-known temples at its core.[4] Angkor is considered to be a “hydraulic city” because it had a complicated water management network, which was used for systematically stabilizing, storing, and dispersing water throughout the area.[5] This network is believed to have been used for irrigation in order to offset the unpredictable monsoon season and to also support the increasing population.[4] Although the size of its population remains a topic of research and debate, newly identified agricultural systems in the Angkor area may have supported up to one million people.[6]

We began the day very early to catch the sunrise at the Angkor Wat temple. This temple is the largest religious monument in the world.

Angkor Wat (Khmer: អង្គរវត្ត or “Capital Temple”) is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world,[1] on a site measuring 162.6 hectares (1,626,000 m2; 402 acres).[2] It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple of god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.[3] It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II[4] in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura (Khmer: យសោធរបុរៈ, present-day Angkor), the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia,[5] appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors.[6]

The size of Angkor Wat (the name means temple city) is incredible. There are stairs up to the top that are really steep, they have built wooden stairs, with a hand rail, over the old stone steps and even those are quite a climb. I can’t imagine going up and down the original steps, with no railing!

you can see the blocky steps to the left side, these were for the ladies of the time. Then the handrail was added and eventually, they have put wooden stairs over one of the flights of stone steps to aid access. a close up view of the stairs gives you an idea of how steep they are. This isn’t an odd angled photo, they truly go very close to vertical, it’s dauntingthese are one of the flights of stairs that I mentioned!People pray and light incense at the feet of these statutesThis is designed to look like the head of a cobraThis is the bridge over the most that was dug all the way around Angkor Wat.

Next we visited Ta Prohm, which you may recognize from the movie “Tomb Raider.” Apparently Angelina Jolie started in it and was filmed here. The interesting thing about Ta Prohm is that you can see the forest trying to reclaim the land. The trees are pushing right up through, and destroying, the temples.

see the smiling face from the temple, the tree is growing right around it.This photo is interesting because there was a carving of a Buddha on the wall here and it was defaced because the country switched around from Buddhism’s to Hinduism and then back a few times. The defacement of cultural art and antiquities in the name of religion saddens me. It is ignorance and intolerance in its highest form. The ancient city of Palmyra, currently being destroyed by Isis, is a heartbreaking example of the ignorance of modern day humans. Buddhist monks wander around the temples. Apparently Buddhism has significantly relaxed its strictures for monks. They used to have to give up ownership of all but 7 items. Now they currently all seem to carry smart phones. You can see this monk has his in his hand. My first photo caught him using it. It would make quite a striking ad for Samsung!

Last stop of the day was Angkor Thom or Bayon. The name means great city. It has detailed carvings showing life at the time. We were told that the culture of the time didn’t yet have an alphabet, which we found surprising as it was only about 1000 years ago. This was not an ancient civilization.

My friends playing some of the local instruments. They need a bit more practice!

The consummate tourist photo, rubbing noses with one of the smiling faces of Bayon!

Grand Palace

The Grand Palace was the official residence of the kings of Siam (Thailand.) The king, his court and the government were based there until 1925. It is still used for official events. I don’t have a lot to write but it was absolutely stunning to visit. I’m just going to post a ton of photos so you get a feel for the opulence of it. The sheer volume of mosaic covered surfaces is mind boggling. More info can be found here:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Palace

The following are the guards and the changing of the guards. Not the best photo and video quality, no photos were allowed so I had to take covert ones.

These last photos are of huge murals on the walls of the buildings. They are incredibly detailed and the gold paint pops against the rich colors. The art was very odd, monsters and orgies and lord only knows what else.