Wadi Shab – Tiwi, Oman

The term, wadi, is thrown around a lot in the Middle East, and it does not take long to figure out that it just means canyon. There are thousands of wadis all over the Middle East, and if you find the better ones, you will discover an amazing hike that will take you to some really cool places. One of the better ones, called Wadi Shab, is located outside of the small town of Tiwi in Oman.

It is located right off of the highway, and there are plenty of signs that will point you the right direction. The hike is absolutely beautiful, and there are dramatic views of mountains on either side of the path, but this is not the reason to make it out this way.

A river helped to carve out this valley, and as you hike through the canyon, it is always on either side of you. Sometimes it is nothing more than a stream; whereas at other points along the way, you will find that you can jump off cliff faces into deep pools, or just go out wading into the cool water that is so refreshing on a hot, desert day.

At the very end of the canyon, you do have to take off your hiking boots, and dip in the water if you wish to make it the whole way. There is a cave at the end that boasts about an underground waterfall, and this is the final destination of many of the people who make it out this way. It is an amazing sight, but it is also fun to swim in the water, and let the tiny fish pick off the dead skin from your legs. If you do make it out this far, I would recommend that you bring with you some water shoes because there are a lot of rocks that you will walk on, and bring a snack as well because it takes a good hour to make it out to this pond. You will also probably spend an hour or two at the pond itself, so the whole day will take about four hours total.

I also recommend getting there early in the day. It is a couple hours drive from Muscat, but less than an hour from Sur, and it is a great day trip if you find yourself in the later town. You also can’t just start hiking on the trail. You have to take a short, and I do mean short, boat ride from the welcoming center to the start of the hike. It does cost one Omani Rial per person, and they do stop running the boat around five or six at night. That means if you do not make it back in time, you could be stuck in the wadi during the night. Some people do come out to camp here, but you would want to plan for that and not be surprised about that choice when you find yourself on the wrong side of the river at the wrong time.

It is a great place out of many to visit while in Oman, and should be added to everybody’s itinerary. It is a great way to spend a day out in the desert, and the sights and adventures had along the way will not be quickly forgotten.

The Mutrah Souq – Muscat, Oman

If you are looking for some souvenir for your trip to Muscat, Oman, and still want to have a cultural experience, there is no better place than the Mutrah Souq. It is a market that has the traditional Arab feel and even if you are not picking up anything, it is still a fun place to wander around.

It does has your normal influx of cheap touristy stuff including t-shirts and toys. It also has a bunch of wooden pieces that you can find anywhere in Muscat from carved camels to chess sets. I was even able to find a new Christmas ornament to hang on my tree when I got back home. But the market goes beyond that and you can find unique pieces there as well. Everything from Arab daggers to helmets, all the way to jewelry in all levels of worth.

It is easy to think that the market is nothing more than a place to go and buy that trinket from your visit to Muscat, but it is fun to wind your way through the maze that is found there. The sellers will try anything to get you to come into their little corner of the Souq such as putting a hat on your head or offering you some jasmine, but it is all harmless and just adds to the atmosphere. You could easily lose yourself in the mix, but do take the time to look up at the ceiling. The wood carvings can be found all over the Souq and it is just as interesting as what is going on down below.

There are times when looking at the ceiling can take up more of your time rather than the shopping that many people come to this place for. It isn’t too busy in the Souq though that it will take away from the other people there if you stand there looking up at the design.

It is not the only place in that part of town that is worth checking out either. There is the Corniche, a walk along the ocean that showcases the traditional boats, or the mountain castles that hang not that far in the distance. If you do come down here to see some of these sights, make sure you come at the right time because it does close down between the hours of one and four in the afternoon. Still there are plenty of times where you can find an hour or two to enjoy there. It is easily one of the premiere places to visit if you are in Muscat, and if you want, you can go there and enjoy it without it ever costing you anything.

The Start of a Break – Muscat, Oman

The beginning of Winter and Summer Break are always hard to make look exciting for a waiting audience. Most people expect exciting views from the far away places that we will be visiting, and we will eventually get to those places. I will share those pictures with you, but the first day of a break is usually spent catching my breath and easing out of the stress that comes with being a teacher. Though I do want to explore the place I find myself in, I would rather just take it easy for the first day, and work up to the point where I can get out and really enjoy the sights.

This is definitely what our first day in Muscat, Oman was all about. It wasn’t that rough of a day of travel to get out here considering that it is only on the other side of the Arabian peninsula, so I could not use that as an excuse for being lazy. There are a lot of interesting things to do and places around town that I want to explore, so that really couldn’t be used as an excuse either. I will just say it as I see it, I really did not want to do much today except walk on the beach, have something good to eat, and get my bearings.

So we did just that. We went down to the public beach on the southern edge of town, and spent most of the afternoon wandering up and down it. I was surprised at how empty it was for a public beach on such a beautiful day. The water was warm, and the cool ocean breeze kept the temperatures comfortable. It is not a wide beach, but it offers enough real estate that I never felt like I was crowding in on another person. It is also designed a little differently than other public beaches I have been to. There are not a lot of shops, and cafes along it begging for you business. It is designed as a place to sit back and enjoy, and if you need to find a place to grab a coffee or a bite to eat, it is not far away down one of the side roads.

By the time nightfall came, we made it to the top of the hill for dinner at one of the hotels. If you are visiting Oman from somewhere other than the Middle East, you will want to look for these places because they are the only restaurants in the city that sell alcohol. The restaurant in the Crowne Plaza, Duke’s, also offers some amazing views of the setting sun at night. The food there is pretty good as well, so I would recommend heading that way if you are hungry after a long day of walking along the beach.

Overall, it was the perfect way to start my Winter holiday. I know that there will be many days of running around trying to see all that there is to see, but for now, I am happy just to gather up my energy to prepare myself for the adventure that is ahead. Stay tuned for what Oman has to offer as I explore Muscat and the surrounding places of this country in the next couple of days.

Ryanair Hates You

I know that Ryanair is a budget airline, and I should not expect a lot when I board one of their planes. I also know that it is fairly inexpensive to fly and they have done an amazing job over their years in the air of creating a program that allows them to make as much money as possible while carting people all over Europe, and to other places nearby. I further know that many people have already made their complaints about this company, and there is not a lot that I can say about it that will add new insight as to who they are, but after recent experiences with them, I feel like I should at least try.

There are many things that I can forgive about them. The fact that they pack as many possible into their planes as possible without giving much leg room to people who might be taller than the average person is forgivable. I get it. The more people you can get on a plane, the more money you can make it. So the goal is to get as many people on that plane that will allow you to fly without them revolting mid-flight, and though uncomfortable, I do believe that Ryanair has found that balance.

I can also forgive the fact that they charge extra money for carry on luggage. It is a typical ploy used by the airlines to make a little extra, and considering that Ryanair charges so little money for their trips, I can see them using this method to make up that money somewhere.

I can even understand why they did away with food and beverage service unless you pay for it. The flights they have are generally short enough that you really do not need to eat or have a drink on them, and if you did not plan well enough that you do, it is your own fault that you are now subjected to their own prices. Most of their flights are within the continent of Europe anyways, so there are methods of getting where you need to go that might take a little longer, but are a lot more enjoyable.

The reason that I think that Ryanair hates is you is because of the little things that they do that goes out of their way to make your trip uncomfortable. You are not allowed to pick your own seat which I am okay with. But when you book your flight with a fellow passenger at the same time, and you have the same last names, and you show up at the airport to pick up your tickets together, you would think that the smallest thing that they could do would have you sit next to each other. But Ryanair would rather have one of you sit in the front of the plane, while the other person gets a seat in the back. There are a lot of people that this happens to, so negotiations start to take place as people move spots so they can sit next to people that they are traveling with. It makes no sense, and actually delays the airline’s ability to leave on time. I have no idea why they do it.

They also do not give you a little pouch on the seat in front of you to place something like a water or a book into. Even trash you might collect during the flight will end up on the floor so the aisle eventually looks like a forgotten street next to a city dump. Placing one of these things on each seat can not cost so much that they cannot do it. It is a simple curtesy that every airline should do, but Ryanair goes out of its way not to do this. The only explanation for doing this is that they hate you and they want to constantly remind you of this fact.

They also treat their passengers like a herd of cattle. I get that there is a process for getting on to a plane so the company can do it in an orderly and efficient manner, but the way that Ryanair completes this task does not seem to follow this sense of logic. Sometimes a good twenty minutes before you need to board the plane, Ryanair collected everybody in a holding station that subjects them to whatever weather might be outside at that time. If it is during the fall or the spring, this isn’t that bad, but when you have to endure the heat of European summers, or the cold of the Scandinavian winters, this seems a little cruel. It also seems a little pointless. They have people sitting in this holding cell for a good twenty to thirty minutes at times as the plane we are going to board is still being unloaded. They can wait until they are ready to load, and there is no really reason for them to treat people like livestock unless that is what they think of us.

Now that I am a few days after flying Ryanair, I contemplate whether hatred is too strong of a word for the way that Ryanair feels about all of their customers. I got where I was supposed to go, and back home again. It wasn’t comfortable, but I lived. Is this all I should expect from a budget airline? Or should I hope for something a little more? Maybe a little bit of love, and a little less hate. I don’t mean that they have to care about me, but I would hope that they would at least think about me before I got on their next flight.

The Comic World of Brussels

There are a lot of things to like about Belgium, the beer, the frittes, the chocolate, but the one thing that I am always surprised about when I travel out here is the comic culture. They were one of the places in the world that developed comics into what they are today, and they are proud of their contributions to this art form.

The Belgium people have created many comic titles that are enjoyed the world over, from Tin Tin, to the Smurfs, to Marsupilami. Their stories may not be the superheroes that are enjoyed by many Americans, but that should not deny the impact that these comics have had on the world. Their stories endure, and the style they employed to tell those stories should be analyzed and treasured.

The people of Brussels understood this about their national treasure. When they were looking at the blank walls of their city, they thought that the best way to beautify their city was to honor this tradition. They took the most popular of the characters that the various people in town told, and painted murals of them on those blanks walls.

It makes walking the streets of Brussels a fun adventure with every turn of the corner. You don’t know if you will see a mural or not, and if you do see one, you don’t know what character will transport you to a simpler time when stories could be told through this seemingly simple medium. There are so many of them on the wall of Brussels that you can find a map of a walking tour involving them at the local Information Center, and you can always see people making their way to discover them all.

Once you start to notice these murals, you start to notice that it goes beyond the comic culture of Belgium. There are many pictures that are painted on the sides of buildings, highlighting many different issues that are important to the people of Brussels. They are just not painted on the side of buildings, taking up the whole wall; instead, you have to look at the corners to find these great little pieces that still will make you laugh, but will also still tell a great story at the same time.

Some organizations took this spirit one step further to paint the spirit of their movement on their walls. It nice to see that this tradition came move beyond a simple idea to make the streets of the city prettier to see, but to also supply important political messages to the people of that same city.

These murals give Brussels its own distinct character that makes traveling here fun in unexpected ways. The cold winter days no longer seem daunting when you know that going from one place to another will come with it a quick trip back to your childhood. I love the way that the people of Brussels were able to take something that was completely unique to them and use it to give their city charm and character. So though I came for the frittes, chocolate and the beer, it was the murals that really captured my imagination while out in Belgium.

Westvleteren 12

The bottles have been stored behind the bar,
Waiting for the moment to pop the top.
The aroma will tell tales from afar
Of the history of the Trappist crop.
It must be poured into its holy grail;
Its crown will be a creamy head of foam.
The watering of your mouth will curtail
The last destination of the beer’s home.
It will travel to your table by tray,
Becoming the coaster’s guest of honor.
When the first sip finally comes to play,
The complexity will make you ponder.
The tradition has endured the ages
Without it ever changing its stages.

The Search for the World’s Best Beer – Brussels, Belgium

There comes a time in everybody’s life when they have to stop what they are doing and go out in search of something that in the grand scheme of things is not really important. It may cause you to travel to corners of the world that you have never been before, and you may have a hard time justifying this search to the people who you have responsibilities with. But still you should put those responsibilities aside and go out on that silly quest and in the end, discover that this silly quest was more important than you originally intended it to be.

My call to adventure actually came last April when my wife and I were looking at where we would travel to in the upcoming school year. Being in Jordan, the thought of Europe always comes up, and eventually all things on the map pointed to the land of frittes, chocolate and beer, Belgium. But then we had to ask ourselves when would be the perfect time to go, and that is when we started looking at the beginning of December as a way of celebrating an important birthday, my fiftieth. Rarely do I take time off of work to go out and do stuff for myself. I figure as a teacher that I get enough time off already, and I should be able to plan around that. But considering my birthday always falls at a busy time of the year, and I never really get to celebrate it, this was excuse enough to go out to Brussels for a long weekend and take a couple of days off in the process.

It wasn’t until the dates came closer that I found the main purpose of this trip. I was always going to go out to Brussels to drink some Trappist beers. They are some of my favorite beers in the world. But I was talking to a friend of mine who used to live in Brussels, and he told me about Westvleteren. He was telling me that this is considered to be the best beer in the world, and it is hard to come across one of the unassuming bottles with this brown nectar inside. He told me about the hidden corner, a block off the Grote Markt, where I could find the local bar that serves this beer. He even warned me about the price of 17 Euros to obtain a bottle.

It was all the incentive that I needed, and I was off to Brussels in search of this perfect beer. Of course, I could not buy one early in the morning. The bar that served it did not open until three o’clock in the afternoon. So I spent the day sightseeing and enjoying the Christmas market. I was brought back to my childhood as I enjoyed waffles and my favorite Christmas cookie, the speculoos. My mom used to make these when I was a kid, and we would always enjoy them on St. Nicholas Day. I had no idea that these were common cookies in Belgium, and was happy to find them all over the place.

Speaking of St. Nicholas Day, the city of Brussels was celebrating it as well. It was almost as if they were expecting me to come to relive my childhood. Their famous statue of a peeing child, the Manneken Pis, was dressed up as the valued saint on this day, and it made me chuckle to see him this way.

The peeing child was a common sight all over the city. It does bring a lot of people to the city in hopes of watching it pee, and to see what he will be wearing on any given day. There are apparently over 1000 different outfits that he has, and there are seems to be something special going on where he is wearing one of them. The people of Brussels have also found a way to make a joke out of him in a million ways. It goes great with the attitude of the city, and allowed for many moments of laughter as I made my way around the city.

Eventually, the sun dipped below the horizon, and the bars started to open their doors. We made our way to Au Bon Vieux Temps and laid down the 17 Euros for the best beer in the world.

Was it worth it?

In more ways than one. What was a silly little quest turned out to be a memorable trip and a birthday I will never forget. I am glad that I took those days off, and maybe I shouldn’t wait another ten years to take a little side trip like this. They are always worth the quest.

The Gateway to Petra – Wadi Musa, Jordan

People travel from all over the world to enjoy the marvel that is Petra, and there is a lot that is written about this site. However there is more to the UNESCO World Heritage Site than just the city that lies behind the canyon. There is a whole city on the edge of it that is a wonderful location to set up camp before exploring all that Petra has to offer. It is called Wadi Musa and for a gateway town it does a good job inviting people in and preparing them for the adventure they will have in the park.

Of course, there are plenty of gift shops, and a few Turkish bathhouses, but one of the best places to unwind after hiking around the park is the Cave Bar. It is a short walk away from the entrance of Petra, and the prices on the drinks are a little higher than other places you will find in Jordan, but the atmosphere makes up for these small problems. It was built in an ancient tomb that used to be a part of Petra, and it claims to be the oldest bar in the world. There are plenty of cozy little corners in the bar to find a place to relax, but if you would rather sit and enjoy the company of a larger crowd, they do have an outdoor patio, and a larger room where you can watch a game or talk with other travelers.

Right up the hill from the bar, and the bigger tourist shops is the Petra Museum. This is a good place to visit before heading into the park to see all of the sites. It will take you through the history of the ancient city, and how it developed over the centuries. There is also a large collection of artwork that once graced the outside of many of its buildings, but were taken down when iconoclasts, or Christians who did not believe in icon and worked to destroy as many as they could. It is amazing that many of the statues survived because it depicts a civilization that was influenced by both the Greeks and Egyptians.

There are also many comfortable and affordable hotels nearby. We stayed at the Petra Boutique Hotel. It was a five minute walk from the entrance to the park, and served a nice breakfast in the morning. The only problem was that it sat right next to the main road of the town. At night the traffic disappears completely, but this allows for the packs of wild dogs to take over the street, and they are not very quiet. They did keep me up during my first night’s stay there, but I was so worn out from the long hike on the second night that they did not bother me anymore.

Also make sure that you have at least one of your meals at Mom’s Secret Recipe. It is a local restaurant that has really good food, and great atmosphere. It looks like the inside of a bedouin’s tent inside, and you can tell that the recipe comes from a mom who has spent many years perfecting her food.

Overall, the main attraction is Petra, but the town is a lovely place to stay as well. It is well worth staying there for a night or two because it makes the trip to Petra a little more relaxing. You will still find yourself on long hikes to amazing spots, but at least at night, you won’t have to worry about driving back to Amman or Aqaba because you will have a comfortable place to rest your head.

The Second Indiana Jones – Petra, Jordan

I know that I have a lot of readers screaming at me right now. They are all looking at this photo and they know that this image comes from the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Yet, I titled this post, the SECOND Indiana Jones. You are wondering if I know the difference, and by the mere fact that I acknowledged the difference in this post, I obviously must know that Petra is part of the better installment in the series, and I should not have referenced one of the lesser adventures as the title of my post.

To those people, I must acknowledge your movie brilliance, and at the same time, hope that you have stuck with me so far, so that I may defend my choice of title for this post. For those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis, you will know that this is the second time that one of my adventures has made me feel like I am a part of an Indiana Jones adventure. The first one took place out side of Hua Hin, Thailand as I hiked to the Phraya Nakhon Cave. My visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra, in Jordan, would be the second time that I have had this feeling. This is where the title of this blog post comes from. I hope that clears up any confusion you may have experienced from reading the title, and I also hope that you continue to read to learn more about this exciting place.

Though there are many exciting places to visit in Jordan, Petra is the one that the country promotes the most, and the one that tourists make sure that they see while out here. It had remained hidden for many centuries and it wasn’t until 1812 when Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt let the rest of the world know about it. He claims that he discovered it, but considering many people still lived in the buildings hollowed out from the mountainside, and he was shown where it was from a Bedouin, it is hard to say that it really needed discovering. Soon afterwards, people would come to see the site, and eventually those people were removed so it could become the tourist destination it is today.

The site itself sprawls all over the hills in the southern part of Jordan. There are some trails that have been created from the visitor center that allows for easy access to some of the more impressive locations, and most people who visit stick to these trails. For people that struggle with hiking, donkeys and camels can be rented and there are even options for select people that they can take a golf cart, but that will only take people to the Treasury, the location that was used for the Indiana Jones movie.

There are many other smaller hikes that will take people to the lesser visited locations, but it is recommended that you hire a guide to take you to these place. The mountains out there can be deceiving and it is easy to get lost. Plus, there are so many places where things are hidden, so it is helpful to have that person that knows what to look for so you can find those hidden little gems.

The two major sites at Petra are the Treasury and the Monastery. The Treasury is pretty crowded because it is the easiest to get to. It is about a kilometer hike all down hill from the visitor center through an idyllic canyon called the Siq. I would recommend going early in the morning because it got really crowded in the afternoon, and it made it hard to navigate through the people. The Monastery is not as crowded but takes a little more effort to get to. It is an uphill hike on a series of stairs that have sometimes been worn away by heavy rains. It is hard to tell how many steps you have to take to get there because they are not always organized, but the rule of thumb is somewhere between 850 and 900. Both locations are awe-inspiring, and are worth the trip, but it can get cold up at the Monastery, especially in the months of fall and spring, so I would recommend taking layers of clothes.

There are many other places to view along the way including the Royal Tombs and the Great Temple. Some of these locations had been lost to the desert and are only being uncovered at this time. Archeologists from Brown University were at the site and discovered the Great Temple buried underneath the sand. They have been spending the couple of decades slowly digging it out and restoring it to its original glory. There are a couple of amazing corridors that you can walk down, and there is a small theatre placed right in the middle, but the most impressive part of this location is the rows of columns that are on either side of what would have been the huge foyer.

There is also the large amphitheater in what would have been the center of this hidden city. It made me wonder what the bustling atmosphere of this place would have once been like as people made their way up and down its various streets. They would have been covered with merchants selling their wares, and to an extent they still are, except now they are different variations of the same collection of souvenirs. The amphitheater is also quiet now, as in the past, I am sure that it would be filled with great speeches, and amazing performances that would be overheard by everybody that happened to pass by.

To travel to Petra is to travel back in time to a place and a culture that could have easily been swept under the stiff wind of the Jordanian desert. It truly feels like you are an archeologist that has come to find s great treasure among its many buildings. It is an adventure, and I can see why George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg chose it for their third installment of the storied franchise. If the theme song isn’t playing in your head as soon as you step foot on the dusty paths, it will soon play because there are always people singing it or humming it, so everybody else can join in. It makes you feel like you are a part of the movie, but in the end you marvel that there is so much more to it than what little they showed in that full length feature.

Petra should be on the top of everybody’s bucket list. It is an amazing place to visit, but not enough people know about it to add it to the many places that they need to travel to before they die. I am glad that I have added it to the places I have been, and I doubt that I will quickly forget its grandeur. Considering I am also currently living in Jordan, it is a place that I will go back to. I covered the more touristy part of the site, and I want to go back to travel the less explored areas. It makes it one of those places that you will always be happy to go back to, and I hope you have the opportunity to make it out there at least once.

The Great Debate

In the spirit of our competition,
I will cross the stage so I can shake your hand.
The audience has some expectation
That our exhibition will be so grand.
To see who goes first, we will flip a coin;
The other will pick the side they will take.
Ideas we’ll explore; clashes we’ll join
Will bring us to an agreement we’ll make.
Though it may seem like we are in a fight,
There is a greater purpose happening.
We will find a compromise that is right
That comes about from all this explaining.
The purpose for us to participate,
To learn what is right from our great debate.