Around The World, Part Eighteen

Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Seventeen is here.

November 4 (Sunday, Day 34, Prague to Dublin) –

We again took advantage of the shuttle across the street from the Marriott for an inexpensive ride back to the airport for our 10:40 AM Czech Air flight to Dublin.  It rained right before we left the Marriott and we saw a beautiful rainbow while riding to the airport.  We were fed on our 2 hour and 40 minute flight.  U.S. airlines need to learn from all of these airlines and feed people on every flight!

The flight to Dublin

Our flight took off on time and we landed in Dublin and immediately noticed the abundance of English signs, spoken English and Caucasians.  What a relief to be in an English-language country!!!    We found the correct AirCoach to board for the trip to downtown Dublin.  We actually had to walk about 2 blocks to the Conrad Dublin.  We took group transportation to and from most of the airports on this trip and this was the farthest we had to walk to get to our hotel.  We survived!

We used points for the hotel and we were upgraded to the nicest room type ($479/night plus tax – remember that the Euro makes things very expensive), but the Conrad Dublin doesn’t have any kind of free lounge so other than getting two bottles of water per day, we weren’t sure what the upgrade got us.  But, we had a nice view of Dublin and it was a clean, comfortable room so we weren’t complaining.

We walked to the nearest grocery store which was on the other side of St. Stephen’s Green and loaded up on sodas and beer and other items.  We stopped at a pub near there.  Snookums finally had her appetite back from her October 30 Cairo illness and was ravenous.  She ordered tap water with ice and lemon and pantomimed a water faucet, too, before realizing that Ireland was an English-speaking nation!  34-day old habits die hard!  She had excellent leek and potato soup and an order of fish and chips.  Filbert ordered the beef and Guinness pie that was so-so but his two pints of Guinness hit the spot.  (Note – Guinness purchased in any Irish pub costs around $6.50.  You can buy a 6-pack of Guinness at CVS in the U.S. for $7.50.  That darn exchange rate…)  We went back to the hotel and watched NFL games.  We also could see fireworks out our window around 10 PM and we assumed they were for some soccer match.

We noticed on all of the Coke bottles the lids said “Hand screw”.  That tells you how much beer people drink in Ireland since the beer bottles require bottle openers.  But, they want you to know that Coke bottles are hand screw caps!!

November 5 (Monday, Day 35, Dublin) –

Filbert did some internet research and found that one of the best Irish breakfasts could be had at a little restaurant about 4 blocks from the hotel.  We went there but although the sign said that it opened at 8:30 AM, it was after 8:30 AM and it still wasn’t open.  So, we went to a little place right next to it and we each ordered the Irish breakfast.  It consisted of one runny egg, 3 link sausages, beans, black and white puddings, a broiled tomato, and 3 pieces of large toast.  It filled us up and was quite good (and it was cheap, too).  The diner didn’t have any artificial sweetener which we also experienced at another restaurant later on.  So, be sure to carry artificial sweetener with you in Ireland.  Our hotel had it, but small coffee shops and restaurants didn’t.  (When we left the little diner, we noticed that the “best” breakfast in Dublin restaurant was open so we decided to try it tomorrow.)

We took various Dublin tourist magazines with us to review at breakfast to plan our day.  The weather forecast called for a damp and cold day and since we finished breakfast so fast, we decided to see if we could still sign up for the Wicklow Mountains, Valleys & Lakes Gray Line Tour that left our hotel at 10 AM.  We made it!  We had a knack on this entire trip of always being at the right place at the right time and this was another case of it.  Had we dawdled for even 10 minutes, we would have missed the tour.

The tour consisted of a mini bus with about 10 other people on it.  Our driver warned us at the outset that the weather might be bad and that there was some road work on one of the little country roads he was to take so he wasn’t sure what we would really get to see.  But, no one seemed to care.  We were all there to enjoy some of the most beautiful countryside Ireland had to offer on the full day tour of Wicklow that included visits to Avoca Village and Glendalough.

It seemed to only take about 45 minutes to get out of Dublin and to get into Irish countryside.  It started raining even harder and after about 2 hours the bus stopped so that everyone could get out at the top of Wicklow Mountain to look around and see the beautiful scenery.  Everyone got out and was shocked by the biting cold weather and the sideways rain.  One by one we all clamored back on the bus and we were all laughing since no one could believe the fierce cold and very strong wind.  Visibility was about 0 so we didn’t see anything but it was still fun due to the incredibly strong wind experience!

After another hour drive down the mountain, we pulled into Glendalough.  This was a 6th century monastic settlement and it is famous for its 10th century Round Tower and St. Kevin’s Kitchen.  Blessington Lakes are also here and we used the 2-hour stop to hike the path to the lake and back and to hike around the settlement.  This was also a little village so Filbert had to go in the pub and have a pint of Guinness, too, although we only had about 15 minutes left.  He didn’t have any trouble downing it in that time.  It’s funny to watch the bartenders pour Guinness since they pull the tap and fill the glass to within an inch of the top and then the glass just sits there for a good minute or two as the waterfall effect occurs.  Then the bartender fills it all the way up and gives it to the customer to drink.

Irish (late?) fall colors

Glendalough (2 pics):

We all boarded the bus and the driver told us that he scouted out the road closure and found another way to get us to Avoca by means of an even smaller country lane.  I don’t think the driver enjoyed the drive that much, but we sure got to see a lot of stunning scenery.  (By now the sun was out in full force and the Irish mist was gone.)  There were several times when he had to stop to make sure no one was coming at him since the road was only wide enough for one bus and no cars!

We got to Avoca which is a little village that has a pub, restaurant and a famous weaving mill that claims to be the oldest weaving mill in Ireland.  Many people ate lunch at Glendalough but we didn’t have time to and we were glad that we waited.  The mill had a restaurant with all homemade dishes.  The driver ate there, too, and told us after the fact that he always eats there since it is so good.  We shopped first and picked out a mohair and wool throw for our greenish sofa in our hearth room.  This was really the only souvenir we bought on the entire around the world trip!

We boarded the bus for the ride back to Dublin and everyone was in high spirits and laughing about the horrendous weather around 11 AM and how beautiful it turned out.  Throughout the day we saw lots of sheep grazing in the little fields that Irish farms have and they were really pretty.

Filbert & Snookums in Ireland

We got back to the hotel and decided to rest a bit before going to a pub for dinner.  Well, most of them quit serving food at 7!  We finally found one that still served food, but it consisted of frozen sandwiches.  Oh well.  It was food!  There were 6 or 7 guys in there watching the Manchester City team beat Sunderland in soccer and we all witnessed Stephen Ireland score for Manchester City and then moon everyone.  Since we were ignorant of soccer customs, we asked if that was normal and we were assured that it WAS not normal and they had never seen it before.  Sure enough, it was all over the news that night and made the front page in the 3 papers that were delivered to our room the next morning!  We witnessed soccer history while in a Dublin pub.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

We also learned that smoking is NOT allowed in Irish pubs.  Yet another reason to return to Ireland, although the pub barkeeper said the smoking ban has killed their business.

November 6 (Tuesday, Day 36, Dublin) –

We rode the hop on/hop off tourist bus around Dublin and hopped off a couple of times to walk some.  One of the guidebooks talked about the pub that serves the best Irish stew so we found ourselves there for lunch.  The stew was fine, if watery, but the dense bread was fantastic.  I asked where they bought it so that I could buy some and was told they made it but didn’t have enough to see me a loaf.  Oh well.  We walked some more and a band of Gypsies from Romania were walking towards us and Filbert made the mistake of making eye contact.  They finally disappeared after we ignored them.  We found out later that they moved into Dublin a few years ago and everyone hates them.  They look like the stereotype you think of when you think “gypsy” – dirty, disheveled, traveling in large groups.

The city circle tour bus

While walking we passed a grocery store called Lidl.  It’s a German chain and its chief competitor is Aldi.  It seemed like an up-scale Aldi to us.  We had to go in and while there bought loaves of several different brands of barm brack.  I wanted to buy Irish soda bread for souvenirs but it expired within a day or two.  So, the barm brack had to do.  I wasn’t sure what kind of bread it was but it was a heavy loaf with raisins and Irish whiskey so I figured it couldn’t be all bad.  By this time of the trip, we only had to haul our luggage through one more airport and I knew we had room in it for souvenirs so I wanted to fill it up.  Filbert wasn’t too happy that I bought 8 loaves or so but he helped me carry it around for the rest of the day so he wasn’t too mad.  A few blocks from Lidl we found an Aldi and went in.  I found more brands of barm brack and wanted to buy a few more but the lines were really long so I made Filbert happy and didn’t buy any. (Note – The bread traveled very well and the people that ate it enjoyed it a lot.)

Molly Malone
Us, obscuring Molly Malone

We had someone take our picture in front of Molly Malone which is a famous statue to commemorate a legend of a young 17th century woman.  We realized that we didn’t have any pictures of the two of us in front of anything Irish so we found ourselves near this statue and made it work.  There is also a song, “Cockles and Mussels”, which is an unofficial Irish anthem about this woman.

We bought sandwiches, salads and chips at one of the many convenience stores (but much smaller than Tokyo’s or the U.S. ones) and headed back to the hotel for a picnic dinner in our room.

Our plane home


November 7 (Wednesday, Day 37, Dublin to Kansas City via Chicago)

We took the AirCoach back to the airport in plenty of time for our 1:30 PM flight.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but we ended up going through immigration at the Dublin airport and after doing that we could NOT leave the gate area which meant we couldn’t shop at any of the airport stores.  Bummer.  We had to sit in the basement gate area for a good 2 hours and were limited to one little food counter that sold pre-wrapped sandwiches.

Our Aer Lingus flight was on time.  Snookums watched 5 movies while Filbert looked out the window.  We also used the largest airplane bathroom we’ve ever seen.  It could have easily accommodated a wheelchair and that was not what it was for.  We never could figure out why it was so large, but after going to the bathroom in so many tiny airplane bathrooms, it was a very nice change of pace.

Our 4-hour layover in Chicago was very long since we just wanted to get home!  We finally landed in KC and our car service was there to pick us up.  Our driver is from Pakistan and his father was a Supreme Court justice.  In the middle of our trip there was political/military upheaval in Pakistan and we heard on CNN International that all Supreme Court justices were put on house arrest.  We asked about his father and he said that his father was okay and was just fortunate that he was in his small town rather than in Karachi or another one of the major Pakistani cities.  Anyway, after traveling around the world, it was kind of interesting to have something halfway around the world affect someone in Kansas City.  The world isn’t that big after all…Our flying distances on our great adventure were:

October 2 – Kansas City to Tokyo (via Chicago) – 6,677 miles
October 8 – Tokyo to Bangkok – 2,887 miles
October 12 – Bangkok to Delhi – 1,810 miles
October 16 – Delhi to Hyderabad – 766 miles
October 23 – Hyderabad to Dubai – 1,580 miles
October 27 – Dubai to Cairo – 2,470 miles
November 1 – Cairo to Prague – 1,640 miles
November 4 – Prague to Dublin – 902 miles
November 7 – Dublin to Kansas City (via Chicago) – 4,452 miles
Total distance – 23,184 miles

Total cost for EVERYTHING – $9,478.34 (or $256.17/day)

Trip Learnings

  • Japan has nifty toilets.
  • Bangkok is really, really steamy and Filbert sweats a lot in steamy weather.
  • Tigers have very big paws.
  • Hyatt’s Regency Clubs are great for free “dinners” and for breaks from the foreign world.
  • Delhi is a place you really don’t need to visit if you don’t have to:
  • Its drivers are crazy.
  • It’s poor and dirty.
  • It is very, very, very poor and very, very, very dirty.
  • It is, in fact, a “festering shithole”.  (Filbert’s term for it.)
  • Water buffalo and men poop in the lake behind Judy’s Hyderabad apartment and people fish there, too.
  • But Hyderabad is, compared to Delhi, paradise.
  • A lot of Dubai is new and shiny.
  • Cairo is very smoggy and poor but the people are very friendly.
  • Prague is beautiful and very tourist friendly.
  • People speak English in Ireland.
  • Any non-U.S. airline is better than a U.S. airline.
  • There’s no place like home!!!!

Filbert’s final score of selected world cities:

  • Hard to go wrong:  Tokyo, Dubai, Prague, and Dublin.
  • Not completely unpleasant but too damn hot:  Bangkok.
  • On the edge:  Cairo, Hyderabad.
  • Festering shithole:  Delhi

Part Seventeen is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

I think we need a vacation . . .

Around The World, Part Seventeen

Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Sixteen is here.

November 2 (Friday, Day 32, Prague) –

We ate breakfast in the Marriott at the very overpriced restaurant (buffet = $30).  We decided to take the tram (one form of Prague’s great public transportation) up the hill to Prague Castle in order to save our legs for the rest of the day.  We couldn’t figure out where to buy tram tickets so we actually “poached” a ride.  We weren’t caught so all was well.

Ah.  Europe.

We got off the tram and walked all over the grounds of Prague Castle.  We didn’t go in any of the buildings but just liked looking at the exteriors of all of them.  Going inside the various buildings not only cost money, but there were lines at each of them.  It was beautiful since the leaves were changing.  Prague Castle in on a hill so you can see the rest of Prague from various points around the grounds.  While we were walking around the castle grounds we saw an artist sitting on the wall and painting a scene of Prague.  We bought a travel wall painting from him and it shows Prague with fall leaves which was very appropriate for our time in Prague.

Prague Castle (3 pics):

Prague obviously didn’t suffer much World War II damage since the buildings still look like they are from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Luckily, it appears this city has decided to keep its buildings intact and not let companies come in and tear them down to build skyscrapers.  We saw a few old buildings in Dublin, but they are all over Prague.  Seeing a new building (like the Marriott and the Sheraton right across the street from it) is very unusual.  Even the malls have been built by taking existing old buildings and keeping the exteriors intact and “gutting” the insides to put in multiple stores and to combine the buildings together.

Views from Prague Castle(2 pics):

It was refreshing to see Caucasians everywhere.  (Snookums wrote that.  She’s so insensitive and monocultural sometimes!)  We also noticed the wealth (or lack of poverty) everywhere and that was nice to see, too.  Lots of people were smoking and kissing (which we did, too!).   Walking around Prague while holding hands was nice to do after being in so many Arabic countries where we couldn’t show any affection.  (OK, Filbert is a Euro-American ethno-centrist, too.  It’s how he was raised.)

We went to a pub for dinner and Filbert had spicy Czech goulash with potato dumplings and two beers and Snookums had a bowl of bean soup.  Her appetite still isn’t back from her Cairo experience.  The pub was very smoky so we left very soon after finishing.

Look, Honey!  Caucasians!

The turndown treat tonight was Haribo gummi bears which Snookums really appreciated.

November 3 (Saturday, Day 33, Prague) –

Today was our last major wash day.  YIPPEE!!!!  We walked around some more and both of us had street vendor sausages for our brunch.  We bought more deli-type items at the grocery store and had a picnic dinner in our room.

While at the grocery store we also returned the empty beer bottles to get the $0.15 per bottle deposit back.  This was kind of tricky since no employee spoke English and signs were all in Czech.  After knocking on a door (which turned out to be the door that goes to the warehouse/storeroom) and having an employee come and yell and motion, Snookums realized that there was a machine right next to the door that looked to be the bottle return machine.  She put in the bottles and a register receipt spit out and she took that to Filbert who applied it to the cost of our deli dinner.

Tonight’s turndown treat was poor quality milk chocolate.  (Filbert blames the Caucasians . . . )

The trip concludes in Part Eighteen, here.
Part Sixteen is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Sixteen

Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Fifteen is here.

October 30 (Tuesday, Day 29, Cairo) –

Snookums woke up this morning and had major issues with her gastrointestinal tract.  She thinks it was because she had bad water yesterday.  Yesterday her tea was very hot and Mertha took the glass of hot tea  and poured it into another glass that Mertha had just dumped water out of.  Hence the bad water.  Snookums chose to stay in the room (and bathroom) and Filbert went out to see the Giza pyramids, Sphinx and ride a camel with Karen.  (We had paid in full for the day of touring so it would have been silly for him to not go.)  Snookums curled up in bed and watched movies.

Filbert let Karen and the driver know the situation, and they decided to go find an Egyptian pharmacy.  At eight in the morning, this isn’t easy, as Cairo doesn’t get going until mid-morning.  Even so, we finally found a pharmacy that was open early and obtained some local meds for Snookums.  They picked up “Antinal,” an antibiotic (apparently used on cattle in the U.S.),  Azirithromycin (Zithromax) and “Entocid” (a combination anti-protozoal, anti-diarrheal, and good old streptomycin).  With this trifecta of local pills in hand, they returned to the hotel to check in on Snookums.

(Of course, Filbert discovered after we got home that India doesn’t allow the sale of Entocid, and one of its ingredients is banned in the U.S. as well.  Cool!)

Still, when you’re miserable, you’ll take almost anything that offers relief.  Snookums popped the pills and stayed in bed.  Filbert took one of those Entocids, too (just in case) and set out for the Pyramids.  The drive was one of the most sedate of any we’d had so far in the Third World.

India prepared Filbert well for the onslaught of freelance vendors at Giza.  Most of them were cheerfully ignored but some were engaged in Arabic and deflected by Karen.  After we’d disposed of the vendors, we came to the first part of the pyramid tour:  a descent into Khafre’s pyramid, the second biggest of them.  We didn’t bother with the Great Pyramid of Khufu, as they’re basically the same, and the lines are much longer at the Great Pyramid.

They didn’t allow cameras in the pyramid, so no pictures follow of the innards of a pyramid.  Karen gave good advice to Filbert to go backwards down the 4-foot-high passage to the burial chamber.  There were actually two of those short passages–one going down, then another going back up again, with a chamber about 30 feet long between the two where it was possible to stand up.   The burial chamber itself was bigger and wider than the intermediate chamber, with an empty stone sarcophagus at one end.  There really wasn’t much to look at in the burial chamber, so the lack of a camera was really no big deal.  If you’re really interested, there are pictures on the Internet of the burial chamber in the Khafre pyramid.

Entering the tomb

After emerging, Filbert walked around the Great Pyramid and wandered through the “Eastern Cemetery” of the tombs of the Pharaohs’ queens and aides.  Once again, you weren’t supposed to take pictures, but Filbert’s inner anarchist came alive and he recklessly took (non-flash) photo after photo of hieroglyphics and bas-relief carvings, sticking it to the Man!

Illicit photo of hieroglyphics
At the Pyramids

After that heady experience, the Great Sphinx was next.  (Yes, that pun was intentional.)  The Sphinx was mostly buried, and there’s now a fairly deep trench surrounding it.  After you go through a stone temple, you wind up inside the complex, overlooking the Sphinx.  Its nose is gone.  A popular story is that the nose was shot off by Napoleon’s troops, but the supposedly “true” story is that it was hacked off by a Muslim warlord after finding out that the locals were sacrificing crops to the Sphinx.

The Sphinx

After the Sphinx, we went to the Boat Museum.  There’s a boat in there.  It’s really old.  And it’s a boat.  It’s made of really old wood.  Actually, they’re not sure if it was a real boat, or a ceremonial boat facsimile.  But it’s a really, really old boat, no matter if it ever was in water or not.

The Boat

Filbert hopped on a camel for the ride out into the desert to the camel owner’s home, and quickly discovered that camel riding gets old after a while.  The first portion of the ride was fairly slow, with the camel wrangler tugging Filbert’s rather reluctant beast along.  After about a half-hour of this, the little party (Filbert, Karen, and the camel wrangler) stopped at a hill overlooking the Giza pyramid complex.  While Filbert snapped a few pictures, the camel wrangler tied a string to the camel’s nose, in order to encourage the camel to go a bit faster.  Understandably, the camel was not enthusiastic about this development.  But it worked–the camel went faster.

The final obstacle to overcome before arriving at the camel owner’s house was to go through the security fence erected by Egyptian authorities around the pyramid complex.  Erected, but not completed.  Along the fence are several shanties, where guys wait for camel riders like me to come by.  They then get out a ladder, go to the fence, climb up to the top, unscrew one of the fence mounts, and open it up for the camels to go through.  I’m pretty sure it’s not an activity that’s authorized by the Egyptian authorities.  No matter, we were soon through the fence and riding our Ships of the Desert across the Sahara.

Hi-Yo Surly!  Away!

The patriarch of the house is Khalid, owner of the camels and humble proprietor of the camel-riding business which brought Filbert to his house.  On the ground floor is the stable, and upstairs on the roof is the small goat herd.  Khalid is working with Karen to put together an “authentic lunch with a real Bedouin family” deal for tourists, and Filbert is the first guinea pig.

The meal was a traditional Bedouin meal, with chicken, lamb, rice, all spiced quite flavorfully and presented on a single huge metal tray, accompanied by pita-style flatbread.  All, from youngest to oldest, then dig in, eating with their fingers.  Unhygienic.  And, of course, the three-year-olds will take a morsel, sample it, and then put it back.  More unhygienic.  Still, it was all quite tasty and so Filbert ate more than he really intended to, all things considered.  But he fought off the last samples that the family tried to force on him, then sat at leisure for a while, while Karen and Khalid went into the other room to discuss business.  They insisted that he take a loaf of bread to Snookums for her illness so he did.  After that, it was just a matter of the car ride back to the hotel, where Snookums was recuperating nicely from her gastrointestinal distress.  She opted not to eat the incredibly hard loaf of bread and tossed it in the trash where it made a loud thud.

A fast camel is even less comfortable than a slow camel

October 31 (Wednesday, Day 30, Cairo) –

Snookums felt fine today and really wanted to see the pyramids.  We negotiated with a cab driver to take us to the pyramids for 5 minutes in order to get a few pictures and then bring us back to the hotel.  The cab driver took us to an apartment near the pyramids and then the apartment owner let us go up to his 3rd floor roof.  We had a great view and got some good pictures.  The owner asked for $10 but we ignored him since we had made it very clear with the cab driver what we wanted and went back to the cab and then back to the hotel.  It was a good way for Snookums to see the pyramids “live”.

The guy our taxi driver took us to thought it would be neat for us to do the stupid hand-holding-at-the-tip-of-the-pyramid thing depicted below.  Oh, well.

Filbert & Snookums at the Pyramids

We decided to do a Nile River dinner cruise and boarded the Hyatt’s Marquise for the dinner cruise.  The food was okay but everyone was smoking.  Most guests were NOT Caucasians.  The entertainment started (a man and woman singing various Arabic songs and US songs followed by a belly dancer) and when it got to be too loud (and too smoky), we went in search of some clean air and peace and quiet.  The top of the boat was locked since they were re-varnishing the outside floor but the manager let us go out there after we complained about the smoke and loud music.  So the two of us had a very peaceful hour-long private open air Nile River cruise which was a very nice finale to our Cairo visit.

The Hyatt allowed us to stay in our room until 11 PM which was very nice.  At that point we went to the Regency Club until midnight when we left for the airport.

November 1 (Thursday, Day 31, Cairo to Prague) –

We left the Grand Hyatt Cairo at midnight.  Our flight was scheduled to leave at 3 AM but didn’t leave until 4:30 AM.  Snookums slept on airport chairs while Filbert read.  We were served food on our Czech Air flight.  We expected breakfast but instead the meal was a hotdog (no bun, just the hotdog) with a few large chunks of pineapple, pepper and tomato scattered on top of it.  Due to her Cairo problems, Snookums wasn’t hungry but Filbert ate his and said it was fine.

At 4:30 AM things are a bit blurry . . .

We landed in Prague around 7:30 AM and managed to get our luggage just in time to catch the hourly  8 AM shuttle bus to downtown.  The shuttle bus stops in one location in downtown Prague and it was right across from our hotel so we were very fortunate in our timing and location!  We checked into the Prague Marriott Hotel and didn’t get any kind of an upgrade.  We used points for the stay but since we didn’t have status we didn’t get any kind of perks.  Oh no – we’re going to have to buy breakfast (and all of our sodas) and we won’t get free drinks and appetizers at night!!!  Our $226/night room was a very sterile Marriott room that looked out at the wall of the other side of the hotel.  We could have been in the Kansas City Marriott.

We unpacked (and this time we finally had to unpack our winter coats and gloves), showered and walked to the full-size grocery store that was next door to the hotel to buy lunch and six various beers.  We came back to the room and ate our baguette, meat and cheese slices, and potato chips and then took a 3 hour nap.

After we woke up we walked around Prague at dusk/night.  It is very safe and very walkable.  There were sausage vendors and mulled wine vendors every where and Filbert had a Moravian brat and mulled wine. Snookums bought Activia yogurt to help with her gastrointestinal issues and since she wasn’t that hungry, it was all she wanted.  At turndown we received “official” Czech Republic cookies which tasted like wafer cookies.

The trip continues in Part Seventeen, here.
Part Fifteen is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Fifteen

Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Fourteen is here.

October 27 (Saturday, Day 26, Dubai to Cairo) –

We woke up and ate a leisurely breakfast, packed and let the Hyatt’s complimentary Mercedes chauffeur us to the airport.  We boarded our Emirates flight for Cairo.  Snookums watched movies for 3 hours and 50 minutes while Filbert looked outside.

Food enroute to Cairo

We landed in Cairo and saw the dirt and oldness of the airport right away and realized we weren’t in a first world country anymore.  We bought our $15 visas without any hassle (and with no line), went through immigration but couldn’t figure out why the second and third passport officials had to handle our passports (other than the need for jobs), found an ATM to get Egyptian pounds and then started to hunt for the taxi line.  Unfortunately, there isn’t one at the Cairo airport!  Instead the taxi drivers approach you and follow you around and start yelling for your business.  We were skeptical of the first one that approached us and found an airport official and he took us to another cab driver.  We agreed upon a price with the driver and walked about two blocks and down a bunch of stairs to the “taxi” lot.  The driver knew we were skeptical so he made a point of telling us that when we left the airport the police would take down his name and our names so that nothing strange could happen.  And, the police did.  We got to the Hyatt without incident and the bomb sniffing dogs let the taxi through the gate.

We were upgraded to a Regency Club room with a pyramid view which would have cost $255 per night plus tax.  Our room was on the Nile (all the Hyatt rooms are) but since it was dark we couldn’t see the pyramids that were about 4 miles away.  We ate in the Regency Club and asked for a couple bottles of water to take back to the room since we were told not to drink the tap water and were shocked to be told that no food or beverage could be taken out of the Regency Club.  We asked about water to brush our teeth with and were told to buy the water from the mini bar in our room.  Well, we were not going to spend $3 for a bottle of water so we took a walk to find a market.

One difference we noticed right away as compared to India was that there were fewer cars in Cairo, although there were still a lot, which meant that the cars could go much faster (and still could fit two cars in one lane).  We realized this when we had to cross the street that was at the base of the Hyatt’s long driveway.  There was a crosswalk in the pavement and there were two police officers, but we were totally on our own.  We never could figure out what the police officers were doing at that crosswalk, but they never helped us on any of our walks.  We decided to just kind of jump in front of the traffic and since no one wanted to fill out any paperwork on a dead tourist, no car hit us and we crossed the street successfully.  We wandered around until we found the main street close to the hotel and walked by several one-room “grocery” stores.  We gave up on finding a clean grocery and finally went in one and bought a six pack of water and walked back to the Hyatt.

October 28 (Sunday, Day 27, Cairo) –

Filbert deemed today a “sea day” and Snookums wholeheartedly agreed since she was still fighting her cold.  We walked around the inside of the hotel and went to the shops in the connecting mall.  We bought a bottle of cough/cold syrup for Snookums for $0.30 at the pharmacy in the mall.  You have to love the prices of drugs in third world countries.

A long way down to the pool

After our hour of exploring the hotel and shops, we returned to the room.  Filbert used the wired internet and Snookums watched movies and news.  We did not leave the Hyatt building.  We also could not see the pyramids due to the pollution.  The Nile looked clean or at least we didn’t see any trash floating on it.  But, we could definitely see all of the air pollution from our 35th floor room.

October 29 (Monday, Day 28, Cairo) –

This morning we met our guide, Karen Phillips (www.heartofegypt.com).  She is a British ex-pat and has lived in Cairo for five years.  Prior to that she lived in the U.S. for 15.  She loves Egypt and it shows.  Karen told us that baksheesh is a way of life in Egypt.  Baksheesh is tipping (or, bribing, depending on who you’re slipping the cash to) and Karen was constantly giving little amounts of money to guards, the man at the mosque that put slippers on over our shoes, the woman at another mosque that stored our shoes, etc. She explained that since salaries are so low these tips really are the difference between having enough and not.

We started out by seeing some mosques including one that had a staircase on the outside of the minaret.  We climbed it and since we were outside and the mosque was on a hill we had a good view of Cairo and could see lots of rooftops.  Karen pointed out the sheep that were being stored on the tops of some of the buildings.  She also showed us the pigeon cages that were on rooftops.

At the next mosque (Sultan Hassan Mosque) Karen knew the muezzin very well.  The muezzin is the man that sings the calls to prayer five times a day and at this mosque the imam had retired which meant that the muezzin was also the imam.  Karen told us that this muezzin makes around 170 Egyptian pounds per month (or $30.  Our 6 pack of bottled water was 10 Egyptian pounds or $1.80.)  He did a “demo” for us and then asked us to join him for tea.  We said yes and since Snookums and Karen had colds, he gave them anise tea and Filbert had regular tea.  The anise tea tasted just like licorice and Snookums actually found it very palatable.

At the mosque

We sat and talked for a little while (with Karen translating the Arabic) and then after a hospitable amount of time, excused ourselves to see the neighboring mosque.   (Yes, Karen slipped him some baksheesh and told us that he never wants to take it but that she says it is for his three children and then he can’t refuse.)  This next mosque (Al-Rifa’I Mosque) is the final resting place for the Shah of Iran and since it was the anniversary of his death there were a bunch of flowers on his grave and an Iranian official was sitting in the room.

After touring three mosques (and taking our shoes off for the last two) we were ready for lunch so Karen’s driver took us to a nice restaurant on the banks of the Nile.  We had three kinds of hummus, a plate of “pickles” (most were hot and spicy), a lettuce salad and Snookums had a shawarma sandwich and Filbert had a mixed grill kebab plate (and two beers since he saw that Karen was having one!).  It was a relaxing lunch and we learned about Karen and her odyssey that landed her in Egypt.  (She had just gone through a divorce and decided to travel for two months and went to Egypt and fell in love with it and over time moved there permanently!)

After lunch our fun really began.  Karen took us to a street (alley) that is home to a normal market for Egyptians.  There were no tourists at this market.  Vendors lined both sides of the streets and this included wide-open storefronts as well as just a people manning carts.  And cars and scooters would also drive down the street so you had to be careful. A lot of vendors knew Karen and they all wanted to talk to her and they waved.  I don’t think there are many Arabic-speaking Caucasian women that walk down this street so she stands out when she brings tourists.  We saw chickens in their cages (when you buy them the seller plucks them for you) and goats for sale (or maybe just their milk?).  We also saw two young women selling garlic (and just garlic).  We also saw a pharmacy and we went in with Karen since Snookums thought she was getting an ear infection.  The pharmacist didn’t have what Karen thought was the right stuff so we continued on.  There were vegetables for sale and packets of Knorr soup mix and really just about everything that you would find in a US supermarket, although it was mostly bulk and not as well packaged (or as clean) as we have here.

Karen wanted to talk to the friendly garlic vendors that she knew and then they reminded her that they’ve always wanted their picture taken with her so Filbert obliged and took pictures and then emailed them to Karen.  They appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties and they must not have been married since when they found out that we didn’t have children they commented and pantomimed that children are a hassle and they don’t want children either!

We continued our stroll through the market and Karen said hello to some man and chatted for a few minutes.  He told her about his 2 year old son by his second wife (he’s still married to his first wife!) but his second wife is mad at him so he hasn’t seen his son in a few weeks.  I guess polygamy is allowed in Egypt since he wasn’t trying to hide anything.

Mertha, The Matron

We walked a few more feet and Karen told us we had to meet this woman.  She appeared to be a soap vendor and she had a broken down cart that contained boxes and bags and bars of soap.  She was missing some teeth and we think her name is Mertha.  Anyway, she invited us to tea and since Egyptians are very hospitable and this is part of the culture, we said “yes”.  She scurried around and found three ratty chairs for us and a broken crate for herself.  Snookums ordered tea without sugar and Filbert and Karen ordered coffee.  The tea vendor delivered the tea on a battered silver tray.  Snookums’ glass was chipped and she soon found out that it contained hot tea with sugar which really tasted like sugar syrup.  It was so sweet, but she managed to choke most of it down to be polite.  While we were having tea other Egyptians would come up and stare.  We thought they wanted to buy soap, but after they would leave Mertha would tell us (via Karen since she spoke Arabic) that they just wanted to be nosey.  It was so funny to see Mertha shake her head and basically yell at these busybodies to be on their way.  Karen had told us as we were walking up to meet Mertha that Mertha is the “boss woman” of the market and this did look to be the case.  She also smoked and it’s very unusual for Egyptian women to smoke in public, but she didn’t care.  We got the distinct impression that people either put up with her or hated her and that there really wasn’t much of a middle ground!  After about a half an hour, we kept walking through the market.  (The tea vendor came by after 15 minutes to collect the glasses.)

The trip continues in Part Sixteen, here.
Part Fourteen is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Fourteen

Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Thirteen is here.

October 24 (Wednesday, Day 23, Dubai) –

We decided to take today kind of slow and just took advantage of the free shuttle that the Hyatt offered to two of the local shopping malls.  The one next to the hotel (but definitely a drive away) opened on October 10 which explained why it was empty.  It was VERY high end and didn’t have any stores in it that we would ever shop in.

The other mall (Mercato) was about a 20 minute drive from the Hyatt and had a food court in it that had McD’s and 4 other US fast food chains.  We walked around both malls and ended up buying food from a grocery store in Mercato and eating a picnic of Arabic bread (i.e. pita bread), deli turkey, cheese slices, hummus and dates for lunch in the food court!  We also bought Puffs Plus for Snookums’ bad cold.

It was very interesting to watch the people.  80% of the population is not Dubai-born but are ex-pats.  So, being a Caucasian is no big deal.  In fact, you can’t tell the tourists from the “locals” other than you know that the true locals are the ones that are wearing the white robes and red/white checked head scarves (men) and black cloaks (they are called abayas) and black scarves (women).  The women that wear the abayas and scarves are beautiful in their black simplicity.  It looks like the abayas are zippered or closed somehow but the closure stops at the knee so you can see their western dress underneath.  Their eye makeup is stunning – lots of black eyeliner and heavy eye shadow and their abayas are usually trimmed with rhinestones (who knows, maybe diamonds??!!) or beautiful lace or some other very “chic” decoration.  The women of Dubai are very elegant compared to the burka-clad women in India and it’s not just the money, either.  The cut of the abaya versus the baggy burka has a lot to do with it, too, as does how the headscarves fit totally differently.  You still really only see the women’s faces, but the Dubai outfit is much less conservative.

The Mercato

We learned that Dubai is going to run out of its oil reserves by 2010 so the government wants to turn it into the #1 tourist destination in the world.  There is construction everywhere.  We were told that 30% of the construction cranes in the world are currently in Dubai and we believe it.  Dubai’s “old” airport is very nice and it looked to us like Emirates is spending a lot of money right now remodeling its terminal, yet Dubai is currently building the biggest airport in the world in another part of the city.  It will have six runways.  The plan is for all Dubai construction – malls, airport, condos, etc. – to be completed by 2010.  The majority of construction workers are from India or the Philippines.  While we were there they had their first strike against the two major construction companies.  The Dubai currency is closely tied to the US dollar and as a result the workers are saying that inflation is rising too fast and they aren’t able to send any money home.  And, in June Dubai offered a free “amnesty” program for illegal workers and ended up flying 230,000 workers back to their home countries.  So, they are now at least 230,000 workers short and the construction workers that are still around are unhappy with their pay.  It will be interesting to see if the plan to have the city completed by 2010 will be fulfilled.  Other than shopping, there isn’t anything in Dubai of interest.  Well, they have an indoor ski slope and they’re building all sorts of theme parks (including one that is supposed to be larger than the country of Singapore) and those types of attractions.  Those types of things don’t interest us.  However, it was neat to see all the brand new projects.

October 25 (Thursday, Day 24, Dubai) –

We decided that we needed to see more of Dubai than what the free Hyatt shuttle had to offer so we did the hop on/hop off tourist bus.

The Taj Mahal . . . no, the Eiffel Tower . . . no . . .

Our first route was along the beach road and in front of the Al Barj hotel.  We were sitting in the back of the upper deck, in the open air (i.e. sun and wind!) and after 2 hours decided that we should get off.  We went into the stop at the next mall (City Centre) and decided to have lunch.  The food court was identical to a US food court and had 10 US chain fast food restaurants (including Krispy Kreme doughnuts) and 2 “local” ones.  We had “meat” (our choice was meat or chicken and we chose meat) shawarma sandwiches (like gyros) from the Lebanese chain and they were very good.  We jumped back on the tour bus and got off at the stop that allowed us to have our free dhow cruise.

A dhow is a traditional boat that is still used for cargo.  We had a one-hour cruise on one converted to a dinner dhow and it was very nice to see other parts of Dubai Creek.  We saw lots of cargo sitting on the side of Dubai Creek waiting to be loaded, by hand, onto working dhows.  The cargo (like PCs and tvs) were in their normal cardboard boxes, stacked five and ten high on the concrete banks of Dubai Creek and the dhows were lined up three and four deep waiting to be loaded.  The dhow sailors don’t have Dubai work visas so when they moor in Dubai Creek, they aren’t allowed to get off the dhows and sometimes they just have to sit on their dhows for two or three days waiting for their turn to get loaded so that they can then shove off and make their sailing to another country.

Sunset on the dhow

October 26 (Friday, Day 25, Dubai) –

Today we signed up for a desert safari.  We got picked up at the Hyatt around 4 PM and then met up with about 10 other 4x4s.  We drove about 15 minutes (and saw locals riding camels and horses in the desert just off the highway) and then got off the highway and on the desert.  The drivers deflated the tires and we went dune riding.  Snookums didn’t like it much since it was very similar to swerving all over ice. All the 4x4s stopped after 15 minutes of dune riding to let us climb out to look at the sunset and that’s when we realized that the sand was powder fine.

In the desert

We were also amazed to see vegetation here and there.  It wasn’t just miles of sand, but there were some green bushes scattered about.  Our driver got stuck on a dune and another 4×4 put the winch to our 4×4 and pulled us out, in reverse.  That was the scariest part since the car went very fast after being high centered on the dune.  But, the driver knew what he was doing and all was well.  One of the guys in the front seat of another 4×4 threw up at least three times since we kept seeing the passenger window go down and he would stick his head out and spew.  It was a lot like riding a roller coaster!

Desert sunset

Then the desert safari continued and all the vehicles (including vehicles from the other desert safari companies) drove to a central camp in the middle of the desert. There were tents, low tables and cushions on the ground for seats.

Camel riding (3 pics):

There was also a camel that we rode (for free) and a man with a falcon that we held and he then took our picture using our camera (and then demanded money and so we paid him.  We should have learned our lesson in Delhi about saying “yes” to something without asking a price but I guess we didn’t!

Snookums and the falcon guy

There was a center stage and a belly dancer performed.  She was very good and did five different types of belly dances that neither of us had seen before.  She wasn’t like the kind you see in Greek restaurants.  She was much better and her dancing much more diverse.

Belly dancing

Dinner was a barbecue buffet with various kebabs, salad, hummus and pita bread.  It was pretty good and we were hungry.  But, we didn’t pig out since we knew that the ride back would be bumpy and swervy (and therefore sicky).  There were sheesha pipes (hookah pipes, water pipes) that we could have used for free, but we opted not to.  There was a full moon which was nice since the lights at the camp weren’t very bright.  It was a nice night and we ended up getting dropped off back at the Hyatt around 11 PM.

The trip continues in Part Fifteen, here.
Part Thirteen is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Thirteen

Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Twelve is here.

October 17 (Wednesday, Day 16, Hyderabad) –

Filbert woke up having not slept much at all, with an upset stomach.  Finally, around 7 a.m., he threw up and felt a bit better.  Because he hadn’t gotten much sleep, he decided to stay home in Judy’s apartment that day, staring at Indian cable TV channels.  Judy’s shift is from 2 PM until 11 PM to match working times in the U.S. so she had her driver take her and me back to Charminar and she bought a dandiya dress for her Friday night office party.  We were visiting during a 9 day Hindu festival (and Muslim’s eid had just happened, too) and dances are done by women wearing cotton dresses that dazzle with mirror work and heavy jewelry.  Judy had already planned on renting a brand new one for 300 rupees but found one that she could buy for 525!  Then it was time to take her to work.

Snookums checked on Filbert and then went out with Akbar to look at bangles, shoes, scarves and fabric.  Judy was invited to a Christian wedding (yes, there are Indians that are Christians) Thursday night and we were going, too, but Snookums needed Indian shoes and Filbert needed a party kurta.  A kurta is a long nightshirt type of thing worn over loose drawstring pants.  Snookums couldn’t find one to fit Filbert but Akbar bought 3 meters of maroon fabric (a very royal color, per Indians) and had his friend make the shirt.  The fabric was 315 rupees and the tailoring was 175 rupees (or $12 total).

October 18 (Thursday, Day 17, Hyderabad) –

Snookums went shoe shopping with Akbar again and found some Indian shoes.  They are flat shoes made out of three pieces of leather and have a lot of stitching all over them.  We only went to one store but it took about 2 hours due to the traffic.  While at the store the black burka-clad women next to me started telling me how beautiful my shoes were so I asked their advice on sizing.  Then I told them that the plastic slip on high heeled sandals that they were looking at were also beautiful.  (Most Muslim women in Hyderabad wear the black burka over their sarees when they leave the house.  Some of them have only their eyes exposed and others have their entire faces showing.)  It is interesting how so many of the people talk to us since we are Caucasian.

Indian Christian wedding

We went to the wedding and that was an experience.  The invitation said 4:30 but due to a road being closed, we got there at 5.  The wedding then started promptly at 5:30.  (Judy says that everything in India is late and Snookums thinks that they always planned on starting at 5:30.)  The bride wore a white saree with gold trim and she also wore a white Western-style veil.  The groom wore a suit.  The wedding was all in Telegu except for one of the three sermons.  We don’t know why that sermon was in English.  There were at least 6 “professional” photographers running around, too.  I used the quotation marks around professional since I’m sure they were being paid, but their 1970s/1980s era equipment and their unprofessional clothing (jeans and t shirts) didn’t seem too professional.  And, they were all over the place.  We had the high intensity light shined on us for a good 2 minutes while the video camera filmed the pew where the Caucasians sat.  The ceremony ended at 7 PM and as we were walking down the aisle, two men came up to Filbert and asked for his autograph and his address!  The Indians in Hyderabad just get a kick out of seeing Caucasians!  It didn’t hurt that Filbert was wearing traditional clothing.  I was wearing an Indian outfit, too, but I guess a white man wearing one is more of a novelty.  Judy was wearing a saree.

The famous one and his wife

After the ceremony we drove to the function hall for the reception.  It started by having everyone go inside a big building and take a seat.  The bride and groom were sitting in front on “thrones” and the bride’s brother was publicly introducing members of the bride’s family that were scattered throughout the function hall.  There were probably 500 people there.  They cut the cake (which looked like a traditional US wedding cake) and then servers came by and gave everyone pieces of cake (which tasted like spice cake with dates).  Then we went outside and ate under the tent.  Veg food was served at the tables at the north end of the tent and non-veg food was at the south end.  A family of four invited us to join them and we did.  (The tables sat 8.)  Indians eat their meals with their fingers so that’s what we did.  Bread (roti – like tortillas) was passed around and then came two chicken dishes in heavy gravies and mutton biryani rice.  It was all pretty tasty, but messy!  Every place setting had one flimsy paper napkin, too, but we knew to bring wet wipes and more tissues and stuff.  Dessert was runny, white pudding stuff and we were stumped as to how to eat it with fingers.  We asked and then realized that there were little plastic spoons for everyone to use.  The Indians got a good laugh at our expense since it was pretty obvious that you couldn’t eat it with your fingers.

The father of the groom came to our table and thanked us again for coming and an uncle did, too.  We decided to go through the receiving line with Judy and then to leave.  When we got on the stage to congratulate the bride and groom, the official photographer had to get a picture of all of us.  He had not been taking pictures of everyone else shaking the happy couple’s hands, just us.  There will be lots of pictures of us in their wedding album.

October 19 (Friday, Day 18, Hyderabad) –

Akbar took us to the Hyderabad zoo today.  It’s a very nice zoo and one has to wonder why a poor city has such a nice zoo when there are thousands of extremely poor people within one mile of it.  It has 26 tigers and a bunch of lions and everything a zoo should have, except giraffes.  They died in 1995.  We paid our $.50 and took the African safari, too, which was a bus ride through a special part of the zoo where the animals roam free.  We had seen the sloth bear bang on the side of a bus when we were walking outside the safari fence, but unfortunately it didn’t bang on our bus.  We walked the entire zoo in about 3.5 hours and finally found Akbar and the car.  I think he was planning on driving us from one exhibit to the next, but when we got to the tigers, we took a left turn and ended up walking away from the car.  We realized our “mistake” after about an hour.  Oh well.  We don’t think he was worried about us but we were ready to find him and the car since our lunch (and, more importantly, our water) was in it.  There were at least four times when Indians would come up to us and ask us if they could take their pictures with us.  Their cameras were all pretty old and rickety but if they wanted a picture of white people at the zoo, then what the heck.  People just stared at us while we were walking around since we were the ONLY non-Indians at the zoo.  We definitely stuck out.

On the way back to Judy’s apartment Akbar took us to a handicraft shop so that we could get some trinkets for the family in Cairo that we are going to have lunch with after we take our hour long camel ride at the pyramids.  (Our guide’s camel man suggested that we eat lunch with his family.)

Judy doesn’t have internet access at her apartment but her colleague that lives on the floor below does so when we got back we sat in front of her apartment and “stole” her wireless connectivity.  She knew we were going to do that and left her gate to her porch unlocked for us.  It was very comfortable.

We have Judy’s end of busy season party to attend tonight.  Her job is to manage the Indians that complete the US tax returns and October 15 is the end of the tax extension filing deadline.  The 1,000 or so Indians (no spouses or significant others were allowed so the fact that Judy brought us was actually a “no no” but who was going to say anything?) were supposed to wear traditional Indian clothing (with no Western clothing allowed) and we were set with our wedding outfits.  The party was being held on the lake that is outside Judy’s apartment, but it was on the opposite side of the lake so we had to have Akbar take us.

Office party, Indian style

We got to the party and each of us got our two drink tickets.  Much to Filbert’s dismay, the beer was Budweiser, but since it was free, he got over it!  Deloitte is a high-class company and only serves premium beer at its parties.  We thought it was pretty funny, but since Bud is much more expensive than Kingfisher (an Indian beer) it made perfect sense that the company would provide top-notch refreshments.  Judy made sure to point out that although there were trash cans scattered about the open air event, the Indians would throw their cups and bottles on the ground.  It was disgusting, but that’s what they are used to doing.  The entertainment was interesting to say the least.  It was a talent show made up of the Deloitte workers and consisted of singers and dancers.  There were probably 8 or 9 different acts that culminated with a fashion show made up of volunteers from the party right then.  Judy was dragged up on stage to be in the fashion show since they needed another woman and she looked very nice in the dandiya dress she bought two days before.

Judy laughs

Filbert said the entertainment reminded him of the crew show put on at the end of every cruise and he was right.  I just thought it was pretty interesting that Deloitte was actually able to get people to volunteer to sing and dance in front of everyone else but as one of the ex-pats said, “They grow up very poor with just music to have fun with so they all know how to sing and dance” and I think that is very true.

The buffet dinner was basically a repeat of the wedding dinner (chicken dishes, rice biryani, vegetable curries, roti) but this time we could use silverware (which we did).  The roti (bread) was being made at the event by the catering staff and it was interesting to watch the guys take little balls of dough and make “tortillas” out of them.  The dance floor was absolutely packed with the Indians and it looked like they were kind of just jumping up and down to the extremely loud music.  We left around 10 since the invitation said the party was from 7 – 10.  Snookums thought it was funny that there was an ending time to the party, but Judy said it was since transportation had to be provided to and from the venue since very few people own scooters or cars.  (Akbar told us the next day that a scooter driven by a drunk Deloitte person leaving the party hit a child [and the driver kept on going] and Judy figured that meant that at all future parties no one would be allowed to drive personal vehicles to or from the party.)

October 20 (Saturday, Day 19, Hyderabad) –

Since it is Saturday, Judy isn’t going to work and will spend the day with us.  We went to the Salar Jung Museum that houses stuff that a man collected throughout the years.  The highlight is a cuckoo clock.  This is NOT a big deal to Westerners, but the Indians are amazed by it.  The clock is in a very large hall and there are even video screens posted so people in the back can see.  There are about 200 chairs in the hall and there were at least another 300 or so people standing.  We happened to come to this part of the museum right around 11:55 so we decided to just stand and watch the Indians.  They were all watching the clock and we were watching them!  At noon the man (or bird – it was so unremarkable it is unmemorable!) came out of the clock and hammered twelve times.  Then it was over and all of the Indians got up and left.  Some actually immediately sat in the front row to wait for the next “show” which occurs every hour.  (And at 1:00, it would only hammer one time!).  Judy knows that Akbar thinks the clock is really neat, like the other Indians do, so when we got back to the car we made a big deal to him about the fact that we saw it at noon and saw it do its thing 12 times.  We probably spent one hour total in the museum since it really isn’t impressive but Judy did have a point about how “weird” some of the exhibits were (like the clock and the room full of French chairs – not antiques and not special, but a lot of them).  The power went out in the museum for about 2 minutes and no one even gave it a second thought.

Then we went to Snow World.  Judy had been saving that for us and had no idea what to expect.  We offered to pay for Akbar to go with us, but he said it would be too cold.  It was very expensive for Indians (250 rupees or $6).  We were lent socks, boots, a parka and mittens.  Filbert did NOT want to wear their boots so he didn’t.  Judy and Snookums played along and were pleased to find out that everything was clean and in good shape.  After everyone got all bundled up, we had to enter the acclimation room.  It was probably 50 degrees in there and Filbert didn’t put on his parka or mittens.  He’s such a Norwegian!  Finally it was the time we were all waiting for and the door to Snow World was opened for our one hour of fun.  We walked into a room that was about the size of a basketball court and the floor was snowpacked.  There was a slide that you could toboggan down and there were balls and a volleyball net.  There were also chairs and tables carved out of ice.  We sat on one of the two wooden benches on the side and watched the Indians play in the snow.  It was pretty funny.  Filbert finally put on his parka.  We saw that there were some events scheduled during the hour and decided we had to wait to see what they were.  The snow making machine shot out snow from the top of the room for 5 minutes and when it started there was a loud squeal from the crowd and they all ran over to where it was falling the most and had fun in it.  There was also a dance floor (?) and at a certain point they started playing music and had lights flashing and the snow dance floor was filled with Indians jumping up and down (or dancing).  Snookums got cold after about 40 minutes so the three of us left the “fun” early and decided to eat some of the arcade food that was being sold at Snow World.  Judy bought some boiled peanuts (they were good), Snookums had a veg puff (it was some kind of vegetable mixture baked in puff pastry – not that tasty and very greasy) and Filbert had a samosa.  We enjoyed watching the Indians leave Snow World and take off their parkas and stuff, try to warm up and then buy the food.  Other than the fact that it was SOOOO expensive for Indians to do, it seemed like a normal Saturday afternoon activity for the family that could take about 3 hours or so (due to the time it takes to get to Snow World and the time to stand in line and the time in the acclimation room and the time playing in the snow and the time afterwards buying junk food).

Akbar took us back to Judy’s apartment and Filbert decided he had enough for the day.  Snookums and Judy decided to go to Shilparamam market which is an arts and crafts market that changes some of its vendors every two weeks.  Judy drove to it and as soon as we parked, it started to pour!  We waited in the car for about 45 minutes or so before braving the soggy grounds.  The vendors started removing the temporary tarps over their stalls halfway through our visit since the rain had completely stopped by then.  Judy saw a set of 6 coasters that had the Taj Mahal inlaid in them and Snookums bought one of them for about $1.25 for our travel wall.  The vendor wanted to sell the set of identical coasters, but since they were impractical (wood inlaid with metal – but not water proof or anything remotely like that), Snookums managed to bargain for just one.

Judy drove us back to her apartment and we collected Filbert and then the three of us went to Novotel for a great Saturday dinner buffet.  Novotel is the 5 star Western-style hotel about 20 minutes from Judy’s apartment (and about 5 minutes past the Deloitte office).  The Saturday dinner buffet featured various charcoal grilled items (buffalo [there is no beef in India!], chicken, vegetables, fish), Indian dishes (all labeled), a pasta station, sushi and other things you would find at a 5 star US hotel’s buffet.  It was like heaven for Filbert and Snookums, that’s for sure!  And, the beer was free so Filbert (and Judy!) really enjoyed it.  At $30 per person, it was the most expensive meal in Hyderabad (or probably all of India) but worth every penny!  The dining room was full of Deloitte people in Hyderabad on 6 week assignments that stay at the Novotel.  This was the third time Judy had been to the buffet but the first with family which meant she didn’t need to be on her best behavior and could just relax.  We all had a good time and Filbert brought his laptop and found that the wireless internet was “free” so he did some surfing, too.  (Wireless internet security seems to be pretty lax in Hyderabad which is probably due to the fact that very few people have laptops in order to steal data from the wireless network.)

October 21 (Sunday, Day 20, Hyderabad) –

Akbar drove the three of us to Sunday mass.  Judy had warned that this was one thing that starts on time and she was right.  The prior mass ended about 1 minute before ours started.  People were climbing over the prior mass goers to sit for the new mass and then the prior mass goers left a few minutes after our mass began.  It was pretty comical. Judy did manage to get us a pew that had lots of leg room.  (The pews were lined up kind of helter skelter.  Some had almost no leg room and others had lots.)  Judy was given a weekly bulletin since she was doing one of the readings.  It looked like they printed about ten bulletins and only the mass participants received them.  They must be too costly to print for everyone.  Judy warned us that the church was dirty (like everything in India).  They must not have an altar society of retired women that volunteer to clean the pews and stuff.

After church we went to Big Bazaar.  Filbert had stumbled upon an internet article a few months ago about this “Wal-Mart” type chain in India and we knew we wanted to visit one of the stores.  The article talked about how the founder put together an organized store with aisles but the Indians didn’t trust this kind of display so he had to kind of jumble things up.

Sunday Mass
Big Bizarre—er—Bazaar

Big Bazaar was kind of jumbled, but it was the nicest general store we had seen in India.  It was 5 floors and we visited each one and did a little shopping for Melamine dinner plates for our outdoor parties.  Judy bought some household supplies she needed since she doesn’t come here too often due to the hassle factor of the drive.  And, just like in the US, Snookums managed to be charged incorrectly.  We bought 3 bottles of soda and the third was supposed to be free and of course, it wasn’t.  That meant going to the customer service desk.  We also had to talk to the customer service desk to get our 3 kg of sugar for 1 rupee (or about 2.5 cents) since we spent more than 900 rupees ($23) and this was the promotion item they were giving/selling.  The sugar ended up being loose sugar that they weighed and put in a flimsy bag (like we use for produce in a US grocery store) and Judy gave this to Akbar.

We got back to Judy’s around 2 PM and we decided to go to Novotel for its Sunday brunch (and free internet).  Judy stayed at her apartment and picked us up when we were ready.  Filbert still had no appetite for Indian food.

October 22 (Monday, Day 21, Hyderabad) –

We used today as kind of a down day and went back to Novotel for about 4 hours.  We sat outside of the bar to surf the internet and Filbert had a buffalo burger and Snookums had a grilled chicken sandwich for lunch.  Both tasted “normal”.  We called Akbar and he picked us up and took us to a shop to get some photos developed for our postcards.  We got back to Judy’s around 5 PM.  That night Judy drove us to Olive Garden.  That’s a restaurant close to her apartment that serves all types of cuisines.  Filbert ordered chicken spaghetti (remember, no beef in India!) but it was kind of sweet/sour and Judy ended up eating it.  Snookums wasn’t feeling too well and ordered fried rice and Filbert ate Judy’s order of fried rice.  We got back to Judy’s apartment and packed up for our trip to Dubai.

October 23 (Tuesday, Day 22, Hyderabad to Dubai) –

After feeling kind of “iffy” for the past two days, Snookums woke up with a definite cold.  Akbar took us to the airport and we had no problems.  Participants from the military games were there from Korea, Azerbaijan, and the UAE.  We were in the immigration line with the Korean officials and they were definitely happy to be leaving India (as were we!).  It was kind of funny.  And, one last bit of India work ethic was waiting for us – one of the immigration officers was busy dealing with one person and then the next and then he suddenly just stood up and walked away and got a drink of water and came back and just sat there.  The Korean that was next in line didn’t know what to do.  It was then pretty obvious that the immigration officer was going to take his break at his desk so that line merged to our line.  We all just rolled our eye since this was so typical of what we saw in India.  The funny thing about the Hyderabad airport was that Snookums found that the women’s bathroom had autosensor self-flushing toilets.  There wasn’t any toilet paper, soap or paper towels, but they had “high tech” toilets.  She couldn’t believe it.

We boarded the Emirates flight to Dubai and breathed a sigh of relief that we were done with a third world country for a few days.  The flight attendant (Claire) that dealt with our seats happened to be from Canada (a native English speaking Caucasian – how lucky can we be??) and Snookums decided to ask her for a decongestant.  In the US you would never be given anything by a flight attendant, but in a foreign country you just never know.  Sure enough, she supplied Snookums with a brand new bottle of nasal spray that Emirates keeps on board for passengers.  Snookums saw that she had Diet 7 Up (and not just Coke Light like India had) and rejoiced over it.  At the end of the flight, Claire gave Snookums a goodie bag that contained items from the first class travel kit (razors, toothbrushes, eyeshades, socks) as well as cans of Diet 7 Up and some Ricola cough drops for her nasty hack of a cough.  It was a fabulous flight.  We landed in Dubai and loved the gleaming terminal and trash cans.

Flight 527 bound for Civilization

We breezed through passport control, baggage claim and customs and found the Hyatt booth where the women gave us cold bottles of water and walked us outside to our waiting BMW 730 sedan.  We got to the Dubai Grand Hyatt around 2 PM and didn’t leave the hotel for the day!  Our room was on the 12th floor and was about the same size as the one in Bangkok but much more plush.  The going rate for the dates of our stay was $577 plus tax per night for a Regency Club room.

The trip continues in Part Fourteen, here.
Part Twelve is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Twelve

Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Eleven is here.

October 15 (Monday, Day 14, Delhi/Agra, continued) –

Taj Mahal lines (women on the left – very short line and men on the right – very long line)

We finally got through the admission gate and spent 45 minutes walking around the grounds of the Taj Mahal before walking ¾ mile to the car and going back to Delhi.  The Taj Mahal was pretty, but it really was not worth the time it took to get there.

At the Taj Mahal

The guidebooks say to catch the 6 AM train from Delhi for a 2 hour trip and then take the 8 PM train back to Delhi. That would have made more sense, but would have also made for a much longer day.  However, we would have had time to see the Red Fort and other Agra sights besides just the Taj Mahal.  Live and learn…

The drive to and from Agra wasn’t a complete waste of time since we did see many interesting things.  We saw small one room mud huts with thatched roofs that people live in.  We saw women carrying dung patties that we guessed were going to be used for cooking fires.  We saw women carrying water jugs on their heads.  We saw camels toting huge loads of what looked like fiberfill or cotton.

Camels hauling cotton

While stopped so our driver could get out and pay the tax for leaving one Indian state and entering another, we saw a man with dancing monkeys.  He wanted people in the cars to give him money and the monkeys even got on our car but we didn’t give him anything.

Indian shopping mall

We also saw lots of technology universities (full of students) and shopping malls (empty/being built) in the middle of nowhere.  There seemed to be universities all over the place.  We also saw that one side of the national highway was closed due to a protest of dispossessed Indians.

March of the dispossessed

The amazing thing was that this protest just shut down about 10 kilometers of one side of the national highway so our two lanes all of a sudden became one lane each way.  This type of unannounced/unsigned road alteration/closure seemed to happen a lot in India.

While Filbert was waiting in the men’s entry line (and I was standing next to him although I could have entered at any time since my line had no women in it), several Indian guys would come up to us and tell us to follow them and they would show us the shorter line for 100 rupees.  Yeah, right.  If there was a shorter line, all of the Indians in front of us would know about it.  It was amazing that there were thousands of Indians there and literally only a handful of Caucasians.  We were definitely in the minority.  The Indians also try to cut in front of Filbert but I managed to block them out and we both said “Go to the end of the line”.  That got the attention of a guard who yelled at the Indian guys and as they stalked away, the guard was laughing since he was getting a kick out of a Western woman blocking the barricade from Indian men cutting in line. Indians also came up to us many times asking for them to take their picture with us using their camera which they then would have demanded money from us.  One time Filbert pretended to be the confused tourist and said “OK, I will take your picture” and got his camera ready and they walked off.  So many scams….

It made for a very long day with no lunch break (our choice) and we were thrilled to get back to the Regency Club for some “normal” food.  Whereas we were inundated with lots of ready to eat food choices in Bangkok, there just aren’t many street vendors in India.  The people are too poor to buy ready to eat food.  We do see a lot of stands selling glasses of tap water for ½ rupee (~ one cent), but since we would NEVER drink the water here and have no interest in using a communal glass, those stands are of no interest.

Still at the Taj Mahal
Indian lawnmower outside the Taj Mahal’s walls

October 16 (Tuesday, Day 15, Delhi to Hyderabad) –

Since we were staying on the Regency Club floor, the Hyatt provided free transportation to the airport which was nice.  In India you have your checked bags go through x-ray and then they put a strap around each bag to prevent theft (although Judy said that they can easily cut the strap off in the back and then just put a new strap around it).  Then you take your strapped bags to the check-in counter and get your boarding pass.  Before you go through security, you must make sure each carry-on has a blank name tag on it since when the bag goes through security, a guy takes a stamp and stamps the tag.  I guess this is to give another Indian a job!  Our 2 hour flight left on time and we got great service in coach.  It included a glass of lemonade right at the beginning (which we didn’t drink since we didn’t know the water situation) followed by a small bottle of water which was followed by a wet towel.

Meal enroute to Hyderabad

Then lunch was served.  We had our choice of veg or non-veg.  (India has a lot of Hindus and they are vegetarian so everything is labeled veg or non-veg.)  It was pretty tasty for airplane food.  As we were getting closer to Hyderabad we noticed how green it was getting and we were getting excited.  Delhi was such a brown, dusty, dirty city that seeing green was great.

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Delhi anymore.  Yay.

Judy and her driver, Akbar, were waiting for us at 1 when we got off the plane and we loaded up the car and took off.  Akbar took Judy to her office and we spent the rest of the day with Akbar seeing Hyderabad.  It was SO much nicer than Delhi.  The traffic wasn’t insane and we saw real stores and other signs of civilization.  We just couldn’t get over how much better it was.  When we were in Delhi I just kept telling Filbert that I had no idea how Judy could put up with the filth and traffic and throngs of people and I was hoping that Hyderabad was better and was pleased it was.

On our tour around town, he stopped and told us to stay in the car.  Then he appeared alongside the car with two styrofoam bowls filled with gray “pudding” with orange grease floating on the top.  We each took one and ate it.  It was haleem which is available only during Ramzan (the month that Muslims fast) but since it is so popular this particular restaurant continued to serve it for 6 more days which is why we were able to have it.

Haleem is cooked for at least 10 hours in a bhatti (an oven made with mud) and hit with large sticks the entire time until its get its paste-like consistency.  The ingredients are wheat, lentils, lamb, spices and pure ghee (the orange grease floating on the top).  It was pretty tasty and very filling but very unattractive.  Filbert ate his entire bowl and Snookums ate 80% of hers.  Neither wants to eat it again, but it was a nice introduction to Hyderabad.  Filbert also had a cup of very sweet tea (maybe chai??) after his haleem.  While we were eating in the car Akbar was eating his haleem and drinking tea in the tea shop with the other Muslim men.  Our total bill was 160 rupees ($4) which is a lot of money but haleem is a special dish.

Charminar at night

Akbar took us to Charminar which is a monument that was built in 1591 and is in the middle of old Hyderabad and has arches on each side leading out to four thoroughfares.  It is also where a huge open air market is located selling all sorts of bangles, sarees, pearls and wedding items.  We thought it was prettier than the Taj!!  We then walked to Mecca Masjid mosque which is the second largest in India.  (We had already seen the largest one which is in Delhi.)  This mosque had a bombing at it on May 17, 2007 when at least 16 people were killed so we had to walk through metal detectors.  (There are metal detectors and guys with wands all over India, but it doesn’t seem like most of them actually detect anything.)  We got back to Judy’s apartment around 8 PM and went out to dinner with her to celebrate our third anniversary.

The trip continues in Part Thirteen, here.
Part Eleven is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.

Around The World, Part Eleven

Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Ten is here.

October 13 (Saturday, Day 12, Delhi, continued) –

Filbert was wearing the Indian pajama set (called a kurta) that Judy sent him and every Indian man he saw commented on it.  He does look very handsome in it and the Indians all wanted to know if he bought it in Delhi or what.

Jama Masjid was built in 1656 by the emperor who built the Taj Mahal and is the largest and most splendid mosque in India and can seat 20,000 people.  As we were taking our shoes off, an Indian came up to us and started telling us about the mosque.  His tour was actually very interesting until the very end when he said that we owed him 500 rupees ($12.50).  To put this in perspective, our charge to Sushil for 8 hours of driving is 900 rupees ($22.50)!  Oh well, it was a good tour but now we know to not just blindly allow someone to start talking to us.

Monkey

We could see the Red Fort in the distance but since we’re going to see one near the Taj Mahal that is identical to the one in Delhi since the same architect built both, we’ll just wait to tour that one.

While driving around, we saw another elephant, two camels, cows and horses on the streets.  The cows were untethered and Sushil said that they are allowed to wander since they are smart and end up at home at night.  We also saw “wild” monkeys several times and one mongoose in the grass.

We told Sushil that we wanted to go to Pansath Market so he took us there.  According to the guide books, it is a market area for bargains.  That could be true, but what we saw was an open air market that catered to Indians selling shoes and jeans and stuff.  We walked around for awhile and then found a place for lunch.  It appeared to be a chain restaurant since it had a nice plastic sign and it sold wraps (you know, sandwiches made with tortillas instead of bread).  It wasn’t very Indian, but the other open air market stalls didn’t look too sanitary.  We bought a paneer wrap and a chicken wrap and took them upstairs to an unmanned area with tables and chairs (okay – one table with 4 chairs and 10 chairs at a counter).  They were pretty tasty and we managed to kill two cockroaches on the floor while we were eating.  They were 35 rupees each which is almost $1 so they weren’t that cheap.  I think you can buy hot dishes at the other stands for about 20 rupees.  But, this seemed like the safer thing to eat.

October 14 (Sunday, Day 13, Delhi) –

We got picked up at 10:30 and went to Qutab Minar which was built around the year 1200 and is a Muslim tower and a landmark in Delhi.  We followed the people and then found out that you had to buy tickets across the street so we opted to not go through the gates.  There seems to be no logic for how India has their tourist attractions set up.  The place you buy tickets is often very far from the place you give the tickets.  And they sometimes have separate entry lines for men and women since they search everyone due to the bombings that have happened in the recent past.  They always seem to charge you if you have a camera, too, regardless of whether you take pictures or not.  So, we’ve learned to leave the camera in the car and to just take pictures from outside the walls/gates.

Then we had Sushil take us to an upscale shopping area since we were really disappointed with the markets that we had seen so far.  The upscale one sure wasn’t upscale.  We don’t even like to shop but we just wanted to see if Delhi had any “normal” shops (from a U.S. perspective) and we really didn’t see any.  Filbert found a book shop and did buy 3 paperback books that were 50% of the cost in the U.S.  He had read that India publishes a lot of books for the U.S. and England and that they are cheaper here and that proved accurate.

After window shopping for a few minutes, we walked the neighborhood for 1.5 hours or so.  We walked around parked cars, avoided potholes in the road, walked around standing cows (and avoided some that seemed to be walking towards us) and walked around poles in the road.

When you are walking in India, you have to always be on the lookout on the ground for obstacles (including dog and cow manure) as well as for cars/bikes/scooters coming at you.  There aren’t any sidewalks so you just be careful.  We happened upon a pick-up cricket game being played by college men.

Qutab Minar
“Upscale” shopping center
A friendly cow
Cricket game

One thing you notice right away is that there are very few women out and about but lots of men.  The men are doing the shopping and they are in the tea shops enjoying a cup of tea.  They are also urinating on the side of the streets.  You do see women, but they are always walking somewhere and you don’t see them in the tea shops or snack shops at all.  There are also very few public toilets and we have no idea where women go to the bathroom.

After we walked around for about 1.5 hours we went back to our driver and had him take us to Palika Bazaar near Connaught Place.  This is an underground market and all of the stalls were selling sarees or DVDs or leather jackets or children’s clothing or jewelry.  But, it was amazing how it was just this underground maze (like a subway station) that had right turns and left turns and more turns.  We counted at least 7 entrances.  I bargained for some silk scarves, but that was it.  The stall owners yell out to you as you pass by which I find very annoying so we just walked along and didn’t make eye contact with anyone or any item.

After we surfaced from the underground market, we crossed the street to a park-like setting and we were walking around and for some reason I stopped for 10 or 20 seconds.  There weren’t many people around and I don’t even know why I stopped.  The next thing I know there is a man next to me pointing at my shoe saying “Your shoe is dirty.  Let me clean it.”  I looked down and sure enough on my white, all leather (thank goodness) tennis shoes was a huge pile of SHIT on the toe area.  He kept wanting to clean it and we said “no” and Filbert literally shoved him away.  We had our own portable pack of 20 Wet Ones (you want to have these with you at all times) so I used 5 to clean my shoe.  Then I threw the ones on the ground since that’s what you do in India!!!  We found out from our driver that the man was the one that put the dung on my shoe (and it was a large amount and kind of runny/mushy — possibly dog dung) and his scam was to then clean my shoe and not tell us up front the charge and then when he was done he would have demanded $10 or $20 (in US dollars which we don’t even carry!).  We thought something was up which was why we said “no”.  So, the lesson is — do NOT say “yes” to anything before understanding the price and the services provided.  Also, don’t stop when you are in kind of an open place or you might get “dunged” too!!!  I’m still laughing about it, but only because none of it got on the shoelaces and since my shoes were all leather, it cleaned up very nicely.  As Filbert said, “Welcome to the festering shithole!”

We decided this was enough of Delhi and had our driver take us back to the Hyatt.  When we got there we changed rooms and got one of the newly renovated ones.  (We had electrical outlet problems in the old room.  Several lights were on the master switch and they could NOT be turned off individually.  So, the room was either totally lit up or totally dark – no sense in one person reading in bed while the other slept.)  It was MUCH nicer than our original one and rather than looking at the Hyatt’s swimming pool (which was nice, but was just a garden area with a swimming pool) we got a view of a city street.  (In the opinion of the Hyatt, our swimming pool view is better than the street view.  But not in our opinion.)  We sat in front of our 6th floor floor-to-ceiling window and watched camels and horses and elephants and other things pass by.

Evening rush hour:  Delhi

We also watched a vendor that had two insulated thermoses set up shop and sell some hot beverage.  He obviously was a regular seller since many Hyatt workers would go and sit on the curb and drink his beverage.  Then they would throw their paper cups on the ground.  India is filthy (or, maybe, “festering”)!
October 15 (Monday, Day 14, Delhi) –

Sushil had told us that Delhi to Agra (to see the Taj Mahal) was a 2.5 hour trip so we arranged for a private car and driver to take us.  It was really a 4.5 hour trip (one way) on a crappy national highway.  (Once again, don’t believe anything that an Indian tells you.)  The drive to Agra, according to Filbert, was one of the most depressing experiences of his life.

Going to Agra:

We got out of the car around 12:30 and told the driver we would be back at 2.  We bought our tickets and then Filbert had to stand in the men’s line for about 45 minutes.  The women’s line had no one in it since women don’t really leave the house.

(A cliff-hanger!  Yes!  Will Filbert get into the Taj Mahal?  Will the poop-flinger return?  Tune in again next time for Round The World In 37 Days!)

The trip continues in Part Twelve, here.
Part Ten is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.