Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The BIG Trip Recap

I haven't posted about the Europe/Middle East trip details so here it is (only one month after returning!).

Belgium - I think the engagement post describes the few days quite well!

Holland - Before Ben became too busy with meetings, we did some fun activities together. First stop was Keukenhof to see the tulip fields and they were gorgeous! We were amazed at the different varieties, many of which we had never seen before. Next was a romantic evening cruise through the canals of Amsterdam. Then Ben had two days of meetings in Alkmaar, so I started my solo expeditions. On the first day I took the train into Amsterdam. The city has a very good public transit system so I bought a day pass and tried it out. The system requires you to guess your stops and request a certain amount of stamps. At one point I estimated wrong, and so when the agent looked at my pass she just waved me away and told me to sit down. I was worried that I would find myself stranded on the outskirts of Amsterdam with my improperly done pass, but all the other agents seemed fine with my stamps and I did make it back to the train station at the end of the day. I went to some amazing museums (Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh) and walked around the beautiful city. The next day I went into Alkmaar's downtown for the cheese farmers market. I was hoping to sample a wide variety of cheese, but unfortunately it has not been a traditional market for years and is a tourist trap where they sell everything but cheese. The town is still very cute and I enjoyed walking around and people watching while I had some cheese for lunch at a cafe. In both Amsterdam and Alkmaar I was amazed at the amount of bicycles used. The country gets two thumbs up from me for their efficient public transportation and bicycle usage!

Qatar - It was such a contrast to come from the lush, greenery of northern Europe to the desert. Doha is under major construction as the Emir is trying to build up the country. Ben was very busy with meetings, so I spent a lot of time with Mary (the Qatar coordinator's wife) shopping, lunching, and having many coffee/tea breaks at the fancy hotels in the area - basically enjoy life as a lady of leisure in the comforts of air conditioning.

UAE - Continuing the pattern of Ben in meetings and myself having the difficult task of leisure, I spent the first few days in the country by myself at the Hilton resort in Fujairah. It was nice to enjoy the heat by laying out and swimming in the Indian Ocean. I then met up with Ben in Dubai and my first impression after stepping out of the hired car was Vegas! The city has a lot of money and is the "playground" of the rich Arabs, especially from Saudi Arabia. Up until now, women I saw were either veiled or dressed very conservatively, but walking out of the hotel when I arrived was a group of single young women dressed as if they were going to a Vegas club (aka not much at all).
It was great to explore the fancy city with Ben for a few days. We tried out skiing at Ski Dubai, which is a small hill located in the Mall of Emirates. We even had the opportunity on the last evening in Dubai to enjoy dinner on the beach at one of the Burj Al Arab restaurants. We snapped a few pictures but I thought these pictures were very well done and capture the grandness of the 7-star hotel well. Finally in Abu Dhabi, I met up again with Mary to enjoy some shopping and coffee in the city. It was the holy day (Friday), so stores did not open until 4pm and we could hear the prayer chants everywhere the whole day.

Great trip! All the pictures can be found here. Unfortunately I didn't take very many while in the Middle East as it is illegal to take pictures of government and religious buildings, as well as considered in bad taste to take pictures of the locals. There are a ton of pictures of Belgium and Holland though!

I know I am still way behind on China (there was this one post...) but I am thinking details at the one year mark...


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