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Travelling in Saudi Arabia

Travelling in Saudi Arabia

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It’s been a truly exhausting voyage I have managed to complete, after nearly a year of planning and six months of intensive travelling across Africa and the Middle East! Before I begin, I want to extend a sincere thanks to the countless number of porters, co-travellers, locals, agents, writers and chieftains, without whose expertise and insight I wouldn’t have experienced the magic of Africa and the Arabian Gulf at its fullest!

Panoramic image of Dubai city

All I can say after a gruelling trip to so many places, is that despite an overwhelming amount of advice against travelling to this part of the world, with fear and worries over violence and the Ebola scare still active, I decided to put my love for adventure before my fears and chose to undertake the trip. And I can vouch today that it has been completely worth all the extra trouble, the nervousness, the mosquito bites and the infinite levels of cultural embarrassment I suffered as a non-native in this strangely beautiful part of Earth!

And true to this eye-opening trip, the raison d’etre behind this post is also an incident that followed the pattern and broke long-established stereotypes in my head about the Middle East and its people in general.

This happened during the last leg of my expedition. Tired and deprived of sleep after my experiences, I had ended up in a long line of check-ins to catch my connecting Saudi Arabian Airlines flight to Jeddah, where my other co-travellers would join me in returning to Riyadh.

Already jet-lagged due to the road trip I undertook to get here in the last 3 days, I quietly found a seat at the boarding area and fiddled around on my tablet, boarding the flight amid a handful of passengers when the time came, the Arabian signage of الخطوط السعودية glistening atop the gates. But it was only on-board when the incident occurred.

It started when the cries of a child woke everyone up an hour or so into the flight. Still accustomed to one time-zone, I was drowsy when I opened my eyes and stood up to investigate. It seemed that the child of a young couple was bawling his eyes out. The poor mother couldn’t do much except try calming him down, even as some muttered rather insensitively on how noisy the boy was.

With lightning speed, I saw a hostess rush past me. She reached the mother, asked her a few questions and ran back to the pantry. It was only when she returned with a food tray and effortlessly quietened the boy, feeding him with the mother’s help. Now I am no expert at medicine, but a few close looks at the boy indicated that he looked older than his clothes portrayed. It was only on asking the hostess that the truth hit me with the force of so much overwhelming pride that I couldn’t contain my smile; the child was autistic, which is why the hostess had rushed to get one of the airline’s specialized meals for autism patients.

I know plenty of readers may not find much value in the story, but the fact that such sensitivity can be seen in a global brand like this shows that we have much to learn about hospitality and understanding of one another. Kudos to Saudia and its impeccable principles! Hope to keep witnessing such incidents of spotless humanity!

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Top 5 Historical Landmarks of Portugal

Top 5 Historical Landmarks of Portugal

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Portugal is a hive of culture, history, and architecture and is home to fifteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites. If you plan a holiday to Portugal to discover some of its glorious histories, look through our top five Portuguese historical landmarks.

Alcobaça Monastery

This beautiful monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Monastery of Santa Maria de Alcobaça is a prime example of early Gothic architecture. The sanctuary is home to the ornate tombs of Ines de Castro and King Pedro I. There is a tragic love story associated with the burials. Ines de Castro was assassinated in 1355, and the king ordered his tomb to be placed next to hers so that he could face the woman he loved on the day of resurrection. They are considered to be the most beautiful medieval tombs in Portugal. There are also living quarters, including a refectory, dormitory, kitchen, and cloisters that have been inhabited by monks for 800 years.

Convent of Christ

The Convent of Christ is a beautiful roman catholic building located in Tomar. It was initially a stronghold for the Order of the Knights Templar. The building houses impressive art and examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, and Renaissance architecture. The walls inside are exquisitely decorated with paintings, carved stone sculptures, and a window depicting symbols and motifs. This site has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983.

Évora

Évora is a Portuguese city home to several historical sights, some over two thousand years old. The Cathedral of Évora is considered one of Portugal’s most important gothic monuments. Moorish palaces and courtyards, a renaissance fountain built-in 1559, and a one-of-a-kind Roman temple have become the city’s most famous landmarks. It is not surprising that Évorahas is classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

Belém Tower

Belém Tower was built to be a fortress in 1515 to guard the entrance to Lisbon’s harbor. The tower is constructed from lioz limestone that is local to Lisbon. It is considered one of the prominent examples of the late gothic Manueline style. There is a drawbridge, spaces for cannons, turrets, and arches that have been decorated with images of animals, plants, and royal coats of arms. Inside there are statues, pillars, and gargoyle facets. UNESCO has listed the tower as a World Heritage monument. 



Jerónimos Monastery

Jerónimos Monastery is considered one of the most beautiful monasteries in Portugal and Europe. Located in Lisbon, the monastery has various entrances that have been decorated with carved figures, gables, and pinnacles. There is a 16th Century Portuguese sculpture of Our Lady of Belém in the central doorway, a figure of Prince Henry the Navigator in the center of the monastery, and a statue of King Manuel I. The monastery has been classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

We hope this has inspired you to start planning your trip to Portugal today.

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Top 5 Outdoor Adventure Activities in Qatar

Find out why Sand boarding, Diving and Safaris through the desert are included in the Top 5 Outdoor Adventure Activities in Qatar.

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Top 5 Outdoor Adventure Activities in Qatar

Qatar is a country of reinvention. Shimmering towerblocks rise against a desert horizon, and maze-like souks thrive next to 21st-century shopping palaces. It’s also one of the more accessible countries of the Arab Gulf, with a welcoming reputation towards visitors and plenty of attractions to keep them coming. Some of the best holiday activities you’ll find in Qatar are the adventurous kind. And these are the top 5 outdoor adventure activities in Qatar.

Top 5 Outdoor Adventure Activities in Qatar

Sunset in Qatar – Photo by wj2012

Top 5 Outdoor Adventure Activities in Qatar

Diving expeditions

The Gulf Sea is famed for its crystal waters and the exuberant marine life which lurks just beneath the surface. Messaid is a good jumping-off point where you’ll find angelfish and barracuda, while those intrigued by underwater wrecks will love the Hall Island dive site at Al-Sharqi, where bright clownfish circle the abandoned boat.

Sand Adventures

Many of the sports here have been adapted from colder climates, so instead of skiing down a mountain piste, try Khor Al Adaid beach to glide down the impressive dunes on a sand-board. Alternatively, race your blo-kart along the sands of Al Wakrah, south of capital Doha, to experience the thrill of wind-sailing on dry land.

Top 5 Outdoor Adventure Activities in Qatar

Sand Boarding – Top 5 Outdoor Adventure Activities in Qatar – Photo by ground zero

Al Jassasiya

The ancient carvings of Al Jassasiya lie to the north near Al Shamal, amid a truly remote landscape of village ruins and limestone. Hire a 4×4 of your own and make the journey to see the 900 petroglyphs which riddle the rocks here. The carvings denote flowers, animals, fleets of shows, or traditional Arab boats, and to this day, their origins remain a mystery.

Sunset Cruise

When the time comes for a more relaxed excursion, you can do no better than a sunset cruise onboard a wooden dhow as you drift past the super-modern Doha seafront of Al-Corniche and the old harbor at Al Khor. If you’re still hankering after some adventure, rent a smaller vessel and go for a fishing trip the following day.

Desert Safaris

Much of the inland desert in Qatar remains inaccessible on foot, but fortunately, that’s where a 4×4 comes in very handy for a safari trip you won’t easily forget. There are numerous options available from Doha, including day-long excursions, bumping, and rolling to the inland sea at Khor Al Adaid. Or make the trip at dusk for a spot of star-gazing before you settle in Bedouin-style tents for the night.

Top 5 Outdoor Adventure Activities in Qatar

Desert Safari – Top 5 Outdoor Adventure Activities in Qatar – Photo by robertpaulyoung

Most activities can be arranged via a tour company. Although cash has been the predominant payment method in Qatar, this is beginning to change, which is good news for tourists since  HSBC offers protection against loss or theft. If you’re planning on taking part in several activities, it can be handy to have some plastic on you to avoid expensive traveler’s cheques, plus credit cards from HSBC and other familiar providers also enable easy access to money at the ATMs. However, it’s wise to exercise caution, using only official bank machines here and sticking with local currency at the market and in smaller shops.

There’s no doubt that Qatar offers some world-class cultural attractions beyond the more energetic highlights, and while you’re in the country, set aside some time for the historic Al Zubarah fort or browse the recreated 19th-century Souk-Waqif, in Doha.

This country has been undervalued in the past but is now coming to the world’s attention. With its desert adventures, ancient sites, and thriving culture, this attention is thoroughly deserved.

This is a travel feature by world traveler, Jose Capelo. He loves exploring the top 5 outdoor adventure activities in Qatar and has spent many trips exploring the wild deserts of Qatar.

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8 Things to do in Bondi in Winter

8 Things to do in Bondi in Winter

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Bondi is well known for sun, surf, and fun, but what can you do if you find yourself there in the colder months from June to August? Here are a few suggestions for things to do in Sydney’s most popular suburb when the temperature drops.

Adventure Travel Activities in Sydney

8 Things to do in Bondi in Winter

1. Go on an art tour

If the weather doesn’t allow for the typical outdoorsy activities Bondi is known for, a tour of some of its first-rate art galleries can be a great way to spend an afternoon. Don’t miss the Cooee Aboriginal Art Gallery, dedicated to promoting Indigenous art, and the Bondi Art Lounge, where you can view works from local artists or even take a beginner class and create a masterpiece of your own.

2. Take a hike

In crisp cool temperatures, a hike along the coastal cliffs with a view of the gorgeous Pacific Ocean below can’t be beaten. One of the most popular hikes is the Bondi to Coogee Walk, which is 6 km and takes you through Sydney’s eastern suburbs and past plenty of cafes, restaurants, and kiosks where you can stop to rest and take in the sights.

Outdoor Activites in Sydney - Spit Bridge

 

3. Head to Bondi Icebergs for some winter swimming

Even during winter, swimming is not entirely out of the question in Bondi. The Oceanside pool at Bondi Icebergs Club is open year-round, and the winter swims every Sunday from May to September have become a time-honored tradition. Although club members must complete at least three winter swims a year to retain their lofty membership title, non-members who are up for the challenge can pay a one-time fee to use the pool and sauna.

4. Strap on your skates and visit the only beachside skating rink in Australia

If winter swimming is a step too far for you, why not skate instead? Bondi has Australia’s only beachside ice rink, and the ocean view in the background makes for a striking contrast. The ice rink is open from June 27 to July 13, and aside from hosting skating sessions that are open to the public, it also features spectacular ice shows from Stars On Ice.

5. Settle in for brunch at one of Bondi’s decadent cafes

Winter wouldn’t be the same without a few indulgences, and after all your skating and hiking, you’ve probably earned a hearty brunch anyway. Fortunately, Bondi is full of great brunch options, from Trio Café with delicacies like poached eggs with truffle oil and char-grilled halloumi; to the rustic Brown Sugar, where you can indulge in classic comfort food like buttermilk pancakes and English muffins with bacon.

Coffee and cake around the world

 

6. Join a cooking class, dodge ball game, or salsa lesson

During the winter, it may seem like most people have gone off to hibernate, but if you know where to look, you can still find plenty of social things to do. Start by checking out the Bondi community page on Gumtree. You can find like-minded individuals to explore the area with or even join a group for fun activities like hiking, biking, or cooking.

7. Score some vintage fashion at Bondi Markets

The Bondi Markets, held every Sunday on Bondi Beach, are known in Sydney for being the best place to shop for vintage clothing and accessories and hip new fashions from emerging designers. Aside from style, you can also shop for art, furniture, flowers, books, local produce, and delicious street eats. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s a great place to do some people-watching and see the Bondi locals in their element.

8. Stop by the Bondi Pavilion

The Bondi Pavilion is one of the suburb’s oldest landmarks dating back to 1928 when it first opened, featuring grand dining rooms, a lounge, a ballroom, and the Turkish and Hot Sea Water Baths. Today, it’s used as an art and cultural center and is home to a theatre group, recording studio, and art gallery. There’s always something going on here, from pottery classes to festivals to open-air cinemas, so check it out if you have a chance.

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Meet Cole and Adela

Cole and AdelaWe have been wearing out our jandals (Kiwi for flip-flops) on our travel adventures around the world since 2009. We think our blog is thought provoking and a little witty. But we have been proven wrong before. Find out more about us here...

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