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My 2016 Year in Review

December 19, 2016

I know the general consensus from the world is that they would like 2016 to be over. While I agree some awful things are happening in the world, I would like to focus on the good things of 2016. This year I am going to tell you all the good things, not just the travel things. Here is my 2016 year in review!

January

As usual, I was looking to plan a trip right when I returned from my trip home. I quickly decided, with the help of my Mom, to head to Egypt in February! Not sure why it took me so long to decide to go there as I had wanted to go for a long time.

February

My trip to Egypt was the second week of the month, and I loved every minute of it. Seeing the pyramids was an experience I will never forget. It just baffles me that humans made them. Sailing up the Nile was another experience that I truly enjoyed. I can sit and watch the water go by for hours and not get bored. Not only that I got to see the sun set and rise over the Nile. Here is the video from that day.

 

I started working out with a personal trainer. This set me up to lose four clothing sizes over the next several months! If you follow me on Snapchat, you probably saw lots of snaps of me on the treadmill and pictures of the sunrise over Doha.

March

One of my friends invited me on a Dhow boat cruise, which I had only done once before. It was a warm day with great company. I met new people and watched the lights come on in Doha as the sun went down. I also took one of my favorite photos of the year that day!

 

April

A paper I wrote was accepted to be presented at a conference, and the conference just happened to be in Slovenia! Slovenia is by far the most beautiful country I have been to so far. I got to see much of its beauty because I drove from Ljubljana to Radenci, where the conference was being held. Not only was it beautiful, but the food was also amazing. Most of it was local, and you could taste how fresh it was.

I treated myself to a staycation at the W Doha. Staycations may become my new obsession! I felt totally relaxed after the stay, and there was no stress of having to travel anywhere.

SONY DSC

May

May was a month of prepping. By now I had lost all the weight and desperately needed new clothes. I was heading to Italy for a month at the end of May and had nothing to wear! Not that I am complaining. A good friend went with me to try on clothes, and it was a good thing she did as I would have left with clothes slightly too big because I wasn’t convinced yet that I had lost so much weight.

At the very end of May, I left for a month in Italy. Believe it or not, this was for work. I was taking a course on bookbinding and bookbinding restoration. The first weekend though was spent with my friends in Italy. They just happen to live close to the course and it was great to start of my trip with them. They live in a small village and when I arrived the Infiorata was happening.  Such a neat experience.

7 Unique Italian Things to do During a Summer Visit to Italy

June

June stands out as one of the best months as I finally discovered Florence! The second weekend in Italy, I headed to Florence for the first time despite having been to Italy twice before. I fell in love right away. So much so that I went back the next weekend. I enjoyed just walking around and looking at all the amazing architecture. It was like walking through an outdoor museum.

GPSMyCity

The fourth weekend I was in Italy, I spent it exploring more of Umbria. This was when I discovered the lovely towns of Assisi and Gubbio. I recommend you drive to these towns to see the wonderful Umbrian countryside.

July

Right when I returned from Italy there was a holiday in Qatar and headed to Oman. Every summer Oman has a monsoon season which, as you can imagine, is rare in the Middle East. For three days I didn’t see the sun!

 

August

In August, I need to attend a conference in the United States. I decide to combine the work trip with a visit home. This time I decided not to take a direct flight from Doha to Dallas. I wanted to fly business and the only way I could afford it was to fly American Airlines with a stop in London. Even though I prefer to go direct, the layover was short and it was nice to get a break from the plane.

I spent about a week with my family. I did my usual see doctors and get a haircut routine. It is always great to spend time with my family even though it was short.

The conference I attended was in Atlanta, and one of my good friends lives within driving distance. I hadn’t seen her in 3 years, and she volunteered to drive down for the day to see me! We spent a day catching up at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens seeing the Chihuly Exhibit.

 

September

The sailing trip up the Nile in February inspired me to find a sailing cruise for later in the year. So I headed to Greece the first week of September to sail the Greek Islands for two weeks.  I know you may be wondering, why haven’t I seen a post on Greece yet!? They are coming, I promise. I took several blogging breaks this year and happy to say I think it has improved the blog post quality and I am motivated again.

 

October

I hadn’t planned on going anywhere in October, but I found a conference I wanted to attend. The conference just happened to be in Florence! I was thrilled. The conference was being held in the Uffizi Gallery Library. While most of the time was spent at the conference, I got to stay in my favorite Florence hotel. I also got to wake up in Florence on my birthday!

November

While I didn’t travel anywhere in November, I had three Thanksgivings! It was great to catch up with old friends and make new ones. One of these Thanksgiving was an invite to the Four Seasons Doha to taste their Thanksgiving buffet. It was a beautiful meal offered at their Italian restaurant, El Teatro.

December

The first weekend in December, I was invited by the Intercontinental Doha the City to enjoy a staycation! The room offered a stunning view of downtown Doha. I really enjoyed watching the lights come on as the sun went down from the couch.

InterContinental Doha the City

Now I am back home again enjoying time with family. We are having the usual crazy Texas weather where it is 70 during the day and then drops 50 degrees in one day. My parents have a fireplace and I am loving the fire. Christmas celebrations at our house include getting presents and stockings from Santa. Our Christmas tree has a train around it and elves climbing the side.

This will be the last official blog post of 2016 as I will take the rest of the year off to enjoy being with my family before heading back to Doha.

What was your best memory of 2016? Share with us in the comments.

Egypt, Travel

Sailing the Nile on a Felucca

April 22, 2016

sailing the nile

Four days of heavy sightseeing and one of those days being up at 3:30 AM, I was ready for a day of relaxing and doing nothing. The felucca ride was the perfect rest day in a fully packed schedule. We arrived at the dock and quickly got ourselves settled in for our day on the Nile. Since we were a large group, we were split onto two boats. The boats are long and shallow. Sitting on deck were large pieces of what I assumed was foam covered in sheets and blankets pulled tight to create a comfortable area to sit or lay down on. Overhead is a shade to protect you from the sun. The boats are simple, and there are no facilities on board, but a support boat would follow us for our meals and bathroom breaks. We set out from Aswan and headed north. Here is the video I shot throughout the day on the felucca.

Sailing the Nile on a Felucca

Some people asked me afterwards if I found it boring, but it wasn’t boring in the least! I really enjoyed watching the scenery change along the way and seeing how people lived along the Nile. I loved seeing the green at the water’s edge and then the desert rising up behind it. Because it wasn’t high tourist season in Egypt, there were not lots of boats on the water, and it was quiet most of the day. It was wonderful to feel the wind and sun on my skin.

Sailing the Nile on a Felucca

We docked to eat lunch at an area with a small beach. Unfortunately, the water was too cold to swim despite having brought my swimsuit. I did put my feet in the water, though. I could go all the way to Egypt and not put my feet in the Nile!

Sailing the Nile on a Felucca

Most of us napped, took photos, read, or sketched the day away. The sailors had music playing out of a speaker that was in the shape of a dinosaur. Unfortunately, I failed to get a picture of the dinosaur. There was lots of Bob Marley played! I never did figure out the obsession with Bob Marley. In the video, you can see a Bob Marley flag with the Egyptian flag.

Sailing the Nile on a Felucca

We sailed until sunset. We then docked with the support boat and the other felucca for dinner and our overnight on the felucca. Both meals on board were simple Egyptian fare, but very good and there was lots of it. We had lots of options for drinks including beer and wine. The feluccas were wrapped in fabric by the crew for us for sleeping. It was still chilly at night in Egypt at this point, and this helped keep it warm. Although part way through the night, I had to get in my sleeping bag to keep warm. The only annoying thing was that large river cruise boats kept going by and rocking our boats. We could also hear the train going by. I was really glad I brought my noise cancelling headphones! You do sleep on the deck with everyone on the boat and the crew sleeps on the support boat or underneath the deck of the felucca.

Sailing the Nile on a Felucca

I could have easily spent a few days sailing up the Nile on one of these feluccas. My tips for having a successful sail up the Nile are to layer your clothes, especially in winter, as it was cool in the morning and evening, but warm during the day. Bring your own snacks, earplugs to combat train noise and snoring fellow travelers, something to read, and an easy going attitude! I enjoyed this sail so much, it is what inspired me to go on the two-week sailing trip to Greece.

Have you been on a sailing trip that you loved?

Egypt, Travel

Luxor Temple at Night: A Photo Essay

March 28, 2016

Luxor Temple at Night

Luxor Temple at Night

Luxor Temple at Night

Luxor Temple at Night

Luxor Temple at Night

Luxor Temple at Night

Luxor Temple at Night

Luxor Temple at Night

Luxor Temple at Night

Luxor Temple at Night

Getting there and in:  Getting to Luxor Temple is easy in Luxor. It is probably walkable from most any location on the East Bank of the Nile. It is hard to miss. To get to Luxor from Cairo, you can take the train or a plane. I recommend a plane as the train was dirty and smokey. We took it from Cairo to Aswan, and I would not do it again. The flight from Cairo would be about an hour. Luxor Temple was open till 9 PM when we were there in February. The hours may change based on the time of year, though. It cost 50 Egyptian Pounds. If someone offers you a tour at night, it is easy to say you had one during the day and not deal with being hassled. Do look for the long row of Sphinxes in front of the temple. They lead 3 kilometers to Karnak Temple!

Egypt, Travel

Yes, Egypt is Safe for Travel!

March 14, 2016

Egypt is SafeFrom the minute I decided to go to Egypt, people started asking me if it was safe to travel there. I have gotten even more questions since I got back. If I didn’t think it was safe, I wouldn’t have gone is the short answer. I know that isn’t enough for people and after visiting and seeing the decline in tourism, I decided that I need to help calm people’s fears and encourage them to travel to Egypt!

It is true that Egypt has had terrorism lately and it can politically unstable, but I would say it isn’t any less safe than New York City after 9/11 or Paris after the recent terrorist attacks there. There has been stabbing of tourists in Cairo and Hurghada. These were the only two stabbings that came up when I Googled it and when I Googled stabbing in New York City, I got several returns including this one. I lived in New York City for 7 years and never had anything bad happen to me or any of my friends. Bad things can happen anywhere! Now I know you are thinking what about the plane being bombed last Fall in Sharm el-Sheikh? I would actually say that going to a place after a terrorist attack may be the best time to go. That is because they usually don’t strike the same place again quickly. Also, I went through at least three metal detectors along with my bags at the Cairo airport. Things felt very secure there. Don’t let a few things prevent you from going on a trip of a lifetime! You would be missing out on so many places right now.

Since we know that bad things can happen anywhere, and there is a heightened awareness of safety in Egypt, here are some tips for staying safe and enjoying Eygpt.

Research and Plan! – Decide where you want to go and places you shouldn’t go. It’s that simple. By planning ahead, you can decide if you are comfortable traveling to that place. I would say that you should probably stick to the tourist sites at the moment and not go off the beaten path unless you are on a tour. Some areas of Egypt you are not allowed to go to while not on a tour the Abu Simbel temples is one of these places. Book hotels in advance so taxi drivers don’t try to take you to their uncle’s “hotel.”

Go on a Tour – Since I was going to be traveling alone, I decided a group tour was the way I felt most comfortable going to Egypt. I don’t usually go in for a group tour, but I loved my experience with G Adventures. Because I was with a local tour guide, I felt safe. He knew where to go and what areas where safe to go to. Not only that he has a degree in Egyptology, so I got a lot more information from him that from a sign or a guide-book! There were 14 women on this tour and only one man, so ladies Egypt is safe for you too!

Calm the Fears of Family – Believe it or not, my Mom is the one that suggested Egypt when I was trying to decide where to go! Thanks, Mom! I know that many people need to calm the fears of your family when visiting a controversial area. Show them this post and the many other bloggers’ posts about the safety of Egypt. Here are a few links. Is It Safe to Go to Egypt? and Why I Feel Safe in Egypt. You can point them in the direction of government websites, but they don’t always give you the best idea. Their job is to keep you safe and not get sued! So, they are going to say a place isn’t safe because they have to, but they do usually have reliable information. Instead, look at the United Nations World Tourism Organization and see what they have to say about Egypt.

Fewer Crowds – Because people have stayed away, everything was less crowded. There was only a handful of tourists at the Great Pyramids when I went and for a few minutes, I was alone in King Tutankhamun’s tomb. This means two things, you get to enjoy all these great sites with less people and fewer people means less likelihood of something happening and you can be more diligent in making sure you and your stuff are safe.

Be Aware of Scams and Touts – Just like most tourist locations; unsavory people want to take advantage of tourists. Taxis, seem to be the main culprit in Egypt. Taxis have been known to not turn on the meter and then charge you an exorbitant amount at your destination or try to take you to another hotel. If you are going to take a taxi in Cairo, negotiate the price before you get in. Then be firm when getting out because they still might try to get more money from you. My Egyptian coworker encouraged me to take Uber or Careem while I was in Cairo. Careem is the Uber of the Middle East. The offer to help.  Many Egyptians are extremely helpful and expect nothing in return, but beware the extremely friendly person who approaches you first. The will want baksheesh (a tip). Some will want to take you to their shop, and then you will feel the pressure to buy something. For something simple like directions, I don’t mind giving a tip. I usually gave one Egyptian pound, but I am not willing to get waylaid in your store and be pressured into buying something. Don’t be afraid to walk out. They may yell but just walk confidently on. Touts – These are the people trying to sell you something in the tourist site, like camel rides at the Great Pyramids. They will be relentless. Just keep walking or ignore them. The scam one guy tried to get me to go for at the pyramids was to shake my hand. When he shook it, he put something in my hand and tried to get me to pay for it by telling me to put it in my pocket. I declined and forced it back on him. My guide told us that if it happened and they won’t take it back to drop it on the ground and walk away. You will feel rude doing lots of things to avoid being sold something or pressured into talking, but do not feel bad! It will keep you from being taken advantage of.

What to Wear – Both men and women need to be aware of their clothing. You should always aim to blend in with the locals. For women, this means covering your shoulders and knees in Egypt. The majority of Egyptians are Muslim and dress more conservatively because of that. You will feel more comfortable that way as well. For men, this means not wearing sports baseball caps and white sneakers. Most of the men I saw in Egypt were wearing nice pants and sweaters; it was chilly when I went. My tour guide did wear jeans and younger men were as well. To be fair my tour guide did wear a baseball cap, but it was a black G Adventures cap.

Protect your Things and Money – First let me say, Egypt was the first place I didn’t feel like I was going to be pickpocketed in a long time! Both Paris and Rome worried me more about this than Egypt. I am not saying it can’t happen, though. Carry very little cash and leave your passport at the hotel. While out and about keep your money in sight. Women should carry handbags on the opposite side of the street so none one can swipe your bag from a moving vehicle. None of the hotels I stayed in had in-room safes, so you might want to leave your valuables in the hotel safe. I put everything in my bag and locked it. The hotels in Aswan and Luxor only had push-button locks on them, so I would recommend getting a doorstop alarm for when you are in the room.

Enjoy! – Egypt is the best trip I have been on so far and I cannot recommend it enough! Go now while it is slow and help Egypt recover from the downturn in their tourist economy! Egypt is Safe!

Feel free to ask me questions about my trip either in the comments or via email. I would be happy to answer any question or quell your Mom’s fears.

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