Doha Qatar: Pearl of the Persian Gulf

Doha Qatar - Pearl of Persian Gulf - Corniche

Pearl monument - Corniche - Doha

It was on a trip to Dubai where I was planning a trip to Tehran, and I found an  8 hour layover in Qatar.  I had heard very little of this little Pearl in the Persian Gulf.  Qatar Airways had all sorts of cool destinations and for a decent price I was able to fly spend a decent amount of time enough to get out and see the city.  It was with a Jordanian Facebook friend’s, friend I met Mohammed Afana.  I learned a few years ago to embrace the friends of friends and unless there are signs otherwise to connect with people in ways that otherwise would not be possible in such a short period of time.  I had 8 hours or less with Mohammed, and we really became close.  I have had a hard time expressing the connections I’ve made with the Palestinian people.  On my technical blog I’ve shared a little, and it appears it’s been misunderstood.  Below Muslim Education Center fashioned after a thousand year old Mosque in Iraq.

I do feel for the Palestinian people, and my experiences with Mohammed Afana are no different than others I have met.  He was extremely kind, open, caring, and was a brother to me while I was with him.  His parents are refugees from Palestinian Territories, and he was born in Qatar.  We learn from people and walking in someone else’s shoes. 

Mhmd’s a Judo expert.  He’s very skilled.  He actually competed at the world class level on the national team for years.  He picked me up at the airport, ready to show me a night on the town.  It was awesome.  

We started out by going to Souk Waqif a traditional bizarre and market.  This isn’t the high end shopping, but has awesome shops that will much better help you connect with the locals.  I ran into this sheik boy with his pet falcon! 

By the way, this Souk is only 10-15 minutes from the airport and truly is an old market that was built originally by Beduins from the desert to sell their wells.  There are some great prices, and cool stuff you’ve never seen before.

This cool sundial? reminds me of the Dark Chrystal.

pet falcon doha qatar

The white clothes he’s wearing are actually very comfortable.  I had the chance to wear one while in UAE.  They are very light and cool.  It’s very understandable how modest, clean, and all together cool in how they keep the sun off your skin, as well as provide a covering.  A friend of mine in Bahrain who wears both jeans and the white robe, prefers the traditional garb because it’s much cooler.  As well the hatta or hat scarf on the head is great for keeping the sun off your head and neck.  When I’m in the middle east I often prefer that as well as it is great for doing just that.  It’s much cooler and keeps me from getting burned. While at the market I came across these cool traditional knives.

I was considering getting one of them based on the reasonable prices, until I remembered I didn’t want to check anything at the airport… especially some kind of weapon on my flight to Iran.  I loved that shop.  They had such cool travel items. 

This traditional Muslim headdress and mask totally reminded me of my recent trip to Oman.  The face guard almost looks metallic.  When I first saw one on a lady I had to do a doubletake and had to slow down to take a picture… likely the opposite reaction that the lady was looking for.  I would say in my time in the middle east I did gain a great respect for the women’s clothing.  The flowing robes became very attractive and the mysterious eyes.  Some of those eyes were just so incredible!  Again, I know it’s the opposite of what they are going after… I guess. 

I ended up bringing back some traditional Muslim robes for my wife.  Which I’m sure she appreciated.  I also brought back what I call the Emirate robes.  We make quite the couple.  We look just like the couple above.  Some days in the summer I will put on my robes for around the house.  I’ve got a much thinker one I got in Morocco that I wear in the winter.  Sometimes I feel like I look like a monk in my big thick brown robes, another ironic moment.

Doha is from the future.  You’ve heard about how these amazing tall buildings and structures have gone up in Dubai, UAE.  What you may have missed is that Doha is really where it’s at.  Doha got it’s wind right after Dubai and has had some fantastic architecture put up.  The night sky is filled with crazy lights on fascinating shaped buildings.  It reminds me of a lazer light show on the buildings.  It’s far from boxy.  You get pin cushion looking buildings, and buildings that look more like puzzles, and cones, and twisty looking towers.  Awesome.

 

You also may have heard about the Palms in Dubai.  This place where reclaimed land from the sea was pushed into the shape of Palm leaves?  Well in Doha Qatar it’s the Pearl.  You get this amazing island in the shape of a clam with a pearl in the center.  The shopping rivals any 5th avenue, or High Streets of Europe.  Looking around the photo, you can see the humus and oil  as well as lamb shanks.

For lunch we stopped at an Iraqi resteraunt.  I hadn’t had Iraqi food before and it sounded fascinating.  The food was great.  I had mixed grills, lamb, beef, chicken, tomato, onion… looks great doesn’t it!  Awesome fresh grilled fresh food!

After dinner we got out on the water in some traditional Persian boats that almost looked Chinese.  The Corniche is a great relaxing place to walk.  Lots of locals walking along the shore.  As well, we saw some high end shops… and ultimately ended the late night with some Turkish Schwarma, the place was packed! Yum… some of the best schwarma I’ve ever had.

Qatar did not dissapoint.  It was a great stopover.  I would go back in a heart beat.  Great people, amazing experiences, great food, beautiful water experiences.  It’s amazing how they’ve made this desert Oasis bloom.

Leaving a friend behind who I had just met was with mixed emotion.  I wanted to stay, but was looking forward to my trip ahead… Iran.

Ancient Cliff Monasteries of Meteora Greece

Greek Cliff Monasteries

I was inspired by a photo on Bing.  I saw what looked like huge granite rocks with old buildings hanging off the sides.  As I did research I found these monasteries from 500+ years ago that continue to exist in inhospitable places.  I was sure they were designed for protection back in the day, but I had to see these wonders. They seemed so incredible.  These are protected as UNESCO world heritage sites.

Wikipedia article on Meteoragives us a little info on the age… The cave of Theopetra, Kalambaka, radiocarbon evidence for 50,000 years.  In the 9th century, a group of hermit monks moved up to the ancient pinnacles.  The oldest monasteries are from the 13-14th century.

I planned out my trip.  I’d fly into the closest airport I could find, Thessaloniki and assume that I could either rent a car or pay someone to take me.  (I later found Volos is 2 hours, so it’s a little closer but wasn’t as accessible.) There is actually a train (3 hours) leaving every 2 hours.   I was in a big rush and ended up paying a taxi driver and while I can’t say it worked out perfectly because his estimate for drive time was off by an hour and I missed my flight, but I will say it was worth it to see these amazing cliff monasteries of Meteora Greece.  The Wiki travel page explains there are a total of 24 monasteries atop rock pinnacles.

The drive was actually about 3 hours outside of Thessaloniki.  It isn’t well marked, and this did cause some confusion for my driver who knew they existed and had visited the cliff monasteries, but didn’t remember exactly how to get there.

Driving through the Olympus mountains themselves was quite surreal.  Next time I’ll definitely rent a car and spend way more time in this much quieter part of Greece.  Athens was nice, but Northern Greece and the Thessaly and Macedonian region is so beautiful and peaceful.  I won’t get into the dispute of FYOM Macedonia which I blogged about previously.

Looking out at Meteora and Kalampaka from above one of the cliff monasteries.

Above: View of the city Meteora from atop one of the cliffs.  There are a huge variety of different monasteries.  One of the most famous is Agias Varvaras Rousanou.  At first I thought there was only one with just different angles.

Driving you’ll see the following monasteries:

  • Agiou Nikolaou monastery(St. Nickolas Anapausas)
  • Agias Varvaras Rousanou monastery(St. Barbara)
  • Varlaam monastery
  • Megalou Meteorou monastery(Great Meteoron)
  • Agias Triados monastery(Holy Trinity)
  • Agiou Stefanou monastery (St. Stephen, the only monastery for women)

You can visit the monasteries for a small fee around 2 euros each.  The hours are limited, so be sure to check open hours.

Night view of the Acropolis in Athens with my traveling friend Paul Swider.

Old Watch Tower on the Bay in Thessaloniki

As a Christian I find visiting the city that the Apostle Paul wrote about in the Bible. The book Thessalonians is based on a letter to the people living here. That’s cool stuff. I recommend Ephesus in Turkey as well for similar reasons, and may be a good city to add on to this trip.

The Greek Orthodox churches in the cities, while still cool looking definitely don’t have the same feel as those in the cliffs.

Greek Orthodox Church in Thessaloniki

Cultural Philippines in the heart of Manilla


Getting Ready for Battle

I really, really love South East Asia.  Going to Manila was a huge treat.  One thing that’s always important to me whenever I visit a place is to see the place in it’s authentic beauty and warts.  I want to see the best and not best of a place.  We were staying at the amazing Shangri la hotel, one of the most beautiful hotels in Asia.  They are famous as having 5 and 6 star hotels in the big capitals in Asia.

Paul (black t-shirt) and I (in the red shirt, yes flash, and yes Big Bang Theory) were happy to pose with the staff.  Beautiful hotel.  Very posh.  We were definitely very pampered.  One thing you should know about Manila is it is very easy to spoil yourself.  Manila is very modern, and you can get anything you need.  My friend Dux Raymond Sy, who is very popular in the SharePoint community grew up in Manila.  It was great to meet his family.  Dux moved to the U.S. and if you talked with him you’d have no idea where he came from in fact he speaks perfect English.  No accent at all, and smart, very smart guy.  We were all in town for Sharing The Point Asia which would get us to China and Vietnam as well.  Fabulous tour.

We had a day in the nicer parts of Manila, and had some amazing food.  I was then very anxious to try other foods.  One early morning Michael, Dux and I escaped early to catch the sunrise over the sea.  We got up early enough we could get the first catch.  We had squid in it’s ink, prawns, and very fresh sushi.  Amazing seafood breakfast.

Continue reading “Cultural Philippines in the heart of Manilla”

Rock the Kasbah, Marrakesh Morocco


Let’s go back in time… to a more simple time, with rich flavor, and a close knit community.  Imagine the farmers near your home growing your food, you go to the market and find things that are both grown locally, but with no chemicals, and any meat you eat you can first look it in the eyes.  Go back in time with me to Morocco, I’m you’re guide Joel of Arabia.

I also wrote up about travel in Fez another look at time travel back 2000 years.

Ait Ben Haddou - Donkey Ride

We rode donkeys across the river and helped a Berber trader write a post card to his friend.  He’d been traveling across the Sahara for the last few weeks.

 

One of the most fascinating things about Morocco is the fact that at times you definitely feel like you’re in another world completely.  There are time warps you jump through as you see different parts of Morocco.

One place you must visit is the Atlas mountains.  The people of the mountains live like they do in Tibet.  They live off the land.  They eat their animals.  Life off the land despite the harsh conditions.  They walk up crazy steep slopes along goat and sheep trails.  This is the kind of place where if you visit a family, they may take a goat out and slaughter it for the meal in honor of your visit.  The culture is rich, the people are fascinating, and their lives reflect our heritage and history of 1000s of years ago.  What you expect to find in Jerusalem of the old way of doing things is in Morocco.  Part of that reason is literally hundreds of Christian films use this area for their life of Christ movies including, Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

Kasbah

 

An incredible day trip you MUST do is to visit the UNESCO world heritage site of kasbah-town of Aït Benhaddou. The city looks like it’s 2000 years old, and many of these buildings feel that old, and are built like they were.  It was used as a backdrop for more than 20 films including Films such as The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and the recent Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011).

One of the most important fortress strongholds on the old Salt Road where camel caravan traders brought slaves, gold, ivory and salt from Saharan Africa to Marrakech and beyond.  You gotta get out of the city and you can really see amazing things on the trip over the mountain to Ouarzazate.  Pronounced War-za-zot. These include trips to Zagora, an oasis town surrounded by palm tree plantations and a departure point for camel trains to Timbuktu, a journey that would take about 52 days. (Not yet recommended)  Careful on multi country treks as the Algerian border is some times closed.  Most would consider the 1 day, 3 day and 7 day caravan trips.

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The Berber people are from the desert.  They are nomads.  They trade and barter.  Every Berber has things he wants to show you, and you are his guest.  He’ll invite you in for some amazing and sweet mint tea.  As his guest he will roll out his dozens of carpets, and show you his finest jewelry.  It’s customary for him to show you everything, and you pick out various things you like, and then the bartering begins.  It’s natural for it to start out high, and then as you negotiate, you can take things out and barter for the things you really really want.  It seems like with me, I always win and they always tell me I’m a shrewd trader.  After that, they make me feel at home and we exchange gifts.  It’s good to bring something small from home that you can give to his wife, like makeup or perfume, or something for his kids.  It’s a bit embarrassing when he gives you a gift and wonders if you have something for his wife.   Be more prepared than I was.  One strategy I’ve learned from berbers and taxi drivers around the world is they like to be right, but they want to make sure you’re happy.  Learn that you don’t have to have the last say, and you’ll make your host a lot happier and you’ll get much better service even if you are a very shrewd trader.  In Morocco it’s not unusual to get 70-80% off.  I got some incredible massive fossils for about $20 and less.  The prices often start in the 100-200 range.  Something in the states that would cost me closer to $100.  One thing you do learn is you don’t ask the price unless you really want the item.  That often means, don’t ask unless you want to spent the next 10 minutes bartering.  It’s not customary to just make one offer and walk away.  They like the sit down and relax… you are my guest kind of bartering, not I’ll make you an offer and then walk away.

 

You feel like you must be Lawrence of Arabia, or the Prince of Persia a couple more of the many films that was filmed here. Be sure to wanted around Ouarzazate an important trading city on the edge of the Sahara desert. Get lost in the old Kasbah.

222596_4954813782_1933_nI encourage you to get a variety.  Across everywhere you’ll visit there are few shops with set prices, and even more rare in the villages.  For food you don’t have to do  bartering.  If you’ve ever had Moroccan food in your life you’ve likely either eaten dates and finger food on large platters sitting on big cushions and relaxing to music.  When the main dish comes out it’s smothered in amazing stewed carrots, zucchini, or egg plant including lamb, beef or chicken with the tender meat cooked in large clay pots over coos coos.  This earthen method makes it all very tender.  Incredible food.  As we ate we watched to storks making a lot of noise in a massive nest.  The city is made of the soil as well baked mud bricks… the pottery is everywhere.  Pride in every bite.

You can eat at a fine restaurant and spend $50 for amazing Moroccan food or spend $2 and pick the meat in skewers and sit under a tent near the square.  As well, stop at a café for a an amazing meal.  The salads are fantastic with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, black and green olives and of course Oranges!  An incredible Mediterranean meal.  I hear you can even get camel meat.  Andrew Zimmern style meals are within reach, but even without stretching your pallete, you can have some of the freshest, best food you’ve ever tasted.  I seriously think we have a LOT to learn from the simple ways.  Our food has been messed up, and Marrakech and surrounding area and likely much of Morroco has got it right.  Western Europe and the US is missing out.  There are now restaurants who try to mimic this, that try to get back to eating local, but they may be missing elements.  The owners would do well to spend some time in Morocco to learn what it is that makes the difference.  There is something to be said of organic, locally grown, no chemicals, and that connection with the earth that’s in the oven, in the pots, and the open flame.  Turkey, Bulgaria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel… there are others that have this figured out as well.

 

Djemma El Fna – Currently my favorite market in the world! I LOVE the town square of Marrakech. Before there was TV, Radios, Phones, and iPads.  A thousand years ago, on the edge of civilization there was a mystical place.  A place with story tellers, snake charmers, acrobats, fresh fruit juices made by hand with fruit from the trees in the town you were in.  This place still exists!  Every day after my trips around the city, I would end my day in this place.  It was packed with locals.  The best nuts and juice in the world is available for the taking.  One amazing thing about Marrakech is the fresh smell of Orange.  The trees that line the streets are Orange trees.  I don’t know a city anywhere else where Orange trees are scattered throughout the city.  It’s like Johnny Appleseed had a counterpart in Marrakech and all he did his whole life was plant Orange trees in this one city.  While I’m sure it could make a mess in some cities here they gather them up and there is fresh orange juice anywhere you want.  We paid 35 cents (.35 USD) for our glass of orange Juice.  It continues to be the best glass of orange juice I’ve had in my life!

 

The square is filled with locals listening to these stories and watching what’s going on.  I wish I could be invisible and watch the goings on of that square.  Instead, I walk up to see the crazy acrobat, similar to those “artists” who do tricks or play music in most large cities around the world and collect money, but I barely get a chance to see what the tricks are, and they are up in my face asking me for some money.  Despite the fact that I’m happy to contribute a coin.  I just visited an ATM and I have no change.  No money no show, but wait I haven’t seen anything yet.  Tip: bring small change, and expect for them to seem a little insulted, but really that’s just the whole bartering pattern.  I’m sure if you gave them a dollar or more they’d be much happier, but maybe it doesn’t matter.  The first answer is always to ask for more in that culture.  Either way, I come back later with change, and I am fascinated by the diversity of what comes.

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It’s cool to see the cobras being charmed and then a harmless water snake strung around my neck without asking for it… Yes, I’ve seen a snake before, but I’m happy just watching you charm the Cobras.  Really it is an amazing place, but there are surprises.  You’ll see things here you won’t see anywhere else.  Just like mimes that want money from you if you take there picture, there’s these very colorful characters I call the Water guys, who want the equivalent of a dollar/euro/pound for a picture.  If you sneak a picture be really careful they don’t notice.  I didn’t pay.

One guy on the square is “the dentist.”  He has his crude tools to pull out your tooth.  Of course you go back a hundred years and a guy like this could come in handy.  He’ll really take care of that aching tooth.  He has a few hundred teeth to prove he really will do it.  If you look at his collection of teeth pulling equipment and hear his story, you should contribute to the cause.

Clips from our family trip…

Not far from the square is the souks and the medina.  The Old city.  I love telling people that if you went back in time, it would be no different than walking through these old streets.  The souks are walking only winding alleyways of a sort where you can go to amazing shops, and markets and see how the people lived 1000 years ago.  There are a lot of locals who are happy to be you’re guide for a small fee.  If someone wants to show you around, you can tell them, I don’t need a guide… but expect to be asked 5-10 more times.  I found I would get someone who spoke good enough english and negotiate some time.  It was worth it.  We visited a bakery, where the there is a community adobe oven where people who need a stove do their cooking old school.  There’s the chicken place where you can pick out your live chicken.  Simply tell them which one you want and how much preparation you want.  One word.  FRESH.  Just like the high end stores where you can pick out your fish.  Here you can get a chicken to take home with you…

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As well, we came by the baths and water place.  People come from all over to collect water to bring home.  It reminds me of the lady by the well, in Christ’s time.  People come water their animals, but also collect water for drinking.  The homes really are for sleeping.  The entertainment is in the streets, why do you need a kitchen when you can get it all fresh and local?  The people are simple, but it’s amazing to me the principles of life they live.  They eat better than we do, they eat local, they eat food that has been gathered or grown within less than 20 miles of the city.

As you wander the city don’t be afraid to slow down, and talk with the people.  They want to talk to you.  They are very interested in where you come from and how you are enjoying yourself.  Slow down and enjoy the mint tea.  There’s a fast pace of the city and there’s the slow pace of the desert.  Both of these cultures clash to make Marrakech as rich as the dyes in the colors of the carpets.  If you feel so inclined you can visit the place where they mix the dyes.  Again a place that will take you back thousands of years.

 

Marrakech MosqueLose yourself.  That’s the goal.  Go back in time.  There are so many adventures to be had here.  This is a place with a different pace, but also various modes of transportation.  Getting off the plane at the Marrakech airport, we were rushed off in a taxi that seemed put together with bailing twine.  You don’t just have to take taxis, in contrast to the western world where a carriage brings up memories of being a Prince and Princess.  Here a carriage is a good alternative transport.  There is no difference in price.  They both can be negotiated with.  When you slow your pace, you’ll definitely have to give it a shot.  It’s an oldie, but goodie.

The’s one story of Marrakech, that blows my mind, and my eyes.  The Saadian tombs were build in the 16th century, and lost to the world.  They were rediscovered in 1917 with a fly over.  Can you believe that?  A 15 minute walk from the town square and these tombs were simply walled off.  The colored tiles are beautiful and intricate designs.

Call to prayer echoing over the city, some westerners may be intimidated in this Arabian city.  Personally I think the singing brings an element that helps remind me I’m not at home anymore.  That’s a very good thing.  Jews live side by side with Muslims.  The locals tattoo themselves with their faith.  The door handles and markings on the hundreds of year old doors in the old city.  You can tell a lot about the people.  Marrakech is an old capital city and center of a major trade route a very old trade route that would bring in goods from Africa and goods from across the desert.  If you feel so inclined you can spend a week on a real desert excursion into the Sahara.  Live with the Berbers, live like the Bedouin people.image

Camels are majestic animal.  They meant the difference between death and survival in the desert.  An animal that was built for the conditions.

 

If you see a large group of camels.  The people with them will give you a small ride for a price.  There is actually very little difference in price for an hour ride and getting on for a picture.  They’ll get you loaded up and walking and tell you the price doesn’t matter.  It’s a good price for you.  Travel Tip: Always always negotiate before you get on the camel’s back.  It’s in their interest to have you think price doesn’t matter.  Negotiating Similar to the carriage ride.  They don’t know that you know that they are willing to take a local price.  Sometimes it even helps to say… I don’t want tourist prices, I want local prices.  The price will drop in half or more.  For camels you can end up paying easily $50 USD if they get their first price.  Instead be willing to walk away and you can get a good ride for $5.  They’ve been standing out in the heat, they want something fair, and depending on the time of day and how business has been really impacts their willingness to accept various prices.

Morocco, is one of the richest accessible and inaccessible place in the world.  It’s a world of extremes.  It’s the place of adventure.  Just the name sparks imagination of a country of Muslims poorly portrayed in Babel.  While I loved the scenes of Morocco in Babel, I fear the stereotypes create walls and prevent people from experiencing the richness that is so accessible.  Morocco is a bridge to our brothers in the Middle East.  If the western world is to ever understand the Arabic world, it begins by understanding, and the spice of Morocco is an incredibly colorful place to start.  As France struggles with it’s imperial past, and seeks to understand what it’s future is Christian, Jew, and Muslim have much to learn from the gateway to the Sahara.

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Pictured Above: My boys are getting a personal tour of the mosque from one of the boys of the souks.  They didn’t speak the same language, but they did communicate… volumes.

Chichen Itza Mayan Masterpiece Pyramid Perfection and Wonder of the World (6 of 7)

pyramids of chichen itza

Visit of Christ to the Americas

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

 

When I was planning our Cancun vacation, my wife was thinking… we’ll chill on the beach at an all inclusive resort, and I was thinking… we’ll grab a rental car and pick up as many of the Mayan temples as possible within a 2 week period.  Finally I can see one of the 7 finalists of the new 7 Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza.  As a traveller I was anxious to see real wonders of the ancient world. I love temples, I love archeology, and I love the mystery that surrounds these massive new world temples. I also was incredibly interested in Tulum on the coast, and my ultimate Tikal the Mayan Capital.  We know so little about the Mayans, but I was surprised to find out they weren’t totally wiped out.  There is a group of Mayans that give the tours in Tulum, and they speak the ancient Mayan language.  It’s so, so sad that the culture has so much of who they were.  They lost everything.  A few documents recently were rediscovered in Germany referred to as the Mayan Dresden Codex.  Mayan Temple of Chichen ItzaWhich some point to as the source of the 12, 21, 2012 apocalyptic date or the beginning of 1000 years of peace, but “A German expert who says his decoding of a Mayan tablet with a reference to a 2012 date denotes a transition to a new era and not a possible end of the world as others have read it…The interpretation of the hieroglyphs by Sven Gronemeyer…He said the inscription describes the return of mysterious Mayan god. Continue reading on Examiner.com German Mayan researcher’s 2012 conclusions.  Cool.  Beginning of the end of the world or return of a Mayan god… Bearded white god?  (By the way, ask to see the rock carving of the bearded god at Chichen Itza.  It’s pretty cool.  If it’s Lief Erickson or Jesus or insane stone carver it’s mind numbing given the carvings all around it.  Seriously fun stuff.  You gotta enjoy the speculation and not get too caught up either way, since we can’t know.

While I don’t think the end will happen in December 2012 (No one is suppose to know the day or hour when Jesus is coming back Matthew 24:36), I have used it as an opportunity to be prepared for disaster.  In my church, we have been asked to have a year supply of food on hand in case of disaster.  It has paid off with members all over the world.  As recent as the tsunami in Japan and earthquake in Hati, the members who obeyed have been blessed. As a member of the LDS Church there is a fascinating Book of Mormon back story of Christ in the Americas and Artists often paint pictures of Christ appearing to the righteous people in 3 Nephi 11 with the back drop of Tulum.  There are Mormon tours all over this region.  In fact we discovered that more Mayan Temple of Tulumthan 30% of the guides in Tulum were Mayan members of the LDS Church.  It’s understood that there really hasn’t been any LDS revelations on the locations, and anything discovered is purely speculation.  Our guide at Tulum was actually a Mormon Bishop named Mosiah.  It was a quick tour, which really didn’t add any info on what we had already got from our tour in Chichen Itza.  He shared pictures of Tulum where light shines through specific building on April 6th, and sold us a tree of life medallion.  Great stories.  Amazing place.  While I didn’t necessarily subscribe to all he shared, I was fascinated with the history of the Mayans, he being one himself.  The PC accepted story is that Mayan calendar simply points toward a new era.  Great.  Others are looking for the Age of Aquarius.

Dean%2520taking%2520it%2520inThese grandios temples are mucho bueno.  Very incredible.  Left: My trooper, Dean at Chichen Itza.  This is 3 of 7 New Wonders for him.  He’s been to Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids in Egypt.

Travel Tip: I do recommend highly recommend seeing Chichen Itza.  I do recommend getting a negotiated tour there.  There are some inscriptions and history that you’d miss otherwise.  There are a lot of things to point out in the area.  There are half a dozen buildings and a great ball court area, and you need to know more about the rules of that game and what happens to the winners and losers.  Those stories you must hear.  There’s a lot of inscriptions and interpretations and stories you need to hear.  We got the 2 hour guided tour, that we negotiated on the spot after we arrived.  It wasn’t too outrageous.  There are a lot of people that can give tours, so shop around and negotiate.  Don’t take the first rate you hear.  Many hotels in Cancun can arrange transport and tour as well.  Just don’t over pay.  There is a lot of cushion.  In relation to Cancun both Tulum and Chichen Itza are both day trips. There is a toll road all the way to Chichen Itza from Cancun. You’ll pay 20-30 USD for that trip one way! We decided we’d take the scenic route on the way there, and hurry back. It is a difference of about an hour. You can get to other ruins as well including Coba. I didn’t make it to Coba, we were with my wife’s family and Jeff got sick, so we missed out on that one, but that’s ok because my eye was on the ultimate prize of Tikal, Jaguar temple the largest temples in the new world.  In contrast to Chichen Itza, I do not recommend the tour in Tulum.  The buildings are a lot smaller, things are close and if you did this one after doing Chichen Itza there’s a lot of overlap.  Our tour may have ultimately been 15 minutes of explanation and he didn’t even walk the whole thing with us.  Don’t miss the views from either side of the temple near the water.  There are some great photo shots by of Tulum by the water.  Another reason to do your research of Tulum ahead of time and get the guided tour at Chichen Itza.

Continue reading “Chichen Itza Mayan Masterpiece Pyramid Perfection and Wonder of the World (6 of 7)”

Rediscovered Europe: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Island in Bled Slovenia

I had seen most of Western Europe when I visited the Balkans, but I wasn’t prepared for the beauty and raw elements of war I would see.  Mountain views, lakes and valleys that would rival the best of Switzerland, rivers that rival the beauty of Idaho’s and untouched wilderness, the bridge in Mostar rival the arches of the canals of Venice, but evoke an emotional response.  The worst of the war torn parts remind me of some parts of Beirut.  Even the West Bank has been more cleaned up than some of the pits out of the buildings in Sarajevo.  The stories of the rebuilding of the Synagogue in Sarajevo… How many times can a building be rebuilt?

Night in Zagreb, Croatia

In contrast, Roman emperors vacationed in Croatia. croatia_bosnia Dubrovnik and Split are incredibly scenic and would rival that of any ports in Italy or France, and a fresh seafood or fish dinner would cost you much less.  I guess what I’m saying is, I loved it.  Belgrade and Sarajevo are the hidden gems of Europe, the passion and life, and recent history to blow your mind.  The travelers looking for secrets in Europe.  Here’s a great place to start.  It’s the Balkans.  Some of my best friends in Europe.  There’s something that goes deeper here.  Relationships are stronger, and go deeper, you can feel it.

My trip started in Zagreb the capital of Croatia with a night tour. We met up for a great dinner and ended up walking around parliament, and old town Zagreb. Zagreb itself did avoid much of the conflict in the Balkan conficts/wars that happened back in 92-93.

Remnants of the war are still visible.  There are more reasons to come and visit than the incredible night life.  There are fresh memories that will teach the world a lesson… this lesson is war is not kind to anyone.  War should be avoided at all costs, and the horrors and nightmares of war are real.  Those who only vacation at Disneyland or Disneyworld and spend their vacations with the Grand Canyon as the ultimate bucketlist need to come for a visit.  This land has a lot of lessons to teach. 

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When we got close to the Republik of Srpska we came across these signs.  After spending time at the Cambodia land museum, I have been convinced that land mines do more danger to the citizens that have to live with these than any good they do for the military.  There are some crazy stats on how much the people are impacted by these.

 

Now before you think it’s all doom and gloom, that’s totally not the key take away.  It’s the opposite.  In fact my friend Michael, who I was traveling with, recently wrote about his experience on this same trip.  I highly encourage reading about his writeup on the former Hapsburg empire – Serbia, Romania, Bosnia & Herz, Montenegro, and Croatia. This trip started with a fellow colleague who lived in Croatia, Toni Frankola, a speaking team of Michael Noel, and Paul Swider.

This place is amazing, but as an American tourist, that gets a rise out of seeing something unlike anything I can find within the US or Western Europe.  I get excited. This was one of the best Europe vacations I’ve ever done.  I’ve seen Dubrovnik and Mostar on the front page of Bing on multiple occasions.  They really are spectacular.  The castle in Belgrade was an awesome place to walk around.  The cultural music and dancing we got at night was spectacular.  Very fun environment.  I think it was a good thing for Toni as well, as he recognized some of the tunes, and was surprised to see the similarities between Croatia and Serbia.  Good stuff.

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Continue reading “Rediscovered Europe: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina”

Must See Cathedrals of Sofia Bulgaria


Black Sea to the East, Turkey and Greece to the south, Macedonia to the Southwest, and Romania to the North.  Sofia is a feast of richness in culture.

I had a 5 hour stopover in Sofia on my way to Istanbul, and I asked the Taxi to drop me off in the center of town.  As we got close I saw this amazing gold roof, and I asked him to drop me off at what I’d find out was Alexander Nevsky Cathedral an Eastern Orthodox church that can support 10,000 people.

Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky Sofia Bulgaria
Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky in Sofia Bulgaria

What a fascinating area.  First you just start walking around and you find amazing vendors selling antiques.  Antiques including old money from Yugoslavia, Germany, Iran, Iraq, across the middle east and various EU countries prior to their adoption of the Euro.  Amazing masks, art work, and antique razors, knives, and swords.  What a beautiful area to wander around.

Next door sits St. Sofia a crazy old church even for Europe.  On the site of the church in the 2nd century was a Roman theatre, and over the next couple of centuries were built churches only to be destroyed by Goths and Huns, and in the 6th century was built the Hagia Sofia church, a contemporary of the Hagia Sofia church in Istanbul.  In the 16th century it became a mosque, and the mosaics destroyed.  Now one of the most valuable pieces of early architecture in Southeastern Europe.  The city took it’s name from this church.

Alexander Nevsky
Alexander Nevsky

The young population of the city breathes life in a big way.  My second visit to Bulgaria a week later after having traveled across Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia to then drive from Skopje to Sofia in 3 hours with an impressive taxi driver. One estimate we had in Sofia was an 8 hour drive.  My hat off to our Macedonian driver.  The same driver who took us to meet the Roma.

Center of Sofia
The workers of Sofia Bulgaria

I’ve seen skaters in large cities in Europe before.  In fact in Paris, I saw huge jumps setup in a park, but in Sofia it was different.  Here it was as if the youth were the center of the city.  There presence is more important and embraced.  Vibrant youth. Radical change.  Hope.

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I met one such youth.  Yordan. He is full of hope, he is full of energy.  He was playing his accordion for fun.  It added a cultural element to the air.  We had a quick chat and extremely quickly we became friends and built trust.

Having a great meal in Bulgaria with locals
Having a great meal in Bulgaria with locals

Speaking of hope… I spent a few days with these guys at MS Days Bulgaria.  Two company owners and Microsoft Employee.  Radi, the Ninja Master, opened up his office and on my way home I had dinner with his team.  Again, passion, energy.  The old guard is getting old and retiring, there’s a lot of change a foot in Bulgaria.  A new generation is building businesses and generating successful employment.  Over 1000 attendees came to the event held in a very new Movie Theatre complex.

One of the coolest things about Sofia Bulgaria is the various fresh local markets. While the antique market may be catering somewhat to the tourist. The book market, the fruit and fresh market, and the vendors in the area.  Encouraging passion, intelligence, and getting people out into the streets engaging.  The culture is very open, very talkative.

Fresh Market in Sofia Bulgaria
Fresh Market in Sofia Bulgaria

Travel Tip: We had no problems with metered Taxis, but yes you might pay more than twice more if you don’t negotiate a local price.  Use the OK taxi, use the meeter and you’ll save a bundle.  Don’t believe them when they say fixed price from the airport, and don’t take a taxi that isn’t in line.  Those soliciting are going to charge you more than the yellow OK taxi.

The parks aren’t setup specifically for the tourist.  A book market… YES! Can you believe it!  Knowledge is power, and whether it’s the book market or the extremely passionate chess games with crowds as large as 20 people watching the intense game.  There’s something going on in Bulgaria.  It’s called life.

Sorry to say… I had a delay on my way home from Turkey which caused a domino effect.  It did put me in Sofia for another 5 hour layover, a third trip to Sofia in a 10 day period and rather than sit at the airport lounge, I reached out to my new friend Radi who invited a few friends.  Many thought it was an April fools joke.

One of the things I loved most of Sofia was how easy it was to find incredible food.  I didn’t have a single dish that wasn’t incredible.  The salads, the soups, the vegetables… I don’t think I’ll ever rave so much about various red and green peppers, cucumbers, egg plant, TOMATOs, and the cheese… yes the cheese.  I mean really, they were spectacular.  I’ve never tasted anything like it, there’s something in the soil, or something.  I have to imagine organic plus no chemicals, hormones, no accelerated growth, or weed killer.  Something I just can’t get in the US or in Western Europe.  When I saw goat head on the menu, I was getting a little excited.  The guys had some fun with that.  Unfortunately Goat head wasn’t available.  Parts and pieces depend on what’s available.

A crossroads of East and West, Bulgaria may hold an important piece of the future of Europe and hence the future of our world.  Often overlooked, but sleeping spark of economic growth.  While Greece, Spain, Portugal and others slow, there’s a sleeper that is emerging.  Let us welcome Bulgaria to the world stage.  I’d definitely welcome a Bulgarian restaurant in my home town.

Russian Orthodox Bulgarian
Russian Orthodox Bulgarian