Posts tagged ‘travel’
I have lived in Doha, Qatar for almost 8 years. Yes, I was in Bahrain in between, but overall for almost 8 years I lived in the Middle East as an expat. But, unlike many other expats who frequently go to Dubai for their R & R (Rest and Relax). Last time Keith and I went to Dubai was maybe 5 or 6 years ago. Then Dubai was the razzmatazz centre of the Middle East until suddenly everything went quiet due to the bubble burst of 2008. What we heard after that was nearly everybody was forced to leave Dubai. Then, the major Dubai attraction was the Burj al Arab with it’s 7 star hotel, and the ski slope inside a shopping mall.
Fast forward now, Dubai economy has picked up. When we arrived at the airport recently, I couldn’t believe so many tourists were coming to Dubai. The question is what are they now expecting of Dubai? What is the object of tourism? What activities are they gonna do?
Well for us, we are meeting Keith’s daughter and her new baby for nostalgia of living in Dubai/Arabia more than 25 years ago, when she was 2 to 12 year old girl. For me especially I was just going to see the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world), the new tourist destination in Dubai, and taking it’s picture as a Photography Enthusiast and a Seasoned Travel Photographer.
As we are already in Dubai, why not go up to the top, to see ‘view from the top’ of Burj Khalifa. So we booked the ticket to go to the top a week in advance since according to a friend who’s been up there told me to book well in advance, and no point to pay extra to get an express way to the top, the queue is too long to be able to squeeze in.
At the Top
The lobby and the ticket booth to go to the observation deck of “At The Top” was quite impressive; it shows where they are among the very ‘few’ tall architecture building in the world, as well as the model of the building with it’s surroundings.
From this point, they direct us to the ticket checking point, we were led for a long walk towards the lift, with a few stops in between which explained the view point we will see once we we are “up there”
The journey to go up in the lift was also unique, as to go up to the 124th floor took us only a minute in the lift, and one didn’t feel any dizziness or pressure on the ears as its traveled very fast. Once we are up there, there are plenty of telescopes to look down to the surrounding area of Burj Khalifa, and yes, the view was breathtaking.
On the way back down, we walked through a corridor showing a quick slide on milestones of the building during construction and all the pictures of people who involved with the construction.
However, as interesting and unique as it is the tallest building in the world at the moment, I question myself whether Dubai really needs such tall building, and once you are up there, was it a magnificent view or still a desert looking view?
Initially I didn’t intend to show pictures or write about mosque in my Syrian series anymore, but this morning, I heard the news that the Minaret of one of the great mosques has finally fallen down to rubble due to the civil war in Syria. I also saw a flash of picture on tv of something that used to be a well preserved and beautiful mosque.
So what is so important of this minaret anyway? Well, this is a small fact: it is the oldest part of the mosque that is prominent and noteworthy square 45 m² minaret. The Minaret’s earliest restoration dates to 1090 during the Seljuk dynasty. The Minaret boasted intricate bands of carved Kufic inscriptions along its length that alternate with bands of stylized ornaments in patterns and moqarnas
Here are some pictures that I managed to take in 2011, a memory from it’s hay day, just days before the war erupted.
The Great Mosque of Aleppo was also called Umayyad Mosque. It was also built during the Umayyad period in the Middle East, 10 years after the Great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Originally this Great Mosque of Aleppo was built on the site of a former Roman temple and Byzantine cathedral built by St. Helen (mother of Constantine the Great). The mosque was founded by the Umayyad Caliph al Walid in 715 AD, and completed by his successor Caliph Suleiman.
Like its sister mosque in Damascus, this one is also built off the souk. The main entrance to the mosque was directly at the extension of the souk with great traditional open market atmosphere. Thus the idea of a mosque is a place for the people gathering, not only a place to worship.
Throughout its history the building has endured multiple renovations and reconstructions in response to natural disasters (earthquakes and fire) and to modify its use, resulting in the development of its surroundings. Nural Din rebuilt in in 1169 after a great fire and the mosque was destroyed yet again during the Mongol invasion in 1260.
Because of the above reasons, the recent mosque design and layout was totally different from what was originally built, except the minaret that had survived so far. When I visited the mosque, it looked so immaculately beautiful, as it has undergone an extensive renovation (2003-4) during which, the minaret were especially restored. However, today’s civil war destroyed the mosque yet again, and this time including the long standing Minaret.
I think this photography collection is now precious. And another proof of the history of human civilisation has now gone just like that because of the conflict between humans. Worse of all, the destruction from the current war has the worst impact of destruction, approximately five out of six World Heritage Buildings have been damaged in this war according to UNESCO.
The Umayyad Mosque is one of the most important mosques in the history of Islam; it holds a special significance to the Shi’ah Muslims. This was where the Prophet Muhammad made the walk from Baghdad (Iraq).
The history of the building:
Built originally as a temple by the Arameans to worship the god of storms and lightening or a temple of Hadad-Ramman. When the Romans conquered Damascus in 64 CE they assimilated Hadad with their own god of thunder or better known as Temple of Jupiter. Under the direction of Damascus-born architect Apollodorus, the Romans continued to expand the Temple as the new Greco-Roman Temple of Jupiter which was intended to serve as a response to the Hebrew temple in Jerusalem.
Towards the end of the 4th century, in 391, the Temple of Jupiter became a church, and converted into the Cathedral dedicated to Saint John (John the Baptist) by the Christian emperor Theodosius I (r. 379–395). Legend has it that Saint John’s head was buried there. It served as the seat of the Bishop of Damascus, who ranked second within the Patriarchate of Antioch after the patriarch himself
In 636 CE, after the battle of Yamouk, Damascus was conquered by the Muslims under the leadership of Khalid-bin-Waleed, and the prayer space became a shared space between the Muslims and the Christians. The Muslims prayed on the eastern section and the Christians prayed on the other side. But soon this space was not enough for the Muslims and the reign of the Umayyad Caliph al Walid I negotiated with the Christian leaders to take over the space, and pay compensation for the Christians to move to the other side of the Old Town, as it is now.
They built the Mosque on its current location in 706 to 715 CE. The construction of the mosque was based on the mosque of the Prophet Muhammad in Madinah. It was built with the help of skilled workers from the Byzantine Empire and that reflected on its exterior style of the building, as well as the interior decoration in the main prayer hall. The middle columns supporting the building have the Corinthian order.
This mosque has 3 towers, or in the term of Islam architecture the word for tower is ‘minaret’:
- On the Eastern side of the Mosque it located Minaret of Jesus the tallest of the three minarets at 77m, and where the locals believe that this is where Jesus will descend during Judgement Day.
- On the North side of the Mosque is located the Minaret of the Bride, the oldest minaret
- On the South-West corner of the mosque is located the Al Gharbiyya Minaret,
A small structure inside the prayer hall lies the head of John the Baptist, which they found during the excavation for the building of the mosque.
Yes, I understand, that the above information is a bit hard to take in, however, it is because of it’s richness of history and it’s existence up to the present day. My visit to this mosque as well as the whole of Syria, made me want to learn more about the history of Near East as well as to comeback to Syria provided the condition of the country is not as it is today.
If you are interested on my other posts on Syria, check out: I’ve been to Syria
It was 2 years a go that we visited Damascus for a guided tour across Syria (read: The Old City of Damascus). But as we arrived in 2 days ahead of the tour, we managed to see Damascus with our own perception, and this was the best bit, we were picked up by a friend of a friend, who is a local. He owned the only musical shop in the Souq al-Hamadiyya – yes, they were having tea in front of his music shop.
What I liked about the Old City were the alleyways, different on every corner; with it’s own specialty at every turn of the street. Souq al-Hamadiyya for instance, is a broad street and very popular with the locals; it sells anything and everything really, from cheap Chinese products, to local handicraft for interior decor. This is also serves as the popular gate towards the old city, at the end of the Souq, before the great Umayyad Mosque – I will explain more about this mosque next week – stands Temple of Jupiter.
Temple of Jupiter is special because it was built by the Romans, at the beginning of the rule of Augustus (Roman Emperor) and completed during the rule of Constatius. It was during this time that Damascus was famous as the city of Jupiter.
What we see in the picture is only part of it, some other parts can be seen as part of the Umayyad Mosque. Like the Old City which has been through different periods of human history, so was this Temple and Mosque. The question is whether it will survive the latest turmoil?
As we moved on from this area, there was this very popular cafe shop, where the locals and the tourists mingle. It didn’t serve food, only coffee or tea, if we wanted food, than we needed to order some where else. Regardless of this, the Damascene think this is the ‘in place’, where you could see people and be seen. Again, I wonder whether this place is still popular now, or even still exists?
Further on from this place, things get more interesting, as to me, this is where the real atmosphere started. The streets widen and narrow with an infinite variation, from a chaotic communal road to an order of small palace.
The Old City is divided into four distinct quarters that roughly align with the fame of the seven gates around the Old City. Souq Al-Hamadiyya is the vibrant and commercial district of the Old City. Bab Sharqi was the gate towards the Christian Quarter , where we found the House of Ananias, the Roman Arch and St. Paul’s Chapel. Bab Salam is the entrance gate if you want to go to Shia’s Mosque of Sayyida Ruqqaya, the most impressively ornate mosque I’ve ever seen. Bab Musala is a gate for the Jewish Quarter, and home to the cities artisan community.
Inside these quarters dotted around are historic places, schools, Hamam, interesting places and palaces turned into museums, like Khan As’ad Pasha, turned into a private museum.
That was a really exciting experience that I wish a could return and visit all those places that I missed last time….
If you are interested in my other posts about Syria, check out: I’ve been to SYRIA
When I landed in Doha for the first time back in 2005, I was surprise that I had to take the stairs and walk on the runway to the bus to take me to the airport arrival lounge and the immigration counter. Then I learned that for 2006 Asian Games, Qatar would use a new airport, for the athletes. As the time got nearer to the event, I wondered when would this new airport open. Then I heard the gossip that ‘they’ couldn’t make it for the Asian Games and instead they would open a temporary arrival lounge especially for the Asian Games athletes and officials.
Now, more than six years on, Qatar is still working on the New Doha International Airport, or rather the Hamad International Airport; but it’s now very close to the opening time, at least the authority is sort of announcing the soft opening date, the 1st of April 2013. The question is whether this is for real or an April Fool?
I think this is now for real, as now I am part of the team involved in the construction of this new airport, at least I know how far it is to go for the finishing of the airport and at least I know and I can see how the airport will look like; as six years ago, I never knew anything about the design or the shape of the airport.
Did I mention that it’s only a soft opening? As only 10 airlines will fly from HIA on the 1st of April, namely:
- Air Arabia,
- Air India Express,
- Biman Bangladesh Airlines,
- Iran Air,
- Nepal Airlines,
- Pakistan International Airline,
- RAK Airways,
- Syrian Air
- Yemen Airways,
So for the frequent flyers with Qatar Airways and from the other bigger airlines, they will have to wait until at least the end of the year when officially the airport will be fully operated.
Here are some interesting facts about the new airport as of Doha News which said:
“There are 41 contact gates in the main passenger terminal – Those gates have some 88 Passenger Loading Bridges. That means no more long bus rides to and from the planes – passengers can just walk down the bridge onto the plane, like at many other airports in the world. Also, the terminal itself should be able to handle 28 million people a year.”
Does this now mean a competition between 3 airports in the region? (namely Abu Dhabi Airport, Dubai Airport and Doha Airport) and is there a need to have 3 hubs in the region? I just try to compare the competition of airports in the ‘80s between Amsterdam and Frankfurt airport, when both tried to be the European air hub, but never fulfilled it’s expectation.
“Terminal 1 will have 150 passenger check-in stations. That includes 14 check-in booths for First Class and 16 check-in desks for Business Class. Ideally that also means no waiting in long lines, although that remains to be seen.”
I guess Qatar is gearing up toward the 2022 World Cup (which is 9 years away from now) when they will expect an influx of tourists and football fans. But between now and then, I can’t see any possibility that Qatar will have so many visitors except business people and expats. I wonder what will happen after the World Cup? I just remember the building of new airports in Barcelona, just for the Olympic Games, but after that, the airport was too empty….
“The next phase of the airport will handle 50 million passengers a year. Dubbed Phase 3A, and due to be completed by 2017, it will include the development of an expansion of Terminal 1 and the addition of a training center, rail station, car rental facilities, a “sea rescue” harbor and a multi-story parking structure.”
Well, I don’t think I will be there by the time the next terminal opens. Will I still be a Seasoned Traveler and using Qatar Airways to see the “New” terminal…? Who knows…..
When we arrived in Budapest, I was not impressed at all by the cityscape. The arrival terminal was a bit old, even though the taxi driver who was in charge of picking us up at the airport was super friendly, and was very eager to show us a glimpse of Budapest, he could not convince me that Budapest is a pretty city. I was hoping that the ‘old and tired’ image of the city was only at the parking lot of the airport and the road from the airport toward the city.
As we drove along toward the city center, the buildings get denser. Our taxi driver kept on explaining about various building along the street. as he tried to help us understand a bit of the city as well as giving us some tips of surviving in Hungary. And to make the conversation more interesting, he also told us a bit of himself; really very nice man.
As my husband was listening to our driver politely, I tried to memorize quietly every little thing that our taxi driver explained to us along the way, in case we needed to comeback to see something interesting outside our holiday package.
Learning about the history of Budapest, which was arose out of two Bulgarian military frontier fortresses Buda and Pest: situated on the two banks of Danube. Buda and Pest started their development in the 12th century, however, both towns were devastated during the Mongol invasion of Europe in 1241-42; hmm… no wonder the city looks old, it’s been thru a long history. But hey, so have other European cities.
Carrying on with the history: Buda and Pest remain two totally different cities and reached their heyday in the 14th century, when the Angevin kings from France established Buda as the royal seat of centralized power. However, it was Pest becoming the cultural and economic centre of the country. The first National Theatre is built, along with the Hungarian National Museum, all that was in the 19th century.
Through out all Budapest and Hungarian history since the first settlement of the Hungarian tribe in 10th century until the 20th century, the Hungarians lost most of their wars. From the Tatar(Mongolian) invasion that destroyed both town in the 11th century and then later the Turks’ Ottomans, to the post WW II era. And believe it or not those scares from the wars especially WWII, are reflected in the city architecture.
Unlike Paris who try to isolate modern expression of architecture in one of it’s suburb, Budapest shows all periods of Architecture era all over the city, and maybe this is why I was not able to see Budapest as representative of a certain era. Looking back at it’s history and seeing how it looks now, maybe I needed to see the city from a different angle. Budapest represents a blend of Old and New Architecture, it has Roman’s Amphitheaters, Gothic Style cathedral, as well as Traditional Turkish Bath as the heritage of the Ottoman occupation. The history of the city represented in the facade of the city’s architecture. Maybe that’s it, Budapest cityscape is Eclectic style; we just have to wait for the modern and high rise buildings being built, to complete the city as an architectural haven.
Our visit to Budapest was to co-inside with the celebration of the Hungarian National Day, a commemoration of the start of Hungarian Revolution on 23 October 1956, the people’s power against the government of the People’s Republic of Hungary and its Soviet-imposed policy. Despite the failure of the uprising, this actually played a role in the downfall of the Soviet Union decades later (more info in Wikipedia).
Statue of Imre Nagy, the Prime Minister who turned hero of the uprising, was immortalized with this statue and remembered each year together with a unique Hungarian flag they fly every year during this period, including on the one they show on the Parliament House:
I thought there’s a symbol in the middle of the white bit of the Hungarian Flag, but it’s not. It’s a HOLE! Yes, there is a whole in the middle of the flag, and that is also related to the revolution in 1956, as a symbol of the anti soviet uprising of 1956, where the people cut out the Stalinist emblem and use the tricolour with a hole in the middle as a symbol (and now to commemorate) of the revolution.
OK, the facade my look eclectic, and some area are neglected, but Budapest tries hard, and it shows on so many buildings are under refurbishment period. And in terms of Interior Design, I think it retains it’s reputation as Central Europe’s capital of design. There are many nice and modern designs of galleries, cafes and restaurants with interesting modern touches:
As a good tourist, we decided to visit one of the few special buildings in Budapest, which is the synagogue of the Jewish community in Hungary. Jews have lived in Hungary since the time of the Roman Empire, even before the Magyar (Hungarian) tribes arrived and conquered the land in the 9th century. By the early 20th century, the community had grown to constitute 5% of Hungary’s population and 23% of the population of the capital, Budapest.
The Dohány Street Synagogue, also known as The Great Synagogue is located in Erzsébetváros, the district VII of Budapest; it is the largest synagogue in Europe and the fifth largest in the world according to Wikipedia.
- The synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859 in the Moorish Revival style, believe it or not, it’s decoration based chiefly on Islamic models from North Africa and medieval Spain; its design also features a mixture of Byzantine, Romantic and Gothic elements. Two onion-shaped domes sit on the twin octagonal towers at 43 metres height. These towers symbolize the two columns of Solomon’s Temple.
- Similarly to basilicas, the building also consists of three spacious richly decorated aisles, two balconies and, unusually, an organ.
- A rose stained-glass window sits over the main entrance.
- The architect of the building, Ludwig Förster, believed that no distinctively Jewish architecture could be identified, and thus chose “architectural forms that have been used by oriental ethnic groups that are related to the Israelite people and in particular the Arabs”. And maybe that is why, during my visit to its museum, I met some Muslim students visiting the exhibition and making some notes.
A single-span cast iron supports the 12-m wide nave. The seats on the ground-floor are for men, while the upper gallery has seats for women. Surprisingly the synagogue has an organ, though this instrument is used in Christian churches. The temple’s acoustic make it a popular venue for concerts.
The torah-arch and the internal frescoes made of colored and golden geometric shapes are the works of the famous Hungarian romantic architect Frigyes Feszl.
In total, the building can house around 3000 people
Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns played the original 5,000 pipe organ built in 1859. Today, a new mechanical organ with 63 voices and 4 manuals was built in 1996 by the German firm Jehmlich Orgelbau Dresden GmbH
To visit the synagogue you need to buy ticket at the gate. There are several websites dedicated to the location which provide information on when it is open and how much the current tickets cost. However tickets varied for every object in the complex, which consist of:
- the Great Synagogue,
- The Heroes’ Temple, which was added to the Great synagogue in 1931, and it serves as a memorial to Hungarian Jews who gave their lives during World War I.
- The graveyard, or the Jewish Cemetery, located in the backyard of the Heroes’ Temple. There are over 2,000 people buried here who died in the Jewish ghetto during the winter of 1944-45.
- The Jewish Museum, adjacent to the Great Synagogue was constructed on the site where Theodor Herzl’s house once stood. It features Jewish traditions, costumes, as well a detailed history of Hungarian Jews, including information about the Holocaust.
- The Holocaust memorial,
- The Raul Wallenberg Memorial Park. Home to the Holocaust Memorial, is located in the backyard of the Great Synagogue. also known as the Emanuel Tree, is a weeping willow tree (by Imre Varga) with the names of Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust inscribed on each leaf.
- Also part of the memorial is four red marble plates, commemorating 240 non-Jewish Hungarians who saved Jews during the Holocaust. One of the most heroic figures of the Holocaust in Hungary was Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who prepared Protective Passports under the authority of the Swedish Embassy, saving the lives of thousands of Jews.
History of the building:
The synagogue was bombed by the Hungarian pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party just before WW II started. The building suffered severe damage from aerial raids during the Nazi Occupation.
During the Communist era the damaged structure became again a prayer house for the much-diminished Jewish community.
It was only in 1991 they start a restoration, and opened again for public in 1998.
Reference of this post:
- Dohány Street Synagogue – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dohány_Street_Synagogue
- Jewish Virtual Library – http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Hungary.html
- Visit Budapest.Travel – http://visitbudapest.travel/guide/budapest-attractions/great-synagogue/
Today, Londoners are having their 4 day week end, celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Simple word from me: “I wish I was there…”. I am not British, but like many others around the world, we all like British Royals and especially the Queen herself.
I am lucky enough to be married to a “Brit” who just happens to be a royalist. The problem is we don’t live in the UK, thus for this very week, we were in Doha, watching the celebration on TV.
However, I managed to convince Keith to take us to London for a day, after a family wedding 3 weeks ago. I was sick and had a fever a day before, but I forced myself to go on that Saturday afternoon, as this might be my only opportunity to see the atmosphere first hand, just to go to London 3 weeks prior to the celebration. We were in the UK for a family wedding, not in London, but I persuaded Keith to go to London by train, just for the day.
London is a big city, as well as full of history, thus what one can do in London for a day? Well, not much really, however, there are some websites that give suggestions of what we can do for a day out in London.
Visit London, suggested to start the visit with the National Gallery just off Trafalgar Square, however, if you are a day tripper to London from nearby, (like we were), I think it’s better to go to London by train, and we arrived at Waterloo Station, which is nearby to the London Eye, and that is what we did. However, to do the London Eye, one needs to book prior, as it’s a very popular attraction. As I had been up there before, we gave it a miss. I also gave London Aquarium a miss, even though it’s next door to the Eye.
Yes, one can spend the rest of the day in this area by doing these attractions, but for me, as I liked the atmosphere and the life of the city, I decided to just walk across Westminster Bridge, and turn right on Parliament Square, down Whitehall. Looking to Downing Street, to the office and official resident of the Prime Minister. Funny enough, right next to Downing Street there was this demonstration on UK Police Racial Code and right across there was this pro Campaign for Palestine.
From that bit of excitement, we then passed by Horse Guards, where people can walk in and out of the Horse Guards Parade.
At the end of Whitehall we arrive at Trafalgar Square, where the count down of the 2012 Olympic games was located and where people sit around on the steps posing, watching an open air concert.
To the right of Trafalgar Square, we then walked through Admiralty Arch on to The Mall. On normal days, this place is quiet and uninteresting, but I bet during the Royal events, I bet hundred thousands of people will be marching through this place, and I could already imagine the bunting along The Mall, The Mall will look very alive and full of atmosphere for the Jubilee. But this time, this is my picture of The Mall.
OK, we did not stay on The Mall, as it is a pretty long road and ends up at Buckingham Palace, but instead we turn right heading for Regent Street. This is one of the posh shopping areas in London, where one can find lots of designer shops. This road is another long road that you could spend window shopping or real shopping for the whole day. However, off Regent street, there’s this interesting area called Carnaby Street, a pedestrianised shopping street located in the Soho district, that I think is worth seeing.
By the time we reach Oxford Street and Oxford Circus station, it was already late, around 7 o’clock in the evening, and we were already very tired and ready to go back to our hotel in Guildford, but I also wanted to see the London blue hour, thus we just headed back to the London Eye area to get ready for the sunset/blue hour. That concluded our one day visit to London.