Monday, July 3, 2017

Arriving in the Rain - an Airbnb tale

Hi all,

So this story is about the time that I arrived in Munich, Germany during a downpour. It was summer 2016, and I was on my European Backpacking Adventure. Munich had won my heart back in December 2012, so I was excited to revisit it during warmer months. I was arriving on the Eurail train from Switzerland and had been traveling and journaling all day.

To set the scene, picture me wearing my large backpack on my back and the smaller one on my front. My umbrella is thankfully easily accessible in my backpack's pocket, and I'm wearing a comfortable travel outfit. My train has pulled into the suburbs of Munich and the rain has started to fall on the windows. I've got the directions from the Airbnb host as screenshots and have the apartment's "location" pinned on my Google Maps app.

The train pulled into a tunnel and then stopped at my station. I exited and crossed to the other track to take the short journey to the apartment's local station. I was underground now and naively hopeful that the rain would be light when I reemerged. No such luck.

I vividly remember climbing the stairs out of the station toward a grey plaza. The rain could be heard before I saw it. Sheets of rain. People coming down the stairs were shaking their umbrellas and coats off and looked miserable.

I gathered up my willpower, set my Google Map GPS to show the direction of the apartment, and walked up into the deluge. Okay, that's a little extreme, but my point is that I was really thankful that I had my umbrella. I had to stand at a corner to wait for the traffic light. My sneakers felt wet already. After crossing I headed toward a neighborhood area as the directions instructed. Here's where it becomes a story and not just a soggy arrival anecdote.

I couldn't find the apartment.

The rain continued as I walked up the street and down the street looking for the number and frowning at my phone's directions. (I should note that I've had this happen to me in other cities, so it's me not the directions (mostly), but still.) I found refuge under an overhang and tried in vain to message or call the host. This is a downside of not having (buying) internet access, aka a SIM card, when I travel. Feeling frustrated, I went to the only door on the street that looked open and found a German Kindergarten. It was after 4pm so only the secretary was there.

She was incredibly helpful and let me use the phone to call the host, but there was still no answer. I sadly thanked her and stepped back into the rain, thinking about how my backpack's contents were surely completely wet. Note to self: Don't assume when feeling defeated.

I wandered down the street again and stopped at a cafe to try to use wifi. Again, no luck. The shop was empty and I felt guilty for not buying something, so I exited and started toward the bus shelter across the street.

That's when I saw a tall, lanky guy walking toward me and waving under his umbrella. My host! I admit that I wasn't the most likable person in that moment, but he tolerated my annoyance like a saint and invited me into the apartment. I found that my backpack was not that wet, I let my sneakers dry by the heater, and we had a nice cup of tea together and chatted.

All's well that ends well, as he would say. So that's the story of how I got discombobulated in Munich when trying to find my Airbnb apartment. I did help him write up clearer directions for future guests and I had a great, albeit rainy and cold, stay in Munich in mid-July. We even played soccer one evening! But that's another story.

Until next time... thanks for reading!

Happy travels!
-Christina

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My love-hate relationship

Hi all,

I'm going to write about something I think most travelers have experienced. The love-hate relationship. Not with someone, or with the feeling of endless travel, but with a city. You adore this city, idealizing it as you plan your trip. But then you get there and it stomps on you, steals your money, and throws you overboard. This is a story about Paris, France.

I had visited Paris in June 2007 as the starting point of a group tour across France, Spain, Morocco, and Portugal for intrepid high schoolers. Well our plane from Virginia was delayed, we missed our flight from New York, and we spent the day at a Newark mall instead of on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. But I'll tell that story later. Oh and then there was the MRD trip to London and Paris in 2011, in which my flight group missed the Paris part and had to meet up with everyone in London. Basically Paris was a blip in my memory, and a sore spot, and I was determined to visit it fully in 2016. As the start of my big European Backpacking Adventure!

Flying in was exciting and the first days were enjoyable. But cold. Parisians were wearing coats in the middle of June. I wandered, I recolored my hair, I sipped classy drinks and ate fine food. I tried to live as a local and experience Paris correctly. I had a plan to see the tourist sites on the weekend, after I moved from my current Airbnb to a hostel across town. A teaching family I knew was also going to be in Paris the day that I moved, so I planned on dropping my stuff off and then exploring with them. See I made good plans. I was nice to the city. And it repaid me by kicking me in the stomach.

*Here's where it gets TMI. You've been warned.*
I thankfully have a habit of packing up most of my stuff the night before I leave a place. Plus I'd only just arrived 2 days ago, so most of my stuff was still packed. My Airbnb was in a cool student neighborhood and the host (in messages, he wasn't in town) had recommended a pizza place nearby. I wandered naively down there, had a beer, and ordered what ended up being a full pie.

It looked fine. I took a photo of it for Instagram (later deleting it after the horror) and dug in. I was never going to eat it all, but I made a decent dent. Then my stomach felt... unsure. I had another beer to settle it. I decided not to have any of my wine when I got back to the apartment and got ready for bed. I remember listening to a Spanish CD from my laptop to lull me to sleep.

*Some of this story I wrote the day after the "incident", so let's now time-travel to my nice hostel in Paris (where I moved).*

June 17th, 2016.

I just realized today is my half-birthday. 25.5.

Sucky day to celebrate though because today... (graphic, read on at own "ew" risk) I woke up with what I assume has been food poisoning. Probably from the combo of pizza and beer last night. Throw-up count is at 4 (3am, 4am, 9:30am, 4pm) and my stomach was empty-empty when last I saw its contents (water). I've been dizzy all day and my muscles feel super weak and useless. 

I'm at a hostel now, and a very nice Argentinian woman bought me gatorade, which has helped. A French woman also gave me some strong paracetamol and stomach spasm medicine. I laid down on a couch in the hostel (room wasn't ready yet) for several hours midday. No lunch.

Tried to have the tiniest bit of banana when I woke up in the afternoon after incident 4pm and that was a trigger on my poor stomach. Last expulsion seems to have helped my dizziness though, and I now have a bed (bunk, so gotta be careful) so I'm down for the next several hours. Didn't get to see the teaching family today on account of trying to not feel like death.

Being sick sucks, but the positive factors are: 
1) I've learned I don't give a __ what strangers think of me.

2) I'm able to be respectful even when I'm white as a ghost and lacking stomach bile.

3) People are super nice, just, there are really good people all around. 

4) I'm in this hostel until Sunday morning when I'm planning on going to Monaco, but nothing is booked, so travel-freedom has taken that pressure off my mind.

5) This hostel is clean and the hosts are very helpful. One guy carried my ridiculous, huge purple backpack up the stairs for me and the main host let me sleep on the couch downstairs for those hours.

6) I honestly don't care if I don't see all the sites in Paris. Which I may well not. I got to Notre Dame. Yes the Eiffel Tower is special, but I won't cry about not getting to see it on this trip. I'll be in Europe again someday when I live here.

Stay hydrated and healthy my friends,
Christina

I don't think you really need the gory details, but if you've read this far apparently you want them.
...
Still reading? Okay I'll tell you.

My body rejected everything possible that night at the apartment. I thought I was okay in the morning, waking up around 7am, and even walked down the street to a supermarket to buy a banana and some yogurt as breakfast. Foolish me.

I packed up my bags fully and managed to walk down the street wearing my 20+ pounds of luggage (backpacks) on my poor body. Mind over matter, legs just keep moving. I got to the metro and held on to the railing as the train rolled and rocked in that usual way. Except that my stomach was not happy. I thank the universe that the doors of the train opened at a random, open-air station just as the banana and yogurt decided to leave me. That was the 9:30am incident. I managed to get my front backpack off before spewing my guts on a plastic chair bench and the wall behind.

This will make you laugh with pity - I felt so guilty for the mess that I tried to wash it all away with my water bottle. Then I found a station manager and explained that he should call someone to come with a hose to wash it away. So thankful it was an open-air station...

Now I wasn't crazy enough to try to get on another train and continue my journey to the hostel. My weakened body was going to have to make the trip on foot. At least it was a nice day and I felt capable to walking with my backpacks as long as I could breath fresh air and rush to a bush or trash can if needed. (My willpower is pretty strong some days. Still, I definitely wished I wasn't traveling alone right then.)

I had the GPS coordinates on my phone (Thanks Google Maps!) and started off on the longest trek of my life. Well it felt like that because I was slower than a snail and didn't feel I was getting any closer. I passed through a park that had a dinosaur statute in it. I dragged myself along a row of endless identical houses on an empty sidewalk. That's when I sat down and surrendered to the streets of Paris. Accepting that the city had beat me and that we shouldn't be together anymore.

I considered just booking myself into the next hotel I saw, but I didn't see any. I considered paying a driver however much was necessary to get me to the hostel but then worried about getting sick in their car. I considered ordering a taxi but my phone just had wifi access, not calling or instant internet. And again, the car movement worried me. So I sat there.

Eventually, superhumanly, I summoned enough energy to pull myself up and trudge on to the hostel. It was a very welcome sight. But it was like 11am and the room wouldn't be ready until 4pm. The host was lovely. She saw I was in a miserable state and let me collapse on the couch in the "game room" down some stairs.

I shamelessly covered myself completely in a blanket and lay still like a corpse on that couch for the whole afternoon. I probably creeped some people out. I tried to get up once in the afternoon and incident 4 told me that my mind was not going to win this battle of wills over my body. Luckily I was in a bathroom. Then, as the journal entry says, I met nice people who helped. I survived, got to my room, slept, and later got online to apologize to the family since we hadn't met up. It hadn't been a set plan, just a maybe.

The next day I was better. 24 hours of destruction and the poison was out of my system. Thank your body today - it knows what to do in these situations, even if disgusting.

So then I had a lovely weekend wandering around the sites in Paris, as I'd planned. Even met someone cute. But that's another story. See you later!    

Happy traveling!
- Christina

Thursday, June 29, 2017

My first trip across the border

Hi all,

So let's jump in, to the car. My first trip outside of the USA was to nearby Canada. I was 9 years old. We lived in upstate New York so the drive wasn't that bad, considering that my family often took road trips to the beach in Virginia.

My younger brothers and I (ages 9, 6, and 3) piled into the backseat and waiting for my dad to finally be ready. After checking the house for the 20th time, we were off. I remember being so excited to see Niagara Falls and watching out the window of our brown Toyota as we flew by trees, entered the grey highway, and finally approached border control.

This was pre-9/11, and I guess the rules for border crossings were looser at that time. I'm fairly sure my parents didn't have passports. Us children certainly didn't. So we pulled up to the border control officer's roadside toll box. It seemed to me like we were just stopping to pay a toll, but then it took longer than usual.

The officer seemed to be telling my mom that she couldn't take us, her children, across the border without showing our birth certificates. Whether my parents hadn't researched this or it was a new rule, I'll never know. But we were halted there at the US-Canada border as my mom and dad tried to convince the officer, and soon his boss, that the 3 of us were not being smuggled out of the country.

I was bored with the wait so I fidgeted with my crank-down window handle, and ended up sticking pennies into a hole by the door handle. That door always jingled with cash afterward. My brothers must have been asleep because I don't remember any ruckus from them. I didn't know why we had been held up until my parents started talking about it back in the car later on.

After what felt like hours, but was probably more like 30 minutes, my parents signed some documentation and the border staff let us through. Perhaps it says something about my travel patience personality that my first experience involved waiting at a border.

So we got through and went to Canada. That weekend we stood by the massive Niagara Falls from the Canadian side and took photos. I'll save myself some humiliation by not posting them because 9-year-old me was not fashion-forward.

That was my first trip "abroad". I don't remember if I felt the travel bug then, but I do remember being fascinated that there were hotels and interesting things to see that I wouldn't have seen if we hadn't taken the trip.

So that was my start. And I'd like to stay that I've been traveling ever since, but it wasn't until 2005 that I got my next chance. But that's another travel story. See you later!

Happy traveling!
-Christina

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Brave solo traveler: real or fake?

Hi all,

I have been told that I must be very brave to travel alone. But am I?

I don't feel brave, I actually usually feel like traveling alone is a cop-out. Like I couldn't be bothered to care about traveling with someone, so I just didn't put the energy into making that happen. Perhaps part of that feeling comes from being an introvert. Too much time around people exhausts me and I need personal time to recharge. That's the one big benefit of living alone. So maybe I travel alone so much because the introvert part of me feels it is safer, less emotionally draining. I can verify that traveling with family is not relaxing. Enjoyable, yes, but not relaxing. And I generally like to relax when I'm traveling.

I do like the anxious feeling of having to navigate a new city, the pressure of catching the train, and the rush of satisfaction when I find something great unexpectedly (i.e. quaint coffee shop, beautiful unnoticed painting, perfect lonely view).

So am I being brave when I travel alone, or cowardly? I do shy away from getting close to people. I don't like my personal space being invaded EVER (please ask for a hug and wait for permission) without warning, and I usually exist in the quiet silence of my lonely house. I don't mind it. I was never one of those folks who likes music on 24/7. Yes, I listen to music when I get up in the morning. It helps me get into a good mood. Yes, I like music/sound on when I'm writing creatively, running, or actively avoiding being productive (looking at you YouTube). But I'm okay with silence. I prefer silence most evenings. So maybe that's another reason I often travel alone, it ensures guaranteed silence time.

No buddy/roomie/friend to obligatorily chat with when there is nothing else to do. No one to explain your decisions to or worst, JUSTIFY your decisions to. I think we should take this road, why, because that's what I decided. I get tried giving reasons - which I happen to do a lot at school (i.e. "Why is that on the board? Why can't I have it? When are we going to do Writing today?"). Most of my school life is answering questions, so when I'm traveling - which is during my school breaks - it's one of the last things I want to do.

But when I travel alone, it is lonely. I don't think being brave and lonely go together. Maybe that's my own perception of what "lonely" and "brave" look like, but of all the times in my life I've felt "brave", none overlap with feeling "lonely".

So what does "brave" look like? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

For the love of maps

Hi all,

Does anyone else adore maps?
Basically I love maps, and compasses. There is something so intriguing about seeing the world on paper in front of you and being able to chart the places you've been. Speaking of, I love making maps of my travels. 

You can use this site to make a map of your travels: https://www.amcharts.com/visited_countries/ It is really easy because you just click on the country (or check off the name).
Here's mine (link): CK map May2016


I've made a bunch of maps over the years, but this one is probably the most detailed: Where in the World is Christina? map


My map of where I go in Europe will come out after my backpacking adventure there this summer (2016!).

Make maps of your own travels! Share them!

Happy teaching and traveling,
-Christina

Friday, October 30, 2015

My Memorable Travel Experiences List

Hi all,

I was inspired to make this list by this post. This is not an exhaustive list, but it lists some of the memories that I obviously remember. I'm going to restrict this to travel-related experiences. I'm trying to be chronological, since that's how my brain works.

**June 29th, 2017 note - I want to revamp this blog to be my travel stories. I think these will serve my as starting list.**

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The mist and noise of Niagara Falls.

Setting foot in a foreign country (London, 2005). It was like the pictures in a book had come to life around me.

Standing on the metal plate in front of Notre Dame and committing to traveling as much as possible (apparently if you stand there, you're destined to return to Paris).

The overnight train from Paris to Madrid.

Spending way too much on a purse I never use in Madrid.

Having the BEST chocolate gelato ever in Seville. Repeatedly.

Standing on (almost) the edge of a cliff in Ronda, Spain.

Trying to do a flamenco dance with our hosts on a rural Spanish ranch.

Getting lost in the beautiful winding streets of Toledo.

Swimming in the Mediterranean for the first time.

The monkey that stole the Snickers in Gibraltar.

Having rabbit (they lied and said it was chicken) in Portugal.

Buying a small bottle of Port in a shop in Porto and feeling so sneaky.

Standing at the lighthouse on the western-most point of Europe (Portugal) and holding my skirt down because of the wind.

Swimming on the other side of the Atlantic. Also finding out that my parents were visiting the beach on their side of the Atlantic the same day. I waved. (Pun intended)

Wandering through some streets in Lisbon and marveling at the copper-orange color of the roofs.

Exploring landmarks in London by myself soon after arriving and already feeling "back" in a city I knew.

Playing and dancing at the end of the London New Year's Day parade.

My disappointment in LAX for not having food options closer to the gate.

Valentine's Day on the beach in Lorne, Australia.

O-week in Australia. All the fun and community building. All the events with my new best friends.

My weekend schedule of going to work at the YMCA, coming back to Uni to change, then out to explore Melbourne with my best friend.

Sky-diving and bungee-jumping on the same day in Cairns.

Finding a beautiful green space in the headlands near Sydney and taking tons of photos.

Missing our flight in the Gold Coast and spending a rainy day in Coolangatta. At least we saw the newest Harry Potter movie.

Amazingly good salmon hotdogs in a Farmer's Market in Hobart.

The full day we spent exploring the Dove Lake/Cradle Mountain area.

Frustratingly searching for a lake at night only to wake up to find that we parked right next to it (New Zealand). *There's a lesson there*

Driving the west coast of the South Island. It's just incredible.

Learning the amazing community spirit of New Zealanders when we stopped at a very rural pub to call for a tow-truck for a couple we'd passed.

Claiming a private spot over Lake Taupo for a few nights.

Just watching the stars outside of Hamilton, New Zealand.

My host's mother welcoming me by purchasing a huge case of Mexican beer (Mexico City). It was a great idea.

Climbing to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan.

The afternoon I spent on the plaza in Guadalajara just sketching.

The drive to Zacatecas through central Mexico.

The sticky humidity and tourist atmosphere of Puerto Vallarta. Swimming in the Pacific was really cool though.

Conquering my own fears on the Alps (skiing) after falling many, many times.

The thermal baths in Erding, Germany, especially the Persian-inspired pool room that I had all to myself.

Watching the surfers on a river in Munich in December.

Driving a manual on the autobahn.

Experiencing the Nurnberger Christkindlesmarkt a few days before Christmas, complete with gluhwein and sausages.

Christmas Eve in a bar in my friend's hometown in Germany.

Being alone in the quiet of the snowy Czech woods in ski gear.

Getting scammed out of 20 euro each for a NYE event, then wandering a residential neighborhood.

Being interviewed as a tourist who came to Berlin for New Year's Eve by a German tabloid-newspaper.

Stopping along Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah Valley, to take photos and talking with a father-son duo on motorcycles.

Experiencing (most of) a Yankee's Game in NYC with friends of friends and best friends.

Walking down Coney Island's Broadwalk only to slowly discover that the mass of people were there because we'd visited the same day as the Mermaid Parade!

Checking in my luggage when I moved abroad to Saudi Arabia. "Are you moving?" Yes I am.

My first day as a teacher in Grade 1.

Navigating by instinct (to my friend who was driving) through the streets of Abu Dhabi since our electronic maps were just showing a blue dot on a blank tan field.

Swimming in Yiti, Oman, hoping to see turtles, and finding happily scurrying crabs on an empty beach.

Having help from very nice local women with wrapping a hijab so I could enter the Grand Mosque in Muscat, Oman.

Hitting the slopes with my brother in Colorado.

Returning to my favorite restaurant in Mexico City for a michelada, made correctly, and good sushi.

That first glimpse of Petra through the gaps in the Siq.

Climbing up endless stairs and dry creekbeds to The Monastery early in the morning (Jordan). It was all worth the sight and the endless views over the mountain range.

Experiencing a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. Delayed gratification!

Having a great Turkish bath and massage in Kudadasi, Turkey.

Climbing down the cliffs at Pamukkale with a new friend.

The sunset view of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque from a ferry in the Bosphorus, Istanbul.

The high-above-the-city view after climbing a "mountain" in Istanbul (Asian side).

Swimming in the freezing pool in my hotel in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia looming down and the moon high above.

The Fourth of July fireworks show in Houston, Texas.

Experiencing Business Class on a Singapore Airlines flight from Houston to Moscow.

Scuba diving off a long boat off Belitung Island, Indonesia. Just the guide and I in the water.

Following the local procession through the village streets to celebrate the end of Ramadan in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Exploring a waterfall with new friends outside of Yogyakarta. Also jumping off a cliff edge into the river.

Randomly having dinner with several Italian travelers on the beach on Gili Meno, off of Bali.

The spectacular sunset I experienced in Ubirr, NT, Australia.

Having a beer at an old haunt north of Melbourne with my friend.

Doing yoga on the beach in Koh Lanta, Thailand.

Wandering Bangkok until my feet hurt, including circling a street market several times (both to avoid rain and because I kept missing the turn out!)

Randomly deciding to eat lunch at a shop in a Bangkok street market, only to notice that there were clippings on the wall talking about it being a great restaurant. Yay instinct!

Lounging across 3 economy seats on a very empty Qatar Airways flight from Bangkok to Doha mid-day on a Monday.

The fire in Dubai on New Year's Eve.

Going up the Burj Khalifa for sunrise on January 1st, 2016.

Food poisoning in Paris. It was ugly, but people were wonderfully helpful.

Finding an amazing burger in Monte Carlo.

Wandering Genoa during a Saint holiday and having the city to ourselves.

Walking down a mountain with a happy dog in Switzerland.

Hunting for my Airbnb in the downpour in Munich.

Playing soccer with locals in a park in Germany.

Exploring the Turkish side of Berlin and finding familiar, yummy treats.

Seeing a beautiful sunset in Prague over a very underrated building.

Feeling happy in the summer breeze at a viewpoint over Prague.

Taking the overnight train from Prague, via Budapest, to Split. Quite the ride.

Scuba-diving in Bol, Croatia and meeting a small octopus!

Celebrating Saudi Arabia's National Day on the corniche with a new friend who trusted me way more than she probably should have.

Spending a weekend in Dubai to see Cirque du Soleil- Varekai with friends.

Thinking how surreal it was that I was in Virginia in October to see two friends marry each other.

Successfully interviewing in Dubai and over Skype for my new job!

My birthday celebrations in Bahrain and then Doha.

Revisiting my favorite spot in the world over Winter Break.

Waiting in the airport for 10 hours for a flight that never left. A stay-cation happened instead.

Showing my best friend all my favorite corners of Barcelona and being so grateful for good people.

Revisiting Toledo and being, once again, stunned by its beauty.

Seeing The Lion King in Madrid and being blown away.

Wandering Lisbon all day and feeling so happy to be back and thankful that this is my life.

Packing up for my move from Saudi Arabia and questioning why I ever thought I needed this much clothing.

Rebooking my flights because Doha was now out-of-bounds.

Returning to the USA and driving through those back country roads, marveling at how crazy-gorgeous Virginia is.

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Many other recent adventures are chronicled in video form on my YouTube channel. Check out my playlists and please subscribe!

That's all for now!
Happy teaching and traveling,
-Christina

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My vacation to Abu Dhabi and Oman

About a month ago I took a week-long vacation to the city of Abu Dhabi and the country of Oman. In this blog post I will try to focus on the best elements of that trip instead of every moment because I'd be writing all day. It should be noted that I traveled in a group of 5 ex-pat teachers (including myself), and none of us had been to these countries before.

We spent Friday in Bahrain, exploring the area of Adliya. Overall this was a decent area of town, quiet and containing several nice restaurants. We unfortunately couldn't visit the Grand Mosque of Bahrain because of Friday prayer but we got some great photos of it.
Grand Mosque Bahrain

We had an evening flight so I spent the afternoon reading outside of a Starbucks in a mall. I've found that on flight days, I really like to just sit and read, assured that I'm ahead of time and have a plan for getting to the airport.

Check-in at the Bahrain International Airport was smooth and quick. I was surprised to see prize cars parked alongside travel goods! Our flight was also quick and easy, setting us down in Abu Dhabi (which is an hour different) in the middle of the night. We'd decided to rent a car from Abu Dhabi and drive around Oman. I won't call it a road-trip because we definitely did not sleep in the car or in tents beside the car, but in nice hotels.
Prize cars in the Bahrain airport

Speaking of the car, while everything did work out and we had enough drivers, it was quite frustrating to find out that while women are allowed to drive in the U.A.E. and Oman, I'm not allowed to drive a rental car because I am still too young (under 25). I therefore took the post of navigator for the majority of the trip, and my first task was directing us to our Abu Dhabi hotel.

Our hotel was very nice, I'd recommend it: Aloft Hotel Abu Dhabi, though they have many sites worldwide. It was definitely a young, party-happy hotel, which was evident by the swarms of party-goers existing a pool party as we checked in.

On Saturday we went to visit the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque, renowned as being one of the largest mosques in the world. The shimmering white domes were beautiful against the blue sky. Again, we weren't able to go in, but we we enjoyed wandering around the outside taking photos.
Me at the Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

One thing I should note, the weather was hot during this whole trip. There wasn't a day I didn't sweat through what I was wearing. Just know that October in the Gulf is like July in the US (east coast). Luckily it was also fairly windy, but still, if you don't like heat, don't come to this part of the world until at least November.

After the Grand Mosque we drove down the corniche and went to Marina Mall. I was quite impressed with the scale of Abu Dhabi, and it was very clean. We wandered around the marina area and got some photos of the skyline.
A building in Abu Dhabi

We spend the evening relaxing by the hotel pool and went out for dinner by the corniche. Afterwards we walked around a fountain on the corniche and took a (almost everyone included) group photo. It always surprises me how empty the corniche is during the day but at night it is swarming with people. The temperature is certainly nicer in the evenings.
Almost all of our group at a fountain on Abu Dhabi's corniche


We left Abu Dhabi in our rental SUV the next morning and drove toward Oman. The roads were pretty clear and it was fairly easy to cross the borders, though it cost more than we'd expected. Arrival visas in hand, we approached the mountains of Oman, vastly different from the flat lands of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Abu Dhabi. This was our view as we began our trip around Oman.
Driving into Oman from Abu Dhabi

Our goal was to get to Muscat before dark, so we decided not to stop in Sohar, but instead pulled off at a small town just south of it for food at the grocery store. I have a theory that you really get to know a place if you spend enough time in its grocery stores. In this one I had the fun experience of having a very nice Omani clerk help me find peanut butter. (Success!) We then took our goods and, reasoning that if we drove left we'd hit the ocean, drove through the small town until the road opened up to an empty beach. We ate lunch overlooking the waves before venturing down to explore the shoreline. Here's my video from the beach. Just before we left our beach spot, a car pulled up behind ours and an Omani man stepped out, introduced himself (seemed to welcome us - as we were obviously tourists) and asked if his wife (in the passenger seat) could take a photo of him with some of us. I avoided this interaction but some of my teacher friends got in the photo with him and even had him pose in a photo with them. It seemed very random but he was nice and seemed to only want the photo. Something similar had happened at the fountain in Abu Dhabi but a polite decline was all I'd had to say and they'd moved on. Perhaps it's just the appeal of foreign-ness and photos are the best way to capture that.
An empty beach south of Sohar, Oman

We drove into Muscat while it was still light and arrived at our hotel after a few navigational issues. Muscat is a fascinating city because it is build into the valleys of the mountains on the coast. In this way the buildings sit at the base and mountains carve up the city into different areas.

Cultural observation: Starting with when we crossed the border into Oman, there were a few instances where assumptions were made about our little group. The border guard asked if we were family, as did a police officer at a checkpoint, saying "Family, yes?" This would have been a family of 1 man and 4 grown women. At the Muscat hotel, though the reservation was under one of our female member's names, the man at reception asked for our male member's passport as well as accepting her passport. I won't pretend to explain these interactions but it was something we all noticed and joked about for the rest of the trip.
The view from our hotel apartment in Muscat
Overlooking Ruwi area of Muscat, Oman
In my research I'd found out about a local beach in Yiti, about an hour south of Muscat. Monday morning we drove out to spend the day at this remote beach. As we left the city, we climbed up into the mountains (luckily we had 4WD) and got this great view of our area - Ruwi. Jumping photos followed, of course. On the road to Yiti our driver stopped the car excitedly exclaiming "Burros!" Three donkeys were standing on a bluff over the road.  

   

Yiti was well worth the drive. The water felt great, the sand was soft (and hot), and the rocky cliffs gave it a secret feeling. It was a local beach so we were careful to dress modestly. We spend several hours on the beach - swimming, picnicking, a people-watching. A friend and I swam/walked (it was very shallow) out around the main cliff and found a private beach. Crabs had dug holes in the sand, inadvertently creating mounds of sand beside the holes. Another friend had been out there earlier and said that she'd swam with turtles! We weren't as lucky but the adventure around the cliff was wonderful.

Yiti beach, Oman
On our way back to Muscat we stopped at the Shangri-La resort just to see it. Really, if you have the funds, this is the place to stay. We snapped some photos and headed to the Sultan's Palace next. Oman is a Sultanate and the palace was very impressive. We wandered around the main area for a while, passing other tourists. We didn't go in but it was beautiful area.

Some of our group near the Shangri-La
Sultan's Palace, Muscat, Oman
Sultan's Palace, Muscat, Oman















After the Sultan's Palace we drove along the corniche and decided to climb an old fort tower. The view from the tower was amazing in the late afternoon light.

 
Next we explored the Muscat Souq and I bought a few things. The vendors were willing to make deals, which is always nice.

As my friend and I walked through the souq, vendors asked us to come and see their goods, touch the soft llama-fur scarves, try on the perfumes, and select your trinkets. One vendor even lit the scarf's edge so that we could see that it wasn't synthetic. I felt pretty safe there though being with a friend (another woman) was probably better than walking alone. The souq was crowded since it was early evening.

Me at the Muscat Souq
When we returned to the car, another friend had stopped to ask for a photo with some Omani men because she really liked their traditional outfits. They obliged and conversely took a photo with her. The atmosphere in Muscat was very polite and I definitely didn't feel unsafe.

We left the corniche area and had dinner back at our hotel apartment. Our male group member had bought a traditional Omani outfit and promised to show us at a later date.

Muscat harbor in the early evening
Me jumping, overlooking Ruwi area of Muscat, Oman