20 Years of Travel #7: Dubai

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The 20 Years of Travel series continues with my trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This trip made my list simply because it was such a unique adventure for me that really took me out of my normal travel comfort zone. I decided to go visit a friend from grad school that lives and works in Dubai. I had never been to the UAE or anywhere in the Middle East, so I had a lot to learn about the culture. While I did travel there on my own, I was fortunate to have my friend with me for much of my time in Dubai.

Since Dubai has become a major trading and business hub between Europe and Asia, it has become an appealing travel destination for tourists because of its skyscrapers, theme parks and resorts. However, in reality Dubai is a location where women are treated as 12764762_185284661846101_4258686595052618337_oinferior to men and should always be accompanied by men. Luckily my friend informed me of this and gave me some tips for traveling by myself in Dubai, starting with my arrival at the airport. My friend was working, so I was on my own for the day and was going to be meeting her at the largest mall in the world: The Dubai Mall. I thought about taking a taxi, but my friend informed me that for my safety, to look for pink taxis. Pink taxis are for women with women drivers. I waited for a while for one to show, but didn’t see any so I decided to take their Metro train, which has a stop at the Mall. It was very convenient. At the Dubai Mall, I was able to find a baggage check on a lower level for my bag, so I could wander the mall without carrying any heavy luggage. I had a lovely meal too that afforded me the amazing view of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), which is pictured above.

When my friend and I met up, she had gotten us At the Top tickets to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa. This was high on my bucket list, as I would truly be on top of the world. It was fantastic experience. When you get to the observation deck there is a lounge and waiters passing out juices, which was a good idea, since the altitude could definitely affect people and eventually started to make me a little sick. We went outside and realized quickly that that may not be a great idea, as there was a lightning storm and we were right below the spire. It was an amazing view though. At the base of the Burj Khalifa is the Dubai Fountain, which is worth a stop. It is similar to the fountain outside of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, where at certain times there is a water and light show that follows along to a song. The show was magnificent.

DSC3932If you are looking for an interesting meal to try while you are in Dubai, I would suggest having a camel burger. As a stereotypical American, I will try anything that might look like a hamburger. It was not bad at all. I would, however, not try the camel milkshake. That was pretty disgusting.

If you are looking for a good educational and cultural experience, I would check out Sheikh Mohammed Centre for DSC3947Cultural Centre for Cultural Understanding. It is a collection of museums that contain a wide variety of historical artifacts. There is a coin museum and a pottery museum. Here you can learn a lot about the history of Dubai. It was always a huge trading port. Abu Dhabi was the big oil city, but in the 1960s a smaller amount of oil was discovered in the waters near Dubai. Prior to the discovery of oil, one of Dubai’s biggest exports were pearls. Divers would comb the floor of the waters around Dubai for mollusks that would produce these pearls. Besides history and economics, you may also find some art galleries that are worth a stop.

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When you think of animals in Dubai, you may think only of camels, but there is a huge wildlife sanctuary near the downtown area called Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. In this peaceful setting, you can view thousands of birds, including flamingos.

Another fun thing to do, which you will most likely experience if you are staying at the Atlantis Hotel on the Palm is to ride the _DSC3995Palm Jumeirah Monorail. The views are stunning as you head directly for the Atlantis Hotel. Even though we were not patrons of the Atlantis Hotel, we decided to stop there to have a look around, and so I could see my very first Gold ATM (pictured on the left). I really never believed that those existed, and stood there trying to figure out if I could get a gold bar home with me – I did not attempt this.

If you are looking for additional fun family things to do in Dubai, you should check out the waterparks and Ski Dubai. Ski Dubai is located in the Mall of the Emirates and is an indoor ski resort. Even if you do not ski, it is worth checking out.DSC3906

Nighttime is stunning in Dubai. Besides checking out the Dubai Fountain at night, you can view the unique, five-star hotel: Burj Al Arab (pictured on the right). Even if you are not staying at the Burj Al Arab, you can still try to get restaurant reservations there, but you should think of doing that well in advance of your visit to Dubai. Another good evening stop is the Global Village (pictured below). It is a large outdoor world market that is lit up at night. There are places to eat and of course….camels. At the end of the evening there is a lovely firework display.

I loved Dubai and can fully understand why my friend continues to call this her home. This is also an exciting time as the city prepares to host World Expo in 2020-2021. A few side notes to new travelers to the area:

  • Be careful what you take pictures of. You can get arrested for taking pictures of planes, accidents, and other people without their consent.
  • In some local eateries, men eat on the ground floor or a special area, where women and families eat in a different designated area.
  • The division in restaurants also is applied in other areas. For example, if you are taking a bus to Abu Dhabi, women and families stand in a different line from the men.
  • Wear respectful clothing.
  • Solo female travelers, heed my friend’s warning about taking taxis with male drivers. If you are assaulted in the vehicle, the courts would say that it is your fault for getting into a male-driven taxi without a male escort. This has been such a prevalent problem in the area that taxis in Abu Dhabi now have cameras installed in them.

Find more tips before you travel to Dubai here. Dubai was not like traveling around Europe or the US, and that is part of the reason I liked it. I think it is a special and unique place in the world.

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20 Years of Travel #5: Berlin, Germany

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Next up on my 20 Years of Travel series is one of my favorite cities: Berlin. I first visited Berlin when Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2006. I cannot even begin toBerlin Pictures 106Berlin Pictures 107 describe how vibrant and alive the atmosphere in Berlin was during this time. Welcoming us to Berlin as we disembarked the train at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof train station were crowds of Germans singing and cheering, for their team had just won their game. I knew right then that our time in Berlin was going to be a wild ride. We got to see the Brazil v Japan game, which was an amazing experience. I loved every minute from the energy of the city to all the friendly people.

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Things to see and do in Berlin:

  • Visit the Reichstag (see photo at the top of the page) – The Reichstag is the German Parliament building. On the right side of the building (if you are facing the front of it) is a moving memorial to all the political leaders who were assassinated for fighting against the Nazi party. You can reserve your visit to the Reichstag by visiting this page.
  • Berlin Wall – What remains of the Berlin Wall that divided Berlin into East and West 1780750_10151950832792986_1162444489_nBerlin after WWII has now basically become an art installation with displays of political statements, as well as statements of love and peace.
  • Brandenburg Gate – This monument was built in the 18th century and has since been the site for many historical and significant political events.

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  • Checkpoint Charlie – After WWII, Berlin was divided. The Soviet Union took control of East Berlin. This is how you can still tell if you are in East Berlin…check out the pedestrian traffic lights:
    The United States took control of West Berlin. They set up a border check called Checkpoint Charlie, which is now an outdoor museum display.

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  • Museum Island – This is a tiny island in the middle of Berlin that houses five museums, which are all worth a visit:
    • Altes Museum
    • Alte Nationalgalerie
    • Neues Museum
    • Pergamonmuseum
    • Bode-Museum11209378_10152871875932986_239430252201884767_n
  • Berliner Dom – This is a church that honors the reformationists of the 16th century, which include martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. The Dom is located near Museum Island.
  • Gemäldegalerie – This gallery houses stunning artwork by famous painters such as Raphael, Rembandt, Caravaggio and Vermeer.
  • Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – One of the things that makes Berlin such an interesting and special place to visit is that it does not deny its horrific past. I believe the memorials, such as this one, represent a peaceful future where we learn from the evils of the past.

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  • DDR Museum – This is an interactive museum that represents life in the Soviet East Germany. It is located near Museum Island and is definitely worth a visit.Side trips from Berlin:

Day Trips from Berlin:

  • Dresden – The city of Dresden is less than 200km outside of Berlin and accessible by train. During February 13-15th in 1945, Dresden was heavily bombed and almost10830921_10152770679987986_4315638381600018905_o complete destroyed by the Allies. Almost every building was damaged or demolished. This includes the three sites we visited: the museum complex called the Zwinger, the Royal Palace (pictured below) and the Frauenkirche (pictured on the right). The Zwinger includes a picture gallery, a porcelain collection and the royal cabinet of mathematical and physical instruments. Fortunately, even though the Zwinger was destroyed, the collection was removed prior to the bombing and saved. The baroque architecture gives Dresden an ashen look, which I find fitting after the WWII bombings.

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  • Sachsenhausen – During WWII, this was the site of a concentration camp that held mostly political prisoners. During the war, this camp housed a few notableBerlin Pictures 082 individuals including Stalin’s eldest son, who ended up dying at this camp under uncertain circumstances. However, our guide leans toward the theory that Stalin was offered a trade – his son for two high-standing Nazi officials that had been captured by the Russians. The theory states that Stalin refused this deal, and his son was dead a short time later. Another individual that was held at Sachsenhausen, Martin Niemöller wrote the following quote that has been immortalized in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
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  • Potsdam – This town is a short train ride just outside of Berlin. It is home to the Sanssouci Palace. This was the summer palace of Frederick the Great, who was the King of Prussia from 1740-1786.

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As you can see, there is so much to do and see in and around Berlin. It is a city rich with culture and history. My husband and I have been to Berlin multiple times and each time we have an unique experience. This is a very special city and 100% worth a visit.

20 Years of Travel #4: Cuba

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My fourth destination on my 20 Years of Travel series is Cuba! As many of you know, as an American, this destination was not open to US visitors during my lifetime until recently. In 2015, Americans were allowed with some restrictions to travel to Cuba, so my husband, his parents and I jumped at the opportunity to visit. At that time you still had to provide an reason for being there, so we were on a People to People Excursion, which was also a photography tour.

I’ve never been on a photography tour like this before. It wasn’t just walk the streets and 10629491_10153326903992986_2203594805029205430_otake pictures. It was get up before the sun to learn how to take sunrise shots. There were no naps on the bus rides, because that was when you learned about your camera’s features and editing features by professional photographers: Brenda Tharp and Jed Manwaring. Then you get to have your photos critiqued (nicely…of course) by the other members in the group. It was a very intensive course, but I learned so much. I hope I am still using at least 10% of what I learned about photography during that week..

Trinidad

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I loved this town. It was comprised of vibrant colors and interesting people. We spent a lot of time wandering the streets here, getting a real taste of the Cuban culture. We found a few musicians, who were very talented. That convinced me that I should check out one12370645_10153326900147986_5447113127593441798_o of the Cuban salsa clubs in the evening, which was interesting and definitely not something I had experienced before. While taking a break on one of our daily walks, we found a man who was telling us about his daily routine of walking many miles down a hill outside of town to come and sell a few bananas for not even the equivalent of $2 US dollars. Then he would walk back up the hill every evening. His shoes were worn almost completely through, and it was a bit heartbreaking. Shoes that cost us $50 US dollars would cost Cubans 5 times that, since at the time they were imported from China. I really felt that I was gaining a huge understanding of basic Cuban life during our time in Trinidad.

Cienfuegos

If you have read Hemingway, Cienfuegos might sound familiar. It was featured in The Old Man and the Sea, which I read for the first time while I was in Cienfuegos. I thought it1933246_10153326904842986_8162388911926568875_o was quite appropriate. This town is located on a bay, so you will see a lot of boats – both yachts and fishing boats. While we did have some luxury time to indulge in some of Cuba’s famous liquor (see photo below), we spent a portion of our time at an art school. These young people were so talented. They just blew me away on how they could take any item and turn it into an amazing piece of art (see picture on the right where they were using just clothespins). They were so happy to tell us about their school and what art means to them.

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Viñales

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This part of Cuba was the biggest shock to me. The lush greenery reminded me of something I would see on a South Pacific Island. I wasn’t expecting this. As we headed 12366043_10153326907947986_173294949960655377_ointo the hills, we saw a lot of farm land and stopped at one such farm. This farm grows crops, raises animals like chickens, and produces coffee (see picture below). The owners of this farm were really welcoming. It was interesting to experience farming without the giant machinery, though it has to be such hard labor (see picture on the left). The land in this part of Cuba seems to get enough rain that an advanced irrigation system is not necessary at least. I felt a little bad for invading on this family during their work day, but they were so friendly and even brewed some coffee for us.

After getting a true taste of rural Cuba, we headed into the hills. If you enjoy biking there are some great biking trails in this area. The scenery is just amazing. While our hotel (Hotel Los Jazmines) did not produce the most comfortable night’s sleep, the views were just stunning (see below). I almost didn’t regret getting up before the sun to capture these amazing photographs.

Havana

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We ended our trip with a few days in Havana. It has been a dream of mine to see Havana12377523_10153326893612986_8703232530813394301_o since I was a little kid (thank you Guys and Dolls), so I was really looking forward to this. Havana is not just a great place to learn about Cuba’s history (though we did visit the Revolution Museum, which was great) and view it’s amazing architecture (see picture on the right), but the arts are prevalent in Cuban culture as mentioned in my Trinidad section. We started our exploration into their arts scene by visiting the studio of Compas Dance. They performed for us as well and just blew me away.

We also went to visit a Cuban ballet company, where they were rehearsing for a performance of Giselle.

I enjoyed this trip so much! It wasn’t about being a tourist. It was about exploring a culture that had been so unfamiliar to me. Cubans are such hard workers with so much passion. The people there opened up their homes and their hearts to us, and I just couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to finally have explored Cuba.

Stay tuned for the next feature in the 20 Years of Travel series. Until then….

HAPPY TRAVELING!!!

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