As I seem to so often whine at the start of many of my blog entries, I have been so very busy guys, thus the lack of updating. I also haven’t been doing anything terribly interesting. So, there’s that.
We had a long holiday weekend for Eid Al Adha a couple weeks ago – actually, more like a month ago – that I filled with a quick tripette to Oman. And I really feel like Oman can do pretty much no wrong. Muscat in particular grows on me significantly with each passing visit. Often when in Muscat, I am shacked up in The Chedi, with little interest in leaving. As we weren’t staying there this time (wah) more time was spent around the city than usual, and I felt like I got a much better feel for it than I had in the past. One of the things that I really love about Muscat so much is that they seem to have utilized their waterfront areas much better than Dubai has. There are chilled out little cafes just off the sand, a long park filled with people cooking amazing-smelling foods and and a lovely old corniche (where you’ll often get to feast your eyes on Sultan Qaboos’ super yacht – one of the largest in the world).
I had never been to two of Muscat’s more popular hotels, the Grand Hyatt or the InterCon, so decided it was high time to give them a try. I loved the Grand Hyatt’s beachfront view from a poolside tiki bar (great people watching both in and outside of the hotel grounds), but I think that the InterCon edged the Hyatt out with their chilled out and unpretentious poolside bar set in a forest-like garden. Relaxing to the extreme.
The city’s residential neighborhood’s really hooked me as well – how nice to live a stone’s throw from the beach and nice little cafes in Shatti Al Qurum or even a bit further inland, in Madinat Sultan As Qaboos, with sea and mountain views from the balcony. Or, best yet – a fancy beach-side villa in the ridiculously wow diplomatic neighborhood. I have to admit, at times I find it very frustrating to be living in Dubai while the Muscat lifestyle taunts me just over the border.
Outside of Muscat, we decided to head down south along the coast to have a go at camping. We were hoping to set up on a beach around Sur, and maybe catch a glimpse of some sea turtles, but no such luck. We eventually settled on a clifftop near Fins, with the crystal clear Gulf of Oman crashing against the rocks below us. Even from far above (I would say at least 20-25 feet?) you could still clearly see colorful fish swimming in the water below.
While looking for a camping spot, we stopped at some incredible wadis between Muscat and Sur. In my time here on the Arabian Peninsula, I have never seen any wadis like the ones I saw during this trip. It was, to me, not even a wadi, but something venturing into swamp territory. Seriously. And there were frog noises (I saw no frogs, but they were certainly there), white egrets, dragonflies – things that are very much not desert-like.
We first stopped at Wadi Shab, which was just off the coast and very easy to access. It was huge, but also extremely busy and, sadly, full of garbage from holiday picnicers. We didn’t stick around. There was an amusing Che Guevara graffiti, though.
Next up was Wadi Tiwi, which was also full, but not quite as badly. It looked stunning, so after a brief peek around, we left but decided to return early the following morning before anyone else had arrived. The morning trip back uncovered seriously verdant surrounds and a tranquil little village, full of very active falaj. This was undoubtedly the most beautiful wadi I had ever seen. If you’re in the Muscat area and want to have a look at a veritable oasis, Tiwi is the place. I think it was only about an hour’s drive south of Muscat and very easy to access.
On the way back to Muscat we also checked out Wadi Suwayah. This was one was a bit more difficult to get to than the other two (it was further into the mountains, after a long dusty, rocky road) but was worth it. After finally reaching the wadi, we were greeted with something more like a small lake. There wasn’t much exploring to be done in the area, which consists of the lake-like wadi surrounded by cliffisides, and a very small village, but the clear and apparently very deep waters, would be excellent for some cliff diving.
…and a month later we were back to Oman for a visa run. Now that the weather is perfect for outdoor exploration, we made our way to an area beyond the Hili border post in Al Ain called Wadi Kitnah. Again, a ridiculously stunning area. It’s amazing what awaits you once you cross the border into Oman. Stupidly, I deleted the few photos that I took from my phone already, so a couple Instagram shots will have to do.
There are two areas within the Kitnah wadi that you can visit (possible more) and both are gorgeous. One was filled with smaller pools, and was reminiscent of a creek, with bubbling water, frogs jumping all around and water trickling down boulders overgrown with small plant life. The other area was filled with narrow canyons holding deep, crystal clear pools of water. You couldn’t explore part of the area very well without swimming (and I didn’t) as the pools were set deep within steep canyon walls and there was nowhere to walk. However, in the other direction, the wadi opened up, and after scrambling around some rocks you’ll find yourself at a deep pool that is perfect for cliff jumping. Scramble along some more rocks further into the wadi, and the water slowly trickles to a stop as you find yourself at the base of the high, red walls of a canyon.
Any recommendations for fab wadis in the UAE-Omani border area are very welcome, so please don’t hesitate to share your favorite wadi spots with me! There must be endless amazing options out there.
And it’s quite blowy and grey this morning – exciting weather for Dubai. It would be nice to see some rain come this way soon (although hopefully not while I’m driving). Shit. It just started raining and thundering, and I need to leave for work.
Back in late June, it was announced to me that I’d be losing my job at the art gallery because said art gallery would be closing its doors. This was both terrifying and a great relief. Losing your job is never good news, especially when you’re living in a foreign country. However, the job’s challenges and learning opportunities had dwindled some time ago, which, in turn, lost my interest, causing me to start considering a career change (writing, in some form or another). With the end of a job that I was no longer happy at in sight, it seemed like exactly the push required to set me off on a more fulfilling path, and for that I was very thankful.
I was to be employed into September, and as summer plodded along towards the light at the end of the employment tunnel without a replacement job in sight, I approached my impending unemployment with both trepidation and unbridled glee. More than anything, I was scared of unemployment being boring; I feared it would drive me utterly mad. But – I was also really looking forward to giving up the responsibility that comes with a job, and just unwinding.
When unemployment came, it ended up being an absolute treat. I wasn’t nearly as bored as I feared I’d be! I could get so much stuff done! Sure maintenance guys, I’m home ALL DAY so you can drop by and fix the aircon whenever you like! Be four hours late, like you usually are, I don’t care! Grocery shopping was no longer a post-work chore; I had ample time to shop without it eating up precious personal time! I’m going to get fit! Jogging in the morning and cycling in the late afternoon had me starting to feel pretty good about myself! What delicious, healthy lunches I had time to prepare every day! And books! I can finally read you – poolside, no less!
Maaaaaaaaaan, I was getting used to this unemployed gig. In fact, why would I ever go back to work? This was good times. Oh…shit, that’s right. Life comes with (ugh, financial) responsibilities. Damn it. Where’s my Greek shipping heir husband? I’m ready for my villa in the Cyclades now, thank you very much.
Ah, that pesky job, it just had to be found somewhere. But what to do? I really did not want to start my way down the path of another unsatisfying career. I toyed with copywriting, but in the end I could not ignore the siren’s call from the soon-to-launch Condé Nast Traveller Middle East magazine.
A travel writing gig. Condé Nast. Traveller. Writing is awesome. Travel is my life’s passion. Hey, may as well try to make a career out of it. Slight problem. I can’t just roll up to Condé Nast and be like, hey there, I have a blog I write in every now and then, it would be your great honor to hire me. But I could get an editorial internship. And so, in the interest of trying to chase what I basically see as a dream job, that’s exactly what I did.
I figure, worst case scenario it will be a decent learning experience. So, it’s been just over a week now, and I’m enjoying it. I’ll just have to wait and see where it takes me.
And after just seven days of work I’m looking forward to the 5-day holiday weekend for Eid starting this Tuesday. Five days hearkening back to the good ol’ days of poolside unemployment.
Technically they’re rose-ringed parakeets (males have a black ring around their neck; females, as in the photos here, do not have the ring). And they’re not native to this region (shock), and apparently not very welcome, but I am thrilled to have them as my guest!
I noticed them flying around my community several months ago – three of them – and from that very moment I knew that I just had to have them in my yard (I fully believe that every outdoor experience is better with parrots, peacocks, nachos, and bellinis). So, I invested in various bird items to make my yard more enticing and I did attract a lot of birds (warblers, finches, hoopoes, mynas (aka screaming birds), red vented bulbuls)…but never the parakeets.
Quite frankly, I had given up on ever getting the parakeets.
Then, this morning I woke up and noticed them fluttering around my yard. And not even three, but five! I had never seen more than three together before. Later, I noticed there was a whole flock of about 10-12 of them flying around. I was so ecstatic. I never knew I could get so excited over some birds, but it was just the coolest thing to have colorful, exotic creatures hanging out in my yard! The cats were beside themselves with glee, too. The parakeets are rather larger than the usual birds we get, and must have looked like quite a decadent meal.
I felt like an asshole though, because I am usually very good at keeping the feeders full at all times, and then the morning the parakeets finally come, after months of waiting, both feeders were totally empty. When they flew off, I hurried to refill everything and they shortly returned.
I hope they become regular visitors now; once they get used to my yard I’m curious to see if they’re receptive to being around humans. It would be so amazing if they are friendly with people. And it would drive my cats mad.
The day we were scheduled to leave Naxos for Mykonos, we woke up to to pretty strong winds and an angry sea. Conditions were rough, and our ferry arrived two hours late to the port. Apparently it was waiting for the wind and sea to calm down, which I don’t think it ever did. Pretty frustrating when the journey from Naxos to Mykonos was only supposed to last 30 minutes, but at least it wasn’t canceled entirely. We were on Sea Jet 2, a high-speed catamaran that fit less than 400 people, so much smaller than the ferries we had previously taken, and more susceptible to the motion of the ocean. And once we departed it was almost immediately apparent why it was so late/hesitant to arrive. As the thing jetted straight through waves and massive swells, it flew into the air, falling heavily on one hull then the next, people yelling as we crashed back onto the water. It did not exactly feel like a safe trip. Before long, passengers were pulling out their sick bags for a bit of a vom, and this lasted for the vast majority of the trip. Thankfully, I didn’t get sick, but I was torn as to how I felt about the journey. On the one hand, it was a bit frightening, but on the other hand it was super fun like an amusement park ride; in the end, I enjoyed it more than I didn’t. I had hoped that this windy weather would be a one-off thing (if for no other reason, it was killing my ability to make my hair look nice), but not the case. Mykonos proved very windy until the day we left to return to Dubai, so I’m not sure if it was a seasonal thing, or if we just had a bit of bad luck with the wind at the end.
I was actually arriving to Mykonos with a bit of hesitation. The time in Naxos had been so relaxing and cruise ship-free, that I wasn’t looking forward to all of the crowds and overflowing beaches again. However, once I started exploring Mykonos Town and Little Venice, any worry I had been feeling disappeared in a snap. I could tell that I was going to fucking. love. Mykonos. The Cycladic buildings were the whitest and bluest that I had yet seen, it wasn’t all steep hills and steps, there were cosmopolitan bars and boutiques at every step, and the vibe about town was endlessly lively and upbeat.
It is also worth noting, however, that this was by far one of the most confusing little towns to get around that I have ever experienced. It wasn’t large, but the layout of the streets made no discernible sense. It wasn’t just me and my non-existent sense of direction, either; even the boyfriend, who is usually very good with directions, was continually stumped trying to find his way around. At one point, I headed off from the harbour by myself in search of a pair of sandals, and, thinking I was heading inland, was instead spat back out harbour-side in almost the exact same spot 10 minutes later. With not a clue how as to how.
Mykonos was very much unlike the other islands though, in that there was much less outdoorsy stuff to do (other than beaches, of course). No archaeological sites to visit (with the exception of the neighboring island of Delos) or walks/hikes to take on (that I was aware of). But it wasn’t a disappointment, because Mykonos was serving a totally different purpose, offering up an atmosphere that I hadn’t experienced since a visit to Ibiza 10 years ago.
An average day was spent waking up late, moseying off to a beach or two through the morning and afternoon, maybe having a little fun at a beach bar, then back to the hotel in Mykonos Town to prepare and relax for the evening. A little before sunset, head down to Little Venice, grab a seat at a sunset restaurant with bellini in hand and watch the sun dip into the sea in a blaze of glory (and roll your eyes at the fools clapping at the sunset). Afterwards, find some dinner at any one of many nice little Greek spots and try not to be too gluttonous. It should be around 10-11pm now, so may as well start to get into the swing of things and get the night started in an upbeat bar or lounge – Caprice was my favorite. Sure, sometimes the music was a bit on the cheesy side, but it was never not fun, and had a great atmosphere, with a nice view of the sea crashing into the walkway just outside of the harbour-facing door. The mega clubs (Cavo Paradiso, Paradise, and Space) don’t really get going until 1-2am with headlines starting at 3 or 4am, so perhaps before jumping into the taxi or bus, you’ll want to knock back a double espresso for an energy kick (or not; it’s disgusting). I saw Marco Carola at Cavo Paradiso, but Erick Morillo, Avicii, and others were also around while we were. Dance around ’til sunset, and eventually head back home. Rinse and repeat.
It was a lifestyle I could get used to. And fast.
That being said, I think in any future trips to Mykonos, I would focus on the beach parties, and probably end my night with Caprice, or somewhere like it. The mega clubs are fun, but I don’t think I’d go out of my way to return to them, unless there was a headliner that I really wanted to see. The beach parties, on the other hand, are another thing entirely. While I can head out to a big nightclub almost anywhere in the world, I’ve not witnessed a beach scene like Mykonos’ anywhere else. It’s something to experience. Sadly, I didn’t get to visit a great deal of beaches (waking up so late meant I missed most of the water taxis that dropped you from beach to beach), but what I saw had me hooked. I was impressed by the different personalities and atmospheres that really made each beach unique.
First, we headed over to Paradise Beach. This is where you’ll find Paradise Club and Cavo Paradiso open later on, from about midnight. During the day, you can party at Tropicana, which is a massive bar lining basically the entirety of the beach. We did not stay here long, and the crowd seemed to veer on the younger side; it reminded me of a college party in a way. We meant to leave Paradise and head to Elia beach (supposed to be very nice and on the quieter side) but found out there were no more water taxis heading there that day. We passed back through Tropicana later in the day, to catch a taxi back to Mykonos Town, and it had definitely become a full-on party, but I was glad we didn’t stay there.
Instead we took the next water taxi, which dropped us at Super Paradise Beach. This place was mental. It had a more sophisticated look than Tropicana, but I’d have to say that it was the most over-the-top place I experienced in Mykonos. The crowd seemed to have wider mix of ages, and it didn’t have quite the same college party feel that Tropicana had. Everyone here was up for some afternoon fun, and by 4pm, the dance music volume was ramped up, club lights went on, podium dancers took to…podiums, people were dancing in the sea, and it was kind of indescribable, but in a good way. Added bonus: fantastic people watching, really, really good. If you go to Mykonos and don’t go to Super Paradise, you are missing out. Even if it’s not your thing, I think it’s worth checking out once. Super Paradise beach has another smaller, quieter bar/club called Pinky Beach, if Super Paradise bar itself is a bit much.
A lunch time wake up lead us to Psarou Beach and Nammos restaurant and bar. Psarou was stunning. One thing I was looking forward to with Mykonos was checking out all of the crazy yachts in the harbour, but upon arrival there was nothing impressive at all. I was confused. Upon making it to Psarou, I found my yachts. The waters were littered with ridiculous boats moored cliffside under chic villas. The clientele vibe here is definitely older than Paradise and Super Paradise, and definitely much more upscale. Like the other beaches, the music went up a few levels and BPMs at around 4pm to get the party rolling, but it was still not quite the debaucherous affair that Super Paradise was.
We decided to have lunch at Nammos, which served up modern Greek and international dishes. I would say this was probably one of the most expensive places we dined at during the trip. And what do I get for it? A live slug in my $20 green salad. Seriously! Was the salad good until I got to the slug slugging around at the bottom of the dish? Yes, it was pretty good. BUT A SLUG. C’mon, dude. And I don’t think they believed me that they served the salad to me with the slug already in it (I am sure it came from the greens, which the boyfriend joked, at least I knew it was very fresh!) because they kept pointing up at the palm tree after they took the dish away and were inspecting it. But it did not fall into my dish from atop a palm tree. It just didn’t. Sorry. My lobster ravioli was good though, and bug-free. Although every time I bit into lobster with that texture all I could imagine was eating slug.
Platys Gialos was probably the least extreme of all the beaches we had the opportunity to visit in Mykonos. We were only there for the early part of the day, before the scene started heating up, but it was a large beach lined with a good selection of restaurants and bars. This is also one of the main water taxi stations, so a good place to start (in the morning) if you want to beach hop. It seemed to me like a nice middle ground beach: one that didn’t look like it would become a major party come late afternoon, nor an incredibly upscale yacht crowd (however still Mykonos chic).
While I didn’t have the chance to visit the northern beaches, they are apparently quieter/less crowded, but also much more windy (popular with wind surfers, etc.) You also should have your own transportation to get there (we didn’t, which is the main reason we didn’t visit them) because they are off the main roads, and buses don’t service them. There are only about 30 taxis on the island, so you can’t really rely on taxi availability to bring you back, either.
The one historic/archaeologic site that Mykonos did was have was an extraordinarily impressive one. The would be the island of Delos, a couple kilometers off shore from Mykonos. This is one of the most impressive and important sites in all of Greece, and certainly not to be missed if you’re into that sort of thing. We are. A morning ferry (another perilous boat ride in rough waters) will get you over to Delos in 30-40 minutes, where even before leaving the boat, you’ll be impressed by the extensive ruins to be explored. We spent about 4 hours here, which was barely enough time (shorter than we intended, but because the water was only getting rougher as the day went on, the last ferry was canceled and everyone had to get on the 2pm ferry back to Mykonos. The trip back took almost an hour and a vast number of the passengers were clutching sick bags and falling ill).
While not as expansive as Petra (where you can literally spend days), you could easily while a day away exploring Delos’ seemingly endless ruins of homes, theaters, hilltop climbs, temples, mosaics (my fave bit), and agoras. There is a small museum on the island that houses a number of statues, mosaics, and other items that were excavated from the site. It’s an impressive collection and very much helps color the picture in your head as to what Delos must have been like in its prime as a cultural center. The site is still under excavation, and given its size, I think will continue to be for quite some time.
And that, sadly, is where my Aegean adventures end (you’re probably happy to see the end of this lengthy, never-ending story, though). For now. I don’t think I’ll rest contentedly until I concoct a plan that allows me to visit the islands on a regular basis. This is not the last they’ve seen of me, of that I am very sure.
Recent & Upcoming Trips
Istanbul, Turkey: The summer holidays begin with Lailat Al Miraj, and I’ll be taking advantage of the long holiday weekend with a quick trip to Istanbul – finally! (June)
Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach: Indulging in a UAE-based weekend of relaxation at Banyan Tree’s resort in RAK. (July)
Crete & Cyclades, Greece: I’m escaping two weeks of Ramadan to explore, eat and generally act a fool in the Grecian Med. (August)
Decided it was time to go for a new look with the blog! Hope it reads well for all viewers, but please let me know if you notice any major issues. I do, however, know that the twitter feed isn’t working; I think that’s a wordpress widget issue, and I’m just keeping it up with the hope that it randomly fixes itself soon. Fixed it!
(On a side note, if you’re following me, apologies for all of the email notifications you’ve undoubtedly been receiving as I’ve been updating the blog today – this is the last one!)