Fujairah – Al Hayl castle…& a small serving of other things

A new road opened up recently that cuts through the Hajar mountains and provides a more direct route to/from Dubai and Fujairah (yay!). This is excellent news, considering Fujairah is pretty much my favorite place in all of the UAE and it now only takes an hour to get there; previously it was about  1 hr 45 minutes I think?

This weekend, we tested the new road out and took a little detour to peek at Al Hayl castle. Located just a short drive away from Fujairah city, the (pretty quaint) castle is about 250 years old in a gorgeous location surrounded by mountains and date palm farms.

The structure is by no means huge, but nice to look at all the same and you can climb through it to explore the whole thing. There is a wind tower on the hill above the caste that you can climb to the top of for some lovely views as well.

Also stopped by Fujairah’s mangrove swamps, which I would love to kayak through at some point!

& I know, this blog has been pretty quiet lately. Sorry but I simply haven’t had anything to say, I guess.

Wengen, Switzerland last month was wonderful; many times better than last year as I didn’t suffer from any migraine attacks this year and I also got new bindings and boots, which did me a world of good on the snowboard. The bindings (K2 Cinch bindings) particularly, I think were much better than my previous pair and gave me much better control. We did a lot of long runs from the top of Männlichen and Kleine Scheidegg that took you all the way down to the village of Grindlewald. These long runs are the best: they wind through the woods (smells like Christmas tree!), have less people on them, and take almost an hour to complete! I love rambling runs!

What’s coming up? While February looks to remain pretty quiet, March and April are going to be rather manic. By the time May rolls around I’m probably going to be on the verge of going utterly mental, so thankfully I have 2 weeks in India to look forward to in early-mid May. Focusing on Kerala, I’m currently working on some vague plans for what to do in the spice & tea plantations in the mountains, Alleppey’s backwaters and Varkala’s lazy beaches.

I hope I find a little something to help beak up the summer here in the UAE (UK? Lebanon?), then plan for a trip into the states (Pittsburgh & NYC) this October – Halloween YESSSS!!

Places I Wouldn’t Mind Behaving Badly in 2012

With 2012 swiftly approaching and my penchant for pre-planning the year ahead starting to kick into gear, I’ve begun to to think about my top travel goals for the next 12 months.

Kerala, India: After putting India on the backburner so many times over the years I’ve lived pretty much next-door to it, India is definitely scheduled in for a visit this year. I have to get it out of the way. I’d like to focus on Kerala in pre-monsoon season (ie. May) for a couple weeks. It will be the total opposite of Dubai with its abundant greenery, lack of glittering, soulless housing developments & skyscrapers and bling, and hopefully regular bouts of rain. Exactly what I am looking for in a holiday – the opposite of my normal life. If I’m really lucky there will be poor t0 no internet/phone service so no-one can get in touch with me! That’s a real vacation. And curry, the curry. I just hope I don’t get tired of having to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in-between.

Lebanon: Party, shop and EAT in Beirut. Historic sites and ancient ruins throughout the rest of the country. Maybe summer?

Hong Kong: Whether I continue to consider a move out here or not, I desperately want to visit Hong Kong with the quickness. The urban/natural combo landscape of the area looks incredible and anyway I absolutely love visiting Asia. The city looks far more stimulating than Dubai and I bet there are some good eats, too. I’m particularly curious about Kowloon. And delighted to visit whenever I can fit it in to the schedule.

Wengen, Switzerland: Yeah, so I’ve been here before and am returning to the exact same place pretty much exactly one year later so it doesn’t sound that interesting. BUT! I never got around to trying out that rather dangerous-looking and injury-inducing sledging sledding down the mountain last time. It’s definitely on my list to try this year. After more than a few glasses of Glühwein. Because getting hurt hurts so much less when you’re drunk.

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Outside of this, I hope to pop in some random long weekends/short week trips to other locales around the Middle East (& possibly India, as I think the visa for that country should last a full 6 months, so may as well make good use of it). And I really want to go back to Oman to see an opera in Muscat’s new opera house, Royal Opera House Muscat. And hopefully a Halloween/wedding-related trip back to the states in the second-half of the year?

And I’m certainly not one of those new year resolution weirdos, but if I do have one for 2012, it is this: I will not waste/lose my vacation days next year like I did in 2011. Out of the 30 vacation days I am given, I think I only used maybe 20? I’m in no way pleased about this, as what I don’t use I simply lose at the end of the year, and will be making sure it doesn’t happen again in 2012.

Wengen, Switzerland

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the eiger

Switching it up from my more usually planned trips to places where snow and warm layers are never any consideration (I generally hate the stuff), I found myself excited about  a trip to Switzerland.  Cold weather may not sit well with me (it literally causes me pain, like my body just wants to cramp up all over) but I am willing to go through some suffering to get a good bit of snowboarding in.

After spending a good portion of my life skiing (started when I was 11-ish) and snowboarding (started in my early 20′s) in the not-so-glamorous state of Pennsylvania, I was totally beside myself with excitement to finally get the chance to hit the slopes on the Swiss Alps – in the Jungfrau region of the Berner Oberland, to be exact.  That being said, I really miss my PA haunts: Seven Springs in the Laurel Mountains and Camelback in the Poconos.  Good times!

wengen's main street

I stayed in the ludicrously quaint village of Wengen, which was only accessible via train – and adorable little trains at that.  No cars were allowed there (with  the exception of some small ones owned by hotels and locals, I think) which added to the whole traditional atmosphere of the village and really made for an incredibly peaceful locale.  Wengen is surrounded by the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, and is connected to the nearby villages of Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen, as well as the mountain pass of Kleine Scheidegg via the previously mentioned adorable little railway system (the Wengernalpbahn, it was called).

excuse the wallpapers' beauty

The town was traditional in most every way, and that included the hotels.  Our hotel, the Wengener Hof, was predictably traditional and the service very friendly.  Every evening we were served a 5-course dinner, and one evening a 7 course dinner.  Can’t really complain, the food was fine but not exceptional.  Could do to use the salt a bit more. What really stood out about the hotel was the decor, however.  It was…I’m not even sure how to describe it?  Let’s just say there was a lot going on and you probably would not want to drop any acid whilst staying there.  My room had three different wall papers on the walls (as seen on the right).  Also, the curtains and sofas were upholstered in the same print as the two floral wallpapers!  It was a lot to take in.  But a nice hotel, still.

the männlichen cable car

The skiable spots in the area were First, Männlichen-Kleine Sheidegg, and Mürren-Schilthorn; I had access to all but the latter.  These were all connected via either train or cable cars and were generally easy to get to, however I only visited First once as it was a small journey that took up a lot of the morning.  Most of my time was spent gleefully snowboarding around Kleine Sheidegg (a 25 minute train ride up the mountain from Wengen), in the shadow of the Eiger and down the Lauberhorn.

happy, snowy trails!

 

The conditions were great and the scenery amazing.  The really fantastic thing about the slopes in the area was the length.  Some of them took ages to get down so it totally made up for having to wait for and then take the train back up the mountain, as some trails went so far down (you could ski from Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald, even) you were our of reach of lifts and cable cars.  Snowboarding from Kleine Scheidegg was great because there were a nice variety of slopes, but also because you could quickly take the cable car from Wengen to Männlichen, ski a zig-zaggy path of various slopes and lifts from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg, spend the day romping around Kleine Scheidegg and the Lauberhorn, then at the end of the day ski all the way back down to Wengen via an entirely different route.  And in-between stop off at the lodges to warm up with some warm glühwein and apple fritters.  Yum.

Speaking of snowboarding, the one thing that I found a bit surprising was the lack of snowboarders.  Back home, in PA, over the years the snowboarder to skier ratio has really evened out.  While I’d say there are still more skiers, ‘boarders are everywhere.  In the Jungfrau, not so much.  I felt like it was 10 years ago in PA, when there were only a fairly small percentage of snowboarders (maybe around 15%?).  Even the shops didn’t stock much snowboarding gear, if any at all!  It was interesting to see the difference.

a ski rack on the back of one of the trains

Zürich

A very brief day and night at the end of the trip was spent in Zürich, due to the flight schedule back to Dubai…and curiosity.  Though my time there was very brief, it seemed like a very nice city, filled with interesting little cafes, bars and shops.  You won’t find me complaining about that.

I will, however, complain about the public toilets.  Public toilets which, in a moment of very serious need, I could not get into because they charged 2 francs (about USD $2) to use.  I literally began crying.  At the end of train ride from Wengen to Zürich, I suddenly realized I was in an emergency bathroom situation (OK, there was a lot of wine on this train).  Not having time to make it before the train pulled into the station, I rushed out, left the luggage and all of my stuff with the boyfriend to watch over while I went on a frantic search for a toilet.  After a bit of a goose-chase, I found the bathroom where I was promptly denied entry because I had no money on me.  For fuck’s sake.  Then the tears started.  Had to run all the way back to where I had left my stuff and procure some change and run all the way back.

I hate Zürich’s public toilet policy, I do not care what anyone says, or what the advantages of said policy may be.  It is stupid.  This is not the first time I’ve come across a public toilet with a fee – they seem pretty common in European cities from my experience, but Zürich’s was by far the most expensive and more importantly, the most inconvenient for me.

{ music: Shpongle / Nothing Lasts…But Nothing is Lost }

Alpine Tropics

Back in Dubai’s sun and sand after taking in a rather perfect amount of snow in just about the quaintest Alpine setting of Wengen, Switzerland/Jungfrau region of the Alps.  Much snowboarding delight was had in the shadow of the Eiger!

The best part?  I didn’t follow a para-skier off the side of the Männlichen!

you don’t want to fall off the side of the Männlichen, apparently

Also good?  Minimal snowboarding injuries – just a few (OK a lot more than a few, actually) bruises and I’m not exactly sure what I did to both of my thumbs, but they are in serious pain.  No texting for me at the moment.  But  nothing’s broken or fractured, so great success.

I haven’t got as many photos to go through as usual from this trip, as most of my time was spent snowboarding.  Hopefully I’ll have a proper blog up about my trip later this week.

Currently doing a bit of relaxing at home before heading back to work tomorrow.  Just taking a snappy break from working out some wall designs.  Our walls are shamefully bare (super hard walls that you can’t nail into, frustrating), so today I bought a couple shades of green paint and I am going to paint some stylized bamboo in the living area.  I may live in the desert, but at least within the walls of my flat I can pretend I’m in the tropics!  Anyway, I hope this project turns out well.  I’ve been excited about starting it since before I left for Switzerland.