The day after we returned from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, we went on a desert safari that took place in the evening. (Step-dad stayed in since his stomach was still hurting.) Travel Friend left Dubai – as he was departing via Abu Dhabi airport to return to the States the next morning – and met us in Abu Dhabi to go with us on the safari. Another travel group member (Travel Friend 2), who was in the United Arab Emirates at the same time as us, drove from Dubai and wound up going with us at the last minute. We had a good time.
We went on the evening desert safari with the Abu Dhabi Desert Safari company in Al Khatim Desert. There isn’t much to say; hopefully the photos speak for themselves. (I didn’t include all photos; I didn’t want to post photos of anyone just in case they prefer privacy.)
Toyota Land Cruiser.
Lots of dune bashing.
United Arab Emirates country flag.
Falcon eating prey.
Joined by guests.
After returning from the safari, step-dad was up & about, feeling better. Even though we didn’t get back until a little after 21:00, our host (an expatriate who’s also a travel group member) surprised us by taking us on a bit of a tour of her part of the city. (Travel Friend 2 went straight to the airport after the safari to catch her flight home.) There isn’t much to say here either; hopefully the photos speak for themselves.
Night view – Emirates Palace.
Emirates Palace – fountains (right).
Emirates Palace – fountains (left).
Night view – Corniche.
Night view – Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre.
Falafel (Lebanese food).
Shawarma (Lebanese food).
By the time we finished eating, it was almost midnight so we called it a night. Tomorrow was our last full day there, Travel Friend had a red-eye flight, and we (the 3 of us) had a couple of things to do before our departure.
Montenegro is a tiny country in southeastern Europe that’s bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia & Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east and Albania to the southeast. With a little over 620,000 citizens, its population is one of the smallest in Europe. During my short trip to Croatia, I had the privilege of going on a day trip to Montenegro, and I had a nice day.
From our base in Dubrovnik, the Croatia-Montenegro border is about an hour away and, therefore, easy to reach by car or tour bus (we used a tour company).
Montenegro has a storied history, but those of us familiar with the country’s recent times may know about the turbulence it experienced during the 20th century, especially toward the end of the 20th century. I won’t go into it on this blog, but you can read about it on Wikipedia (more accurate than many Wikipedia links). Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia on 3rd June 2006 and reached European Union candidate status in 2010. Montenegro used German marks for currency at one point – it never had its own currency – but now uses the euro.
Montenegro borders the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, which affords it a nice coastline – 183 miles (295 kilometers) – with temperatures averaging over 80º Fahrenheit (27º Celsius) during summer months. It was hotter than average when I went. Our tour bus drove along the coast, and the photo below shows one of the first towns we stopped in to take photos. I can’t remember the exact name, but it was close to Herceg-Novi, near the Croatia-Montenegro border.
We took a short break on the way to a guided tour. Check out the view.
Ostrvo Sveti Đorđe (Island of St. George). 12th century monastery.
Ostrvo Sveti Đorđe (Island of St. George) from a distance.
Our guided walking tour was in the old town centre of Kotor, Montenegro, situated on the Gulf of Kotor. It’s recognised as a World Heritage Site and chock full of history. It’s now popular with cruise ships; when we went, there were many ships, boats & yachts docked in port. Since Montenegro shares the Adriatic Sea with Italy (among other countries), visitors interested in history will notice the heavy Venetian influence embedded in Kotor’s architecture and overall atmosphere.
Katedrala Svetog Tripuna (Cathedral of Saint Tryphon). 1,204 years old.
And check out the view from the top – an outside restaurant & bar.
After leaving Kotor, we drove along the coast to Budva, which is making a name for itself as a Riviera town. Before we got to Budva city proper, though, we made a quick rest stop to photograph the following beautiful sight on the Riviera – Sveti Stefan town-hotel.
The Budva Riviera is popular during the summer months; there’s plenty of sun, sand & sea mixed in with casinos & vibrant nightlife. Montenegro, in general, is popular with Russians, and this is more so with Budva. There are signs translated into Russian, and Russians finance a sizeable amount of house (and other) construction projects along the Budva Riviera.
I couldn’t get many photos of Budva because my main camera died 😐 but at least I have memories. For you the readers, however, here’s a snapshot of my late lunch in Budva.
We made our way back to Croatia soon after Budva.
I enjoyed myself, especially in Kotor since I like history and old structures. I’d consider returning to Montenegro on my own, staying for no more than 2-3 days to explore historical sites. If you’re more into sun, sand & sea vacations, consider staying anywhere along the Budva Riviera for longer than that.
After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to seize the day. My roommate was already up & out of the room by the time I awake. I got myself ready in time to meet the rest of the group for the day trip.
When I got to the lobby, I noticed that we were missing a couple of people. I asked my roommate if she knew where they were. One of them was still getting ready – he owns a fancy camera that took time to assemble – but she didn’t know what happened with the other person. What a coincidence… Uzi was the other person’s roommate. She walked over to where we were and heard us talking and wouldn’t you know it…
The other person who stayed at the bar last night was so hung over that she couldn’t be bothered with getting out of bed. She decided to stay in the hotel & refused to go anywhere. She also made a mess in the room – a hot vomiting ass mess. (She cleaned up the nastiness while we were gone for the day.) A couple of the others who stayed out drinking didn’t look too hot either, but I assume that since we were leaving Lisbon the next day, they forced themselves out of bed for the trip.
So much for tanning & drinking.
We walked to Lisbon’s underground and caught the train to another train that’d take us to our destination, Sintra.
Sintra is a quick train ride (less than an hour) away from metropolitan-area Lisbon; upon arrival, there are shuttle buses that take sightseers up the hills & mountains to see Portugal’s colorful history & architecture embodied in castles. Sintra’s history dates back hundreds of years and, at one point, was a major Moorish stronghold, as was all the Iberian Peninsula. Take a look at the photos below to see what I mean.
Castelo dos Mouros is on the top of the Sintra Mountains – 1378 ft. (420 m.) in the air. My roommate, Uzi & I visited Castelo dos Mouros first, exploring on our own without the rest of the group (they visited another castle first; photos coming after Castelo dos Mouros). Along with walking & climbing around the castle, we got to the top (1378 ft./420 m. is a hell of a lot of walking & climbing) and the overall view was indescribable.
And here’s the top.
After conquering this castle, we headed over to Palacio Nacional da Pena (Wikipedia link), which is a separate castle but in the same area. Initially the site of a monastery in 1493, it was later rebuilt as a summer home for the Portuguese royal family.
Taking photos in the castle isn’t allowed, but I can say that the inside of the castle is quite lavish, gaudy, and almost untouched since the last time any royals lived in it. I got a shot of a sundial away from the inside, though.
And another indescribable view:
We ate at the palace too.
After a nice, long, productive, unintended-exercise day, we headed back to the hotel. I don’t remember who returned first – us or the rest of the group – because I laid down on my bed and don’t remember much else. 😐 After that nap, though, we (me, roommate, Uzi) ate late dinner in the hotel restaurant.
We’re outta here tomorrow. Too bad… I don’t really wanna leave.
I don’t consider myself a tourist, in general when traveling & since living here for a little over 2 years. I have a somewhat biased view of tourists, especially of my countrymen & countrywomen, that I’ve discussed here a few times. But since I live in the midst of what is now & will remain history, I can’t help but be just a bit excited, as an expatriate, about the 2012 Summer Olympics taking place in London (and other cities throughout the United Kingdom) – a major coming together of nations & myriad activities. I decided to hang around instead of escape the country for a few weeks, like some people here are doing/have already done. Now granted, that feeling of excitement is quickly gone once it’s time to battle traffic going to & from work (and many Britons feel the same) 😐 but hopefully you get the idea.
Because this is history in the making, I’ve taken a few photos that commemorate the Olympics in mind, body & spirit. I’m still dealing with medical issues and can’t blog as much as I’d like (I have probably 20 drafts waiting for me to complete them), but I’m going to try posting more photos with simple writing so that I don’t aggravate my medical issues or your eyes from too much reading. That way, you’ll get to see a post or two & watch everything from my point of view, while I try fulfilling my Post A Week challenge.
So check out the following photos, and there will be more coming over the next few weeks. (P.S. That includes the Paralympics – often neglected yet just as important & exciting as the Olympics.) Enjoy.
I couldn’t get the money. (Here’s why if you didn’t catch the first part.) It was already late afternoon, so I asked the lady about Western Union’s hours and she said that closing time was 19:00 (7 p.m.). Since I didn’t have any cash, I’d have to find a way to the hotel (long walk), get the passport, figure out how to return to the plaza (probably another long walk again) and get the cash… if the office wasn’t closed by the time I returned. I was so annoyed that I decided to leave well enough alone. I thanked the lady for her help and, frustrated & dejected, left the building.
I called the group organizer, told him what happened, and he told me to get a taxi to the next place. It didn’t take long and upon arriving, he paid for the taxi, adding it to my ongoing tab. 😐 Some of the members seemed quite amused at my expense (2 middle fingers forever reserved for them) and I stayed away from them instead of saying something that I’d regret. They weren’t worth my time or energy anyway. A couple of others were sympathetic, offering help until I got things sorted out.
A few members who only traveled to get drunk & a tanhad the nerve to be amused by my situation were tired decided to return to the hotel. The rest of us walked to the top of Edward VII Park. That was one hell of a walk, as it’s situated on a hill.
Afterwards, we walked to the metro station and headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
Dinner was at a restaurant in a nearby neighborhood, a 10-15 minute taxi ride from the hotel. I forgot the name of the restaurant, but here’s my food.
The sausages – my appetizer – had the texture of black pudding, so it put me off. The apples were good though.
Now that was delicious.
When the bill came, I planned to use one of my credit cards since I couldn’t get my cash. But a few group members suggested that I use my card so that they could give me cash – enough to hold me until I returned to Western Union. I was hesitant at first but decided to try, and sure enough, my card worked. Having the cash took a huge load off of my shoulders. I felt better, like less of a burden on everyone, especially the group leader, who’d been helping me out since my arrival.
We left the restaurant and most of us didn’t feel like heading home just yet (one member didn’t even eat with us; he explored Lisbon on his own). We happened upon a small bar around the corner from the restaurant, and even though there were only 5 or 6 people inside as the night was still young, we decided to go inside. Some of us sat down, while the members who only traveled to get drunk & a tan the others went straight to the counter for drinks. Then, those of us who were sitting down smelled heavy cigarette smoke. I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes so that, coupled with a few of us getting a strange vibe from the bar, led us to decide that it was time to leave. 4 of us (including my roommate) left, while the group leader and the members who only traveled to get drunk & a tan the others stayed behind.
We caught a taxi back to the hotel and, on the way there, decided that we wanted to wind down for the night by heading to the hotel rooftop. But since it was a bit chilly that night, we went to the hotel bar inside instead. Here’s my drink.
Roommate & another young lady – who I’ll refer to as Uzi from now on – also had hot chocolate, while the Italian (male) had a beer. We relaxed & chatted a bit, then took exhausted bodies to our respective rooms. The others clearly enjoyed themselves because they still hadn’t returned by the time we finished. Tomorrow was a new day and a new trip, and a few of those who stayed out drinking would regret it the next morning.
(If you haven’t already, check out Lisbon day 1 before reading further.)
I woke up in the morning and my roommate was already gone. I’m glad that we switched roommates because she was quiet as a mouse, while I found out later that the woman who would’ve been my roommate… wasn’t. The group leader told everyone last night that the group founder’s friend, a Lisbon native, would be at the hotel at 10:00 a.m. to take us around for city tour. It was optional of course, but I wanted to go. Roommate went early for breakfast; I woke up with enough time to wash up & get dressed.
Along with waking up with a headache, I was still kinda down because of the money issue but my aunt was wiring me the money in a few hours so deep down, I knew that everything would be alright. Group leader said not to worry about money, just come with the group. I went into the bathroom and began getting ready. I did a quick wash up and brushed my teeth. I took a step and
somehow or another, slipped and busted my ass.
Thank goodness I didn’t hit my head or spine, but it wasn’t a pleasant fall. Marble bathroom floor + a bit of accidentally splashed water = disaster. I felt pain in the muscles between my left shoulder and neck.
I was thoroughly annoyed and, as a result, decided to meet the group for lunch instead. (Maybe I’ll laugh at the fall one day, who knows.) I sent the group leader a few texts and told him I’d see everyone later. I was already dressed, so I only had to put on my sneakers and leave when they were ready to eat. I turned on the TV, glad for a couple of extra hours to myself, and laid back down on the bed.
I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until close to 14:00 (2 p.m.). 😐
I checked my phone and saw that the group leader sent me a text at around noon to let me know about lunch. Quite annoying & embarrassing again. I sent him a text apologizing because I didn’t expect to fall asleep. He returned to the hotel in a cab & met me in front of the hotel, then we went to the city center to meet the rest of the group. Some of them were sitting outside of the city’s cathedral, Lisbon Cathedral, while others were taking photos nearby. I did a quick walk through the cathedral, taking some photos.
We then walked to a castle. Before we walked in to wait on line, we happened upon a street musician named Bubacar.
As we walked away from him, the woman who would’ve been my roommate said
You should have gotten his number. He’s a nice looking man. Wouldn’t it be great to make a love connection on this trip? *wink*
Yeah… No. While I didn’t disagree with her about him being a nice looking man, I think that she just wanted to play matchmaker because Bubacar has dreads like me and because he initially thought that I was Rasta. Sorry lady… 2 dread-heads don’t = instant love connection. I politely declined her bootleg matchmaking offer.
Only a few of us from the group wanted to see & go inside the castle, so we left the pansies who only traveled to get drunk & a tan the others outside waiting for us while we explored the grounds.
The rest of the group (except for 1 other member) finished a few minutes ahead of me while I took photo after photo. As I made my way out to meet the rest of them, I happened upon
I found out that there’s an extensive garden further back on the castle grounds, where peacocks & peahens & other feathered friends – ducks & geese – wander around freely. I wish that I knew about it before leaving the castle, but at least I got a few priceless photos & video for memories’ sake.
We headed back to Lisbon city centre, where I asked around for the nearest Western Union to get my cash. I found one… but of course the computer was down because it’s just my luck for some reason, so the representative directed me across the city plaza to the next one, which was bigger and had working computers & multilingual representatives. I made the quick walk over & waited on line, happy to finally get some money. I spoke in Spanish, showed the representative my driver’s license and she said in Spanish
Sorry, but we don’t accept this. I’ll need your passport.
I didn’t have my passport. Why, you ask? It was in the hotel room safe; a few people told us that we didn’t need to carry our passports around.
This was the day. I’d been excited about it for a while. I don’t know about any of you, but when a trip is coming up, I don’t get excited about it until the last minute. I might have fleeting moments of excitement in the days or weeks beforehand, but the excitement always grows at the last minute. It’s surreal – I know that I’m going somewhere but it doesn’t feel real until I land in my destination.
I made sure to get enough sleep to manage the trip on public transportation the next morning. I didn’t feel like paying for a cab this time around, at least for the trip to the airport. It went well overall; it took 90 minutes to get there, which isn’t too bad for a major world airport like Heathrowand on a holiday weekend. The only thing that annoyed the hell out of me was the price for the Heathrow Express – £19.00 one way.
I got to the airport before the rest of the group. Oh, I forgot to mention the group…
I joined Meetup about 3 months ago as a way to get out a bit more, as a challenge to myself for 2012 and beyond. (I may write a post or two about how that’s going in the future.) Among other things, I looked for traveler groups and sure enough, I found one that caught my eye: Solo Travelers. As someone who likes traveling solo, this group and its description sounded perfect. This group already planned its 2012 trips, and while I’d love to go on each one of their trips, I’m not rich. But there were a few that appealed to me, and Lisbon caught my eye first – affordable, 2 hour plane ride, long weekend (I hate very short trips). A few days after joining the group, I paid a deposit and secured my spot. While I prefer traveling solo, traveling with other solo travelers made sense to me for a couple of reasons:
1. While we arrived & departed together from each airport, staying together was optional. If we didn’t vibe together, or wanted to do our own things, we could always split up.
2. This was another way to challenge myself to more & make new potential connections.
So there you have it – I traveled with other solo travelers. How did that go, you ask? Stay tuned.
The group went to the wrong gate because of a mix-up, so the group leader sent a text message on my way to the airport and I met the group at the correct gate instead. They arrived 10 minutes later, and the group leader introduced himself & the other group members. We checked in, got our boarding passes & went through security together, but split up until we got on the plane. While we were split up, I tried getting some cash out of my account, but the ATM declined my card . No sweat, though… I’d try when we arrived, and at least I had enough elsewhere.
I should have sat next to a group member, with whom my intuition sensed good vibes, but she was gracious enough to allow a couple to sit together. That was very nice of her… but not for me because the woman in the couple was so annoying that I wanted to punch her in her jackass face & throat. 😐 Lucky for me that I usually fall asleep on flights because I slept for at least half of the flight… which meant that she annoyed me only half as much as she would have if I was awake for the full flight.
When we landed, it was a nice surprise to disembark to nice weather since the weather authority predicted rain in Lisbon for most of the weekend.
Before we took our taxis to the hotel, I told the group leader about my ATM issue and he said “No problem, I’ll cover you until you get access to your account. These things happen.” Quite embarrassed – it’s my issue and I take ownership of it – but relieved that it wouldn’t be a huge issue. Our hotel was a short distance from the airport, and the taxi fare was pretty cheap for European standards – well less than €10.00 for each taxi.
We arrived at the hotel, and I was quite impressed. I should have shared a room with an older British woman, but she must have made a good connection with another group member because upon hotel check-in, she said that I was sharing with someone else instead. (That turned out to be a good thing. Stay tuned.) New roommate & I went to our hotel room; were we impressed again. I forgot to take a photo of the outside & our room, but check out the view from our window:
We settled in, chose our beds, got some help with our TV & internet settings from hotel staff, and relaxed (except for contacting my U.S. bank) until it was time for dinner. For the first night, we all dined together. We weren’t sure where to eat, but at least there were options within walking distance of the hotel. We walked a bit and I spotted an ATM – perfect time to give the group leader his money back. I inserted my card, figuring that there was something wrong with the ATM at Heathrow since the bank didn’t see anything wrong with my card during our phone call.
Of course it was my card. Cash machines in Portugal are pretty damn good because unlike at Heathrow, the ATM flashed the following words on the screen:
Your ATM card has expired.
Sure enough, I checked the card and it’d expired 6 days before the trip. I was even more embarrassed. I told the group leader and he was fine with it. He asked if I was alright for dinner and I assured him that I was. Unlike a few years ago, I didn’t throw a temper tantrum or cry or hide away in my room for the night. I just kept calm and thought about what to do next.
We decided on a restaurant across the street from the hotel; unlike a few of the other restaurants in the vicinity, this one was more affordable and there were locals eating there, which signaled to us that the food was probably decent.
Since my money was funny, I ate within my budget.
It was very good – no need for condiments or seasonings, it tasted good as shown in the photo. The restaurant specializes in seafood, though.
Some of the group members liked their food, while others could have taken or left it. The main complaint for those who could have taken or left it – the food was too oily. Thank goodness that mine was good.
We stayed for 2-3 hours, and some of us were tired so we went back to the hotel afterwards to get some rest for the next day. I called my family to tell them about the money situation, and my aunt said that she’d wire money the next afternoon. That was fine with me, as I wouldn’t be spending much money anyway, even after getting her money. It was quite annoying to know that I had money that was inaccessible, but it wasn’t worth turning the trip into doom & gloom. Thank goodness for age, wisdom, growth, and back-up plans. New roommate & I chatted a bit, then watched some TV and settled in for the night.
I wrote a post about the Chocolate Festival a few months ago. Well, it’s back in a few towns again and unlike the last time, I went with a friend & met up with 3 people from Meetup. I also got to buy myself a couple of treats this time (no laughing ATM for now). Rather than write the same things that I wrote in the last festival post, take a look at a few new photos instead. In the meantime, I’ll have a bite of my brownie with white chocolate chips & a bite of my piece of red velvet cake, please & thank you.
As an added bonus, here’s some beef chilli flavored with dark cocoa and topped with pico de gallo & shredded cheese. It was surprisingly good.
While I’m far from a chocoholic, based on my nostalgia I can understand how millions of people worldwide have such unconditional & undying love for chocolate. So when I found out that the annual Chocolate Festival was coming back to town 12.09-11.2011, I decided that unlike last year – when I was more lazy & colder than I am now – I’d definitely attend to see what the big deal is. I wanted to go with at least 1 person, but life doesn’t work out the way that I want it to so I went solo. And as usual, it was nice.
(Well… except when the cash machine laughed at me when I tried getting cash to buy some chocolate. Maybe that’s a good thing for my health.)
The Festival was held for a full weekend and took place on 2 levels – street level and inside a venue. I didn’t feel like going into the venue so I stayed on the street.
For someone who isn’t a die-hard chocoholic, that was enough for me. Check out these photos to see why:
Along with buying ready-made chocolate products, one vendor sold kits for people to make their own chocolate and has a program specifically for 16-24 year olds to make & sell their own chocolate – entrepreneurship at its best. One of the partners, Kieran, said that he & his business partner are available to visit schools to showcase the business. In this terrible economy, I applaud them for giving others the opportunity to make a little legal change.
Although I couldn’t buy anything, I took many samples and collected many business cards. I plan to give 1 or 2 of them my business in the future.