2 Days in Dubai

DAY 1 DUBAI

Start at the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), where you can have a traditional breakfast and learn about the culture of Dubai and the UAE in general. Tradition remains a strong current throughout UAE society, while it adapts to tolerate, if not embrace, some of the modern social mores of the 80-90% ex-pat population.

The SMCCU is located in an old wind-tower house in the Al Fahidi district (also known as Bastakiya) of Bur Dubai on the western side of Khor Dubai (Dubai Creek). The district is named for Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest standing building in Dubai. The residential area that grew up around the fort was planned to make life in the extreme climate as comfortable as possible. Houses were built around narrow, winding lanes to maximize shade and draw cooling breezes through. Towers on the houses drew air down past water, which cooled the rooms as it evaporated on the wind.

Take an abras (water taxi) across the creek to Deira, where you’ll find the souks. If you’ve been to souks in Fez, Istanbul, Jerusalem and Cairo, Dubai’s souks probably won’t blow your socks off, but they do have local charm and are well worth some poking around. The Gold Souk is really something to behold and many visitors to Dubai come just for the gold.

Then travel in a matter of minutes from old Dubai to the number-one icon of new Dubai, Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. I like buildings and have raved about this one more than once in this blog: here and here. Take the At The Top tour for access to the observation deck on the 124th floor. Burj Khalifa is part of the Downtown Dubai development, which includes the Dubai Mall (for a completely different shopping experience from the souks) and the musical Dubai Fountain.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE, photo by Sallie Volotzky

Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE, photo by Sallie Volotzky

DAY 2 DUBAI

Start the day with breakfast at the Farriers Restaurant with views of horses during morning track work on the Meydan Racecourse. After breakfast, take a tour of the Meydan Stables.

Drive to the giant Jebel Ali port, about 20 miles south of Dubai city, for a seaplane tour. The aerial perspective really helps to take in the extraordinary evolution of Dubai. You’ll fly over the whole city, but birds-eye views of the man-made Palm Jumeirah and World Islands, the Burj Khalifa and the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab Hotel are especially astonishing.

Seaplane-water-takeoff

Come down to earth with a tour through the art spaces on Alserkal Avenue in the industrial Al Quoz district. Since 2007, Alserkal Avenue has developed “organically,” as they like to say, into a hopping arts scene, with the city’s largest concentration of galleries and arts venues. It’s a good place to ground and balance out the hyper-commercialism that built Dubai and keeps it ticking.

Alserkal Avenue gallery, Dubai, UAE, photo from timeoutdubai.com

Alserkal Avenue gallery, Dubai, UAE, photo from timeoutdubai.com

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10 Must-See Sites in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia is a 6th-century Christian basilica, converted to a mosque by the Ottomans, now a museum. If the word awesome still had meaning, I would use it to describe the Hagia Sophia, temple of Holy Wisdom. It set the standard for Byzantine architecture, though it was 1,000 years before another cathedral surpassed its size. From the outside, it’s a red-orange mountain that seems to anchor the city to the Bosphorus shore. It’s not particularly beautiful but the air of greatness can’t be missed. On the inside, it’s vast and filled with the light of heaven. The massive dome practically floats above the wide-open space below. Interior surfaces are decorated with frescos, mosaics, calligraphy and marble.

 

Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), Istanbul

The Sultanahmet Mosque is just down the way from Hagia Sophia. Together they are like bookends to the Hippodrome (Roman entertainment center). The Sultanahmet Mosque is commonly called the Blue Mosque after the 20,000 hand-painted tiles on the interior walls. It pairs well with the Hagia Sophia, not only in proximity but also as a complementary experience. While Hagia Sophia draws the attention upward, the Blue Mosque induces inward reflection. Hagia Sophia makes me go Wow! Blue Mosque makes me go ahhh. Inside the Hagia Sophia, I feel small. Inside the Blue Mosque, I feel peace. There’s a lot happening on the walls, with all the painted tiles, but the atmosphere is light and serene. Continue reading

Alpine Villages of Greece – Dimitsana

Dimitsana village, Greece

Dimitsana village, Greece

In the Arkadia district of Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula, about a 3-hour drive from Athens, the beautiful mountain village of Dimitsana crowns the slopes at one end of the Lousios Gorge at about 1,000 meters above sea level.

This small village has a notable history as a center of resistance during the war of independence from Ottoman rule in the 1820s. The town contributed significantly to the revolution by supplying gun powder milled in more than a dozen water-powered mills along the Lousios River. Some of the monasteries secluded in the Lousios Gorge also harbored resistance thinkers and fighters.

Lousios Gorge, with the Filosofou Monastery on the right and the Prodromou Monastery on the left.

Lousios Gorge, with the Filosofou Monastery on the right and the Prodromou Monastery on the left.

With stone houses and cobbled streets, the village’s medieval atmosphere is balanced by lush natural surroundings and expansive views into the Lousios Gorge. Most visitors to Dimitsana come for the outdoor experiences, which abound year-round – skiing, hiking, rafting, kayaking… As complement to the natural scenery, the town itself is an open-air museum of Byzantine architecture, with many churches and monasteries in the village and surrounding area. Dimitsana is built on the site of the ancient village of Tefthis, and remnants of the ancient city walls can still be seen.

The historical Library of Dimitsana was built as a seminary and home to thousands of volumes from a local monastery. A number of 18th and 19th-century Greek leaders were educated here. During the revolution, the pages of thousands of books were used to make gunpowder cartridges, leaving only about 500 intact. Today the library is a museum, with 14-century manuscripts and artefacts from revolutionary heroes among its treasures.

Filosofou Monastery

Filosofou Monastery

Prodromou Monastery

Prodromou Monastery

The Open-Air Water Power Museum is a fascinating stop for a look at pre-industrial power generation. Among the interesting monasteries in the area are the Prodromou Monastery and the Filosofou Monastery, built on the opposite sides of the gorge. Visiting the monasteries involves some steep walking, but if you’re reasonably fit, the frescos inside and gorge views are well worth the effort. Resident monks are very welcoming. Further down the gorge, just outside the village of Astilochos, on the river bank, are remains of the important ancient city of Gortys.

Dimitsana offers a number of guesthouses, tavernas and cafes and shops selling handmade products, such as the hilopites (Greek egg noodles) and local jam.

Apollo Was Here: Daphne & the Laurel Tree

Previously on Apollo Was Here, the four-day old Olympian god had just killed the serpent/dragon Python and claimed the sacred ground on Mt. Parnassus for his own sanctuary. He was very pleased with himself.

When next he saw the cherubic Eros (aka Cupid), with his mini-bow and mini-arrows, Apollo laughed in his face and taunted him, “I slayed a terrible monster with my bow. You couldn’t hurt a fly with your useless little toy!” Continue reading