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The interesting tale of the 2nd King of Bhutan’s Dzong

Blonde is in Bhutan on a small group tour (6 women). One day, Blonde was the victim of a gastrointestinal system rebellion and was told that she couldn’t go on the tour with the group. She added this to the list of reasons why she may never again go on a group tour.

However, it had a happy ending as the very nice man who owns the lodge where we are staying took me to the nearby Wangdichholing Dzong in Chamkhar and told me all kinds of interesting things. The Second King of Bhutan, Jigme Wangchuck, ruled from 1926-1952. He kept Bhutan quite isolated from the outside world except for some contact with India.

During his reign he lived in this palace with was also a Dzong. Basically when the king lived there it was considered to be a palace and a Dzong and once he got reincarnated (or “expired” as they say here) it was then just a Dzong.

The Second King of Bhutan's palace and Dzong

The Second King of Bhutan’s palace and Dzong

Dzong’s were built to be both fortresses and the administrative centers of Buddhism for the region they were in. (Trying very hard here not to make dzong jokes..)

Outside the entrance to the dzong is the archery range the king used. Archery is the national sport in Bhutan. The king had rows of pear trees planted along the final section where the arrow would fly so it wouldn’t be affected by wind.

Second King of Bhutan's archery range

The field where the king practiced his target archery

And now that we’re speaking of pear trees the king had one that was his very favorite and which supposedly produced superior pears compared to other pear trees. If a pear fell from his tree or was knocked off by a crow (apparently a not uncommon situation) the pear would be taken to the king and he would be told how it landed on the ground. He would then decide to eat it or tell the pear presenter to give it to someone else. If someone was caught stealing a pear the king would punish the person by making him stand for two hours in the ice cold river below the Dzong!

To this day the pears that are picked from this tree are transported to the capitol in Thimpu and given to the current king. (Can’t you picture his wife saying “Oh no, more of those damned pears. How many do they think we can eat?”)

Because of the importance of this pear tree it is guarded at all times to ensure that no one tries to damage it. That sounds like the ultimate government job – sit and watch a pear tree all day!

Second king of Bhutan's pear tree

A very coddled pear tree (on the left) and some young monks in a lump on the right

In the courtyard of the former palace all of the walls, windows and doors have intricate paintings. They were done by monks using ground stone to create the colors.  All of the colors are natural and last a long time. (Smashing rocks to turn them into dye for paint sounds like a much more exhausting job than being the pear tree guard.)

Windows at the Wangdichholing Dzong

Stone painted windows at the Wangdichholing Dzong

Men's dress in Bhutan "go"

See the pouches (hemchus) on the men’s ghos (name of what they wear in Bhutan)?

At the Dzong (and apparently at Dzongs even now) the monks sat outside on a stone sort of courtyard. They sat in rows and the Boss Hog Head Monk dude sat at the end of the first row. The kitchen staff would come out with baskets and pots of food. Each monk would pull a bowl out of his hemchu for his serving. When the head monk finished there would be a signal and all of the monks (who had been eating silently) would have to jump up and get out of there pronto. So they would put their unfinished food in the bowl and put a cloth over it (another standard hemchu item) and cover it up for surreptitious eating later.

Courtyard where the monks ate at Wangdichholing Dzong

Courtyard where the monks ate at Wangdichholing Dzong

Now, next door to the dzong, is a very swanky hotel, the Amankora, which costs, with taxes, about $1,000 a night. We did not stay there. It would kind of be fun to see if someone from there snitched a pear from the highly valued tree and was then forced to stand in the cold river for a couple hours but it probably won’t happen.

 

 

 

UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Robben Island, South Africa

 

Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island, South Africa

Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island, South Africa

Before leaving for South Africa Blonde read Nelson Mandela’s fascinating autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. and found it to be brutally honest (about himself) and very inspirational. We had already planned to go to Robben Island when we went to Cape Town but now it seemed almost urgent to go there. As always Brunette did the research and found out that you need to buy tickets well in advance of when you want to go as it routinely sells out.

We knew the prison was no longer in use and that it had been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. Here are the criterion UNESCO cited:

  • The buildings of Robben Island bear eloquent witness to its sombre history.
  • Robben Island and its prison buildings symbolize the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom and of democracy over oppression.

We were fortunate that on the day we had tickets the ferry made the trip. One or two of the previous days it had been cancelled due to weather. (They do refund your money if that happens but not for any other reason.)

The ferry was crowded and we were standing close to a group of students. Blonde was walking ahead of one of the girls when boarding the ferry and had the sense that the girl had lightly touched her hair. When she turned to look the girl said she had touched the hair and wanted to know if she could touch it more as she’d never touched or (possibly seen) blonde hair before! The girls were 14 year olds on a school excursion and very sweet and polite. We couldn’t figure out why Blonde’s hair was so unique as there are many Dutch Afrikaners in Cape Town with blonde hair. Maybe this girl just saw her chance to touch, not just look, but whatever it was it was cute.

Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa

Our tour guide, a former political prisoner

When we got to the island we were taken on a tour by a former inmate. All of the guides are former political prisoners and the man leading our group had known Mandela.

The island has a lot of history that predates its role in the disgrace of apartheid. Supposedly the first inhabitants were from Vasco de Gama’s fleet in 1498 who stopped there in search of shelter and supplies. The Dutch were the first to establish a prison there and then for many years it was a large leper colony. No one seemed to have any cheerful ideas about the place!

On the tour we got to look into the small cell where Mandela was incarcerated for 20 years.

Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa

Part of a very large room where inmates were housed. Undoubtedly it’s been cleaned up a bit since then!

We saw the sleeping area for the inmates who were not in “private” cells. The conditions under which they were kept, the brutality of the guards, and the lack of any decent toilet facilities was appalling. It’s bizarre that a painting of Jesus is on the wall there – hard to imagine he would have been in favor of the place!

Then they drive you around the island in a bus to show you some other sites. You see the quarry where Mandela and many others – all Black political prisoners – were forced to break apart stone in scorching sun for long days. Having read his autobiography before going really added to the experience of visiting the place. In the book you learn about how he protested having to wear shorts when they performed the manual labor and finally got the “right” for them to wear long pants. He felt that the shorts took away their dignity.

The idea that Mandela emerged from Robben Island with a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation is almost beyond comprehension. Blonde would have gone on a major ass-kicking spree.

Robben Island, Cape Town, South Africa

A photo of political prisoners, including Mandela.

This is one of the few places in the world we’ve visited that we don’t have any smartypants comments about! We did get very disgusted with a family who brought a boy who was more than old enough to know how to behave but behaved horribly the whole time. Even mild-mannered Brunette had all she could take and told the mother that the boy’s behavior was very disrespectful.

Maybe we weren’t ready for forgiveness and reconciliation ourselves yet!

 

 

 

 

UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Galapagos Islands

Galapagos U

There are several reasons the majority of our travels involve visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The reasons are:

  • Brunette not only does the trip research but she’s a small walking, talking human version of Wikipedia and her content knowledge of UNESCO World Heritage sites is astounding and more than a little odd.
  • UNESCO World Heritage sites, particularly the ones in nature, tend to not be filled with the same people who fly halfway around the world to go to casinos and shopping malls.
  • The sites have to be well maintained to stay listed so they aren’t full of Starbucks, litter or, generally, flagrant smokers.
  • Oh, and they’re interesting, probably even unique, often beautiful and are great places to take pictures you can later use to bore your friends and family.

To get on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list very specific criteria have to be met. Sites are selected on the basis of one (or more) of the six cultural and four natural criteria. The Galapagos would qualify for several of the criteria but we picked two that we are betting on:

  • outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
  • contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

For many years Blonde and Brunette wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands. We were mostly interested because going there required being on a small ship (no big cruises ships with Kathie Lee Giffords belting out “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” or other hits of yore) and it also involved snorkeling with creatures who had not previously had the opportunity to snorkel with us. And, because the islands in their entirety are a UNESCO World Heritage site, access is very limited. You can only go on shore with certified, highly knowledgeable guides who explain the history of the islands, the flora and the fauna and, fortunately, have enough humor that you don’t feel as if you’re in some endless science lecture.

Getting there from the U.S. is neither simple nor inexpensive so Brunette did her research to ensure that we would go at the best time of year for snorkeling. The Galapagos are at the confluence of three ocean currents in the chilly Pacific and if you want to snorkel then you want to go when the warm current is prevailing. We went in April and could not have had more perfect weather conditions.

Blonde did her share of the research which was to ask a friend to ask a friend who had gone there what tour company he had used. Based on the fact that the person was a gay man with a lot of money, smarts and sense of adventure we figured there could not be a better source. He recommended Myths and Mountains and we booked with them and they were excellent.

Tender from boat to shore in the Galapagos

How our pampered butts were taken to shore for walks led by naturalists

The “not inexpensive” part of the trip was taken care of in a manner the more sentimental among you may find to be shocking but we’re practical and not at all sentimental. Our mother had died and we (meaning Brunette) needed to sell her car. It was a basic model Hyundai that car collectors in rural western Pennsylvania were not lining up in droves to buy. We chose to see that car in a new light – it was going to be the Galapagos -Mobile!

Brunette was now highly motivated to wring as much as possible out of the sale of the car. We told ourselves that our Mother who instilled our love of travel, animals and water (as well as all kinds of weird issues) in us would approve. Or she wouldn’t, but her time to vote had ended.

Brunette should have been a used car salesman (ignoring the gender transformation issues this would entail) because no one ever got so much money for so little car before. And we were off!

Oh wait, just realized that this is supposed to be about UNESCO World Heritage sites so back to that. The Galapagos, (for those of you were home-schooled and taught “intelligent design” and not evolution) are where Charles Darwin (a seriously odd dude) showed up in his ship The Beagle back in 1835 and developed the beginnings of his massively controversial theory of evolution by natural selection. (Brunette’s husband is an example of how this is not a perfect system but it’s still pretty persuasive.)

Why did Darwin come up with his theory in the Galapagos and not, for example, on St. Thomas? Maybe he also sought to avoid the casinos and cigarettes crowd. More likely it was because the 19 islands of the Galapagos are so isolated, near that confluence of currents (love getting to use that word twice!) and have had a very long history of seismic and volcanic activity.

So what are some of the unique species Darwin first documented that still exist only on the Galapagos?

Due to our immaturity we will start with one with the funniest name: The Blue Footed Boobie.

Blue footed Boobies in the Galapagos Islands

I think mine are bluer than his.

The name is a bit inaccurate as the bird’s feet, not its boobies, are blue. When a male Boobie decides to go get himself a honey he does a hilarious dance where he raises his feet up and down and looks way more awkward than even the most drunken, uncoordinated white guy at a wedding. But his dance steps aren’t the point – he wants to show off how blue his feet are as that’s apparently a major selection criteria for the ladies.

This is a great video of the mating dances and rituals. You will learn that boobies are adulterous which isn’t surprising given their name.

Blue Footed Boobies also have an amusing way of getting food. They plunge-dive dramatically, suicidally to the casual observer, into very shallow water to get their fish. This may to be ensure they’re in and out before their feet get any of that mate-attracting blue washed out of them.

Magnificent Red throated frigate bird in the Galapagos Islands

Hey baby, wassup?

Another bird who is also out there in the dating scene and has his own competitive differentiator is the red-throated Frigatebird. He doesn’t have cool feet but he does have a big red pouch on this throat and he knows damn well that size matters. So he goes around puffing out his pouch to get himself a lady. (Won’t be long before Kim Kardashian marries one.)

Two things in our notes from the trip are that there are two species of Frigatebirds in the Galapagos; Magnificent and Greater. Clearly these guys named themselves. Also the bird was supposedly named a Frigatebird because it steals its food from other birds in mid-air which is analogous (to someone) to pirates on frigates stealing from other ships at sea.

Galapagos Penguin

It’s hard to get a good picture of a tiny penguin from a moving boat when the penguin matches its surroundings so be glad we even got this lousy picture!

The Galapagos even have their own brand of penguin. Its claim to fame is that it’s very small and the only breed of penguin found north of the equator. These little cuties make their nests in the coastal lava cliffs. They can’t fly so they sometimes entertain themselves by mingling with very fortunate snorkelers.

Marine iguanas in the Galapagos

Marine iguana heap

One of the creepier things that is also unique to the Galapagos is the astoundingly unattractive marine iguana. You may not have noticed but if you think about it you have most likely seen lizards lounging around pools (sometimes in Speedos) but iguanas do not swim. That is except for the ones in the Galapagos.

They also spit out of the top of their heads. This fact was verified when Blonde walked up to a heap of them (seriously, they lay around in heaps) and said “I think they’re dead” and one spouted out an impressive stream of iguana spit in her direction. Apparently they also speak English and are real pranksters!

Marine iguana in the Galapagos

Getting to the store is the easy part!

Going out to get something for dinner is a real hassle for the marine iguanas. They go onto the ocean for fish. Doesn’t sound so bad until you learn that, on their way back in, the sea lions want the same fish and kill the iguanas. A trip to the grocery store is a real high risk adventure for a marine iguana or Blonde when she’s hungry.

The Galapagos even have their own brand of sea lions, lizards and other species all of which we were fortunate enough to have seen.

Galapagos sea lion

Galapagos sea lion we saw when we were snorkeling – they like to swim at you real fast then turn away at the last second!

And of course the actual islands, because of how they were formed and, except for one that is inhabited, the fact that they’ve been basically left alone are very unusual too.

Pinnacle Rock the Galapagos Islands

Pinnacle Rock and part of the Island of Bartolome

We don’t suggest you start looking up the resale value of any aging relatives’ cars to fund your own trip to the Galapagos. But we do strongly suggest that before you go to any new destination that you first check out the UNESCO World Heritage list and see if there is a site there that would be of interest to you.

Or just ask Brunette and she will spout out the answer for you.

Regular frigate birds

Frigate birds that flew above our frigate for very long periods of time

Possibly heaven on earth: The Maldives!

Snorkeling in the Maldives

Snorkeling in the Maldives – how could you hope for anything better?

You may deny it, but you know you have fantasies. And, if you’re over the age of 35, you secretly fear that if your fantasy actually happened it would never live up, in reality, to the fantasy version. This is one case where it not only lived up to it but exceeded it!

Blonde and Brunette had dreamt and schemed for years about going to the Maldives but it was always just too expensive because of the cost of getting there. Then Brunette cleverly won free Business Class tickets on Qatar Airways and suddenly the getting there part of the trip was taken care of! Now all we had to do was figure out the rest.

The Maldives had become a more urgent “must see” destination due to Satan-worshipping Democrats in the U.S. making up that whole thing about climate change. In a casebook example of life not being fair, the 400,000 islanders of the Maldives contribute hardly a blip to planet-warming carbon emissions.

But they reside in the lowest lying country in the world. The Maldives rest on coral reefs and the highest point of all of the islands is 8 feet. Rising sea levels, storm surges and reckless mining near the reefs appear to be leading to the day in the not unimaginable future when the Maldives will no longer be there to visit.

At least that was part of the rationale presented to Brunette’s husband in terms of the urgency of the still pricey trip.

Sand bar in the Maldives

A sand bar in the Maldives where we had a picnic. Not too hard to imagine this being wiped out.

Brunette got cracking on her usual pre-trip research to select a property. Because when you go to the Maldives you generally pick one resort, which is often the only one on the island, for your whole stay, it’s important to get it right. We didn’t want a long or overly expensive transfer from the airport. Blonde requires wi-fi and scorns buffets and many of the properties are all-inclusive. Brunette needs good swimming pools and we both wanted to be sure we were on an island that still had healthy reefs. Some have been damaged in cyclones and it took a fair bit of asking questions in Trip Advisor forums and other research to ferret out where the reefs and fish were still copacetic. In the end the first place we both wanted to go, and one where a blogger friend of ours, MrsOAroundWorld had recommended, was the winner; Kurumba, Maldives.

When we landed in Male we quickly found the representative from Kurumba and in less than 20 minutes we had been whisked away in a large private yacht and taken to the property. Not a bad way to make an arrival.

We had booked a deluxe ocean villa that was (by sheer luck) well situated on the island in terms of being equidistant from the restaurants, water sports center and various other points of interest.

Deluxe ocean villa at Kurumba Maldives

View of our room from sitting in the Indian Ocean

Also we had chosen the “dine around” program for eating. (Kind of like Blonde chose the “sleep around” option in the 70s.) This meant we could have dinner every evening at a different restaurant thus eradicating Blonde’s buffet anxiety. Although truthfully the buffet, where we had an excellent breakfast selection every day, would be fine if you wanted to conserve some of your budget.

Before we went to the Maldives we both envisioned ourselves sitting on lounge chairs in the shade reading books and going on a snorkel or swim every day. We certainly could have done that but the snorkeling was so fabulous that in the end we never once, not even for 5 minutes, sat in a lounge chair and read a book. Why waste paradise? You can read a book in an airplane or a bathroom (but please don’t do it in an airplane bathroom) so don’t squander time doing it in the Maldives!

The water sports staff, like all of the staff, was really fun, friendly, and knowledgeable so we did two snorkel trips most days; sometimes on our own and often with them guiding us. We even did our first ever night snorkel which was fascinating as you see different fish and other critters at night than during the day.

On the last snorkel of our stay we saw a large octopus undulating and doing all kinds of intriguing octopus antics. Every day we saw lots of different species of fish as well as reef sharks and eels.

We also did a sunset cruise one evening and saw dozens of Spinner Dolphins. This is a type of dolphin we’d never seen before. They jump way out of the water, twirl around and then plop back into the Ocean. They have a sort of propeller and lots of enthusiasm. (Reminds us of a guy Brunette dated a long time ago.)

Spinner dolphin in the Maldives

Spinner dolphin we saw on a sunset cruise. If you can catch a better picture of one of them doing this please send it to us!

Another thing about the Maldives, beyond the stunning natural beauty, is how genuinely nice the people are. Blonde is accident prone to the point that Brunette occasionally suspects Blonde of inflicting her own injuries. Early in our stay we were dining in our favorite restaurant, La Cucina, on the property. Blonde was having some vino and perusing the menu when she realized that her left pinky finger was spurting blood everywhere. As this isn’t all that unusual in her experience she wrapped the napkin around it and raised the hand above her heart to stop the pumping of the blood.

The staff of the restaurant was as concerned as if Blonde had suddenly given birth to quintuplets during dinner. The server ran into the bathroom with her (not the first time that has happened but usually it’s been more subtle) and made sure the wound was cleaned and properly bandaged.

For the rest of the week we were on the island the staff would come up and ask Blonde how she was doing. At first this seemed odd, clearly she was fine! Then they would clarify that they were asking about the finger wound. And they weren’t doing it in that Ritz Carlton Zombie way like they had to do it – they actually seemed to care! It’s very fortunate that none of them live with Blonde as they would be in a constant state of concern seeing her slice her hands on a regular basis.

Lunch area at Kurumba the Maldives

An area where we had lunch and the occasional beer every day (except we sat in the shade).

If you consider a trip to the Maldives, or really any other resort where you stay on the property to eat, remember this: Discount booking sites don’t always offer all of the dining options. We’re big fans of Booking.com but the PR Manager at Kurumba told us that you can’t get the “dine around” package through any booking site.  Always go first to the property’s own website. She also told us that by going to their website and booking way in advance (6 months for example) you can get very good deals that you will never get at the last minute.

Another thing to keep in mind is if the place you’re going offers entertainment. Most do but it never hurts to know ahead of time. There was excellent quality live music every evening at Kurumba and it always kept us up later than we planned but then again we could hardly be said to have been “planning” much! (And wine was included in the price of the “dine around’ option so lingering to listen to music was very enjoyable.)

In 2014 Qatar Airways is opening up several U.S. cities as new gateways, among them Houston, Miami and Philadelphia so now the Maldives will be much easier to get to for Americans.  They’re still a costly destination but we had a fabulous time and would go again in a heartbeat (can we take the heartbeat from Dick Cheney?).

Woman doing yoga in a pagoda by the sea in the Maldives

Staged shot of Blonde pretending she does yoga. The skies were so beautiful in the Maldives that every evening was a photo opp.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life

We haven’t participated in a weekly photo challenge in a while but this topic was intriguing. We don’t do a lot of street scenes because we aren’t very good at getting them (we’re looking for our cameras and the whole thing is already over) and we’re more likely to be in settings such as beaches, deserts, glaciers and gardens that don’t have street life. But in thinking about the topic several images from our travels popped (whoops – typed “pooped” but fixed it) into our minds, so here they are.

The pictures reflect the places in many ways. This first one was taken in Beijing and gives a sense of the hardness and seriousness  of life there. It also shows that they get the whole geeky glasses craze.

Street Transportation Bejing

Worker and “management” overseeing moving possessions in  Beijing

In Barcelona the pickpockets enjoy Las Ramblas aso does this bubble-maker. He must have used Bubble Viagra!

Bubble blower on Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain

Bubble blower on Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain

 

Speaking of Spain, the people of Catalonia turn out in massive droves on Independence Day every year and seem to fervently believe that they will be able to separate themselves from being a part of Spain. They won’t, but it’s an important tradition to dream and rant about annually (at a minimum).

Catalan Independence Day flags on pedestrians

You have to give it to them – Catalans are not going to drop their fight!

Boston isn’t trying to not be a part of the United States but some of its citizens might like to withdraw from the brutal winters. This shot was taken after the huge winter storm “Nemo” in early February of 2013 which was directly linked to Blonde’s move to Florida later that same year!

Boston in snowstorm

Skiing up Beacon Hill in Boston

Everywhere we go we see at least one bride and groom. Most recently it was a bride in a very complicated gown in the Doha airport. In February of 2013 it was a young couple having wedding photos taken in the Dubai Miracle Garden. One of the miracles was that we didn’t hear the guards yell at them.

Bride and groom in Dubai Miracle Garden

Not sure this counts as “street life” as it’s more “garden life” in the Dubai Miracle Garden

We were quite surprised to see many Chinese people in Singapore burning “Hell money” and then learned that it was to appease hungry ghosts. Why didn’t we think of that!

During the Hungry Ghost Festival it is believed (well maybe not universally) that the Hungry Ghosts of Hell are released to roam the earth. Makes as much sense as a lot of things Sarah Palin has said – actually, a lot more sense.

Travel trip: If you want to avoid Chinese tourists then travel during the time of the festival as the Chinese are not supposed to be away from home at night and not go on overseas trips. In 2014 it’s from July 27 – August 24.

Feeding hungry shots in Singapore

Appeasing hungry ghosts  in Singapore

Now for a more in-the-moment culture; Iceland. When they say “point and shoot” there it apparently means to shoot as part of a staged (we hope) execution in a back alley. Life’s rugged and isolated so they have to find their humor where they can and they’re good at it!

 

 Reykjavik

Oh that Icelandic humor – let’s pretend to execute a friend!

 

In Reykjavik Blonde felt an immediate love for the city when on the first day she spotted this friendly fellow who most clearly was not an elf or any other sort of little person! Although the costumes vary this is how grooms-to-be are humiliated by their friends at a bachelor party. Some lucky girl got this guy.

Bachelor party man in Reykjavik

This fetchingly attired chap in Reykjavik was appreciated by Blonde.

Singapore, often referred to as “the miserable city,” was not miserable to us but it hardly looks like a bucket of giggles for this man. There was very little sun and no rain so it isn’t entirely clear what protection the umbrella was providing. However, he has a certain air of permanence and gravity to him that indicates he is not usually expecting a fun surprise! Maybe he knows something about birds in Singapore that we didn’t know.

Man with umbrella in Singapore

And finally a shot taken in Doha, Qatar. In the souk women go in and out of the shops and buy things and these men (usually oldish and Indian or Pakistani) lug the stuff around in a wheelbarrow. It sure beats having a husband sighing and grumbling around about why do you need to buy your 327th abaya.

Souq Waqif, Doha

A wheelbarrow man in Souq Waqif, Doha.

It was fun going through old photos to find them and we hope you enjoyed looking at them or just enjoyed wasting your time!

 

Why we want to go on an eight-day Emerald Waterways river cruise through Europe

Starship

Emerald Waterways’ starships shooting down competitors

Our girlish hearts yearn to go on Emerald Waterways’ Classic Prague and Danube Delights cruise. Why this yearning, this passion, this desire?

Well, why not? Have you heard about Emerald Waterways? Have you dreamt of being on a “starship?” Well they have some!

Emerald Waterways is a daring new entrant in the river cruise market and they are here to provide, as their Managing Director Chris Townson says, “a predatory product that takes what is out there to another level.” Well take us with you, Chris, we like your confidence, vision, innovation and the gauntlet you’ve thrown down! (And yes, we know you’re part of the Scenic Cruises family – in fact you’re the Prince Harry of the royal family. Good lineage but with a twinkle in your eye and not afraid to live on your own terms.)

Blonde swabbing ship deck

Blonde pitching in to swab a deck when the occasion calls for it (she needs supervision)

We want to be part of Emerald Waterways’ new journey both literally and figuratively. The concept of more value for less money, introducing our demographic cronies to the joys of river cruising, lolling about in spacious rooms, sniffing river breezes on open-air balconies, swimming in the heated pool for our daily exercise and then later enjoying a film in a cinema over-top that same pool is very compelling. (Please check to be sure we’re out of the pool before you put the lid on it.)

Brunette swimming in pool

Proof of Brunette’s swimming expertise

We are thrilled that tips are included so that for once we might tell Brunette’s husband the truth about what a trip will cost.

We would endeavor to use as many of the ship and itinerary features as possible. You’d see us enjoying alfresco luncheons on the terrace, spy us through our cabin windows consuming after-dinner sweets and marvel at how much food we would gleefully consume in the Reflections Restaurant. (Unless that name is literal – seeing our reflections could stifle our consumption of excess food.)

We would be using the wi-fi to keep our readers up to date on the cruise and our adventures. We would be intrigued to be learning history from local guides telling us memorable stories spanning the Gothic Period to current times.  (As always Brunette would marvel at how much they know and Blonde would think they’re probably doing what she would; making it up.)

 

 gelato in Girona, Spain

Proof of gelato expertise

The Classic Prague and Danube Delights itinerary is compelling to us because we start with three nights on land so we can wait for our lost luggage to arrive. Then we will cruise to many places we have long-wanted to see but won’t have to pack and repack or drive a rental car (and possibly have to pay speeding tickets after we get home…). We could experience and absorb the benefits of slow travel and probably also absorb a lot of gelato from that gelati stand. (Brunette will need the ship’s laundry facilities to get the gelato stains out of her clothes.)

Another Emerald Waterways differentiator we appreciate is the emphasis on UNESCO sites. If UNESCO World Heritage sites had a cheerleading team we’d be on it (assuming no one else tried out). The countries in this itinerary have a total of 68 UNESCO sites and we trust Emerald Waterways to smartly curate the itinerary to present us with the best options.

 

Boschendal Winery South Africa

Proof of wine-tasting expertise

We’d hope to savor the renowned Czech “palacinky” pancakes after years of licking pictures of them in travel magazines. We would contribute any needed oomphs or paahs to the Bavarian band. In Austria we would  happily  lead a tasting of the crisp Grüner Veltliners or determine if the Sauvignon Blancs they’re producing are deserving of the accolades they’re gathering. (We would be doing this purely in the interests of scientific research.)

And we would really enjoy meeting other travelers who share our discerning taste in a “top of the food chain” river cruise company.

Emerald Waterways has sister ships – we are sisters – this just can’t be a coincidence! (And dare we be so bold as to say that we do not have godmothers so would be thrilled if Twiggy would be our Godmother as well as the one for Emerald Waterways? Just sayin’… not a deal breaker or anything.)

Twiggy

Our (potentially) shared godmother, Twiggy

 

 

Africa has “The Big Five” and Arabian Bedouin culture has “The Big Four.”

 

Painting of Bedouin and animals

OK , this is a picture of a painting and it only shows 3 of the 4 but when you’re done reading this you’ll know what animal is missing (if you pay attention) !

If you’ve ever gone on a safari in Africa your guide has probably gone to great lengths to make sure you see “The Big Five”. They are a lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo.  Somehow that phrase took off years ago and has caused many a giraffe, zebra and hippo to suffer from self-esteem issues. Some say The Big Five refers to the animals people used to prize the most when they went hunting and others say it’s just a clever marketing slogan. We don’t care who’s right.

But in the Bedouin culture of Arabia they have their own Big Four which are less sought after by eager tourists and who don’t even seem to employ a marketing firm so we’re here to present them to you.

If you aren’t familiar with Bedouins they are ancient nomadic desert-living tribes in the Arabian Peninsula. They lived, and still do in some cases, in harsh environments with few resources, little education and no iPhones. OK, chances are they have iPhones but the rest is true. Bedouins date back as far as 5,000 to 7,000 years B.C. and have long-held traditions that were basically all born of necessity.

Salukis:

Blonde Saluki

Blonde Saluki

Brunette Saluki dog

Brunette Saluki

OK, yes, these are also pictures, of photographs this time, taken by Peter Samuels but they show the beauty of the dogs better than our attempts did.

Salukis, back in the early times when Bedouins all lived in deserts and did not have Whole Foods or even Carrefours they had to try to find meat in an environment that was not exactly conducive to that activity. But they soon discovered that Salukis, one of the oldest breeds of dogs in the world, could go out and catch something for dinner. For the most part the Salukis brought home hares, gazelles, rabbits, deer and the male Salukis sometimes also brought home a bag of Doritos.

Salukis hunt their prey using sight, not scent, which is unusual and makes it important you don’t get a Saluki that needs glasses. (All that dust in the desert…). In our exhaustive research on Google we learned that supposedly the Holy Q’uran frowns on having dogs in the home.  But Salukis are the only breed that has been given a tacit, if not actually written legal document, granting an exception.

When in Abu Dhabi we went to the Saluki Center which is near the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. While in the waiting room we saw quite a few posters for Saluki beauty contests! Apparently in a culture where you can’t tart the women up and parade them around like in Western countries you can show off your dog. These are major events as are the races some of the Salukis participate in. The ones in the beauty contests must be Arabian pure-bred Salukis – this is not a diversity program!

Saluki center Abu Dhabi

Saluki’s are very friendly and prone to licking visitors.

The center actually has a small swimming pool for the dogs to enjoy and an area where  dogs are trained and taken to be exercised. They’re fed a diet that consists mainly of milk, water, olives and dates so we didn’t stay for lunch.

Camels

Camel with Bedouin man

OK, this might not qualify as a bona fide Bedouin setting because it was at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi but it is a real Bedouin man and camel.

You’ve surely heard the old real estate mantra of “location, location, location.” The Bedouins hadn’t heeded that so they needed an animal who could deal with the situation. Camels got the job! They were used as beasts of burden to carry goods or people, as sources of milk (often a family’s only source of protein for long periods of time), as dinner at weddings and as hide used to make bags and tents.  It must have been nerve-racking being a camel and not knowing if you were going to be providing a glass of milk or the hide for a tent but they aren’t animals who seem to spend much time pondering their fate.

In present day Arabia camels have remade themselves with new careers much like Salukis – they enter beauty pageants and races.  Seriously.

Falcons

Man and a falcon in Doha, Qatar

Man, a coffee cup and a falcon in Doha, Qatar in the Souk near the Falcon medical clinic. (Yes, we got the man’s permission.)

Falcons are very high-ranking members of society in Arab cultures. We had a fascinating visit to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital and wrote a post to tell you all about it so won’t repeat ourselves here.

The main point is that once again Bedouins needed to outsource their food gathering and discovered that falcons are fast, powerful hunters. The falcons were captured when making their annual winter migration across the Arabian peninsula, kept and trained for hunting and then released again before the summer months so they could migrate and survive.  For thousands of years falcons brought food to families, now they mostly bring status.

Falconry is “the sport of kings” (read that somewhere) and literal fortunes are spent on falcons, their medical care, their housing and even their air travel where they have their own passports and seats on the planes! They are especially prized in the United Arab Emirates. It is no longer legal to use them to hunt there so they’re flown to Pakistan or Morocco or Jordan for hunting outings.

Arabian horses

Painting of Arabian horse

Painting of Arabian horse found in the hallway of the St. Regis in Abu Dhabi – we do what it takes to get the pictures you need!

The last of the Big Four is also an ancient breed. They were bred by Bedouins for thousands of years and all pure-bred Arabian horses have lineage that can be traced to one of 5 bloodlines. (There’s a lot of that sort of thing in Appalachia too but it isn’t viewed as favorably.)

Once again even though these are beautiful animals they were chosen for other qualities. They have a lot of stamina and endurance (as did the character Dirk Diggler portrayed by Mark Whalberg in Boogie Nights). The Arabian mares in particular were great for riding into battle because they didn’t “nicker” which is apparently a horse way of shouting “Here we come” and alerting horses on the side of the bad guys. (Note that only the mares could keep a secret.)

The Arabian horses would ride into battle so Bedouins could attack enemy tribes, capture their herds of animals and add to the conquering Bedouins’ wealth. Makes you wonder if that horse Vladimir Putin rode bare-chested (Vladimir, not the horse) was an Arabian horse. (You can research that question.)

We hope this information proves useful if you get on Jeopardy and pick the category “Bedouin Animals.” Be sure to give us a shout-out if you win!

Otherwise go on pretending as if you don’t know we exist. We understand.

 

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