Friday, December 4, 2009

The Corniche Tiles

We took another walk around the Corniche here – much cooler these days so it was a very pleasant walk. We took off from the museum and went around the bay to the Sheraton Hotel for brunch. It takes a couple of hours but the brunch was delicious.
At the far end of the Corniche, there were some beautiful tiles set into long concrete walls. All of them were depicting life in Qatar; fruit seller, ocean scenes, beached dhows, various fish and other ocean animals. Absolutely gorgeous! Be sure to click on the picture so you can get a better view of the various tiles included here.

Thanksgiving in Jordan

Once again our trip began with an early morning wake-up - 3:30 am!!! We were, however, in very good company because we ran into at least a dozen ASD teachers and families all at the airport, heading around the world for the break.

We spent the first hour sitting in the plane...waiting...and waiting... Apparently someone had checked in then disappeared so they had to unload to find his luggage. That wasn't bad but...we began to worry about our next flight from Bahrain to Jordan.We landed with 15 minutes to spare so we did the airport jog, weaving through people to get to our find that THAT plane was late :)
Jordan is very different from Qatar. There are far more mountains in the region around Amman. We are currently in the Dead Sea area, some 280m below sea level. It's quite warm and pleasant. Thanksgiving was spent overlooking the water, watching the sun set over the mountains of the West Bank.

Dead Sea

We spent a decadent day yesterday, swimming (read that floating) in the Dead Sea, followed by a long lounge in the Spa here. The Dead Sea is extremely salty and you just bob to the surface instantly. It also has a bit of a slick feel to it on the skin, I'm assuming from all of the various minerals and such in it. The spa, however, was delightful. While the Dead Sea was quite cool, the spa had a heated pool with the same minerals - rest in an onsen type environment!!! The only difference was that here everyone has bathing suits on.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

After leaving the Dead Sea, we continued on our Biblical journey, heading first for Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the baptismal site of Jesus. Theologians have argued for years concerning the exact location of where John the Baptist met and baptized Jesus. For years it was thought to have been in Israel, right across the River Jordan, however, after much research and review of literature and the bible and any records they could find, it was finally determined that the site of the Baptism was actually in Jordan, roughly 200 meters from the current flow of the river (the River Jordan divides Israel and Jordan). They found the church of John the Baptist (created much later and now reconstructed) built immediately next to the spot. It was quite emotional experience for many of the people there.

 The river, of course, has changed over time, and the farmers and cities above draw off the water, so it no longer flows as it did 2000 years ago and sadly, I must say it does not resemble the river I have always pictured. The point where we were able to step into the river was only about 1 meter across. You could see the steps leading down to the water on the Israeli side - the Jordan side was much less developed with only a wooden platform. They actually still do baptisms there, though the water is fairly polluted. The Israeli side was close enough to almost touch though the soldiers were there to prevent any crossings – from either side. All is not calm on this front, even though there is indeed a treaty between the two countries.

Mt. Nebo

From there we traveled across the country, stopping at Mt. Nebo where Moses died and, according to some, was buried there (we heard different things so I'll leave that discussion to others). The view was absolutely spectacular - they had a map with the main cities marked; Bethlehem, Jeruselum, Jericho and some others. It made you realize how close together all of these cities are - as well as how far apart (given that they were traveling by camel with no paved roads). You could actually see the cluster of buildings marking the cities from the point on the mountain.

They have a church up there but we were unable to enter it because it was being worked on. They are working on preserving many different sites across the country - evident in most of the areas we visited. They do have the olive tree that Pope John Paul planted as a symbol for peace protected as they work on the church next to it.

Petra Hotel

We arrived in Petra late in the afternoon, to discover that they had overbooked our hotel and would we be willing to go to the Castle Movenpick, overlooking the valley. The one we had a reservation at was immediately opposite the Petra entrance. Well....they threw in 2 dinners and wine and the executive suite so Jeff said well, why not.

The road to the hotel was crazy. You've got to picture this...the town is laid out on hills much like San Francisco, however, the roads are as steep if not steeper and as wide as the Japanese streets - and just as congested. Add to this I am following a black car that knows his way around - he is racing to get up to the hotel. We are going through every back road immaginable, weaving around camels and cars and walking people. (Did I mention the car was a stick?) Believe me, we found the main road for our other trips up and down this mountain!

While the hotel itself was nice and the people were great, it was the view that was spectacular. We were even able to see our hotel from down in Petra - the picture here is the magnified view - it looked just like a small white blob from the Petra valley. Hmmm...thinking about it and looking at the picture STILL looks like a small white blob.


Jordan is totally steeped in history. It seems that wherever you look, there is a meeting of cultures, religion and trade. Our next stop took us to Petra historically in the center of it all.
We had a wonderful tour guide, Ahkmid, who was a fountain of knowledge - unbelievable what he knew and how he tied it all in together. He also knew the best places to take fabulous pictures, as well as how to get to the tops of rocks for the best views. We had a small group, only us and Yvonne and Claire, two women who work in Dubai. Absolutely a wonderful group to spend a day with.
Guess I'll start with the history lesson, courtesy of Ahkmid. This is, of course, the short version, skipping all sorts of stuff I'm sure Ahkmid said that I've sadly forgotten. Petra, located in the southern portion of Jordan, was originally settled by the Nabataeans, an ancient Arab tribe that settled in the area of Petra, a strategic location where trade routes that connected China and India to the Mediterranean met. They quickly took over the trade routes, levying tolls, protecting caravans and generally performing many services for the traders. This brought great riches to the area and allowed them to develop an amazing kingdom with influence from Greek, Romans, Christians and Muslims. Monuments they built showed classical Egyptian, Mesopotamian and local styles all fused into one piece - and we're talking at a grand scale. The magnificent Al-Khazneh, the treasury building, is 43m high!!

Not only did they build amazing buildings, they had an unbelievable plumbing system. The Wadi Musa (a wadi is a dry river bed and Musa refers to Moses - though there are disagreements as to which Moses it was named after) is subject to flash floods - to this very day. They built a dam to route the water around the long entrance to Petra itself, having it arrive in a controlled path where they could divert it as needed. (The original dam and created river course was discovered when they decided to build a dam to divert flood waters after a flash flood killed a group of people in Petra.)They used a dike system to bring water into the city and to the many buildings, complete with periodic sumps where the sand and heavier materials could settle out before the clean water continued into the city. The city itself is built into the many mountain cliffs and, not wanting to have to haul water up themselves, they built a siphon system, using terracotta pipes that were progressively smaller, allowing the water to travel uphill, thus furnishing homes and businesses with water!
The entry was through the As-Siq, a long, narrow gorge that extends about 1200 meters. It is on a geologic fault, so the sandstone cliffs on both sides have slipped past each other leaving gorgeously colorful rocks exposed, stiking terraces, odd placed trees and many carvings by the Nabataeans.It is amazing to be walking through the towering gorge with cliffs 80 meters high.

Al-Khazneh - the Treasury

The Al-Khazneh is a spectacular monument, and the first thing that the visitor sees as you leave the As-Siq. Actually, you get a hint of this immense carving as you near the end of the long walk. Between the massive walls of sandstone, glimpses of the building come into view. Stepping out of the passageway, the full view of this building is spectacular. The structure is an imposing, 30 m wide and 43 m tall. It is exquisitely carved. The top portion was inspired by the Greeks, with various stylistic choices and statues - including Amazons! The middle section shows the Roman influence with more carvings followed by the great, stately carved pillars out front. Spectacular at any time but even more so when you realize that these were carved out of sandstone in about 200 BC! It was originaly carved as a tomb for an important (I'd say) Nabataean king. They believe it might have been used as a temple at a later date.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Commercial Break

Sometimes I just have to include some stuff that is just...there. Those things that make you pause and wonder Here is that moment...

Life grows quickly here. There's so little rain that when it comes, everything blooms quickly and dramatically, using every last drop of water for the greatest amount of growth. The little plant here was new - it had rained 2 or 3 days earlier...and here it is, pushing forth its leaves.

The caves that dotted the hillside, everywhere there were homes or burial chambers or just...caves...the views from them were very interesting. This one is looking over the middle class burial vaults - had many of the same style of markings on them but the size was a fraction of the "royal" tombs.

And finally, inside the caves, everywhere, there was color! The minerals to be found in the sand and rocks wove fabulous art.

Petra Amphitheatre

More useless information (maybe I'll do better at trivial pursuit after all this traveling). Carving of the buildings were always done from the top down - to keep the weight light and also to make sure carving at the top didn't damage anything below it. This also extended to carving out a room. They made a crawl hole in the top of a projected doorway where a single worker could start the excavation. He cleared out enough for one other person to join then 2 more then 3. They would work at chipping away at the sandstone until they cleared the room all the way down to the ground. Sure seems like a difficult way to make a room! We're not talking little rooms either - these things were 20 foot cubes!!

Petra, in its heyday, had a population of around 20,000 people - not a small place. While the entrance area had many of the funeral structures for the wealthy families, once we passed the treasury and entered the main town, homes, shops and every day activities began to show up. They had a huge amphitheater that would seat 5,000 and a long shopping area (check out the picture of the outdoor shopping mall) where goods, food, and farming supplies were sold. Sadly few of the homes survived - a large earthquake had hit the area and most of the homes on the mountain had collapsed.

The Monastary

We took a hike up to the monastary - actually, the name is misleading because it was undoubtedly a Nabataean Temple originally.  It was a climb of about 800 steps - reminded us of the long treks up to see the Japanese Shrines. Along the way they had many people trying to sell us anything we wanted (who wants to carry more up a mountain???) but they also had many donkeys to carry people up who gave out. I don't know...those people on the donkeys looked mighty uncomfortable going up those stairs!!! 

We persevered and made it all the way to the be met by ... another version of the treasury building!!! We were quite surprised!! I think that perhaps they were saving money...after all they had already paid for the blueprints for the first building, why not use it again??? It did offer a stunning view of the surrounding countryside - what a mesh of green fields, olive trees, and dry rock.

Castle Al Karak

Next stop....the Castle of Al Karak. This was one of the crusader castles, built around 1100 ad. Like Petra, it was in a location where they could influence the trade that went on in those days, as well as its role in the crusades.
Getting to the castle was quite a trip - and I was REALLY thankful for all of my experiences with driving in Japan on the sidewalk sized streets. The road roamed around the hill, constantly climbing, weaving between parked cars, stopped cars - they stop here also, where they like, but they don't put on the blinkers so one never knows. We made it to the top of the hill, only to discover there are no parking just find a spot on the hill and stop. One enterprising cafe owner had a table sitting in the street. He immediately saw us, smiled, and moved the table for us. We were, of course, invited to dine at his restaurant once we had finished at the castle - which we gladly did!

The castle is quite extensive - covering the triangular shaped top of a large hill. The castle stands out four stories on the hilltop but underneath there are 3 more stories dug deep into the earth, including, of course, the dungeons! They had small sleeping areas for families as well as barracks for the men, kitchens, and huge bread ovens. While much is still in ruins, you can see where preservation work has been finished or is in process.

Hadrian's Gate

The castle was but a 2 hour stop over so we jumped back in the car, wove our way down the hill...oops...wrong way....wove back up the hill...finally down the other side and found the route Nuvi liked (she's our navi system with a penchant for finding the narrowest and twistiest routes possible) and headed off for of the best preserved Roman cities in the near East. While the area had been occupied for thousands of years, the Romans took over in about 60 BC, building their city complete with a chariot racetrack, baths (two sets, most likely rich people/poor people) amphitheaters, temples and more. Once again, trade was a big reason for the city and the Romans capitalized on it, developing roads and bringing in more people to the city.

Now...our hotel was right across from the main gate and was, appropriately, called "Hadrian Gate Hotel". It was built right on top of a outcrop of rocks and even has a cave underneath. Small hotel but the people were great!

The entrance is through the great Hadrian Gates, built to honor the Emperor Hadrian when he came to visit. They are a huge monument, making you wonder, once again, how in the world were they able to raise the stones to create these gargantuan structures? Right next to the massive gate is the Hippodrome -- the chariot race track. Walking out into the arena, you can picture tournaments and races happening here - with people up in the stone bleachers looking out at the chariots flying by. They still have races there but sadly not on the day we roamed the streets. Ah well.

Roman Forum

We continued on to the Forum, a large circular area surrounded with great columns supporting huge blocks on top. The forum was used as an area where people sold or bought things, met friends or listened to the news or announcements. Sometimes even classes would be held there.

Even now it turned out to be a meeting place for all sorts of groups. You could sit on the hills around and look back to the forum, where people met, tour groups talked and kids played around. Things haven't changed a lot in the last few thousand years.

Roman Amphitheatres

Up the hill from the forum was the larger of the two amphitheatres in the city. This one was huge, holding about five thousand people (not as large as the one in Petra but very impressive with the columns and larger stage area).'s another bit of trivia for you. We were sitting up in the larger theater, looking down on the stage and two men, in traditional military dress, came out and played...a bagpipe and drums. The acoustics were amazing and we actually found we could hear them playing from a long ways away from the theater. However, I was astonished that they'd be playing Jordan! Turns out King Hussein really liked bagpipes so he had a bagpipe corp in the army. Something new to learn every day.

We actually liked the smaller of the two theaters. It seemed more intimate (though it still could seat about 1500 people). It was beautifully preserved and the way it curved it was easy to see everything. The stage was quite large and it looked like it would have been a great place to have seen a performance. The picture is taken from the top row - what a view!!!

Mosaic floors

Next to the smaller theater there was the ruins of a small church, Isaiah Church I believe. While the walls were pretty well gone, the mosaic floor was still there. It must have been spectacular. The intricate patterns were still beautiful and the color astounding. Each section of the floor was covered with a different intricate pattern. The tile pieces are so small, it must have taken years to have covered the entire floor!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Real Yard

When we arrived, our entry space was barren...a great expanse of bricks with nothing to break it up. Very hot in the summer sun and not all that inviting. I must admit, all that has changed. Jeff found a gardener, Kalim, and he and his helpers performed a small miracle in a single day. We went from solid bricks to green spendor! Hopefully all will survive over the winter when it is cooler and have a good start before the heat comes again.

We have 3 trees that will provide shade for our car and our living area out there. We have a table and chair, with umbrella, coming and Jeff has plans for a barbecue. We'll be ready for outdoor least when it is cool.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Dhow Trip 2

Voyages out in the harbor at night are a bit different from the day. For a start it's much cooler - the setting sun and darkening sky sends promises of cooler weather. The dhow, cruising through the bay, creates its own breeze, keeping things cooler for all aboard. The open top - shunned by many in the heat of the day, was welcomed by all as a great, comfortable spot to sit, visit and enjoy a night away from reports, computers and never ending stacks of papers.
The skyline at Doha is in continuous development. People who have been here for years have memories of a flat, horizontal skyline of the city - (check out the sand dune with trees view) now it is filled with unique hi-rise towers being built for...??? one is sure of the answer to that...has someone already purchased the space? Are they hoping that if they build, someone will come? Are they competing with Dubai (their skyline is very similar...and very tall). We have dozens of buildings in the process of being completed - a crane skyline at the moment, though the cranes are mercifully hidden in the nighttime view.

Tribeca Film Festival

The Tribeca Film Festival was founded to celebrate New York - at least part of an area of New York, after 9/11. The purpose was to support small and international film producers, a place where thousands could come together to view films from around the world. This year, they brought it to Doha.
Jeff, being the movie-goer, eagerly purchased tickets with our neighbor, Roeland, to view as many films as possible. I managed to join them for a few of them, though I admit, not many. They were interesting, some short clips, other longer, generally well done with a wide variety sources and settings. This particular festival included a lot of producers from the Middle East. They had some pretty outstanding films.

The pictures are, again, of the museum you've seen before....this time in startling blue - a wonderful background for the films.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Isfahan Gardens

Returning from our dhow trip, Barbara, Jeff and I wandered into Souq Waqif, searching for a place to eat. There's no shortage of restaurants to choose from - Indian, Moroccan, Iranian, Qatari, Saudi, Lebanese...the list goes on. With the evening weather cooling down, you can eat inside or out. We decided to give the Iranian restaurant, Isfahan Gardens a try.

The entire restaurant is a mirrored and tiled marveled. It's absolutely stunning (somewhere I read it was like close to a million dollars to build - I'd believe it). The food was great - most served family style which was very nice - a great chance to try different dishes. Great ending to our fun filled day.

Dhow Trip in the Gulf

It sounds so exotic, traveling in a dhow, out into the Persian Gulf, sails filled with the wind, birds wheeling overhead… however, things have changed. The sails are gone, the dhows are now fitted with engines which propel the boat at a respectable speed – you notice the cooling breeze but also the non-ending drone of the engine. I was quite surprised to see that the deck is not flat….it’s actually convex – good because the water would all rush to the sides, keeping the floor drier. Now the problem is they’ve covered it with outdoor carpet – nice under the feet but it tends to stay wet.

The first part of the trip was spent at the dock. We have moved to another part of the world and things work differently here. We had the people, we had the water and juice, people brought their picnic lunches and binoculars to watch for birds but the ice….was supposed to be delivered at 11:30….wasn’t…called…be there at 12:00…waited…as 12:30 we finally left. I’m sure there was a van driving around sometime later with a bunch of ice in the back…melting.

This is a shot of our sister ship (with the Doha Skyline) – they were virtually identical except on top – they had more cushions! You can see the nice covered areas and long benches which made it very easy for everyone to have a great seat. While I think they could have held more people, it really was nice to have the space to move around, upstairs for better pictures and back down for the shade. It really wasn’t a hot day, though if you stayed up top all the time you would have thought differently. The wonderful breeze kept it delightful throughout the trip.

Efficiency...and birds

They do have quite an efficient system for heading out to sea. Before you actually leave the Doha port area and enter the gulf, they have a Coast Guard station. All of the boats have to check out and if the sea is too rough, they won’t let you go. When we returned, they checked us off again. It’s a great way to reduce the casualties as well as to know if there’s a boat out there that might be in trouble.

Now…the birds…I do mention them a bit more in the next post…mentioning surprise etc. Tried to post this one there too but it just doesn’t seem to want to take 4 pictures so…I’ll add it here, especially since a picture of the Coast Guard station doesn’t seem too snazzy. These birds were found all over the place, we think they might be a gull of some sort but since we aren’t the bird watchers, we identified them as the samurai birds – the black on their heads just seemed to invite that description. If I figure out what they are, or someone who is a bird watcher comments and tells me, I’ll correct my entry.

Returning to home port

Now…the main purpose of the trip was bird watching. I am sure most of you who know us will be wondering what in the world we were doing going bird watching. Well, besides the birds, it was a great excuse to get out, take a trip in the gulf, see some new things and talk to people who are not just teachers (there is a life outside the school but sometimes I think we forget that). Hmmm….that did present some problems because we brought school with us. Barb and Linda both teach at the school – Barb is our fearless team leader for grade 3 while Linda is up in the HS. Guess we brought all levels along since Jeff is at the MS. That said, we spent a good part of the time just enjoying the warmth, the conversations with others and discovering that we don’t have the eagle eyes. The naturalist on our boat located some dolphins but, sad to say, we didn’t get to see them ourselves.

As the sun drifted into the horizon, we returned to the port, tired but refreshed.