New England: Seven Days, Five States

Our godson’s graduation from a northern New York college, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute or RPI, prompted a quick side trip to Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont before arriving for the festivities. I’d never been to Maine, so why not? And hey, one of the greatest shopping meccas of all time is located in Freeport, Maine, L.L. Bean!

PC: LL Bean

 

We flew into Boston and met up with Steve’s fraternity brother and his wife, got a tour of the old North Church where Paul Revere’s “one if by land, two if by sea” ride supposedly began, visited a dear relative, and ate some awesome seafood.   Lobster (aka “lobsta”) and shrimp really are better on the east coast.

Then up the coast to Kennebunkport, Maine.

President Bush’s Kennebunkport compound. Three flags are flying, indicating the President is in residence. If you look really carefully, you’ll see a Secret Service agent with binoculars in the bushes.

And Steve is always a good sport about stopping the car to let me shoot.  Here are a couple of my favorites as we (aka “he”) drove from Maine, across New Hampshire and Vermont, and onto New York.

Along the road.

 

Nubble Lighthouse, Cape Neddick Surely wish I’d had the chance to shoot this scene at daybreak!

Off to graduation!

Scottsdale, AZ

A quick weekend jaunt to Scottsdale, AZ, brought many an opportunity for visiting family and sightseeing. The landscapes in this area of the country are certainly striking.

Sedona, north of Scottsdale

Off to the Botanical Gardens with a fantastic variety of cactus, many which were blooming.

A quick run through the Butterfly Exhibit.

Toured the Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, lab, and now foundation headquarters,  Taliesin West.

Taliesin West

Then a Pink Jeep Tour of the Sedona Hills. And yes, the jeeps are really pink! Who knew this area of the country was so stunning? Not me.

And the craziest thing of all,  the Sedona “White Line.”  Mountain bikers ride the line. No safety lines, nothing. Watch a sample video from YouTube here. Insane.

Vietnam

The final country on our Around the World adventure was Vietnam. We spent eight days in this beautiful country and visited four very unique locations: Hoi An, Hanoi, Sapa, and the stunning Ha Long Bay.  There are a few more images than usual in this post, but represent only a glimpse into this stunning country.

Hoi An is a beautifully maintained 19th century trading port and UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its lanterns and the place to get custom made clothes and shoes made within hours.

The lanterns of Hoi An.
Inside one of the temples. These coils are actually slowing burning incense and the yellow tags list the names of donors and what they wished for when they lit the incense.  People wished for good luck, good fortune, or even a baby boy.

To market, to market…

Sweet lady in traditional dress headed to market. This isn’t a costume for the tourists, it’s what the locals normally wear.
A not so sweet lady also headed to market. She yelled at me for not giving her money.
I could have filled a whole book with images of what the Vietnamese can fit on a scooter. This is an example, but by no means the largest or heaviest of items we saw strapped to the back of a motorcycle. The craziest items were an adult pig (quite alive), and a full sized refrigerator and dishwasher. Our guide had a photo of a full grown cow laid sideways on a motorcycle (and again, alive).  In this photo, note that all the chickens are also alive, including the ones hanging upside down. And on the other side, there’s another three baskets that you can’t see.

Onto to Sapa, a small town high up in the mountains of northern Vietnam. It’s known for its terraced rice fields and surprisingly, North Face clothing. Why? This is one of where much of the North Face clothing is made. Who knew?

Misty morning over the rice fields.

Sapa is also home to several of Vietnam’s ethic tribes which include the Black Hmong, Flower Hmong, and the Red Dao.

This very shy Hmong girl’s clothing was made by her mother from hemp and cotton, accented by cross stitch patterns. The women harvest the hemp, spin the thread, dye it, weave into cloth, then cross stitch detailed patterns.  The amount of work to produce their colorful clothing was incredible. (Note her wellies- many of the Hmong women wore them and for good reason.)

These ladies crowded around me, hoping I’d buy something. I did. The two ladies with the red head scarves are Red Dao (pronounced Zow), and shave the front of their heads for beauty. The others are Hmong. They wear silver to ensure good health.

And finally, Ha Long Bay on the northeast coast of Vietnam.

Sunrise over Ha Long Bay.
Goodbye, Vietnam!

Cambodia

Cambodia was a sobering (and stifling hot) experience.  We began in Phnom Penh, the capital city, touring various sites and and visiting the Genocide Museum. This was the actual site where prisoners of war were tortured by the Khmer Rouge during Pol Pot’s regime from 1975 to 1979.  We remembered Pot Pot, but hadn’t realized the extent of his power and destruction.  In what is now known as the Killing Fields, he is responsible for over 3 million deaths, or 25% of country’s best and brightest, through torture and starvation.

We flew onto Siem Reap to visit Cambodia’s most well known temple, Angkor Wat.  The temple is a huge complex but even so, it was a zoo! Thousands of people were packed in tight battling for a spot to get the classic sunrise shot.  I ended up sitting in the mud to get this shot as there was no way I was going to come this far and not get it.

Angkor Wat at sunrise. We were lucky as the sun rises right behind the central tower only a few days a year.
Buddha at Angkor Wat

One of the more famous temples in Siem Reap is chock full of Buddhas.

How many Buddhas do you see? (Correct answer – 4)

Back in Siem Reap, we walked the night market and Steve had to find one of Chef Anthony Bourdain’s tv show highlights from Cambodia, scorpions on a stick. He didn’t try them, though but I thought for sure he would!

Look closely – scorpions, snakes, tarantulas., cockroaches, crickets!

Then onto a floating village.

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Maldives

What an unexpected delight it was to find the Maldives!  For those who aren’t familiar (we weren’t), it’s a ring of 1200 islands located about 600 miles south of the southern most tip of India.

We’d heard of it many times over the years from multiple well-traveled friends who’d said it was their favorite place on earth. So we gambled and added it to our around the world itinerary.  Not a trivial thing to do as it took four long flights to get into and out of this tiny slice of paradise. Was it worth it? Oh yeah.  We’re planning on returning in 2019!

The images below are not Photoshopped. The water really looks like liquid aquamarine.

Our “Water Jacuzzi Villa” is straight ahead, at the end of the pier. Luckily for us, we had one of the best villas in the whole resort.
One very happy guy. With a very few short steps you’re in the reef. You could also just sit on the deck with a glass of wine and watch the dolphins cruise by… Paradise…
Each morning, the sharks would swim by for breakfast. We saw as many as ten sharks at one time!
And one of my favorites from Maldives, a night shot of the Milky Way. And great thanks to my patient husband who sat with me late one night to get this image!

 

Taj Mahal

Our visit to India and the Taj Mahal started and ended with travel issues.  It was bound to happen, right?  Upon arrival, Steve’s luggage didn’t make it and on the way out the airlines claimed we didn’t have tickets, but that’s a whole other story.

No matter, on we went to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.  The Taj was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the 1600’s as a tomb for his third wife.  Don’t know about you, but I wondered what the first and second wives thought about that! I knew we’d be impressed with the Taj Mahal, but we were blown away.  It’s presence is powerful, emanating elegance and calm, perfect in detail and proportion. It’s almost as if it’s alive, a queen sitting in her garden.

Taj Mahal at sunset

One day at lunch we chanced upon a snake charmer outside the restaurant.  Couldn’t resist. Our guide said they’re illegal now and will be arrested if caught by the police.

Snake Charmer with python and cobra. Our guide assured us they remove the cobra’s fangs which eventually grow back.

And my favorite photo from India was of a young woman walking through what’s referred to as the “Baby Taj,” or Humayun’s Tomb, in Delhi. I asked to take her photo, but she didn’t understand what I was asking, and then seemed surprised that I had asked.  Are you kidding? She was gorgeous!  Her companion graciously agreed to let me take the photo.  Many thanks to him (and her).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Petra and Tea With the Bedouins

For our second day in Petra we opted for the highly recommended experience of hiking back into Petra early in the morning to watch the sun slowly light up the Treasury. Unfortunately for us, however, it was a cloudy day which turned to light rain. We did spend a few moments at the Treasury, quietly sipping glasses of traditional Jordonian hot (and very) sweet tea. Lucky for us we were the only people there and it was quiet magical.

Rain or not, our next stop was “Little Petra,” a nearby archaeological site where the traders used to stop and rest their camels before arriving into Petra. By the time we got there there, the sky had cleared and it was glorious day.  When we pulled into the parking lot we were met by Mamoud, a local Bedouin, who was born his family’s tent in Little Petra andused to live in the caves.   He offered us a guided tour of Little Petra and tea in his tent. How could we resist?

Tea with the Bedouins. The tent was so thick with smoke it was hard to breath. Steve had to get up and leave a couple of times as it was overpowering. Wish this blog had “smellovision” as it was intense.
Once in the tent he dressed us up in the traditional headscarves.
One of the many sites of Little Petra
Bedouin Doctor

We were so impressed with Jordan. The guide books noted the Jordanian hospitality and they were right!  Gracious, welcoming people. Thank you Jordan!

Next stop, India!

Petra

Petra. Wow. Petra. I’m not sure I can adequately describe the grandeur of this ancient city. It is absolutely without question one of the most impressive places I’ve had the great fortune to visit. Dating back to 300 BC, it was originally the home of the Nabataeans. Until about 20 years ago, this intricately carved city was home to the Bedouins who have since moved to the nearby city of Wasi Musa or into their traditional tents.

You enter the city through a long and narrowing passage of red and black waving sandstone called the Siq and at the end, catch a teasing glimpse of the Treasury and what is to come. You catch your breath.

A Glimpse of the Treasury (and a couple of dogs who came to greet us)

Walking through the opening the full impact of this impressive structure hits you. Breathtaking, and you can’t help but think of Harrison Ford and The Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Treasury, with camel drivers awaiting riders

Then, you get to meet a real Bedouin, in full regalia! How cool is that?

The Treasury is only one of over 800 relics in Petra, but the most famous by far.  We wandered through the city and chanced upon a local Bedouin, Aman (not the one above), who offered us donkey rides up to two of the other major highlights: the High Place and the Monastery. Since it’s thousands of steps, the donkeys were very well cared for and healthy, we took him up on his offer. There’s no way I could have hiked up to these sites without good old “Mickey Mouse,” sure footed and steady.

Along the trail, Aman introduced to one of his Bedouin relatives who served us tea, a Jordanian tradition.  She also showed us artifacts from Petra’s history, such as old coins and some surprising ancient oil lamps with pornographic images on the back. Who knew the Nabataeans were a bit racy?

Bedouin woman serving tea

And finally, the Monastery.

Visiting the Great Pyramids

We completed our tour of Egypt with a one-day sprint around the city with our guide, Risk. You can’t even imagine the chaos as over 21 million people move around the city on foot, in cars, motorcycles, horse carts, and camels.  It was a visual and oral cacophony: blaring car horns, drivers yelling at one another and weaving through the crowds, colorful horse drawn carts, all fighting for a foot or two of progress on a impacted street.

Quick run through the Cairo Museum and the treasures of King Tut, darted into a synagogue, then off to the pyramids.  It was a zoo!  Although tourism is down by about 80%, it was the last day of school holidays so the Egyptians were out in force. We decided to climb up inside the Giza Pyramid, entering in the large opening you see in the photo below.  Climbing up 1,000 feet hand over fist inside a dark and steep shaft, we finally reached burial room of the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu. Again, we were told no photos were allowed, but folks were taking selfies nonstop. It’s Egypt, therefore, the “no photo” rule is just a guideline.

Base of Giza Pyramid

Then, what I’d been waiting for – a camel ride!! It’s bit trickier than I’d imagined and I hung on for dear life,  You’re high above the ground, swaying back and forth and side to side, trying to anticipate the camel’s gait.  Despite the challenge, we had a ball!

A good time was had by all.

Next stop – Jordan!

Nubian Village

Our last outing in Aswan was a river boat cruise down the Nile to a Nubian village.  The Nubians are a very dark skinned people who were once wealthy landowners in the Nile Valley. More than 100,000 were forced to relocate in the mid 1950’s due to the building of a dam by the Egyptian government.

Unfortunately, they never regained their way of life. They now open their homes to tourists for a small fee and are known as exemplary hosts. Each brightly painted home contains a wall painting of their old lands, serving as a reminder of what they once had.

Nubian living room, note the sand floors and the structure in the foreground with the screens on the top

See the square structure in the photo above? Want to guess what’s in it?  It’s doubtful you would – it’s a baby crocodile! Our tour guide said it’s gimmick to drawn in tourists, and it works.

Steve and the crocodile. Note the wall painting above his head that reminds the family of what they once had.
Nubian families begin collecting a dowry when girls are born. This teenage girl has quite a stash waiting for her above the cabinet.