Thursday, December 3, 2015

Long Haul Travel Tips

It dawned on me during our 16 hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles that I have almost mastered the art of long haul travel. To that end, today's post is to share some tips for those of you needing to do the same. Of course, different strokes for different folks, but maybe a few of these will be useful on your next long trip over multiple time zones. Enjoy!
  1.  Work for an airline so you can travel business class! :) 
  2.  Adjust to your destination time zone the minute you board the plane. And then try to sleep and eat according to your destination's time zone. This makes the biggest difference for me.
  3.  Limit your alcohol. It just dries you out and is supposedly more potent in the air. I know this one conflicts with tip #1, but trust me . . .
  4.  Drink lots and lots and lots of water. If you think you've had enough, have more. And I do mean water here, not coffee, tea or soda. Straight up water is your best bet and lots of it.
  5.  Buy an Evian face mister. You can find them all over UAE and I assume US as well and they come in travel size which is perfect for the plane. Then spritz yourself every hour or so to help you stay hydrated. My biggest issue is always a really dry nose and throat and this helps.
  6.  Use the eye patch and ear plugs and try to sleep (according to your destination time zone). Even if you just doze, it helps that you're not fully awake or watching a movie.
  7.  Limit the food. It's tempting to eat everything because you're bored but you'll just feel really bloated and uncomfortable. (I've learned this one the hard way for sure!)
  8.  Avoid watching the clock. Especially on really long flights, I try not to look at the clock (unless I'm looking to see if it's time to get up yet at my destination). 
  9.  Do a bunch of different things. Not sure this works for everyone, but for some reason, watching a lot of movies makes the time feel longer for me. I try instead to watch a movie, then watch a few TV shows, then read a bit, listen to some music, then back to a movie. Not sure why this helps, but for me, the variety makes the time go faster.
  10.  When you get to your destination, stay in that time zone,  no matter what! If you absolutely can't keep your eyes open, take a 45 minute nap, but no longer and push yourself to stay up as close to bedtime as possible. I've also found that the natural herb melatonin works wonders the first couple of nights to help you adjust. Melatonin has worked much better for me than unisom or another sleep aid.
I'm writing this at 7:30am the day after arriving in LA after a 16 hour flight. The time zone difference is exactly 12 hours so a rough one for sure, but I feel rested and ready to go. Got about 10.5 hours of sleep using the tips above. My nose and throat are still really dry - doesn't help I'm still trying to get over a nasty cold, but hoping that will improve throughout the day. Happy travels!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Cairo Adventure: Nile River sail

To top off our adventure, we took an evening sunset sail on the Nile river. It was nice, the weather was perfect and it was very calm and peaceful after a busy day, but to be honest, we were expecting more. Our guide didn't really volunteer information and while we peppered him with questions, it's hard to ask about what you don't know. So, we relaxed and enjoyed the evening and now can say we've floated on the Nile.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Cairo Adventure: Corny tourist photos

Our guide, Sherif, had a nice sense of humor and had decided early on to share with us all the corny, tourist ‘facebook photos’ he could think of. Here are a few for a laugh.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Cairo Adventure: The Sphinx

The Sphinx (or Svincus) as Sherif said it, was said to be a guardian of the area. It was carved from a single sandstone right where it stands and even with a broken nose and missing beard, it’s an impressive creature. Some say it was built at the same time as the pyramids (around 4000 years ago) and some say it’s even older.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cairo Adventure: The Pyramids by Camel

Part of our tour included an optional 30-minute camel ride through the Sahara to get a back-side view of the 9 pyramids. Heck Yeah! It was an amazing experience and I’m now quite happy I never have to do it again! Camels are not comfortable or smooth and very high. I was sure I was going to topple right over the front of mine at every turn. But I didn’t and it was worth it for the views.

I know, tourists!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cairo Adventure: The Architect’s tomb

Sherif could see that we were interested in learning about the culture and not just snapping photos (like the Asians – his words) so he took us to a small tomb that was said to have housed the architect of many of the pyramids. This was the only place we saw hieroglyphics and carvings and despite the signs, we were allowed to take photos.

And because we were slightly farther away from the hordes of tourists, we also started to get mildly hassled. Lots of kids would come and ask “selfie?” and want to take your picture with them. We had been warned earlier by Sherif that “nothing in Egypt is free. They will ask to take picture and then ask you to pay” Thanks for the tip, Sherif, saved us all a lot of hassle. The nice thing, however, was that a simple no, thank you usually worked. Maybe that’s because Sherif was always nearby?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Cairo Adventure: The Great Pyramids of Giza

We booked a tour with a certified Egyptologist named Sherif. He was great and talked a mile a minute so you had to pay attention to keep up. Our first stop was the great pyramid of Khufu, the largest and oldest of the pyramids and the only remaining of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. And it’s pretty impressive. Most of us have seen pictures, seen them in movies, but to be there in the flesh is pretty amazing. A few facts:

The pyramid, the temple of purification and the temple of mummification were all built for one king and never used again for anything else.

In addition, there are 5 ships built around the pyramid to symbolize the journey to the sun god, Ra. So far, 4 of those ships have been excavated, the 5th is out there somewhere.

This first pyramid took 30 years to build and King Khufu died before it was finished so never got to see the fruits of his labor. The next one, belonging to his son, took 9 years, probably because he didn’t want to make the same mistake his father did!

The pyramid stones are sandstone cut to fit together and stay together. Then the entire pyramid was covered with limestone and polished smooth. This covering was torn off most of the pyramids by more recent kings who thought it prestigious to build their home and temples with the stone from the ancient pyramids. You’ll see the son’s pyramid still has some of the limestone covering the top third.

There are also queen’s pyramids for the king’s additional wives (his first would be buried with him in the main pyramid).

Enough trivia, let’s see these bad boys.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Cairo: Getting There (in one piece!)

My brother and his partner were in UAE for a week to visit us, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and also Cairo & Giza. We've tagged along to Egypt as we've never seen the pyramids either. As most of our adventures do, we started with excitement at the airport.

I was able to book confirmed tickets for the guys, but Brian and I were standby, which always causes last minute worry and stress. But the travel gods were smiling and we got on (maybe they felt sorry for us after Doha? ;) So, off we went for the 3.5 hour flight.

Decent food, watched a movie, took a short nap and then we were descending into Cairo.

Quick side track: While planning this trip, we had a few discussions about the safety of traveling to Cairo.  Unfortunately, if you listen to US news, the entire Middle East is dangerous and unsafe, which is just not true. But we did our research and found that there might be some political demonstrations due to some upcoming elections, but as long as we stayed away from large crowds, we should be fine. Then, a few days before we're due to fly out, a plane traveling to Sharm El Sheikh crashes in what speculators say might have been a bomb. We decided to continue with our plans as Sharm El Sheikh is quite far from Cairo. You'll understand the side track in a minute.

Back to our story.

We were descending into Cairo and about a minute or so from touching down . . . and then we were going back up again. My first reaction was, "hmm, pilot must have overshot the landing". I looked at Brian, he looked at me and we both shrugged. Then my imagination kicked in. We kept ascending and there was no announcement. 5 minutes passed and we hit a little turbulence. My imagination really kicked in:

"Oh my god, someone else is flying the plane!"
"We've been silently taken over by ISIS!"
"The ISIS pilots don't have enough experience and we're going to crash!"
"I hope my brother looks back before we go down. (he and his partner were at the front of the plane and us at the back)

Then, the pilot came on, apologized for the change in plan and explained that there was an obstruction on the runway (camel? Al Quaeda? King Tut?) and he had to make another run at a different runway.

So that was fun. Then we got through immigration just fine, found a taxi without too much trouble or bartering and off we headed to Giza. An hour drive we had read in our internet research.
We then started the next adventure of rush hour traffic through Cairo. Imagine 5 lanes of traffic. Sorry, I mean imagine a road with painted lines for 5 lanes. Then imagine a mass of cars loosely organized into 7 lanes of traffic (apparently the lines are vague suggestions only).

Now imagine it’s Christmas eve at Wal-Mart and there’s a sale on the hottest toy that year. Can you picture the behavior of the shopper in this scenario? That’s how Egyptians drive. In and out, honking, flashing lights, barely missing each other. And all the while, our driver is cool as a cucumber – no swearing, getting angry or finger gestures. Just another evening drive in Cairo.

One hour, forty minutes later we arrived at our hotel.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Doha Adventure . . . or maybe not?

Another long weekend - Hijri New Year this time - so, of course, we planned to jet off somewhere. As it was only 3 days and we had just been to Madrid, we decided to stay in the Gulf and visit Doha, Qatar. We'd actually been there in 2011, our first year in Abu Dhabi, and thought it would be fun to see how much the city had changed in almost 5 years.

But, the travel gods had other plans for us.

We had booked ID90 tickets, which means they were at a 90% discount (I know) but standby tickets. I had checked the "load" the day before and there were still 26 seats available so I figured our chances were pretty good. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, pitched up to the counter and I handed over my passport.

And Brian fumbled in his bag for his passport.

And fumbled some more.

And then looked at me with the most pitiful big brown eyes I've ever seen and said, "I think I left my passport at home."  Now, home, for us, is a 45 minute drive one way from the airport so there was no way we were going to make that flight. The check in agent, seeing potential impending divorce said to me, "It's okay madam, the flight is really full so you probably wouldn't have got on anyway."

We laughed and headed to the carpark to make alternative plans for the weekend. And yes, we're still happily married, but you can bet there will be some extra nagging before our next trip!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Madrid Adventure: Random Architecture

One of the things we love most about Europe is the history and age of everything. Most particularly seen in the architecture. Spain was beautiful in that respect with many old and majestic buildings to look at. Here are a few of our favorites.

Just a gorgeous fountain along a random sidewalk. I just love that about Europe!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Madrid Adventure: San Miguel Market

Looking for a place for lunch and stumbled across the San Miguel market. We'd never seen anything like it. It's a complex in downtown Madrid with a whole bunch of tapas and drinks counters. You order little bites of food from the various places and then, if you're lucky, find a table to sit and eat and drink. It was amazing - excellent food, but ridiculously expensive. Very fun experience, though.

 A whole counter dedicated to olives!
 Busy with the lunchtime crowd.
 A whole counter for cheese!

 Everything packaged for grab-n-go - even the dried meats.
And the empty fruit and veg stand - everyone too busy with meats, cheeses and wine!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Madrid Adventure: Segway Tour

If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know that we're addicted to Segway tours. A super fun way to see three times what you'll see on a walking tour and twice as fast as a bus tour. This one was probably our least favorite as our guide was more interested in telling us about his business model and how he has the best type of segways, than about Spanish history, but even a bad segway tour is pretty darn awesome. Here are some of the places we zipped around.

This is the royal castle, not old by any means and apparently built in a bit of a hurry so still under completion. We had hoped to tour through, but ran out of time.
It was a perfect sunny day - a little hot in the afternoon with the sun beating down, but a nice cool breeze in the morning. A welcome change from the sweltering heat and humidity that's still hanging on in Abu Dhabi.
Another little cathedral - lots of work inside by Spanish painter Goya - too bad no photos allowed!
Brian mastering the stairs on his segway.

A look down into a marble sculpture garden.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Madrid Adventure: A Walk About Town

Another paid holiday means another adventure for the Stolls - this time to the beautiful city of Madrid in Spain. Even nicer was that our flights and hotel were my award for Employee of the Year in 2014. We stayed at the gorgeous Villa Magna Hotel and had a nice walk about town on our first afternoon. A few photos for you to enjoy.
The lobby of the Villa Magna Hotel. It was really nice - we felt under-dressed most of the trip.
A beautiful old church in the middle of a busy shopping street. Brian was across the street waiting to get a SIM card and I wandered over to have a look.
We were lured by Trip Advisor to have lunch at this "quaint, authentic Spanish eatery". It turned out to be a wildly overpriced tourist trap with mediocre food. Ah well, it's all part of the adventure, right?
The architecture was amazing - you'll see more in my future posts.
Another street view. They had these bikes for rent in many areas of the city. We were impressed with how clean the city was and how safe it felt to walk around - even in the evenings after dark.