We made it to and through the Middle East! It was awesome having a 24 hour layover on Emirates Air in Dubai. We did our 24 hours pretty big!
We did a super fun “desert safari” which included getting picked up from our slightly ghetto hotel in a Land Rover, driving 45 minutes into the dessert and then the fun began! We got to ride a camel! It was really tall and slightly terrifying when it stands up and down – like a living roller coaster.
Then, we went “dune bashing” which was 50x more fun than I expected. I’ve driven my old Jeep through sand dunes quite a bit, but this guy was a PRO. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Amanda giggle and scream more, it was a blast. We dipped, slid, and thankfully didn’t roll all over the dunes.
The last part of the “safari” was sand boarding down a huge dune standing or sitting on a snow board. It was pretty fun and fast! Amanda and I both ate it pretty good. We’re two feet athletes… not the best with our feet tied together.
World biggest _______
We walked through the world’s biggest mall and saw a cool water fountain show in front of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, which is an awe inspiring 828 meters tall.
Dubai does it big. They have lots of money it seems and they like to have the biggest of things. At one point on our safari tour, the driver pointed out a big hill with a flat top. They are making their own mountain so they can turn it into a wild animal park on a mountain… why not?
Architecture and Bling
The architecture in Dubai is absolutely fascinating and amazing. It’s certainly the place with the most unique and magnificent buildings we’ve ever been. It’s insane and definitely worth visiting just for this alone.
They also like bright lights, shiny things, fancy cars, etc. It’s like Las Vegas but not as depressing and gross (and probably literally 20 times bigger).
A few interesting notes:
Dubai is one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates
Only about 15% of Dubai’s population are from the UAE. It’s something like 40% asian, 20% Indian, 20% Pakistani
We spent a fun and culture-filled 5 days in Lisbon, Portugal. The city is A LOT like San Francisco. We arrived on bus from Lagos and crossed over the bay Lisbon lives on via a big golden/bronze bridge that has to be modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge. It looks identical. Amanda and I both had a weird deja vu experience entering the green, hilly city over the bridge.
Lisbon is a beautiful city. It’s very hilly and has lots of districts with unique vibes to them. There is a mix of old and new areas sprinkled throughout. The oldest area (the Alfama) is basically the only place to have survived a 9.0 earthquake in about 1750 that wiped out much of the town with the quake, tidal waves, and fires. The areas directly around the oldest town are “European New” but still feel old to us! Then there are modern areas further away from the old town and city center.
Our favorite district is the Bairro Alto, which is on top of a steep hill (it’s name literally means tall neighborhood in Portuguese) packed full of bars and restaurants on the bottom floor and apartments above. At night it gets crazy there with college kids through people in their 30’s having a good time.
We haven’t done much partying at all on our trip, so we decided we had to give the famous night life of Lisbon a shot! We matched with the true Lisbon timeline and left our cute little flat a bit after midnight… we didn’t go to bed until 7:30am!
In order to pull this off we took a nap from 9 – 10:30pm (I’m the king of naps) and then had a morning ritual before starting the party… I did a body weight workout and Amanda enjoyed yoga. We both had some espresso and then, we hit the town!
In the Bairro Alto the streets were PACKED full of people. and this was just a typical Friday night. What they do is get a drink (1Euro beers and shots) in a little bar and then drink it outside in the streets with their friends. We’ve never seen anything quite like it.
We got to our club called “Urban Beach” at 3am(!) and it was just starting to fill up. There were a handful of rooms with different styles of music and a pool and beach outdoor area. We decided to call it a night at 6am after a ton of dancing and then headed back home for breakfast!
The next day was pretty much a waste :) totally worth it though.
We enjoyed Portuguese food in typical restaurants that feel more like German beer halls than cozy Italian restaurants. You get a lot of good meat and seafood pretty cheap in a social setting – it’s fun and tasty!
We also enjoyed our first European Christmas markets! We enjoyed people watching, mulled wine, Ginja, mimes, and more! We (especially Amanda!) can’t wait to find more Christmas markets in Germany.
Three other cool things:
1) We took what turned into quite an adventure to Belém to try tasty Pastel da Natas (egg pastries in flaky crusts) from their birthplace and also saw an old castle on the river that defended the Lisbon ports and a monument to the famous Portuguese explorers.
2) Our first night we wandered down to the main square from our really comfy flat to find a huge crowd gathered in front of a big countdown being projected onto Lisbon’s version of the Arch of Triumph. To our surprise, an awesome projected light show slash Christmas movie short played on the arches following the columns and design perfectly – it was really impressive and fun to see.
This main square used to be the premier port in the world. The Portuguese were the first to explore much of Africa, India, Asia, and South America and to bring back the riches and sell them in the Lisbon port (that was unfortunately destroyed in the big earthquake).
3) We got to see a professional fútbol game! Go Benfica! One of the best teams in Portugal.
We really enjoyed Lisbon. It’s one of my favorite cities for sure. We found a great cafe to work in and went on a few beautiful exploratory runs. If only the people didn’t speak such a funny language…
We are excited to be heading to Frankfurt, Germany and to see the Nespor family, they are meeting us there for Christmas! Happy Holidays!
Being in Morocco was fascinating. Of the places we’ve been in our lives, it’s definitely the furthest departure from what we think of as normal. We stayed in the medina of Fés which is the walled old town and one of the biggest, oldest active areas like it. There are over 1 million people living in the medina. It’s not just a tourist attraction, it’s a buzzing old city that we got to peek into for a few days.
There are hundreds of little “neighborhoods” in the medina each with a fountain for water, hammam (bath house), mosque, and community bakery. It is also home to the oldest university in the world which has now been converted to only teach the islamic faith.
Morocco is the first area we’ve ever been that isn’t historically predominantly Christian. The native Berbers were peacefully converted to Islam when the Arabs arrived I think around 800AD. To the visitor, some of the differences of being in an Islamic country are:
Five times a day, at synchronized times based on the sun, every mosque has a man sing through a loud speaker notifying everyone it is time to pray
The people are incredibly friendly, welcoming, and hospitable – every single person we met
The definite majority of women wear lots of clothes, most of them covering everything but their face and some covering everything but their eyes
There are lots of other differences, but those four seem to be most directly impacted by religion.
Based on conversations we had with locals some more interesting things:
Unemployment is about 35% (wow!). There are lots of people wandering around aimlessly
Main industries are tourism, fishing, architecture, mining phosphate, and exporting crafts
Everyone speaks Arabic, most people speak French and lots of people speak Spanish and English too. It’s amazing how multi-lingual the country is
The immigrants into the country are “African” as they call them meaning from further south and are dark skinned
Moroccans look very middle eastern and so do the native Berbers, many of whom still live in the desert, hills, etc in tribes
I couldn’t help but think that it’s probably very similar conditions we’re fighting in in the Middle East: Arabic, mosques everywhere, densely packed houses in mazes of alleyways, multi-layered square houses with open courtyards, no windows, and used flat roofs. With the density and confusion in a medina like that it would be incredibly hard to find who you’re fighting and handle them. It is crazy to think about.
Oh, and the Moroccan food is unbelievable. Some of the best food we’ve had!
Visitting Morocco was an unbelievable experience. It was eye opening learning abut Islamic and eastern traditions, seeing a very poor economy up close, and experiencing over-the-top hospitality from every Moroccan we encountered.
The most important phrase to know as a white person in Morocco? “La shukraan” in Arabic or “No thank you” in English :)
We took a fascinating, adventurous and gorgeous trip back to Granada and the Sierra Nevadas of Spain. Just like last time we really enjoyed Granada. There is so much unique culture in one place. Amanda and I agree it’s our #1 recommended spot to visit in Spain and it’s one of my favorite cities in Europe to visit.
It’s only about 1 hour in a tiny blue car to Granada from our house in Nerja! It’s fun to jam on the freeway and look down to see the speedometer at 130 (km/hr that is). Then, after marveling as we walk through the Alhambra, exploring the many caves of Sacramonte, watching the sunset with a beer in hand from a cave bar, and enjoying the odd but delicious tea, silly hookah bar, colorful knick knack markets, and African food of the Albaycin, we continued on to the mountains!
It’s a 40 minute drive in a red lining little car in 2nd gear up to the ski resort of the Spanish Sierra Nevadas. It’s way up there and it’s an amazing view from the top! We took a great hike up to we think around 12,000 feet.
Then… We decided to take the long way home. That means a curvy, dirt road filled, trip about 5 hours down, around, up and over the mountains and then back to Nerja. It was worth every bit. Gorgeous and way too much fun.
We saw a huge damn, a fake stag on a rock off a dirt road that tricked us for too long, the most amazing fall colors I’ve ever seen, and interesting geology similar to a mini grand canyon at times.
Granada is an amazingly diverse and fascinating city. It’s definitely the city in Spain I’d recommend visiting the most from where I’ve been.
We only spent two days here, but we’re planning on going back soon as it’s only a short bus trip from Nerja where we are now.
The Moors from north Africa ruled much of Spain for a really long time, especially the southern region of Andalusia. Granada was a capital and cultural center of the Moors in Spain and one of the last strongholds before the Spanish pushed Moorish control (and Muslim religion) out of Spain in the reconquest ending in 1492 (A familiar year and a good one for Spain for a few reasons).
In downtown Granada there are five main areas:
1) The Alhambra is a massive and intricate castle on the hillside taking up a big chunk of the city center. This was the Islamic palace when the Moors ruled from about 700 until 1500. It’s incredible. We weren’t able to go inside as tickets sell out months in advance, but we’re hoping to get in next time we go.
2) Albayzin – the Islamic region with lots of cool architecture, colors, winding alleys meant to make it hard to push the Muslims out by authorities, and delicious food.
3) Sacromonte – the gypsy part of town built in white caves into the hills above the city with fantastic views, supposedly the best flamenco around, and really cool houses!
4) Realejo – Jewish part of town with lots of residential areas we didn’t explore much (yet).
5) New Town – there is a main street and pretty much once you cross it everything gets “new” which means something like less than 300-400 years old :) The majority is a nice modern city with all the usual including some cool parks.
Having all of this existing seemingly at peace in one city is awesome. Oh, and the Serra Nevadas are really big mountains covered in snow looming over town to the southwest. Highly recommended.