Tulip Festival in Kırşehir?

İstanbul makes a big deal out of their Tulip Festival each April.  I’ve never been so I can’t comment on that.  Howerver, I was pretty impressed by the flowers on our recent visit to Kırşehir.

DSC08226 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Cycling in UAE: Al Ain to Dubai

The United Arab Emirates isn’t on many folks bicycle touring bucket list.  Nor should it be.  It has all the problems of Oman that I described in my previous Oman posts — traffic, sprawling cities, migrant worker exploitation — but without the beautiful scenery and fantastic camping that’s easy to find in Oman.

I crossed the border from Oman and spent my first day in the country visiting Al Ain, the fourth largest city in the UAE.  I was excited to be visiting a new country, and, well, the cultural sites of Al Ain even make it onto the UNESCO World Heritage list.  Why?, I wondered, after visiting the National Museum, Al Ain Oasis, and the Hili Archaeological Park.  The fort at the museum and the adjacent oasis felt a little Disneylandesque after having visited the real thing many times in Oman.

DSC08066 by bryandkeith on flickr
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My final week in Oman: finally, fort fatigue?

Stuart and I dropped off Jack at the Muscat airport around midnight for his horribly-timed flight back to Miami via Istanbul.  My flight back to Antalya, however, left from Dubai.  On the way in to meet Jack a month earlier in Muscat, I flew to Dubai, took a taxi to the bus station, a bus from Dubai to Muscat, built my bicycle on the side of the highway, and rode to Stuart’s house where Jack was waiting.

My return trip from Muscat to Dubai took a little longer.  I gave myself 15 days and pedaled.

Since riding in Oman seemed to keep getting better and better, I was really looking forward to this section from Muscat to Al Ain, UAE, the city where I ended up crossing the border.  The traffic was very heavy in places — indeed some of the worst traffic I saw in Oman was heading north into Rustaq just before noon prayers on a Friday — but I knew to expect traffic so it wasn’t as demoralizing as my first week in the country.

I started with a detour by heading east from Stuart’s house instead of west to visit the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.  Wow, I loved this building.  I’m a fan of Islamic architecture.  The Taj Mahal is still my favorite building in the world, and both the Shah Mosque and Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque in Esfahan are pretty darn impressive.  The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat is much newer than any of those buildings, but it sure is a looker.

Jack and I caught a view from the road a month earlier, and it’s actually fairly unassuming from the outside.  It does not “dominate the Muscat skyline” as one review I read put it.  You have to get into the compound and start looking at the details.

DSC07892 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Oman: The Subcontinent in the desert?

…continued from previous Oman posts.

In Oman the scenery didn’t look like anything I’ve seen in India, but culturally it felt like we were riding through the Indian Subcontinent, not the Arabian Peninsula.  It seems like foreigners do all the work in the country, and the majority come from Indian, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  In Muscat we stayed with Stuart and Aslı, from England and Turkey, and their live-in housekeeper, Mary from Goa.

Our first tasks leaving Muscat at the start of our bicycle tour were to buy groceries, fuel for the stove, and a SIM card.  I didn’t see Omanis working at any of these places.  It was all Bangladeshis at the gas station, and Indians from Kerala got me set up with an Omani phone card.   In my notes from the first day biking in the country, I wrote, “Aren’t there any Omanis?”

The Sri Lankan mosque manager in Fanja:

Jack and the Sri Lankan imam who gave us a tour of the mosque by bryandkeith on flickr

The Omanis we did see at shops were customers, not workers.  Omanis drive to the shops in their fancy cars (or Toyota Hilux pickups if the roads aren’t so good), honk the horn, and are served without ever leaving the car.  They sit in their air-conditioned bubbles while an Indian braves the heat to serve them tea, chips, and samosas.  Coming from the US, it seems incredibly rude.  Jack even saw this sort of drive-up service at a hardware store.
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Escaping the Omani traffic: Wadi Shab and the Salma Plateau

Once Jack and I arrived at the coast at Al-Ashkharah, we reevaluated our plans for Oman, after not enjoying the route we had taken so far.  We knew of good snorkeling in Oman and had brought snorkel gear with us so we decided to move slowly along the coast seeing if we could find underwater magic.  In a time when everything is easily accessible on the internet, it seems to me it’s still very difficult to learn where there is good, beach-accessible snorkeling.  It’s even hard, for example, to find snorkeling information for Sulawesi even though that’s considered one of the best places in the world for diving.

One photo of the small harbor at Al-Ashkharah before we leave:

DSC07238 by bryandkeith on flickr

In Oman we first tried snorkeling here:
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