There’s always something so beautiful with Patricia Bay sunsets in North Saanich, BC.
Courtesy of: Conan Chee Photography
Go to Alcatraz – just do it. We recommend alcatrazcruises.com & do the recorded tour with the headsets… it’s creepy & very interesting.
We figured we’d better do a wine tour since we were in Wine Country. We recommend greendreamtours.com as they were reasonably priced, fun, the bus was air conditioned & it was well organized. We went to clinecellars.com & homewoodwinery.com two little vineyards that are quaint & good at what they do.
We visited Carmel and within minutes thought we’d seen former Mayor Clint Eastwood… we didn’t but it was funny. The beach is unreal. The town is adorable. I wish we could have spent more time there or even stayed there.
This is a great central place to park (although $40-$50 a day but that’s the case in any parkade in SF). Here is a HUGE tip ✍🏼 shop anywhere in Anchorage Square & get your parking pass validated. We didn’t realize this was the case & paid full price. Lesson learned for the future – ask about parking validation juuuust in case.
Muir Woods is cool but set aside more time than you think. There are LOTS of people & it doesn’t have the best parking situation… there are plenty of places TO park but they aren’t close by if it’s busy… but of a rugged walk from the parking area when busy. Wear comfortable shoes etc & take lots of water as it is full of trails (short & easy to longer & more difficult)
How do we fund our life & our travels? My husband & I both work for a media company. He’s head of our company’s digital marketing and I sell advertising for our Real Estate newspaper (print, digital & online). You’ll note a theme of travel, photography, memories from friends & family and 2 necessities… starbucks.ca & davidstea.com & yes, I have a small obsession with stationery. I like to be organized. I like it to be pretty 😉 This is where the magic happens…
The first day we crossed the 6 lane, 1.7 mile Golden Gate that now ‘bridges’ the communities of San Francisco & Marin County, we were lucky enough that @KarlTheFog had taken the day off so we could see it in all it’s suspension bridge glory. This is one of the seven wonders of the modern world & opened in 1937 after four years of struggling to build against winds, rock, treacherous tides & of course #KarlTheFog. 11 workers’ lives were lost during the construction (10 on the same day) & over $35 million was spent in principal. Pedestrians can walk, bicycle, jog, go in a wheelchair or stroller on either side of the Golden Gate (but no roller skating, roller blading or skateboarding please).
Some crazy stats are:
• 5,000 – 10,000 gallons of paint are used to repaint the Golden Gate Bridge each year
• three babies have been born on the Golden Gate Bridge – all three were boys
• it’s named after the Golden Gate Strait at the entrance to San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean
• International Orange was actually the color of the primer but then was chosen as the finished
colour as it provides visibility in the fog for passing ships & suits the environment
• the bridge has only been closed three times due to weather since it was built – all three times due to
high winds gusting close to over 70 miles per hour
• the bridge has also been closed for the visits of President Franklin D. Roosevelt & President
Charles De Gaulle of France and also on its 50th & 75th anniversaries.
• the chief engineer Joseph Strauss’ first design was rejected as being too ugly
• the bridge has lost some weight! 12,300 tons to be exact! How? when the roadway was replaced in
• The twin towers are 746 feet high, with 2 cables, each more than 7,000 feet in length, both
containing 80,000 miles of wire. This looped around the Earth’s equator in a single strand would
circle the planet three times!
• more than 2 billion motor vehicles had passed over the Golden Gate Bridge by 2015
We decided to go on a trip to the 100 year old Muir Woods, one of the country’s oldest national parks. We had rented a car but found that we could take a shuttle bus from the Visitor Information so thought that would be better for us both enjoy the drive. Now, here is what we learned – there are literally tens of thousands of people going there in August… TENS… of THOUSANDS. It was crazy busy. The parking situation is not great so there were constant backups but there was a park ranger out front directing traffic the best he could. This made us happy we had taken the shuttle bus. It’s $5 per person to take the shuttle – PLEASE REMEMBER THIS: you pay once you get to the park & if you do not get your shuttle ticket you will NOT be allowed back on the bus. It was $10 per person to go in to the park… we didn’t have a problem with that as the money goes to help preserve the park – what we did have a problem with was that tons of people were walking in right past the ticket window without paying since there is no gate. We also discovered that it took nearly two hours of waiting before we could get the bus back down to our car because there were so many people. I’m not saying don’t go to Muir Woods – I’m just saying to expect your excursion there to take a lot longer than you might think. Despite waiting for the shuttle for so long, I would still suggest doing it that way because if there are even close to as many people as when we went… you’ll be walking miles from where you’ve parked to get in to the park. Miles. Muir Woods is one of the last stands of old-growth Redwood forests on Earth. If you’ve read my other posts about our trip to San Francisco you’ve seen me mention @KarlTheFog, he is, well, the fog in San Francisco. Not only is he super helpful for growing some wicked, awesome grapes for Sonoma & Napa Valley wines but he is also partly responsible for such lush & green forests such as Muir Woods. These trees thrive because of @KarlTheFog, as do the ferns & other ground cover that helps protect the Redwoods roots. William & Elizabeth Kent purchased this forest in 1908 & then donated it to the nation, requesting President Theodore Roosevelt name it in honor of John Muir, an intrepid explorer, naturalist & environmental activist. There is a gift shop & a nice cafe with a lot of choice for food & drinks, but you can only take water on the actual hikes with you as there are wild animals, of course & National Parks does not want any form of litter to be left around or any feeding of the animals.
Here are the hiking routes in & around Muir Woods:
Main Trail Loop – takes about 30 mins to an hour, it’s about 2 miles round trip & is classified as easy to hike. The path is wide, paved & wheelchair/stroller accessible.
Bootjack Trail to Ben Johnson Trail Loop – takes about 4 hours, it’s about 6 miles round trip & is classified as moderate to hike.
Canopy View Trail to Lost Trail To Fern Creek – takes about 2 hours, it’s about 3 miles round trip & is classified as moderate, and is steep in sections.
Canopy View Trail to Redwood Trail to Sun Trail to Dipsea Trail – takes about 3 hours, it’s about 5 miles round trip & is classified as moderate to hike.
Ben Johnson Trail, Return Via Dipsea Trail – takes about 3 hours, it’s about 4 miles round trip & is classified as a moderate/strenuous hike.
Fern Creek Trail to Camp Eastwood – takes about 2 hours, it’s about 3 miles round trip & is classified as moderate to hike.
Redwood Creek Trail to Muir Beach – takes about 2 hours one way, it’s about 3 miles (one way) & is classified as an easy hike. PS there are poison oak & ticks along this trail.
Since 1859, when Alcatraz was a military prison to when it became a federal super max penitentiary from 1934 to 1963, attempts were made to escape The Rock. After walking through the cellhouse & hearing the audio tour, you can sincerely feel the isolation of the cold prison cells. You can begin to understand the motivation behind these desperate escape attempts… In the words of former inmate Jim Quillen, prisoner #AZ586, ”Nothing could blot out the knowledge of what and where you were, or the certainty that this was all that life held for you in the future. Man was never intended to live as a caged animal; I often speculated as to whether life was worth living under these conditions.”
Commandant Colonel G. Maury Cralle’s famous response to the rumour of a planned mass escape in 1926 was “Go ahead, swim!’ Many a desperate man reconsidered escape when thinking of the frigid 58 degree waters & strong 6 to 8 mph currents of San Francisco Bay.
In the movie Escape from Alcatraz, one famous line “If you disobey the rules of society, they send you to prison. If you disobey the rules of prison, they send you to us.” sums up the role of The Rock. There was one guard for every three inmates & 13 official head counts in each 24 hour period. Another excellent quote regarding the necessity of Alcatraz also came from former prisoner Jim Quillen (in his book Alcatraz From Inside) “The institution was there for the purpose of proving to unruly prisoners that they had reached the ultimate termination of their undisciplined way of life.”
A total of 34 men tried to escape from1934 – 1963, in 14 separate official attempts. Five of those men were never seen or heard from again, and are presumed to have drowned. Two inmates tried to escape twice.
• April 27, 1936 Joseph Bowers didn’t get far – he climbed the fence in full view of a guard; he was shot & killed
• December 16, 1937 Ralph Roe & Theodore Cole sawed through a window bar, squeezed through & were never seen again
• May 23, 1938 James Lucas, Thomas Limerick & Rufus Franklin beat Officer Royal Cline to death with a hammer stolen from the furniture shop. A guard in the tower killed Limerick & wounded Franklin. Lucas was captured.
• January 13, 1939 Arthur “Doc” Barker, Dale Stamphill, Rufus McCain, William Martin & Henry Young sawed through window bars in D Block, made it to the water’s edge, but Barker was fatally wounded & the others were captured.
• May 21, 1941 Joseph Cretzer, Sam Shockley, Arnold Kyle & Lloyd Barkdoll overpowered guards but gave up after unsuccessfully trying to saw through the window bars.
• September 15, 1941 John Bayless made a one-man escape attempt when he slipped away before garbage detail but he was spotted in the water & brought back.
• April 14, 1943 Floyd Hamilton, Harold Brest, Fred Hunter & James Boarman jumped guards & broke through a rear window. All four were spotted swimming. Boarman was fatally wounded, Brest & Hunter were picked up by the prison launch & Hamilton was found 2 days later, hiding in a cave.
• August 7, 1943 Ted Walters sneaked out of the laundry & climbed over the fence. He was found entering the bay with 2 large cans tied around his waist for buoyancy.
• July 31, 1945 John Giles had collected an entire Army uniform during eight years of working on the dock. He stripped off the coveralls that concealed the uniform & walked on to the Army launch. A head count taken on the boat revealed the extra man.
• May 2, 1946 This bloody attempt, known as the Battle of Alcatraz, raged for three days when six inmates – Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, Sam Shockley, Marvin Hubbard, Miran Thompson & Clarence Carnes made a break for it. They overpowered several guards, captured weapons, took over the cell house, but were foiled by not being able to get the key to the exterior door. Guards William Miller & Harold Stites, inmates Coy, Cretzer & Hubbard were killed. Shockley & Thompson were executed for their roles in this attempt.
• July 23, 1956 Floyd Wilson disappeared from the dock crew & hid in a crevice in the rocks, working his way along the sea wall, eluding search parties for 12 hours before being discovered.
• September 29, 1958 After tying a guard to a tree, Clyde Johnson & Aaron Burgett ran from their garbage detail to the shoreline. After 2 hours, Johnson was found clinging to the sea wall. Burgett was missing for 13 days before his body was discovered in the bay.
• June 11, 1962 Frank Morris & brothers Clarence & John Anglin escaped from their cells after enlarging their air vents by digging with spoons. Dummy heads were left in their beds. They climbed to the top of the cellblock & on to the roof along a ventilation shaft. They climbed down a cast iron stovepipe, entered the water with flotation devices made from raincoats & were never seen again.
• December 16, 1962 This marked the last escape attempt & the only known successful swim from The Rock to the mainland. John Paul Scott & Darl Parker sawed through bars in a basement room under the kitchen, inflated gloves then shoved those into their clothes for buoyancy, jumped in the bay & swam. Parker gave up & turned back. Scott was found clinging to rocks near the Golden Gate Bridge, too exhausted to pull himself out of the water.
What do you call an all encompassing fog, that covers everything, as far as the eye can see?? You call him Karl… at least that’s what San Franciscans call theirs! Most days until noon or later there is a thick dense fog that makes it near impossible to see anything on the horizon, much less the Golden Gate or Bay Bridge. Apparently a weather team decided to name the fog Karl & gave him his own Twitter account. You can follow him @KarlTheFog for a chuckle & some weather tips if you’re heading to San Francisco any time soon.
It’s a funny city in a way, full of microclimates, where it’s cloudy, chilly & windy in one area and then 2 blocks away – off comes your coat as it’s hot & sunny. Dress in layers & you’ll be just fine. There are 2 major airlines here – Oakland Airport & San Francisco Airport. San Francisco Airport is further out of town where Oakland is much closer to Fisherman’s Wharf and the downtown core.
Whenever we visit a new city, the first thing we try to do is go on the Hop On Hop Off bus. It’s usually one of the cheapest ways to get around if a city is fairly large (& not everything is walkable). This is one of the best ways of learning the quick rundown of the history of a community and the lay of the land, so that you can decide where you want to begin really discovering where you’re at. You can purchase 1, 2 or 3 day passes and there are usually extra discounts that come along with your passes for restaurants & museums etc.
Our Hop On Hop Off hosts were Naughty(our driver) & BB Hayes(our commentator – follow him on Twitter @DJBBHAYES) BB was hysterical yet full of really interesting information. Our favourite saying he had was “San Francisco has 2 seasons – rain & construction!” Luckily for us, we only experienced FOG & construction… BB also told us why Van Ness is the only road in the area that is so wide… it’s due to the 1906 earthquake. On the morning of April 18, at 5:12 am, a 7.8 quake lasted about 45 seconds but had an impact that was disastrous. There were 22 aftershocks. Several fires were ignited around the city that burned for 3 days & destroyed nearly 500 city blocks. The only way to stop the fires from spreading further was to have firebreaks that were created by ruthlessly dynamiting buildings that were in the fire’s path. It worked. There was nowhere for all of the mess & rubble to be taken, so eventually it was pushed down to the waterfront where it was compacted and then built upon. (One quick note – don’t bother ordering your Hop On Hop Off tickets online. We did, thinking we were so organized & that it would save time when in fact, you still have to line up at the office to pick up your tickets anyway.) There are stops close to where the TV show Full House home is and also the home used in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire. We also saw: Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39 (a massive naval ship was docked as was a submarine); Ghirardelli Square (yes, the CHOCOLATE! best smelling street EVER!); Lombard Street (the most crooked street in the world); Palace of Fine Arts, the Golden Gate Bridge (which was in fog the day of our tour BUT we happened to go over it the day before & captured amazing shots without Karl blocking our view);
Golden Gate Park; Haight-Ashbury (the birthplace of hippie culture & Summer of Love); Alamo Square (beautiful Victorian homes – some of which are known as the Painted Ladies – Victorian homes painted in four of the heritage colours); City Hall/Civic Center – stunning photo ops of City Hall, the Opera House, Symphony Hall & Bill Graham Civic Auditorium; Union Square (San Francisco’s nicest shopping area & best night life); Chinatown (the largest outside of Asia); North Beach (Little Italy – Italian neighbourhood full of cafes & authentic Italian restaurants); The Presidio (National park, historic & architectural treasures); Bay Bridge (another massive bridge but actually longer than the Golden Gate); Sausalito (picturesque little town across the Golden Gate, with galleries, bay views & restaurants galore); Financial District (what WAS the largest building – Transamerica Pyramid is now in the shadow of THE largest building – owned by SalesForce; Embarcadero (eastern waterfront, restaurants, shopping & the Ferry Building) & Nob Hill (some of the best evening views of San Francisco).
There are always things to be on the lookout for, we parked in an area downtown just off of Pier 39, called Anchorage Square, the day before our Hop On Hop Off tour to figure out where we needed to be the next day for our Wine Country & Alcatraz Tour. There was plenty to see & do, tons of shopping, & restaurants. What we didn’t realize was that we could have gotten our parking validated dollar for dollar just for shopping in the Anchorage Square stores… we had spent about $100 between 2 days of parking so could have spent that on gifts instead… sighhhh.
We decided we couldn’t come so close to Napa Valley & Sonoma & not do a wine tour… we’re hardly connoisseurs but do enjoy a nice glass of wine. We prearranged a trip with Green Dream Tours (contact them at http://www.greendreamtours.com) & our tour guide was Chris. He was fantastic! Funny, knowledgeable & an excellent driver in the crazy San Francisco traffic. We learned a lot through him like: What was the Otis Redding song that was inspired by renting a houseboat in Sausalito, California? Sittin on the Dock of the Bay! San Francisco is known for being the birthplace of mountain biking… huh, who knew?! Interestingly, the Agricultural Reserve has designated any land that is already farmland be sold or operated on only as farmland & cannot be redeveloped or subdivided. We stopped to get pictures of the most used building in San Francisco for wedding photos, the Palace of Fine Arts. We then passed through the Robin Williams Tunnel(coincidentally it was the 3rd anniversary of his death the same day). Sonoma has been known as a place with hoity toity wineries but that is so not true. The majority of the vineyards have been family run for many years. We visited 2 – Cline Cellars which was beautifully run by the Cline Family. There are wine tastings, a gift shop, exotic birds, gorgeous grounds & of course the vineyards themselves to see.
Our host was named Mark, an architect by day, who was quite charming & knowledgeable about the wines he was serving & also about the family’s vineyard that has been around since 1989. This property was originally a horse farm but went into receivership, and the Cline’s snapped it up. We then travelled down the road a ways to Homewood Winery. This was a much smaller vineyard, run by one man who just… loves… wine. Mostly red wine, but he does create some whites as well. Our host this time was Robert. The wine tasting was done with suggestions of food pairings so was pretty cool as well. We did purchase a 2014 Roussanne to take home with us WHICH I stupidly packed it in our CARRY ON, not thinking… I saw the perfect spot where it wouldn’t get broken, popped it in there… of course we had to give it up at security…
We arrived late morning, our room wasn’t ready so we left our bags with the hotel & went to have breakfast at 3Sixty Cafe & Market. Our waiter was John, a lovely man who asked about us & our trip. When he found out that our room wasn’t ready, he tore up our receipt for breakfast & wished us a good stay. There is a breakfast buffet with quite an array of hot & cold foods but unfortunately it doesn’t change much daily. You could have an omelette or eggs done another way other than scrambled if you asked. There was only an a la carte menu some days, we never really did figure out which days those were. They automatically come to pour you orange juice, coffee or tea but we were a bit disappointed to see when we received our bill that the juice was FIVE DOLLARS A GLASS!! We were able to get into our room later in the afternoon only to discover when I checked the bed linens (yes, I do, EVERY TIME & you should too) that there were black stains on the sheets. My husband went alllllll the way back downstairs… back up! I didn’t mention that there was only one bank of elevators all the way across the hotel from where our room was. So in one spot in the entire hotel there are 6 elevators but not at the other end of the hotel anywhere. We’re fit *snicker* & healthy but guests with any physical issues or small children couldn’t make that long trek. Back to the soiled bed linens, when we spoke with the front desk, the woman was quite short. Suffice it to say, it was NOT good customer service… she informed my husband he would need to speak with the head of housekeeping about it all… not sure why that would be the case – that is not the duty of a guest. Housekeeping never did arrive so we were finally given another room. This room was a good size, linens were clean this time, the view was of the ocean & we could see planes landing at the San Francisco Airport, where it juts out into the ocean. There was plenty of room for clothes storage, a safe, a small fridge & the desk & bed side lamps had both power outlets & USB outlets, as did the alarm clock. They serve Starbucks coffee & Tazo teas in the rooms & in the restaurant, so that was a plus of course. The 3Sixty Cafe & Market was really lovely with it’s soaring ceilings & open, modern floor plan. The food was always good & you could take coffee or tea to go. The market had boxed salads, cheese & fruit plates, baked goods, small bottles of wine, even bottled Cosmopolitans! Our room came with one free breakfast buffet each day, but on the last day we thought we’d enjoy a leisurely breakfast before we left for the airport… that was not going to happen. It was quite busy in the restaurant but there were clearly seats available in the bar & lounge area. We were told it would be a 20 – 25 minute wait despite these seats being open. It seems they would rather turn us away then allow us to sit at the bar tables – interesting, as I had seen others enjoying meals at those tables twice before. VERY annoying. We took yogurt from the market up to our room instead. Another staff issue – we had rented a car for day trips & spoke with the front desk when we took it back so that we wouldn’t be billed for more parking. We noticed on our bill that we were in fact still charged for parking despite not having the car any longer & having let the hotel know that. When we brought it up to the front desk upon checkout the staff member obviously did not listen to us saying we had already reported the car being gone & he said to us “Well how are we to know if you don’t have the car anymore if you don’t tell us??” Condescending much? It got sorted in the end but now we have hard feelings on a few occasions from the staff at The Hyatt. Due to that we wouldn’t stay there again. More & more we are finding it’s incredibly hard to find the same level of service & the attention to detail that we had in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Lastly, the shuttle & driver to & from the airport was very efficient so at least that was good.
This was such an interesting trip on the perfect day. It was sunny, yet incredibly windy and made for a bit of a bouncy, scary ride across on the boat to Alcatraz Island – you could imagine what it must have been like for the inmates. Apparently there is a night tour but I’m afraid this was creepy enough for this girl in the day, thanks… 0_o As you dock, you’re greeted with a large painted sign that states: Warning persons procuring or concealing the escape of prisoners are subject to prosecution & imprisonment. Very ominous even though this prison has been closed since 1963. As you walk towards the cell house there is another old, large warning sign:
United States Penitentiary
Area: 12 acres.
1.5 miles to transport dock.
Only government boats permitted.
Others must keep off 200 yards.
No one allowed ashore without a pass.
You quickly note the guard towers, the bars on the windows & the desolation here yet when you turn around – the ocean & stunning views of the city of San Francisco… I imagine it must have been torturous for the inmates to see this out their window every day of their incarceration. It was said that certain times when the wind was just right, the inmates could hear the laughter & shouting of boaters, transport boats & seagulls. It is about 1/4 mile nearly straight up to get to the cell house (there is a little transport shuttle that can take those unable to walk between the dock & the prison building). There are outdoor interpretive walks, self guided tours, an orientation video (Alcatraz: Stories from the Rock), exhibits, an audio tour in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, French, Mandarin & Dutch & even 3 bookstores with memorabilia. We wanted to take in the audio tour but soon learned that there was an actual former inmate in the bookstore signing his autobiography that very day.
William G. Baker #1259, was 23 when he was sent to Alcatraz – he was originally in for car theft but continued to escape 3 other prisons so was sent to The Rock. While ‘inside’ he learned to become one of the world’s *ahem* best counterfeiters. He is one of only three free, surviving former inmates of Alcatraz. The audio tour was extremely well done, it was narrated by four former guards & four former inmates. As you walked along there was even the clanging of cell doors, interactions between the prisoners themselves & points of views from both guards & inmates. Alcatraz had to be shut down in 1963 due to deteriorating buildings, the lack of stage system & high operating costs. Alcatraz was never filled to capacity – the average was about 260 inmates, although the highest was 320. There are four actual cellblocks with D Block being Isolation. Al Capone was here from 1934 – 1938. Robert ‘The Birman’ Stroud arrived in 1942 where he was placed to D Block (Isolation) until in 1959 when he was moved to a medical facility in Missouri. Some of the officers even lived in apartments, houses or in the duplex on the island. The warden lived on the island with his family too. In the 29 years that Alcatraz served as a federal penitentiary, 36 prisoners tried to escape. All but 5 were recaptured or otherwise unaccounted for. Three who were unaccounted for participated in the same breakout, the June 1962 escape (this event was made into a movie called Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood). Eight inmates were murdered here by other inmates, five committed suicide & fifteen died of natural cause, including disease. This is such an excellent trip & we booked it through Green Dream Tours (greendreamtours.com) along with the Wine Tour to Sonoma. Both guides, Chris of our wine tour & BB of our Hop On Hop Off tour were excellent!
With less than three hours available between flights from UAE to London and then to Vancouver, we had the opportunity to take in Westminster Bridge, Big Ben (perhaps London’s most famous icon) and the London Eye for a few minutes. Travelling on the tube from Heathrow Airport to Earl’s Court on the Piccadilly Line was very straightforward. From there we hopped onto the District line which took us right to Westminster (all in all about 60 minutes on the underground). Enjoying some temporary blue sky and sunshine, Big Ben stood proud as did the Houses of Parliament. Seeing the London Eye for the first time (up close and personal) was quite amazing.
Note: Big Ben is part of the Palace of Westminster originally started in 1020. The palace was burned down in 1834, so the Gothic architecture you see today is comparatively recent.
The palace houses both of the the UK’s ruling bodies — the Houses of Parliament and the House of Lords.
Hundreds of people eagerly gathered in the area representing dozens of nationalities; even one lonely piper merrily played a Scottish medley on Westminster Bridge. After snapping a few photos we could not resist taking in a quick lunch at the County Hall, the place to enjoy ‘Great British Fish & Chips’.
Whether it is the hotel staff, sales staff in the malls, or tour operators they all have one thing in common. They want to show you world class hospitality. Nothing is ever too much trouble. This vacation has taken us from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, from Delhi to Agra, India and from Dubai to Dibba, Oman.
It was already hot when we left our hotel in India first thing in the morning. Little did we know it would become 44 degrees… scratch that… little did we know it would become a VERY HUMID 44 degrees. Our driver Ashok, was early to greet us for the two and a half hour drive to Agra from New Delhi. Ashok is a family man, with a wife and three children.. one of which, a son, only 2 months old. It seems he works very hard and for not much money… although he didn’t complain, just smiled.
Along the stretch of highway that would take us to Agra, it was mostly desert… very, very dry empty desert. Every once in awhile there would be a cow or a horse… then camels! Then suddenly we’d spy a few small huts on a property that looked like it was segmented as a farm. Ashok said some of the farms were growing rice, hence the occasional flooding we saw as water in such a dry place as this hot hot desert was quickly noticed. I could only wonder how these people can work so physically hard in such heat. There were manmade chimney-like brick stacks that were built on properties to be used as kilns to bake more bricks. An ingenious idea to have the “factory” right on the property that needed it, rather than trying to haul the bricks back and forth from elsewhere.
We arrived in Agra and stopped to pick up our guide Deepak. He immediately began to tell us some history of Agra, asking what we knew of the Taj Mahal so far… admitting it wasn’t much, he launched into a very well rehearsed introduction of this iconic landmark that is dedicated to the third wife of Mughal emperor, Shan Jahan, to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She was the only wife that bore him children and he was also buried there. Visitors can see the replica tombs but the real ones are buried below the structure.
Whenever we have travelled and if we see some kind of ancient monument, it never ceases to amaze us that these are so perfectly symmetrical, so painstakingly, delicately crafted. All in a time when everything would have been done by hand, from the carving to the lifting of the enormous pieces of marble… all done without the modern conveniences at hand today. We sat upon the bench overlooking the Taj Mahal where Princess Diana sat many years ago, and strangely enough, the same spot that Will & Kate, the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, sat literally two days before.
We then once again braved the insane traffic of Agra to go on to see Red Fort. This is basically a walled city. Inside there are 100 palaces, although only about 20% are available for visitors to see. The other 80% is used by military and government. The first Sultan of Delhi governed from Red Fort. There is a massive moat surrounding the building but it is empty now. It is rumoured that the third son of Shan Jahan (yes, who built the Taj Mahal for his wife) imprisoned his father within the walls of Red Fort as he was jealous that his father was leaving his legacy to his eldest brother. This son supposedly kept his father imprisoned here until his death with Shan Jahan’s only solace being that he could see the Taj Mahal from his prison window. The craftsmanship in such an ancient time (the year 1638) is staggering. There were angled inner windows that were made specifically in the “Summer Palace” to allow airflow to cool the palace in the hot summer months. I stood below one and in that 44 degree heat could still feel a cool breeze swirling around me from that oddly shaped window.
After leaving Red Fort we went to a tiny “studio” where some of the carvings and inlaid semiprecious stones are crafted for the Taj Mahal. There are pieces available for purchase such as tables, trinket boxes and the like. Apparently there are quite a number of families that do this work “from home”, using the skills that have been passed down through generations from their ancestors. Many of the craftsman are descendants of those who originally built Red Fort all those thousands of years ago. We did try to do a little carving but as you can imagine, marble is extremely hard to work with. Most of the pieces are so tiny and there is no mortar used, only a sort of glue that comes from a secret recipe. The majority of the stones are no bigger than your fingernail.
Our guide then dropped us at a modern Indian restaurant where I had the best Butter Chicken & Naan I’ve ever eaten. We drank gallons of water to rehydrate for the long ride back… I feel terrible saying that we ate such a fine meal and were able to drink clear, cool water when we can see everywhere we look, the poorest conditions I have ever even imagined. How to describe the level of poverty in Agra… or even in New Delhi… Of course I understand there is poverty in the world… I knew full well that we would be going to a third world country… but to see it… heartbreaking and hard to fathom.
There were dogs, horses and cattle freely roaming the crowded crazy streets and you could see their ribs. There were crumbling buildings where people have set up businesses… in one particularly precarious looking spot, I noticed a tailor… he was working away in the half open, decrepit workspace with the thousands of vehicles and people passing all day long, mere feet from him. This is in the 44 degree heat at midday. There were people sleeping on the medians in the middle of the highways… no blanket, no protection from the heat and no belongings to be seen. I saw one very young child sleeping curled up on the cement of the sidewalk… he was naked from the waist down. We were stopped at a light in Delhi when a very young boy came up to the window of the car.
He couldn’t have been more than 3 himself and he was holding a small baby of about 6 months… both were filthy… both knocked at my window and called out to me… I didn’t know what they were saying but then the older child kept saying “Mama, Mama” to me… it broke my heart. We were told not to give them anything or encourage them as many times they are actually put out there by adults to beg…sometimes as a set up to pickpocket etc. It was so difficult to just drive away as we have 5 young grandsons ourselves and I could see my husband fighting back tears like me. I thanked God again that our children and grandsons do not have to live like this. I thanked God that we are in a country where children do not go naked or hungry or have to beg. I thanked God that we each have a roof over our heads and opportunities to work and earn money. I thanked God for our good health.
I think this is something, though, that everyone should see… we often think we are hard done by but once you see this… a 12 hour work day in an air-conditioned office, knowing you’ll get to stop for lunch (even if it’s eating at your desk) and that you’ll actually have food to eat… well, it just will seem so ridiculous to have complained. I’ve seen a lot of comments on TV, social media etc where it is said that the youth of today think they are owed something… they may not say it, but they act that way. If that is true, they need one day in Agra or New Delhi, India… just one day.
You’ll see some videos we have posted already, also many photos. You may notice there are many serious faces but there are also some smiling faces… I wondered how?! how can you smile when you face this every day?? The oppressive heat, the dirt, the poverty… this is what they know. This is what they have been born into and they just DEAL. This trip summed up in one word: HUMBLING.
According to the 2001 census, 35.5% of Indian households used banking services, 35.1% owned a radio or transistor, 31.6% a television, 9.1% a phone, 43.7% a bicycle, 11.7% a scooter, motorcycle or a moped, and 2.5% a car, jeep or van; 34.5% of the households had none of these assets. According to Department of Telecommunications of India the phone density reached 73.34% by December 2012 and as an annual growth decreased by −4.58%. This tallies with the fact that a family of four with an annual income of ₹137000 (US$2,000) could afford some of these luxury items.
We decided to take advantage of a Dhow cruise in Oman. The Musandam Dhow trip was advertised as a 5-7 hour excursion cruising along the easterly coast of Oman. The drive from Dubai to Dibba Al Bayah Fishing Port took about 2.5 hours and following a brief stop at the border (Canadians require no visa – just to show original passport) we hopped aboard a Dhow and set sail. We were invited to participate in various watersports including snorkelling. An incredible day and well worth the money.
Driving towards the Parliament Buildings in ‘New Delhi’, the sheer size echoed a position of power. In 1911 the foundation of the new city was laid and top architects Lutyen and Baker, set to work on designing what is today’s Parliament hill. This is one of, if not the largest democracy in the world.
Parliament House is one of the most magnificent buildings in New Delhi which has one of the brightest clusters of architectural gems possessed by any country in the world. Visitors to the capital invariably pay a visit to this building as the two Houses of Parliament—the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) are located within its walls. Map and location.
As we approached the Gandhi memorial, shoes were removed out of respect. Walking towards the central platform felt very spiritual. Hundreds of thousands pay respect every year. A square platform of black marble marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated following his assassination back in 30th January 1948. The only splash of colour comes from the garlands of orange marigolds. It is surrounded by a beautiful park with trees planted by Queen Elizabeth II, US President Eisenhower, Ho Chi Minh to name but a few. At Rajghat you will see his last words “Hey Ram” inscribed in the marble.(meaning – “Oh God”).All heads of state are usually taken here to place wreaths in memory of “the Father of the Nation”. This memorial to Mahatma Gandhi is located between the main Ring Road, in Delhi, and the banks of Yamuna River, towards the southeast of Red Fort. Opening Time: 6:00 AM – 6:00PM. Entrance Charges: Free. http://www.myreturnticket.org.
Opposite the memorial is the Gandhi National Museum. A framed plaque on the wall sets out Gandhi’s philosophy: “Non-violence is the pitting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant . . . it is then possible for a single individual to defy the might of an unjust empire”.
Like many inspirational national monuments India Gate is no exception. This iconic building pays homage to the (82,000+) soldiers who laid down their lives for the British Raj in the World War and also in the 3rd Anglo-Afghan War of 1919.Standing 42 meters and made of red sandstone and granite is without doubt a must see monument in Delhi.
In 1971, the Indian Army placed a marble cenotaph with a rifle placed on its barrel and crested by a soldier’s helmet – known as Amar Jawan Jyoti and bound by four eternal flames.
The monument is located in central Delhi and can be seen, in a direct path, to the Parliament Buildings. The War Memorial was designed by Edwin Lutyens, who was not only the main architect of New Delhi, but a leading designer of war memorials.
The top of the monument following the large word of INDIA reads;
TO THE DEAD OF THE INDIAN ARMIES WHO FELL HONOURED IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS MESOPOTAMIA AND PERSIA EAST AFRICA GALLIPOLI AND ELSEWHERE IN THE NEAR AND THE FAR-EAST AND IN SACRED MEMORY ALSO OF THOSE WHOSE NAMES ARE RECORDED AND WHO FELL IN INDIA OR THE NORTH-WEST FRONTIER AND DURING THE THIRD AFGHAN WAR
_____________________________________________________________ by: http://www.myreturnticket.org.
Travelling to Agra:
We opted for a taxi ride from Delhi to Agra, with the main intention of visiting the Taj Mahal. The taxi ride was approximately 3 hours. This was a pre-booked excursion through a reputable company.
Fast facts about Agra: The city is situated on the banks of the Yamuna river.Previous emperors ruled from Agra included; Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Luxurious forts, palaces and mausoleums were all created in this city. The Taj Mahal and Agra Fort have been declared World Heritage Sites by Unesco.
Stunning… Opulent… Holy. The 3 words I would use that perfectly describe the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Somehow this unbelievable Muslim mosque was built in a mere 11 years. It contains the largest hand sewn Persian carpet in the world, weighing 45 tons, and up until recently also boasted the largest chandelier in the world. We’ve been here before but would highly recommend the tour as there is so much to know. The 5 most interesting points to me: 1) prayers are 5 times a day, the first is before sunrise at 4:35 am; 2) prayer is made along the raised lines in the carpet, standing shoulder to shoulder and toe to toe to symbolize brotherhood, unity and also to keep evil from getting past; 3) there are 100 names, qualities or attributes of Allah and 99 of these are featured on a wall called the Qibla wall in traditional Kufi calligraphy. Only 99 are known to man … the 100th will be discovered upon meeting him face to face after death; 4) 2.5% minimum of earnings are expected to be given charitably … to a brother, or cousin in debt or even a neighbour and 5) prayers are made while facing Mecca, the holy land. Very interesting to learn how beloved Sheikh Zayed ruled, as he provided free education and healthcare among other benefits to his fellow Arabs, as he embodied the Muslim belief that every person is equal. This mostly marble, Mother of Pearl and 24 karat gold structure boasts 82 domes and 1,000 pillars that are intricately inlaid with floral designed mosaics of agate, jasper and amethyst. As I walked barefoot on the cool marble hand-laid floors, a breeze rustled through the traditional Abaya robe I wore, and the beautifully nostalgic reciting of the Holy Koran flowed. Omar was our friendly, informative guide who spoke softly of the history of the majestic mosque itself and of the religion and daily observances of Muslims. Plan to spend a couple of hours here as the tour lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and the photo opportunities are plentiful. There are many places to sit and soak in its beauty. Visit my travel blog.
Views of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to fun on the Arabian Sea. The welcome team at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr are friendly and helpful upon arrival. http://www.myreturnticket.org
Immaculate, luxurious, spacious bathroom in a Fairmont Gold suite at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, UAE – http://www.myreturnticket.org
Luxurious tub & rain shower room in a Fairmont Gold Suite at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, UAE – http://www.myreturnticket.org
A well appointed beverage centre in a Fairmont Gold suite at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in Abu Dhabi, UAE – http://www.myreturnticket.org