July 13, 2019

4 Days in Washington DC

Washington DC, where do I start. Well for starters 4 days is just not enough, one needs atleast 2 weeks or more. I tried to make the best from the time I had.

Visited during the 4th of July weekend, the weather is hot and humid in July.

Tip: You'll be doing a lot of walking, bring a comfortable pair of walking Shoes


Washington Monument
Washington Monument
Day 1

Airport, Arrivals and Transportation. Arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport from Austin Texas. From Airport to my hotel in downtown DC, I took a Airport shuttle or a shared van, the cost was $32. I choose to stay in Downtown DC for the first night so that I could walk to the 4th of July fireworks, seeing the fireworks with the Washington monument is the background is spectacular. My hotel was on 7th street and China town, a 2 mile walk to see the 4th festivities, before going I was told by many people, its going to be too crowed on the 4th, yes there were crowds though there was enough room to comfortable sit on the grass at the National mall to see the 4th of July (American Independence day) celebrations.

National Mall is basically a park with Memorials, Monuments and museums on both sides.

The night time view at the National Mall, of the Washington Monument on one end and the US state Capitol on the other are worth checking out, with the capitol all lit up.

Day 2

Checked out of the hotel, staying in Downtown DC can be expensive though it served well for me to walk back and froth to see the independence day celebrations, a friend let me stay with for the rest of trip.

My first stop of the day was the White house, wanted to take that selfie and get that out of the way. Took uber to get there.




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After lunch at a Ethiopian restaurant, there are quite a bit of immigrants from Ethiopia in DC as per the owner as I was telling him about my trip to Ethiopia, I was off to the national mall. My frist stop the Washington Monument.

From there I walked to the WW2 Memorial, Picture below. You can also see the Lincoln memorial in the background.




From the WW2 memorial, I walked to Lincoln memorial, now I was there on a friday and the Lincoln memorial was really crowded. It is impressive and a must see in DC.

From Lincoln memorial I walked to Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial.




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MLK Jr
My last stop was the MLK Jr Memorial, another must see.


It is very impressive and you can walk down towords the water to see the Jefferson Memorial from far.

All the walking, I was tierd, took a ride share to Downtown DC for dinner/drinks.


Day 3

The plan was to wake up early and go see the Supreme Court, the US Capitol and the Library of the congress, I was so tired cause of all the walking, by the time I left the house it was already noon.

Supreme Court - clicked a few photos, its a neat building. I didn't try to go inside.

U.S. Capitol - now I was told I needed a reservation, which I didn't have to see the dome from the inside, so basically I tried my luck, went inside to the reservation desk and was given a sticker which allowed me to be part of a tour of the capitol.


There are long line for the tours, the inside is beautiful. There is a gift shop and a reasonable priced cafeteria where I had lunch.




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From the US Capitol one can walk to the library of congress, through indoor walkways, so that you can bypass security as when entering the Capitol, one has to have security check done.

Library of Congress is very impressive and another must see.


One of the earliest publication in the world The Gutenberg Bible is also at display at the library.

Next stop Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, another must see. While at the museum see the hope Diamond which receives over 100 million visitors a year.



Photo of the dinosaur I took in the museum.

Day 4

Decision making day on what to do, Arlington Cemetery or Old Town Alexandria Virginia. And the winner is Old Town,  its on the shores of Potomac River. Just beautiful. One can easily spend a day in old town, and for those interested you can take a river cruise.



Happy Travels!



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April 13, 2019

Things to do in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia

Visited Mongolia during the first and second week in April, Mongolia is located in Central Asia in between China and Siberia with an average height of 1,500m above the sea level. The country is the least densely populated country in the world and it features a vast country with evergreen trees, endless grassland, and rugged mountains.

Ulaanbaatar has limited number of International flights mostly from China, Seoul, Hong Kong and not too sure but limited flights from Germany. I flew MIAT (Mongolian Airlines) from Hong Kong, Immigration is quick and easy, no visa needed for US passport holders. Once outside Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, there was snow on the ground. April is still cold in Mongolia.

Airport to City, Taxi cost was USD $ 12. My Hostel arranged for a airport pickup.

Stay - I stayed at Zaya Hostel USD $12 a night for a private room with shared bath. Breakfast Included.

Picture to the right - Traditional Mongolian boot, largest shoe in the world, in Genghis Khan Theme Park, Chinggis Khan Statue Complex. In Tsonjin Boldog, about an hours drive from Ulaanbaatar.

Ulaanbaatar is surrounded by hills, the landscape outside the city is just beautiful. The City itself is just another big city, with rush hour traffic problems. Most people in Ulaanbaatar live in Apartments, in endless neighborhoods of Soviet-style blocks.

Currency - For hotels and Tour companies you can pay in USD or use Visa Mastercard, However do keep some Mongolian Tughrik  or MNT. For example I bought soup in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park and ate in a Yurt, where no one spoke English and was glad to have local currency.

Things to do in Ulaanbaatar

 

Now I was there in April, it is cold and not a tourist season. So Gobi desert was out, if you are there in summer, there are good things to be heard about gobi desert tour.

TIP: If you have time, book your tours while in Mongolia, online prices are just too expensive. One would imagine on-line prices to be cheaper, its quite the opposite.


1)  Chinggis Khan Statue Complex - Largest equestrian statue in the world at the time of writing this post.




I took a tour which included Chinggis Khan Statue Complex, Turtle Rock in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Ariyabal Meditation Buddhist Temple, Lunch in a Ger or Yurt as it is called in English, drive around UB. The cost was $100 USD.

From UB, its about 45 minutes drive to Chinggis Khan Statue Complex, its Chinggis and not Genghis as per my Mongolian guide.

There is an entrance fee of 30,000 Mongolian Tughrik or around 22 USD, there is a display of rural Mongolian life, history of the Khan's and a stairway to the top of the horse. Spent an hour there, that's enough time and was off to see turtle rock.

2) Turtle Rock

About a 15 minute ride from Chinggis Khan Statue Complex, the best of the trip was a lunch in a yurt with Mongolian folks. they cooked me fried bread with stuffing, and didn't want any money from me, I left a tip.




3) Ariyabal Meditation Buddhist Temple

My Last stop before heading back to UB, from the entrance to the meditation center there is mile and half to 2 mile hike upto the Buddhist Temple, I was out of breath by the time I reached the top. One can do free camping and meditation in the summer there. There is also a bunk hall if you don't want to camp.



There is Tibetan Buddhist Mantra 'Om Mani Padme Hum' painted in nearby Hills.

View of the hills from the Monastery, pretty amazing!

 

In Ulaanbaatar, one place everyone visits is the Genghis Khan Square 




The square is surrounded by hotels, opera, stock exchange, government buildings.


If you want great views of the city of Ulaanbaatar, head to Zaisan Memorial Hill See video below




Choijin Lama Temple

This temple can be found in Ulaanbaatar and it is a perfect place to go while in Mongolia because of its mesmerizing architecture and its history. At the main temple, you will find an extensive collection of religious instruments, copy of the 108 volume Kangyur, thangka paintings, and hand-printed 226-volume Tengyur that was brought from Tibet by the Bogd Khan. Some of the things not to miss at the monastery is the 18th-century gilt statue of Buddha Sakyamuni and the statue of Choijin Lama Luvsankhaidav.

Clean Air - To and From the Airport, both the cars were electric, so was the van that took me Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. Ulaanbaatar being one of the coldest capitals in the world, there is lot of coal burning in the winter, the government there is changing that for cleaner means of heating.


Picture above, my friend and guide in Magnolia with his wife,  in Traditional Mongolian attire 

Ulaanbaatar is also home to Naadam Festival held in July, they include Archery, Horseback riding and wrestling competitions. 

#Mongolia 

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January 20, 2019

Top 3 Things to do in Kuwait City

Visited Kuwait City in December 2018, arrived on a MEA flight from Beirut. My Itinerary was Layover in New York, 5 days in Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, India, and onward to Hong Kong, China and Mongolia.

Bottle of water is more expensive than Petrol in Kuwait. One of the reason you'll see big cars and SUV's on the freeways.

American Passport holders have visa on arrival, you will need to go the visa on arrival office near gate 2 to get the paperwork taken care of. Withdrew local currency at the airport ATM, Once outside the airport, I ignored the cab drivers that approached me and took the Airport bus to my Airbnb. The city buses are the best way out of the airport.

Kuwait is an expensive destination, an average 3 star hotel will cost upwards of 100 USD. I was only there for 2 days.


Kuwaiti dinar is at the time of writing this post, the world's highest valued currency $3.30 USD equals 1 Kuwaiti dinar.



Top 3 Things to do in Kuwait City

 

Souk Al-Mubarakiya

 

This is a massive shopping Souq with Apparel Shops, money changers, food courts, perfume shops, vegetable and fruit market, seafood market, the list goes on.



Souk Al-Mubarakiya



Above the seafood market and one of the many eating courts in the Souq.


Kuwait Towers


Went to See the Towers twice, one during the night to see all the lights and once during the day. Took a cab from the grand Mosque to get there.




Grand Mosque




The interior is pretty amazing, went there during the night and during day time, walking distance from the Kuwait Souq.

If you are into shopping (which I am not) Check out the Avenue Mall, it's one of the biggest malls in the middle east, I saw it from the outside on my way back to the airport.



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January 17, 2019

Visit to Baalbek and Anjar Lebanon




Visited Baalbek in December 2018, weather was perfect, some of the best roman ruins I have seen. You can read about the history at UNESCO world heritage site at https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/294

Safety: There are travel warning for tourists going to Baalbek and Anjar due to its close proximity to Syria and Hezbollah presence. I didnt have any issues. I even hitchhiked from Anjar to the main road 15 minute ride to catch a bus, this nice Armenian gentleman gave me a ride. Anjar is located in an Armenian resettlement town and Baalbek is Hezbollah with souvenir vendors selling Hezbollah T shirts.Anjar is 5KM from Syria, there are mountains between the 2 countries.

Suggestion: Visit Anjar before visiting Baalbek reason being Baalbek is pretty amazing and Anjar will be a let down if you visit Anjar afterwards.

How to get to Baalbek from Beirut, take a taxi to cola bus station. From there take a minibus to Baalbek, the minibus cost is 6000 Lebanese Pounds or about $4 USD. The distance is about 85 kilometers from Beirut or half way between Beirut and Damascus Syria.

I did a day trip, day is plenty to see baalbek and visited the town aswell, get lunch ect. There is a lot of army presence in town.



Entrance to the Temple of Jupiter, There were hardly any tourists there because of all the travel warning to that area.

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Temple of Bacchus, Above, dedicated to God of Wine. People drank a lot of wine as beer and Whisky was not so popular, this complex was built before Christ. Some of the most fertile land on the planet is here as per the info I got from the Baalbek museum.


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Inside Temple of Bacchus, me at the Alter. No Wine though.

Anjar


While Baalbek is Greek-Roman, Anjar is supposed to be from Arab times, its all ruins and nothing like Baaalbek, looked very Roman with all the arches.

anjar lebanon
Anjar


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January 16, 2019

Discover Beautiful Bahrain

Bahrain is a fascinating travel destination for those who are willing to venture a little off of the beaten path. It features beautiful architecture, warm hospitality and rich culture, as well as natural beauty including glorious beaches. Visited Bahrain in December 2018. Weather in December is excellent.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is a small island nation located off of the coast of Saudi Arabia. It consists of one large main island, as well as several smaller, outlying islands.

Saudi Rials (currency) is accepted in Bahrain, exchange rate differs.

It is a very multicultural place, with four official languages: Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and English. Due to its large expat community, Bahrain is a blend of many different cultures. Plus, as Bahrain’s is one of the few nations in the Middle East where alcohol can legally be purchased, it is a popular getaway for those in neighboring countries.

History lovers will also love visiting beautiful Bahrain. Bahrain has been an important trading post for centuries, so there are many ancient and historic sites to explore. Some of the most well-known include the Barbar Temples, the earliest of which takes from 3000 BC, and Souq al-Khamis, a stunning mosque that dates back to the eighth century.

TIP: Bahrain can be expensive. My hotel room was $100 a night, USD.
Airport to hotel was 5 Bahraini Dinar, about $15 USD.

Bab Al Bahrain
Bab Al Bahrain
Bab Al Bahrain, the main entrance to the Manama Souq. Manama Souq has a lot of shops selling souvenirs and Arabian lamps and artifacts. There is also other excellent shopping, from small bazaar stalls through to high-end luxury designer boutiques. One of the largest and most luxurious malls is the Moda Mall, however, if you are looking for Bahrain’s famous yellow gold, you should head for Gold City in Manama. Just FYI, I rarely shop, just went to see the glitter.



One of the main cultural attractions in Manama is the stunning Al Fateh Grand Mosque. The architecture of this mosque is absolutely beautiful, and it is open to both Muslims and non-Muslims. You are welcome to take a tour which will show you the most beautiful parts of the mosque, as well as share some information about the Islamic faith.


If you’re looking to relax or perhaps escape the hot sun, Bahrain also boasts several beautiful beaches, such as glamorous Marassi Al Bahrain, with its calm water and many beach parties.

All in all, Bahrain is a beautiful and underrated travel destination. Whether you’re hoping to enjoy the many fabulous restaurants and bars, or perhaps to discover the historic sites, you’re sure to be fascinating and enthralled by this amazing country.


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January 13, 2019

Things to do in Beirut Lebanon

Byblos Lebanon
Byblos Lebanon
Visited Beirut Lebanon in December 2018, days are nice and pleasant and evenings and nights Get cold during December in Beirut Lebanon. The winters are quite mild.

Airport immigration is quick and easy, have you hotel arrange for airport pickup to avoid any taxi scams. Airport to downtown the cost for a taxi is about USD 15. The ride is less then half an hour.

Safety: I found Lebanon to be very safe and did not have any issues at all.

Stay: I stayed at a hotel close to downtown, awesome location, close to several eating places, walking distance to Beirut souk and tourist attractions. The cost was USD 35 a night. Check booking.com for some great hotel deals.

Food: Lebanon is one of the best countries for awesome cuisine. Here is my recommendation 'Le Chef', Gouraud Street, Beirut. Tabbouleh salad there is amazing, I paid under USD 10 for a beer, fresh bread, olive oil, Salad and a main dish. Mar Mikhael and hamra street are another great location for food and clubs.

Transportation: I used minibuses to travel outside of Beirut, and within Beirut did a lot of walking and used shared cabs.

Money: 1 USD equals to 1500 Lebanese pound at the time of writing this post, there are ATM's everywhere. I use XE app on my smart phone for currency conversion.

Language: Most people will speak some English, I used google translate twice.

Travel Guide book - check out Bradt's Lebanon.


One of the first things that every traveler will want to do when they arrive in Lebanon is visit the National Museum of Beirut.  Inside, there are archaeological artifacts that share the history of the country and the people that have lived there over the years.  The two most popular exhibits are the Phoenician gilded bronze figures that were found buried near the Obelisk Temple at Byblos and the Phoenician marble statues of baby boys from the 6th century.

After seeing those exhibits, everyone will be ready to venture over to the Byblos Castle, which was constructed during the 12th century by the Crusaders.  This castle was constructed, dismantled, and reconstructed, a couple times, which makes it a unique piece of history that is thankfully still standing.


Byblos

One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From Beirut, I took a minibus, paid the bus driver 2000 Lebanese pound one way or $1.50 USD. The minibus dropped me on side of a main highway, from there I walked through open-air bars, souvenir shops, and outdoor cafes to the historical sites. From Beirut to Byblos it took about half an hour by Minibus.



The entrance fee to the main historical site is 6 or 8 thousand Lebanese pound, I cannot remember. The whole Complex and the museum is worth visiting, it dates back to 8000 BC.







Pottery found in Byblos from 3000 BC - 1600 BC

Beirut can seen by walking to most places, I did take the cab twice to Cola bus station to take the mini bus to Baalbek and back to downtown. The cost of the shared cab was 3000 Lebanese pound or $2 USD.



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If you anywhere close to downtown you cannot miss the above Mosque and church.

I visited Beirut during Christmas Holidays, the whole Downtown Beirut was decorated with lights and Christmas decorations. Beirut Souq, was all decorated. Now this is nota  traditional middle eastern Souq, its very modern with all the designer brand name one can think of.

People in Beirut are very friendly. One does see some army presence in Beirut due to close proximity to Syria, overall its very safe.

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January 7, 2019

Layover in Newark Liberty International Airport

7 Hour Layover in Newark Liberty International Airport and How to get to New York NY from Newark NJ Airport

 I had a 7 hour layover in December 2018, December in New York/New Jersey is cold, dress according. My flight arrived at around 10 AM and my departure was at 5 PM to Denmark.
At the Newark Liberty Airport, I asked information about going to New York, they told me to take the skytrain to Amtrack trains. The trains and way to Skytrain is clearly marked, at the AMTrack station I bought a train ticket to Penn Station in New York, the cost is US$12.25 for one way ticket. The train ride is 45 minutes approximately. I arrived at the Penn station and there were people selling tickets to the ball game and to the Hop on Hop off bus for sightseeing New York.






From Penn station I walked to 7th ave Macy's.


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From there I walked to Time square, and back to Penn station after a roughly 2 hour walk around New York. I got back to the airport with 3 hours to spare. I leave you with a few photos.

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Now the show on Amazon prime 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' is a great show.

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November 10, 2018

Tikal Guatemala Visit

Visited Tikal in September 2018, its hot and humid in September dress accordingly.

I had booked a tour online, they had canceled on me as they didn't have enough people for the tour. I headed to Belize border town with Guatemala called San Ignacio. There are several tours that leave everyday and I was able to book a tour to Tikal easily in San Ignacio.

The tour van was comfortable and had A/C. They took care of all the border crossing fees, entrance fees to the Archeological site, came with a guide and they took care of lunch.

The cost was $135 USD, which I thought was a bargain. The starting time was 6:30AM and drop off around 5PM same day.

Get a tour company and avoid all the hassles of doing it yourself.

Although everything for the trip was paid for, I did change 10 USD at the border to Guatemala Quetzal, in September 2018, 1USD = 7.5 Guatemala Quetzal. The reason being I'll need local money for water and drinks on a hot day full of hiking. I did buy 2 bottles of Gatorade for 30 Guatemala Quetzal.

From San Ignacio to the Guatemala border is 20 minutes ride and about an hour to Flores Guatemala. The van drive stopped by the lake in Flores. And a coffee restroom break at a roadside souvenir shop.




September is low tourist season and once we arrived in Tikal National park, there were very few tourists. The group I was in spent the hot day exploring the Mayan pyramids. The Pyramids with a room on top is a temple, the Pyramid which is flat on top is an Observatory.

Some of the Pyramids are still covered with dirt and have trees growing on them, the guide explained the issues that could arise by taking the trees out could cause damage to the structure. With all the technology we have, I thought it was the cost involved in restoring and upkeep as Guatemala is not very rich, I could be wrong.



The Tour van stopped on the road and everyone got out to take pictures of the monkeys on the trees.



Above Picture National tree of Guatemala 'Ceiba'


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