Monthly Archives: March 2009

UNESCO World Heritage Site #55: Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

Posted by on March 5, 2009

World Heritage Site #55: Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

World Heritage Site #55: Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun

From the World Heritage inscription:

Qal’at al-Bahrain is a typical tell – an artificial mound created by many successive layers of human occupation. The strata of the 300 × 600 m tell testify to continuous human presence from about 2300 BC to the 16th century AD. About 25% of the site has been excavated, revealing structures of different types: residential, public, commercial, religious and military. They testify to the importance of the site, a trading port, over the centuries. On the top of the 12 m mound there is the impressive Portuguese fort, which gave the whole site its name, qal’a (fort). The site was the capital of the Dilmun, one of the most important ancient civilizations of the region. It contains the richest remains inventoried of this civilization, which was hitherto only known from written Sumerian references.

Bahrain isn’t a very big country. You could probably drive from end-to-end the long way in an hour. Despite its size, it has been an historically significant port. The image above is of the old ruins of the ancient harbor. Just on the other side of these ruins, not in camera, are the ruins of an old Portuguese fort which was on the site. There is also a museum on the site which is the best cultural center I’ve seen in the Gulf.

Visiting the Big Island of Hawaii

Posted by on March 4, 2009

Avid Everything Everywhere reader Danyelle Overbo provided today’s guest post on her trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. Her experience on the Big Island was very different than mine, which just goes to show that different people can have totally different experiences in the same place. I had the luxury of visiting the Big Island for the first time with a geology group from the University of Minnesota, so I was able to see it in a different light than most people.

Hello fellow readers of Gary’s wonderful travel blog Everything Everywhere! When I read that Gary wanted guest bloggers to help out, I jumped at the chance to be a part of his great undertaking. Now, I haven’t been to nearly as many places as Gary, but I did have a little adventure of my own on the Big Island of Hawaii during a week long vacation there from March 22-29 last year. I asked to write about it because I wanted to share my experiences as they were not the same as Gary’s. They weren’t entirely positive. I’ll try to be as accurate as possible about the specific places and times I was there.

The trip started off with a full day of airplane travel. I flew out with my family from the Las Vegas, NV airport on Hawaiian Airlines early Saturday the 22nd. It was a five and a half hour flight from there to Honolulu. Right off the plane we headed to the gate at the airport for the small plane that would take us to the Big Island. It was dirty and smelly and we waited there for hours with only a little bar and a snack stand for food. Once past the gate there were no shops or anything. Just a big dirty room we sat in for hours.

In order to get around the Big Island, you need to rent a car. It is named the Big Island for a reason. It’s huge. The drive, going across the island on the bumpiest road I’ve ever been on in my life, is a good 4 hours. The road around the island and from the airport is better kept, though longer. However, to get from Kona to Hilo on the better road is still only 3.5 – 4 hours since the road across the island isn’t well taken care of. This is a big downside for a vacation. Going back and forth across the island at least three times, I calculated at the end of the trip a total of at least17 hours spent driving in the car alone. That doesn’t include the normal day to day driving around we did either.

I stayed in a time share in Kona-Kailua. There are a few things you should know about Kona before you stay there. First off, let me say, that this was still Hawaii, so the weather the entire trip was incredible. It was warm and humid, but not too humid, and it only rained a couple times I was there. Even the rain is beautiful. I loved the weather. With that out of the way, let me describe Kona-Kailua. It is a tourist spot, no doubt about it. There are lovely shops, but nothing authentic. Everything is made for tourists. There are tons of great restaurants, I remember there being an Outback and Bubba Gump Shrimp along with a smaller sushi place and more, a supply shop to rent gear from in the middle of the shop area next to Outback Steakhouse with a huge pool in the back for scuba lessons, clothing shops, jewelry shops, a huge gallery of art store with beautiful and extremely expensive island art, two tattoo parlors that I saw, and tons of souvenir shops. The thing to remember though is that everything closes very early in the evenings. There wasn’t anything to do at night at all. I suppose if you are over 21 there are bars, but that’s it. At least while I was there in March anyway. Kona also has all the regular city stuff, blockbuster, IHOP, etc., but the place you mean when you say “I stayed in Kona” is the little area on Kailua Bay where all these shops are.

The other thing to know about Kona, and the Big Island in general, is that there are very few beaches. What I mean is that the damn things are small and scattered all over. It’s not how you’d picture Hawaii, miles of beautiful, bright blue waters with white sandy beaches. There are barely any beaches at all around Kona. I spend a total of 3 ½ hours on a beach the entire week I was in Hawaii. Partly, this was my group’s fault as we never made it to the northeast part of the Island with all the expensive shops where, I was told, had some lengths of beach. We also never made it to the black sand beach. If you do go, and you want to visit this, make it a priority because driving to and from it is a trip on its own and, as I said above, we’d spent enough time driving around. The one beach we spent time on is one of the tiny, wave-crashing, overcrowded beaches in Kona-Kailua called Magic Sands beach. It was small and, apart from the water being warmer and bluer, it was no different from any beach I’ve been to in California, except maybe smaller.

The first day I was there we all walked along the shops and, in addition to the regular shops, there is a great little outdoor market set up in the mornings. It isn’t every morning, I forget how often it was there, but it was there a good number of mornings. A bunch of stalls are set up like an outdoor swamp meet and you can go and buy tons of things. There was a lot of fantastic fruit for really cheap sold by the local farmers there along with clothing stalls, jewelry stalls, tacky souvenir stalls selling the same stuff as the shops like wooden bookmarks and ukuleles. I got a dress I really love at one of these stalls.

Wherever you are in Hawaii, no matter the island, you must experience a luau. I went to a great luau at the King Kamehameha hotel. There was great food, leis made of fresh flowers (for an extra fee), and great entertainment. The one I was at had dancers from all different islands in the area, even Maori dancers from New Zealand, doing performances.

I had two snorkeling experiences, one good and one terrible. We rented our own snorkeling gear one day and drove to this beautiful, pristine bay that the place we rented from told us about. Now, I looked up places to snorkel online and its not there. It was a bit of a drive from Kailua-Kona, it didn’t have a beach, and it didn’t have any boat docks. I would highly recommend renting your own gear and finding a recommended bay from locals and diving right in. This was the highlight of my trip. The other time we went snorkeling, it was a paid for tour, traveling to a spot by boat with a big group, and it was terrible. They took us to a part of the island where its some sort of preserve, they mentioned something about it being set aside for the children of the island. We had a tiny rectangle of space between the boat and the waves crashing dangerously onto the rocky shore in which to snorkel. I could literally watch the fish being swept back and forth as the waves moved. I’ve never gotten sea sick in the water before, but here I did.

The last experience I want to talk about is visiting the volcano on the Big Island. By far, this was the biggest waste of time of the entire trip, including the day we drove all the way to Hilo only to find out that the path to the waterfalls was closed. The hikes in the volcano park are really beautiful. You can look down into the crater from one of them, which is impressive. You can hike down into the crater in one long hike, and there is some beautiful rainforest to see. That being said, rainforest is rainforest. While beautiful, it’s not exactly exciting to stare at all day long. Really, the reason to go is to see the lava flow! Well, this isn’t always possible as lava isn’t exactly controllable. After hiking around the park, we were directed to another area, far away, where they were letting people walk to to see the lava drop off into the ocean. To make a long story short, hours of driving and waiting for the path to open up later, we got to hike to the cliff and look at a tiny speck of bright lava flowing into the ocean through a telescope.

If you have any questions about my trip feel free to email me. There was lots of stuff I couldn’t cover. I had some good times there too!

Traveling in Malta

Posted by on March 2, 2009

Today’s guest post is from Linda Martin of the Indie Travel Podcast. The Indie Travel Podcast is has been nominated in the 2009 Lonely Planet awards for Best Travel Podcast.

When travellers think about where to visit in Europe, Malta isn’t usually top of the list. In fact, I’d never considered Malta as a destination until I accepted a job there – I’d barely even heard of it.

Malta’s a tiny country in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, almost due south of Italy. It comprises three inhabited islands: Malta, Gozo and tiny Comino. It’s a major destination for European tourists in summer, when the days are long and the sun is always shining.

The weather is enough of a draw for most people, but Malta has a lot more to offer than cloudless days and packed beaches. Due to its strategic location between Africa and Europe, it played a vital role in the Second World War, for which it was awarded the St George’s Cross which now adorns its national flag.

Malta appears again and again as you look backwards in the history books – there was the Great Siege in the middle ages, and St Paul was shipwrecked there at the start of the common era. These events are recorded in the living rock the islands are formed of – Valletta, the capital, is a fortress dating from the Great Siege, and you can visit the cave where St Paul sheltered. But the most interesting of these rocky memorials are those that date from prehistory – the stone temples of Malta’s first inhabitants.

The oldest free-standing structures in the world are thought to have been built by giants – and are named Gigantija accordingly. The Gigantija temples were built on Gozo in 6000BC – before Stonehenge or the Pyramids.

The Hagar Qim hypogeum is another major historical attraction. This underground temple is a network of rooms that’s carefully preserved against damage – only eight people are allowed to enter every hour, and that’s with a guide. It’s worth booking in advance, especially in summer. It’s amazing to see the well-preserved space where religious ceremonies were performed 6000 years ago.

If you’re not a history buff, and you’d prefer to sample the nightlife and the food, Malta has something for you as well. While Valletta all but closes after dark, you can head to the party district of Paceville and dance until dawn. Prices are starting to rise a bit after Malta converted to the Euro last year, but drink is plentiful and inexpensive.

Malta isn’t known for its cuisine, but there are a couple of local specialities you should try. Gozitan cheese, and Maltese cheese for that matter, is varied and incredibly tasty, and if you’ve never eaten rabbit, Malta is the place to try it. My favourite Maltese food though, is the ubiquitous pastizzi – a hand-sized pastry filled with ricotta or mushy peas. And they’re incredibly good value. But beware – if you have one, you’ll go back for more.

My favourite memory of Malta, though, is travelling around on the rickety old yellow and orange buses. Most are imported from the UK, and no two are alike – if they aren’t completely different makes, they’re personalised by the driver with flags, photos or religious
icons. It might take you a while to get to where you’re going on these buses, but the fares are cheap, and it’s a great, if bumpy, way to see the country.

So if you’re choosing a European destination for your summer holiday this year, Malta’s a good choice – soak up the sun and a little history, and gorge yourself on pastizzi.

The Palace of Knossos, Greece

Posted by on March 1, 2009

While I’m off running around Upper Egypt, I’ve lined up some other travelers to do some guest posts. Today’s article is by Chris Christensen of the Amateur Traveler Podcast, one of the most widely listened to travel podcast on the internet. I was interviewed by Chris on Episode 128 on my experience in Micronesia. Chris is one of the finalists for the 2009 Travel Podcast of the Year on Lonely Planet.

Place of Knossos

Place of Knossos

One of the treats of a trip to Crete last Summer was a stop at the ruins of Palace of Knossos on Crete near Heraklion, Greece. Knossos is a ruin from the Minoan civilization which is the oldest civilization in Europe. The palace itself was built between 1700 and 1400 B.C. This is the palace that was reported to be the home of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth according to Roman mythology. But it seems that the Romans may have misunderstood some sort of athletic event involving a bull and a ceremonial double bladed ax called a labrys.

Our Guide

Our Guide

Or at least that is the story we learned from our English speaking guide. Hiring a guide definitely made visiting Knossos much more enjoyable. We visited in May which is before the crush of tourists and we had not arranged a guide ahead of time. It was fairly simple to sign up for an English speaking guide. We did have to wait while the guide got a group together of sufficient size.

Place of Knossos

Palace of Knossos

One of the things that became very apparent when you are looking at the site through the eyes of a trained guide is that all is not as it appears. The style of archeology practiced by the English archeologist Arthur Evans when he started to excavate in 1900 would make more modern archeologists cringe. Much of what you see is from Evans imagination as much as from his discovery. He reconstructed a number of things on the site with concrete so that you could see what at least he thought it looked like. He had artists repaint the throne room in a fashion that he thought would have matched the art of the time.

The ruins included a bath tub, a closed sewer system and a flush toilet of a sort. Not all the world has gotten to that level of sophisticated plumbing yet and the Minoans had it over 3 millennia ago.

Place of Knossos

Palace of Knossos

The ability to walk around structures from a civilization that the ancient greeks considered old is a wonderful treat. It appears that the downfall of the Minoans was the eruption of the nearby island volcano of Santorini. The resulting earthquake shook Crete but even more seriously a tidal wave sunk the Minoan fleet and left them at the mercy of the Mycenaeans.

Chris Christensen is the host of the Amateur Traveler podcast which focuses on the best places to travel

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold

Posted by on March 1, 2009

My website is freaking out right now. If you try to click on any of the links to articles, nothing is working. I’ve been suffering a series of problems the last few days. I don’t know what is going on yet, but I’ve submitted some trouble tickets and am waiting to hear back from my web host. It might have something to do with what I talked about yesterday: my storage space is full and the new site is being deployed.

So, if things don’t work right or the site disappears for a while, that is why.