Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pinkish Putra Mosque - Putrajaya, Malaysia

Putra Mosque - a floating view from the lake
Putrajaya is relatively a new town in Malaysia and along with other unique buildings, the  Putra Mosque began construction in Jun 1997.  It took 2 years to complete the mosque which cost approximately USD 81 million.  Its architecture has the influence of Moorish and Persian design. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque on condition that they must be properly covered and robes are provided if necessary. There is a small gallery where visitors can view the interior and take pictures.   
Putra Mosque and Prime Minister Office (the green dome) from a distance

The mosque is named after the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Hajj. Upon completion on 1st. September, 1999 this principal mosque of Putrajaya has constantly been receiving visitors from all over the world. 

Today, this 1.37 hector site of Putra Mosque is the most popular place of worship visited by the locals and foreign tourists.  The view from the lake while cruising is just simply amazing as part of the mosque is encircled by the lake.    During school holidays and weekends the area is packed with tourist buses and vans.  It takes about 45 minutes from Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya but it is closer from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). 
The dusky pink interior of Putra Mosque
Visitors to Putra Mosque clad in blue robes
The pink dome dominates Putrajaya landscape

Stunning Architecture and Great History - Roma, Italy

The Grand Amphitheater, Colosseum, looks so imposing in the middle of city traffics

We took the fast train from Naples to Rome in the early morning and arrived in Rome at about 10 am. There are so much to see in Rome but unfortunately we are spending only a night. However, with efficient time management, it wasn't really that bad...we got to see some of the iconic things in Rome and no shopping.  Most of the historical places are within walking distance, and the city train and buses are well connected to these interesting places. We bought a day pass, which is usable on the bus and train.

Rome's historic center was inscribed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 which encompasses among others the well known Colosseum, Roman Forum, Roman Bath, Vatican and the ancient market.

It is a wonderful city minus the rampant pickpockets which happen almost so casually in any crowded places, the subways and even in the churches. Despite of taking all the necessary precautions,and trying to be extra careful, one of us was pickpocket in the metro. When the train is packed with people and that is just about the right time for them to get in action. How else should we remind ourselves repeatedly, be extra careful!
Trevi Fountain - one of the busiest spot in Rome

Arches of the Colosseum

A street artist painting the Coliseum
'Modern art' on Roma city metro
The graffiti on the train looks cool :)
On guard at the Vatican

Vatican - the world's smallest sovereign state


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What can go wrong on a holiday?

Several things can go wrong on a journey no matter how perfect the plan can be.  I have a checklist when I travel - list of things to bring, things to do, places to visit, list of important addresses in the respective countries I'm visiting and my list goes on and on. My travel usually incorporates more than two countries and often I have people following me. Therefore I need to plan carefully. 

Regardless you're traveling in a group or alone, you need to be alert all the time. That morning, we were supposed to catch a flight from Venice Marco Polo Airport to Naples at 9.20 am and by 7 am, we were all ready to board the bus near Mestre train station. We bought our bus tickets from the ticket machine and  as soon as the bus stopped, the driver lifted the hood underneath and everyone hurriedly stuffed their luggage. The driver spoke in Italian and everyone got on the bus without their tickets being inspected by the driver. We sat comfortably and the bus began to move. 

While I was happily chatting with my cousin next to me, I realized that the bus took too long to be in Venice Marco Polo Airport. Suddenly, my eyes caught on a big word "TREVISO" written on the window glass and my heart was thumping- we were on the wrong bus!!! There were 11 people in the group and none of us realized we were on the wrong bus.  We waited restlessly until the bus arrived in Treviso and as soon as the bus stop, the driver started checking the tickets when the passengers were alighting. When I handed my ticket, he said, "Wrong!" and in a serious tone, I told him, "Oh don't worry, all wrongs!" pointing my finger to the other 10 of us. It seemed that  a few others in the bus were in the same position like us! 

All of us got off the bus, we rolled our luggage and ran towards the row of cabs just outside Treviso Airport. "Please send us to Marco Polo airport now!" I told the cab driver. We took three cabs for the 11 of us. In the cab, I began to compose myself, I smiled at the driver and asked "Do you speak English?" He shook his head and I thought never mind. Using hands gesture I told him "Very fast please!" and the fact that we were running like mobs made him understood that we had a problem. I kept looking at my watch and we had less than 2 hours. We were lucky the traffic was lesser on an early Sunday morning and fortunately we had checked-in online, so we're just dropping our bags. But nevertheless, we should not underestimate the security procedures which may take longer! 

As soon as the taxi halted in front of the departure hall, I calmed down, paid the driver, picked my luggage and ran towards the check-in counter. The girl at the counter asked for our visa! We entered Italy via Ljubljana by car and at the boarder, there was no check on visa. I tried to convince her that we don't need a visa but she refused to accept my explanation. She went off to check and few minutes later came back to agree with us. While queuing for security check, we saw few others who were in the same bus from Treviso airport. We were exchanging smiles...relieved that we managed to be in Marco Polo airport. 

In another occasion, when I was on the train from Pisa Centrale to La Spieza, I met an American guy who got on the wrong train. He wanted to go to Pisa airport but instead got on the train to La Spieza in Cinque Terre. He was restless to get down the train as soon as possible and he said that he would get a cab to the airport but his flight would take off in half an hour which obviously meant he would not be on time. After going through the same experience, I could understand his plight! I looked at him sympathetically but not much could be done

These are the common problems that could happen in a country where English is not spoken and you are exhausted. Some signs are completely in the local language and asking some locals would not be of any help. It was a great experience after that but not at the point of time!

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Lively Town - Bodrum, Turkey

Ceramic souvenirs hung on the side-walk wall
Bodrum, a popular coastal town in Turkey, was once the home of the famous Greek historian, Herodotus. Today, the famous and the affluent come to Bodrum and names like Tom Hanks, Jeniffer Lopez, Nicole Kidman, Prince El Hassan of Jordan and Zidane are said to have chosen Bodrum as their vacation spot. The town has an airport which is well connected to other parts of the world. There are direct flights to London and that makes Bodrum quite popular among the British holiday makers. The bustling streets of Bodrum and packed with tourists from all over the world.

These little miniatures of Bodrum houses are wonderful souvenirs
We stayed at Gulet hotel, which is conveniently located on the palms lined seafront with many restaurants along the street. The hotel rooms facing the sea give a magnificent view of the Bodrum Castle about a kilometer away. The white-washed houses on the cobbled streets, the hanging and creeping purple bougainvilleas and the many elegant yachts in the marina are among the beautiful scenery which make Bodrum a perfect picturesque town.
The yellow cab in town that takes you everywhere around Bodrum
Bodrum is an excellent based if you are planning to peek into the nearby Dodecanese islands of Greece.  In fact we made a day trip to Pamukkale from Bodrum and on another day we swift on the hydrofoil to Kos. On a beautiful day, it is so pleasant to just strolled along the coastline and if you are tired of the shops there, Bodrum has a shopping mall located about 20 minutes drive from the seafront.  
There are many yellow cabs waiting for customers in front of Gulet hotel and transportation is not a problem at all. 

There are other villages on the southern coast of Bodrum and dreamy beaches such as Gumbet, Akyarlar, Ortakent, Karaincir and Bitez. As we drove along the coastal roads from Milas to Bodrum, we could see the myriad colors of the translucent water, from darkest blue to the palest turquoise. 
The blue sky compliments the deep blue sea

Many restaurants along the seafront
Souvenirs shops open till late night
Hadigari Night Club beside the Bodrum Mosque
The mosque is right in the center of Bodrum
The Bodrum mosque is in the middle of the "sizzling" spot in Bodrum
Yachts in the marina
Some of these yachts are for rental
Dates tree in the middle of the town
White-washed houses dotted the hills in Bodrum
Lovely view at sunset
Souvenirs shop decorated with sea theme items
Famous Pide (Pizza) Shop in town
Spice store

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Impressive Madrasa Bou Inania - Fez, Morocco

The interior of Madrasa Bou Inania
As a center of learning, Madrasa is an important institution in the medieval Islamic world and even today the institutions continue their challenging roles in a modern world. The fundamental role played by the Madrasa had resulted in the existence of highly literate society during the period. The name, Madrasa Bou Inania in Fez came from the founder, Abu Inan Faris (1351-1356). This Madrasa functions as a mosque and a learning center which is very much the same as Al Qarawiyin which is at another end of the Medina. They were having Asar congregational prayers when we arrived, and our guide joined the jemaah while we went to the ladies prayer room.  Certain parts of the Madrasa is under conservation work and if you look closely, the building is in need of maintenance. Khalid explained to us that the mosque had gone through a major renovation in the 18th century and was again reconstructed in the 20th century.  Madrasa Bou Inania is an example of the Marinid architecture.  The zellij tiles on the wall of the madrasa is predominantly green, the color associated with the city of Fez. We visited Molay Idris, Qarawiyin and Madrasa Bou Inania completed our mission in Fez. 

All along since the city was founded in 789 by Moulay Idris, Fez has never ceased to be a center of learning. There are other Madrasa in Fez that are worth visiting but due to time constraint, we are not able to do so. Other old Madrasa are the Madrasa of Saffarin, Madrasa of Attarin and the elegant Madrasa of Sharratin. Not far from Madrasa Bou Inania is the house of the famous Tunisian historian, Ibnu Khaldun who used to live in Fez and worked for Abu Inan. Kalid our guide showed us the door of once Ibnu Khaldun's house. Automatically, Al-Muqadimah, the seminal work of Ibnu Khaldun came to mind. It is amazing to be in Fez. It feels like you are walking on the footsteps of great scholars and thinkers of the past.
Every corners of the Madrasa is equally impressive
The door of  once the house of Ibnu Khaldun

The wood engravings are deteriorating
A combination of zellij mosaics and stucco work
Closer view of the wood design
Carving on the wooden Mashrabiya
Pillar of the Madrasa with intricate carvings
The male prayer hall
Zellij work adorns the walls of the Madrasa
This Madrasa gives accessibility to non-Muslims visitors
Entrance to the lady hall