Amboseli National Park and Tortilis Camp

I may have saved the best continent for last, but I think I may have experienced my favorite park first up on our Kenyan tour.  I don’t know if it was the quantity and variety of animals we saw in the park, the beautiful camp where we stayed, or simply the fact that it was our very first safari experience.  In truth, it was probably a combination of all of those things.

After our 5 hour drive from Nairobi our first view of Amboseli was quite impressive, yet very unexpected.  In order to get to the camp where we were staying we drove over a huge dried up lake bed that floods every rainy season.  The flatness of the lake bed combined with the massiveness of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the background was like nowhere I had ever been before.  I imagined that’s similar to how the salt flats of Bolivia or Utah would look (minus the reflections of course).   It was beautiful in its own way, but certainly not what I expected to see on an African safari.

Flat and dusty, kinda like Qatar (plus clouds and mountains)

Flat and dusty, kinda like Qatar (plus clouds and mountains)

Soon enough we were past the dried lake bed and were greeted by giraffes, an ostrich, and zebras.  I think I was surprised by how soon and how many animals we saw just getting to the camp.

Zebras in Amboseli

Zebras grazing

Giraffe in Amboseli

A giraffe surveying his territory

Ostrich in Amboseli

An ostrich on the run

Upon arriving at the camp, we were greeted by the staff with cool, wet towels and a refreshing drink.  This wasn’t going to be a standard camping trip (and I was very OK with that).  The camp was beautiful and had incredible views of Mt. Kilimanjaro (which is just across the border in Tanzania).  The second day we were there the camp manager told us that we were quite lucky with the clear views we had of Kilimanjaro.  He said it’s often quite cloudy and the mountain isn’t visible.  The last day we were there we experienced what he was talking about, and I was quite glad to have taken so many pictures of the mountain while I had the chance.

Our ‘tent’ was an actual canvas tent setting atop a wooden platform.  While the walls to the bedroom were made up of canvas, the bathroom at the back of the tent had four permanent walls.  The bathroom had a semi open shower, double sinks, and all the typical amenities a 5 star hotel room would have.  In front of the tent there was a porch that probably had about the same square footage as the bedroom.  It had 2 chairs on one side and a chaise lounge on the other that was perfect for napping.  To top it all off, the view couldn’t have been more picturesque.  Our tent was directly facing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Our 'tent'

Our ‘tent’

Tent Porch

We put the chaise lounge to good use

View from the porch

It was nice waking up to this every morning

Tent Bedroom

Beds in tents. That’s how I expect to camp from here on out.

Tent Bathroom

Who needs shower curtains?

Tent Bathroom

Double sinks. Nicer than our bathroom in Doha.

Amenities

All the amenities of home. Including laundry detergent.

My parents and aunt stayed in the private house which had two bedrooms and a common living space open to the elements in between.  It really was like having your very own vacation home in the middle of Africa.  I think they were quite spoiled after leaving Amboseli because their lodge at Tortilis was by far the best lodging any of us had on the entire trip.  Being able to relax on the couch in your living room while watching the dik diks graze in your backyard just a few feet from you is pretty amazing.  My dad is an early riser, so in the mornings while my mom and aunt were still sleeping he got to enjoy tea while watching and listening to the birds from the comfort of his living room table.  The one odd thing about the rooms in the private house were the bathrooms were wide open to the bedroom.  No such thing as privacy when you’re ‘camping’ I guess.

Private House Living Room

The backyard is the living room and the living room is the backyard.

Private House Living Room

I don’t think it gets better than this

Private House Living Room

Not a bad place to enjoy morning tea

View from the Private House Living Room

Every view pointed toward Kilimanjaro

Private House Bedroom

Bedroom with twin beds

Private House Bathroom

Half of the bedroom was the bathroom

Private House Bathroom

Again, no shower curtain required

The public spaces in the camp were all equally as enjoyable as the lodgings.  All views pointed to Kilimanjaro, and there were plenty of outdoor spaces to take advantage of the views.  There was a small watering hole just outside of the camp’s fence that was lit up at night and within view of both the lounge/bar and the dining room.  An outdoor fireplace surrounded by seating also faced the watering hole and Kilimanjaro, but we didn’t take advantage of it.  We also didn’t use the small pool there, but it looked quite nice.  Instead of swimming during our afternoons off we usually took naps to relax in between our early morning and late afternoon game drives.  

View from the lounge

View from the outdoor lounge area near the bar

The food at the camp was good, but it certainly wasn’t the best out of the three lodges we visited.  Lunches were buffet style, and they always included both a salad and a dessert of some kind.  Each night for dinner there was a set menu, and there were no choices.  It was served family style as the waiters brought the food around to place on your plate.  I’m by no means a picky eater, but I could see how if someone was picky not having a choice may be a bit of an issue.  Certainly, though there was enough food served at each meal that you wouldn’t go hungry even if you didn’t like the main dish.  After dinner each night a server would come around and take our order for tea or coffee in the morning, and ask us what time we wanted to be woken up.  Waking up to a server bringing you tea and biscuits to your tent was something that occured at each lodge where we stayed.  It made me almost look forward to getting up at 5:30 or 6 am while on vacation.  Almost.

I knew we wouldn’t be roughing it on this trip, but I don’t think any of my family or I knew how good we’d have it.  Every little thing was taken care of for us, and many things that we never would have thought of really added a lot to the experience.  Little by little I’m becoming more used to luxury travel (mostly thanks to my miles and points hobby), and I’m hoping I don’t become too addicted to it where I don’t want to stay in hostels or fly coach.  I don’t think there’s too much danger in that, though, as I think I’m too cheap for that (plus I really enjoy staying in hostels, it’s my wife I’ve got to convince they’re a good time and not just a way to save money).  Amboseli is a beautiful park, and Tortilis Camp certainly exceeded our expectations.

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Saving the Best for Last – Africa, My 7th Continent

I saved the best for last.  I’ve been quite blessed to see and experience many different places in a relatively short time.  Except for a 2 week trip to Europe in high school and two cruises, my international travel has occurred over the past seven years.  Every place I’ve been and every trip I’ve taken has something unique and special about it that I’ll always remember.  For now, though, Africa tops them all.

Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro from Amboseli National Park

The variety and sheer quantity of wildlife that we were able to see was beyond my expectations.  I knew I’d see lions, elephants, giraffes, and hopefully cheetahs and rhinos, but I didn’t expect to see mongooses, tortoises, bats, or anywhere close to the variety of birds we saw.  I didn’t expect to see men herding camels on our first day of the trip.  Granted, that’s not exactly wildlife, but it was a larger group of camels than I’ve seen anywhere here in Qatar.  While I have yet to see an Oryx in Qatar even though it’s the country’s national animal (the Arabian Oryx to be exact), we saw one (an East African Oryx) on the second day of our game drives.  We even saw giraffes within minutes of pulling out of the Nairobi airport parking lot.  Africa truly is a special place.

Herd of elephants in Amboseli National Park

Herd of elephants in Amboseli National Park

Giraffes Eating in Amboseli National Park

Giraffes eating in Amboseli National Park

The last of the Great Migration

The last of the great migration in the Masai Mara National Reserve

Zebras drinking in Masai Mara

Zebras drinking in the Masai Mara National Reserve

It’s not just the animals that are unique here, though.  The people are quite special as well.  Although we didn’t interact with too many of the locals, we did have the chance to see how the traditional Maasai people live.  Their lifestyle is so different from the lifestyle of any other people I’ve visited.  From living in huts made of cow dung to men having multiple wives it’s so different from the culture and way of life I come from.  As globalization occurs and people in even the most remote parts of the world become more influenced from the Western world, it’s great to see at least some form of these ancient lifestyles still in practice today.  As Dawn and I hope to explore parts of Southeast Asia and more of Africa, I’m quite excited about being more exposed to people’s ways of life that are so different from our own.

Masai Men

Masai men welcoming us to their village

Set aside how beautiful and different Africa is, and the trip is still very special because my dad and I were able to hit that seventh continent together.  Visiting all seven continents was his goal long before it was mine (it was probably even a goal of his long before I was born), but it’s pretty cool that we were able to make the trip to our final two continents together.  There was never really a plan to visit Africa as our seventh continent, but I’m quite glad it turned out that way.  I’m sure we both figured that Antarctica would be our capstone to that goal, but I’m really glad we were able to complete that list in Africa with most of our family with us.

One more accomplishment knocked off the Bucket List, but many more to go.  

Dad and I stepping foot on continent number seven

Dad and I stepping foot on continent number 7

The family at Lake Nakuru National Park

The family at Lake Nakuru National Park

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Hilton Copenhagen Airport Hotel

As we only had a little over 24 hrs in Copenhagen, we were looking to find a hotel convenient to the center of the city as well as the airport. The Hilton Copenhagen Airport is very convenient to both. It’s located right across the street from the airport, and a short 15 minute metro ride from the center of the city. It couldn’t have taken us more than 10 minutes to walk from exiting customs to the front desk of the lobby. It has a beautiful, spacious lobby with plenty of seating to wait for friends arriving on different flights or just coming down from their room. The staff checking us in were very polite and incredibly helpful with suggestions on restaurants and directions how to navigate the city.

Hilton Copenhagen Airport Lobby

Welcome to the most convenient hotel in Copenhagen

Hilton Copenhagen Airport Lobby

It’s hip, it’s modern

As a Gold HHonors member (thanks to my Hilton American Express) we were put in a room on the executive level where the lounge is located. As you can see, the room was nicely decorated and certainly a nice sized room for the two of us. We hardly ever use much of the furniture in hotel rooms, but having a small sofa in the room was nice. I loved the floor to ceiling window, and I’m glad that they didn’t locate the desk in front of it like I’ve seen at some other Hiltons.

Hilton Copenhagen Airport Executive Room

Not a bad place to start a vacation

Hilton Copenhagen Airport Executive Room

Hotels in Scandinavia like to put two twin mattresses together to create a king size bed

I would have loved to had a view of the airport where we could watch planes land and take off, but we were on the other side of the hotel. The funky shaped building to the right is The Blue Planet aquarium that just recently opened. In the distance you can also see the giant wind turbines located in the sea. It was very cool to fly over so many of those coming into and leaving Copenhagen.

View from the Room

Few people would prefer an airport view over this. Sadly, I’m one of the few.

The real highlight of this hotel was the lounge. I haven’t visited many hotel lounges in my travels, but the combination of the views and the décor made it one of my favorites so far.

Hilton Copenhagen Airport Executive Lounge

I could have spent all day here

Hilton Copenhagen Airport Executive Lounge

A sofa, chairs straight out of the 70’s, and plane watching. What else could you ask for?

Hilton Copenhagen Airport Executive Lounge

The fireplace certainly wasn’t needed when we were there, but I bet most of the year that bad boy is cranked up.

The lounge was on the South side of the building facing the airport so that you could enjoy watching airplanes land and take off.

Airplane Spotting

Views from my favorite part of the hotel

Airplane Spotting

#avgeek

Airplane Spotting

We probably could have seen a bit more of Copenhagen if I wasn’t so busy watching planes.

The fridge was well stocked with water, soft drinks, tea, juices, and even chocolate milk. There were plenty of snacks available as well. We took full advantage of grabbing some food and drinks before heading off into the city when we first arrived. I believe there was a happy hour as well later that evening where there were free alcoholic drinks available, but we weren’t in the lounge at that time.

Lounge Drinks

For some reason Coke tastes so much better out of a bottle.

Lounge Drinks

High class water

Lounge Afternoon Snacks

These pretzels are making me thirsty.

Lounge Afternoon Snacks

I love me some kiwi

Lounge Afternoon Snacks

That plate of mini éclairs may have been full before I got to it.

As a Gold HHonors member, we were also entitled to a free breakfast, which was provided in the lounge at this hotel. Again, there were plenty of food and drink options to choose from, especially when I think of a typical European breakfast being bread, jelly, and maybe some cold cuts. It’s always nice to start the day off with a free breakfast.

Breakfast spread

I have greatly missed bacon while living in a Muslim country.

Breakfast spread

Fruit, jams, jellys, peanut butter, and nutella

Breakfast spread

Breads and pastries

Breakfast spread

Cold cuts and veggies

Breakfast spread

Cereal and juice options

Breakfast spread

My starter plate

Overall, this was the perfect hotel for us. Great location and great amenities for such a short trip. As the rates are quite pricey I’d highly suggest booking it on points as I’ll discuss in a later post describing our hotel bookings for the entire trip.

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24 hours in Copenhagen

As I mentioned previously while outlining our itinerary for our Scandinavia trip, Copenhagen was a bit of a tag on to this trip.  The original intent was to visit Stockholm and the fjords in western Norway.  As it turned out, it was quite cheap and convenient to add Copenhagen onto the beginning of the itinerary (it actually saved us a little bit of money flight wise to include Copenhagen).  The only downside was one less day in western Norway which was actually pretty tough for me to give up.  Checking another country off the list and visiting another world class city won me over.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark

Welcome to Copenhagen

With just over 24 hours in Denmark, we only really had time to skim the surface of Copenhagen and hit the highlights.  We made the most of our time by staying at the Hilton Copenhagen Airport Hotel which I’ll review in a later post.  We arrived in Denmark around 2 pm and after going through customs were greeted at the airport by workers from either the tourist board or some random milk company who were handing out free samples of Danish milk to arriving passengers.  I found it quite odd, and I’m not really a milk drinker so I passed.  Dawn tried it and said it tasted like any other milk.  So, if you’re headed to Denmark for the milk don’t get your expectations up.

We walked across a covered walkway to our hotel, and were able to check in immediately.  We headed to our room, dropped our luggage off, grabbed some snacks at the lounge, and headed into the city.  A friend of ours had just been to Denmark and recommended we pick up the 24 hr metro pass so we did and then took the 15 minute ride into the city.  One of the things on our agenda was to climb to the top of the Church of Our Saviour’s external spiral staircase for views of the city.

Church of Our Saviour

Church of Our Saviour

As we headed towards the church we walked along one of the canals.  As it was a beautiful day, plenty of people were outside enjoying the weather.  As Copenhagen is what some might describe as a very liberal city, there were a couple of guys enjoying the weather by sitting by the edge of the canal completely naked enjoying a picnic.  We were again reminded that we were very far from Doha.  Coming from a place where the local women are completely covered except for their eyes and hands, and where most men wear long pants (even the non-Qataris) seeing a couple dudes with nothing on is a little bit of a shock.  Quite entertaining, but a shock nonetheless.  

A canal in Copenhagen

Some locals opted to be at least half dressed

We were a little concerned that the church’s spiral staircase wouldn’t be open by the time we got there as we had gotten conflicting information as to it’s hours, and we knew it wouldn’t be be open the next day.  We headed in that direction anyway, and were happy to see tourists heading in to start the trek to the top.  The church’s spire is 90 meters tall, and there are 400 steps to the top with 150 of those being on the outside (thanks Wikipedia!).  It gets pretty tight at the top, though, and as that’s where everyone wants to be it gets a bit crowded.  It wasn’t exactly designed for two way traffic, so getting up and down the spire near the top was a bit of work.  It was quite a hike, but as you can see from the pictures, the view was well worth it.  

View from the top of the Church of Our Saviour

A great introduction to Copenhagen

View from the top of the Church of Our Saviour

Boats lining the canal

After enjoying the views we headed to another tourist hotspot – Nyhavn.  It’s a picturesque part of the town right on a man made canal lined with a bunch of overpriced restaurants and bars.  Again, due to the great weather, the place was crowded, but it made for a fun atmosphere.  The locals knew better than to pay the high prices of the area as there were plenty of them sitting around on steps and ledges drinking beer they had brought from home.  We were hungry, and as the restaurant that was recommended to us by the hotel concierge was closed we had dinner outside at one of the overpriced restaurants there in Nyhavn.  If I recall correctly, my sandwich cost around the equivalent of $30 US.  It was good, but not $30 good.

Nyhavn

The locals enjoying the weather by the water

Eating in Nyhavn

$30 sandwiches are overrated

McCoy's Choice

Gastro Pubs – kind on the stomach, cruel on the wallet

We wandered around the city a bit more and found the opera house.  I think because I had seen pictures of the Oslo Opera House, I was a bit underwhelmed by the Copenhagen Opera House.  As I hadn’t really researched it or seen pictures, I think I was expecting something more architecturally stunning.  It was nice, but nothing to write home about.  After wandering the streets for a bit longer we headed back to the hotel.

Copenhagen Opera House

Copenhagen Opera House

The next morning after breakfast we headed out to catch a free walking tour of Copenhagen.  One of the things I first discovered on my Eurotrip back in 2006 is how there seems to be a ‘free’ walking tour in every decent sized city in Europe as well as many other places.  I’ve taken a free bike tour in Munich and free walking tours in Sydney, Buenos Aires, Dublin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and probably a few other cities that I can’t recall right now.  A tour guide (typically a college student or someone just out of college) walks you by the highlights of the city about for 1.5 to 3 hours for no cost up front.  You just tip them at the end what you feel like the tour was worth.  The tour guide is usually very well informed and enthusiastic about their city and full of stories to tell.  At the end of their tour they typically offer to give restaurant recommendations and suggest other things to do/see while visiting.  I’ve found it’s a great introduction to a city, and I try to take advantage of those types of tours the first or second day I’m in a city so that I can better decide where I want to spend more time during my trip.  The free walking tour in Copenhagen was, as expected, a great introduction to the city.

The Memorial Anchor, Nyhavn

The Memorial Anchor, Nyhavn

Changing of The Guard

Catching part of the changing of the guard was one of the highlights of the walking tour

Free walking tour group at the Amalienborg Palace

Our tour group at the Amalienborg.  People come out in force for free stuff.

A Royal Life Guard at the Amalienborg Palace

Dude loves his job and it shows.

After our walking tour we contemplated skipping seeing the Little Mermaid statue as we read it wasn’t that impressive, but I fell into the tourist trap and decided since we were in Copenhagen we should see it.  It was only about a 10 minute walk away, but we had a little trouble finding it.  Once we got close enough it was easy to spot though as there was quite a crowd around it.  As expected, it wasn’t too exciting, but I can check it off the list of things people expect you to see while in Copenhagen.

The Little Mermaid statue

Been there, seen that, got the picture

Using the excuse of maximizing the little time we had left in the city, we took a bicycle tuk tuk ride from the statue to closer to the center of the city where we needed to be to eventually get back on the train.  I’m not sure a trip to Denmark is complete without visiting the Lego store as Denmark is where Legos were invented.  It seems like they could have done more with the flagship store there, but it was worth the visit anyway.  As a kid who brought creations made from Legos to show and tell every week in kindergarten (yes, every week) I loved seeing the few models they did have.

Model of Nyhavn in the Lego Store

Almost as good as the models I made in kindergarten

We were running out of time, so we passed on trying to squeeze in the National Museum.  That will leave us something to check out the next time we make it back.  It was honestly a tough call whether or not to include Copenhagen in the trip due to the limited amount of time we had, but I’m very glad we did.  There was a lot we didn’t get to see in Copenhagen, and certainly even more we missed out on in the rest of Denmark, but we at least got a small taste of the city and country.  Who knows, maybe we’ll be back some day to catch some of what we missed this time around.

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Cambodia and Vietnam in Style

If I’ve learned anything from my time in the miles and points world, it’s if you can’t get what you want, hang up and call back.  If I’ve learned two things, the second would be jump on a deal quickly when it comes up because it may not last long.  I’ve read quite a few stories about dirt cheap mistake fares and incredible mileage redemptions, but I was never able to take advantage of any of them.  That was until a couple of days ago.  I read about a deal that might actually work out quite well for Dawn and me.  It certainly wasn’t as lucrative as some of deals I’ve read about previously, but I also felt more confident that this particular deal would be honored and the tickets wouldn’t be cancelled.  

Looking forward to flying in one of these seats again soon.

Looking forward to flying in one of these seats again soon.

The basic summary of the deal is that you can get a one way ticket from Phnom Penh (PNH), Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN), Vietnam for only $245.  The two cities only require a 40 minute flight to travel from one to the other, and so it appears that flights between the two cities are typically fairly inexpensive.  The kicker for this particular deal is that for $245 you can fly through Doha (DOH) to get there, which just so happens to be about 3600 miles away.  And it’s in Business Class.  I found the deal from reading View From the Wing, and Gary does an excellent job explaining the details of it here from the perspective of mileage running.  As I’m not really into mileage running, I’m much more interested in the fact that this deal allows us to visit a couple of places that are quite high on our travel list – Vietnam and Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

The fare doesn’t get me to Cambodia; it only gets me home from Cambodia and onto Vietnam.  Also, it only allows you to book that one way flight from PNH-DOH-SGN for $245 if you have less than a 24 hour layover in DOH.  The price bumps up to $430 if you take a stopover (anything longer than 24 hrs) in DOH.  Being based in Doha and not really feeling like back to back 11 hr and 7 hr flights I opted for the ‘pricey’ option of a 2 month stopover in DOH.  This allows us to spread out our 2 trips and not just hang out on planes all day (although I might enjoy that – Dawn, not so much, even in business class).  We’re headed to Cambodia in mid-November and Vietnam in mid-January.

So after I booked our flight from PNH-DOH (November) and our flight from DOH-SGN (January), it was time to figure out how to get to Cambodia, and how to get home from Vietnam.  Originally, I thought I’d be able to book SGN-DOH-PNH (the opposite of the first flight I booked) for the ‘deal’ price, but I couldn’t get it to work out.  Eventually, I gave up and just booked PNH-DOH-SGN again to return from Vietnam in January.  Since PNH is in Cambodia and not Vietnam we’ll have to book ourselves a separate, cheap flight from wherever we are in Vietnam at the time back to PNH before our long haul business class flight home to DOH.  Once we arrive in DOH, we can either hop on the next segment of the flight to SGN or we can just conveniently miss that segment of the flight… and then head back to our apartment in Doha.  As that last segment from DOH-SGN isn’t as important to us, I was able to book the ticket for the lower, non-stopover price of $245.

So, now that our return from Vietnam is taken care of, I just need to figure out our ticket to Cambodia.  Since the main focus of the trip is to visit the ruins of Angkor near Siem Reap (REP) I’ll probably book our flights from DOH-REP.  That ticket is looking like it’ll cost around $700.  We’ll spend a few days there, and then fly the 45 mins to PNH (about $130).  There will be plenty to see and do to fill up a 4-5 day trip between both places.

For the Vietnam trip, with both the long haul flights there and back booked, all we have left to figure out is what to do with our 10 days there.  We’ll certainly spend a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, and since Halong Bay is on Dawn’s list, we’ll most likely head north for a few days as well.  With the time left over we may visit a beach town or maybe we’ll take a quick flight over to Bangkok or somewhere else in Thailand.  The possibilities are almost endless, and that’s what I really love about planning these trips.  So many options.

Here’s what the Cambodia trip looks like:

Cambodia - DOH-REP-PNH-DOH

Cambodia in November: DOH-REP-PNH-DOH

And here’s what the Vietnam trip looks like for now:

Vietnam:  DOH-SGN-PNH-DOH

Vietnam in January: DOH-SGN-PNH-DOH

They look the pretty much the same, don’t they?

In the end, this is what the end cost of the two trips will most likely look like without any additional SE Asia flights for the Vietnam trip:

Cambodia
DOH-REP     Economy     $700
REP-PNH     Economy     $130
PNH-DOH    Business       $215 (split between the two segments)

Vietnam
DOH-SGN     Business     $215 (split between the two segments)
SGN-PNH     Economy   $150
PNH-DOH    Business     $245 (including the ‘unused’ portion back to SGN)

Total flight costs for 2 vacations:  $1655/person

The price will probably jump a bit as we start to add intra-Southeast Asia flights for the Vietnam trip, but not significantly.  It’s was a little bit of work to figure out all of the right flights that were needed, but it was worth the time and effort.  It may seem like a lot of money to some, but when you consider we’re flying long haul business class on one of the top airlines in the world, it’s a pretty good deal.  It’s nothing earth shattering, but I’m pretty excited about it.  Booking similar trips in economy without the ‘deal’ flights would cost about $2400/person.  The normal cost of flying Business class on those same trips would be about $5400/person.

It seems like our list of places we want to visit while living here in Doha is constantly changing (as my mind has a tendency to change quite a bit), but I’m pretty excited that I was able to jump on a deal for a couple of places that were on our travel list from the very beginning.

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A Scandinavian Escape

I’ve been in Doha for 4 months and 2 days.  Straight.  124 days.  That’s a very long time.  Especially for Doha.  That’s roughly 3 months longer than I’d like to stay in the country at any one time.  Don’t get me wrong, I love living here.  It’s an incredible opportunity, but sometimes you just need a break.  Working six days a week is wearing me out, and I’m ready for a change in scenery.  It’s about time to get out of this country.  Go see something green.  Maybe even catch a cloud or two.

Olden fjord, Norway

Olden fjord, Norway by Kenny Muir, on Flickr

With Eid Al-Fitr (the Islamic holiday to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan) coming up the office is closed for a few days.  Combine that with a couple of weekends and a few days of vacation and I had myself a 9 day trip to plan.  Before moving over here, Dawn and I came up with quite a list of must see places that we wanted to visit during our time here.  We knew we wouldn’t be able to see them all, but we tried to prioritize them as best we could.  Thailand, Jordan, Cambodia.  All very high on the list.  Sometimes the best laid plans are thrown out.  Those places all have something in common.  They’re all ridiculously hot.  Yeah, maybe they’re not Doha hot, but while I’m in Doha I’m sitting in an air conditioned office, car, or apartment for most of the day while it’s 110ºF outside.  I’m not out trekking around visiting temples and ancient ruins.  That did not seem like a good idea at this time of the year.

It turns out Scandinavia can be quite green this time of year, and I think they even have clouds.  More importantly, though, it has highs in the 60’s and low 70’s.  Exactly what we need.  Scandinavia wasn’t really on our radar as far as places to visit, but after talking with a coworker, I remembered that Dawn had mentioned that she’d like to visit those northern countries.  I started looking at flights, and all of a sudden I had a pretty nice looking itinerary.  

I have read quite a bit about how everyone loves Stockholm, and the fjords in Norway are not to be missed.  So, Oslo and Stockholm were definites, and I figured if I’m going to be close, why not try to work in Copenhagen as well.  I may be (I know I am) cramming in too much into a 9 day trip, but if I’m shooting for that Traveler’s Century Club membership I need to visit as many countries as possible.  Actually, as I was searching for flights I looked into  flying into both Copenhagen and Stockholm, and out of Oslo.  And the other way around.  And probably a few more iterations in there as well.  I love searching for flights.  It’s odd, I know, but I enjoy it.  Anyway, for the flights and times I wanted it was actually cheaper to fly into Copenhagen for a little over 30 hours and add the one way from Copenhagen to Stockholm than it was just to fly straight to Stockholm.  Of course then we had to add in our flight from Stockholm to Norway (we ended up with a flight to Stavanger), and then we had our return flight from Oslo to Doha.  Our flights look like this:

Doha to Copenhagen; Copenhagen to Stockholm; Stockholm to Stavanger; Oslo to Doha; map taken from gcmap.com

Doha to Copenhagen; Copenhagen to Stockholm; Stockholm to Stavanger (via Oslo); Oslo to Doha; map taken from gcmap.com

As I mentioned, we only have about a day and a half in Copenhagen, three days in Stockholm, and four and a half days spread out in Norway between Stavanger, Bergen, and Oslo.  It was really tough divvying up only 9 days between the three countries, but I’m looking forward to getting at least a little taste of each country.  Over my years of travel I’ve determined I really enjoy visiting the rural parts of a country over their cities, even while I tend to prefer to live in cities.  My wife certainly prefers the time spent in nature over cities as well.  I think that our Norway in a Nutshell tour of the mountains and fjords of Norway will be the highlight of our trip, and so I’m glad that it’s last on our itinerary (except for Oslo of course).  From the little reading I’ve done on Copenhagen, I have a feeling that there will be a lot we’ll miss out on having such a short time there, but the great thing about major international cities (especially in Europe) is they’re pretty easy to get to.  I hope that three days in Stockholm will be enough, at least for a trip of this length.  We don’t have a lot planned for much of the trip as of yet except for the Norway in a Nutshell tour, but I’m hoping that will change by the time we head to the airport on Friday morning.

No matter what we end up doing and seeing, it’ll just be great to get out of the heat for a few days and experience another part of the world.

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The Bucket List

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”


For as long as I can remember I’ve been taught how important it is to write down your goals.  If you want to accomplish something, you must document those goals and make a plan to accomplish them.  Most of my life I’ve done an excellent job of avoiding that strategy within the realm of travel.  For the most part I just did my best to take advantage of whatever situations and opportunities presented themselves to me.  While this is certainly an easy (and many times fun) strategy, especially when it comes to travel, it hasn’t encouraged me to focus on accomplishing those travel goals that take a little more effort and planning to accomplish.  I certainly still plan to incorporate plenty of spontaneous travel in my life (which I’ve never had a problem with), but I’d also like to set some ultimate life travel goals.  I hope to focus on a healthy balance of spontaneous and planned experiences.  Plenty of these items on my bucket list have been floating around in my head for quite some time, while some are relatively new.  I’ve known I’ve needed to document the list in some form or fashion for quite some time, but I’m quite an excellent procrastinator.

Recently, I was listening to the Extra Pack of Peanuts (EPOP) podcast, and Trav from EPOP was interviewing Sean Ogle of Location 180.  Sean has done a lot of incredible things in his life, many of which are documented on his Bucket List.  Listening to that podcast and the items he had crossed off of his list was the extra little push I needed to finally publish my very own Bucket List.  I already had much of my bucket list typed up in an excel spreadsheet and had planned on posting it on the blog at some point, so I’ve finally published it.  

Now, granted, many of the things on my list aren’t that important in the grand scheme of life, but all the same, they are things I would like to see, experience, or accomplish in my lifetime.  I fully expect this list to be a living document – continuing to grow as I grow, continuing to inspire me with new goals as I accomplish others.  They are numbered in no particular order, and I will continue to add to the list as more ideas come to me.  Right now they are all at least loosely related to travel, but I’m certainly not limiting myself to only travel related goals.  That’s just where my mind is right now.  Take a look at the link below (or up on the banner at the top of the page), and let me know what’s on your bucket list, or what I may need to add to mine.

Matt’s Bucket List

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Diving the Great Barrier Reef

Stepping Foot on the Antarctic Peninsula

Stepping Foot on the Antarctic Peninsula

Hang gliding over Rio

Hang Gliding over Rio de Janeiro

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