Monday, March 6, 2017

Islamic Architecture and Design

The corniche of Muscat, Oman

I finally went with Irene and the boys on a cruise.  She found a great deal for a week of cruising to ports in the United Arab Emirates and Oman.  I was looking forward to seeing the architecture and mosques, both new and old, of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and especially of Muscat.  Shortly after our return, we also worked a flight together to Delhi, India. Our two day layover there enabled us to see more spectacular Mughal monuments from that Muslim dynasty in India, including the famous Taj Mahal.

beautiful tiles on a mosque in Sharjah, UAE

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque,  Abu Dhabi

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is the largest in the country.  It took 11 years to build and was completed in 2007.  Its design has a mix of Persian, Mughal and Moorish styles of architecture.  The dome layout and floor plan was inspired by that of the Badashi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan while its archways are quintessentially Moorish and its minarets classically Arab. 

The capacity for this mosque is 40 000 people,  which is the number of worshippers it regularly receives for Friday prayers.   The carpet in the main hall is the world's largest and is 60 500 square feet.  It took over 1200 Iranian carpet knotters two years to complete. It has seven chandeliers that were made in Germany and that are covered in millions of Swarovsky crystals.  The  pillars are made from Macedonian marble and are covered in floral patterns (reminiscent of the Taj Mahal) and are inlaid with semi-precious stones such as lapis lazuli, red onyx, amethyst and abalone.

Our next stop was in Muscat, Oman. Whereas the cities of United Arab Emirates are full of modern glass skyscrapers, the Sultanate of Oman has chosen to keep a much more traditional Arabic style for all of its buildings. They are predominantly low rises that are white and tan brown, perfectly suited to the dry, rocky, and jagged mountains of the Arabian peninsula.

A visit to Muscat would be incomplete without visiting the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.  As with the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, it is also relatively new (2001) however, like the city that surrounds it, the mosque is more subtle, with beautiful sand coloured walls and marble.  Large geometric carved wooden doors are a perfect contrast to the light tan vaults and domes.

Another great example of Arabian architecture was the grounds of Sultan Qaboos' grand palace.  We were there during their winter  (a cool average of 28 C)  and we often thought how strolling around the city would not be possible during summer months when temperatures hover around 45 degrees most of the time.

The ship sailed back to Dubai where we had our last full day to explore this modern city built from a humble fishing village just sixty years ago.  The new towers, including the world's tallest, the Burj Khalifa, are indeed impressive.  However, it was the traditional Bedouin architecture that we found  to be fascinatinhg and worth exploring.  The Emirate has done an excellent job maintaining and preserving its heritage as well as recreating certain buildings in the style of their past.

Traditional souk (market) in Dubai

lanterns with  Islamic patterns

Art work from a local calligrapher

The Burj Khalifa, lit up nightly with a multitude of changing light patterns.

Geometric patterns in the Dubai Mall

Traditional Arab coffee in the "Coffee Museum"

Shortly after our return, Irene and I had a flight we worked to together to Delhi.  With a longer than normal layover of two days, we were able to do a day trip to the Taj Mahal.  I had been once before over twenty years ago but I was excited to see once again this masterpiece of Indian Islamic architecture.  It was winter therefore quite cool and very foggy.  We could barely see it from the entrance gate.    Luckily, the fog lifted and we saw the famous mausoleum that the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had built for his wife's final resting place in the 1630s. Among the vast complex there is a mosque as well as a guest house and several other buildings along the banks of the Yamuna river. The Taj Mahal's ivory coloured marble is being cleaned for the first time ever, therefore the forward right minaret was covered in scaffolding, making the classic photo a little less classic.  Apparently the main dome is next, starting sometime this summer.

adjacent mosque

An average of 8 million tourists visit the Taj each year.

The following day we went to old Delhi, and saw the Red Fort as well as the Jama Masjid, the Old Delhi Mosque. Both were built in the same period of the Mughal reign of Shah Jahan. The mosque is one of the largest in India.

Nice view from the top of a minaret.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sailing in the Caribbean

I had recently contacted an old sailing friend and work colleague of mine,  Sandra,  whom I had heard had a boat down in Antigua for a few years now and spent much of the last couple of winters sailing the islands.  I was invited to join her and her partner Roman for two weeks in November.  Yes!  From the airport we drove to the boat yard where her 40' Bénéteau  "Caramba" had just been put back into the water for the season.  They had arrived a week earlier to work on her (always work to be done on a boat) and to put another coat of paint on her hull. 

We set sail the next day for the southern coast of Antigua to the picturesque bay of Falmouth Harbour.  A gorgeous day,  nice wind without rolling swells,  perfect for a "shake down" as they say in sailing circles,  to get the sails out and get the boat working after a long stay out of the water.

I had a cabin to myself in the aft quarter of the boat but I preferred sleeping outside in the cockpit area as the wind was warm and the stars were bright.  I quickly became buddies with Tiga, their dog that they picked up as a stray skinny puppy on the neighbouring island of Barbuda the year before.

Falmouth Harbour, along side English Harbour are the most popular anchorage spots on the island.  It is home to the Antigua Yacht Club which hosts the annual boat show that was only a week away.  There were already several mega-yachts arriving into the harbour,  a popular destination for the 1 percenters to show off their 'toys'.  As Roman said however, we were sharing the same waters they were.

We then met up with Paul, a friend of Sandra's who had a sailboat in Vancouver and with whom she raced with.  His hometown friend Chris was also there and together, they got on Caramba and we set sail for Guadeloupe, where we would spend a week.

The next morning we pulled up the anchor and had another amazing day of about 8 hours sailing to the north western tip of the much bigger French island.

The town of Deshaies is a small hamlet at the end of a small bay with lush tropical mountains rising up above.  The routine of dropping and setting the anchor, getting the dinghy off the davits and then piling into it  to motor to shore reminded me of the daily routine I had whilst sailing in the South Pacific (a difficult life indeed!).

Being on a French island meant excellent croissants and baguettes for breakfast.  Chris, who lived in Europe for several years, is quite the foodie and he picked up some really nice cheese and meats that you could only dream of getting on Antigua.  We stocked up on a some beer and wine as well.  It's a quaint town with a mix of locals and France proper émigrés.  Walking around, I heard  that sweet sounding tunes that is 'zouk'  the French Antilles créole music.

When at anchor, you inevitably see quite a few other sailboats, sometimes meeting their owners and swapping a few stories.  It's always interesting seeing the really nice boats.  I noticed that the standard size of sailboats in the Caribbean was about 40 feet.  Also, I would say that it was about 60% catamarans, the majority of those most likely chartered boats.

The sailing guide for the Caribbean mentions that Deshaies is a windy harbour.  It was certainly windy our second and last night, enough that it dragged our anchor and we were all up in the wee hours hoisting and re-setting it so as not to come too close to neighbouring boats.

It was another excellent full day of sailing to a group of small islands off the south-eastern tip of the main one called Les Saintes.  Sandra and Roman said that this was one of their favourite spots in the Caribbean and we could easily see why.  Nice protected bays, beaches, coral reefs  The harbour and houses that dotted the hillside look like a tropical version of the Mediterranean.

"Son of a son of a sailor"

Roman's 'Dark & Stormy' packed a sweet strong punch

charcuterie and drinks on deck

On our second day we rented scooters and drove around Haute Terre, the main island in the group.   The old fort high on the hill is an excellent museum detailing several naval battles between the French and the British as well as local examples of traditional fishing boats and daily life of the islands' natives.   We stopped at several different beaches and had what was probably the best gelato I have had outside of Florence.

After three gorgeous days at Les Saintes, we sailed back north to Deshaies.  Another evening at anchor there before checking out from customs the next morning and sailing back to Antigua.  It was an overcast day, nice winds for the first half then the rain came down in violent sheets.  We had to motor the rest of the time and made it back just after night fall.  We were unlucky at fishing every time we sailed but then Paul finally caught a perfect sized 5 lb tuna on Sandra's old school hand held coil of line. Once at anchor, we had tuna tataki for appies and I then cooked the rest in a coconut curry.  We definitely ate well on the boat  and whenever in town.  The guys left the next day to fly home and we sailed to yet another stellar bay on the western side of the island called Jolly Harbour where I stayed two more days before flying home.   It was my first time on smaller Caribbean islands and  there  could not have been a better way to explore them then on the water and on a sailboat.