Occasionally updated personal site and blog

Singapore: Museums & Downtown

One downside to Singapore: the climate. A little above 30 degrees: no problem. Combined with 85% humidity: start hunting around for an air-conditioned building to duck into after about 5 minutes of walking. Otherwise get windshield wipers for your forehead, and feel yourself dissolving in a puddle of sweat.

sg old police

So just some quick impressions from downtown, here a former police station that was kind of like the first skyscraper in colonial times.

sg university

And the university’s art faculty, with a really cool modern building.

gallery balinese

And yes, I totally meant to go into the National Gallery, not just enjoy some A/C… Which turned out to be really good – focusing on art both about Singapore, and from artists based in the region, so nothing you’ve ever heard about in a European gallery, which made things fresh and interesting.

gallery building

Housed in both the former supreme court (the new supreme court next door is by Frank Gehry, but uncharacteristically way too ugly to photograph) and the former city hall, renovated and combined by an ultramodern new shell building.

gallery landscape

Will not post too many pictures of the art, since that’s a personal taste, just some I liked.

gallery calligraphy

gallery expressionist

gallery modern chair

Contemporary art, but quite cool – seen from just the right angle, the pieces strewn about the floor form into the shape of a complete chair.

gallery hall

The old city hall part of the building.

museum piano

And finally – the first piano I’ve seen on my trip!

Unfortunately, it’s both a Steinway special edition, and therefor a museum piece, and reserved for the occasional formal concert. If this had been Egypt or Nepal, I would have ignored the barriers, hopped on and played for a bit, and when caught relied on a combination of playing dumb and white-guy privilege, and it would have worked. But Singapore is not a country where that would fly, so sadly no piano for me 😦

sg parlianment

The parliament building – Singapore might be governed by the same party since independence, but they do have elections and a parliament. It seems to be a kind of benevolent-not-quite-dictatorship that works.

museum video

Next air-conditioned building important museum: The national museum of Singapore.

The picture is from a strange but cool huge room-sized video installation with swirling and evolving plant shapes in a dark dome. Weird video projections seem to be all the rage in art circles in Singapore, seems like every museum needs at least one.

museum colonial

Singapore seems to be very much OK, even proud, of its British colonial history. The Japanese occupation, though, occupies a wholly different, and dark, chapter in the museum. Reminds you of how much other countries in South-east Asia have NOT buried their WW2-era grievances with Japan, and how lucky we Germans are in contrast.

Another fun fact: The whole Malaysian thing (Singapore initially joined Malaysia after independance from Britain, but left/became independant/was kicked out shortly after) is very much glossed over, and hardly mentioned at all. So I have no idea why that happened.

museum hdb kitchen

From the chapter of development after independance: A model kitchen from an “HDB flat”. HDB stand for housing development board – basically a huge program of public housing run by the government, and responsible for the huge number of not pretty, but quite OK-looking concrete residential high-rise towers covering most of the city.

museum poster

And yup, can’t have Singapore without a little paternalism, this one from a campaign from the seventies.

food breakfast toast

Tea break: Some “Copi-O” (indonesian-style coffee, brewed in a few seconds with ballet-worthy moves by the barista, somehow combining condensed milk, a dark roast, and a rather bitter flavor. Drinkable in a pinch, but I’ll stick with my overpriced-cappucino-from-a-local-Starbucks-clone. Why hard-boiled eggs are served as a combo with toast – no idea.

food orange machine

Found on the sidewalk on the way home: this little marvel of technology. You know those fresh orange juicers sometimes standing in supermarkets? Here is one packed into a fully automated vending machine, including chilled orange storage, and a robotic arm capping your drink and handing it to you. Of course, you can pay by either contactless storage, WeChat or Alipay.



Singapore: First impressions

I can’t even tell you how much I love Singapore right now!

After Nepal etc, firmly back in the first world. Not the Western world – Singapore is plenty exotic, with an interesting mix of Chinese, Malai, Indian and Western culture.

But at the same time, it’s a very rich country, and more importantly a very organised one, where everything just works.

If you imagine every place you could travel to having two dials – one labeled “adventure”, (i.e. how foreign, exotic and exciting is the place), and the other one labeled “comfort” (i.e. how easy and relaxing it is to travel there) – then most of the places I’ve been so far would rate very high on “adventure”, but rather low on “comfort”.

So compared to that, Singapore is like “excitement in easy mode”.

sg signs

Stuff that just works in Singapore: All around, there’s lots of signage not just telling tourists how to get to sights, but for everybody pointing to the nearest metro station, public toilet, car park etc.

sg mrt

Speaking of the metro: Not only does it have fully automatic driverless trains, it also stops exactly in front of the fully automatic platform doors.

sg mrt load

And it has monitors showing you, before the train arrives, which part of the train will be how full.

sg ezpass

You also don’t have to worry about figuring out which ticket you need – you just get one of these smartcards, load a few singapore dollars on it, and then just tap it when entering and leaving the subway, and it will automatically deduct the fare according to distance – usually just a few eurocents per trip downtown.

sg mrt fines

The cliches you’ve heard about huge fines in Singapore are true, though. 1 Singapore dollar is about 60 eurocents – so yes, I was worried I’d drink some water without thinking about it, and get hit with a 300 euro fine. (No fine amount given for taking a durian fruit on the train – I wonder why?).

And yes, your visa sticker does have a big fat “Death panelty for trafficking drugs” on it…

sg four languages

The four official languages of Singapore – Mandarin, English, Malay and Tamil (not Hindi!). Although in practice English and Chinese are by far the most common.

I actually have to remind myself that most people are at least fluent in English, if not native speakers – Singaporean English has some “Singlish” influences, i.e. local slang, and expressions influenced by Chinese and Malay, and accents tend to be pretty pronounced, so when I speak to someone who looks Chinese, and speaks with a heavy Chinese accent, I have to actively remind myself that they probably speak English better than I do, and NOT to fall back into the simplified pidgin quasi-English that serves as the real international language of tourism in non-Englishspeaking parts of the world.

sg coffeeshop whychwood

Speaking of cultural mix: this coffee shop for some strange reason was carrying beers from the Wychwood brewery in England – some of my favourite beers, currently, and hard to get in Germany. A single bottle was like 15 euros, though, so I did without.

sg hawker

Not everything is expensive, though – there are “hawker centers” everywhere – something in between a bunch of rowdy street food stalls, and a mall’s food court.

sg food chinese

Where I got this delicious Chinese (I think) chicken curry for about 6 euros.

food drinks

Speaking of food: here’s the latest in the ongoing series of “trying weird stuff from the nearest convenience store”: The Lemon Barley drink turned out to be delicious and refreshing, the “yuzu” fruit drink to be some kind of citrus fruit, and the package wrapped in imitation banana leaf to be some kind of rice dish with some weird nuts and dicey small fish bits.

Nepal: Patan etc

durbar portal kumari

Some more pics from Kathmandu – this one is the entrance to the home of the Kumari – a child that is worshipped as a living goddess, showing herself here once a day, but only until she hits puberty, at which point a new, younger Kumari is chosen. Yup, Hinduism does get weird sometimes.

temples neighbourhood

Kathmandu is full of small neighbourhood temples, shrines and statues – just being there, with some prasad (sacrificial donations of e.g. food), and some people praying, but otherwise just being part of daily life. I found those often much more interesting than the famous temples on e.g. durbar square.

alley statue

Like this one, just hidden in a backyard of some side street.

stupa back alley

Or this one I stumbled upon while getting lost.

patan rafters

Lots of statues and carvings everywhere. Some creepy demons, some sexual in nature, some weird. Certainly interesting, but I have to say that as artworks the buddhist-influenced imagery did not appeal to me as much as some other hindu styles.

patan me archway

sb prayer mills

I prefer the plainer things, like those prayer mills.

patan stones

Or those beautifully carved ancient stones. These ones were in Patan, another former kingdom, nowadays more or less a suburb of Kathmandu, and just a cheap but hair-raising taxi ride away.

patan museum

The palace has been restored, and now houses a fantastic museum of buddhist and hindu statues and other art and historic artifacts. I had a bit of an overload of statues with lots of arms and animal heads, though – which I say not to sound flippant, but rather because I was surprised and rather disappointed how much the tibetan style of buddhism had turned buddhism, which started not as a religion, but a life philosophy, into a “real” religion full of gods, saints and folklore.

patan buddha

So I’ll just post this picture of my favorite, much plainer, buddha, in the museum.

patan monasteru

The inside of another buddhist temple and monastery in Patan.

patan ritual

They did not speak enough English for me to get what the ongoing ritual was about, but did not mind having their picture taken.

road google maps

On the way back to Kathmandu. Having google maps on the phone is absolutely fantastic when roaming around an unknown city (and internet access has so far worked in every country visited, and at expensive-but-ok prices), but sometimes the reality of “highway leading directly in your direction” and the reality, as in the picture above, does not quite match up.

modi visit

Back in Kathmandu, I started to freak out when suddenly lots of soldiers, and policemen in riot gear, appeared – until I saw the sign above, and remembered that somebody had told me yesterday that India’s prime minister Modi was coming for a state visit.


These vehicles are minibuses, that apparently have more or less fixed routes, and leave when full. Would have cost me 20 rupees or so to Patan instead of the 500 for a taxi, but since 500 rupees is about 4 euros, in this case I went for the less adventurous option.

garden overview

And now for something completely different: The “garden of dreams”, a recently restored garden built by a rich aristocrat in the 19th century (I think), inspired by victorian English gardens. VERY beautiful, and an oasis of calm in the madness of downtown Kathmandu.

garden fountain

Made me realize that public spaces that are green, clean, safe and quiet is a true luxury of living in a rich country. Also, sometimes you just have to quit sightseeing and exploring for a while, and kick back, read and relax for a bit, which I did in this very spot.

That’s it from Nepal – next up: Singapore!



Nepal: Swayambunath

Swayambunath was a name that I could not for the life of me remember – had lots of conversations like “What are you doing today” – ” Going to Saya..waya…the Buddhist stupa, you know, the one with the monkeys”.

sb main stupa

Swayambunath is a major ancient buddhist site on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Besides the giant stupa with the all-seeing buddah eyes, there’s lots of smaller temples, including hindu sites of worship, on top of a hill.

sb stairway to heaven

The hill is famous for its long, steep climb (symbolizing the journey to nirvana – and also a lot of sweat, even in the slightly cooler evening).

sb monkeys man

And also for the monkeys living on it – the real stars of the show for me. They are neither aggressive nor shy, just doing their own thing among the humans coming to visit.

sb monkey altar

Did I spend more time watching the monkeys then looking at the temples? Well, what if it’s both in the same picture?

sb valley view

Also famous: the view from the top of the hill. Here towards the Kathmandu valley, where the sheer size of the huge sprawl of Kathmandu becomes apparent.

sb prayer flags

The view towards the mountains was sadly rather non-existant, due to the hazy sky (weather or pollution? probably both).


This one is NOT my picture, but from wikipedia (attribution and link to original), just to show the view I had been hoping for.

sb stuffs

Plenty to see on the hill, though. Sadly, it’s not quite a mystical pilgrimmage site, but quite a circus full of the usual souvenir sellers, guides, touts, chinese tourists with selfie sticks etc.

sb monkey

And monkeys, of course. Those are cool.

sb monkey statue

Did I mention the monkeys?

sb detail

Alright, more temple views. Those are impressive, too.

sb me mills

Prayer mills are also very much a thing, with different sections responsible for different mantras when spun. The monks were happy to let me have a go at the prayer mills – a preayer’s a prayer, right? Though when walking around the temple, you have to do it clockwise, otherwise the blessing does not work, according to the tibetan style of buddhism.

sb statues

Some more modern statues at the base of the hill.

sb hindipop

Some more shrines. Although to get the real impression, note the bluetooth speaker placed on the shrine in the foreground by the souvenir seller next to it, blasting some finest Bollywood soundtracks. Fit the scene, though.

sb fluss

On the way back downtown. Hey, why don’t you just walk, whispered google maps seductively. It will be a nice stroll along the beautiful riverside, it promised. Eugh. Picture is not even complete without the lovely smell of garbage.

mango seller

Not be unfair to Nepal, though, let’s finish today’s pictures with something prettier: random guy on the street selling fruit from his “cargo bike”. Advantage of coming to Nepal in the host season: Papaya and Mango are in season, and very, very tasty.


Nepal is where I almost failed to be let into the country.

patan me entrance monastery

Visa? On arrival at the airport, check. Fee? 25 USD, check. Except I stupidly left my US Dollars in my luggage – whereas Nepali immigration is, as usual, *before* baggage pick-up, so I could not access my bag without dollars, and did not have dollars without access to my bag.

No worries – I had already changed my remaining UAE dirham into Nepali rupees back in Abu Dhabi, and had just enough to pay the visa fee. Except that Nepal immigration takes US dollars, Euros, and a bunch of other hard currencies (they would even have taken dirham) – but not Nepali rupees! WTF? What country refuses to except its own currency?

OK, plan C – credit card. Which is accepted  – except not today, because the network connection was down. Well, shit.

I started looking around for fellow foreign passengers I could beg to lend me some hard currency for just a few minutes, when I remembered my second, back-up, credit card, and convinced the immigration officer to try that one. And luckily, this one, with no network connection, fell back to accepting just a signature. Phew!

Lesson learnt: You can never have too many ways to access money.

thamel street

Being in Nepal also means firmly being back in the third world (Nepal is considered the third-poorest country in Asia, just slightly ahead of such shining beacons of development as North Korea, Afghanistan and Yemen) after Abu Dhabi. Which means back to chaotic traffic, rather basic conditions, and general chaos and improvisation.

durbar square me statue

Luckily, Nepal is somewhat of a home game for me – culturally, Nepal is to India pretty much what Austria is to Germany, so unlike in Egypt, there was a lot of things I was already familiar with, and also a bit of nostalgia for me. (Most Nepalis, when asked, don’t particularly like India, though, seeing it as more of a domineering big brother).

thamel prayer flags

Differences between India and Nepal:

  1. The religion and culture feels at least as much Buddhist as Hindu. Like those prayer flags above – those were in the tourist ghetto of Thamel (pretty much like Bangkok’s Khao San road – a whole area with nothing but travel agents, guest houses and restaurants catering to backpackers), but they are actually showing up in lots of places.

road cow

2. No cows on the road!! Was almost happy to find this single specimen above. Also, the classic Indian “whole family on a motorcycle” scene was quite rare – car traffic seems to have grown a lot in the last couple of years. All the usual South Asian traffic “rules” apply, though.


3. Noticeably poorer. Unpaved roads in the center of the capital were quite shocking to see. And everything, from houses to vehicles to infrastructure, seems pretty worn-out and improvised. (Compared to India – that’s saying something). On the other hand, there was less openly visible misery in the form of e.g. crippled beggars, or slums – although it’s probably not a fair comparison, having seen only the capital city and its surroundings.

durbar temple people

4. Somehow more relaxed. E.g. lots of the neighbourhood temples have a more lived-in feel to them, less a sacred place of the gods, and more a community center to hang out in.

garden date

5. Less religiously conservative. For example, while you see plenty of women dressed in Saris or even muslim-style whole-body covers, you also see young women in jeans or short skirts just walking down the street. Or, in the photo from a park above, even young couples out on dates (which seem to consist mostly of the couple silently sitting next to each other..)

patan construction

6. Sadly, lots of damage from the devastating earthquake of 2015. The photo above is from durbar square in Kathmandu – the central square with lots of famous palaces and temples. Unfortunately, a lot of them are either reduced to rubble and being rebuilt from the ground up, or under heavy renovation like those above.

election poster

7. Democracy is a new thing. On one of the main roads, there were lots of posters like the one above, explaining to people how elections work. Nepal was a monarchy until quite recently, went through a civil war to abolish it, and Nepali are apparently still complicated.

cycle rikshaw

8. On a lighter note: No auto-rikshaws! (at least in Kathmandu). Cycle rikshaws, which have become rare elsewhere, are still a thing, though.

To finish this post, some similarities:

convenience store

Kiranas, i.e. small neighbourhood mom-and-pop stores, are everywhere. There are some supermarkets, but most of your daily needs will be handled by a store like this one. Just such a regular thing that I never remembered to take a picture before.

snack bar

Roadside snacks are the best food. I love Samosas!

copper shop.JPG

And there are so many beautiful things you can get, with some bargaining, for, converted to hard currency, very low prices. Now I even if it’s beautiful I have neither the need nor the luggage space for a large water bowl, but I did buy enough Pashmina shawls, Tshirst and yak wool blankets that I had to send a package by mail – an adventure by itself.




Abu Dhabi: Louvre

louvre logo.JPG

Nope, not a typo: Abu Dhabi does have a Louvre – the first museum called Louvre besides the original one.


Picture By Wikiemirati – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65054805

I wanted to take a picture of the rather spectacular building from outside – but it was way, way too hot to walk far enough away to get a panorama, so here’s a shot from Wikipedia instead.

louvre 3 masks

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is not like other art museums, where they showcase some artist or style per room. Instead, it’s a tour through the history of civilisation, with art from all over the world illustrating common concepts – like showing death masks made out of gold from 3 different continents next to each other.

louvre ramses

Of course, Ramses II. (all over the place in Egypt) shows up here, too, but juxtaposed with some classic statues from Assyria, and e.g. a bust of Augustus from Rome.louvre augustus

louvre assyrian

louvre coins

Some coins found in the U.A.E. from the era of trade on the silk road.

louvre cy twombly

Can’t avoid some contemporary art, I guess – here by Cy Twombly, a big name in contemporary art, but just as shitty here as in Munich.

louvre ai weiwei

Ai Weiwei also makes an appearance – shiny is good, I guess?

louvre paravent

My favourite piece was this paravent from Japan.

Overall, it’s pretty amazing how many significant works of art they have amassed in a really short time (the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened just a little while ago).

Half of the artworks are loaners from the Louvre, but also some other French museums like the musée d’Orsay or the musée guimet (for which Abu Dhabi payed something like a couple hundred million dollars…), the other half was acquired by the museum within a few years. I guess another instance of “let’s see what we can do by throwing unlimited amounts of oil money at it”.louvre reflections

The roof structure is really cool, shading the galleries underneath it, but letting in some soft fuzzy light. The cafe has an outdoor terrace next to the water, where the heat was almost bearable in the shade for a few minutes.


Before leaving Abu Dhabi, some more random impressions:

toilet dual.JPG

A commitment to the dual style of toilet – note the western-style toilet paper on the right, combined with the middle eastern-style water hose on the left.

gold souk window.JPG

A shop window from the gold souk, a part of the mall next to my hotel with dozens of stores next to each other specialising in nothing but gold jewellery.

supermarket veg

The huge supermarket in the mall is like a cross between a British supermarket, an Indian grocery store, and some filipino, Thai and Arabian sections. Like these vegetables, which I had previously only seen sold by vegetable sellers in India.

supermarket durian.JPG

Or the fact that they sell western brands, but with a middle-eastern twist, like Sesame Snickers, or Nescafe with Cardamom flavour. And yes, Durians are available, too!

Abu Dhabi: Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Of all things named Zayed in Abu Dhabi, the most interesting one for tourists: The huge, bright and amazing Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

mosque entrance.JPG

For those yelling “copy of the Taj Majahl”: yes, it is officially “inspired” by the Taj – but also the Alhambra (in the ornamental wooden roofs of the domes) and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (in the interior). Not a bad pedigree.

mosque courtyard.JPG

Not much need for words – it really is just amazingly beautiful. Sorry for the low-res pictures that don’t really do it justice – I’m writing this from Nepal, where the internet is rather slow and interrupted by power cuts.

mosque interior.JPG

The one thing one could criticise aesthetically is that it’s not exactly subtle or modest – the Sheikh definitely went all-out. So I’d say it’s not the most beautiful mosque in the world for me –  the Blue Mosque or the Sulemaniye in Istanbul, or even the plain but honest Jama Masjid in Delhi take that crown. But wow, it is amazing.

The niche showing the direction to Mecca for prayer, and around it the 99 names of Allah (I thought that was just a saying, but our friendly guide explained that there actually are 99 specific official names).

mosque water

The pools around the mosque are not just for romantic reflections, but supposed to cool down the air a bit.


The ornamental flowers on the floor and the columns are not painted, but actually inlaid with precious stones (same technique as in the Taj Mahal).


Straight out of Arabian Nights.

Abu Dhabi: Ferrari World

In the last few years, Abu Dhabi has apparently decided that they need to show that uppity young upstart Dubai that they, too, can play a giant game of Sim City, using a few billions of oil money here and there to see what crazy kinds of tourist attractions and luxury entertainment they can come up with – preferably on new, man-made islands (because there is not enough desert already?), and with at least a few “World’s biggest/fastest/highest/newest”.

abudhabi leaning tower

First up: the world’s most leaning tower in the form of an office/hotel building. Not sure why – it certainly does not HAVE to lean for any reason. But “world’s mostest” is alway good, right?

abudhabi zayed streets.JPG

Personally, I would also add “most things named Zayed” (Zayed as in the founder of the emirate, and the U.A.E). “How to get to Zayed port? Just take Zayed bridge into the city, then continue along zayed road, and turn right after Zayed grand mosque.”

Most people, from my Indian taxi driver to the emirati guide at the mosque, seem genuinely cool with the political leadership, and lots of people come here from neighbouring countries because a democracy is quite low on your list of priorities  compared to “living in a place that’s safe, not completely shitty, and allows me to make a living”, and the U.A.E. does a much better job of that than, sadly, quite a lot of countries.

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 17.47.28

But you should not forget that this is very much a “real” kingdom – not as in “a king as figurehead with some political power”, but  as in “the king literally owns the country, and can do whatever he wants”. For example censorship on the internet is very much a thing.

But now for today’s main event:

ferrariworld entrance

Ferrari World, a.k.a.:

  • world’s first Ferrari theme park
  • world’s largest indoor theme park
  • housed in the world’s largest steel-framed building

but, most importantly:

  • home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster

ferrari worlds fastest

Goes to over 200 km/h in less in four seconds or so, by using technology similar to the steam catapults used to launch planes on aircraft carriers.

ferrari exit

Not sure if that sign is necessary, or only exists so 15-year-old kids can feel all macho for riding this thing. Probably a little bit of both. They do make you empty your pockets before the ride (a cell phone leaving your pocket at 200 km/h becomes a projectile…), and make you wear plastic googles (so hitting an insect won’t hurt your eyes).

What does the ride look like? There is an observation platform to watch the coaster, but since it’s outside, it was way too hot even in the shade to stand there for minutes to take a video – but luckily there’s plenty of examples on youtube, like here:

In a word: pretty damn freaking fast!

Not sure if it’s worth the price of admission to the park (a rather steep 250 dirhams, i.e. almost 60 euros), but I have a soft spot for weird and extreme things, so yay!

What else is there in ferrari world? It’s a rather weird mix of a temple to the brand of ferrari (rather lost an me, but the cars exhibited do look cool), theme park rides (mostly other pretty wild rollercoasters), kid’s playground, and fake Italian disneyland.

ferrari italy street

One fake Italian street, complete with bookstore, plastic vespa scooters, flower shop and ristorante, coming right up. Well, it’s actually pretty nicely done if you don’t know the real thing.

ferrari italy wunderland.JPG

And you can e.g. ride a little red car through a landscape full of scale models of famous Italian landmarks. It’s not exactly Miniatur-Wunderland, but nicely done.

There were a fair number of people in the park – but few enough that I wonder if they can possibly recoup their investment. Oh, silly me, oil money, I forgot – it’s not about having a profitable theme park, it’s about having the most world’s mostest, i forgot.

The nice thing for me was that I could ride all the rides with no queues at all, so I could try every single rollercoaster and ride in a few hours.

ferrari driving

The one thing I did not do ist take the offer to take this real Ferrari for a spin around the island – it was, ahem, somewhat out of my price range.

Did I mention that the whole city feels like it’s working hard to find new ways to allow bored, rich people to spend their money?

On a more light-hearted note, I will leave you with one more video of one of the more thrilling rollercoasters:

Yup, I did ride that thing, too – but then felt accelerated, spund and thrown around enough that I decided to head to a rather quieter place, the Sheikh Zayed mosque. (post about that coming up).


Abu Dhabi

Wow, what a difference! Coming from Cairo, everything in Abu Dhabi still feels arabic, but so much newer, cleaner and shinier. I guess billions and billions of oil money do make a difference…

abudhabi highway green

I don’t even want to think about how much water and manpower it takes to keep grass green in the middle of the desert. Well-maintained cars on well-maintained streets, traffic rules being (mostly) in effect (think “driving like Italians on adrenaline” rather than “oh god, oh god, what is even going on?!?”), air conditioning everywhere, about 99% less honking, being able to take a taxi without having to bargain the price down from super-ripoff to only-somewhat-ripoff – I felt myself significantly de-stressed in comparison with Cairo.

abudhabi downtown

Pretty it aint, though – downtown has lots of new and shiny skyscrapers, but they’re all somewhat cookie cutter generic, and VERY densely packed.

abudhabi highway skyline

The skyline coming in from the east – the “small” buildings in the picture are easily 10-15 stories high.

If you notice lots of pictures being taken from inside a car that’s because Abu Dhabi very much follows the American way of building a city, i.e. huge distances, endless suburbs, lots of multi-lane highways, built for cars – so everything in Abu Dhabi is a 30 minute taxi ride away. (Unlike Dubai, there’s no metro, and the bus network is very rudimentary).

Which was fine with me, because a) there is nothing interesting to walk to anyway – almost everything in the city did not exist yet 50 years ago, there are even whole neighbourhoods of skyscrapers on islands where even the island did not exist 10 years ago, so forget walkable charming old neighbourhoods. And b) it really is too damn freaking hot to walk anywhere, anyway.


Dehydration is enough of a thing that the very first airport toilet educates you like this.

Without the smog of Cairo, 39 degrees in the burning sun feels like an oven – so sign me up for an air-conditioned taxi from my air-conditioned hotel to an air-conditioned building.

supermarket drinks.JPG

And after a hot day, nothing like kicking back with a cold beer – eh, “non-alcoholic malt drink”. Not sure if it’s even non-alcoholic beer, the taste is rather forgettable.

abudhabi hotel prayer

While being all modern and cosmopolitan, the U.A.E. takes islam seriously. Like every hotel providing a helpful error on the ceiling giving the direction to Mecca.

goldsouk abaya shop

Or the mall being dominated by clothing stores specializing in dark, long and loose women’s clothing.

goldsouk no kissing.JPG

Notice anything unusual about this mall’s house rules? “No overt display of affection” – I’m sorry, but outlawing kissing is just sad 😦

al ibrahimi.JPG

On a happier note, since my hotel is not in the western expat bubble, but usually frequented by Indian businessmen, it comes with an excellent (and comparatively dirt cheap) Indian restaurant.

al ibrhimi biryani.JPG

So the equivalent of 6 euros bought me this excellent mutton biryani with a thick variant of Naan.

So much for first impressions – sightseeing will follow.

Coptic Cairo

Coptic, what’s that, you say? Well, I had to look it up, too – turns out Egypt has not only at least 10% Christians, but it’s a special branch of Christianity that’s unique to northern Africa, with their own language and their own pope – pardon, “Patriarch of Alexandria on the Holy See of Saint Mark“, but “Coptic pope” sounds much cooler.

So I went to so-called “Coptic Cairo”, an are full of coptic churches and monuments.

museum interior.JPG

Also conveniently reachable by the metro, since I was a little sick of walking in cairo traffic (crossing a roundabout? Imagine a giant game of Frogger. Like in other decidedly non-european places, waiting for a gap in traffic does not work. But unlike in e.g. India, there a too many big, fast-moving cars to just walk into traffic and rely on everybody to get out of your way. Waiting for a local to cross in the same direction, and using him as a human shield, works well, and you learn some road-crossing instincts at the same time.)

Funny things about the cairo metro:

  • There are no ticket vending machines. The human vendors can, unlike most vending machines, unfortunately not be switched to English 🙂 I gave up enquiring about zones or fares, just signed how many trips I wanted to take, and ended up with a bunch of single tickets. Which worked, and cost about 10 eurocents each.
  • The platforms have big signs saying “Ladies”. Which, after some initial confustion, is not a sign for a conveniently located toilet, but indicates that the middle part of the train is reserved for ladies only. (Unfortunately, a policeman on the platform prevented me from photographing said sign. “no taking pictures of infrastructure” is another of those weird but universally applicable out-of-Europe things)
  • Oh, there’s cops everywhere. And metal detectors at each metro entrance. I wonder how well that works during rush hour…although I’d say the vast majority of the at least dozen bag searches and metal detector checks at various entrances today was extremely half-assed. The police presence feels more like a combination of jobs program and showing presence to assure tourists than checking for any real danger.

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Entrance to the coptic museum. So clean! and well-maintained! and quiet! with actual green spaces! – sorry cairo, but most of you is not exactly like that, so I almost wept with joy..

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Most of the coptic churches look like a mosque at first glance, with the typical ornamental and decorative artwork – beautiful! But then you notice the icons of saints, and crosses, and other church-like things. Sort of a weird combination, but beautiful.

maze.JPGMost of the coptic monuments are inside an old fortress, connected by a maze of narrow alleys. This one has a bookseller offering everything from arabic languae courses to the latest Stephen King novel, or a bootleg DVD of the pyramids’ light and sound show.

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The stairs on the left are the entrance to 90% of the coptic area – did I mention most of the cool stuff in Egypt seems to be hidden in some out of the way corner?

There was a fair number of tourists around, but mostly Egyptians. Most foreigners (of which there are generally very few – not sure if out of season, or scared off by the political situation) only seem to make it to the pyramids and the egyptian museum.

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A quite pretty park, found behind an busy ugly bus station. No idea why there’s goats wandering around the park – there was nobody around besides a few gardeners, who did not seem to mind me wandering around, but whose English did not extend beyond “Which country?” and “Welcome to Egypt”.


Not another coptic church, but an actual mosque – the oldest one in Cairo. Could not go inside, since it was just starting prayer time. But note the impressive loudspeaker array on the minaret – when they call to prayer, they mean it!


An “Ahwa”, as in a coffee place where people hang out and smoke Shishah. Unfortunately, I never found one as relaxing as often described in guidebooks – most seem to be nothing but a whole in the wall, and a few plastic chairs on the sidewalk. This is pretty much as cozy as it gets.

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Guy on the street selling tiny, but super tasty, bananas. The endless variety of people is really the coolest thing to see. But it feels intrusive to just take pictures of people on the street – though when asked, people you buy something from are cool with it.

Pro tip: When travelling to a country with a non-roman alphabet, it’s a good idea to at least learn the numbers. Arabic digits are everywhere, and NOT comprehensible..

dates dude.JPG

The area around Cairo has a lot of date palms, and people sure take their dates seriously. The guy here was happy to let me try a few varieties – though do be honest I could not detect much difference in flavor. The ones I chose randomly were good, though.

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Some beautiful inlaid wood boxes in the window of a shop selling everything from perfumes to kitchenware. Picked up a nice little plate with calligraphic ornaments here. Almost failed due to the shopkeepers complete lack of English, and my complete lack of Arabic – but his wife turned out to speak some French.

With this, enough Cairo – tomorrow I’ll be off to Abu Dhabi.