Hi everyone… I’ve just completed work on my Oman/Dubai photo gallery, which covers my recent trip to the Middle East for the World Summit Awards grand jury. You can find the gallery here:
Hope you like the photos!
November 10, 2003
Hi everyone… I’ve just completed work on my Oman/Dubai photo gallery, which covers my recent trip to the Middle East for the World Summit Awards grand jury. You can find the gallery here:
October 16, 2003
Since neither Margaret nor I were going to take a tour outside of Muscat today, we decided to explore the city. After breakfast we took a long walk through the souk, which was busy with shoppers picking up spices, clothes and even gold. We made a detour to the post office to get stamps for post cards, then continued through the souk, navigating around the occasional hawker wanting us to buy knick knacks from them. Since we knew that everything would shut down from 1pm to 4pm in the souk and the surrounding area, we decided to spend our day at two of the few places that would stay open: the museum and the mall. But first, a quick visit to the Muttrah fish market.
Just a block west of our hotel, the fish market is a chaotic place right on the harbor — a dock loaded with boats fresh from the Gulf of Oman, hauling in huge baskets of fish. Along the edge of the dock, rows of fisherman sold stacks of fresh tuna, marlin, squid, cuttlefish, pike and an assortment of local fish I couldn’t identify. Further into the covered part of the market, you could take your newly purchased tuna and have it filleted to your specifications by one of several dozen men carving and hacking away with an intimidating assortment of sharp implements.
Beyond the fish market, a more modest general market was crowded with shoppers purchasing fresh vegetables, fruit, cereals and other foodstuffs. At least half a dozen different varieties of dates were available, each in various stage of ripeness, from bright plump dates freshly picked off palm trees to shriveled, darkened dates that have weathered a lengthy drying period in the sun. For 100 baisa (25 cents) I bought a generous plastic bag’s worth of dried dates — sugary, sweet and sticky, with rather sharp pits in the center.
We caught a microbus to head to the Oman Natural History Museum, located 20km west of Muttrah in the Ministry of Culture building. The microbus picked up several other passengers, including three Indians from Andhra Pradesh who were very eager to talk to us about our visit to Muscat. By the time we reached their destination in Ruwi, several kilometers inland, they’d invited us to dinner later in the week. Unfortunately it was my last day in Muscat and I would be unable to join them but Margaret made plans to have lunch with them on Friday.
Having gone about 15 minutes out of our way into Ruwi, the microbus began to work its way towards the main highway along the coast via the Qurm Commercial District, a dense area of shopping malls, industrial parks and car dealerships, some of which were advertising “Huge Ramadan savings!” We drove along Sultan Qaboos Highway until we spotted the Cultural Ministry, home to the Museum of Natural History. The microbus took us as close as we could get to the entrance, and we paid 400 baisa ($1) for the both of us.
The museum itself is modest in size, not much larger than National Geographic’s museum in Washington before they made it even smaller by converting much of their exhibit space into a television studio. The museum was crowded with school groups — equally mixed boys and girls in traditional Omani dress being led around by their teachers and a museum docent.
The main museum hall showed us an exhibit about the historical biodiversity of Oman, from the earliest fossils to the present day. One hall also explained Oman’s position on the tectonic plates, and how tectonic movements over the eons had made today’s mountains, valleys and coastline, along with the biodiversity of their deserts and oceans. Many of the exhibits had interactive games in which you were challenged to identify a particular type of animal, or answer a question based on the science being presented. All exhibits were available in both English and Arabic, including the interactive games. As we walked through the exhibit we were even able to identify some of the sea shells we had collected the day before along Sawadi Beach.
The second building of the museum was dedicated to Oman’s whales and dolphins. Built around the massive skeleton of a sperm whale, the exhibit contrasted the various cetaceans that are known the frequent the Omani coast, as well as rarer breeds that historically exist in other waters but have occasionally been known to appear locally. A group of students were thoroughly absorbed by an interactive exhibit allowing you to listen to the different songs produced by several whales and dolphins, explaining how the songs are transmitted great distances using the water as a conductor.
We left the museum early in the afternoon and walked back to the highway, trying to decide if we were in walking distance to the City Center Mall. We soon concluded we weren’t, so we flagged down a taxi and offered him one rial ($2.50) for the drive — knowing full well that it might only be a kilometer or two up the road. Given the stifling temperatures, though, there’s no way we’d want to make the walk. As it turned out, we had to drive past the airport, probably a total of 20 kilometers — and yet the taxi driver accepted our one rial. He must have been going that way anyway, because a similar drive starting from Muttrah would have probably cost us four times as much.
The City Center Mall is as modern as any mall in the US — an air conditioned corridor packed with shops of all shapes and sizes, including a typically American food court, McDonalds and all. Even though I’m usually one to avoid Micky-D’s, the fact that they were offering a McArabia (a chicken patty pita), I simply couldn’t turn it down.
After lunch we split up to do our own shopping; I visited the enormous Carrefours “hypermart” — a combination of a WalMart, a Target and an Indian grocer, it was an enormous, modern grocery store with exotic foods from all over Asia. I salivated at the selection of fruits and vegetables, and grabbed a package of Thai rambutans to nosh on back at the hotel.
Concluding I wasn’t in the market for anything else at the mall, I caught a microbus back to the hotel and spent a couple of hours relaxing and taking a long bath, now that I finally had hot water my room after a day and a half without it. Around the corner I found another cybercafe and spent two solid hours checking email and updating my blog.
At 7pm Margaret and I met at the hotel front desk to catch a taxi to the Al Bustan Palace hotel. The hotel receptionist told us we shouldn’t pay more than one rial to get to the hotel; the taxi driver asked for four. Margaret and I successfully haggled our way down to one rial, though the driver kept trying to raise it again once we were in the car. Once at the hotel we caught a bus for the brief ride to the site of our dinner, a campground on the far end of the hotel grounds that’d been decorated with bedouin tents and a handful of camels grazing by the gate.
Inside, a group of Omani singers and dancers began to perform as we entered the grounds.
We were led to a tent and asked to take off our shoes and lean against giant red pillows. We were joined by 10 other people. Among the group in our tent were a retired British couple, the husband whom served as an engineer for the architecture firm that built the famous Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai. There was also a mixed Omani/British family: the sons, both in their 20s, were in traditional Omani costume, and the older one’s wife, clearly British, wore a long black abaya that covered her from head to toe. Her British parents, in traditional British tourist costumes, joined them.
Ali, our waiter for the night, began the evening by bringing out a mezze platter with a dozen different appetizers, ranging from more typical snacks like hummus and tabouleh to unusual items like Omani date bread, dried tuna salad and pickled lemons. The 12 of us polished off the mezzes as if they were to be our only course during the dinner, almost forgetting the buffet that awaited us. During the mezzes I chatted with the Omanis, learning that the two brothers were half-Brit, half-Omani and had grown up in London but recently moved to Oman. One of the brothers had lived for a while in the US, including Orlando and DC, two of my own haunts. Amazingly, he worked as a 3D graphical artists at the post-production shop in DC where Susanne and I had done our audio mixing for our Thai Boxing film. What a small world.
The dinner buffet included a range of kebabs and curries, along with a spit-roasted goat, a pilaf the size of a small bed and a bottomless bowl of delicious lamb chops. Somehow I managed to make enough room to try most of it, and yet still not collapse from exhaustion before the desert course — a wide selection of baklavas and Omani halwa. As we ate and talked, the musicians returned, performing a hypnotic drum beat accompanied by clapping, singing and dancing. I tried to get some video of the performance but the lighting was terrible, so you could barely make out anything but music and shadows.
After dinner, Margaret and I had some Omani coffee and shared a shisha topped with strawberry tobacco. Ali, our waiter, said he smokes his shisha three times a day, and his favorite flavor is a concoction of apple and grape, though he was also partial to mint. He prefered “herbal” tobaccos — in other words, a blend of dried fruit and flavorings that didn’t actually contain any tobacco, which apparently was the case of the shisha we were smoking as well. Given the fact that I don’t smoke it explained why the shisha wasn’t totally wreaking havoc on my lungs. Compared to the shisha I tried my first day in Dubai, which I’m convinced contained actual tobacco, this shisha was smooth, flavorful and pleasant. I could have spent hours there chatting with Ali and Margaret if it weren’t for the fact I was flying back to Dubai the next morning and had to get up in barely six hours to catch my flight… -ac
October 15, 2003
Margaret and I met for breakfast around 7:30am before meeting our driver Ali, who would take us on a daytrip to some of Oman’s many forts. Forts are to Oman what castles are to Germany; you simply can’t drive from point a to point b without stumbling upon some 16th century fortification parked precariously on a stony hillside.
Once in the car, we drove due west past the airport towards Barka, home to a famous fish market and a fort. The highway was dotted with roundabouts, each featuring an amazing clocktower or other edifice constructed for the sultan. Omanis are very proud of their architectural creativity, both in terms of historical constructions and Nouveau Arab architecture, so the clocktowers make for exciting viewing as we head further west. We also passed an enormous, beautiful mosque called al Ghubra — certainly one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen. As it turns out this particular mosque is open to tourists for a few hours each day — perhaps the only one in Oman – but we needed to stick to our timetable if we were to return by sunset. We were covering a lot of ground today.
Heading north off the highway we made the short drive to the coastal town of Barka. Its stout fort sat just off the beach, where an active fish market was taking place. We wandered the market, watching our step as fishmongers cleaned and filleted their catch — tuna, marlin, swordfish, certainly the most enormous fish I’ve ever seen at a fishmarket. fortunately we were outside along the beach, otherwise the stench of all the eviscerated fish would probably have been more than I could have tolerated. We were the only westerners present, but no one seemed to mind. People smiled as us, encouraged us to take pictures. A couple of kids wanted 100 baisa each for me to take their photo, but instead I showed them that my digital camera could do a slide show of the pictures I’d just taken, and that was payment enough for them, apparently.
Margaret bought some small bananas and a melon, while I checked out the wide variety of dates for sale. The old men selling the dates each wanted their picture taken, and laughed hysterically when I was able to show it too them immediately on my camera’s viewing screen.
Heading over to the fort, we were surprised to get a firm “La” (‘no’) from the gate attendant. We weren’t sure why it was closed so early in the day. As we tried to get an explanation, a British man, apparently an archeologist, came out of the fort with a handful of documents. Apparently the fort had been closed for several months and won’t reopen until it’s fully renovated. Disappointed, we went outside and appreciated the view from afar. Meanwhile, the archeaologist got on his mobile phone and called the head of the local ministry to see if we could gain access. He came over to us and apologized, and explained that we wouldn’t be allowed in, mainly due to insurance reasons. We thanked him for the effort and returned to Ali and the car.
We drove for about 45 minutes through bone-dry hillsides, with more dramatic mountains from the Jebel Akhdar range looming 3000 meters upward to our left. We arrived in Nakhal, a well-to-do village famous for its fort and its hot springs. Visiting the springs first, we arrived in a lush oasis with a rocky stream running through its center. The area was decorated like a nice little park, with umbrella picnic tables and little waterfalls coming down the hillside. The water was pleasantly warm, so you could see why it was a popular spot to hang out and take a dip. Further up the stream we found a flock of goats perched along the hillside. The goats were so accustomed to people we were able to walk right through the flock, marveling at their ability to stand on even the smallest rock, wall or ledge. My favorite goat was standing on a boulder on which someone had spraypainted the name Bob.
Leaving the hot springs and the goat named Bob behind, we returned to the car for the short drive to nakhal fort; unfortunately Margaret got stung by a wasp along the way. Ali found a lime tree and squeezed the lime juice onto the bite; amazingly the juice actually helped ease the sting.
We soon arrived at Nakhal fort. Perhaps the most dramatic fort I’ve ever seen, the imposing structure was balancing atop a boulder-strewn hillside. It was reminiscent of Hosap Castle in Turkish Kurdistan, which Susanne and I had visited in ’99, but this particular fort had also been restored to its original condition, repaired with a fresh paint of adobe. We paid the 500 baisa fee and went inside. Apart from a German family and their three kids, we had the entire for to ourselves — all four stories of it. We spent the hour going from room to room, marveling at the restoration work the Omani government had recently completed. Each room was decorated with traditional furniture, so whether you were in the governor’s bedroom, the meeting parlour, or the prison, you got a taste for what it was like back in the 17th century. Up at the top, we had a commanding view of the countryside and the Jebel Akhdar mountains — it must have been good to be the governor here.
Leaving the castle, we briefly stopped for some bottled water before continuing our drive to a-Rustaq, a larger town famous for its fort as well. Rustaq was a fairly modern city now, with small shopping malls and beautiful, new mosques, but its fort was still the main attraction. While not as dramatic on the outside as Nakhal’s, this fort was more impressive for its inside, with giant vaulted ceilings and dramatic natural lighting. Its highlight was probably the prison; a tall, donut-shaped room, it now had a door on the side so you could enter it. Originally, though, the prison had no door — only a hole in the roof 25 feet up, where prisoners would be lowered in and sealed for months, sometimes years, with food and water lowered in by rope. No wonder the crime rate was so low.
Outside the fort, we made a brief stop at yet another hotspring, this one bubbling up from an underground cave next to a mosque. From the top of the hole you could see boiling water bubbles rising to the surface. About 20 feet away, there was a set of stairs you could walk down to bath in the water. We put our hands in the water – it was nearly scalding hot. Ali was brave enough to put his feet in it, but he could only manage to for about a minute.
We stopped at an indian restaurant for lunch, where we had platters of biryani with chicken and fish. Ali, to our surprise, started to speak Hindi to the waiters — apparently he spoke Hindi and Farsi as well as Arabic and English.
From Rustaq, we made the long drive back to the coast, where we stopped along the the Batinah shore, not far from Sawadi island. The island, a limestone hulk jutting out of the water, featured an old fort on its cliff. When the tide was low you could wade across the 300 meters to reach the island. The tide was indeed low, but we weren’t dressed for the part, so instead we went hunting for sea shells, which were plentiful along the shore.
We returned to Muscat, pausing briefly at the al Ghubra mosque to take pictures at sunset. Back in Muttrah, we were horrified to discover that Ali expected 50 rials for our trip, despite my repeated efforts to clarify the price as 15, not 50. I thought I’d even written it down at the time and shown him, but exhausted from the heat and jetlag, perhaps I made a fundamental error. Either way, we weren’t going to shirk him, but we weren’t going to hire him for a second day either, something we’d just been contemplating. So our day trip ended on a down note, and I felt somewhat dumb about the whole thing. But as we ate dinner along the corniche, we joked about the mistake and concluded that everything we saw today was well worth the expense. -ac
Left Dubai at the crack of dawn and headed to the airport to catch a flight to Muscat. Dubai’s airport is a capitalist wonder — a duty free paradise on a scale like no other. If you can buy it legally, it’s available at the airport — and at actual duty free prices, rather than the typical ripoffs you see at most airports. I’ll definitely have to hunt around here when I finally get ready to head back to the US.
Boarded my Emirates airlines flight — great airline. Comfortable Boeing 777 with all the amenities of a transatlantic flight, even though this flight only takes 50 minutes. The flight attendants are a United Nations in themselves — US, south africa, bulgaria, germany, estonia, India, Pakistan, UAE, Mexico and Malaysia were all represented. And apart from someone’s travel alarm which kept going off every 10 minutes, it was a comfy flight.
Muscat arrivals was less comfy. According to the Oman embassy in DC, my UAE visa would be accepted in Oman, so I could get straight in the immigration line. No dice. I get to the front of the line and I’m told I first must fill out a form, then get eight Omani rials to pay for the visa fee — no other currencies accepted. There were no ATMs and only one currency exchange desk, so I had to stand in line for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, at least two other flights arrived, so by the time I got my money and stood back in the immigrations line, nearly two hours had passed. At least I wasn’t deported for identifying myself as Jewish on the “religion” question of the visa application. I was hesistant to write it, but I was more hesitant to leave it blank or writing something random like Rosicrucian or Klingon or Jain or Methodist.
I grabbed a cab at the airport and hit the highway to cover the 40 kilometers between the airport and Muttrah Harbor, which is where I planned to stay. The six-lane highway was as modern as the Hollywood Freeway or I-95, and with the mountains looming over to my right, I felt as if I was zooming through Albuquerque — if Albuquerque only had beachfront property on the opposite side of the highway.
Muscat is an unusual city in the sense that it’s actually a large metropolitan area comprised of smaller, isolated neighborhoods each ensconced in a mountainous cove along the Arabian sea. Driving along the highway, each neighborhood looks as if it’s isolated from the entire world, with dramatic, jagged mountains soaring straight up from the perimeter, with a pretty harbor right on the sea. If it weren’t for this wonderful highway system zipping up and down the mountains, I can only imagine how slow it would be to get from one area to the next.
Eventually we passed through magnificant stone gates that have been restored with an adobe covering and orange paint job — almost giving it a disneyfied Aladdin feel to it. We then arrived in Muttrah — the part of Muscat with perhaps the prettiest harbor in Arabia. The waterfront corniche is now an active thoroughfare, but the street is still lined with whitewashed buildings and giant wooden dhows floating in the harbor. Solemnly guarding the town is Muttrah Fort, an imposing structure perched atop one of the local mountains. Muttrah Fort is actually only one of two forts in all of Oman that were built buy the Portuguese during their stint here in the 16th century. The rest of them – dozens of them – are totally home grown, 100% pure Omani. Hopefully I’d get a chance to visit some of the more famous ones during my brief visit.
The taxi dropped me off in front of the Naseem Hotel, a modest joint that will get you a bed, a strong airconditioner and a broken TV for 10 rials a night — about 25 bucks. For whatever reason, Oman still hasn’t developed an infrastructure for mid-range tourists. Either you pay 25 bucks for a room or 250, with practically nothing to choose from in between.
After dropping off my things I grabbed my camera and walked along the corniche, admiring the view and appreciating the breeze, which just barely made up for the fact that it was 98 degrees and humid. The first thing I needed to do was to swing by a hotel in the Ruwi neighborhood to meet up with a travel agent who was a friend of an acquaintance back in DC. Oman is notoriously expensive, even by western standards, and a day tour could easily set me back $150 bucks if I weren’t careful, so hopefully the travel agent would have some ideas.
I caught a microbus across from the hotel; microbuses are shared taxis that meander around the city, between the various neighborhoods. A taxi ride from one part to another might cost you eight bucks or more, but a microbus would cost you 70 cents. The only downside was that your travel route was rarely direct; people in the bus would have different destinations, and you’d just have to wait your turn as the bus dropped people off and picked up others.
As we drove to Ruwi I followed my map, and noticed that it appeared we were passing the area I needed to go to. I asked if this was where the Mercure Hotel was, and the driver simply pointed ahead and said Ruwi. After another mile we pulled over and a Sikh man next to me said “This is Ruwi now.” I got out with him and started to walk east, but was unable to find myself on the map. I showed it to him and he replied, “You went too far, so you must walk two kilometers north.” Great, I thought. Next time trust your topographic instincts.
I walked in the stifling heat, unable to find much shade as the sun loomed straight overhead. Eventually I got to the hotel, but discovered that the travel office was closed. An older gentleman named Ali said it wouldn’t be open for another day or two, but he was one of their tour drivers and said I could book with him. I asked him how much it would cost to visit Nakhal Fort and do a loop to several other sites. He said 15 rials, or about 40 dollars. I reconfirmed that he said 15 instead of 50 by showing him one finger then five, and he said yes, 15. So I agreed to go with him and asked him to pick me up at 8am the next day.
I cooled off with a diet pepsi at the hotel cafe then headed outiside to find another microbus. Ali was just getting ready to head home for the afternoon, and he offered to give me a ride, since he lived near my hotel.
After getting dropped off along the corniche, I then went to explore the souk, Muttrah’s covered bazaar. It was approaching 1pm, so most shops would soon close, but at least I got to catch them for a few minutes. The shops here reminded me of the souk in Old Jerusalem – tight, winding corridors packed with shops selling spices, chotchkes, clothing, artwork, and in this case, tons of frankincense. Most of the frankincense was loosely packed in hastily sealed plastic bags – not the kind of packaging the average US customs inspector would appreciate, I imagine.
As the souk shops closed up for siesta, I hiked counterclockwise around the corniche in search of a particular restaurant listed in my lonely planet book. After 20 minutes I gave up — clearly the scale on the map wasn’t as accurate as it could be. I backtracked my way past the souk and my hotel, searching for a few more restaurants. Closed for siesta. Closed for renovations. Out of business. It took me another half hour or so, but some time after 2pm I finally found a hole in the wall Indian joint that offered two items on the menu – chicken masala and chicken biryani. I went for the biryani, which here in Oman is served as a piece of fried chicken buried under a heap of basmati rice, with a cup of curry sauce and a plate of onions and sliced cabbage on the side. At least they had Diet Pepsi, though.
After lunch I went back to the hotel and talked with the man at the reception desk about tour ideas. He mentioned an Australian woman was planning to hire a taxi to take her around greater Muscat for four hours late that afternoon, and asked if I was interested. I wasn’t sure just yet, since I was getting a little tired at this point, so I told him I’d let him know by 4pm.
I went upstairs and crashed for a couple of hours — I could feel jetlag kicking in, so I took a shower and watched some Omani football teams duke it out on TV. I started to feel better so I went downstairs to join the evening tour. An Australian woman named Margaret had booked it, and I offered to split the costs with her. We’d each pay nine rials, or around 25 bucks. But I figured this would be my chance to see the local area in greater detail.
Margaret and I jumped into the taxi, and then proceeded to wait 20 minutes as the driver tried to restart his dead battery. He comandeered two poor young lads walking down the corniche, getting them to push the car while he tried to start the car. The boys tried four different times, then left us to fend for ourselves. The driver now broke out his jumper cables and waited for a kind soul to pull over and give us some juice. We decided to give the guy another five minutes before demanding our money back, but right on cue, the car started up and we were on our way.
We drove along the corniche until it rose out of the cove, over the craggy hillside, and down toward Old Muscat. We had a pretty view of the town as we approachead, its white buildings turning rosy in the waning sunlight. Our first stop was Beit al Zubair, an Omani mansion turned into a cultural heritage museum. It was a wonderful place — they did a very effective job of using lighting and background music to add ambiance to their impressive collection of weaponry (including their famous Khanjar daggers), tribal costumes, silverwork and furniture. If only more city museums were this interesting.
Outside we found our cabbie sitting in the car, the engine running — I guess he didn’t want to take the chance of having the engine die again. We then drove to the center of Muscat harbor, a dramatic location that hosts the Sultan’s palace and two imposing forts. Unfortunately none of them are open to the public, but we stood along the harbor, snapped some pictures and soaked in the view.
Our next stop was Jussa beach, a popular spot about 20 minutes east of town. We zipped up and down the mountainsides, causing my ears to pop again and again. When we reached the beach, the sun had just set below the mountains, so the view was fading fast. But it was still a very pretty spot, with several enormous limestone islands jutting out of the ocean about half a kilometer from the shoreline. Several boatman offered to take us on a ride for a small fortune, but we decided to enjoy the view from a distance. Meanwhile, our driver had called a friend and asked him to bring a spare battery. Of course, as soon as it arrived, the car was working just fine.
“I don’t understand,” the driver said. “I have no new battery, the car does not go. I have the new battery, the car does not need it.”
“It’s a universal truth,” I said. “You bring an umbrella and it won’t rain; you leave it behind and it pours.”
With our spare battery stuck in the trunk, we continued onward to the al Bustam palace hotel. Everyone had said it’s worth a visit, but I wasn’t sure why until i arrived. The hotel is one of the most luxurious I’ve ever seen, certainly the kind of place the Sultan would want to put his guests. Its atrium was exquisite, rising as high and as wide as the interior to Aya Sofya in Istanbul. It was truly magnificent. While we explored the hotel, we discovered they offered a Bedouin dinner out in the desert every week for 15 rials a person. We decided it would be a good splurge, especially if we did it the night before I returned to Dubai, so we made a reservation.
The taxi drove us back to Muttrah, dropping us off at the souk. The souk was busy with shoppers, and all the shops had opened from their siesta. We allowed ourselves to get lost, absorbing all the sights and smells of the bazaar. Getting hungry for dinner, we tried to orient ourselves towards the corniche, wandering through the gold souk along the way. The souk was full of young women and their mothers, covered from head to toe in their black abayas, each browsing through a small fortune in bridal gold.
“Perhaps you should bring back one of those necklaces or tiaras for Susanne,” Margaret said, pointing to a window full of the most over-the-top gold jewerly I’ve ever seen.
“I think she’d want something that’d make a bit more of a statement,” I replied, smiling.
Finally working our way back to the corniche, we walked past the hotel to the Orchid Restaurant, where we each got a plate of shwarma — mine chicken, hers mutton — piled over a heap of hummus. Served with a stack of fresh pitas and a bowl of sliced veggies, it was a nice little feast that set us back about one rial each.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel around 8pm. I soon fell asleep, longing for the nap I probably should have taken many hours earlier…. -ac