Barcelona, Spain

2019 HAL World Cruise

Thursday, April 18, 2019

 

Docking in Barcelona today seemed to be a bit of a challenge as there are several cruise ships in port!  We did not secure clearance until about 9:30 am and then, of course, the tours and disembarking guests took precedence going to shore.  Those of us going out on our own had to wait a little while.  But since we had no compelling plans, we simply waited and got into town about noon.  The day was cold, windy and overcast.  Being creatures who like their comfort, we opted to take a cab to the department store, El Corte Inglais, in Placa de Catalunya (which is at the far end of La Rambla) and have lunch in the top floor food court.  While there, it seemed quite natural to just do a little shopping!  Hey, shopping happens no matter where you are!!!!  Afterwards, we taxied back to the ship and called it a day.  I’ll show you some photos taken from the taxi of the charming balconies of Barcelona as well as some old photos from visits past; but you might, also, want to check-out ”Archives” for the blog from 2017.

 

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We were freezing as we took our “On the dock in Barcelona” photos. It was overcast; 59 degrees; and the wind was blowing at 21mph!
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So we jumped in a taxi and headed up to Catalonia Square passing the Columbus Monument and the Maritime Administration Building on the way.
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We did not go up La Rambla because the traffic is always congested and slow. Taxis usually avoid that and take a series of less troublesome routes. This gave me the opportunity to photograph some “Balconies of Barcelona”!!!
The Balconies of Barcelona
The Balconies of Barcelona
The Balconies of Barcelona
The Balconies of Barcelona
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The Balconies of Barcelona would not be well represented without a photo of Antoni Gaudi’s work. This is Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera.)
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Look at the amazing detail!!! There is nothing else like a Gaudi Building. He was quite a unique individual!
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This is a photo (taken a couple of years ago) of Casa Batllo by Gaudi. We were walking along Passeig de Gracia at the time, and it was a much nicer day!
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Before reaching the Placa de Catalunya, we passed the University of Barcelona. What a lovely campus!
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The view from the top floor food court of the El Corte Inglais on Placa Catalunya (Catalonia Square) is quite impressive! These shots were taken from our table!
A view of the Seu Cathedral.
A view of the Seu Cathedral.
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This is a view of Seu Cathedral,taken on a sunny day in 2011 from the top of Montjuic.
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And a view of the fort atop Mountjuic. You can just see the cable cars running below the fort and, of course, the Catalonian flag flying above.
A view of the cable car to Montjuic taken in 2011 on another sunny day.
A view of the cable car to Montjuic taken in 2011 on another sunny day.
And a view of city from Montjuic (also taken in 2011.)
And a view of city from Montjuic (also taken in 2011.)
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The Placa Catalunya is quite large. I had trouble getting the whole plaza into one shot!
Ditto!
Ditto!
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Ready to head back to the ship, we walked over to La Rambla to catch at cab. Saw this charming fountain near the corner and learned it was created in 1892 to provide public water. It has 13 more clones in the city.
Walking along Rambla de Catalunya on a sunny day in 2017.
Walking along Rambla de Catalunya on a sunny day in 2017.
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Re-enactors and mimes are stationed along La Rambla to charm the passers-by. This young lady usually impersonates a statue; how amazing to see this conversation taking place!
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So, finally hailing a taxi, we headed back to the ship and passed not only this sculpture (Waves of Steel) but a gondola tower for the Mountjuic cable car. The tower itself is a work of art!

 

Our next port is Cadiz, Spain.

Naples, Campania, Italy

2019 HAL World Cruise

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

 

We visited Naples, for the first time, 35 years ago.  At that time, we were here for business.  Now that we’re retired, we return for pleasure!  It is always fun and interesting to explore the joys of Southern Italy as well as the gorgeous islands.  You can search the “Archives” for many photos of Italy—we come here often—and I hope you’ll enjoy them!  But on this visit, with time limited, we basically did a sweep of an historic café, Gran Café Gambrinus; a famous pizzeria, Brandi; an exquisite shopping mall, Galleria Umberto I; and the eye-candy shopping streets of Via Chiaia and Via Toledo.  The photos follow:

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The ship docked directly in front of the Castel Nuovo. What a fabulous location. Just cross the street and you’re in the heart of Naples!
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Castel Nuovo, situated at Piazza Municipio and the city hall (Palazzo San Giacomo), was erected in 1279. It was the royal seat for kings of Naples, Aragon, and Spain until 1815.
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Our first destination is Gran Cafe Gambrinus. Founded in 1860, it flourished as a meeting place for intellectuals and literary figures such as Hemingway and Oscar Wilde until 1938 when it was shut down by Mussolini for being an antifascist haunt.
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We paid about $20 for 2 cappuccinos and a plate of miniature pastries–but it was truly worth it!
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The private dining area–closed to the general public–and I don’t know the rules for entry.
Fruits awaiting the juicer.....
Fruits awaiting the juicer…..
.....and the customers clamor for their juice!
…..and the customers clamor for their juice!
So many pastries to choose from!
So many pastries to choose from!
Not all are sweets; some are quite savory.
Not all are sweets; some are quite savory.
They even have a beautiful assortent of gelatos!
They even have a beautiful assortment of gelatos!
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The Gran Cafe Gambrinus is located in Plaza Plebiscito. The Fontana del Carciofo is in front.
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The Church of San Francesco di Paola in the Piazza del Plebiscito. The public square also has the Royal Palace. The plaza was named for the plebiscite taken on October 2, 1860 that brought Naples into the unified kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy.
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The Royal Palace of Naples. Today, a palace, museum, and historical tourist destination. Construction of the palace began in the very early 1600s. When Charles III of Spain came to Naples in 1734, it became the royal residence of the Bourbons.
This is the pedestrian shopping street, Via Chiaia.
This is the pedestrian shopping street, Via Chiaia.
The cafes in Naples pop up  everywhere!  One can never be thirsty!
The cafes in Naples pop up everywhere! One can never be thirsty!
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This staircase is called the Gradoni di Chiaia and leads to an upper street (Naples is quite hilly) There is, also, an elevator further up Via Chiaia that will take you there.
We took the elevator and exited on Via Giovanni Nicotera.
We took the elevator and exited on Via Giovanni Nicotera.
Looking down on Via Chiaia from the Ponte di Chiiaia.
Looking down on Via Chiaia from the Ponte di Chiiaia.
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Looking down to Salita Sant’Anna di Palazzo. The Pizzeria Brandi is just up the street.
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Brandi, opened in 1780, gained its famed in 1889 when Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of Italy’s King Umberto I, particularly enjoyed the pizza created for her by Brandi’s pizzaiolo, Raffaele Esposito, using the colors of the Italian flag.
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Today’s pizzaiolo still makes the Pizza Margheritia using the same San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala Campana, and basil. (The red, white and green representing the Italian flag.)
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I do believe the best table in the house may be this one on the tiny balcony overlooking the Via Chiaia.
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Of course we ordered the Pizza Margherita accompanied by Birra Moretti and Pinot Gris!
And the musical interlude was pleasant, also!
And the musical interlude was pleasant, also!
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We continued, after lunch, to enjoy the browsing and shopping along both Via Chiaia–as with this jovial greengrocer….
.....the boutiques along Via Toledo.....
…..the boutiques along Via Toledo…..
.....and the grand ambiance of the Galleria di Umberto I.
…..and the grand ambiance of the Galleria di Umberto I.
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After a pleasant day along the streets of Naples, we returned to the ship, passing the Castel Nuovo.
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Stopping in the terminal, we try our luck at free WiFi (slow) and have a couple of local brews. Rog is having a Peroni.
Peroni Birra
Peroni Birra
I  am trying a Nastro Azzurro.  They were both good.
I am trying a Nastro Azzurro. They were both good.
Nastro Azzurro Birra
Nastro Azzurro Birra
We left Naples around 7:00pm.  Now we are on our way to Barcelona, Spain.
We left Naples around 7:00pm. Now we are on our way to Barcelona, Spain.

 

Our next stop:  Barcelona, Spain.

Aqaba, Jordan and the Suez Canal Transit

2019 HAL World Cruise

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday April 10, 11, and 12, 2019

 

The primary reason cruise ships come to Aqaba, Jordan is to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the wondrous Nebatean “Red Rose City” of Petra and the amazing Wadi Rum desert.   We have experienced both and you can read about them by checking out “Archives” for April 2017.  You will also find a gazillion photos of the Suez Canal!!!!

However, this time, we spent our first day in Aqaba touring the Shoubak Castle.  The castle was built in 1115 by Baldwin I of Jerusalem during his expedition to the area.  Soon after, in 1116, he captured the port of Aqaba.  The castle was strategically important because it dominated the main passage from Egypt to Syria thus allowing taxation of not only traders, but also those who were on pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina.  It became part of the Lordship of Oultrejordain in 1142.  Eventually, the greedy Raynald of Chatillon used the castle to not only attack rich caravans but to build ships and transport them overland to the Red Sea from which he planned to attack Mecca itself.  Obviously, this was intolerable to the Ayyubid Sultan Saladin who preemptively invaded the Kingdom and captured the castle in 1189.  The castle is currently being studied by an Italian archaeological team for the University of Florence.

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We always snap a few photos from the Lido deck before departing the ship for the day. We like to record the view from the dock. Usually its all cargo and cranes and pretty ugly. This, however, is a view I would call exotic!
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This is a more normal view of a city and its environs. But in Aqaba, it’s just so impressively majestic the way the mountains loom over the city and port!
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We scheduled an early morning tour to Shoubak Castle. It’s a 2 hour drive to the castle, located just north of Petra. As we start out, we immediately enter stark landscape just outside the city limits.
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This is the city of Ma’an, known for its limestone. And, yes, these buildings are constructed with limestone.
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This is Abu al Jirdhan Station. It is the staging area for Haj pilgrimages to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The picture is of Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein,the King of Jordan.
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We spotted camels grazing. Can a Bedouin camp be far from here? (don’t miss the baby camel!)
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And not too far away, we spot the Bedouin camp. The Bedouins may be nomadic; but they travel in comfort. Note the truck!!!
A last, we are entering the town of Al Muthallith just outside Shoubak Castle.
A last, we are entering the town of Al Muthallith just outside Shoubak Castle.
After just over 2 hours, we arrive at the castle.
After just over 2 hours, we arrive at the castle.
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Shoubak Castle, {aka Montreal Castle) was built by the Crusader King Baldwin I of Jerusalem in 1115. But by 1187, the then King Raynald was building ships here. He launched them in the Red Sea and set out to attack Mecca.
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Sultan Saladin retaliated. In 1187 he conquered Jerusalem, and then besieged Montreal for 2 years before it fell in 1189.
Today, ruins are all that remain.
Today, ruins are all that remain.
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Even the small community outside the castle grounds is abandoned and deteriorated.
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But, you know, there is always something romantic about wandering through old ruins. You take a turn and look–a stunning view!
All too soon, it's time to head back to Aqaba.  We've come to the end of Day 1.
All too soon, it’s time to head back to Aqaba. We’ve come to the end of Day 1.

 

On day 2, we happily shuttled into town, did a little shopping, had a pleasant lunch, and returned to the ship for an afternoon departure to the “anchorage” outside the Suez Canal where we spent the night.

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Day 2 finds us on the shuttle and dropped off at what appears to be the Aqaba transportation center. Here in the center of town, buses and taxis await passengers. Tourist information is available. The HOHO leaves from here. You can even buy coffee!
There are lots of stores.  We spent a lot of time in the spice shop!!!
There are lots of stores. We spent a lot of time in the spice shop!!!
We strolled through a local park in the middle of the town.
We strolled through a local park in the middle of the town.
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Eventually, we made our way to our favorite restaurant, Rovers Return. We discovered this English Pub in 2017, just after starting this blog! We’ve been returning to it ever since!
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Rovers Return is named after a fictional English pub in the highly popular and long running British soap opera, Coronation Street. That fictional pub was inspired by a 14th century building in Withy Grove, Manchester also called Rovers Return.
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The first Rovers Return opened in Amman on July 31, 1997, followed closely by branches in Aqaba and the Dead Sea! Their stated goal is to promote a sense of community and provide the comfort of friends sharing a meal and drink together. Like home!
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The afternoon’s libation is Blonde Ale by the Carekale Brewery. This is the first family owned microbrewery in Jordan.
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Located in Fuhays canyon, it is handcrafted, with a respect and love for beer, from the finest natural ingredients. So says the label!!!
Rovers Return overlooks the archeological site of Ayla, the old city.
Rovers Return overlooks the archaeological site of Ayla, the old city.
As we shuttle back to the ship, we pass the Public Beach.  Looks inviting!
As we shuttle back to the ship, we pass the Public Beach. Looks inviting!
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Here, we’re approaching The Great Arab Revolt Plaza, and the 6th tallest,unsupported, flag pole in the world. Rather than fly the Jordanian flag, this pole usually flies the flag of the revolt. The plaza is currently under renovation.
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Next to the Plaza is Aqaba Fort (aka Aqaba Castle). It was originally built by Crusaders in the 12th century; destroyed by Salah Al-Din in 1187; rebuilt in the 16th century by Mamluk Sultan Al-Ashraf Qansuh Al-Ghawri;.and today, is under reconstruction.
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In July 1916, T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) was here for the victorious Battle of Aqaba in the Great Arab Revolt. He rode triumphantly to Cairo to report the good news to General Allenby.
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And next to all that, is the port where our ship awaits our return. We will leave this afternoon for the “registration” point for the Suez Canal transit. After spending the night at anchor, we’ll have an early morning transit through the Suez Canal.

 

Early the next morning, we led a “conga line” of ships coursing through the Suez Canal.

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I suppose it’s unkind of us to think of the Suez Canal as the “Big Ditch,” but it just doesn’t have the movement and excitement of the Panama Canal. This is a very sedate transit.
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There are, actually, two canals. One heading north and the other for southbound traffic. I just love the optical effect of a ship sailing thru SAND!!!
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In less than 12 hours, we exited the canal and began our voyage through the Mediterranean Sea. We are on our way to Naples!

 

We are now in the Mediterranean Sea.  Our next port is Naples, Italy.

Muscat, Oman

2019 HAL World Cruise

Thursday, April 4, 2019

 

According to the HAL Port Guide, “Its position on the Arabian Sea close to the Straits of Hormuz has made Muscat a pivotal trading and military strategic point going back thousands of years.”  Muscat sits on a beautiful cove ringed by volcanic mountains and guarded by two ancient Portuguese forts.  Traders settled here; tribes battled for control of the sheltered harbor; Persians invaded; and it was the Portuguese who finally took control and retained their influence for over a century.  However, since the 18th century the Al Bu Sa’id dynasty has ruled as a sultanate.  The current Sultan, Qaboos bin Said, seized power from his father in 1970 (sending him to the Dorchester Hotel in London!).  Since then, the economy has remained stable based on trade, petroleum; port operations and tourism.

The pier is located in a subdivision called Muttrah (the original old town) with a large souq.  We rode a port shuttle into town and were dropped off outside the souq.  From there, taxis can be hired by the hour for customized private tours or the HOHO departs on a frequent schedule.  We have been here often.  So perhaps you’d like to check out the post from March 2017.

This visit, we stayed near the souq, shopped for exotic bargains, and had an afternoon libation before returning to the ship.

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Here we are, on the dock in Muscat, Oman, along with Sultan Qaboos’s 2 yachts. The larger of the two is almost as big as the MS Amsterdam! I wonder, is the smaller yacht simply the staff and service vehicle?
This is the view of Muttrah from the dock.
This is the view of Muttrah from the dock.
We did a little shopping in the souq.
We did a little shopping in the souq.
The choices are overwhelming!
The choices are overwhelming!
Fabrics are of good quality and a bargain to boot!!!
Fabrics are of good quality and a bargain to boot!!!
This is the shuttle drop off point in front of the Murtah Souq.
This is the shuttle drop off point in front of the Muttrtah Souq.
Love the tiles of this old mosque!
Love the tiles of this old mosque!
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This is an amusement park. That building was intentionally built to look like a frankincense burner!!!! It’s a restaurant currently under renovation.
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This is a zoom-in of a fort along the port. Notice the drab color. These fortifications really blend in with the terrain.
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We enjoyed a pleasant afternoon. and after the refreshing and thirst quenching fruit slushie, we headed back to the ship.

 

Our next port is Aqaba, Jordan.

New Delhi to Mumbai, India

2019 HAL World Cruise

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Day 3 of 3

We awoke on day 3 to the sound of birds in the trees!  Looking out the window, we spotted green parakeets in the treetops.  Lovely!  Then we looked around and noticed more:  the haze of a hot, humid morning obscuring the horizon; a beautiful mosque not far away; numerous cell towers; and an overpass slicing through the terrain to carry that high-speed train we rode into Delhi.  The beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad; the rich and the poor; all the contrasts of India visible right outside our window.

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There were a lot of parakeets in the treetops making quite a racket so early in the morning! We managed to capture a photo of two.
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View from our window in the Taj Palace. The mosque is quite lovely but the haze detracts from the shimmer. Those cell towers are not attractive, but we certainly enjoyed the high-speed internet provided by the hotel!

 

After a quick breakfast, we checked-out of the hotel and boarded the buses once again.  We are on our way to Humayun’s Tomb and a quick tour of Delhi before catching our plane to Mumbai. We will re-board the MS Amsterdam on her first of 2 days in Mumbai.  We had thought we’d have time to do some roaming in Mumbai on day 2, but it turns out we will arrive back at the ship very late.  We will be sleeping-in!!!  So please, check out Archives for March 2017 for a quick review of the sites of Mumbai.

Meanwhile, let me show you the photos of Humayun’s Tomb and some highlights of Delhi:

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As we began our day of sightseeing, we spotted, from the bus, this young boy selling coconut slices to the early morning commuters!
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Our first stop this morning is the government complex. The Ministry of External Affairs is on the left; Ministry of Finance on the right.
The Jaipur Column and Presidential Palace are visible in the middle.
The Jaipur Column and Presidential Palace are visible in the middle.
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Back on the bus, we are on our way to Humayun’s Tomb. We spotted 2 monkeys searching for food along the way.
And another monkey is just walking down the sidewalk!
And another monkey is just walking down the sidewalk!
Soon, we reach Humayuns Tomb.
Soon, we reach Humayun’s Tomb.
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By this time, we are familiar with the architectural quirks of the early Mughals. You enter a gate; walk forever to the next gate; and eventually, you reach your destination!
This is the Bu Hylima Gateway to Humayun's Tomb.
This is the Bu Hylima Gateway to Humayun’s Tomb.
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Note the abundance of trees in the garden. They’ve been blooming and the blossoms are scattered all over the grounds. They are called the Fire of the Forest.
Finally, Humayuns Tomb comes into view!
Finally, Humayun’s Tomb comes into view!
Once again, it was a trek to get there!!!
Once again, it was a trek to get there!!!
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Humayun was the 2nd Mughal Emperor. He died in 1556. But this tomb was not commissioned until 1565. His 1st wife and chief consort , Bega Begum, financed the mausoleum to the tune of 1.5 million Rupees!
The last gateway to the tomb leads to a staircase rising up to the parapet.
The last gateway to the tomb leads to a staircase rising up to the parapet.
This is the view from the parapet, looking back to the Bu Hylima Gateway.
This is the view from the parapet, looking back to the Bu Hylima Gateway.
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Inside the mausoleum, Humayun’s Tomb sits under the dome. The sarcophagus is similar to those in the Taj Mahal.
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Humayun’s Tomb,sitting atop the parapet, is considered the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. It received its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
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As we waited for our group of 49 to re-assemble, we enjoyed the shade and cool breezes of the garden.
The flowers are called Fire of the Forest because of their bright fiery color.
The flowers are called Fire of the Forest because of their bright fiery color.
It's a fragile flower and I left it behind.
It’s a fragile flower and I left it behind.
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Before we left the Humayun grounds, we spotted these ladies collecting the blossoms and leaves that had fallen from the trees. They carry such heavy-looking loads!!!
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Our next stop was lunch at the Veda Restaurant. The meal was served small plate after small plate and provided us with a sample of really good Indian food!!!
Then, a stop at another Buddhist Temple.
Then, a stop at another Buddhist Temple.
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And now, a windshield tour of the city as we begin to make our way to the airport for our flight to Mumbai. As the drive will take a couple of hours, we get to see a lot!!!! Here, we pass great stretches of the old city wall that once encircled Delhi.
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This is Connaught Place, built by the British 1929-33 as a commercial/residential area. The first luxury hotel in Delhi, the Imperial, was built here and Nehru, Gandhi and Lord Mountabatten would meet there to discuss the Partition of India.
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Connaught Place is a circle with inner and outer buildings. It is still a major financial and entertainment hub in Delhi.
The Indian Air Force Headquarters.
The Indian Air Force Headquarters.
the Nehru Planetarium
the Nehru Planetarium
General Manager's Office of the Northern Railway. Love the train in front!
General Manager’s Office of the Northern Railway. Love the train in front!
We pass the filming of a Bollywood movie!
We pass the filming of a Bollywood movie!
The Meena Bazaar
The Meena Bazaar
Driving through a poor part of town.
Driving through a poor part of town.
Surya, the Sun God, Sculpture on display in the New Delhi Airport.
Surya, the Sun God, Sculpture on display in the New Delhi Airport.
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And our late night arrival back in Mumbai. We pass the old British Railway Station.

 

We were told, repeatedly, by our guide, Ashok, that India is a nation of comparison, contrasts and contradictions.  We were shown mostly the elegant.  But I hope the photos have conveyed, somewhat, that sentiment of a dichotomy that is “the normal” in India.  It is a complex and interesting country!