Antilope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend

We drove after sunset (less than 3 hours’ drive on route 89). The freeways here don’t have any street lanterns and people use the big light, which can blind you easily. We parked our car at Walmart in Page after some late night shopping, and obviously were not the only ones. We counted about 10 RV’s and trucks that use the huge parking to spend the night. Did you know that at Walmart they even sell car tires and you can drive a trolley when you are unable or just lazy?

The time zone difference (Mountain Time versus Mountain Standard Time) makes it difficult to understand when shops & guided tours actually operate, so you need to make sure or you’ll miss your tour.

The Antelope Canyons are the biggest landmark here, and booking in advance is highly recommended. Since 1997 you cannot do a self-guided tour anymore when a flash flood killed 11 French tourists in the water flowing at 75km/h. Photographers can take a specific photographic tour, where the guides will allow a lot more time and clear the way with people. A tripod and DSLR are mandatory and on most of these tours, tag-a-longs and shared equipment is not allowed. The price of these tours are about 75-88 USD (photo) versus 28 or 58 USD for a regular one (the most expensive is during primetime which runs between 10 and 1). A tour is about 2 hours. These lands are still owned by the Indian tribe Navajo, the entrance to Antelope includes a 8 USD fee that goes directly to them. Also, many tour operators & guides are native Navajo (but of course they speak perfectly English).

There are several sites to visit such as the lower & higher canyon and rattlesnake canyon. I only did the higher Antelope canyon, some pictures can be found below.

The best time to visit for pictures is around (or starting from) May and primetime (between 11 and 1), when several big light beams hit the rocks within the canyon. On the regular tours, you are not allowed to take any tripod or monopod, but if you have a high end camera, you can easily take amazing pictures, especially if you have a good tour guide, I had as operator Adventurous Antelope Canyon and my tour guide very clearly pointed out good picture opportunities and formations .

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Another landmark in Page is the Horseshoe Bend, a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River. You can only understand the size of it by looking for small boats and tents at the bottom. I’m currently so tired and my lips have  many cracks, making it difficult to smile on the pictures. I didn’t even know I could make a face like this one 🙂

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Las Vegas – first impression & the strip

Las Vegas, also known as Sin City and for good reasons. Do you know where the slogan ‘what happens in … stays in …’ comes from? You are right, Vegas! This has to be one of the most extravagant places be I’ve ever seen and experienced. Not just for the gambling and bling-bling casino’s, but also for the nightlife. The place to be is actually everywhere on what they call the strip. Hotels are moderately expensive (especially from Thursday till Sunday) but luxury, and in none of them you can open the windows… Be aware that when booking, on arrival you will need to pay a huge tax around 30 USD on top of your booking. Many people come here to have a good time and saved some money to just spend in either way. You can of course save a lot of money by checking deals such as groupon (as advised in my previous blogpost).

The strip

As previously mentioned, the strip is the place to be where all big casinos and hotels attempt to attract and impress everyone. You can find several shows with music here such as a lava mountain at Mirage and the Bellagio fountains. You can walk down the strip for a long time to see all this beauty, but it’s worth it. Concerning public transport: on the strip and a bit beyond, you can easily catch a bus for 24 hours. A ticket for 24 hours cost you 8 USD and gives you unlimited rides. Be aware that in the evening there is heavy traffic both ways. Another way is to get a limo (either combined with a package), a great way to blend in 🙂

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Further away from the hotspots (at a convenient busstop), you’ll find the Vegas tower also known as the Stratosphere. Here you can, of course, find another casino. A ticket to the top costs you 30 USD. For another 5 USD each you can make a thrill ride on one of the three rollercoasters at the very top. Before you get into the elevator, be prepared for a queue, especially for sunset. The elevator itself takes about 37 seconds to get to the 101th floor, in one of the fastest elevators in the world (… anything is possible here, it’s Vegas!). You can stay an unlimited amount of time on the skywalk, and even grab something to eat. The views are spectacular, but a good picture of the strip is difficult since there.

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Casino’s are really everywhere, you can even gamble in the grocery store!

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The old Vegas

The ‘old’ Vegas, on Freemont street, is where you find another cluster of (cheaper) casinos is not near the strip and in the north of Vegas. Here you can find an impressive hall of LED screens. It’s worth the trip!

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Joshua Tree park – don’t forget your food & water

Some say Joshua Tree park is one of the nicest ones in the USA. It’s a quick getaway for people from L.A. during breaks & weekends. This is something to keep in mind, since camp grounds are apparantly scarce.

Due to limited amount of time, I needed to take the freeway. If you have time and come from the south, a visit to Salton Sea &  e.g. Salvation Mountain (landmark from ‘Into the Wild’ are an interesting visit.

You will be driving near big farms and huge windmill parks. Houses are often not near the street, that’s why the mail boxes are aligned near the road. You will see the typical ‘leverages’ too (wich are high when you have mail)

Typical mail boxes

Typical mail boxes

When entering the park (from the west), you’ll find a guardpost to get your permit. At 6pm, it was not manned and no fees had to be paid (it states 20 USD / vehicle + 5 USD / person). A park permit is valid for several days. I paid 15 USD when existing the park (around 1pm) on the north side.

Camping Hidden Valley is very unique with all it’s boulders, which makes it an attractive destination for rock climbers!  Jumbo Rock is similar.

When entering the camping grounds, you can get a camping spot by filling in a paper from the ‘box’ and fill in the details such as dates that you attach to the camping spot (so people can see it’s occupied). It is full self-service. On most campsites, for 1 day you pay 10 USD. You can stay maximum 1 week at the same spot.

Example campground

Example campground

Arriving very late (7pm) I was out of luck, but a friendly family offered to park my car next to theirs :). They had the same issue in the past and were very happy to return the favor.

Picture time! The camping is perfectly located for great pictures with all the rocks & boulders.

That night ‘unfortunatly’ it was full moon, making it difficult to make good pictures of the stars.

Suddenly I realized I did not buy any food in the rush for sunset. The cookies given by David his mom from San Diego came in handy as dinner & breakfast 🙂

I got up to see the sunrise, the boulders are very easy to climb and have an amazing sunrise view!

Getting up early is adviced as it can get very hot, making a walk more comfortable. Always bring enough water! During the hikes, I was hoping to find some rattle snakes (they emerge from hibernation in March or April), normally they are most active during early morning and late afternoon. A good spot for rattle snakes is the ‘rattle canyon’ walk near Indian Cove, note no real trail exists and you just choose where you go.

Other nice walk I did on the way out was Wonderland of Rocks, where I also just ‘invented’ a trail across the rocks. Just make sure you got good referrals to landmarks such as typical mountain peaks (on a good day). On the way you’ll find an old pink ruin. Another landmark on the way is ‘the skull’, just besides the road.

The Skull

The Skull

Some specific advice when hiking here & desserts:

  • Lookout where you put your feet & hands, especially when climbing rocks
  • Don’t run and allow snakes to get away
  • Wear closed shoes and loose pants

When you drive to Vegas, avoid the route 15 since it is just boring. In the beginning drive through amboy and the Mohaviv reserve. You will even pass a small strip of route 66 🙂

In the image below, you can navigate in 360 degrees!

1 evening in Abu Dhabi

Since I had a long layover in Abu Dhabi, I decided to get into the city!

I somehow managed to misplace my credit card, and the police did not at all understand it could have been gone. It is the emirates, so you should feel very safe since the punishments are very high for theft such as exclusion to find work.

The taxi’s are very well organised and clean, the drivers are very honest. I was lucky to have a talkative driver and learned that some people have a ‘priority ticket’ to just ignore the speed limits, not sure what he meant with that in a rich region as this one :). The drive to Al Reem Island took about 30min, costed around 80 AED and takes you past the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is beautifully lit at night! However I did not manage to take a picture at that time, so here is one taken on the way back.IMG_1697

I was also lucky to have lovely and hardcore Cattie (from the USA and already living 5 years in Abu Dhabi) hosting me 🙂

We went to an irish pub since it had a high chance to meetup with some friends and they still served food around 11pm.

We had a very cosy and open-conversation evening (not something I was expecting from someone from the USA), with many friends stopping by which had a similar, interesting mindset in several ways. Some things I learned (note from the people that moved here):

  • Many employers pay for your accomodation, and often you don’t have much choice but you can be sure it is a very nice flat! This can cost around 100.000 AED a year!
  • You have door to door services for everything: from laundry to shopping delivery (for a small tip)
  • Every hotel / appartment block have their own gyms, swimming pools, often shops, etc…
  • ‘simple’ wages are about 4000 AED / week (+-1000 euro)
  • Beer costs easily 36 AED (9 euro)
  • Many foreign people have the feeling they live in a ‘bubble’ of luxery lifestyle (party, drinking, social interactions). Strange thing is that they are very aware of it, but I guess they just like it too much. I guess you have to live here for several months to fully understand it as all the people of the table felt to some level the same way.

The pub played live music, something which is not that common in Abu Dhabu I learned from Cattie. There are actually quite some business opportunities here!

After a very short night of sleep, the wakeup was spontanous with a sunrise and spectacular view over the resurrecting new buildings.

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On the way back, I was suprised to find a schoolbus driver cleaning all the windows for everyone to enjoy the views 🙂

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Once in the airport, on the way to the gate, there was an art gallery where you could buy some local art. These things drew my attention, since I’ve never seen this effect before.

IMG_20150326_054347Now heading to Singapore with lovely Etihad!

Rome daytrip – must do by night

Rome, a city that does not require much explanation…

Some practical things:

  • From airport Ciampino to the center you can find direct shuttle busses. If you’re with a group, it’s a good idea that someone queues to get a ticket, and the other ones go directly to the bus terminal since it can become real chaos there! The departure times can vary, in the end it does not really matter from which company you buy a ticket from, since they will lie about these times anyhow.
  • In the city, there are 2 main subway lines. You can buy a ticket from local newspaper stands for 1,5 euro. With that ticket you can travel for 100min.
  • To get back to the airport, for example fiumicino, you can take an (expensive) train or cheap direct shuttle bus for around  7 euro. The busses all leave around the bus terminal (depending on the company on another side)

In Rome, you will find that like in most big European cities, people will try to sell you everything and hang around bus stations and big landmarks.

The ‘big’ selling item was the ‘selfie stick’, a pole with a mount for your smartphone… very popular last year in Asia, and now dominating Europe.

For dayvisits, many people buy one of the combi tickets. However, when talking to people I noticed many of them actually have to do a longer queue as the ones buying a direct ticket. A example ticketprice for the colloseum is 16 euro / adult (same for the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel combi)

The colloseum is an amazing architecture, using an audioguide makes doing a self-tour interesting. There is also some explanation on the walls, but it can be convenient when you can walk around the circle in the meanwhile.

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Another highlight is the Sistine Chapel. You can get into the Vatican till 4pm (it closes at 6pm, so there is always enough time). The queue to get into the Vatican can become large, however do not believe the people trying to sell you ‘fast pass tickets’ since these are highly overrated in price.

Before getting into the Sistine Chapel, you can wander around the wonderfull galleries and museums of the Vatican. It’s incredible what they have all collected over the years.

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In the Sistine Chapel, it’s forbidden to take pictures. The reason is a commercial deal made during the restorations. But of course, there is always a way as you can see below 🙂

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Most people pay a visit during the day, but for photographers it’s a paradise by night!

A very interesting (night) itinary is found on TripAdvisor, the Rome City Guide.  This tour takes about 2 hours.

  • Piazza San Pietro
  • Castel Sant Angelo
  • Ponte Sant Angelo
  • Piazza Navona
  • Piazza della Rotonda / Pantheon
  • Fontana di Trevi
  • Piazza Venzia
  • Campidoglio
  • Fori di Triano
  • Colosseum
  • Forum Romanum

Pictures taken from these places can be found below, except for Fontana di Trevi (was closed for construction)