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Location || Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Date || April 14th, 2014

I don't intend to blog much from Dubai, the jewel of the Arab world (not while I'm actually here, which I have been for 3 days now, with 5 more to go); I'm being a tourist and enjoying a bit of blogging downtime. But I wanted to upload this picture I captured today on a great day of sightseeing with Big Bus Tours. It was captured at the base of the Burj Khalifa which, at 829.8 metres high, is the tallest building in the world (of course it is; anything less would be a failure for Dubai). I initially wasn't too happy that this guy kind of subtly photobombed my pic (I waited in the scorching heat for a while for him to walk by, inconspicuous enough I thought) but upon review I actually like his V sign. More to come from the desert, at some stage.

V sign at the base of the 829.8-metre Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Dubai, UAE. April 14th, 2014.

Giving the V sign at the base of the 829.8-metre Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Dubai, UAE. April 14th, 2014 (Sony NEX-5r || SEL10-18 || 10mm, 1/800sec, f/9.0, iso100)

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2014 || So Far

South Korea
Copenhagen, Denmark || Five To-dos
Cote D'Azur, southern France (Nice, Monaco & Cannes)
 Veneto, northern Italy (Verona & Venice)
Central Europe (Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, & the Czech Republic)
Istanbul, Turkey

2014 || Coming Up

Oman
Morocco, northern Africa (early-mid-May)
South America & Antarctica (second half of 2014)

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Big Bus Tours

Location || Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, Istanbul, Turkey
Date || April 11th, 2014

I had to do a double, triple, quadruple take of the departures board here in Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. I couldn't see a flight to Dubai anywhere. My flight to Dubai. I got that sinking feeling. I was worried but only long enough to remind myself that I don’t make mistakes of the wrong day or wrong airport ilk. There had to be an explanation. And there was. I was going via Kuwait.

Checking in for Jazeera Airways flight 9481 in Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, Istanbul, Turkey. April 11th, 2014.

Checking in for Jazeera Airways flight 9481 in Sabiha Gokcen International Airport, Istanbul, Turkey. April 11th, 2014 (Sony NEX-5r || SEL1855 || 47MM, 1/80EC, f/5.0, iso1000)

Country Counters
OK. A stop-off in Kuwait. Needs must, so long as I get to Dubai. And no, I won’t be removing Kuwait from the bucket list just yet; I’m not one of those annoying country counters who would class a 1-hour layover in an airport as sufficient reason to annoy with the ‘yep, been there, have you?’ line. Just for the record, I hate country counters. Those travel sites that want to tell you how many countries the author has visited. They annoy me. They are the online version of the person you see on the road carrying a backpack peppered with little flags from each country they have visited, an outward display of how travelled they are compared to the rest of us. And that's what get me the most - by the very virtue of displaying means those kinds of travellers are the kind who class travel as more of a competition than an adventure or experience. And that annoys me. The Prophet Mohammed once said

Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.

I'd like to think Mohammed wasn't fishing for a country count.

Location || Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Date || April 11th, 2014

Jazeera Airways. Needless to say I’d never flown with them before. Never even heard of them before I booked the flight a few weeks ago. Based out of Kuwait, seemingly they are the Middle East’s cheap, no-frills carrier (some, Jazeera themselves included, prefer the term low-fare), the region’s Ryanair if you will, an unfortunate comparison & they hardly deserve. For starters they don’t overload your e-mail inbox prior to departure with reminders; they don’t require you to check-in online or remortgage your house if you fail to pre-print your boarding pass; & they have no checked baggage fees. And a good thing too because people in this part of the world don’t travel light – in the line for check-in I was left wondering if I was boarding a cargo plane as opposed to a passenger one. Oh, and they give you food too - I was treated to two pre-packed Chicken tandoori rolls & two pre-packed apple danishes today (two flights, two treats). So I guess Jazeera Airways are not like Ryanair at all. And that’s good.

Kuwait Airport en route from Istanbul to Dubai. April 11th, 2014.

Kuwait Airport en route from Istanbul to Dubai. I spent about an hour in this place, just long enough to change planes and be thankful that an hour was all I had here (it's a bit of a hole to be fair). And the three security guys at the boarding gate almost took from me the duty-free booze I purchased in Istanbul, taking in turns, like some badly choreographed act, the opportunity to mutter a reason why - I heard 'not allowed in Kuwait', 'too much', & 'too strong'. None of that made any sense to me as I was simply transferring so I stood my ground. They eventually let me keep my dirty cargo and I was on my way, clinking duty-free bag and all, the contents of which means I won't have to pay as much of a sin tax for booze in Dubai and I would otherwise have to. I took this awfully grainy picture from the plane as it was pushing back from the gate. Kuwait International Airport, Kuwait. April 11th, 2014 (iPod Touch)

All was good with my new favourite Middle Eastern no-fri... sorry, low-fare airline. Until I got to Dubai that was.

Baggage Services, Dubai International Airport, UAE. April 11th, 2014.

This is where you end after a flight from Istanbul to Dubai via Kuwait if the baggage team in Kuwait International Airport (& I'm assuming there is such a thing) forget to do their job, the Baggage Services desk in Dubai International Airport, UAE. April 11th, 2014 (iPod Touch)

Yes, my bag is spending he night in Kuwait. Poor thing. I miss it. I bet it misses me too. This was not how the first night of my 5-star visit to glitzy Dubai was supposed to go. I’m sitting here in my (very nice) Dubai hotel room with nothing but the sweaty clothes I wore today, my daypack with my electronics & essentials (passport, credit cards etc.) & of course my Istanbul booze. The rest of my stuff will be here tomorrow & no-frills/low-cost means I have to go to the airport to rendezvous with my backpack. Yep, they are not even going to send it to me. I take back all I said about Ryanair. They never left my bag behind. Come to think of it, no airline ever has. First time for everything I guess. Bloody Jazzera Airways.

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Location || Istanbul, Turkey
Date || April 10th, 2014

I saw the clouds rolling in towards the end of what was a gorgeous day today & I knew it was going to be a shitty evening. And it is. It’s pelting down outside. I've just been out in it, standing by wondering what all the Turks are protesting about. There are loads of them, all wearing coloured headbands & marching up & down Divan Youl Cad, Sultanahmet’s main drag. Something has gotten their ire that’s for sure. Surely not the rain & certainly nothing I did. All I’m guilty of today was buzzing around the city taking pictures. Honest.

A section of the Deesis Mosaic (The Last Judgement) mosiac in Aya Sofya, Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014.

A section of the Deesis Mosaic (The Last Judgement) mosiac in the Hagia Sophia. The massive Hagia Sophia is the first attraction listed in Lonely Planet's Istanbul guidebook. According to them it’s the city’s most famous monument & on the second day of my third visit to the city I finally gave it a look. The building was completed in 537 – when present-day Istanbul was the Roman city of Constantinople - & was at the time the greatest church in Christendom. Muslims don’t need churches so it was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of 1453 & it stayed that way until it was turned into a museum in 1935. What purpose it serves today, beyond extracting a lot of money (it’s over €8 to enter) from a lot of tourists, I’m not too sure. Lonely Planet claims the building’s huge central dome to be ‘the greatest of all domes’. A big call indeed & I’m sure they didn't intentionally forget about St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City when employing that bit of hyperbole. It’s impressive yes but as it’s perennially covered by scaffolding it’s hard to fully appreciate it (see my Instagram account for a picture of the interior). I much preferred the Hagia Sophia mosaics, especially the early 14th century Deesis Mosaic (The Last Judgement) which shows Christ, the Virgin Mary (seen here) & John the Baptist. The mosaic, like the rest of the building, has seen better days (it’s getting on a bit, I know) but what remains of it to this day is certainly impressive. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014 (EOS 60D || Canon 70-300mm || 105mm, 1/160sec, f/4.5, iso800)

1477-year-old cracks in the marble floor of the Aya Sofya in Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014.

1477-year-old cracks in the marble floor of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014 (EOS 60D || Tamron 24-70mm || 44mm, 0.6sec, f/6.3, iso800)

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka The Blue Mosque, as seen from the upper windows of the Aya Sofya. Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka The Blue Mosque, as seen from the upper windows of the Hagia Sophia. You see, it was a nice day today. Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014 (EOS 60D || Tamron 24-70mm || 61mm, 1/640sec, f/8.0, iso100

I paid another visit to the Blue Mosque, just like I said I would. And they let me in this time.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014.

There were a lot of other people there too, all, like me, marvelling at the mosque’s 2646 m² prayer hall, its 43-metre-high & 23.5-metre-wide dome (representative of the heavens in Islamic culture), some of the 21,000 tiles making it all look so pretty, & the four massive 5-metre-diameter pillars holding the whole shebang up, two of which can be seen in this picture. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014 (NEX-5r || SEL1018 || 10mm, 1/160sec, f/4.0, iso2500)

I moseyed down to the banks of the Bosporus strait with the intentions of walking over the Galata Bridge from European to Asian Istanbul. But once I got there I sat around for too long on the European side watching the world go by, before eventually deciding that my return to Asia can wait one more day at least (I’ll be in Dubai this time tomorrow).

Boats on the Bosporus & the 1348 Galata Tower, a prominent landmark in the Galata district of Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014.

Boats on the Bosporus & the 1348 Galata Tower, a prominent landmark in the em, Galata district of (Asian) Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014 (EOS 60D || Canon 70-300mm || 90mm, 1/400sec, f/8.0, iso100)

Regardless of its storied past, today Istanbul is a tourist city. And the city's attractions don't come much more touristy than the labyrinthine, chaotic Grand Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014.

4000 shops spread over several kilometres mean this is a busy place but there’s a jovial atmosphere amongst the buyer seller banter; there’s always someone on hand to convince you why you need that something you never knew existed a few minutes previous. The Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014 (NEX-5r || SEL1855 || 31mm, 1/60sec, f/4.0, iso500)

A guard at an entrance to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014.

A guard at an entrance to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey. April 10th, 2014 (NEX-5r || SEL1855 || 42mm, 1/80sec, f/4.5, iso500)

Backpacking Break
I've just checked my flight details for tomorrow. And lucky I did too. I was checking for the time but I happened to notice that I’m not flying out of the airport that I flew into yesterday. Instead I’m flying from one I hadn't heard of until a few minutes ago – Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. A quick bit of googling tells me it’s some 50 kilometres on the other, Asian side of the city. Best figure out how to get there so. I can’t be missing that flight to Dubai. The first of 2 5-star hotels that I’ll be calling home for the next 8 nights in the desert awaits. Time to put the backpacking on hold.

Location || Istanbul, Turkey
Date || April 9th, 2014

It was good to have a full-service flight experience today. I haven’t had one in a while. An airbridge to the plane, complimentary newspapers (all Turkish, on a flight from Dublin), smiling hostesses, a hot meal complete with menu (no choice but a menu nonetheless) & real cutlery you could probably hijack the plane with. Oh, & free booze of course. I had a wine with my Turkish beef & couscous, but only one mind (I don't like drinking on planes). Oh yes, the way flying used to be meaning my first, insofar as I can recall, Turkish Airlines experience was nice. Oh & if it wasn't for the horrendous queues at passport control in Atatürk Airport then I’d have had nothing to complain about in getting myself back here to Istanbul.

Turkish Airways flight TK1976 en route from Dublin, Ireland, to Istanbul, Turkey. April 9th, 2014.

Turkish Airways flight TK1976 en route from Dublin, Ireland, to Istanbul, Turkey. April 9th, 2014 (NEX-5r || SEL1018 || 14mm, 1/320sec, f/9.0, iso100)

Istanbul
The former capital & most populated city in Turkey, Istanbul, straddling the continents of Asia & Europe, has been one of the major centre points of the world for thousands of years. Once known as Byzantium & then Constantinople, it was home to one of the last Roman outposts for a thousand years before it was conquered in 1453 by the Ottoman ruler Sultan Mehmed II and subsequently became part of a Muslim nation; it’s still one today, one pushing to become the only Muslim member of the EU (& has been for a while).

The inner courtyard of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka The Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey. April 9th, 2014.

As the centre of several different empires, the number of historic and religious monuments and buildings in Istanbul is staggering. One of the city's most famous landmarks is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Built between 1609 and 1617, it is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior (although its grey exterior does look very blue in this immediately-after-dusk photograph). Within a few minutes of arriving in the city this evening & offloading my bags in my hotel room I was down in the mosque’s central courtyard, the biggest of all the Ottoman mosques. I didn't visit the interior (it was closed this evening to non-Muslims) but will do tomorrow, & probably more than once. It’s the primary reason I wanted to return to the city. The inner courtyard of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka The Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, Turkey. April 9th, 2014 (NEX-5r || SEL1018 || 11mm, 1/60sec, f/4.0, iso2000)

It’s good to be back in Istanbul. Mostly. I've only been here a few hours but I've already had a shawarma; I have visited the central courtyard of the Blue Mosque; I’ve got that comforting, sweet whiff of shisha/water pipe (but strangely I haven’t actually seen one yet); I have heard the melodious call to prayer a few times; I've cursed the smokers (Turks smoke like chimneys); & I've been asked a million times already by just as many touts where I’m from - I invariably reply that I’m “from Turkey, just like you!” which always does the trick & stops them in their tracks.

I’m in the Sultanahmet area of the city, the heart of Old Istanbul, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site packed with some of the city’s most famous and thus visited sights, including the aforementioned Blue Mosque & the Hagia Sophia, one of the world’s great buildings. I’ll be taking a look at that tomorrow, having failed to do so on my previous two visits to the city back in 2007 & 2008. I’ll also play with a few more touts in the famous Grand Bazaar, & I’ll take a walk across the Galata Bridge over the Bosporus strait to Asia. Oh, and I’ll take some pictures, too. I wanted more time back here but really only have one full day (for now; I suspect I’ll be back after my Arabian Peninsula adventures en route to Morocco). That coupled with a long to-do list means tomorrow will be a busy day. Best get to bed so.

UPDATE || April 3rd

Last flight booked. My Call To Prayer & Party Adventures for 2014 - a return to Turkey & the Arabian Peninsula, & new adventures in Morocco - begin on April 9th. A few months of protecting my gear from all that sand & dust, mosques, shawarmas, desserts, souqs & for good measure a little sprinkling of 5-star luxury, Arab style. All in the coming months and all documented right here through some of the best travel photography found online. Fact. That's the dMb Travel way.

Selected dMb Travel Photography From 2014 Thus Far