How to get from here to there

Our one-month Nepal visa is about to expire and we don’t know where to go next. The big picture is that we’re returning to our campervan, currently in storage near Glasgow, Scotland, sometime in April with the hope that by the time we get there the UK will have warmed up considerably. That means we have a month yet to go somewhere interesting but not too cold and not too expensive to fly into and out of. Looking at a map, Türkiye fits the bill. We chose Antalya because it will be a little warmer than Istanbul, and maybe a little cheaper.

I spent days looking for a reasonable airfare from Kathmandu to Antalya, and especially one with a short layover in whichever Gulf State capital we fly through. Nothing obvious presented itself and I was resigned to a long and expensive travel day when Peter came up with a brilliant plan. Kuwait Airways has a six-hour direct flight to Kuwait City. Instead of an airport layover, he suggested we stay two nights in Kuwait and book our onward journeys on a separate ticket. This never occurred to me before because I always assume a stopover will be more expensive. As it turned out, separate flights to Kuwait then to Istanbul was hundreds of dollars cheaper than the continuous journey. The difference allowed us two nights in a hotel in Kuwait, plus a little touring. Great idea!

None of us was looking forward to the long flight to Kuwait and as we sat in the waiting area at Kathmandu airport we could see that the flight was fully booked. When boarding was announced we shuffled along in the queue to the gate, girding ourselves for the coming ordeal. Jack was the first of us to reach the gate agent. Instead of scanning his boarding pass, she took it and set it aside, then handed him a new one. She did the same for me, and again for Peter. We had no idea what was going on until Peter whispered to me, “We’ve been upgraded.”

We joined the scrum on the tarmac and speculated the reason for the upgrade. Peter thought maybe the flight was overbooked but not business class, so they needed to move some people forward to make room for the locals returning to work in Kuwait. But why us? We’re old? European? Tall? We’ll never know, but wow, was this an unexpected bonus that could spoil us for life!

After a mighty fine breakfast — chosen from a menu, la-di-da — Jack watched two movies, while I took advantage of the lie-flat bed and had a comfy nap. What a great way to travel.

Kuwait was unexpectedly cold and rainy. We thought we were going to spend two days in the hot desert sun but no, it was bundle up time, not great for a quickie tourist visit.

Nevertheless we were game to make the best of it. After checking into our hotel and taking a quick rest we went out to reconnoiter and discovered that Kuwait City is not a place you can explore by foot. For one thing, it’s a huge sprawling city and the points of interest aren’t anywhere near each other, or for that matter, anywhere near our hotel. The city is criss-crossed by multi-lane highways with no accommodation made for pedestrians so navigating back and forth is life-threatening.

We taxied to the iconic symbol of the country, the Kuwait Towers, but with the sky socked in it didn’t make much sense to go up and not be able to enjoy the view. We moved that to tomorrow’s schedule, hoping for clearer weather.

We walked along the shoreline of the Persian Gulf, aware that we’re less than 40 miles from Iraq and 50 miles from Iran. This area of the world has been the focus of geopolitics for decades and standing here reminds me how easy it is to think your own world is the center of the universe, and how hard it is to maintain a global perspective.

None of us had been on the ground in any of the Gulf States before, although we’ve connected through Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai when flying to and from Asia. We vowed to schedule stopovers like this when we head east again.

In a perfect example of worlds colliding, there’s a huge MacDonald’s right on the waterfront. It was cold and windy and we sought shelter inside and ended up eating an early dinner. All three of us are still fighting lingering colds so we packed it in for the day promising a better day of tourism tomorrow.

The next day dawned partly sunny, if not much warmer. I was tasked as the tour guide and planned a perfect day, first taking a recommended tour of the beautiful Grand Mosque, then walking to the historic Al Mubarakiya souk; lunch at a recommended falafel joint; then a stroll through Al Shaheed Park to visit the memorial to the martyrs of the Iraqi invasion of 1991 and a coffee break at a modern Starbucks in the park; finally ending at the Kuwait Towers for sunset before dinner.

It did not go as planned.

The mosque was closed for renovations, and no amount of pleading with the guard for just a peek inside could convince him to let us through the gate. I don’t think Jack and Peter were disappointed but I was. Mosques are very different from churches, synagogues and temples and I always visit the ones I can, even if, as a woman, I can’t set foot in the main part.

We forged ahead to our second destination, the Al Mubarakiya Souk. There’s been a market here for hundreds of years but the buildings are more recent so it doesn’t have the ancient warren-like atmosphere that I think my companions were hoping for. Longtime readers know that markets are my happy place and I could have wandered the aisles for hours looking at the produce, spices, teas, clothing and housewares, chatting with the vendors.

I dragged the men around until they rebelled and demanded a bit of a sit down and food. The falafel place I was hoping for didn’t present itself, so lunch was unremarkable.

No matter. Onward we plodded. I set Google maps to navigate us to the Martyrs Memorial in the Al Shaheed Park. Walking isn’t easy in Kuwait, and we were the only people we saw on foot.

We arrived at the park near the memorial only to find that the park is surrounded by a high fence and we couldn’t see a gate. We chose a direction — Google maps was no help, only indicating we should walk directly to the memorial; apparently Google doesn’t know about the fence — and walked. And walked. And walked. The park is huge, and we walked several miles, nearly 3/4 of the way around the park before we found a gate, the gate. What kind of public city park has only one entrance? And why isn’t it marked on the map?

By this time everyone was pretty much done with the park, since we’d walked the entire length of it already and the memorial was at the far end. Even the scheduled Starbucks break was eliminated from the itinerary since it was halfway through the park and a visit would log another couple of miles on our already aching feet.

I spent an inordinate amount of time apologizing for the botched day until I was told to can it and we decided that since we were all feeling a bit under the weather anyway, we’ll retire to the hotel to rest up for later.

A nap did the trick and we arrived back at the Kuwait towers about an hour before sunset.

The towers were completed in 1979 and have become the symbol of modern Kuwait. Two of the three spheres hold water, and one holds a restaurant, a cafe, the observation deck and a meeting hall. The third tower has no spheres but houses electrical and lighting equipment. It costs about $10 to enter. The observation deck makes a full rotation every 30 minutes.

As soon as we stepped off the elevator on the observation deck we knew the whole day was salvaged. Even without perfectly clear weather it was wonderful to see the view of the city, the waterfront and the Persian Gulf from this vantage point.

We spent an hour up there, two complete rotations, until the sun set. It was worth the whole visit to Kuwait just to experience this.

When we left the towers we asked a taxi driver to take us to cheap local food and by happy coincidence he dropped us at the very falafel place I’d planned for lunch. It lived up to the reviews and we ate a pile of falafel and a bucket of hummus before returning to the hotel.

Peter was scheduled to fly to Cairo the next day, while Jack and I had a middle-of-the-night flight to Istanbul. So after spending nearly a month together in Nepal and Kuwait, we said goodbye to a wonderful travel companion and new friend. We hope to visit him in the Netherlands when we get to Europe.

And it’s back to economy class for us, and on to Türkiye.

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