Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Monday, November 26, 2007

Who says it's "grim up North"? We find it quite charming, actually.

The North of England, particularly the county of Yorkshire, often conjures up images of cricket, fish & chips and old men in flat caps drinking local ale. For Jason and I, Yorkshire is all about family, friends and a plethora of treasures that far surpass the stereotypes. Here's what we got up to during our recent visit to England's largest and loveliest county.

Decorating the kitchen with balloons, banners and streamers was the first of many kind "Welcome Back" gestures by my parents. Jason is pictured here moments before guests arrived for a homecoming party at the Holdsworth home in Dewsbury, Yorkshire.

A quick pre-party toast with my brother, Andrew.

The Yorkshire weather made our homecoming even more special, treating us to sunny days and gorgeous autumnal colors.

Copper Beech and Ginkgo trees adorn the garden next to my parents' home.

We took advantage of the cool, crisp October days to explore some of Yorkshire's most scenic spots. This picture was taking during a family hike close to Longley Farm, producer of fine dairy products. Longley Farm products are so good they can even be purchased in the ever-so-posh Food Hall at Harrods. With lush green grass like this to eat, no wonder the Longley Farm cows produce such tasty goods!

We spotted this impressive mushroom during the same hike.

We even stumbled upon Jason's own personal wooded trail.

I have been harping on to Jason about Yorkshire's beautiful coastline for years. Finally, he got to experience it for himself during a fabulous outing with Helen & Oz to Robin Hood's Bay and Whitby.

Helen and Oz guide us along the path from Boggle Hole to Robin Hood's Bay. Once a renowned smugglers' haunt, this stretch of coastline is now best known for the rich array of wildlife breeding in rock pools along the beach, as well as breathtaking views from the cliff path.

After our bracing coastal walk, we ventured a few miles further north to Whitby. We visited historic Whitby Abbey, then strolled around the town's pretty cobbled streets, working up an appetite for a feast of fish and chips at the famous Magpie Cafe.

Pretty cottages like these line the narrow streets of Yorkshire's coastal villages.

Whitby was chosen by author Bram Stoker as the scene for parts of his celebrated work, 'Dracula'. To this day, curious visitors and fans of the famous horror novel come to Whitby in search of the source of Stoker's stories. The legend of Dracula might even sell a few ice creams too.

No visit to Yorkshire would be complete without some quality time with old friends. In fact, you might recognize some of these faces, featured on last December's Donkey Crossing postings from England. Our first reunion was with Cheryl, a good friend Jason and I met in Ecuador when we lived there in 1999. We had a great time with Cheryl, her husband Ed and two year old daughter Lola.

Cheryl and I in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey.

Next stop was Sheffield, home of rock band the Arctic Monkeys, and our mates Louise and Matt. We happened to arrive on Guy Fawkes Night, which made for a fun evening watching fireworks and drinking hot chocolate with Louise, Matt and their sons Barney and Eli.

Barney (right) and Eli with Shiny, their pet hen. Shiny didn't lay many fresh eggs during our visit. Perhaps the noisy fireworks distracted her from producing our breakfast!

'The men' pose in Matt's half built shed at his allotment. Matt plans to grow all kinds of organic produce here, while Eli will get down to the serious business of digging for worms.

Some Donkey Crossing readers will remember last year's narrow boat adventure on the Leeds/Liverpool canal. Once again, Captain Tracy and her boat Baby D welcomed me aboard for a few days of bliss on the canal, while Jason took off on an adventure of his own in London. In between cruises, Tracy and I strolled along the canal path, ate sausages with fellow boaters and disco danced on the moonlit jetty. However, my most vivid memory of Baby D will be our frenzied attempts to prevent her from sinking when she sprang a serious leak in the engine room. Armed with buckets and bilge pumps, we managed to bail her out, before resuming our disco party on the jetty.

Tracy, staying fairly dry aboard Baby D with her daughter Rosie.

Aside from missing the excitement aboard Baby D, Jason also missed out on an exquisite performance of Romeo and Juliet by Northern Ballet Theatre. I was honored to attend this stellar performance with my parents, and the members of Oz's music appreciation class. Dare I say that Northern Ballet might even have done a better job than the dancers we saw at the Alexandrinsky Theatre in St Petersburg?

After a few days in London, Jason came back "up North" with our good friend Adam Farber from Chicago. Adam spent a few days getting to know the Holdsworth family and exploring Yorkshire with us.

Oz, Helen, Jason, Adam & I hiking near Haworth.

Here are Adam and Jason, tucking into fish & chips in Dewsbury town center.

So, there are plenty of special things about Yorkshire that keep us coming back, not least the warm welcomes. A big thank you to everyone who hosted us, particularly Helen & Oz.

Over fourteen months have passed since our initial departure for South America last September, and we now find ourselves Stateside once again. We've been busy polishing up the resumes and applying for employment. It is certainly an exciting time and we look forward to reporting back about our wonderful homecoming to the US.

Next on Donkey Crossing: You'll read about our final two weeks abroad, visiting more friends, family and pubs in England's thriving capital city of London.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

From Delhi to Dubai: a taste of the Emirates

Jason and I met Ida Dolci in Ecuador in 1999. We worked for her at Key Language Services in Quito, and have kept in touch ever since, even though we've been living at opposite ends of the globe. Her current home is Sharjah, in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), which is conveniently located between India and England. We couldn't resist a quick visit, and Ida made sure it was a worthwhile one.

In spite of not having seen each other for 8 years, Ida gave us the warmest of welcomes, and we picked up where we'd left off as she showed us the sights.

Since we were visiting during the holy month of Ramadan, eating and drinking were forbidden until after sunset. What better way to break the fast than picnicking on a cruise boat on Sharjah's lagoon? Here we are with Ida on the boat. Several of Ida's friends and colleagues joined us for the evening feast. This was no booze cruise though. Anyone found in possession of alcohol in Sharjah may find themselves imprisoned.

As we disembarked from our picnic cruise, the grassy banks of the lagoon were teeming with local families, breaking the fast together. They were still picnicking at midnight, and many looked like they were just getting started.

Sharjah mosque, sandwiched between six lanes of traffic and the lagoon.

Ida's place felt like a palace, and we found her tastefully decorated home the perfect place to relax after long days in the Emirate heat. We delighted in simple but almost forgotten luxuries like clean smelling towels and sheets, as well as a fridge stocked with fresh, nutritious food.

Ida was a fantastic host, and chauffeured us all over the UAE in search of stunning coastal, desert and urban landscapes, local culture and fun. Our first outing was along the coast, towards Oman. Although we were anxious to behave respectfully towards Emirates fasting in observation of Ramadan, we'd built up an appetite by lunchtime. The plan was to find a secluded picnic spot so we could eat lunch discreetly without offending anyone, or getting arrested, facing punishment of a hefty fine or up to a month in jail. We found a suitably private shady spot, but just as we tucked into our hummus and grilled chicken, a local family walked by. We exchanged guilty glances, but our anxiety was soon appeased when they pulled out their own picnic and tucked in unapologetically. Evidently Ramadan had ended a day earlier than we'd thought. Our stealth meal became an Eid-ul-Fitr (end of Ramadan) feast.

Ida and her 13 year old son Emilio enjoying some beach time after our picnic.

Emilio's iPod provided the soundtrack to our road trip along the coast.

We continued along the coast, through traditional fishing villages bearing no resemblance to the images of skyscrapers and development often associated with the UAE. The four of us spent a pleasant hour wandering along a mangrove lined beach, examining hermit crabs and shells, whilst observing Emirate families out for the day, enjoying the Eid holiday. Some of the locals looked rather holy as they paddled in long white robes, silhouetted by the late afternoon sun.

Emilio searching for clams, which he later steamed and presented to us at the dinner table. Eat your heart out, Jamie Oliver!

Ida took us inland the following day, driving us through the dramatic desert landscape of Fujeirah, then on to the Hatta Pools. The scenery was a stunning contrast to the coast, and we savored views of the imposing Al Hajar Mountains. It seemed half the residents of the UAE decided to visit the mini canyons and freshwater pools at Hatta on that day. In addition to checking out the pools, we had the added bonus of experiencing off-road Emirate traffic jams, as well as some quality people watching. There were young Emirate males with flashy four wheel drives, as well as scores of expats from all over the world, often with Filipino nannies in tow. We heard more English spoken than Arabic.

This bilingual sign is aimed at locals and expats alike. Expats actually outnumber locals in the UAE, though almost all of them are on temporary work visas.

We spotted these gates near the border between UAE and Oman. This is a typical Omani design. The UAE flag has been painted on the hill in the background.

Having introduced us to the wild, undeveloped beauty of the UAE, Ida showed us the ultimate contrast with a day out in Dubai. Before we even made it to the skyscraper dominated center of Dubai, we noticed bigger, faster cars, more opulent buildings and more liberal dress codes (foreign women with shoulders exposed, for example). With so many foreigners around, it almost felt like we'd found ourselves in a wealthy suburb of Miami.

Dubai's skyline as we approached from Sharjah. Although the 164 floor Burj Dubai (Dubai Tower) is still under construction, it's presence already dominates the skyline, dwarfing the rest of the city's buildings.

The Burj Al Arab hotel, shaped like a billowing sail, is reportedly the world's most expensive hotel. Content with our superior accommodations in Ida's home, we admired the Burj Al Arab, with it's protruding helipad cum tennis court, from afar.

Colorful hookahs at the Jumeirah hotel in Dubai. We passed on the shisha and wandered around some enticing shops instead, admiring the unusual and relatively inexpensive goods.

We escaped Dubai's excesses to spend our last hours with Ida at a down-at-heel back street fish house. Mingling with a local, unpretentious crowd, we dined on fresh fish, salad and chapatis around a plastic table. It was the perfect conclusion to our whirlwind experience of the UAE and its extremes.

We said goodbye to yet another pair of international friends at the airport, wondering when (and where) we'd see Ida and Emilio again.

Onwards to England, to a long awaited reunion with my parents.

We were welcomed at Manchester airport with hugs and smiles from my parents, Helen & Oz. Jason enjoyed a cold lager in the kitchen at Dewsbury without fear of arrest.
Next on Donkey Crossing: Autumn in Yorkshire, and more friends & family reunions.