Category: Travel-tastic

A day out in the Mani Peninsula, Greece – part 2

After spending the morning visiting the Diros Caves and Gythio, we started heading back towards Stoupa, planning to stop at Areopoli on the way. Areopoli is a small mountain village with typical stone houses, small winding streets and small nooks and crannies. There’s very little to do there, and wandering round doesn’t take more than about 20 minutes (even with photos) but it’s a super quaint and picturesque place that we were very happy we visited.

Take a look for yourself!

Isn’t bougainvillea just the prettiest flower? I wish it would grow in the UK, I’d cover my house in it!

Imagine having this little nook to swing in?

Areopoli archway swing

 

I loved the umbrella avenue. These had actual lightbulbs in, I bet they look so pretty at night.

With the afternoon heading towards evening, we started the long winding mountain drive back to Stoupa, having had a fabulous day, but somewhat relieved that the mountain driving on the opposite side of the road was over!

Read part 1 of our day out in the Mani here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

A day out in the Greek Mani Peninsula – part 1

Despite having been to Stoupa 4 times previously, I’ve never really explored any of the surrounding area (unless you count the 2km coastal path walk to the neighbouring village of Aghios Nikolaos). I’ve read many times that that the scenery is incredible, but I choose not to drive when I’m overseas (never done it) and the public transport is nigh on non existent (there are 4 buses a day which run on GMT – Greek Maybe Time, I kid you not!)

On this year’s trip, however, I decided to bite the bullet, hire a car, and get out and about.

I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. Not quite as nervous as the husband (who, until a few days before, had said he wouldn’t come in a car with me driving “on the wrong side of the road”). He’s not a great passenger in the UK, so on unfamiliar winding mountain roads (and I mean winding), with sheer cliff drops and crazy Greek drivers overtaking on bends, he was something of a nervous wreck!

First stop, about an hour’s drive from Stoupa, was the Caves of Diros.

I first went to the Caves of Diros with my Dad on my first visit to Stoupa many years ago. We went on an organised coach trip, which I always find quite restrictive because you have to stick to a set timetable, and there’s lots of people on the coach, and the bendy roads can feel quite sickly in a big vehicle. This time we went at our own speed, stopping on the way to take come photographs from the top of the mountain. The colour of the sea in this part of Greece is just incredible, it looks photoshopped, even to the naked eye.

After a winding descent we followed the signs to the caves, spotting some beautiful ceramic shops along the side of the road.

The journey through the caves is done on a small rowing boat carrying up to 7 people and the man in charge. It takes about half an hour and covers 2.5km. At times you really have to duck down so as not to hit your head on the rock formations above, and the boat can be a little wobbly in the water, which is crystal clear below. It’s hard to comprehend that you’re looking at millions of years of stalagmite and stalactite formations.

I tried to get some pics, which was difficult because of the lighting and the momentum of the boat, but you can get an idea of how impressive they are from the handful that turned out ok!

When you leave the boat you walk through another lengthy stretch of caves, before coming out into the bright sunshine and the aqua sea and bobbing boats of Diros Bay.

On leaving Diros, we headed from one side of the peninsula to the other to the seaside town of Gythio, which had been recommended to me as a pretty place to visit. Gythio is a harbour town with some cosmopolitan seaside restaurants and bars, and pretty coloured buildings. It was fairly quiet when we were there, during the heat of the day, but we had a little wander and some lunch. For me it had more of an Italianate feel than Greek, with the pastel buildings and the intricate balconies, but it was nice to sit right on the seafront and have some food and a refreshing drink.

By now it was early afternoon and time to start heading back towards Stoupa, with a stop at Areopoli planned on the way. More on that next time!

Have you been to mainland Greece? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

A week in Greece

Last week I flew to my happy place in Greece, a small village called Stoupa; nestled in the base of the mountains on the Mani Peninsula. I first blogged about Stoupa here. Whilst I’m not usually a fan of going back to the same place multiple times (it’s a big wide world out there, after all) there’s something to be said for finding a place in which you’re completely at ease, completely relaxed in an instant, with incredible food, scenery and people.

That place, for me, is Stoupa. Which is why I’ve been there 5 times.

It’s testament to the village that it’s hardly changed at all since I first went there around 16 years ago! And that’s the appeal of the place. Whereas holidays, for me, are often about exploring and finding where everything is, the beauty of Stoupa is that you already know everything there is to know. It’s like putting on a comfy jumper and cosy slippers.

I first went with my Dad, then my Dad and his wife went, then my husband and I went and so, after my Dad died last year, it seemed fitting that his wife, me and the husband would all go together, as we all love it so much.

With no further ado, here are my pics!

Do you have a favourite place in the world where you feel instantly relaxed and at home?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

A visit to Batu Caves, Malaysia (aka the day I got punched by a monkey)

About a 45 minute train journey from Kuala Lumpur is the town of Batu, home to the Batu Caves. Have to admit I wasn’t even aware of them until Hannah International blogged about them, but they were immediately on our list of things to see whilst in Malaysia.

Train and Metro travel in KL was very straightforward, clean, reliable and cheap – we could probably learn something from them here in the UK! So we bought our tickets, hopped onboard, and headed off to Batu.

There’s no way to miss the site of the caves when you leave the train, because pretty much everyone is going the same way, and you can see them from the train station anyway.

The site comprises of 3 cave temples. We started in the Ramayana Cave, which was only consecrated as recently as November 2001. Passing a 50ft tall statue of Hanuham, inside the cave is very picturesque, with paintings and fairy lights that depict the story of Rama.

A short walk from the Ramayana cave is the main Temple Cave, which is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India. The limestone forming the caves is said to be around 400 million years old, but the main cave (the Temple Cave) has only been a dedicated temple and place of worship since 1890 when a consecrated statue of Sri Murugan Swarmi was erected. The current statue stands at 140ft high, and is the world’s tallest Murugan statue; costing 24 million rupees (approx. £300,000) and being made of 1550 cubic metres of concrete, 250 tonnes of steel bars and 300 litres of gold paint (thanks Wikipedia!)

There’s currently a lot of construction work happening, both in the prayer area outside of the cave, and in the cave itself, so there was a lot of scaffolding and abandoned piles of bricks (it would seem that the Malaysian approach to health and safety is very different to Western cultures!)

There are 272 steps up to the Temple Cave, and we felt every single one! There are macaque monkeys everywhere; climbing the vertical face of the limestone, climbing the stairs, and sitting on pillars almost like statues. They’re very tame and have obviously learnt to scavenge food from tourists over the years. They can be seen picking up empty food wrappers and eating from them, as well as accepting food from visitors.

Inside the first cave are Hindu shrines, and yet more steps leading through to the cathedral cave which has an opening to the sky. Inside is very damp and dank, again with questionable building work going on.

The trouble with 272 steps to the top is…you guessed it…the same amount to come back down. Ouch!

Batu Caves looking down

It was well worth the visit, obviously not from a religious point of view (for us) but the colours and the imagery and the natural caves were incredible.

So, now you’ve got this far, I suppose you want to know about the monkey incident I referred to in the post title? Go on then…

I was taking some pics of the macaque monkeys, which as I mentioned were very tame and seemingly fairly placid. So the husband asked if I wanted to be in a photograph with one of them. I thought it would make a fun pic if I leaned towards it, as if I was blowing it a kiss. Monkey had other ideas – he screeched and lashed out at me, properly boshed me one and scratched my cheek! Luckily for me (!!!) the husband managed to catch the aftermath on his camera. Thanks husband!

Batu Caves monkey punch

Look at the venom on that primates face!

You can read my previous Malaysia trip posts here, here, here, here, here and here.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

What we got up to in Kuala Lumpur – part 2

As well as generally walking around the city, eating from random food stalls under bridges and getting a bit lost on the metro, here’s what else we got up to during our time in Kuala Lumpur.

Little India

Like GeorgeTown in Penang, Kuala Lumpur has a Little India region in the Brickfields area of the city. The first time we visited was at night time, in search of curry, and also expecting street food stalls. The area was strangely deserted, which we thought odd, but on the plus side we found a great restaurant where the husband had what he declared to be one of the best vindaloos he’s ever had. We headed back there during the daytime, again looking for the elusive food stalls, but a combination of tiredness and lots of rain put paid to any major exploring of the area.

Inside the PETRONAS Towers

The first thing we were struck by was the high level of security – bags have to be scanned through an airport style scanner and large bags checked in to a cloakroom. Everyone has to go through an airport style body scan and there are only a certain amount of people (probably about 40) in each group, which is colour coded. You have to stay within your group at all times so the visit is more regimented than at KL Tower but it does make for a better flow and quicker exit! First stop is the skybridge.

Entrance to the Sky Bridge Petronas Towers

Interesting fact – the bridge is not securely connected to either of the towers! Because of the height of the buildings and the need for them to have a degree of movement in strong winds there is leeway for the bridge to move in and out of the towers at the point where it connects them, which sounds more alarming than it actually is! Also, the bridge is 2 stories high – one used for tourists and the other used for people who work in the offices to move from one tower to the other. Next stop is the viewing platform, which is as high as you can go in the building, but this was a bit of an anti climax after the open air views from the KL Tower, because the top of the PETRONAS Tower is enclosed by glass and has lots of steel structural supports on the outside. We were glad we went up but, for us, the towers were far more impressive from the outside than the inside.

ChinaTown – Jalan Petaling

This again was an evening visit and by now the husband was all walked out, Chinese fooded out and shopped out, so our visit was fairly brief. We bought a few bits in the market and had food at a street restaurant but I chose well and he didn’t and the experience wasn’t that great so we didn’t hang around very long.

Thean Hou temple

This was our last stop during our 3 days in KL and the rain was absolutely torrential. It’s outside of the centre and not easily reachable by public transport, so we took a cab up into the hills and were dropped off at an eyeball pleasing site of reds and golds and beautiful lanterns.

Unfortunately there are areas of the temple which aren’t undercover and had become slightly flooded and the rain was bouncing off the floor so we couldn’t explore the gardens properly but it was such a beautiful, peaceful and serene place. I loved the strings of lanterns and can only imagine how beautiful it is at night when it’s all lit up. The temple hosts weddings regularly and is also a mecca for the city during Chinese religious festivals.

Read Part 1 of my Kuala Lumpur trip here.

Would I recommend Kuala Lumpur? Absolutely! It’s a fascinating city of old and new, many districts and religions and foods and we had a great time. As part of a 2 centre holiday though, like ours, I’d recommend hitting KL first and then Penang. We found that the fast pace of city life after our 5 days in chilled out Batu Ferringhi was quite exhausting and because everything in Penang was so fantastic, we compared KL to it sometimes unfavourably, which is totally unfair. Perhaps, also, just 3 days wasn’t long enough to do everything at our own pace rather than cramming it all in, and it meant that we had to crack on and see stuff even in the rain because we didn’t have time to waste waiting for it to dry up!

Read about the first part of our Malaysia visit, to Penang here, here and here.

Have you ever been to Kuala Lumpur? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

What we got up to in Kuala Lumpur – part 1

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur mid afternoon on a Friday and took a taxi from the airport to the city. There are two options when you buy your taxi voucher in the arrivals hall – metered taxi or fixed rate. I asked which would be the better option and was told it depends whether you want to take a risk with traffic (!!) so we decided on a fixed fee which was the right decision. The journey from the airport to the city took over an hour (it’s quite away a way from the centre) and when we got towards our hotel we were snarled up in gridlock traffic which would definitely have taken it’s toll on the fee meter.

We were staying in the Hotel Berjaya Times Square, in the Bukit Bintang region of the city, which is a huge place connected to a huge shopping mall (I’ll review the hotel separately). Our room on the 25th floor afforded us views of the storm that was rolling in, and we feared we may not be able to get out to explore that evening due to the torrential rain that coincided with our arrival. Luckily it subsided by evening, and off we went to Jalan Alor; a renowned street of hawker food stalls which is touted as a must visit in KL.

Have to say we were disappointed. After some exceptional food experiences in Batu Ferringhi, Jalan Alor was overly busy, overly samey and not overly appealing. We initially settled on a brightly lit restaurant which randomly had a Christmas tree in the corner, and ordered a selection of food…which never came.

We watched other diners arrive, eat and leave, and still we sat there. Every time we enquired on the whereabouts of our food we were told “it’s coming” then, finally, after about 40 minutes, they bought out just one of our dishes and it was completely wrong! By mutual agreement with the waiters we left and went searching for another place, eating a very tasty beef dish, but by then it was late and the experience was somewhat soured. There was nothing about Jalan Alor that made us want to return, and I think this is because it paled to anything we’d experienced in Penang.

Rising bright and early the following morning we were greeted by bright sunshine and blue skies, so we set off to arguably KL’s most famous landmark – the PETRONAS Twin Towers. We found our way to the city centre and then entered a stunning high end beautifully air conditioned shopping mall, from where we tracked down the Bukit Bintang covered walkway which is a direct and safe way to cross the city and reach the towers. I was very much looking forward to seeing them but didn’t expect to be as overwhelmed as I was by them – they were absolutely incredible. The shape, the symmetry, the way the metal and glass structure glinted in the sun, just wow.

 

We took far too many photos, oohed and aahed a huge amount and had a wander round KLCC park which is at the back of the towers took some more photos.

We tried and failed to get tickets to go to the top (fully booked, we booked them for another day) then headed off to find the Menara KL Tower and try our luck at ascending that.

Although KL Tower isn’t as tall as the twin towers, it’s actually higher with better views due to it’s elevated position on a hill. Because it’s so high and so distinctive you can use it as a navigational point even if you don’t know where you’re going, so we wandered through the streets, occasionally referring to the map and sweating profusely in the midday heat and humidity.

Unlike the Twin Towers, which have usable space on every floor, the KL Tower is a needle design with a narrow body and 2 wide round viewing platforms at the top – one open air (the highest point) and one enclosed (a few metres below). There’s a few ringgit difference, pricewise, between the two viewing platforms, but why would you go all that way and then not go to the very top? Strangely quite a few people did, which seems odd to me, and certainly wasn’t an option for us.

The rounded open air viewing platform gives 360 degree views across KL and the surrounding areas, including across to the Twin Towers.

It also has two Sky Boxes – glass structures built to stand out from the side of the platform, overlooking the ground below. You can stand in the glass box and get photos taken which was very cool, although I imagine someone with a fear of heights might go a bit wobbly legged! I found it incredible and well worth queuing 10 minutes for.

The only negative to our visit to KL Tower was that, after being on the Sky Deck, you then have to go down to the enclosed observation deck (which seems pointless when you’ve already seen the best views from a higher level) and we had to queue for around 20 minutes for a lift back down – the queue snaked half way round the space. It would be better to manage the number of people up there at any one time and keep the exiting procedure shorter and less frustrating.

In the evening we headed back to the PETRONAS Twin Towers to see the fountain light show on the lake behind the towers, and once again we were awestruck. The towers are all lit up at night, and with the backdrop of the night sky they’re almost more impressive than during the day.

The lightshow and fountains, which are set to music, are beautiful and mesmerising and everything was just wonderful!

More about KL in my next post!

Missed out on posts about the earlier part of our trip, Penang? Read about it here, here and here

Thanks, as always for reading! x

The Big 4-0: Where to Go?

I’ll be 40 in December. 5 months today, in fact.

40 mug

I’ll spare you all the “how did that happen” bollocks, all the “I still feel like I’m in my 20s” bollocks and all the “if I could do it all over again” bollocks, because a) it’s bollocks, b) it’s dull and c) it’s pretty obvious! It happened, because life. I don’t know how old I feel, really, because I don’t know how 40 is supposed to feel, but I certainly don’t act how I think 40 year old grown ups acted when I was a kid. And I wouldn’t do it all over again, thanks. I’m very happy and settled in my life, with myself, with my relationship and with my home, compared to school years and early 20s which were a troubled cocktail of confusion at times!

The biggest issue I have with turning 40 at the moment (and I reserve the right to change this to sheer panic as the date gets closer!) is how to celebrate. More specifically where to celebrate. I’m not a party type person. Not to say I don’t like parties, or social occasions, or fun (I do, and I excel at them, at least in my own head!) but the thought of having a party for me just ticks no boxes at all. If anyone were to organise a surprise party for me I would be livid. It would also be pretty impossible anyway, because my birthday is on 20th December and people tend to be so caught up in Christmas parties/works parties/shopping/visiting family/spending money on presents that there isn’t necessarily room for ickle old me in their plans (this is not a pity statement in anyway, I’m cool with it, I’ve had 39 years to be ok with it and the people that matter always make a fuss regardless).

So, back to the impending 40th. I know it’s just another day, and another year older, and nothing will change, but somehow it feels like I should do something a bit special. And I have always thought/expected that something special would involve a trip. A holiday. And I always wanted the destination to be Goa or New York.

Now the time has come to make plans though, neither of those are really feasible. There’s the proximity to Christmas, obvs. I don’t want to be away over Christmas, because that’s family time, which therefore means travelling before Christmas and having a really long Christmas holiday which neither my bank balance or waistline would thank me for. Also, with moving house this year, annual leave is at a premium i.e I don’t have enough left to take time off for a long haul trip (that’s Goa out of the question). And New York would be incredibly cold (although pretty) and what if we got snowed in and couldn’t get home for Christmas Day? Too risky.

I suppose I could plan the trip for January, but it’s not my birthday then, so…

This leaves me the option of Europe. And while there are heaps of places I want to go in Europe, most of them lend themselves to summer. Lisbon? Summer. Seville? Summer. Dubrovnik? Summer. I’ve been to Prague, and I’ve been to Budapest (for my 30th). Flight timetables tend to be less regular as Christmas gets closer and the limited annual leave I have left gives only a couple of days window of opportunity to fly.

My first thought was Amsterdam. I do want to go there, but don’t really link it with any particular season in my head, so it seemed like a decent idea. It’s a short flight from the UK and there are lots of airlines serving Schipol airport. But the husband said he thinks of it as more of a warm days/light nights destination for wandering the streets and sitting outside street cafes, so the idea was shelved.

So far the frontrunner is now Rome. It has enough epicness to be worthy of a 40th birthday (History? Check! Architecture? Check! Food & wine? Check, check, check!) It’s close enough to fly to for just a few days; the last few years have been surprisingly mild in December, and it will probably be less busy than high season which means shorter queues for attractions, more choice of hotels and less crowded restaurants. I like the idea of hunkering down eating steaming bowls of pasta and sipping red wine in cosy cafes in between marvelling at the Coliseum, St Peters Basilica and the Spanish Steps. There’s an early morning flight from Manchester on the day of my birthday, which would be a pretty exciting start to the celebrations, and the flight home leaves us enough time for last minute preparations before Christmas Day.

Part of me thinks I’m being selfish wanting to be away so close to Christmas, when we’ll already have lots of stuff to do. But then the spoilt brat in me thinks it’s not my fault I was born so close to Christmas (thanks, Mom!) and that if my birthday was any other time of year there’s be no issue in going on a trip. I’m already kinda compromising… (told you, spoilt brat!)

What do you guys think? Should I plough on regardless? Wait til January? Is Rome a good idea or do you have any other suggestions? Help an aging girl out…!!

Thanks, as always, for reading x

HOTEL REVIEW: Holiday Inn Penang

When I think of the Holiday Inn chain, I don’t think of them as a beach holiday hotel, but the Holiday Inn Penang in Batu Ferringhi was absolutely perfect for our needs. Situated in the heart of the resort, the hotel is made up of two buildings – the beach side (which is around 6 stories high and has the main check in reception, restaurant, pool and access to the beach) and, across the road, the tower which is 24 stories high and has a salad bar, games area, gym and children’s play area).

The two buildings are connected by a walkway over the road, for safety and ease of access. During our stay there was some work being done on the beach side, with the bar closed for renovation, but everything was boarded off and it didn’t interfere with us in anyway.

We arrived in Batu Ferringhi at around 11am after a looooong journey and it was already in the low 30s and incredibly hot. I’d emailed the hotel in advance to ask about an early check in, because the official check in time wasn’t until 2pm and they’d said they would try to accommodate us. There wasn’t a room available as soon as we arrived, so we had a wander, had a drink, and an hour later not only were we able to check in, but we’d been upgraded to a balcony room on the 14th floor of the tower building, overlooking a wooded hillside from where we used to hear monkeys and birds chattering from dawn til dusk. The room was huge, with incredible air conditioning (an absolute must, as humidity levels were through the roof), a massive and super comfy bed, lots of storage space, a big marble bathroom with separate shower cubicle and the afore mentioned balcony with a table and two chairs.

Holiday Inn Penang bedroom

The staff were, without exception, an absolute asset to the hotel. Everywhere you went people would say hello and smile, and not in a fake way, they genuinely seemed happy to see you. That was actually the case outside of the hotel too, the people on Penang were absolutely lovely and so welcoming and proud of their country.

Breakfast in the hotel was served on the beachside – the restaurant was partially indoors, partially undercover, and partially outside facing towards the sea so you could choose where you wanted to sit each day.

Served buffet style, there was quite literally something for everyone! From sausages, baked beans, doughnuts and pastries, through to Malaysian curry and noodle dishes (traditional for Malaysian breakfast – I enjoyed being able to eat such spicy food in the morning without being judged!), cereals, an egg station where you could have eggs cooked fresh in front of you anyway you chose, including omelettes, fresh juices, fruit, cooked meat and cheese – it would be impossible to not find something you liked to eat. Again the restaurant staff were very friendly and efficient, and the whole area was incredibly clean and well looked after, with that beautiful sea breeze coming in from the beach.

The pool was an OK size and pool towels were provided free of charge. I can imagine that in high season it would get very busy, but we were slightly out of season so there were always sunbeds available on the days we chose to chill out rather than sightsee. There was the option to sit in the gardens too, looking out to sea.

The beach view, accessed through the gardens, was rather lovely!

The outdoor bar was a nice touch, and we enjoyed a cold glass of wine or beer after a day out, or before heading out to dinner. Prices were very reasonable, for food too, not overinflated as you would usually expect in a hotel.

We couldn’t have been happier with every aspect of our stay, and I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone.

Have you ever been to Penang? Let me know…

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang

Back to Malaysia for this post, as I still have so much to tell you, and so many photographs to share. I can’t believe it’s already been 2 months since we were there!

We visited a few religious buildings in Penang – Dhammikarama Burmese Temple & Wat Chayamangkalaram in George Town, and Kapitan Keling Mosque in Little India ,but this one deserves a post all of it’s own. It’s a beauty, and an instagram dream. Everywhere you look is something that needs to be photographed – ornate detailing, tiled floors and walls, buddhas and carvings. It’s incredible.

The temple is just outside of the capital, George Town, in the Air Itam area. You can reach it by local bus, the hop on hop off tourist buses, or taxi. We opted for the latter to make the best use of our time and get there as quickly as possible. If you’re accessing the temple from the street then you could quite easily miss the entrance, it’s a little dark passageway which looks like it leads nowhere, through stalls selling cheap bits and pieces, fake clothes and bags, and up a number of stairs. Once we got through this bit we saw that there’s an upper entrance to the temple grounds with a car park, where, in retrospect, the taxi driver could have dropped us. Never mind – all those steps are good for you, and certainly lead to a sense of achievement!

The construction of the temple started in 1890, although further development and building work continues to this day. The temple and connecting areas are now very heavily commercialised, with shops selling trinkets and souvenirs at every opportunity and around every corner (we found this very surprising).Although the temple is free to enter, there are nominal fees to enter certain parts of the development, but these are only a couple of pound each and well worth it.

It probably took us around 90 minutes to get around all areas of the temple; which included a slow amble, stopping off to take lots of pictures, sheltering from a couple of rain showers and climbing all the steps to the highest points possible to make the most of the views below.

The 7 story main pagoda has Chinese, Thai, and Burmese influenced architecture. This was completed in 1930.

Kek Lok Si temple 7 stories

This 99ft bronze statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, was built in 2002. A pagoda has since been built around and over the statue, and there is currently scaffold and some work happening around it.

The whole site is a riot of colour, with bright decorations, flowers and gardens.

There are buddhas everywhere! Big, small, printed on tiles – they’re all over the place!

This really was one of the highlights of our entire trip, and certainly is not be missed if you ever visit Penang.

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Teachings of Islam at Masjid Kapitan Keling in Penang

I had planned this post as a standalone to my other Malaysia trip posts as soon as I left the Kapitan Keling mosque in Penang and, in view of the bombing in Manchester, which has now been claimed by Muslim terrorists, today seems the right time to write it.

I love religious architecture; the grand scale, the intricate detail, the commitment to beauty. As I mentioned in my previous Malaysia post, the temples were one of the things I couldn’t wait to visit on our trip. I’m fascinated with churches, despite being a firm atheist, and will always seek out grand religious buildings whenever we’re on a trip.

Yet I’ve never been in a mosque.

On one of our visits to George Town, capital of Penang Island, we walked past the Kapitan Keling mosque – a stark, white building in the middle of the city, with it’s strong arches, rounded domes, and towering minaret.

Masjid Kapitan Keling outside

We took some pictures from the outside and were spotted by a volunteer in the foyer, who invited me in. I was given a scarf to cover my head (I was already dressed conservatively, with my legs and shoulders covered because of the possibility of visiting religious sites, but people who were dressed in strappy tops and shorts were cordially invited in and given clothes to cover themselves) and the young female volunteer began to tell me about the history of the mosque, and more about the Muslim faith.

I was struck by the simplicity of the inside of the mosque. In contrast to churches, and the Buddhist and Thai temples we had visited earlier in our trip, there were no physical depictions of Allah, no decorations or ostentatious shrines.

My guide explained to me that Allah’s physical appearance was never described anywhere in the Koran and so there are no imaginations of what he looks like anywhere – not just in a mosque but in every day life. Also, it is against the religion of Islam for any person or animal be represented in a mosque, part of which is that it can lead to idolatry, and also that there is no distraction during the praying process. Praying is a direct connection between the individual and Allah.

She explained to me about the pre-prayer washing process, which has to be done in a particular order, and that prayer water is inhaled into the nose and mouth for healing and purity reasons. She explained to me about the call to prayer, and prayer times – I incorrectly thought a prayer time had to be adhered to exactly, but she told me that as long as prayer is taken between the first call to prayer time and before the next call to prayer then that’s acceptable. She pointed out the segregated women’s prayer area, showed me the Koran, and read the Islamic prayer which is said to Allah 5 times each day.

It was incredibly enlightening, calming and interesting.

When I left the mosque she gave me some leaflets to take away and, because I’d been gone for a while, the husband joked that I’d been radicalised which is just the kind of sense of humour we have but not quite so funny in view of recent events.

Leaflets about Islam

When we got back to the hotel I sat and read the leaflets (more inappropriate radicalisation jokes!) which are designed to dispel some of the myths, rumours and negative press that Islam gets across the world.

Two quotes stand out to me:

“Have you ever wondered why a nun can be covered from head to toe and she’s respected for devoting herself to God, but when a Muslim woman covers, she’s viewed as “oppressed”? Or why a Jew can grow a beard and he’s just practising his faith, and when a Muslim does that, he’s an “extremist”?”

And this:

“Would you send your car to a butcher for repair, or a sick child to a florist? Of course not. A butcher is not qualified to repair a car, nor a florist qualified to treat the sick. Likewise, people without Islamic knowledge are not qualified to inform others about Islam. So why is it that people are willing to accept information about Islam from those that do not have the required knowledge?”

I’m not here to preach or change people’s minds, or even to share the content of the leaflets, but the way they approach common misconceptions was definitely an interesting read, and something I believe a lot of people could benefit from reading (EDL and Britain First members, I’m looking at you).

Whenever there’s a terror attack, the level of vitriol towards the Muslim community rises, and it’s so often misplaced – aimed at innocent people who simply believe in a religion and a God who is there for them; in the same way as a Christian or Catholic may believe in religion and God. We don’t turn against Christians when a Christian fundamentalist commits a murderous crime. We don’t see the religions of criminals reported in the news – unless they’re Muslim.

Crimes committed by Muslims in the name of Islam are anything but what they profess to be. They are extremist individuals who have a twisted view of “their” religion and the world at large, and try to justify a thirst for blood and an anger against a perceived threat in the name of a God who would deplore such actions.

Apologies if there are any inaccuracies in my writings about the mosque, but that’s the information as I recall it.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x