10 Nov 2006

Eger, Hungary

Our hotel in Eger, Hungary

Daniella, Me and Puan Sri Eve View infront of Hotel Eger

The Parliament house in Budapest, which looks like a palace

The Danube River which flows through Budapest

We're attending a conference in BUdapest and after that Repin, Dr mansor and I are going on to Nizhny to visit Sarah and Zakiah. Budapest is actually two cities - Buda on the right side of the Danube River and Pest, which is an older and more ancient city on the opposite side of the famed Danube. We arrived early in the morning - about 10 am and the weather is fantastic. There is a bit of a bite in the air, its fresh and cool and the skies are beautifully blue. We were met by one of the University of Eger's staff - Daniella who took us for a short tour of Budapest while we waited for a group of Egyptian delegates who would travel down to Eger with us. I love Budapest - its really so beautiful. I think its typically European, with its narrow cobbled roads, castle -like buildings and beautiful architecture. The Danube flows through the city and even though it does not look blue (as in Blue Danube the song) - it is still a beautiful river.
Eger is a small town - almost like a village in fact. But its so old and the architecture is beyond words. On the second day Puan Sri and I took a walk around the town and I must say its a beautiful place.

12 Oct 2006

Visiting Sarah at Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

After Budapest, we travelled to Nizhny Novgorod to visit Sarah. At the airport our plane was delayed because it was snowing heavily in Frankfurt and the plane could not take off. By the time it arrived I was sure we'd miss the connecting flight to Nizhny and I was right. However we could have made it if that stupid Air India hadn't blocked our entry. Their plane was blocking our plane and we could not dock until at least half an hour later. By that time our connecting flight to Nizhny had left - we'd mised it by 10 minutes! So what to do in FrankfurtAirport? We tried asking for another flight but the next flight to NIzhny was the next day, late at night!! After some discussion, Repin and Dr Mansor decided to take a flight to MOscow and then take another flight to Nizhny. So later that night we flew to Moscow but in Moscow had to wait another 5 hours for the flight to NIzhny. We had to transfer to another airport - used for domestic flights and waited there. The airport was much smaller that the Moscow airport and did not even have a Macdonalds or even a cafe. In fact there are no shops at all. And not even chairs for us to sit. There were some benches and we had to take turns to sit. So I sat and watched the luggage while Repin and Dr Mansor walked around. There are all kinds of people here. Some looked more Chinese than white Russians, some had darker features with light curly brown hair. In fact I thought they looked slightly middle-eastern. I talked to a couple from Turkmesnistan and found out that they were Muslims - a father and son pair. At least we communicated- even if its in broken English and sign language. Waiting has a new meaning here. There's nothing to do except talk and observe your fellow travellers. The airport is not old - it looks quite new in fact, but it lacks all the cheery good looks of the modern airport in our part of the world. There are no souvenir shops, no telephone kiosks, no comfortable chairs or a waiting area. You can't even see a bank ATM. The colour is drab - everything is white and grey. There are police or armed personnel every 10 feet. I feel I'm still in a communist country somewhere in the 70s. Its cold and you don't know the language. Can anything be worse than this? In all this the only light at the end of the tunnel is the fact that we would see our daughters by tonight - 8 or 9 pm.
Finally at 6pm we got on our flight. It was snowing by then and since there was no covered walkway we had to walk out in the snow storm. It was so cold they had to defrost the plain by throwing hot water over it. I felt really worried. Can we fly in this tin can? I hope we can make it to Nizhny.

11 Oct 2006

Visiting Sara at Nizhny Novgorod

With the 2nd year students, Sarah's friends. Neville is the second from the left.
With my baby in her room

Snow scene - its beautiful but soo cold!
This is a view of the town from the Kremlin. The river Volga is in the distance.
Walking down the main street in Nizhny Novgorod

In front of the Kremlin, facing Volga River

With Sarah in front of Kremlin, which means fort

Waiting at Frankfurt Airport

The conference ended on the 8th of October and immediately we checked out and went back to Budapest to catch a flight to Frankfurt. From there we would take another flight to Nizhny NOvgorod where Sarah and Zakiah are studying. Eger was nice but I can't wait to go to Nizhny to see our daughter. Actually Eger is a very small town close to the Austrian border. I wish we had more time to tour the area. Two of our delegates are taking an extra two days to tour and they said they'll even visit Czechoslovakia to visit a bohemian crystal factory. Hmmm I feel so jealous. Anyway our flight to Frankfurt was delayed! In fact it was 30 minutes late and thus we were delayed in Frankfurt and it snowballed and we missed our flight to Nizhny Novgorod. They said that the next flight to Nizhny would be another 48 hours and we'd have to wait two days practically in Frankfurt. So R and Dr Mansor decided to go to Moscow instead because there was flight to Moscow that same night - only at 12.30 am. So we flew to Moscow and I get to see a glimpse of the city.
Moscow was very very cold. Not snowing yet but definitely would snow later. Its a huge city by the way. Not scintillating or bright - granted it is far up north - and mostly grey looking buildings, huge highways, lots of cars on the roads, quite a number of which are Korean and Japanese. We had to change airports - from Moscow Airport to another one which is a domestic airport apparently. The trip between the two took us almost an hour. And we had another 6 hours to wait for a flight to Nizhny. The second airport was not very large and there were no cafes nor shops where we could buy a meal. There were also very few seats around so Repin, Dr Mansor and I took turns to sit. Imagine standing around for a whole day waiting for our flight.
Finally it wastime to board the plane and horror of horrors - there was a snowstorm outside and no covered walkway. I almost fell on the slippery tarmac but was caught in time by a good samaritan who grabbed my hand and pulled me up. It was snowing pretty heavily by then and even when we were in the plane it could not start because the propellers were frozen!! They had to thaw it using a hose with hot water. Half an hour later, amid groans and shakes, the plane rattled its way up the tarmac and managed to lift itself off the ground. We arrived in Nizhny around 9 pm. It was still snowing when we got down but I know better to walk fast now. I grabbed hold of Repin and walked gingerly down the steps towards the lounge if you can call it that! It's so small I think the airport in Malacca is larger. Sarah was there with Zakiah grinning with arms out stretched.
The ride to town seemed long but Sarah said its only 30 minutes. The town, the glimpses that I could see of it from the taxi, seemed small. No tall buildings at all and mostly dark. And its only 9 pm.
The taxi driver is quite a character. OLdish looking but verycraggy face he sounded a bit drunk.It seemed he had seen some action in the Afghan war (of course he fought for Russia) and these days he's peddling goods across the border.
Nizhny Novgorod is a beautiful town. In spite of the snow which fell quite heavily the whole of the next day, we managed to walk around the town, go up the Kremlin and even visit the war museum. I never knew that Nizhny is on the banks of the Volga River. We also met a friend from Russia, Dimitri who took Repin and Dr Mansor out the next day while Sarah and I went to the mall. Later we went to Sarah's room where she and Zakiah had cooked a meal for us. Met Neville and some of the other 2nd year students in Sara's batch too and we took them out for a light meal at the mall,which is huge but had very few people. Well at least they had MNG, TOPSHOP and many of the other brands we see here.

8 Oct 2006


Finally after months of anticipation, we are in Budapest. Or rather Eger, which is a small town 100 km from Budapest. We'd arrived yesterday afternoon and were picked at the airport by a staff of the university. It seems that the Egyptian delegation had arrived earlier and were already touring Budapest. We met them at a restaurant in town where we were given lunch by our hosts. After that we were taken on a tour of the town - which actually consists of two cities - Buda on one side of the river Danube and Pest on the opposite side. I never realised that the Danube runs through this beautiful and old city. Some of the buildings have been there since the 15th century and still looks very well maintained. The Parliament house for one is almost a thousand years old!  I thought it was really awesome. The architecture is simply beautiful  - it looks more like a huge church or even a castle than a parliament house. 
The beautiful parliament house in Budapest

I wish we had more time to really explore this wonderful city. 

Eger itself is about two hours away from Budapest. It's a small university town. Once we had checked in, Repin and Tan Sri went off in search of the conference area and to register as participants. That night we had dinner with the VC of the Eger University at the university itself. It's within walking distance of the hotel so we all walked there and enjoyed the view. Just within a short distance is Eger Castle where they had been beseiged once by Muslim Turks from Asia who at one time conquered this country. That must have been the time of Salah- Ud -Din I think. They didn't stay long in the country however, unlike Spain and Bosnia. Here within a decade they were driven back to Constantinople.

I love this place - just walking around the town gives you a sense of history.

27 Jul 2006

shopping spree, Bandung

Our second day in Bandung was spent shopping shopping and more shopping. We visited all the factory outlets there were on Jalan Sukajadi. Cascades, Heritage, Diaz and so many more. Bought shoes, clothes for Sara and Shasha and handbags, purses, t shirts. Rahman and Lela also had a great time shopping I think. They had to get more money because they ran out after the first shop. 3rd day Lela and I went to the Pasar Baru. The two girls went with their dad to the more modern shops. They seem to like Rumah Mode. Anyway Pasar Baru is just like Pengkalan Kubu in Kelantan or numerous other shops in Jakarta or even in some places in Thailand. Cheap clothes no doubt but I didnt really like the type - very makcik. Lela of course liked them. Bought telekong and some blouses though. Lela bought a lot of stuff - she prefers it here to Rumah Mode or the other factory outlets!
Tomorrow we would be flying back to KL. I think its just nice 4 days and 3 nights. One more night and we'd be bored stiff be'coz there's really not much to do besides shop. And how much can you shop? WE were driven to this scenic place - Tangkuban Perahu - a dormant volcano which is supposed to look like an overturned perahu. Can't really see it though - I mean you can only see such stuff from afar. Anyway the journey itself is quite interesting - we passed pretty villages perched picariously on the hill slopes, lots of gardens (private ones) and vegetable gardens cut into the mountain sides.
Tangkubanperahu was a bit of a disappointment. So many touts trying to sell you everything - the children were the worst. They catch hold of your clothes and will not release you until you buy something. Dont think I'll ever go there again!

26 Jul 2006


On 26 July 2006, Repin, me the girls went to Bandung with Lela and Rahman. For most of us it was the first time. Repin had been here before.
Bandung airport must be the smallest I've seen. The arrivals and departures are at the same place and our baggage too were picked in a corner, just after the immigration and custums, all in the same small area. We were picked by Pak Andi, a young man of Dutch descent, quite fair and fairly good looking too. He drove an Unser or actually KIjang as they call it here. Leaving the tiny airport we passed a number of universities, some quite well lnown as Pak Andi says, however they looked uncared for to me.
Anyway the well known Pandjajaran University, was quite impressive looking. It seems that their medical faculty is quite big too.
The hotel on Jalan Sukajadi is small but clean and quite comfortable. My room faced the main road opposite while the girls' room faced the courtyard. So was Lela and Rahman's room. This is our first trip together and it is rather nice to be travelling with your sister.
That afternoon after a lunch at one of the Padang restaurants, we were taken for a tour of the city. Bandung is cooler and less crowded than Jakarta. Since it is higher and more inland too, the temperature remains in the 70s mostly (20s). Nice to walk around.
There are lots of trees - most of the roads are tree -lined on both sides. And the warehouses are actually bungalows- taken over by entrepreneurs to sell reject stuff from the numerous factories. They call themselves factory outlets.

29 Jan 2006


Repin and I are now in Madinah, which is the final stage of our pilgrimage. We have to perform 40 salats at the Prophet's (PBUH) mosque- Masjid Al Nabawi. The Hotel is bigger but there are more people too so its always crowded. We hve to fight to get in the lifts and every morning we go down early , just to get a place.
Here it is less demanding and we can do things more at our own pace. I love the mosque. It is so huge we can get lost in it. The building itself is islamic architecture at its best. The walls are all decorated with beautiful engravings and designs. The stone pillars inside the mosque are also engraved, in gold and gray marble. Actually I cant find the words to describe its beauty and if this is beautiful what more paradise, the abode of our holy prophets and all good believers.
The masjid is always crowded though. If we come a bit late we have to sit outside and if its the early morning prayers the cold wind will surely make you shiver. In the afternoon its the heat of the sun though since this is still January, its not as hot as it would have been otherwise.
Although we spent much of the time in prayers, we also did a lot of walking around and window shopping. The shops are bigger and perhaps more expensive though. Sometimes we are taken for visits - to some of the other masjids that the Prophet (pbuh) had prayed in. We also visited the site where the battle of Badr took place and the graveyard where the matyrs were buried. We are not allowed to stay there and pray - we can just recite a short prayer and move on.
I was supposed to pray at the prophet's (pbuh) tomb but there were so many people.I did my prayers but hurriedly, afraid I would be trampled on. The Indonesians , who were also with our group were quite rough. They'd push and elbow anybody in their way.
We were in Madinah for exactly 8 days - the required number of days for us to be here if we wanted to get the 40 prayers at Masjid Al Nabawi. Our flightback to Kl was very early in the morning on 31st January. It was a long wait at the airport. Finally at 9am in the morning we took off, back to home sweet home. I cant wait to go home.

26 Jan 2006

Makkah, al Mukarammah

We've all heard stories of the haj pilgrimage throughout our lives. From young, we have been brought to believe that making the Haj is the pinnacle of our life's dreams. Now that I'm here and about to finish my own haj I find the whole experience beyond belief. Its like a dream and yet I know I have undergone it. The depth of experience physically, mentally and spiritually is awesome and mind boggling. When one has gone though this deeply spiritual journey then only does one realise what truly being a "haj" or "hajah" means.
The haj is a must in Islam, one of the five pillars; though it is compulsory only for those who can afford it. So here I am in the holy city, in one of the oldest places of worship in the world, the Baitul Haraam. Baitullah or Baitul Haraam is one of the greatest symbols of Allah. It is here that we face when we pray our daily prayers or indeed any prayer at all.

We landed in Jeddah almost a month ago - on 18th December 2006. We have completed most of the rituals of the haj - the circumbulating of the Baitullah, the walk between Safar and Marwah and also the stay at both Arafah and Mina as well as stoning of the devil.
Our camp in Mina was 3 km away from the Jamratul so every night for 3 days we walked there - almost 400 of us from Zahafiz - all dressed in white, armed with our stones to do the ritual throwing. It was so surreal, the whole act. Now that its over I cannot believe that I actually walked 6 km in one night and did not feel much pain or tiredness. It was cold at first but the long walk soon warmed us up and chanting prayers as we walked, it really felt like going into battle, as indeed we were - a symbolic battle against the devil.

On the way we could see groups of Afghans perching on the rocky outcrops on both sides of the path - some so high up we wonder how they climbed. It looked so steep and so high. But I guess being Afghans they are so used to climbing it was no big deal for them. Just imagine, if my grandfather had not gone to Malaysia, I would have been born there and been an Afghan too.

We spent Idil Adha or Qurbani in Mina. I didnt realise it at first but when the others started reciting the normal prayers for Idil Adha I remembered that it was the day of sacrifice back in Malaysia. The weather in Mina was so cold and a number of us fell ill. Conditions are also pretty rough - poor toilets and over crowded tents. The food was ok though. After the third day we were given the option to stay one more night or go back to Makkah. We all decided to go back because the toilet problem was really very bad. No matter what time we woke up to go to toilet it was crowded and we still had to queue up for at least one hour.
So we went back to Makkah earlier than some others. I was quite sick and my cough had become worse. Back in Makkah even our crowded room was a welcome sight. But my cough was so bad, it kept me up half the night. I even started having incontinence because of the cough nd could not go and pray at the great mosque because of this.
I had to see the doctor the next day so could not go for my tawaf. Repin went though with Jemi and the others. Arah, Bu and me stayed back and waited until we were better. I managed to do it only on the third or 4th day after I came back from Mina. By this time most of the people had also come back. Sadly one of our group, an older man, passed away. He had developed chest pains and had trouble breathing. They took him to the hospital but he passed away late in the evening. He was about 64 years old and had a son with him. The son (about Rizal's age maybe) looked so sad I really sympathised. Imagine being on your own without your family when a parent passes away. As I write this I think of Sharifah and Kamaruddin who also passed away when he was doing his haj. He too passed away after Mina. How did she cope I wonder. It must have been a really terrible time because she also had her mother with her.
One week after Mina, people are starting to move away to Madinah, the next stop for those of us who came here directly. Our group will only go to Madinah on the 21st January so we have plenty of time to do our sunat prayers at the Masjidil Haraam. Repin and I go together now. I no longer go with the other women from my room, mainly because now that we have finished our ihram its ok for us to be together. Arah too went out more often with Jemi. Since Bu is single, she went out with some of the other ladies. Repin and I always have breakfast together too , usually at the same shop just behind gate no 50. I did some extra tawaf, whenever I could. Repin did the umrah for Ojek, my brother who passed away in 2001.
Finally Makkah slowly empties. Every day we can see bus loads of people leaving - some to go to Madinah for the next part of the Haj, the visit to other Holy mosques, some to go home. Our group is one of the very last people to leave and on the second last day we met Datuk Wira from OUM and his wife. They would leave the day after.
Makkah at the end of the season is very desolate and quiet. No crowds and no rushing for prayers, which makes it feel a bit weird. On the 21 we move off for Madinah by bus - 5 buses in all. Most of my room mates got the same bus as myself and Repin so at least we're together for a short while. In Madinah Repin and I would share a room. Arah and Bu would be in the same room but I heard that Sal and Gee are in different rooms.