Fav Abu Dhabi spots

..Hey there..

long time no read!
Hope you are still up for more UAE insights 🙂

Today I´ll drop my FAV Abu Dhabi spots:

Top of the top: Pearls & Caviar @ Shangri-La 

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yes.. unfortunately it is closed.. but wow.. i had the BEST nights with my crew over there.. insane views over the water towards the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the freshest breeze, the best tunes by my amazing friend Dj Kaboo and the most stunning moon light.
It makes me so sad knowing that this incredible place closed its doors and you guys will not have the chance to experience those memorable nights over there.
Writing this brief excerpt in honor of my fav place.

Same applause goes to my other hero: Eight @ Souq Al-Beri 

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Top 6: Iris @ Yas Marina on Yas Island 

A beautiful outside seating, some stressed waiters, stunning views to the Yas Viceroy Hotel & the greatest 80s/90s parties.


We had some really cool nights over here.
The ride (45min from AD) is absolutely worth it – if you mingle with the right people and get the right tunes.

Top 5: Up & Below @ Courtyard by Marriott

Located in the famous World Trade Center, part of the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, one has the chance to oversee the whole beautiful city of Abu Dhabi.

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They just opened up their doors and I IMMEDIATELY took the chance to celebrate my 24th Bday over there. Amazing night, special souls and one of the highlights: my MUM – came all the way from Portugal to celebrate this important night with me.
It is a beautiful spot with comfy outdoor seating, fresh drinks, attractive happy hour and delicious snacks. Worth a visit.

 

Top 4: Bu! @ WTC 

Another “hidden gem” on top of the WTC.

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Delicious south American food, great and modern urban gardening seating, pricey drinks but an incredible Latin ambiance.
Came here to celebrate my 25th birthday and left incredibly happy.

 

Top 3: Relax 12 @ Aloft

One of the most special dance nights in Abu Dhabi! I had the happiest dance nights def. over here. Wow. Huge outdoor space, okish food & drinks and the view: i n c r e d i b l e.

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One looks right over to the 18° inclined Capital Gate Tower and is fascinated ONCE AGAIN about the beauty of this cosmopolitan city.

 

Top 2: Asia de Cuba @ St. Regis Corniche

A m a z i n g.

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If you want to be close to the sea, smell the fresh ocean breeze, indulge in some Asian delicacies, dance to some Latino vibes – then this is the right place to be.
I heard Dj have changed throughout the years reason why I am not too sure if it remains as cool as it used to be “back in the days”.
I just truly enjoyed myself each and everytime we came here…

 

Top 1: Beach House @ Park Hyatt Saadiyat Abu Dhabi

My personal highlight.. Countless times we came here after our full-beach day.
The one and only: HUGO in town.

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THE place for the typical, magical beach sunset. Some chillout music.. yummy tapas and the incredible ocean views.
The right place to unwind, to be grateful for the given and to celebrate life.

 

Another place I feel like mentioning is: Cabana Beach Bar & Grill @ St. Regis Corniche 

My better half and I came here for a pool day incl. a lunch break and once I even organized a romantic wedding proposal for a friend of mine. Other than that – I have never really treasured this place.


Until the day I was looking for THE spot for my grand farewell party.
I came and spoke to them about my idea and they made the impossible possible.


I got my own table set up right in front of the ocean; due to the weather conditions in December (yes – it gets pretty chilly) – they even got me some heating mantle and blankets for my dearest friends.
They served delicious food, a lovely farewell cake and literally made my night.
That night I knew exactly why I stayed in Abu Dhabi for 3 years:
It is beyond words what this city puts up and stands for.
An absolute grateful me left this beautiful city with a heart full of love.

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Almaty (+ Astana Part II)

Ideal stay: prolonged weekend trip
Temperature:
similar to Astana (depending on season; winter very cold (-20) & summer quite hot (30°C))

..here I go again..

The “see you later”-day has finally arrived. There I was – sitting in the fully booked airplane to Astana.
Astana? Once again I realized that many people are not really familiar with this capital and are not too sure to which country it belongs..

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After a few hours of good airplane-sleep I arrived at the Astana Airport. Incl. my damaged luggage piece…well done. How to report a damaged luggage piece in a country where barely s.o. speaks English.. Licious made it. Not too sure how but it worked out.

After going through that struggle – I was even happier when I spotted HIM in the crowd at the arrival area.

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We took a UBER and went to his new kicka** place (super fancy high-tech apartment) to get some sleep & recharge for the upcoming sightseeing days.

btw: UBER is the best way to move around since you do not need to speak the local language; distance and destination as well as price are set – no struggle to bargain etc.etc. = super convenient)

 

DAY 1

..same old same old..

He left early to work and I stayed a little longer in bed.. cosy & nice observing the snow storm out there.

I wrapped myself in my winter clothes and left for grocery shopping. The “European” & classic stroll through the city, window shopping and unwinding is a no-go with these freezing temperatures. I quickly went to the supermarket, grabbed some fruits, spotted the Crossfit place and decided to have a relaxing manicure & pedicure.

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The way to get the mani & pedi was again quite tough – google translator, pictures and videos helped to get what I was looking for.

..me-time..

Afterwards I went home, relaxed, watched a movie and two series, did some paperwork and all of a sudden it was 18h & he got home from work.

Cute to see that he enjoyed the fact that I was waiting for him at “home”. Till his career step & move to Astana we have lived in several countries together – this was the first time we were “forced” to live apart.

We enjoyed some qualitytime at home before heading to the restaurant near his flat.

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The Chef is famous for delicious burger, homemade sauces and affordable prices. For the first time in my life I ordered a burger with a black bun – crazy.

..Fun fact: they give you gloves prior serving your burger.. 

After dinner we went to the nearby mall and checked on the different products. I love to do such store checks! One is able to buy almost everything (overpriced!) since they import around 32% of the products from Russia, 26% from China and 4% from Germany.

We went home, watched a movie and talked until we fell asleep.

 

DAY 2
He went to work and I – yes – stayed in bed.
This time it was not possible to stay that long since he booked a crossfit trial class for me.

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I got there, tried to communicate (fail), changed clothes and waited. All of a sudden everyone gathered around the trainer – so I joined.
He explained the whole training in Kazakh (well-done) but at LEAST the technical vocabulary is the same all over the globe: sit-ups, dead lifts & burpees. After the first intense round I wondered why burpee is such an international term – else I could have skipped it, reason: lack of understanding. 😉

At the end of the session I went to the adjoining coffee shop and had a “Paleo”-meal. Not. My. Style.
I left quite unsatisfied, went home, did the laundry – well at least I tried to do the laundry. But…

..excuse me?..

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At 19ish a UBER drove me to the St. Regis Astana: dinner with my loved one.

This property was brand-new and its unique restaurant “The Grill” – the new place to be.

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Impressed by the well-matched interior decoration we were escorted to our romantic table. I was not even done with reading the menu & I already smelled the truffles and saw him looking at me like “you see, I know what you like”. 😉

..TRUFFLE LOVE – BIG TIME!..

While freakin out on the truffle (+ the extra truffle topping + the truffle butter + the truffle mashed potato) I felt so much gratitude. Gratitude for our collective life, the mile stones we achieved, our lifestyle, our trips, our future vision, our exclusive taste when it comes to food etc.etc.

We ate pasta, bread with the dif. sorts of butter, he got his onion soup (he LOVED it).. We had steak with truffle mashed potato as a main course and wrapped the dinner up with a sweet dessert assortment: chocolate souffle & “destroyed” tiramisu.

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UBER picked us up, drove through the “Schlagbaum” (Kazakh for toll bar – HAHA) and brought us home.

..happy and lucky us.. 

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At home we had a really good laugh (us – being us) and brushed our teeth in our dress & suit. Fancy manancy. I was unable to open the child safety lock of the mouth wash – and relied on the “house husband”. Just a quick glimpse into our “routine”. 😉
We fell asleep and were looking forward to our trip to ALMATY!

 

DAY 3

..early börd..

Not amused by the way he woke me up at around 4h.. got up, prepared myself – he packed my suitcase – we rushed down, caught the UBER and drove to the Airport.

..Boarding: Almaty..

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Prior Boarding he showed me a super fancy app: Google translator with SCAN. Deeply impressed, I have to admit.
Basically your phone serves as “scanner” – you just hold your camera towards the document / sign / letter you want to translate from Kazakh to English and the letters on the screen change immediately into the translated version. Super cool..
Obviously then he got obsessed and translated almost everything around us.. boys.

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Travelling with my best travel buddy has always been great – and just now a huge advantage having him by my side since he managed to study RUSSIAN in the past few months!

We arrived at the Almaty Airport , got our rental car and drove to our hotel: Ritz Carlton Almaty (+/- 30min).

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We were escorted to the reception, impressed by the views and got our upgraded room quite fast.
I love to enter hotel rooms, inhale those vibes and the BEST part: personalized treatments or Cards. 🙂

..knowing me..

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We ate the heart-shaped cake, drank a coffee and left to the St.Nicholas Cathedral. We took a stroll through the park and ended up at the bazar.

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Well – in case your tummy is sensitive this would probably not be the best idea.. Meat all over, horse penis (yes..) but also homemade honey, jam & a huge variety of dried fruits, fruits and veggies.

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It was a super cool experience since in “Europe” you would not encounter this (anymore).

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This country is so full of contradictions: top modern banking system with instant transfers or super high-speed internet connection vs. old-school, poor housing and missing food cooling-system.

..#whataview..

We decided to check on Kok Tobe Hill, took the cablecar up and were amazed by the city views. IMG_3276

Up there it was pretty cold but we walked on, talked and ended up in the amusement park. Always a child 🙂

..incredible sunset vibes..

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Dinner was served at the restaurant “Inkhzu” – not my stlye but okish.. Afterwards we went to the hotel and enjoyed the amazing facilities.

 

DAY 4
We got up quite early and drove to Leo’s where we had an amazing grapefruit juice and a yummy omelette with goat cheese.

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Butter over here is quite “animally” to be honest… just FYI ;).
We joked, laughed and were looking forward to the mountain trip.

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After entering the reservoir & the endless ride up to the mountain, we paid the entrance fee and walked around. What we spotted next was just INCREDIBLE – such a beauty..

..wow..

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Big Almaty Lake

Amazing views: shiny, clear, blue water..snowy mountains..fresh air..sun on our skin.
Us: 100% HAPPY ..and ok, a bit tired of me – poor him. Haha.

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He promised I would be able to spot some animals – but this was not the case. You can imagine how I reacted.. #BockigeJenny.

The mountain was steep and snowy but obviously we aimed high and drove all the way up.. LOVELY view.

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At one point we got stuck – managed to get out and drove back down.

..schöner Rucksack..cooler Rucksack..Profi-Rucksack..

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We spotted the (dried out) Ski-Area and enjoyed a hot chocolate in the sun.

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It was amazing to feel the warm sunrays on my skin – living for such moments!

..Liebe..

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Lived also for those endless laughing fits; our stories; our words; our signature features; our vision; our shared opinions and opposing views; our spirit; our humour and our love.

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Till our city trip to Almaty, I was not aware that this area is well-known for skiing. If you are into skiing you should def. give it a try!

For Lunch we stopped at an amazing place with local food. Unfortunately I was not able to read the name of the restaurant, check the picture:

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I immediately fell in love with this place. Calm, peaceful, traditional, romantic, sunny and – it turned out to be – DELICIOUS.

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As usual he was hungry AF and we nearly ordered the whole menu.. a normal thing 😉 At least we got to try it ALL.

We also enjoyed a hot tea after the winter feeling on top of the mountain.
A glorious laughter ensued.

..us being us..

Me = a wannabe influencer and at times advertising specialist and him = an involuntary follower which had the best giggles because of my attitude.

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Our day was not over yet.

..Yes, our travel pace differs from other travel styles (never relax & chill only)..

We drove to the Central Park (also known as Gorky Park) and went for a walk.

Interesting: In KZ they do not just sit on the floor and beg for money (like in Hungary or Portugal).. but rather try to sell sth to you or offer you a service which they want to get paid for later on.
eg. They take pictures of you while walking in the park with your loved one and afterwards they show you the printed pic version and try to sell it at an horrendously high price. Smart.

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The park is lovely.. huge green areas, multifaceted flora, cute lake with a waterfall, amusement rides (yes, seems they are into it!) and stunning TOP views.

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We rode the big wheel to get one last shot of the Skyline, afterwards we enjoyed the sunset at the Barfly Rooftop Bar.

..sunset is my fav color..

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Unfortunately this bar did absolutely not come up to scratch. Service was “non-existent”, windows were dirty and the whole place rather shabby.

Tired we went back to the hotel, checked on the nearby posh mall, purchased some fresh juice and fruits. We got a “quick” rest and went to the jacuzzi….yesssssss.
An amazing end of a quite eventful day!

 

DAY 5

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We grabbed a coffee and a croissant at PAULs and drove to the airport – time to fly back to ASTANA.

We arrived in Astana, took a UBER, went home, relaxed a bit and went to the Nur-Astana Mosque.

..beauty..

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This mosque was so full of energy, good vibes, style, classiness and love. It reminded me of the positive spirit which Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque spreads.

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This mosque is the third largest mosque in Central Asia. The minaret is 63m high which stands for the age of Muhammed when he died. The whole structure is made of the best glass & granite and has capacity for 5000 people.

We left quite impressed and walked aka. jumped over to the famous “Pyramid” aka. Astana Piramida.

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The Piramida is also called “The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation” – “..it is a Symbol of friendship, unity and peace in Kazakhstan..”.

We paid the entrance fee and waited for our guide. After +/- 20min the (rather military) lady showed us around. She showed us different national dresses which stand for the over 130 diff. Nationalities who live in peace and harmony in KZ.

..clichee-ridden..

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After showing us the basement, the Atrium Hall and the Opera Hall, we got into the fancy elevator (build by SWISS engineers) which took us diagonally up to the peak.
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Under the sky-blue roof there is a meeting room which is – among others – used for the worlds’ leaders congress.

..the sky is the limit..

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The whole room radiated such a positive and peaceful vibe. No matter how rainy or snowy it is outside – inside it will always stay bright and friendly. Well done!

..proud..

As mentioned earlier he already acquired some Russian skills – reason why he did such a good job at bargaining the taxi price. The crazy taxi took us to the famous Baytarek Monument.

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Remember? This is the tower which I have already seen the last time I came to Astana but was back then under construction.

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The price to access this 97-m high tower is around 700T and “..embodies a Kazakh legend in which the mythical bird Samruk lays a golden egg containing the secrets of human desires and happiness in a tall poplar tree, beyond human reach”.

..one world..one love..

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The elevator takes you – basically – inside the egg. The view from up there is incredible. The highlight is President Nazarbayev’s palace.

Exhausted and overwhelmed by all the information we have received, we decided to take a break at my fav. place: Rafe Cafe.

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Obviously I had to order the BEST HOT CHOCOLATE – ever. But – guess what – he was not INTO IT!! How come?! (“How comes” like he would have said)

He took a snacky-pumpkin soup and drank a fresh juice before we headed in the direction of the parliament.

Our last stop for this day was: The Ritz Carlton Astana.

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A surprise for me 🙂
He took me there to enjoy a couple massage as the GRAND ENDING of this beautiful trip.

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The spoiling started with a dip in the (cold) pool and after 30min they called us for the main treatment: a hot stone massage.

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We relaxed and enjoyed it sooo much. It was literally the perfect ending. During this massage I just remembered how grateful I am for this life and my travel buddy. This travel style is unique but exactly what we love.
We love to explore it all in a rather tight time frame and at the same time we love to indulge in those fancy treats. I could not wish for a better travel buddy.

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After this incredibly unwinding massage, we got some tea and cookies, talked and laughed in the relaxation room.

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Following this we went to the mall near his place, ate plemini and went back home to sleep because at 4h a taxi would pick me up and take me to the airport.

..all good things come to an end..

Thank you ASTANA, ALMATY & my LOVE for this incredible trip! I had a blast and will never forget those HAPPY FEELINGS back in those days 🙂

Forever grateful.

 

Astana

Ideal stay: weekend trip
Temperature:
depending on season; winter very cold (-20) & summer quite hot (30°C)

..long time no hear..

Hey my dear READERS

I am so sorry – it has been a loooong time since I wrote my last post. I am sorry.
Life just happened in between and my priorities changed!

Actually I thought about my upcoming post and I prepared my notes for my favorite topic (at the moment): HAPPINESS.

But – somehow I felt the strong desire to rather tell you more about ASTANA and right after about ALMATY in Kazakhstan.

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..Here we go..

The first time I arrived in Astana (December) – I was shocked by the cold temperatures. Obviously it did not really help coming straight from Abu Dhabi & 32°C.

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I went to visit my best travel buddy and partner in crime, my boyfriend who recently moved there.
To be honest – Astana was not on my bucket list till then – but I really have to admit that I left with a heart full of gratitude and the desire of coming back.

DAY 1 (evening only)
My trip started off pretty well since he got Opera Tickets for us.
I dropped this wish in one of our conversations and was not really prepared for it.

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Surprise = check!

Prior making it to the Opera tho – I encountered the huge language barrier at the airport & in the taxi. Incredible. No one spoke English. I believe it is ok to say that I have been roaming around the world since quite a while but never – ever – came across THIS during my journey.
Taxi drivers rather strange than friendly – was not sure whether he was asleep or dead…?

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Somehow I managed to get my visa and left to the Opera House.

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Priority was obviously to hug my love since we have not seen each other for a while – but right after I got overwhelmed by the beauty of this traditional architectural masterpiece.

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We enjoyed our evening, indulged in those classic sounds and were looking forward to having a yummy dinner.

We drove to Arnau – a National restaurant – where we had horse meat accompanied with „bestbamark“ (noodles) and „boursaky“ (bread). Yes, horse meat.
Kazakh cuisine is traditionally focused on horse meat.

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I have to admit that it tasted a bit like venison – so def. not as bad as „expected“.
We talked, talked and talked – had tea to beat the cold outside and left quite late by taxi (don’t forget to bargain! – Google translator will help 😉 ).

DAY 2
He got up quite early in order to work and I enjoyed the sunrise above the city of Astana, looked up my route on Google maps and left to the bus station.

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The situation in the bus was quite weird: again, no one spoke English – so no one was able to tell you whether you were riding in the right or wrong direction; further the bus Driver and the ticket salesman played music with their cellphones and in between those tunes one of them announced the bus stops. The craziest part: it cost 90t only (20cent).

My first stop was – THE MALL: Khan Shatyr.
Coming from my sunny Abu Dhabi – I had no winter jacket, gloves, beanie nor proper shoes – reason why I first had to get all of this.

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After shopping I went to the Sky Beach Club which is located on the upper floor of the mall. It is comparable to Ski Dubai – just the opposite: Beach.

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Funny enough that it was packed by locals which apparently felt like escaping from the freezing cold outside (-22°C).

Weird facts: you can buy your gold fish from the machine & Kazakh look more or less all the same – at least to me…

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Equipped with my winter stuff I left the mall in search of the „I LOVE ASTANA“-sign.

..Spotted..

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The way towards the sign was quite slippery due to the frozen ground but it seemed that I was the only one bothering. All locals were covered in their fur fashion, did not talk to me and just mind their own business. Somehow sad yet „ok“ since every Nation has its own way of living.

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In front of the 97m-high Bayterek Monument Tower I spotted an exhibition for the EXPO 2018 – all countries were represented incl. the UAE. 🙂
Great to see a small piece of home in between this rather cold environment.

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My next stop was the Rafe Cafe which – as per google – offered the best hot chocolate.
Got to admit: yep. Indeed.
It was delicious – so chocolaty, thick and not fluid like usually. I enjoyed the cosy environment a little longer to escape from the devastating frostiness.

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Till now I have never experienced such a cold weather: The wind attacked my skin, nose, eyes & hands. It seemed that you were about to lose all your limbs. I was literally freezing my tail off.

When I recovered – I left the coffee shop, got to the bus station and somehow made it to the Pyramid and the mosque.

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..Yes, mosque..

 70% of Kazakhstans population is Muslim and 26% is Christian.

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Near the mosque I met a lady – randomly – who took me to a private exhibition.

Funny enough: We did not have any language in common but somehow communicated beyond words. After meeting her, I also met her sister and both were friendly enough to introduce me to the exhibition-head.

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The exhibition-head (famous) showed me all paintings, handmade embroidery etc. with pride and all of a sudden I felt integrated.
They offered me food, drinks, we took several pictures and had a blast.

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This experience was totally unexpected and opened my mind as well as heart. The best example that the universe leads you to beautiful things – if you embrace it, go with the flow and let it just happen.

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These two beautiful ladies brought me to my bus station; rode the bus with me (cuties – they wanted to make sure that I get home safely…) and hugged me prior leaving. Wow.

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With a heart full of gratitude I waited for my BF.

At around 20h we left for Dinner at Epokha – a restaurant which was kept in the „Soviet Union“-spirit. We enjoyed „pelmeni“ and „shashlik“ with potatoes while observing the “Cold war”-decor. Random.

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This place converted in a dance cafe around 22h – interesting to watch – but we were too tired to join them.

DAY 3
He had to get up early, again, I stayed a little longer in bed – snuggled up & watched the ice storm outside. Yes, ice storm.

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Due to those bad weather conditions I was only able to walk to the closest mall where I enjoyed a local crepe with cream.

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..Funny: since I was unable to read the menu – I took a Picture of it, sent it to my best Russian friend who then recommended a dish..

Subsequently I went downstairs to check on their local products at the supermarket. Well. I was surprised and def. shocked with the whole scenario.

..do the math..

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Deeply impressed I went back home. I enjoyed some series, chilled out, wrote some blog posts and waited for him to come home.

With a pretty cool Taxi we drove to the famous GQ Restaurant.

..he knows what I like..

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Yes, right. A classy rooftop restaurant with a splendid view over Astana – the capital of Kazakhstan.
We ate well, drank a glass of bubbly, fell in love with the bread and enjoyed the view.

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The taxi drive towards home was – for the first time – AMAZING! Why? Because we were able to communicate properly with the driver.
An English speaker? No. But a DOer. Why? He had a translator app which he actively used. He talked to it in Kazakh and the outcome was in English. Nice!
We were truly impressed, laughed and bombed him with many questions in regards to life over there, working conditions, language etc.etc.
We def. had the HAPPIEST ride – ever.

DAY 4
Last day.

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The plan was to enter the pyramid and the mosque but cold shock came in between. I am serious.
While standing at the bus station, I started feeling dizzy and very cold. We went back inside and I was barely able to move, my skin was red and I felt exhausted. The shower felt like being burned alive.. not a good idea – at all.
I fell asleep while being cuddled and when I woke up I felt slightly better.

We went to the Astana Mall for Lunch – a quick one.
And then it was already time for the “good bye” or at least a “see you later”.

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..see you later..

 

Sri Lanka

…truly beautiful!

 

Ideal stay: at least 6 days if you want to roam around the island
Temperature: tropical climate, around 25°C

Before starting my research on “Sri Lanka” it was not really on my radar or bucket-list. I believe you feel the same… Sri Lanka.. mh where is it exactly? Beaches or jungle? Country or island? Ok, ok – not that bad.
Still, I was not aware of the beauty and diversity this island provides.

 

Where? What? How?
.
There we were – my better half and I – sure about the destination but not on the route (yet).
Me, the main planner (as usual), took the initiative and started the route.

Our aim: to see as much as possible but not backpacking throughout the island!


Our route and the different spots ended up to be a mixture of blog-research but also live recommendations from my lovely, helpful Sri Lankan work mates.
It was beautiful to see how proudly they shared their top insider tips with me and the sparkle in their eyes was contagious!

After 1,5 weeks of planning our route was set.

.
Srilanka Map
 
From Abu Dhabi there are direct flights which take you to Colombo in more or less 4hours. Etihad Airways or SriLankan Airlines will take you.
Over there it is highly recommended to take a personal driver who drives you around.

Posh or much needed?

 

Yes, it sounds posh but in fact it is needed if you do not want to roam around by public transportation. Also, due to the street conditions and horrible driving skills you would not get too far if driving on your own.

The driver research was quite complicated. We heard about the average package price which is normal (package: car, fuel, driver, drivers accommodation, drivers food) but were not too sure where we should actually find the drivers. Some agencies “rent them out” which we found weird so I looked up couple of websites. On TripAdvisor I found a girl who strongly recommended “Francis” – after a few emails back and forth with Francis directly I had a good feeling and we booked his service.

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The communicated route was:
26.4. pick us up in the morning at 10h in Colombo to drive to Kandy but stop at the Elephant Orphanage
26.-27.4 night in kandy
27.4. take us mid-day to Polonaruwa
27.-28.4. a night in polonaruwa
28.4. afternoon take us to Passikudah
28.-30.4. two nights there
30.4. morning take us to Yalla Park
30.-1.5. one night in a camp
1.5. evening take us back to Colombo

As usual we booked all hotels in advance – ah wait, not all of them. One night we did not book to act “spontaneous” on site….Well, it was not my idea let’s put it this way 😉

To sum up:
Prior to the trip we booked the flights, hotels, driver and did not book any sightseeing activities.
We took light clothes and the most important: mosquito spray and wipes!

 

DAY 1
We could not have wished for a better start of this vacation: at the boarding gate at the Abu Dhabi International Airport we were told that we were UPGRADED to business class! Woopwoop. Happy since until that day I had never been in business class.

 

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After a relaxed and pampered flight we arrived at night at Colombo Airport.
Once you step out of the airport you get “harassed” by the countless, illegal taxi drivers. You better watch out and look for the official ones! Still it is important that you negotiate the price prior to jumping into the car. He drove like a maniac – but this seems to be normal over here.

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..I feel like a millionaire…
 
One Euro equals 172 Sri Lankan Rupees; the reason why I was not able to keep an overview of the money but thankfully I had my other half with me who managed it all. 

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Since it was only one rather short night we booked the Supun Arcade Residency which was ok for one night only.
Once we arrived at the hotel we went for a stroll around and went back to the hotel.
We – unfortunately – did not sleep like babies; it was quite the contrary: way too hot to be able to sleep properly – itchy all over either from the mosquitos or the hotel bedsheets. We were so tired but unable to sleep, every few hours we were awake but could not get up since it was still too early to do so.  

 


DAY 2

We were finally “allowed” to get up, got ready and had a quick breakfast with a view.

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At 09h00 sharp Francis came to pick us up. We stored the luggage in the rear and drove all the way to the elephant orphanage in Pinawela.
The orphanage was 4h away from Colombo and the drive included some frightening moments in the car.
Francis was at all times kind, friendly, knowledgeable but never too intrusive.

Finally we made it to the orphanage – which unfortunately was full of tourists.
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..breath it all in, love it all out..
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Before entering into the official orphanage we were lucky to spot many elephants who were on their way back to the preserve, coming from the water bath on the other side.
Instead of following the elephants we went reversely to the water.
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Guess what we spotted? Some elephants including many BABIES
🙂 Yes!
Blessed to see and be that close to them.. I was in my own happiness heaven – but it got even better.
We approached them super close and were glad to take some lovely pictures.

 

…cute pachyderms…
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The babies were quite cheerful and playful but such babies are not really small – instead super strong and tend to overdo it.

 

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After this wonderful experience we went inside the orphanage and spotted some more elephants and a few babies which even got fed during our time there. Lovely. Enchanting.

..Fun fact: they cover themselves in sand to “scrub” off the dirt..
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One big minus here though was the constant bothering and begging of the locals – always expecting tips just because of a small hint in regards to direction or other explanation.
In the long run this was really annoying.


Our next stop: the Royal Botanical Garden in Kandy.
Another 45min drive and we reached the famous Botanical Garden with a huge variety of flowers, the oldest and tallest trees as well as most rare plants.

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Actually, all travel blogs and websites state that the Orchid House is something very unique and special – in fact we did not like it that much.

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If you fancy a quick break you get the chance to grab some food or drinks at the coffee shop which is located in the garden.
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After roaming around we got back into the car and drove to Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy – a well-known temple “temple of the tooth” which requires you to cover your shoulders and knees (this also applies to men!).

…friend or lonely dog?…

Btw our driver Francis drops us on the desired spots and while we go for the sightseeing he meets friends, family or grabs some food etc. – he is never just sitting in the car and waiting like a poor lonely dog (if you dare to think this ;)). Since we spent overall 6 days / 24h together we ended up rather being friends than the typical “customer-employer-relationship”.
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A beautiful building with its finest mural paintings and impressive Buddha sculptures.

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I find it a pity however that all temples charge the tourists an exaggerated amount of money. At least it is free of charge for Buddhists and locals.
Don’t forget to take off your shoes!

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On the way down to our hotel we stopped at a manufacturing shop which Francis recommended.
We had a look but did not buy anything – it also seemed a bit “planned” rather than “accidental” – if you know what I mean 😉

 

Did I mention that the island is super green and has a lot of stunning view points?

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Finally this long but still beautiful day came to an end and we checked into our hotel – Cinnamon Citadel Kandy – which provided an amazing open air lobby and stunning views right into the nature!
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We said goodbye to Francis and went for a swim in the pool.
We just swam for like an hour and then a big thunderstorm came and it rained for a few minutes torrentially. But def. cool to watch – from the dry lobby area 😉

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DAY 3
We had no breakfast included reason why we started off the journey at 09h and drove for 2h to the Golden Temple.

Francis dropped us off and we walked the stairs up until the top of the temple.
On the way there were many monkeys which are not scared from the tourists – quite the opposite – they tend to be cheeky and naughty.

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The views from the top were just stunning.

Btw. Francis got paid on a daily basis so that he can take care of himself and the car.

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Afterwards we were driven to Sigiriya Rock – The 8th world wonder. It def is.
It is literally a huge rock in the middle of the greenest flora and fauna.
Unfortunately it was so hot and humid that I had severe circulation problems and was only able to make it half way through.

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Still the view from here was already unbelievable.

My strong and tough partner made it all the WAY UP and recorded it photographically.
Amazing.

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After a quick break and a few water sips we went back down and went straight to the small souvenirs shops to get a gift for our niece.

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..MADE MY DAY..
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Hilarious situation: My better half approached the shops and was told that the wooden toy “was made by my mum” – while he was trying to bargain – I went over to the next shop and spotted (obviously) the same toy – in that moment, he has already purchased the “unique” toy and was proudly presenting it to me. I was cracking and told him that they must have the same mother since they both have exactly the same toy – slightly demotivated he went back to the first shop and told him “well I think you lied to me” – all he obtained was a little SriLankan head shake and a sassy smile. Hahaha. 🙂

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This exciting afternoon ended with the check in at the Lake Hotel in Polonaruwa.
We made it to the pool and had a relaxing nap; once we opened our eyes a HUGE buffalo family was right in front of us. Haha. That’s what I call nature.

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In general since day 1 we were always lucky to spot the weirdest animals just free-roaming on the street: birds, porcupines, cows and elephants.

 

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After swimming we went for a shower and were looking forward to having our dinner. Unfortunately the buffet was overloaded with flies and mosquitos which were more than annoying and disgusting.
Well, in the end it is a tropical island and you cannot get rid of all of them – even if you use the wipes couple of times in a row.
 
DAY 4
In the morning we felt the trials of the horrible, sleepless night before.
Too hot, too cold, too humid, too many mosquitos – and every few hours we woke up and drank water like pigs.
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Somehow the nights over here do not really pass quickly. One wishes that the nights are that long back home!

We went to the downtown area but were rather disappointed, some pics here and there and moved quickly on.

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We stopped in a small village to grab some food and were constantly observed by the locals. The 2 whites incl. the blondie. It felt weird but I did not feel insecure.

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After 1,5h drive to the East of the island we reached our resort “Centara Passikudah”.
Well, “resort”.
Normally our hotel choice is pretty good but somehow on this trip we realized that we did not always take the best option.
Overall we have to say that the service is poor anyways. People are friendly but not “skilled” on a hotel service level.

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Never mind, the resort itself was new, shiny and directly located on the beach.

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We explored the beach and ended the day with a yummy dinner.

DAY 5
We went for breakfast which we had to share against our will with the countless free-roaming crows. Annoying.
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Nevertheless the food was yummy and anyways we were in a relaxed mood looking forward to enjoying the day by the pool.

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At 15h00 we had a wonderful couples full body massage which we both soaked up.

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The day ended with a few drinks by the pool and a relaxing sleep.

DAY 6
The big day has come – our night in the jungle – yes, Licious goes jungle.
We drove almost 5h to YALA NATIONALPARK which was super tiring, annoying and I had the strong desire to throw up more than once.

The only bright light in this dark, montone tunnel was the free-roaming elephant which made us stop in the middle of the street.
Whenever you spot such an animal you have to stop the car and wait until he moves on his own at his own pace from the street – else he could turn your car in a football 😉

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We finally arrived at the Eco Island Sri Lanka Tented Safari Camp Yala.
The welcome was incredibly warm and way better than any other welcome in the previous days.
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Furthermore the camp is really ecological – they move every 6 months to a different spot within the national park so as not to harm the ground! We liked the environment-protection thoughts and were looking forward to our stay.
First of all they meticulously explained the jungle rules to us. Often we heard “But don’t worry, this normally does not happen” – which in the end did not really calm me down… But ok, lets do this!

We “checked-in” to our tent and had to hide our belongings in a big wooden box – not hide from thieves but from the free-roaming animals.

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Generally it was somehow a “deluxe tent” since it had an adjoining toilet and shower but If you looked closer you spotted the mosquitos, spiders and frogs.

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While waiting in our hamock for the lunch call we heard some heavy footsteps around our tent…
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..Oh, oh… Lets see what comes next!..

…in the end we spotted an XXL lizard strolling around outside. He was such a huge thing that it literally sounded like the footsteps of a man.

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The rangers called us for lunch and after having this sumptuous meal we were picked up for the first safari.

Princess..check the tshirt..haha

Well, for those of you who never attended a safari – it is not like in a zoo where you see animals left and right while driving through the nature.

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It is rather an adrenalin rush while playing hide and seek with the many different wild animals! IMG_7510
It was lovely to spot all those animals in their natural habitat – at the same time it was sad at times.
For eg. when we saw a little injured brown bear – which arouses a motherly-feeling inside of you, but since it is nature and the process of “natural selection” no one is allowed to go and help him. 
 

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Some other friends we have spotted:

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This unique experience came (unfortunately) to an end but this amazing day was rounded off by a romantic candlelit dinner under the stars.

 

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Yes, now you go “ohhhhhh lovely” – the same came to my mind when I initially heard this.
It was def. incredible to sit outside, at a table for two, lit by candles and the close fireplace, an exclusive dinner (incl. ONION soup ;)) and above us only the sky – just the two of us – but that’s precisely it – it wasn’t just the two of us.
Many mosquitoes, flies, “flying somethings” joined us here.

 

Initially we were busy hunting or dispatching them but at one point we realized that it was useless since they just became more and more.
So we (tried to) enjoy our dinner and just went with the flow… Yes, we ate a couple of those insects for sure, since they flew right onto our cutlery.

..bugs life..
 

I tried very hard but at one point I was not able to focus on the conversation due to the buzz, whir, and being itchy all over – ear, hair, legs etc.
My partner opted for having the locally made liquor which helped him to ignore this animal show.

 

With a tummy full of food, love and happiness we went to our tent.
Btw. The rangers gave us a bell in case any wild animals showed up and they would come and save us in a few seconds.
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In our tent we were protected by the mosquito net but still were encircled by different types of insects which meant I couldn’t sleep properly.
My better half, who had just confirmed that he also finds it all disgusting and he would not be able to sleep, was snoring next to me not even 2 minutes later. 😉

I, on the contrary, was not able to sleep for even a few moments and was busy hunting the insects with my lamp in the hand.

A few hours later the most hilarious thing ever happened. My significant other was sleepwalking and while he was sitting upright in bed he said “may I go to the washroom? I know they are coming soon to ask for feedback and I don’t want to miss out” – I calmed him down and he went back to sleep. But internally I was laughing my head off. Too funny and sweet at the same time.

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..feedback..
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The “feedback” thing popped up in his subconscious mind because everywhere you go in Sri Lanka they ask you proactively to leave your comment on TripAdvisor 😉

DAY 7
To be honest, overall this night was awful. I truly recommend everyone to have a jungle experience – but I would never, ever do it again 😉 Once is enough!

Finally it was 5am and we got woken up by the rangers serving coffee and biscuits. They came to pick us up for the 2nd safari: the dawn safari.
I was never that glad to be picked up at this time of the day!

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Once again we were lucky to spot many different animals and were even super close to an elephant dispute.

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The very knowledgeable and friendly rangers showed us around and brought us to the most special places and even to the ocean!
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My happiness level was already at 80% but got exceeded and straight up to 100% once I saw those, small cute BABIES all over.
Baby pigs, baby monkeys, baby Bambis… I LOVE THEM!
Totally crazy about them.

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After driving around the jungle for a couple of hours we got back to the camp; packed our things and checked out.

Francis was already there to take us further to our last stop. It took us 5h and at the end we were really annoyed by his crazy driving skills and the long drive.

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Nevermind, finally we arrived in Colombo and – as initially mentioned – we kept the last night to decide “spontaneously” on a hotel. Well, we stepped into a few to get the daily rate and checked the room – but nothing really suited us.

Since Francis comes from Negombo he suggested to take us there; we ended up in a long street with many hotels next to one another.
We were exhausted, tired and annoyed and after negotiating we chose Rani Beach Resort.

What shall I say? Since that day I hated it even more to “act spontaneously” – it was an absolute catastrophe: loud, dirty, mold everywhere and countless bugs & mosquitoes.

We tried to sleep there and were looking forward to having our last day on the island.


DAY 8

We got up and tried to make the best out of this last day since at the moment we were in a quite negative mood. We were not planning on having such an awful last night on the island.

 

In addition to the horrible night, the breakfast was disgusting, the pool side and its sun beds were full of pooping crows and the “beach” was rather a stone field with some beggars/sellers. All-in-all pretty annoying and disappointing.
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..positive mind..positive vibes..


Normally my other half is the positive one during vacation and finds solutions for anything – this time he was so pissed that he had even asked if we should go to the airport now (10am) although the flight was at 8pm. A sign!

Meant, this time I had to be the strong one and tried my best to get something positive out of this experience.

We started walking on that long street and got us some souvenirs – then I spotted a scooter shop and we rented one out.
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All of a sudden this day turned into one of the best days – the best example that no matter how dark and bad things may appear – together, you are better and you will find a way back to the bright side of life.
🙂 *LIEBE*
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We cruised and cruised and ended up in the outstanding Beach Lodge with amazing food and cold drinks, located right on the beach.
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We stayed here for a couple of hours and enjoyed the sun rays. Simply happy.
Afterwards we went to one more shop where my partner bought a few T-shirts and I got a small Sri Lanki portmonnaie.
We went back to the scooter shop since it started raining cats and dogs.
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The uncle of the shop owner drove us by tuktuk to the airport which was an unforgettable experience! We were incredibly wet from the rain which entered in the whole tuktuk but also purely happy.

With a bag full of new experiences, unforgettable moments and hearts full of love we flew back to Abu Dhabi!

If you are seeking an adventure and do not want to fly too far: Sri Lanka is your deal!
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Enjoy it!  
PS: It is still a “hidden gem” therefore you have barely (German) tourists around you 😉

 

 

Al Ain

…enchanting.
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Al Ain is the “garden city” which is located in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and has quite a lot to offer.
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Distance: 90min drive from Abu Dhabi
Ideal stay: either day trip or weekend getaway
Temperature: similar to Abu Dhabi
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Since Al Ain is a kind of neighbouring city to Abu Dhabi I had the pleasure to visit it quite a few times. Each time I was lucky to see something I had not seen before.
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It all starts with the amazing views while road-tripping all the way to the green city.
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..it is daily business to encounter camels or sheep which are tied on the old-school Toyota pick-ups..
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First stop: Al Ain Oasis
The Al Ain Oasis is the largest oasis and was crowned as a UNESCO world heritage site.
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It is def. the perfect getaway from the turbulent, hectic city vibes since here you hear – correct – nothing.
Calm, shady and silent – just you and nature (ok – and some tourists from time to time).
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..stroll around and get lost in the walkaways..
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Historical: Al Jahili Fort
The Al Jahili Fort is one of the most historic buildings which originally served to protect the palm groves and defend the city.
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Nowadays it is an active visitors destination due to its information centre and diverse exhibition area.
Check TCAs website to get the latest updates on exhibitions and events.
It is open daily from 09h00 to 17h00 (except Mondays). Enjoy!
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Ancient: National Museum
The Al Ain National Museum is the oldest museum in the UAE.
It shows the full history from the stone age through to the recent foundation of the UAE (Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was born here).
The fort is a well-preserved mudbrick structure which is divided into three main sections: ethnography, archaeology and souvenirs.
Yes, contrary to popular belief: there is a huge historical background to be seen! See for yourself.
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..as usual cultural sights are free of charge in the UAE..
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Dribbling: Camel Market
This traditional (one of the last of its kind) Camel Market delivers the real experience on how it was in former days.
“Livestock” feeling in the middle of the desert – they are not only bargaining with camels but also goats, sheep and chicken.
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The camel owners tend to be slightly pushy and intrusive but don`t worry: just a have a look around on your own without tipping them whenever you take a picture with the camels.
Try to look for the BABY camels 🙂 They are def. the CUTEST ❤
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High: Jebel Hafeet
With its 1240m height – Jebel Hafeet is the highest peak in the UAE and among the the worlds greatest driving roads.
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Once you (finally) reach the top by either car or bike you will be rewarded with incredibly stunning views.
(Un)Fortunately there is (only) one hotel (Mercure Al Ain) which will be able to satisy your thirst.
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Service and seating falls in the 3* hotel category but gets clearly outvoted by the magnificent surrounding vistas.
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Underwater: Wadi Adventure
At the foot of Jebel Hafeet you come upon the region’s first man-made kayaking, surf and white water rafting facility: Wadi Adventure.
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The almost 3m high man-made surf wave is (obviously) the world largest! Be brave. Be you.
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Wadi Adventure was quite “wild” for me but is for worth a day trip for families.
Caution: at first sight the entrance fee seems quite low – but in fact all activities get charged separately – so in the end you still end up paying quite a high amount (surcharges for locker; rafting; high rope course etc.).
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Also I have noticed that staff near the rafting site are not appropriately trained as they are not able to handle “dangerous” situations.
Yet the flying fox was AMAZING!
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Animal-ly: Al Ain Zoo
Although I am not a big fan of keeping wild animals in locked cages; I have to admit that Al Ain Zoo leads by example.
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All animals have spacious compounds and look quite healthy.
Al Ain Zoo is home to 4000 animals and provides plenty of green public spaces and kids activities.
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If you get the chance: Visit the new Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre – I heard it is quite good but unfortunately you can only access it in combination with the Zoo ticket.
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As you can see from the pictures: quite beautiful and yet different from bustling Abu Dhabi.
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Hotel-wise I would recommend the Al Ain Rotana or the brand new Aloft.
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Whether you are looking for a quick renewal of body and soul or some activities outside of the capital – Al Ain will satisfy either way.

 

Dubai – more to see, eat, drink & do

..one post is not enough!

In my previous post I elaborated “the perfect day trip to Dubai”. Obviously this city has so much more to offer so one day only is almost not enough.. In the following post I will just quickly enumerate some more attractions, actions and dining experiences to round off your Dubai experience. These are just “elements” which you can incorporate into your personal plan according to your interests, budget and time frame.

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Bar Level 43 @ Four Points by Sheraton Sheikh Zayed

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Dubai Miracle Garden

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Global Village

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Chillout Dubai

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Souq Madinat Jumeirah

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Sunsets @ Old Dubai

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JBR Walk

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Beachin’ @Kite Beach

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Cruisin’ around

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Skyscraper by night

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Win Victory Love

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Milkshake @ IceLab

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City Walk Dubai

..and many many more! Go & explore!..

A nation without culture..?!

In the UAE you will find a mix of OLD and NEW when it comes to “culture & lifestyle”.

As initially stated, the Bedouins did not wake up on an oil well – it all started with pearl diving, handcraft and falconry.

..embark on a story of authentic culture and heritage..
(by Tourism Culture Authority AD)

To get a better overview of the UAE’s past you should either visit:

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or

Qasr Al Hosn in Abu Dhabi
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..both showcase the national roots at its best..

Nowadays Abu Dhabi Tourism Cultural Authority, Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and NYU Arts Center provide a vast number of cultural events and exhibitions – so, YES there is def. a lot of “culture” going on here 🙂

“While preserving the past, this is a place which shapes the future”
(by Tourism Culture Authority AD)

PS: my favorite “traditional” event is the Qasr Al Hosn Festival – check it out!