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?
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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.

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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.

 

Love letter to Abu Dhabi

Dear Abu Dhabi,
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For quite a long time I have felt the strong desire to write you a letter – a LOVE letter, to be precise.

You might ask yourself why I felt the need to do so. A love letter? To a city?
Well, the thing is, you are not just a city to me…
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Your International Airport is the door opener to a whole different world. It all starts at the “warm welcome” in immigration, led by the well-groomed officers in their white, perfectly-ironed Kandooras.
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Somehow, a heavy burden falls immediately off your shoulders (and no, I don’t mean the 30kg luggage which is carried by the lovely porters) once you breathe the UAE spirit in.
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The way from the airport (either by car or black, luxurious yet still “standard” taxi) to your centre makes one realize that you are the perfect combination of tradition and modernism.
You provide an incredible variety of attractions; activities; beauties; services and people.
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To be honest, I do not even know where to start my long list of praise!..

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Yes, you have a great waterpark; a stunning Formula1 race track; the fastest roller-coaster; the most palatial of all hotels; the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the biggest shopping malls but hey, this is definitely not all!

First and foremost you are the host of “happiness” – why?

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No, not just because there is actually a “Ministry of Happiness”, but because you were built according to people’s needs.
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..You make us feel at home, away from home!..
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Everyone who is here finds their own kind of happiness by, for example, earning enough money to feed their families; strolling around shopping malls to get the latest fashion or simply to relax on the beach during the weekend.
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Your streets enable camels in pick-ups and blondies in VW Polos to meet the biggest SUVs as well as the fastest Lamborghinis.

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..marvellous Saadiyat Beach..

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Endless beachfront; well-tempered, baby-blue and clean sea; balanced amount of algas and fish; delicate natural sand; jovial dolphin families; super amiable Bake-staff; delicious ice cream and comfortable sun beds.

Just one day over here makes up anything bad one might have experienced throughout the 55-hour work week!

I appreciate the lifestyle you provide!
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..Boredom? Not-at-all-ever! Beach? Desert? Sun?..
You really have it all: from the jet-ski session behind Lulu Island; yoga in the park; relaxing deep tissue massages; late night basketball sessions with the dudes, to the exhausting bootcamps at 5h30 with Haddins.
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The happy hours & ladies nights in the different rooftop bars; shisha-bars with a view; countless pool & island-party options; 180° bars near the waterfront are the perfect closing of the various international, gourmet or traditional, local dinner options.
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Thanks to your incredibly huge variety of nationalities, you spoil us with the finest cuisine in all possible variations – from Indian, to French, over to Chinese and Moroccan which ensures that literally EVERYONE will find something suitable. Even for the “conscious eaters” you established many Organic Cafes in addition to cute waterfront coffee shops.

I love you because you make me feel warm, loved, respected and safe at all times.

 

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Leaving bags unattended while grabbing some more food at the buffet; asking the waiter to charge the phone and getting a “tag” in return; dancing on my own in the club without getting harassed and revealing the debit card pin towards the petrol attendant make you stand out in comparison to any other city!
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..with you everything seems so relaxed and easy…
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The spontaneous off-road parking; the drive-through ATM on the way home; the affordable taxi drives; the natural rounding off at the cashier due to the lack of change; the delivery of McDonalds; pick-up of the dry-cleaning laundry at 23h00 or the helpful Baqala attendant who gets me the missing onion while I can continue chopping the meat.
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You are the stable bridge between a “low-key” and a “high-level” lifestyle.
Not all of us earn a huge amount of money over here – yet from time to time we are able to pamper ourselves with an exclusive high-tea on the 70th floor; the much-needed mani-pedi or a quick getaway to the fancy desert hotel nearby.
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You make me literally feel like a Princess whenever you spoil me with the sumptuous places; worryless lonely walks during night time; preferential treatment in queues, public transportation as well as waiting areas; stunning views supplemented by the services (like valet parking; butler service; shopping packer  etc.) with the greatest attitude instead of awaiting to be tipped.
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You make me happy with your stunning sunsets; the pleasant outside temperatures at night-time while dancing to the best songs; the dips in the warm sea and the people you connected me with. 
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You surprise me with your forward-thinking, conveyed by SMS from the Ministry of Interior; the instant print out of the drivers license; the chilled bus station; the free wi-fi connections in the most rural corners; the convenient E-Gate at the airport; the instant messaging & transfers by the bank; which clash with the missing mail addresses; illogical approach in many areas and the common “lack of common sense”.
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..You are the link between all of us..
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nationalities
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The leading example for a tolerant, peaceful co-existence between over 80 nationalities.
You taught me so much about people and awoke my interest in different cultures as well as religions.
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You and your cosmopolitan attitude deserve recognition. Contrary to the wide spread rumours you tolerate other dresscodes; merge highly diverse groups of people; provide everyone with the basic needs and make us residents but also tourists feel welcome.

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Because of you I have learned to appreciate every single given moment – I have learned not to take anything for granted; to be thankful for what I have.

 

..Love isn’t always pure and baby-rosa – of course there are days that I “hate” you..
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Sometimes it’s simply too hot, too sticky, too humid. The daily struggle at work or even in private life due to the multicultural environment is very real!
The high cost for a small, average-quality smoothie or the 15min delay due to the taxi drivers’ poor language and orientation skills can be depressing.
The lack of information and communication in the shopping mall or via call centres gets on ones nerves.  The promised-but-still-pending call backs; the wide-spread “no problem!” (which clearly prepares one for a bigger problem) and the “well-equipped” but often clueless maintenance guys make me go CRAZY.
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But like in every good relationship, one has to learn how to deal with and make the best out of it (even if your inner anger screams to be let out 🙂 )
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I really want you to know how proud I am for what you’ve achieved within a rather small time frame and especially what you did for me in the past 3 years.
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I thank you for from the bottom of my heart for connecting me with the people I now call “friends” and for deepening the relationship with my better half.
love you abu dhabi

You’ve provided and contributed to countless happy moments; unbelievable situations; unforgettable stories; stunning pictures; deeply felt gratitude as well as LOVE.
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Thank you, Abu Dhabi, for being simply you.
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Yours,
Jennylicious

Jordan

…mystical!

Ideal stay: 4days for Amman and Petra, add-ons for Dead Sea
Temperature: depending on the season, between 13ºC and 38ºC

When a European talks about Jordan it is (again) often associated with a negative connotation.
If Arabs talk about Jordan – you hear plenty of positive comments. I also love it now after visiting this amazing country not too long ago.

From Abu Dhabi there are several direct flights with Etihad and Royal Jordanian which take you in 3hours to Amman – the capital.

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I went there on my own to visit a friend who was living there for a traineeship/Arabic course.
Yes, on my own – as a Blondie – and I made it safely there and back – don’t worry!

Day 1
I arrived at the airport and was shocked by the huge visa price: 50dollars! Wow. Quite a lot to be honest in comparison to the flight which was only AED 500… The immigration process itself was quite easy and fast. Afterwards I took the local bus to the city which is really affordable and clean and it was easy to find the departure location.

At the central bus station my friend picked me up. Of course, a Blondie is something “interesting” over there but still no one would dare to come too close or annoy you in any way.

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Jordan is a country with a huge historical background but due to the civil war in the 70’s it was partially destroyed and obtained a rather negative reputation. Despite Jordan´s direct “crisis”-neighbours (Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Saudi), it is safe to travel and you will experience true Arabian hospitality.

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..Looking for water pressure..? Not available in most parts of Jordan..

After unpacking my things at my friends quite “basic” flat we went for a walk through his district Jabal al Wabdeh (sahat Paris) by foot (yes it´s safe enough to walk there), went to the local market and ended the arrival day with a traditional, Arabic dinner at a very cozy place (cannot recall the name) – amazing terrace with views over the crowded and lively streets.

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Hotel-wise I would recommend Kempinski Amman and Intercontinental Amman but I must admit that my trip was simply amazing and wonderful through my 100% local experience.

Day 2
This day started very early since we had a long car drive waiting for us – 3hours from the capital to Petra.

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Generally, it was an exhausting drive through not well constructed roads, partially through the desert where you encounter plenty of police stops / controllers. Even us with 2 locals in the car were constantly stopped and asked to show documents etc. So you better be prepared for this…

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On your way down south you will see desert left and right, some villages and a lot of lovely donkeys which belong to the rather poor villagers.

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We reached Petra and before we entered the area we opted for a quick lunch. My locals obviously bargained and there you go – a huge plate of rice with chicken to share among all of us for little money.

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So, here we were, after a long, almost 4 hours drive & countless control points; fed and happy we reached Petra.
Wow. Just the first two sneaks into the area made my heart beat faster. The entrance fee for “maintenance” as they call it – is another 50$ for tourists and 1$ for locals.

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The Italian, the German, the Saudi, the 2 Jordanians and me, the Blondie. Actually I believe it’s a great move from your own country if your “local experiences” incl. museums, monuments, culture etc. are free of charge for the inhabitants.
Take the money from the tourists rather than from the locals. Jordan leads by example!

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Temperature-wise we were absolutely lucky – not too hot, not too cold else you could not do the 10km through the UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’d better wear some good shoes, shorts, sunscreen and light shirt since you are going to walk and hike quite a lot. Heels and dress are not recommended – although it’s seen a lot.

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But don’t worry, in case you get really exhausted you will have to chance to “rent” a horse, donkey or camel from the very attentive and rather pushy shepherds. The whole area is about 60km2 and the walk from the entrance until the “typical” and well-known picture spot is more or less 20min downhill walk.

The exhausting part starts afterwards once you go through the old, abandoned, rock-city up to the last hill. The peak of the “misery” is the whole way back after you finally made it to the top, knowing there is no other exit but hike and walk all the freakin way back to the entrance.

But hey, I do not want to discourage you – this whole thing is totally worth it… Let the pictures talk!

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To be honest, reaching here was already quite tough. I was craving a fresh, ice cooled coke – and there it was – alhamdollilah it was not a Fata Morgana but my life saver selling my coke. Yeah.

..Amira was exhausted and my poor boys had to handle my small crisis-attack..

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Finally we got to the Monastery and as said, it is def. worth it. Giant, tremendous, incredible.
Me, a life-lover sparkling with ideas and fun pictures – convinced my crew to take a rather unusual picture at this beautiful site. Make LOVE not war!

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Usually people turn around at this point and start their walk back to the entrance. Not us though. We went ALL THE WAY UP to the mountain in order to be able to breath in this whole day one last time.

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The lovely Bedouins on “the top of the world” received us with a tasty, traditional tea and offered us some dates which we gratefully accepted.

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After our little time-consuming Photoshoot – yes, because our Saudi guy was never happy with his face or position…;) we handed a tip over and left thankfully this incredible, breath-taking place.

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During your exhausting walk you will encounter several eager camel and donkey owners who will make it very tempting to you to hire one of them for an exaggerated amount of money.
The best way to get rid of them is with one of the top 10 Arabic phrases.

..“La, Suekran” (No, Thanks)..

Dusk arrived and we made our way back – the lazy ones took a camel but we walked all the way through.

..Let’s go the whole hog..

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Meanwhile all tourists were gone and the employees started preparing the candles for the “night-tour”. This must also be a nice one… but honestly, once is enough!
By writing this review and choosing the pictures it comes straight to my mind how we suffered that day…

Yes, it is beautiful but the walk/hike was likewise unforgettable.

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Once we were all reunited at the Entrance/Exit we went for a local bite and slept at the Valentine Inn located in Wadi Musa.
A quite cosy, affordable, basic but nice hotel where we could finally get rest.

DAY 3
Yes, this picture was taken in the morning. Start your day right – with a Shisha.

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We had a quick breakfast and drove back to Amman. On our way we encountered some roaming camels and again we had a small photoshoot.

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In the evening we went for a fresh juice and a nice, simple traditional dinner (bread, hummus, falafel, etc.) in downtown Amman Albalad.

DAY 4
In the morning we had a walk through the famous “Rainbow Street” where we grabbed some nice breakfast and interesting ice cream flavours. My friends emphasized that Rainbow Street would be more fun at night…

..Well, we gotta get through my “To Do”-List, shbab!..

Midday we went to do some more sightseeing and opted for Amman Citadel, the historical site in Ammans´centre. The entrance fee to the Citadel is only a few Jordanian dinars, and you can get access to the Roman, Byzantine as well as early Islamic ruins which is located at the top of Jabal al-Qala’a.
Not only are the artifacts still extraordinary, but so are the views of Amman!

If you are into culture and archaeology – Jordan is definitely the right place for you!

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If you wonder what you should wear in Jordan – in general it is an open-minded country. Obviously in the countryside you should cover yourself a bit but in the city or even in Petra it is completely fine to walk in a sleeveless shirt and long skirt.

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It looked like rain the whole day – but it never did actually rain.

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This was actually the most fascinating thing in the whole citadel: the spoon.
What happens here? What is it all about? Go, and find it out by yourself!

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Our afternoon was completed by the warm welcome from my friend’s aunt to her house – I will never forget this moment.
Not only because my Italian friend was not familiar with the local behaviour code (unmarried man should not touch married woman at the greeting) and wanted to kiss and hug my friends aunt but also her total open behaviour towards me, the Blondie, in her house.

She was happy to see me, so was I and proudly introduced me to her daughter.

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She offered us homemade cookies and tea and prepared a shisha on her handmade carpet. It was soooo cool! How can an auntie prepare a shisha in the middle of her living room?

Arabian culture and her openness did totally represent the warmth of Arabian hospitality. Incredible.

By end of the day I was exhausted but happy.
Fulfilled and grateful for life.
Thankful for this local experience and in the end we were even rewarded with this splendid sunset.

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Of course it was not enough for today – my boys would not let me depart without showing me their favourite coffee shop aka. Bar – “books@cafe” where we enjoyed our last yummy dinner, some drinks, completed by amazing city light views.

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Jordan was simply mystical and surely not my last visit!

Dead Sea and Wadi Rum are still on my bucket list and therefore I would recommend everyone to stay a little longer than I did to be able to enjoy it all to the max.!

Mauritius

…incredible!

Ideal stay: 1week – 10days combined with Seychelles Mainland for e.g.
Temperature: depending on season, between 18ºC and 32ºC

Typically, Mauritius is seen as a ‘honeymoon’ destination and generally placed on the same page as the Seychelles, Maldives, Bora Bora etc.
So obviously, once I told my friends that me and my better half would travel there, literally EVERYONE associated this with a secret engagement, an early honeymoon or just a posh getaway for the ‘newly wealthy’.

Well, none of the above (unfortunately) applied.

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Living in Abu Dhabi gives you the huge advantage of being located in ‘the other’ part of the world (especially when coming from Europe) which gets you closer (at least location-wise – not necessarily budget-wise) to some of the ‘dream destinations’ such as India, Thailand, Singapore and diverse islands.

With ‘only’ 4h flight to Seychelles and from there other two hours to beautiful Mauritius, we decided to go ahead with this trip.

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The flights with Etihad / Air Seychelles range between AED 1500 and AED 4500 depending on the seasonality and there is only one airport on the whole island.
Mauritius is – unlike to all rumours and generic perceptions – not a pure beach island. It is as diverse as for e.g. Sri Lanka and contains high mountains, astonishing flora and fauna, humble inhabitants, long and historical culture, untouched nature, endless waterfalls and is rounded off by sandy beaches.

My personal advice is to take your time to explore the WHOLE island and its beauty rather than focusing on one area by spending your precious time in one of the high-end resorts.

..soak it all up – not just the 5* white hotel towel..

We travelled in September and I would definitely recommend this season. It is warm, not too hot, just partially rainy and importantly, not overcrowded with the typical tourists.
To move around freely it is def. beneficial to get a rental car – my usual ‘licious touch’. Obviously you also have the option to use the public transportation or tramp around on foot.

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DAY 1
At around 14h00 we arrived at the International Airport – and yes, it is def. appropriate to call it an ‘international’ one because the architecture, facilities and modernism would not tell you just landed on an island (quite the contrary to Mahe-Airport).
A very friendly guy came (late! Island style) to hand us the key for our rental car. The rental car was in quite good condition – it seemed – so we moved from the AIRPORT to our first stop in the North: Troux aux biches.

..all-rounder chewing gum..

Keep in mind that there is left-hand traffic which could lead to an over usage of the windscreen wipers instead of indicator.

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As mentioned earlier, the rental car ‘seemed’ to be ok, but after our first attempt to configure our left car mirror it fell right off. Well, … this island trip was going to be interesting. It took us more or less 1 hour to drive to Trou aux biches.

Hotel-wise it depends, as usual, on your budget and expectations – you could do Mystik, Trou aux biches Resort or Westin Turtle Bay.

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Since we only arrived in the afternoon, we showered quickly and went for a sunset drink with a stunning sunset over the ocean at Mystik. THIS is what I call #islandlife! Breathtaking… Is there any better way to start your trip?

DAY 2
After breakfast we went to fix our rental car in the nearby city centre and opted for an automatic car – it eases a lot and you will be able to focus on the crazy traffic and wiper-challenge.
Use your car to drive around and stop wherever you feel like.

We’ve stopped at the Kite Beach, sat there for a while and ended up for Lunch At LINDA’s PLACE.

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An amazing, caring, individual place which feels like home. You will be able to taste quite a few different home-made rums and choose your favourite dish from a selected menu. I highly recommend the crab risotto served in the shell, overbaked with cheese. Yummy…

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The ‘botanical’ garden was a recommendation but did not impress us too much, to be honest. It has quite a few tall trees, bushes, plants but nothing which made us stop open mouthed. Especially not if you have seen the Botanical Gardens in Miami and Sri Lanka. Still, worth a walk.

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In order to complete this relaxing second day, we stopped spontaneously at a rocky beach to enjoy the sunset. Sunsets are anyways my secret passion but I must say that Mauritius did a pretty good job here.

DAY 3
This day started quite early (6h) since we had one hour drive ahead of us towards the South of the Island.

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We wanted to scale LE MORNE – UNESCO World Heritage. This hike is doable by ‘non-hikers’ until a certain height and for the remaining part only the ‘brave’ succeed. In general it takes you almost 3 hours to reach the almost-top and 4 hours to reach the TOP TOP.
Still, what you get by climbing 0,75-way up is just incredible.

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As a reward after this climb you should enjoy a dip in the sea at the adjoining beach. The bar will provide you with cool drinks and tasty snacks, the ocean with a refreshing moment and the beach with the well-deserved relaxation. This is def. a good bet.

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We spent our evening in FLIC EN FLAC where we had some great street food (boulette, mine frits) and watched the romantic sunset on the beach with a traditional ‘Napolitana’.

Afterwards we drove all the way back to the North – the island is not too elongated therefore it is doable.

DAY 4
The fourth day was dedicated to Grand Baie.
We were looking for some water activities, which are offered abundantly. We decided to go for the Underwater Walk at reduced 1800.- (local currency) for two incl. full equipment.

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After a clear instruction lesson, we went on a boat and were brought near a collar reef where you got your ‘own helmet-aquarium’ upon entering the water.
One could face slight pressure issues but no need to panic – just breathe normally and do the altitude compensation as advised by the instructor. The underwater walk is suitable for people like me, who fear the mask and oxygen bottle which you require for scuba dive.

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One will be able to spot different fish and beautiful corals – perhaps you are even lucky to spot a moray eel or turtle. It’s an incredible feeling to be that close to them and still there is no need to panic since you are not too deep in the ocean and with both feet (literally) on the ground.

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At this point I would like to underline the great value for money which you get by choosing a WESTIN but especially this WESTIN TurtleBay. It starts with the incredible open lobby, the cosy white tea smell, friendly staff till the incomparable HEAVENLY SLEEPER BEDS. Oh my…

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The hotel offers a vast choice of complimentary outdoor activities which we actively used. I loved the transparent kayak, the stand-up paddling, the wakeboarding but also the relaxation time near the pool/beach.

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In the evening we went to Port Louis where my attention got caught by the colourful umbrellas which you spot in the city centre. The straightforward City-Centre is great for a walk, an ice cream and a lovely dinner with (local) friends.

By the way, my good friend Romina is the owner of the page MAURITIUS CONSCIOUS and will be able to guide you through ‘her’ island – even better than me.
Her boyfriend and her are real local experts, residing there now for a couple of years and promoting green travel.
It is important to maintain the beautiful natural scenery of the island so that your descendants will be able to see this incredible spot by themselves.

DAY 5
‘Start your day right’ – well, I guess 10/10 were achieved this morning. Wow. Simply wow.

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 Is it not exactly this what comes to your mind when thinking of an island? For me, it was almost unbelievable but the bright shining sun and the nice breeze in my face made it clear to me: yes, life is good and this is what you get!

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After enjoying some more time at the Resort we drove south to the so called ‘Chamarel – seven coloured earth’. If we would have known the ‘failure’ it would be, we would not have left our perfect place – The Westin.

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This place was OVERCROWDED with different tourist buses or hustler tourist guide-cars. In Sri Lanka you kind of ‘need’ a personal guide due to the rural conditions but in Mauritius you are better off to move around by yourself – especially if you now have my insiders advice as well as Romina’s recommendations.
Between the masses of people (+incredible camera zoom) we were able to spot the waterfall and after a short walk we finally got to ‘THE-7 coloured earth’. Well, … ‘okish’ is all it gets.

Never, ever forget your mosquito repellent – these useless insects are very aggressive and all my bites (40 or 42 – can’t recall) ended up as infected, swollen wounds

Since we have not spent too much time at the ‘place to be’ we went to the Curious Corner Of Chamarel which was also an ‘okish’ fun time but fell in line with this freakish day.

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On top of this, our beach bar at Le Morne Beach was also closed so in the end it seemed that the highlight of the day was the sugar cane juice on our way down to the South, which was handmade by an elderly woman who was adamant to explain all her steps meticulously.

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The long car ride and the failure day was coming to an end but got somehow turned around by overlooking the stunning St. Regis. Love at first sight – literally. Great open reception area, spacious pool area, choice of outdoor restaurants and a cosy bar where we (really) enjoyed our cocktail before the long awaited dinner.

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For dinner I was craving Spaghetti with seafood – and guess what, there was not such dish on the menu of all restaurants. Somehow I was upset, and somehow this did not surprise me after the rather unproductive day. BUT – I have to admit that I got surprised by the flexibility and competence of the restaurant employee who made it possible (along with the chef) to get me my favourite dish. Jackpot!

While having dinner we got company by a typical Mauritian-Bat which looked like a monkey but turned out to be a flying jumbo – making us smile by the end of this day.

DAY 6
Our 6th day started off very well with a delicious, healthy breakfast at our almost fully-booked resort. Boosted by the freshly made juice we drove all the way to Chamonix, in search of our local tour guide for the upcoming Wild-Zipline experience. Yey.

Somehow we managed to get to the right starting spot in the middle of the bushes.

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Equipped with belts, ropes and two knowledgeable guides we made our way through the jungle. All kind of ‘climbs’ were followed by a small or long (250m) zipline through the forest, crossing rivers and waterfalls at a height of 70m.

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This was such a great experience and incredible feeling. I was not scared at all since the guides were always by our side, making me feel more than comfortable. The best thing about the tour with CHAZAL was that it was only us 4.
On the way to the last ziplines we were even taught how to identify a ripe sugar cane and how to suck the juice without anything other than your teeth.
At the end of this tour a homemade lunch awaits you (included in the total price).

Don’t forget to take a change of clothes with you – heavy rain could always surprise you

After a warm shower and the afternoon-cake at the St. Regis – I enjoyed the Sunset Yoga Session on the beach. My personal ‘me’-moment.

DAY 7
As you can see from my review, we explored the whole island in an ‘active’ way rather than just enjoying the resort. Yes, we booked resorts and enjoyed them but we managed to combine this with the real local experience.

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Near the Cascavelle Shopping Village in Flic En Flac we met our private guide for the quite famous but tricky 7 waterfall hike. Our drive took us through the sugar cane fields, bushes – left-right combinations to the parking spot-like spot.
With nothing but good sneakers, mosquito repellent and water bottle we started this crazy hike.

To be honest, Ms. Licious is not the type of girl who goes through the deepest bushes and likes to get dirty – but today, it was different. I was brave enough to hold tight onto the thick branches, press my fingers into spider homes to manage to climb behind the numerous waterfalls. Higher, lower, easier, tougher following always the knowledgeable guide.

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Even if we looked like pigs afterwards, had scratches on arms and legs and some more mosquito bites here and there – it was one of the best things I was lucky to do in my life. Breath-taking views from top of the waterfall, fascinating water sounds and interesting background information on all the types of vegetation. A must do!

After this ‘torture’ we rewarded ourselves with a tamarind and brown sugar body scrub at the St. Regis SPA. – revitalizing. Our day ended – surprise – with a beautiful sunset.

DAY 8
Our last day has come – unbelievable how times runs but on the other side, we can say we saw and experienced a lot within the past 7 days.

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We kept the ‘Point Naturelle’ for our last day since we were not too sure if this was a real must-see. It turned out to be a quite peaceful and interesting nature spectacle worth visiting. The 15 Chinese tourists agreed on this.

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We continued our trip in the direction of the airport and stopped at the famous, traditional Biscutterie H.Rault. For little money you can book a tour where you can see all the handmade steps within the production, rounded off by a sumptuous tasting of all the biscuit flavours – accompanied by tea or coffee.
It is totally worth it and with your small entrance fee you help to keep the tradition going!

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Our flight back to the Seychelles was scheduled for the afternoon and we opted to stop one last time at one of the beautiful beaches to soak up the last sun rays and great Mauritian flow.

With bags full of memories and a quite empty wallets we left this beautiful island. Revitalized, relaxed, wiser, thankful for life and, first and foremost, blessed to have my #favtravelpartner by my side.

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!..