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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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.!

Beirut & Byblos, Lebanon

 

…surprising!

Ideal stay: 4days
Temperature: depending on season, between 12ºC and 32ºC

My other half and I were looking for a spot to travel to during a longer weekend so Beirut came to our mind. My Arab friends (incl. Lebanese) were so excited that I was going and I got kind of snowed under with recommendations – whereas my European friends immediately discouraged me from doing this trip.

Why is this? Yes, due to Media and the urge to quickly spread rumours about the unknown.

Beirut got nicknamed the “Paris of the Middle East” due to its cultural and intellectual life as well as French influences. Yes, it got partially destroyed during their civil war but has been rebuilt in the decades since.
So, as usual we took our credit card, booked the flights (Etihad: AUH-BEY) and started this journey!

We booked the early flight with Etihad at around 4am – which I do not recommend at all. A flight full of crying babies, noisy and hectic people all over – and us, surrounded by them, lacking sleep. Mabrook!
The proof of severe fatigue – self-painted picture made on the airplane board computer…

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DAY 1
At 6am we arrived at the old-fashioned airport and encountered straight away the typical, rather lazy but friendly, Lebanese at the Europcar stall. As usual, we rented a car.
It’s simply the best way to come around and explore the most within a tight time frame.

After a crazy drive, where we learned that in Beirut you get to ignore the red lights, we checked-in at the Four Points by Sheraton which is centrally located.

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We slept for a few hours and went for a late breakfast nearby. Once we were strengthened we went to Jeita Grotto. To reach the top Grotto you have to take the cableway to the top, which is included in the entrance fee of around 12$ for both Grottos. This dripstone cave was just stunning.

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We walked through the bigger one, took the kids train down to the smaller one – but this Grotto was even more incredible due to the water and the recommended boat trip in the Grotto.

Caution head!

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Our journey continued to the well-known “Cristo Rei”. In Portugal we have a similar one… Btw. I constantly commented “oh this looks like Portugal” – “ah like in Portugal” – so, Portugal-Lovers, you would def LOVE Beirut!

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So far the drive was quite tiring due to the crazy driving style of the Lebanese people. Before you plan your trip people will recommend you to take a taxi or “rent” a car with driver but if you are a good driver, willing to adapt to the local behaviour – you will be fine.

Rule Nr 1: Just don’t stop! You have to go with the flow… Everyone speeds? Speed, too.

Everyone rushes over red lights? Do it, too, otherwise the guy behind you will become your seatmate.

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To recover from this, we stopped at the wooden bakery which is well-known for its delicious Manakeesh. Normally I do not like “Zaatar” but this time – wow. It was soooo nice and yummy, we could not stop!

After this yummy stop we moved on to Harrissa where we searched for the Lady of Lebanon. Many come up the mountain by cablecar – we opted for our car.
Don’t worry – you will see some machine guns from time to time – but contrary to our “European Point of view” this is really to ensure safety.
Once we found her, we were just amazed. We walked all the stairs up and this is what we got:

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We waited there till…yes, Sunset! Like usual and felt just blessed to be part of this natural spectacle.

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Our evening ended with some drinks in the famous district Gemmayzeh – Mar Mikhael a road full of bars and restaurants which caters to everyone’s needs.

Good to know: If you ever take a taxi, like we did in the evening, ask for “servicienne” else the Taxi drivers will try to bullshit you with an expensive taxi price.

DAY 2
This morning started quite crazy. Well, it’s actually just us… We turned the music on and danced through the room while preparing for the day. It makes such a difference if you sleep properly in a bed during the night instead of spending the night in an overcrowded plane.

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Btw during this trip I fell in love with the song ‘one dance’ by Drake which from my point of view stands for ‘life is one dance’ – sometimes it’s a steps-sequence easy to memorize and sometimes off-beats due to rapid changing life rhythm.

We went for breakfast at Paul’s near Beirut Souks. To be honest, it was totally overpriced and not worth it but still great views from our outside seating.

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This new city centre is just incredible. It’s the perfect mix between traditional and modern flair. Bit like an Arabic city but has def also the “Parisian” atmosphere.

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In the middle of the city trouble of a cosmopolitan city I was lucky to spot a church and a mosque on the same street. This is the perfect example for tolerance and freedom of belief. There is no need to fight for “the right” – who judges right or wrong? You should not…

Good to know: It’s quite normal to select the reverse gear in the middle of the highway as well as it is regular business to turn 3 lanes into 5! I told you its quite chaotic over here…

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We dedicated this second day to “Byblos”. Byblos is only 30min drive away from the city centre of Beirut. We strolled down the ancient city… with its lovely souq.

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This country has a great cultural background and you come to learn things which you would have never thought. Byblos is justifiably crowned as UNESCO World Heritage.


We enjoyed our walk through the temple of obelisk and its stunning views over the eastern Mediterranean.

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After this great trip we drove back to Beirut city where we chased the sun through the lively corniche until the famous pigeon rocks.

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Again, “just like in Portugal”… I just love it! The whole ambiance, the crowd, the sights, the temperature – it was all just perfect. I could not imagine a better place to be on that particular day – just happy with and thankful for life.

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DAY 3
On our third day we woke up (again) in a great mood, excited to drive up the hill to Broumana. We checked-out from the Four Points and on our way to our next temporary-home, we stopped at a lovely Boulangerie.

Actually, it’s almost impossible to fail culinary-wise here in Lebanon. Everything is just yummy, fluffy and simply mhhhhh.

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We finally checked-in in one of the most beautiful places we have every stayed in:
Grand Hills, a Luxury Collection Hotel & Spa.
Hard to explain but I believe “wow” would do.

Incredible room with THE view. 

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Coming from the European world, stamped and shaped by the circulating rather negative rumours, I would have never thought to encounter such beauty in “disreputable Lebanon”.

Beautiful vineyards, natural mountains and first and foremost: gracious people.

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We took our time to reach the famous restaurant MOUNIR and enjoyed a “Radler” on our way. Contrary to popular belief, Lebanon has a quite balanced religious mix: 54% Muslims and 41% Christians.I always wonder where these rumours and associated prejudices come from…

For Dinner we went to the in-house restaurant but my highlight of the day was the surprise organized by #favtravelpartner – Sunset on the hotel’s roof. Incredible…

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B e a u t I f u l

Day 4
Unfortunately our last morning has come and this trip has come to an end.
These days were just revitalizing, astonishing and lovely.

I really enjoyed the time over here and am proud that we did this trip despite all negative influences…

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Start your day right

We enjoyed our last breakfast with a perfect view and headed to the airport.

To sum up, this trip was so much more than we expected and I do recommend it to everyone.

Yes, there are some parts which are still not very safe to travel to but Beirut and especially Byblos are awaiting you and your open mind!

The Lebanese style is much influenced by “go with the flow” and if you do so you will enjoy your time a lot!

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.

Sad Nation..?!

..ya, totally – NOT.

Rumor has it that the United Arab Emirates are a sad, boring and very strict country. Well, in reality especially Dubai and Abu Dhabi have more weekend activities to offer than what I got offered back in Europe.

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Please see below the most popular upcoming events (most of them are even free of charge!) in Abu Dhabi:

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Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival (Dec-Jan)

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Abu Dhabi Classics (Oct-May)

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AbuDhabiDanceFestival (Jan)

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Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship (Jan)

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Red Bull Air Race World Championship (Feb)

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Chinese New Year (Feb)

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Venetian Village Festival (Mar)

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Open Air Cinemas @Sheraton, @Dusit Thani & @Intercontinental

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Concerts & Shows @Emirates Palace and @National Theatre (Mar-Apr)

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Mother of the National Festival (Mar)

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Brauhaus Springfest (Apr)

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IFTAR @diverse hotels in the city

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Concerts @DU Arena

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Brauhaus Octoberfest (Oct)

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Taste of Abu Dhabi (Nov)

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Formula 1 (Nov)

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National Day Celebrations (Dec)

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Abu Dhabi Food Festival (Dec)

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Emirates Palace Tree Lighting (Dec)

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Swiss Christmas Market @Beach Rotana (Dec)

Many ask me if there is f.eg. ‘Christmas’ in the UAE.
Yes, there is – this tolerant country tries to cater all our individual needs and habits! From Christmas, Chinese New Year, National Day to Diwali! 🙂

Here, it’s all about us! ❤

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!..

Fake Place

..I don’t want to hear it anymore.. 

Why is it a fake place? Why an artificially raised metropolis?

Did your home countries simply exist? All of a sudden? No, they were also built. The main difference is that this happened way earlier than here in the UAE.
What’s so bad about that?
In fact I do see it as a great chance to implement all “successful” or “unsuccessful” things of other countries right from the beginning.  The UAE is actively being shaped according to people’s needs and yes, even exceeding it from time to time.
Of course, the UAE is well known for its record breaking buildings, malls and other kind of achievements within a small time frame but definitely not limited to this!

Quoting His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Vice President of the UAE – “what makes us proud is not the height of our buildings but rather the openness and tolerance of our nation” – which I totally agree with!
Rather than focusing on World Records we should highlight the fact that we all live here together in peace and safety.
This is a great gift, keeping in mind the hatred and fights which are surrounding us nowadays!

But now, let’s have a look at the “fake city”:

1. Saadiyat Beach 

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“People are paid to distribute diverse shells and stones among Saadiyat Beach” – NOT.
Saadiyat Beach is a beautiful, natural beach with amazing waves and stunning different kind of shells.
If you are lucky enough you might even be able to see dolphins, turtles, rays & crabs:

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Spot the ray!

2. Desert 

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“Everyday tons and tons of sand are shoveled all over the place” – NOT.
Liwa Desert for e.g. is beautiful! It offers high, endless dunes which you are able to access by feet or 4×4. Don’t even try to crest it with your “regular” car – it will def. not work! Desert rule: never go alone! The best way to enjoy a desert camping or BBQ is to drive in with 2/3 cars – be ready to be helped and to actively help whenever someone is in need & stuck in the sand. Follow the Local’s example.

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If you are visiting feel free to book one of the organized “Desert Safaris” which include pick-up/drop-off from/to the hotel; camel farm stop; dune bashing; sun downer; sand boarding; belly dance show; desert BBQ; shisha; henna painting; Arabic coffee & dates and upon extra charge you may even get the quad experience.
Never (!) book this through your agency back home since they will get their commission on it. Rather book it with local partners like for e.g. Desert Rose at around AED 250 p.P..

3. Eastern Mangroves 

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I cannot even think of a potential “rumor” why the Eastern Mangroves should be fake.. They def. are not.
The best way to explore this natural reserve is by Kayak. The Kayak Tour takes up to 2h, costs around AED 160 p.P. includes a snack and a stop on a small sandbank. I did mine with Noukhada and was more than happy with their service – departure point: Anantara Eastern Mangroves.

4. Al Wathba Wetland Reserve

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“Every day these flamingos are dropped off at 9h and picked up at 17h” – NOT.
This place is just lovely. To reach Al Wathba you have to calculate an hour drive from AD city center (between Baniyas, Mussafah and Al Ain Truck Road) .
You will find lovely walking trails alongside different plants and over hundred birds. My favorite spot is the bird hide which provides close view to the free-roaming Flamingos.
Al Wathba Wetland Reserve is an ecologically sensitive area therefore the visiting hours are quite limited: Thursdays and Saturdays from 8.00am to 2.00pm – free entrance.

5. Jebel Hafeet

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“This is an artificially built mountain” – NOT.
Jebel Hafeet is one of the tallest mountains we have with its 1240m. It’s worth a drive or a cycle up to enjoy a tremendous view over Al Ain.
Enjoy a coffee or a shisha at the Mercure Jebel Hafeet Hotel and absorb this moment to the max.

…soooo Fake?… 😉 

 

Doha, Qatar

..great!

One of my first trips within the “Middle East” was a trip to Doha, Qatar.
Beforehand I heard several comments like “why? It’s boring” and “stay in Abu Dhabi, Doha is not worth a visit” – comments by whom? Of course, people who did not even go themselves – the REAL experts! 😉

As usual, these comments did change my mind and so I booked a flight from Abu Dhabi to Doha.

Distance: less than 1h by plane (AUH-DOH)
Ideal stay: weekend trip
Temperature: depending on season, between 14ºC and 42ºC

..Doha is..if your flight from Abu Dhabi lasts 30min and you queue 1h at Immigration..

The flight timings with Etihad are just perfect for a weekend getaway. You fly to Doha on Thursday after work (17h55 or 21h40) and fly back to Abu Dhabi Saturday evening (22h45).

Upon arrival you will have to be a little patient while queuing at Immigration as well as pay QAR 100.- for your tourist visa (payment by credit card is more than fine!).
The easiest way to explore Doha is definitely by car since blue taxis are quite rare (=our experience + stressed by locals). Another convenient way to move around is UBER.

We’ve stayed at the “fancy” W-Doha but I believe the Kempinski Marsa Malaz, the Sheraton and the Intercontinental would do, too (depending on your budget!).

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After the hotel check-in we just relaxed and had a quick bite via room service. Club sandwich is definitely one of the BEST choices of every hotel’s room service menu.

Day 1
The next day we decided to take a walk to the nearby mall and ended up at the Corniche with our “breakfast to go” by Carrefour.

Kindly keep in mind that Friday is a weekly holiday therefore you might have difficulties in finding open shops during morning time. The city comes to life from 18h onwards!

The best way to “cross” the bay from “new town” to “old town” is by traditional dhow. You can simply approach one of the providers at the port and enjoy the amazing view over Doha’s skyline.

Never book tours, services and rental cars in advance – go with the local provider & bargain

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On “the other side” you will find the amazing Museum of Islamic Art which will keep you busy for a few hours. Did you know that almost all museums in the Middle East are free of charge because as per the Governmental’s perception, culture should be accessible by everyone? Great approach!

Once you are done (or at least physically exhausted) you can walk over to the famous and gorgeous Souq Waqif.
Here you will be able to find everything you might be looking for..from the handcrafted traditional art pieces, souvenirs, fresh juice, foreign (but also local) people, up to an enchanting, unique place to eat.

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For dinner I do highly recommend Parisa which serves Persian Cuisine and glows with its incredible atmosphere.
Afterwards you could either stroll around the Souq or enjoy a drink in Sky View. Great outdoor seating with splendid view!

Day 2
On the second day you either continue to explore the cities’ museums (National Museum of Qatar and MATHAF – Arab Museum of Modern Art) or you start your journey on THE PEARL with a delicious breakfast at Eggspectation.

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The Pearl consists of different cosy coffee shops, a long promenade, various shops and a “Venetian village” – go and explore it!

Once you are done take a walk through Katara Cultural Village. Online you will be able to see what kind of events or shows are on! I was lucky to see the traditional Dhow Festival.

Yes, there I am..the Blondie in the middle of the scenario! And guess what, no one cared – no one came too close or tried to annoy me. Why? Because as I told you the Middle Eastern world is different to other Arabic countries. Here Women rate high in society and especially foreigners are treated with the utmost respect.

We were looking for a particular restaurant and encountered a very friendly, helpful Local who gave us a great personal recommendation for Lunch – Mamig (Authentic Armanian Lebanese Cuisine) with a spectacular outdoor seating:

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If you feel like spending some money on your next wardrobe item I would recommend you to go to Villagio (yes, again Venetian-style). We helped ourselves with a Frozen Yoghurt and walked over to The Torch. It’s a stunning, iconic hotel which reaches 300m high and offers a 360ºC city view (football fans can enjoy the view over the newly built football stadium).
The Torch is surrounded by the Aspire park. The park offers some food stalls, fake birds’ twittering and a relaxing lake view from the hills.

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This is actually how our trip ended. We sat there, enjoyed our last Doha-breaths and went straight to the airport.

As said, next time I would rather rent a car or take UBER instead of having the taxi struggle but other than that I would re-do our trip just the way it was!

Bear in mind that Qatar is slightly more traditional than Abu Dhabi in regards to dress code and street behavior. I felt super safe, comfortable at all times and do highly recommend you to visit this lovely country soon 🙂

 

 

Abu Dhabi & Dubai = same same?!

“So how is your life in Dubai?” – “Well, I live in Abu Dhabi…” 

A comment which I am more than familiar with.
Ok, I understand that DUBAI is slightly more famous due to media/marketing and its breaking records…but hey, guess what, ABU DHABI is the capital of the UAE, not Dubai!

“Ah ok, same same – somewhere in the desert” 

Well, not really “same same”!

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Skyline Abu Dhabi

My Abu Dhabi is the perfect mix of new buildings, malls, beaches, restaurants & greenery, nature, tranquility and coziness. It is the largest of the seven Emirates as well as the Capital of the UAE.
If you really want you will find everything you need in this beautiful city.

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Skyline Dubai

However Dubai is well-known for its record breaking buildings (eg. Burj Khalifa); giant shopping malls; surreal attractions; busy nightlife and great open-mindedness towards the Western world.

Many people emphasize the “competition” between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. From my point of view they actually compliment each other very well – especially for visitors but also us residents! Where else would you find such diversity within 1.5h drive?
What was that again about a “boring sandpit”? 😉