Plan Your Escape to Tioman Island (Part 1)

An island regularly labeled one of the world’s most beautiful remains so, and, appropriately, we fantasize about an escape to Tioman Island.

According to legend, Tioman Island is the final resting place of a beautiful dragon princess. While flying to visit her prince in Singapore, the beautiful maiden stopped to repose in the azure waters of the South China Sea. Enraptured by the beauty of the island, she never left and so Tioman took the form of an island in her image.

I get the dragon princesses’ inclination. I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island, and I have always dreamt/had nightmares about being shipwrecked on a deserted island. Some movies, like Blue Lagoon, romanticized it while others, like Castaway, deglamorized it, but these remote tropical islands have always held a mysterious allure.

Day of the God Painting by Paul Gauguin,circa1894
Courtesy of www.Gauguin.org

A long time ago, I studied Art and Art History, specifically Paul Gauguin, and further fantasized about throwing in the whole western train wreck culture for some Polynesian dream, but alas I was born a few decades too late to be a fauvist escapee and a few decades too early to be an influencer.

But, enough about me, let’s get back to getting lost on Tioman Island.

Every island-hopping traveler knows Thailand with its spicy food, welcoming and storied culture, legendary party scene and scenic beaches, but fewer travelers take waterways less traveled and visit Thailand’s twin to the south, Malaysia.

Those who do will be rewarded with even more scenic beaches — many untouched by man, living and thriving corals to explore, and spicy food that rivals the cuisine of its far better-known neighbor to the north.

If you are lucky, you might wind up feeling marooned on Tioman Island, as in Blue Lagoon marooned, not Castaway crazy marooned. Here’s our family’s Tioman takeaway in two parts.

THE CHALLENGE

Getting off the ferry at Tekek in Tioman IslandGetting there is not easy. Unlike Thailand, there are few direct flights to the nation’s many remote island destinations, and the nation has a much less efficient ferry system.

Tioman Island is a 2-hour ferry ride off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. If time is of the essence, you can easily take an hour’s flight from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, close to where this peninsula tapers down to Singapore. Alternatively, you can take a three-hour taxi or bus ride from Singapore, but, if you do plan around the border crossing as the lines are very long during rush hour and on weekends.

Whether you arrive ticketless of you book in advance, the Ferries at Mersing are a bit difficult to negotiate. You may or may not have to pay a nominal Marine Parks fee (RM30 for adults and RM10 for kids) depending upon whether or not the counter is open.

You’ll need to wait in two lines, and it’s never very clear if you are in the right one. The cost for a round trip ferry is about USD 25 per person. They can be purchased in advance here. We highly recommend advance booking as it prevents you from waiting in one of the frustrating, and perhaps unnecessary, lines at the Ferry station.

Map of Tioman Island's best snorkeling spots, mountains and waterfallsI’d love to say the queues and the waiting were the hard part, but the hard part is actually the seats. Ouch. Hope you have ample cushioning because this is NOT the lap of luxury — it’s not even Luxury’s rear end. If you have island-hopped around Thailand, this is not that. Lose your expectations because you will be confused and uncomfortable for the 1.5-2.5 hour journey depending on the weather and where the ferry stops.

The ferry can make a total of six stops, depending upon the passenger list. The stops are in no apparent order: Genting, Paya, Tekek, ABC, Panuba, and Salang Jetties.

Tekek is the largest town on the island and most visitors, though not all, pass through this stop on their visit. Most hotels will send shuttles to pick up and drop off guests from the Ferry Terminal. Be sure to arrange this with your hotel prior to your stay.

THE REWARD

Have the most perfect beaches all the yourself on Tioman IslandIf you harbor any fantasies about getting a one-way ticket to some deserted tropical island, Tioman is for you. There are only two proper roads, covering a fraction of the 24-mile-long, eight-mile-wide island, so boating is the best way to get around.

Those who love perfect beaches, temperatures, and crystal azure seas will be rewarded with vibrant, thriving coral gardens the likes of which people pay tens of thousands of US dollars to see in the Maldives—and they are much healthier and vibrant.

Glistening azure waters wash up on a seemingly endless procession of crescent bays, all fringed with pale sand beaches. Perfect sandy beaches give way to rainforest, densely covering the granite slopes of its central mountain. The small range of hills culminates at the far south of the island in the twin peaks of Nenek Si Mukut and Batu Sirau. According to the aforementioned legend, these peaks represent the spine of the dragon princess who stopped to rest at Tioman.

FINDING NEMO & SWIMMING WITH SHARKS

Find Nemo almost anywhere you snorkel on Tioman IslandFlying fish dance alongside the numerous jetties you will walk on. The water is so crystal clear, and the deepest thriving coral reveals itself to you from above.

A grand display of tropical fish awaits you in this underwater aquarium. You need only walk less than 1km from your resort to swim to it. We saw clown fish, sharks, sting rays, eagle rays, and virtually every colorful tropical fish you can imagine.

We stayed at the Berjaya Resort, which is the largest resort on the island. Though the hotel has some shortcomings, it’s attractive to divers and snorkelers for its proximity to Renggis Island. The island is considered the second best spot on the island to snorkeling and dive. And, you are virtually guaranteed a chance to swim with black tip reef sharks.

We went out three times to the Island and encountered a family of reef sharks on every snorkel. We were close enough to take this photo with an ordinary Sony Action Cam FDR-X3000, so yes, this close. Fear not! These sharks are harmless and will swim from you, never to you.

The Berjaya Resort where we stayed has an onsite Dive Center where you can learn to dive. They operate two times daily ferries out to Rengiss island for those who prefer to snorkel.

Though we spent the better part of our two-week holiday underwater, we discovered some land-based activities that were also worth checking out. The island has numerous waterfalls that you must visit. Some are harder to get to than others. Pressed for time, we went to one that was a very short and easy trek on our way to Juara Beach in the south-east part of the island.

JUNGLE TREKKING AND WATERFALLS

Picturesque waterfalls can be found in the mountains all over Tioman Island
Do go chasing waterfalls on Tioman Island

Another worthwhile activity away from the beaches are visits to many of the surrounding waterfalls. To get there, we took the one road that stretches across the island west to east. We negotiated a fare with a local taxi driver to take us to Juara. The road is narrow, winding, steep and full of holes, but you get there. At the top, the driver stops at a waterfall. We take a short hike down, and it’s worth the trek.

The interior of the island consists of mostly jungle and is dotted with waterfalls ranging in height and grandeur. Some are easier to get to than others. We chose an easy trek, but we’d choose a harder one on our next trip. The waterfalls are refreshing and beautiful.

If you take a day-long jungle trek, you are likely to encounter monkeys, large monitor lizards, and even chameleons if you are lucky.

 JUARA BEACH

Jaura Beach has been nominated the 21st most beautiful beach by CNN
Park yourself in Juara for a few days but maybe not too much more.

Ranked the 21st most beautiful beach in the world by the CNN, plan at least one day to visit this beautiful and very remote beach. Many visitors book both the short jungle trek and waterfall trip in conjunction with a day at Juara.

The beach is solitary, and pretty much perfect if you like long undisturbed stretches of beach all to yourself.

MONKEY MADNESS

A family of long-tailed macaque monkeys in the trees on Tioman Island
Monkey business

Wherever you are on Tioman Island, you are likely to encounter mischievous marauders known as Long-tailed macaques. Monkeys are everywhere and the best entertainment on land. The locals say they only like the tourists, but they didn’t seem to like us much. Local restaurants place stuffed tigers by the entrances supposedly to scare off the monkeys who think they are real tigers. The monkeys travel in large groups and spill from the trees as tourists walk by. Though they are harmless, they will gnash their teeth and growl at you if you get too close so give these little guys some space.

HAPPY HOUR AT THE BEACH

Enjoy magical sunsets every evening on Tioman Island
Cheers!

The best way to enjoy the sunset on Tioman Island is on the beach. Enjoy this magical hour every day at any sunset bar or simply with your toes in the sand. Wherever you watch the sun dip into the sea in a colorful display, you are unlikely to be disappointed on Tioman island.

 THE TAKEAWAY

Tioman Island is no Thailand in ways both good and bad. Tioman is still very much off most travelers’ radar as Thailand grows increasingly overcrowded. This is mostly due to the fact that it’s not that easy to get there. The island is probably not for you if you like nightlife. It virtually doesn’t exist other than cover bands in lazy beach side bars and bustling happy hours. There is very little to disturb the peace, and the only drama comes in the form of the scenery or a passing tropical storm.

Why, then, has this island gem been forgotten? In the eighties, tourists from Europe flocked to Thailand looking for raving nightlife in Thailand, and Malaysia was left behind, and still, no one comes to Tioman for raves.

Tioman Island is for you if want to relax, snorkel, dive, or simply chill with few distractions. It’s no surprise to me it ranks on many magazine’s annual Most Beautiful lists. Being so hard to get to has helped Tioman to retain its charm and beauty. If you feel like checking out of civilization for a little while, maroon yourself on Tioman Island. You won’t regret it. In my next post, I will let you in on just how to escape to Tioman Island.

Stay tuned for Part 2: How to Plan Your Escape to Tioman Island.

 

 

I’m not a bruncher, but I’m open to persuasion

I’m not a bruncher, but I’m open to persuasion

I am not really a bruncher but with the right food and ambience combination, I’m open to persuasion. Because Friday brunch is an institution in Abu Dhabi and I can’t resist the call of a new brunch concept, I found myself in Roberto’s in the Galleria Mall one blustery Friday.

I have been dying to try Roberto’s since the early buzz about the outlet began. I was heartbroken to miss the opening, so I jumped at the opportunity to try their new Friday Andiamo Brunch when it launched.

From the moment you enter to when you depart, the service is impeccable. The Roberto’s team has all the European flair and charm you can dream of without the pretence and price inflation you might find in other Italian franchises.

So here I will just give a brief outline of how Roberto’s Andiamo brunch works.

Every guest is offered a quick tour of Roberto’s trademark Crudo Bar: an exquisite Oyster and Martini Bar. The oyster bar serves a fanciful array of several kinds of oysters and all their gourmet fixings, while the Martini Bar is replete with jar after jar of colourful fresh herbs, flowers and berries. Your barman will whip up any number of exotic concoctions, including the signature Casanova Martini (oyster martini)—watch out, James Bond, there are now a lot more options than just “Shaken or Stirred.” Prepare to have your minds blown, martini fans.

You are then guided to the Dessert Salon, a surprisingly social way to culminate your brunch experience. It’s mostly standing room only, but that’s often the perfect antidote to the few hours you just spent sitting and eating course-after-course of Italian favourites.

So, getting back to Italian favourites, because that is what brunch at Roberto’s is all about, your hostess will then take you to your seat once you know the geography of this brunch—not that you need it— because thankfully this is not your average queue up at the trough kind of brunch. This brunch service is positively elegant.

We are seated at a table for two by the window with a lovely sea view and offered menus. Our drink offers are taken swiftly and our server explains the concept of this brunch, which, to us, sounds like lots of small plates of our choice of seafood, seafood-meat misti or vegetarian antipasti.

In that characteristically Italian way, our server plies us in between martini sipping, order-taking and dining with decadent olive bread and warm focaccia and fresh pizza. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Roberto’s 1970’s Rhythm and blues/Soul playlist, which was quite possibly the most on point soundtrack to a lazy Friday brunch ever heard in this town. Brunch seems to present most restaurants with a musical dilemma, and they so often get it wrong. Most music is too loud, too fast or too slow, but this playlist was just right.

The feast continues at the table, with a mouth-watering selection of classic and contemporary antipasti including Tartare di Manzo, a grade 9 wagyu beef tartare, prepared tableside and with great flair by the Chef, followed by the theatrical Risotto Bosco flavoured by a few turns of the parmesan wheel and finished with a generous portion of freshly grated truffle—made even more generous, we discovered, if you tell the server you want to take a quick video, but don’t say I told you this. I don’t want to be responsible for breaking Roberto’s Andiamo Brunch truffle bank.

In between the pizza but before the Risotto and freshly made pasta which is all before your main, I might add, were a slew of fabulous antipasti. Most memorable for me was the grilled octopus (polpo), which was reminiscent of an Italian seaside village where you actually witness the fisherman hauling them in every morning. The meat is so fresh and tender, you would never guess you are eating octopus.

Just when you are bursting at the seams and can eat no more, the mains come, and your server, like an Italian grandma, will give you that look which implies that you simply must try this. You are certain that you have no space until you try it, and slowly somehow bite-after-bite you have devoured it under watchful and admiring appraisal. In this case, my companion and I fought against all odds to eat more, but we each made light work of our grilled prawns that were complimented by a light, tangy mango sauce.

We were almost bursting at the seams. But, of course, that was not the end…

As we loosened our belts to make the long roll home, our server guided us away from the door, straight into the Dessert Salon, which was ambient, vibey, full of friendly faces and did we mention there were vast swathes of decadent desserts, because you know there were.

Over conversation, we managed a few tastes of tiramisu strictly for the caffeine buzz, and we were glad we did. Whatever your stance on tiramisu, tired old cliché of Italian cooking or a classic that simply needs a reboot. No one can deny its power to lift you up after a long Italian eating fest.

The Verdict: Roberto’s Andiamo Brunch is not to miss if you are a fan of Italian food, eating, remarkable martinis and/or elegant service. In my humble opinion, there is no other Italian brunch in Abu Dhabi with such a perfect mixture of home comforts, great music and friendly service.

What: Andiamo Brunch

Where: Roberto’s Abu Dhabi

When: Every Friday from noon to 4 pm

Prices:

AED 295 for the Classico brunch, including soft drinks and fresh juices

AED 395 for the Andiamo brunch, including signature cocktails and unlimited house wines

AED 495 for the Riserva brunch, including Italian Bubbles

Children between 6 to 12 years eat for AED150 – children below 6 years free

Website: http://www.robertos.ae

Reservations: reservationsauh@robertos.ae or +9712 627 9009

Address: Rosewood Hotel, The Galleria Mall, Al Maryah Island

Have a look at the menu: Brunch Menu

 

 

 

 

 

Dubai Daytripping

Dubai Daytripping
The gates of Ibn Battuta
The gates of Ibn Battuta mall

Despite living only 45 minutes to the south of Dubai, I don’t get up to the big city much. So when an odd lunch invitation is extended up there, I accept it willingly.

I agreed to meet a friend who I have not seen in a bit to catch up over lunch. While we could eat anywhere, we opt for easy. Ibn Battuta Mall is the southern most mall in Dubai, it’s easy in and out and thus the perfect place for people from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to meet up.

I parked in the China Court where we were told the restaurants were. There were a bunch of venues to choose from, but we were craving seafood and Urban Seafood beckoned us in with its minimal décor and simple menu.

Urban Seafood's seating
A sleek, simple storefront

The service was fast and friendly. I could see this being an excellent place for an express lunch, but it was equally suitable for friends who want to linger over a long lunch.

My friend and I like similar things so, as we peruse the menu, it seems we gravitated towards the same items: spicy Thai Tom Yum soup with seafood, the mussels 5 ways (served with 5 sauces) and the steamed buckets of your choice of two: blue crabs, prawns or mussels. The buckets come with a choice of five sauces; we opted for the Thai curry in keeping with our hot & spicy themed lunch.

The server asked us how spicy we’d like the soup, which we made clear we hoped to split between two bowls. We both nodded that we like it quite spicy. Normally, servers smile, nod back and disbelieve that you can actually take the spice level you just ordered—at least, that has always been my experience ordering spicy food. Thankfully, this was not the case at Urban Seafood.

Spicy Tom Yum soup
Spicy Tom Yum soup
Mussels 5 ways at Urban Seafood in Ibn Battuta Mall in Jebel Ali Village
Mussels 5 ways

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The starters arrived swiftly. The presentation was quite elegant for mall dining. The spicy soup was laden with tender calamari rings, large, succulent prawns, mussels and fish along with an array of vegetables to round it out. And, oh boy, was it spicy–just what we ordered and more!

The Mussels 5 ways was fabulous. Each mussel was served with the following array of sauces: Singaporean red chili, black pepper chives, Thai curry, creamy lemon butter and dukkah, a delicious Middle Eastern blend of nuts, seeds and spices.

Each baked mussel brimmed with flavor, some spicy, some creamy, some simply too decadent to describe. They were just perfect.

At this point, we are kind of full. Ordering starters at lunch proved a tactical error for our long lunch. Fortunately, our server was on the ball. She could see we needed some time, and she delayed our seafood bucket accordingly.

As we chatted, she non-invasively checked in from time to time to see if we were ready for our shared main, and finally we were.

She darted into the kitchen and returns with a steaming basket of freshly cooked blue crab and prawns. It was gorgeous, a work-of-art, but we both just stared into the eyes of the 4 big crabs and thought “how on earth are we going to eat you without making total pigs of ourselves?”

Seafood bucket at Urban Seafood in Ibn Battuta Mall in Jebel Ali Village
Meet just one of my little friends who have been steamed to perfection! 
My apologies, vegetarians. I swear I am more with you than against you.

Our server must have read our minds, asking “Would you like me to clean them for you?” “Yes,” we nodded in unison.

IMG_6818 She disappeared again and returned with a set of tools and–with a surgeon’s skill–she took to our crabs and made light work of the shells, adeptly prying out every small piece of tender crabmeat she could, and she made haste. We carried on chatting, but it was very hard to not watch her at work. She split the piles of sweet meat evenly between two plates, ladling a bit of Thai curry sauce atop the generous piles of crab meat.IMG_6821 IMG_6826She asked if we’d also like her to do that with the prawns while we ate the crab. Another collective “yes,” was nodded. She performed the same skillful extraction with the prawns and served it on another two plates.

I should mention that along with the bucket came a heaping portion of steamed vegetables. We had the choice of French fries, cole slaw or rice, and we opted for the veggies. They were crisp and fresh, and the perfect side for all that light and flavorful seafood.

Now, I am not really a dessert person but, once the buckets and dishes were all cleared away, I had a peek. Servers always try to convince you that you need dessert, and most of the time, I absolutely do not need it. Eating professionally has it consequences, and its greatest consequence is felt at the waistline, so I just say no to dessert.

Get your cuppa and ice cream fix in one! Brilliance!
Get your espresso and ice cream fix in one! Brilliance!

I made an exception on this day when I saw the cappuccino torte as it seemed the best of two worlds: my post-meal espresso mixed with ice cream, salted caramel and nuts–these were worth the extra hour in the gym, trust me. My friend had the Lotus Choco bites, because Lotus. Enough said.

Lotus biscoff Choco Bites at Urban Seafood Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai
This is heaven, if heaven were Lotus Biscoff. Isn’t it?

The desserts were enormous, messy, sweet and gut busting, but sometimes over a long and natter-laden lunch, a girl needs to appeal to her sweet tooth for that bit of energy to carry and ultimately make that long drive back to the Dhabs.

We ate as much as we could, which was less than half—they were that big! We toddled out of Urban Seafood thinking that this was no ordinary mall meal. It was reasonably priced, for the most part quite light, and the service was excellent. This will probably be our meeting spot for our catch up lunches for the foreseeable future—as long as she is in Dubai and I am in Abu Dhabi.

Not too bad for a humungous lunch.
Not too bad for a humungous lunch.

Urban Seafood, China Court, Ibn Battuta Mall, (800 7527)

Follow Urban Seafood on:

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

 

 

 

 

Sign-spiration

Sign-spiration
Watch out! A plant is moving nearby!
Watch out! Moving plants!

Funny signs in the UAE

If I were waiting for a sign to return to blogging, this was it.

I was driving south on the E-10 in light traffic, which those of us who live in the UAE know is a rarity. I pass this crazy sign every trip home from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, but I am always driving too fast or in too much traffic to take its picture.

Today, I was the only one on the road, so I pulled over. Back home, no one ever pulls over on an interstate unless they have a true emergency, a blow out or breakdown. Here, people do it as a matter of course; i.e. the phone rings or they pull over to engage in a casual roadside conversation with cars whipping at breakneck speed around them.

Though it’s indeed standard practice here, I try not to do it. It’s one of those things that you don’t so because it’s either wrong or dangerous, like talking in a movie theatre, butting in line or tailgating.

Funny signs in the UAE
Beware, be very aware of things that go bump in the road.

This sign reduces me to a sidesplitting laughter every time I see it. I grab my camera or demand that some non-driving person in my vehicle do so, and we aim and try to focus in, as I drive by it way too fast past it every time, because A) you have to speed to avoid dying on these roads and B) I am speeder, and I am powerless over my leaden foot. Just ask my husband and the guy we rent our car from.

Seriously, ask anyone who has taken this trip with me. I don’t really know why I like it so much. There are lots of examples of poorly written English, or Jinglish as some refer to it, signs in this land–far too many for one post. Many are quite funny, but this one is superior.

I am not sure why it is so funny to me? I imagine someone jumping out from behind a palm tree and saying “boo” or something really stupid, rather than the probably very real hazard it forewarns, such as a car stopped in the middle of the highway taking a phone call or someone reversing when they miss their turn or, better yet, a camel crossing the road. Yes, I have seen all three. 

What do you think constitutes a “road surprise”?

Here are some others that might make you laugh–if you have the sense of humor of a 10 year old. If you don’t, move on. Nothing funny here. I suspect there will be a part two post as I risk life and limb in the service of bringing these roadside pics to you. I also welcome contributions, so please send me your funny signs from all over. 

 

 

 

 

Comeback kid

Comeback kid
Lizzy of Arabia rides again
Can a girl get a comeback?

I interrupt this blog hiatus to make a comeback.

I’m back from my long blog “hiatus,” which better resembled a blog death–albeit one never officially pronounced was dead, which leads me to wonder: if a blog dies in this vast Internet forest and no one hears it, is it truly dead? 

I am not the only one to ambitiously start a blog, throw all my creative energy into it and then abandon it for a spell. The question is can it be resurrected? Here’s hoping. 

I think I rang that death knell for any blog when I wrote an ever-so-ambitiously titled post, “Heard y’all missed me, well I’m back,” heralding tales from my adventurous trip to Chennai, India, resolutely declaring my return.

And then I never returned…

Some of you may remember this, but more of you may not really care that much about where I went at all. I’ll tell you all what happened anyway.

Postcards from Mahabalipuram
Postcards from Mahabalipuram

It wasn’t that I didn’t make it to India, I did, and it was an amazing adventure. It’s just that I had this full time writing job sucking the life out of me and, each evening, when I got back from work, there simply wasn’t a word left in me.

Most writers aren’t hard-pressed for words, but I was indeed wrung out them daily. At the close of each day, I had little energy, but to elicit a low groan, redolent of writing on the daily about “tucking into” the most expensive hamburger in the world and pirouetting around words not fit to print in the most abstract way.

World's most expensive hamburger, credit GROUPON
Behold the world’s most expensive hamburger. Photo Credit: Groupon

It wasn’t easy, but I am aware that there are much harder jobs in the world than eating and writing about where one may sample the most expensive hamburger in the world — make mine a veggie burger, please — and drinking too many and then having to write ambiguously about elixirs we all know and love but cannot mention by name. It was a pretty good gig indeed, until it wasn’t any longer.

But that’s a story for another post. Sometime in the distant future when I am able to expound upon how the other half drinks and dines in this adult Disneyland, better known as the UAE.

So, this brings me to the future. Back when I started Lizzy of Arabia, it was a blog chronicling my journey acquainting myself with the city of Abu Dhabi. Said job, for all its shortcomings, gave me an introduction like no other to this land; I know it, and I know it well.

This blog will now be dedicated to further discovery of the city: things new and things old, things silly and things serious and good eats and even better drinks.

I will share them in the style that some of you came to know and hopefully like in the past. Let me know what you want me to write about. I am an open to suggestions. After one months’ break from F/T writing, I am ready, and my words are replenished. 

Heard Y’all Missed Me?! Well, I’m Back!

Heard Y’all Missed Me?! Well, I’m Back!

Hi there people! I am back to blogging. I was compelled to take some time off to experience earning money for writing = REVELATION! Lol.

Some of you know that I took a full time position in September as a writer for a weekly publication here in Abu Dhabi. This is my dream job – well, close. Let’s say that if it involved some travel writing, then it would be my hands down dream job.

Churning out the many articles that I do every week left me creatively sapped. There just was nothing left to blog about.

I also started to put too much emphasis on trying to monetize my blog. I vow to return to my roots in 2015 and just write for fun.

Lately, I feel a little different, as though I have something to share.

Perhaps it’s because I have two weeks off. Wahoo!!

Perhaps it’s the New Year? Putting some energy into Lizzy of Arabia is a resolution.

Perhaps it’s the fact that we are finally doing some traveling. You may remember we moved here to be closer to more places to which we dreamed of traveling. I waited patiently – which is NOT my forte – while the puzzles pieces of our expat lives here began to fit together.

In several days, we leave on a short, weeklong holiday to Chennai, India.

Chennai MapWhy Chennai? The answer is idk. Neither of us has been there. The flight is direct. It’s off the beaten track. It’s real.

My nomad feet have been itchy. I am excited to get back out in the big, wide world around us. I am so tired of 5 star everything. I long to be in a part of the world where one experiences life more viscerally. The life of an expat in Abu Dhabi is a bubble. I want to see real people in all kinds of states of existence, and India is full of exotic juxtapositions and wonders – it is one of my favorite countries in the world for the latter reason.

It should be an interesting week. We have planned nothing. We just want to explore and be surprised by the city. India is full of so many surprises: good and bad. We will be spending a sliver of Christmas night in Chennai; most of it will be in flight and transit.

So, Merry Christmas to anyone out there who observes. Peaceful wishes to all that don’t.

In the meantime, fill me in on what I missed in your lives. Some comments might inspire me to keep writing!

 

 

 

 

 

The Spidermen of Abu Dhabi

The Spidermen of Abu Dhabi
brunch in abu dhabi
Someone here is always brunching somewhere while others work
The unsung heroes of abu dhabi spiderman
Behold, the amazing spiderman!

While expats brunch on lobster tails, steak, wash it down with the finest bubbly and marvel at how any humans could get a window so sparkling, their 24K gold Ferrari ever-so-shiny, or a garden in the desert so verdant, laborers from all over the world toil away to make certain this capital city is as clean, shiny, green and new as we all have become accustomed. They are the unsung heroes of Abu Dhabi and deserve a shout out. I will try to give each a shout out from week-to-week. I’ll start with the spidermen of Abu Dhabi. 

Most workers labor outdoors in the oven-like heat of summer. I blogged about these men in a post entitled “A tale of two Abu Dhabis,” which I wrote some time ago. You see them everywhere from the cold comfort of your window. They are usually hot and sweaty as you might expect but, in my experience, quick to smile if you greet them first, unaccustomed as they are. Some don’t love their pictures taken, but who does when you are not photo-ready?!

Working together at great riches
Working together at great heights

Today, I want to shout out the acrobats of Abu Dhabi: the Spider men. Some may call them window-washers, but I think they are daring, good-spirited and circus-like dudes. Lately, we have been receiving warnings about whence they might appear in a window near you, but that wasn’t always the case. I recall being very new to our high rise and walking into my bedroom, fully clothed–thank some higher being–only to find a man dangling by my window holding his squeegee as one might a white flag. Gasp, and What the expletive! He then raised his hand to me in an “I come in peace” style, and I smiled back laughing. He laughed back through the window. This must happen to the danglin’ dude 20 times every day! The Spider men of Abu Dhabi regularly dangle from great heights on thin ropes precariously ensuring our high-rise windows are perfectly sparkling.

The Unsung Heroes of Abu Dhabi- Spidermen
There’s F1 in the background!

What I want to know is are these guys trained to do any kind of work at such great heights, or are they just naturally agile with reflexes so feline they are comfortable working at any height. Alternately, do they just arrive here from whence they came given an assignment and expected to do it? I have heard this is the case. I cannot imagine what it might be like if heights were NOT your thing and this position was assigned to you. 

I read and often write posts about the grandeur that is the UAE all the time. From 24K gold everything to lobster tails to upscale shopping, this land is wont for no sort of luxury imaginable. You may have gathered already that I this really is an amazing place to live for many. But, for others, this country offers a harder, hotter and more onerous existence; one in which fellow human beings don’t always recognize you as the “same” or seemingly as some kind of “other” from somewhere else. Alternatively, I see these hard-working professionals as daredevils, risk-takers, acrobats, and sometimes even entertainers. They known it’s unusual to be hanging 80 floors up on an Etihad Tower and when people want to take their photo, they mug. Wouldn’t you?

Unsung heroes of abu dhabi spidermen
How you can help the needy of Abu Dhabi.

If you are interested in helping the hard-working laborers of Abu Dhabi, grab a box! In September and October, you can pick up a box at many area Abu Dhabi locations and fill it with the provided shopping list, then return it to the same collection spot. The Box Appeal will then collect and disperse the boxes to the laborers with the help of the help of the Red Crescent. This may seem like a small gesture, but it makes a big difference to these hard-working individuals who send most of the income home to their families and are left with very little for themselves to live on. While some expats do very much live here to brunch, others want to make a difference, and I will you a few more ways in posts to come.

 Thank you, Emma Easter, Lynn Berry Leinecka and Pam Bowe for graciously donating their photos of these acrobats. 

One Arabian Night

One Arabian Night

 

Rub' al Khali desert dunes One arabian night
Rub’ al Khali desert dunes

One Arabian Night–that was all we had. It really is not enough to even begin to explore the largest area of continuous sand on this planet, which harbors the world’s largest sand dunes, but it had to do. We have escaped the soulless glass cityscape, that is Abu Dhabi, countless times before, but our visit to the Tilal Liwa Hotel was the Middle Eastern experience that I was yearning for.

Tilal Liwa's Infinity Pool One Arabian Night
Tilal Liwa’s Infinity Pool

You really could not contrive a more a quixotic desert retreat if you tried; the arabesque arch reflected in the cool blue infinity pool giving the illusion of an oasis blending into the desert dunes in the distance, the perfect symmetry of the Arabian-inspired crenellations in the roof, the camels rhythmically being led across the road by their nimble riders, the scorching heat of the midday desert sun followed by its lithe setting into the vast, apricot-colored dunes, the rising crescent moon on its heels, the sweltering heat of the day gently giving way to the ever-so-slightly cooler Arabian night. A musician plays music of the Middle East on a Qunan in a lonely corner of the courtyard. The smoky scent of Oud and Shisha pervading the air, and you are transported to a time long ago.

This is all I ever wanted: 1,001 Arabian Nights, but I would have to settle for one. Call me a romantic or a history buff, but the only feeling I have really hoped for since we have lived in the Middle East—one year now—is that feeling of being nowhere else in the world other than here. This sensation is harder and harder to come by in our increasingly globalized world. After all, how many places off hand can you think of where you cannot find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks these days?! Not too many. I was transported this past weekend to the time of desert caravans, Bedouin encampments and camels. I spent One Arabian Night at the Tilal Liwa Hotel.

The Lonely Road to the Tilal Liwa Hotel  One Arabian Night
The Lonely Road to the Tilal Liwa Hotel

Where’s that, you may wonder? It’s not in the second nearest town, Liwa—it’s namesake. It’s closest to Madinat Zayed, which isn’t easily mapped, but I found one. Here’s a link to the map. The Tilal Liwa is at the doorstep of one of the largest deserts in the world. It’s not really in your GPS but, having said that, it’s not hard too find. How many roads can possibly be out there? Check in time is 2pm, but we wanted some time to explore the town of Madinat Zayed and perhaps the dunes before we checked in.

You may remember my post in December about the Camel Beauty Pageant? This is the town in which the Camel festival takes place, so please consider a December visit. It was the highlight of 2013 for me, but then not everyone shares my affection for camels–understatement of the year, thought everyone. As a warning, the further you get away from the cities in the UAE and the nearer you get to the desert, the towns, not too surprisingly, become much more conservative. We left on a Friday, the holy day of Islam, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Madinat Zayed because everyone was worshipping somewhere and all the stores and restaurants were closed. It was noon, but we decided to try our luck and see if our room was ready for us. The road to the Tilal Liwa is called Million Street. This was the same road that in December was bustling with Bedouins, herds of camels and their riders, wealthy camel breeders and a few interested tourists. On this day, there was no one. Million Street was desolate. We passed all the structures that exist solely for the Camel Festival: the racetrack, the camel veterinary clinic, the stadium, the police station; they were all covered in sand just waiting to blown clean and prepped.

One Arabian Night_TL approach
Tilal Liwa Front Entrance

We arrived at the Tilal Liwa Hotel. It looks more like a fortress than a hotel from a distance, but once you get closer, you see the palm trees, and the endless dunes. You feel like Lawrence of Arabia might have felt a century ago arriving somewhere so exotic and, yet, at the same time so convivial. We pulled up into the lavish looking receiving area. A valet immediately came to take our bags, open our doors and park our car; another guided us to the reception. A very nice young lady received us at the front desk. Another greeted us with mint lemonade, a traditional drink of the Middle East and so refreshing on a hot, dusty day. Not only did the hotel have a room ready for us, but also they had given us an upgrade after my mentioning, rather casually, in an e-mail that we were celebrating my husband’s birthday. We were so surprised that they took it upon themselves to offer this to us. It was very unexpected and so solicitous. A bellboy led us to our rooms, past the main lobby and the hotel’s restaurant. Our room was not very large, but well appointed and beautifully decorated. It had large French doors that opened up onto the infinity pool and courtyard area, which was exquisite. The kids, of course, darted off the to the pool. There was a lot for the kids to do in the courtyard aside from the infinity pool: there was an enormous chess set, hammocks, a trampoline, a play area, a ping-pong table. There was also entertainment. We initially thought it was Karaoke, but it turned out to be two rather scantily clad young ladies hired to sing pop songs, and kind of dance to them by the pool. That was weird enough but whatever. We spent the afternoon at the pool. It was so relaxing. As I stated in the introduction, an Arabian-inspired arch looms above the infinity pool where you can sit on seats in the pool itself, relax and stare off into the vastness of the desert dunes.

Friendly jockey_Camel Crossing_One Arabian Night
Camel Showman

After all that rest and relaxation, we mustered the energy to take a late afternoon dune walk and desert drive. All morning we wondered if the area were just a ghost town for the other fifty weeks that the Camel Festival was not going on. It turns out there are lots of people there, they just don’t come out until the late afternoon/evening. We encountered bands of camels and their riders. They didn’t seem to mind me taking thousands of photos; they were true showmen, as conformable on the back of a dromedary as they were in front of a camera.

One Arabian Night_TL BBQ night
Tilal Liwa’s Friday BBQ Night

Afternoon faded listlessly into evening, we sipped a glass of wine on our balcony and watched the sky grow purple and crescent moon rise over the desert. Wafts of the Friday evening BBQ buffet blew our way and hunger set in. We drifted down to the dining room only to partake in another feast. The knowledge kitchen staff catered to our every need, and every item we tried met our high standards. Fully sated, we meandered home. Our kids were tired, but we weren’t. Live music was playing in the courtyard and it sounded like a lot of other guests had gathered there to listen, so why shouldn’t we? We tucked the kids in and headed over to the Al Liwan Oasis, a.k.a. “the bar by the pool.” The music this evening was Middle Eastern and drew a decidedly more local clientele. I have to admit I was a bit hesitant to order a beer in the midst of so many Emirati guests, but we went ahead and did it anyway, given there was one other western couple there doing the same. We took in the music, the ambiance, people-watched the other

Tilal Liwa by night One Arabian Night
Tilal Liwa By Night

guests who were smoking shisha, dancing and singing along to the traditional music; they knew all the words and were fully enjoying themselves. We soon found ourselves being invited over for drinks with an Emirati man and few of his friends. They ordered a round of drinks (ours, alcoholic and what was in their very “blue” drinks I may never know). Their English was not quite good enough to have a full conversation, but we all tried very hard often relying on charade-like gestures to Pictionary-esque drawings. They were very excited to be celebrating my husband’s birthday with us, so the drinks kept coming, and a good time was had by all. We informed them that we planned to come visit again for the Camel Festival, and we exchanged numbers and made plans to visit with each other come December.

Part of the appeal of the desert for me, apart from the solitariness, is the wide-open space. Just like the ocean, the desert has its own restless motion; the sea can be as calm as it can be violent in a sand storm.We woke early to hungry children. This should come as no surprise to all the parents out there. No matter how late we stayed out, they wake up at the same time, as usual, hungry. They were dying to hit the breakfast buffet; we were dying to hit the snooze bar. They won. Off we went to the buffet early enough to squeeze in a leisurely breakfast and swim before our noon checkout and our long drive home back to work-school-life reality.

Divine_One Arabian Night Gracious staff at Tilal Liwa
Our server was aptly named Divine.

Breakfast was a wonderful as dinner. We had mostly the same staff as we had had for dinner. They had all been informed that it was my husband’s birthday, and every single staff member he encountered made a point of wishing him happy birthday. How they all knew who he was is beyond me. I want to be sure to mention that each staff member at the Tilal Liwa is extremely good at his/her job. They all have gracious smiles on their faces and seem, at every moment, to be doing far more than their job description requires of them, which is kind of unusual here. We went back to the room and off we went to the pool as per our kids’ plans.

Birthday cake_One Arabian Night
Surprise! Happy Birthday Cake.

After our swim, we returned to our room to pack and get ready to go home. The phone rang. A hotel attendant asked when he could bring the birthday cake. “A birthday cake? Who ordered a birthday cake?” I asked. “No, ma’am. This cake is from the hotel. Can we bring it now?” the voice on the line said. Sure, I responded. It was 11:50 am; we had not eaten lunch. Why not? It would sure be a birthday surprise. And it was. It was brought to our room in moments. The young man that phoned  brought the cake, lit candles, sang happy birthday, and insisted on taking family photos for us—SO many until he got one he was happy with. Now, that’s dedication to your job if I ever saw it. The checkout process was as effortless as the check in. The staff got a few more happy birthdays in and off we went, back on that long, dusty, desert road. Back to reality.

In conclusion, one Arabian night is just not enough to really enjoy the full amenities available to you at the Tilal Liwa Hotel. You need at least three or four in my opinion. I would also recommend you go at a cooler time of the year than we did. There were so many desert tours, outings and sports in which you can partake, but they just were not realistic in July or August.

[cincopa AMIAP7r29ehE]

 

New to Abu Dhabi? Get the 411

New to Abu Dhabi? Get the 411

 

Que? How did I get here? New to Abu Dhabi?
Ever Wonder How You Got Here?

Are you new to Abu Dhabi? Just flew in? Lizzy of Arabia would like to extend a great big Welcome out to all the “newbs” here in Abu Dhabi…er…I mean August newcomers. You have come to the right place to get the 411. If you are wondering if it’s painfully obvious how “new” you look, wonder no more, you look dazed, sweaty and confused–like a gazelle in the headlights. It’s true! Your new friends won’t tell you, but I will, because I was you this time last year. And yes, I still look sweaty and a bit disheveled but that’s just my look, you got a problem with that?! Anyway, New to Abu Dhabi? Get the 411 here!

Last year, we moved here and there was no one, I repeat no one, to help us. There was a little help at the hotel. There was no one at my husband’s work. There was no one at my kids’ school, which I least expected. I anticipated a welcome wagon of international moms or a guidebook or something, but there was NOTHING!—no welcoming moms, no parent handbook, no “Welcome to Abu Dhabi” guidebook. Nada, nothing! It was a genuine lost opportunity that I hope to help rectify at my kids’ school this year. Seriously, how everyone has missed this golden sales’ opportunity here baffles me, but that a whole other story of 24K golden missed opportunities in Abu Dhabi.

So, I have finally finished my Interactive map of Al Raha Beach and Khalifa City A (KCA) to help you find your way around.  In case you are unacquainted with American speak, “411” refers to “information/help.” To my knowledge, there is no other map like it. This one is rife with personal experiences and opinions, but if you learn only one new thing on this map, it will be worth your while. I am also happy to help with any questions you may have regarding doctors, dentists, cobblers, caterers, framers, masseurs, to bakeries and local photographers. I will also help you find a neighborhood to live in or that long, lost ingredient-I love to cook. If the practitioner/item/store you require is not here, e-mail me and I will help you to find it! If you are New to Abu Dhabi, click on the map to get the 411.

AD411 Map_New to Abu Dhabi?
New in town? Get the 411 here! Click the Map Above.

How To Non-Awkwardly Greet People From Different Countries

How To Non-Awkwardly Greet People From Different Countries
Awkward European Kisses_Lizzy of Arabia
Greeting people can be just SO awkward

For all my friends, family and readers who have been the victims or the unwitting aggressors (I think I have been both) of the awkward foreign-kiss-kiss-on-the-cheek-thing with new friends from other places, the link below is for you. Even if you have just wondered at times if you are doing it right or horribly wrong, read on about how to non-awkwardly greet people from different countries. I offer this for a few reasons:

  1. It can be SO awkward when you get it wrong. I cannot tell you how many times someone has gone in for that extra one as I was centering to pull away and, well, you-know-what happens.
  2. It is so distinctly un-american to greet each other like this. We are just inherently not touchy-feely people. 
  3. Speaking here as an American, I suggest that we need our own style of kiss. All right, it can be “theirs.” We don’t really have to think of our own. It has never stopped us before. Just take it! We can just co-opt their style, call it something else and say it’s “American.” After all we take everybody’s everything else, change the name, make it SO MUCH BETTER (in our eyes) and then proclaim ourselves the very best at it, right?! That’s just what we do. You needn’t look any further than the realm of sports to find the most blatant examples of this: Baseball (World Series against ourselves?), Football and Basketball–games no one else in the world plays or cares about. Let’s do it with the embrace! What should be our unique, best-in-the-world American style of embrace? 

Before I go trying to change the landscape of the embrace as we know it, let’s try to get down what other countries do first, all right? So, read on… How To Non-Awkwardly Greet People From Different Countries.