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)

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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. 

 

 

 

 

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.

UAE A-Z

UAE A-Z

UAE A-Z_desertAs promised, here is the briefly anticipated N-Z of the A-Z of influential people, amazing places, essential things of importance and oddities in the UAE. These selections represent my opinions alone. Please let me know what you think about my choices in the comment section. Let me know if there are places I missed. Do follow the links in each letter’s bolded title for links, pictures and further information: 

Sheikh Zayed_UAE A-Z
The Beloved Sheikh Zayed

N. The House of Nahayan The house of Nahayan has ruled the emirate of Abu Dhabi since 1793. The erstwhile Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was the principal driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates. His wisdom, foresight and inspired leadership have made him a beloved leader. You can see his face all over town and just about every road is named for him—this can get very confusing. I have also heard that ruler of Dubai, the Sheikh’s relative, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is very accessible and approachable. I have been told that all Dubai-dwellers have access to his direct phone number and they can call him anytime. He also drives around town on his own talking to everyone and checking his amazing city out personally. He is a very hands’ on leader.

Thar she blows!_UAE A-ZO. Oil. Almost everything in this list is brought to you by yes, you guessed it, OIL! Oil was discovered in the UAE in 1966. Not coincidentally, this country was forged a mere 6 years’ later. If you are interested in the History of Oil in the UAE, here’s a brief timeline. Oil: Americans, thank God (or who/whatever you believe in), you have the stuff to get around in your big ol’ trucks and live in your super-sized houses. Emirates, thank Allah you have the stuff to build all this cool stuff and live in your big ol’ villas. Truth.

Emirates' Palace Front_UAE A-Z
Emirates’ Palace front view

P. Palaces (Emirates)  / Palms (Jumeriah) & (Atlantis) The UAE is home to some pretty fabulous palaces. The Emirates’ Palace, I am told, was originally built for the Sheikh, but apparently is was just not, well, palatial enough for the big man, and it is now a Kempinski Hotel.* This means anyone can drop in for a 24K gold cappuccino, but you have to fork out over 1K a night for a room. Next door, the Sheikh’s family is building their own sprawling, luxurious palace on the sea.

Dubai is home to two man-made series of islands called the Palm Jumeriah and the Palm Jebel Ali. On the Palm Jumeriah, you will find the luxurious Palm Atlantis hotel and many residences on the fronds of the palm. Gorgeous sea views abound.

Qasr Al Sarab_UAE A-Z
Relaxation in the Desert.

Q. Qasr Al Sabr Hotel I have not been to this resort hotel yet. I have heard It is wonderful and so bloody expensive. It’s on my list. Apparently, it’s a UAE must do. This luxurious desert hotel offers every amenity under the sun, but apparently replicates the feeling of being a desert traveller long ago. From the hotel’s website: “By fusing Bedouin culture with modern and refined luxury; guests simply relax and naturally open themselves to the silent power of the desert.” That sounds nice.

Rub' Al Khali Desert Dunes_UAE A-Z
Rub’ Al Khali Magnificent Desert Dunes

R. Rub’ Al Khali desert (Empty Quarter) / Ramadan “Taking up a fifth of the Arabian Peninsula, the Rub al Khali (literally, “quarter of emptiness”), or the Sands for short, is the world’s largest sand sea. At more than 225,000 square miles (583,000 square kilometers), it takes in substantial portions of Saudi Arabia, as well as parts of Oman, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates to create an arid wilderness larger than France. It holds roughly half as much sand as the Sahara, which is 15 times the Empty Quarter’s size but composed mostly of graveled plains and rocky outcrops.” —National Geographic

Ramadan is the holiest month in Islam. Devout Muslims fast from sun up, until sun down. I cannot imagine the depths of piety that it must take for people to perform this ritual for a month in temperatures nearing 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Lots of expats skip town for Ramadan because it can be very oppressive for people of other faiths. Restaurants usually close between those hours and only open at night for Iftar. Pregnant women and children 12 and under do not have to take part in the fasting. 

S. Desert Safari / Ski Dubai 

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Camels in Desert_UAE A-Z
Camels by Sunset

That’s what the desert safari is all about, right? And, the Desert Safari is another UAE must do! On a desert safari, one can sleep under a full swathe of bright stars and wake up to a rosy dawn. Pristine night skies are an endangered habitat. It is very hard to find a location with no light pollution from the ever-expanding cities and suburbs. This is NOT the case in the UAE where you simply drive about 20 minutes into the desert to get an unobstructed, panoramic view of the night sky. Most desert safaris depart the cities in the afternoon traveling across the desert. There are usually several photo-stops during the dune drive. Most tours stop at a camel farm. The drive across the desert ends with a breath-taking sunset. Upon reaching the campsite, guests enjoy a barbecue dinner and shisha (the famous Arabic water pipe). Guests then watch belly dancers performing around the campfire by starlight. Before returning to the city, guests have the opportunity to ride a camel (which I highly recommend), sand board and try out a henna design. There are a great many companies who provide these tours. Here is a list of options.

Ski Dubai_UAE A-Z
The Finest Ski Conditions Ever…Inside...

Ski Dubai Where else in the world can you ski indoors? Ski Dubai is the only indoor ski area of which I am aware. It attempts to replicate the entire ski experience from snow play to gondola to après-ski with somewhat mixed results, I hear. I have not yet been. I plan to go this winter, but it’s pricey and, well, it’s skiing inside, but I suppose it’s nice to have nearby and to say you once did…maybe?!

T. Tilal Liwa Hotel If you want to have a true Arabian experience, this is your hotel. We are going in a few weeks, so you can expect a full report toute de suite! Aside from being a luxury hotel full of wonderful amenities like a 5 star spa and sauna, the Tilal Liwa boasts many outdoor adventures as well. There is dune-bashing, sand-boarding on the dunes, camel rides, desert star-gazing on the dunes and an Arabian BBQ buffet to boot.

Burj Al Arab_UAE A-Z
My girls and I at Umm Sequim Beach. Burj Al Arab in the Background.

U. Umm Sequim Beach / Umm Al Quaimm (Dubai) Umm Sequim Beach is Dubai’s answer to Abu Dhabi’s Corniche, or they might say it’s the other way around. Either way, you cannot beat the views at Umm Sequim where the Burj Al Arab, the only 7 star hotel in the world, looms weightily above you. The beach is lovely. It’s also free. There is usually a volleyball game being played, and it is frequented by many local families. 

Umm Al Quwain is a beach town about an hour north of Dubai. There is an aquarium, camel–racing and horseback-riding, kayaking, sailing and wind-surfing. 

Visa Run_UAE A-ZV. Visa Run (aka Border Run). Ah, the visa run. This happens to some expat workers whose visas are delayed. I confess this never happened to me, though I was close. Upon entry, many western workers automatically get 30 days stamped into their passports. Because the machinations of bureaucracy churn slowly, sometimes, 30 days is not enough. In this unfortunate situation, the expat has no choice but to do a Visa Run. Basically, you drive over to Oman to get another 30 days of entry into the UAE. You can choose between several entry points and several drives to perform the run: fast, scenic, et al. I know some people who have done so many, they have seen all possible roads into Oman.

Wadi_Adventure_UAE A-Z
Husband hanging ten in the desert.

W. Wadi Adventure. Wadi Adventure in Al Ain is an extreme sports’ park, which is home of the biggest man made wave in the world (maybe the only?). There is Wild Wadi in Dubai, I am just going to focus on Wadi Adventure because there are more waterparks in the UAE than there are native people, I think. Just kidding. We have visited Wadi Adventure numerous times, and it is great fun for those who like adventure/extreme sports such as surfing, kayaking, white water rafting,  et al. It is usually not crowded, but you do have to book in advance to do many of the activities. Please enquire before you go, so you do not get disappointed.

24K Gold Vending Machine_UAE A-Z.jpg
The Vending Machine You Did Not Know You Needed.

X. Extreme, Extravagance, Excess / DXB The UAE’s unofficial motto is bigger, better, faster and, let’s not forget, more. From the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa, to the 24K gold vending machines to man made island formations in the shape of, well, the world, the UAE has it all. Which, of course, segues brilliantly to Dubai, the city of superlatives. 

DXB is the airport code for Dubai, so let’s talk about Dubai. Why not? Everyone else is. The UAE is aware that oil reserves are diminishing, as will the west’s dependence on oil as the price skyrockets. So, they have decided to make Dubai a tourism mecca, and Mecca it is! I have blogged about how shopping here takes on an almost religious devotion. The malls are shrines of grandeur; temples to over-consumption. They are also everywhere! Dubai is shopping’s holiest city, by far. 

Yas Beach UAE A-Z
Yas Beach.

Y. Yas Island I blog about my beloved Yas Island a lot. It is right across the water from my home, and every night and day I get to marvel at it’s beauty. We stayed there when we first got here because it was near to everything for us: husband’s job, kids’ school, et al. It is home to Yas Beach (my mothership), Yas Waterworld (My kids’ mothership), the “opening soon” Yas mall, See top-notch entertainers at the Du Arena, play a round of golf at Yas Links, the Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Viceroy Hotel and Marina, boasts a million great restaurants and some gorgeous views. Here is a fun list of Yas Island Top 10 Must-dos

SZbridge legs_UAE A-Z
Sheikh Zayed Bridge

Z. Zayed Name Crazy! I talked a bit about the ruling families above. The house of Nahayan rules Abu Dhabi while the The Al Maktoum family rules Dubai. Well, just about everything here in Abu Dhabi bears the beloved leader’s name. I cannot tell you how many times I have come to the cross street of Sheikh Zayed Rd and Sheikh Zayed Rd downtown and wondered why on earth there are not more names for roads here? There is also Sheikh Zayed Highway, Sheikh Zayed Sport’s City,  Sheikh Zayed Bridge—make that two Sheikh Zayed bridges, and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This list is endless.

* I have no independent verification of this “fact.” I cannot find anything to substantiate it. If you happen to know the real history of the Emirates’ Palace Hotel, please let me know. 

UAE A-Z

UAE A-Z

UAE A-Z_desertNot so long ago I noticed a blogging challenge going on called the “A-Z Blog Challenge,” where bloggers make a fun, but rather long, series of posts detailing alphabetically a list of places and things of importance to their cities. No blogger seems to have made one for Abu Dhabi or Dubai, so I got right to it and created a UAE A-Z. Looking back through my archives, I realized that I am only personally familiar with about maybe 25% of the list, which is pathetic really, so I am intent upon changing that in the latter half of 2014. I promise to blog my way through the list. Here is my A-Z of UAE influential people, amazing places, essential things of importance and oddities (X & V and other letters are hard, people!). I included one Oman location–I just had to. The lists are split into A-M and N-Z respectively. These selections represent my opinions alone. Please let me know what you think about my choices in the comment section. Let me know if there are places I missed. Do follow the links in each letter’s bolded title for links, pictures and further information:

Al Ain Sunset UAE A-Z
Al Ain Sunset

A. Al Ain. Al Ain is a small city/desert outpost in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It is also known as the “Oasis city,”  It borders the Rub’ Al Khali desert (aka the “Empty Quarter”) and Oman. It’s climate is much hotter and drier than Abu Dhabi, and it boasts the nation’s highest elevation: Jebel Hafeet. Al Ain is also home to a very respectable zoo, the only extreme sports’ water park that I am aware of in the world and a traditional camel market. The drive there from either Abu Dhabi or Dubai will not disappoint you, if you are seeking a true desert experience; it is full of camels, camels in the back of pick up trucks and dunes. 

UAE Beaches UAE A-ZB. Beaches / Burj Khalifa. There are just so many lovely beaches here in the UAE. There is, of course, my beloved neighborhood beach, Yas beach, which that I regularly blog about. In this list, I talk about a few, but I don’t want to forget to mention all the beaches that dot the coastline as you travel north:  Ajman, Umm Al Quaim and Ras Al Khaimah.

Yes, the Burj Khalifa is, for now, the highest building in the world. It is in Dubai and, trust me, you can’t miss it! This is me in front of it, and this is the view from above. The view serves as a reminder that, yes, the UAE is very much a desert nation though you would never know it when you ski, après-ski with a meander down a palm-lined, Rodeo drive-esque street.

Family at Burj Khalifa_UAE A-Z
My family at Burj Khalifa

 

 

Burj Khalifa Top View (credit Burj Khalifa Photo Club)_UAE A-Z
The View from the Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

C. Corniche The Corniche is a lovely stretch of city beach along Abu Dhabi’s western coast line. There is generally lots of parking, and it is free to visit. I am always blogging about all the amazing free things there are to do here and the Corniche is another, little free gem if you like to go to the beach.

Lizzy of arabia on a camel at Al Dhafra Camel Beauty Pageant_UAE A-Z
Yes, that’s yours truly on a camel.

D. Al Dhafra Camel Festival Every December, thousands of camel beauty queens descend upon a small town, called Al Dhafra, to compete for millions of dirhams in prizes and the crown, of course, at the Annual Camel Beauty Pageant. Many of you, who read my blog, know that I am a camel-lover; I just love the beasts. No one can convince me that they are dirty, smelly, spitting creatures because I have seen the prettiest camels in the world, and these camels are real ladies. They are dignified and very affectionate creatures. You have to see it to believe it, like anything. This was by far my favorite UAE experience yet. Most of the time you can live here and not feel as though you live smack dab in the middle of the Middle East. The Camel Beauty Pageant will superimpose you into a world of Middle East tradition: camels, falcons, incense, tents, dates, tea and bedouins. For more information about the Camel Festival, visit the Tourism website.

E. Eid There are two Eids on the Islamic calendar. The first: Eid Al-Fitr celebrates the breaking of the fast following Ramadan. Eid al-Adha celebrates the sacrifice that Ibrahim made in the Old Testament and also celebrates the end of the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, which draws 1.5 million Muslims every year.

Viceroy Marina UAE A-Z
Yas Viceroy Marina

F. Formula 1 / Friday Brunch Formula 1 or Friday Brunch? Which best defines represents “F” for the UAE? Let’s go with both! Yas Island boasts an amazing and accessible F1 track, which lures the greatest drivers in the world and millions of spectators every November for the Yas Marina Circuit F1. It is also host to some awesome post race events all of the F1 week. Last year, Jay-Z, Muse, Depeche Mode and others headlined the post race concert series. I will admit that I know little to nothing about F1, but it’s exciting to live across from it, I can say, especially since I can sit on my balcony and hear all the concerts. 

Friday brunches are just what expats do here in the UAE. There are thousands to choose from featuring all levels of prestige, every cuisine known to man and usually, but not always, unlimited libations. Here is a definitive list of Friday brunches (prices, locations and reviews) in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Grand Mosque_UAE A-Z
Family at the Grand Mosque

G. Grand Mosque No trip to the UAE is complete without a visit to the Grand Mosque. It is a glorious feat of architecture. Did I mention that it’s free to visit? Here are some fast, intriguing fasts about the Grand Mosque:

  1. The mosque can accommodate over 40,000 worshipers.
  2. It features 82 white marble domes of Moroccan design.
  3. The Mosque has more than 1,000 columns in the outer areas, with inlaid marble panels and decorated in a floral design with semi-precious stones, and 96 columns in the main prayer hall, each inlaid with mother of pearl.
  4. It displays the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi and hand crafted by 1,300 artisans.
  5. It showcases the word’s largest chandelier, made in Germany with thousands of Swarovski crystals from Austria and glasswork from Italy.
  6. The design and construction include materials such as marble, stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics.
  7. The mosque uses a very special lighting system in evening hours that follows the phases of the moon – they gradually become lighter as the moon becomes full.
  8. The Grand mosque is the final resting place of the late visionary president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was buried in the courtyard of the Mosque.

Check the visiting times before you visit and be sure to behave and dress “modestly” as you would in any house of worship.The definition of “modest” is really just common sense, but there is a description (with illustrations) for those challenged by the concept. Ahem, Rihanna

H. Hummus Ah, hummus. Who doesn’t love the creamy, dippy chickpea concoction? I am going to go out on a limb and call hummus a “Middle Eastern” dish, just knowing I am opening myself up to all kinds of arguments. Apparently, there is a great debate over who owns the rights to hummus. Who knew?! I say let’s just let bygones be bygones with regard to hummus. We all love the stuff. Who cares who invented it and just thank the deity of your choice that someone did in the first place. Let’s just all get along.

I. Islam / Iftar I just couldn’t decide for “I.” After all, Islam is the official state religion of the region, and Iftar is the traditional meal to break the fast during Ramadan; both seemed important. You cannot have a serious, or not so serious, discussion about the region without knowing just a little bit about Islam. The Old Testament of the Bible and the Quran have dictated most of the regions’ social mores, laws and past, present and future in the same manner Christianity has the west. Muslims believe that the verses of the Quran are the revelation of God verbally revealed through the Prophet Muhammad. On a side, but related, note, Muhammad is a VERY common name here, indeed the most common in the world.

The Road to Jebel Hafeet_UAE A-Z
The Road to Jebel Hafeet

J. Jebel Hafeet Jebel Hafeet is the highest point in the UAE. At the top is a hotel called the Mercure Jebel Hafeet. The mountain rises 1,249 metres (4,098 ft) and offers impressive view over the city. The drive up is hair-raising and is classified as one of the must-do drives for people who love to drive. 

K. Kandura (dishdash) A Kandura is the traditional men’s dress here in the UAE. Women wear Abayas and the Shayla (loose scarf around head). Almost no women here wear the Burqa. Lots of people ask me what the westerners wear here in the UAE, and the answer is simple. Use discretion. If you are in a Mosque, dress as though you were in a church. If you are in an area or location frequented mostly by westerners, anything goes really.  

L. Liwa dates Liwa dates are yummy. I would say they are the best in the world, but what do I really know about dates?! Not much. I don’t even know if they are fruits or nuts.  I can tell you that they are big business here. Date palms are one of the very few native plants that can survive the oppressive heat in this region and therefore revered. We went to a date competition in December, and it was amazing. There was another date festival here in the UAE recently. Who knew there were so many kinds of dates?!

Musandam  UAE A-Z
Musandam Dhow Cruising

M. Musandam Dhow Cruise  This is another UAE must-visit place. All right, it’s Oman, but it’s just so close, and definitely shouldn’t miss it if you are in the UAE. Now, I have not yet been here, but we are going this fall for the next Eid. Musandam is just a few hours’ drive north of Dubai and apparently well worth the trip. The drive alone is full of gorgeous sites, like Ajman Beach, the rocky coast and narrow mountain roads that bring you into the city and its desolate beaches. What’s there to do in Musandam? Take a Dhow cruise to Khor as Sham, a majestic rocky fjord that some regards as ‘the Norway of Arabia’. You recline on cushions and Persian carpets on deck to savor the views or spot some dolphins, stopping to dive into the cobalt sea for swimming or snorkeling. There is also an overnight option, which includes camping on a secluded beach. 

N-Z are on their way. Give me a few days. 

 

Expat Revolving Door

Expat Revolving Door

Expat revolving door in Abu DhabiIt’s apparently that time of year again—the expat exodus is in full swing. To me, it’s a lot like an Expat Revolving Door: the old residents are pushing themselves out sweaty and jaded; the new residents are gliding in, befuddled and clammy, but still very excited. I cannot help but recall our own arrival here last summer. Steamy August and September welcomed us–sweaty, bewildered and unaccustomed to the heat. Now June ushers us out–much in same the manner we were received–still sweaty, but now accustomed to the many trappings that life in here Abu Dhabi gifts us expats with: kind of a swag bag of sorts for putting up with the heat, round a bouts and chaos as congenially as so many of us do. It’s my first time on this merry-go-round of goodbyes, so bear with me.

Beer Fest 2014 #BFF #abudhabi #yas #yasisland
Beer Fest 2014–the name of the event explains the photo, I sincerely hope.

My very first and close friend, here in Abu Dhabi, is moving back to the states. Of course, people come and go–they do everywhere. Just this time last year, I was selling our family home, leaving our town of 8 years, which was a really long time for us to stay anywhere and preparing to move here; it was also a very sad time. It’s a bit different here though. This is not our country; we all know that our time here is finite. None of us, in the expat community (84% of the population of this entire country), are from here.

Fabric group
Fabric shopping in Abu Dhabi

 

I really like to move. I always have. I love to face all the challenges that a new locale offers: where to shop, where to eat, where to find great stationery and where to find fun. I enjoy a good and regular resettling within my home country, but I relish the same experience abroad—it is filled with so many more surprises. I have blogged about these searches ad nausea, I’m sure. My friends all know this about me. If you are new friend to me, know that, while I am loyal and a great friend, I am not destined to be local for very long. I’ll still be your friend, but it will change. The very best friendships can withstand distance. Everyone has that friend--you know, the one that doesn’t stick around for long. The one you do not see for years, but when you do, it’s as though no time as passed at all. I seek that variety of friendship because I am a nomad. My feet get itchy, and it isn’t athlete’s foot.

With a Little help from my friends #lizzyofarabia #abudhabi #camelcookies
With a little help from my friends

Enough about me, let’s talk about my friends. The way we befriended each other last fall was fast and furious. There was no time for questions or finding things in common. There was no time for politics, religion or “what school did you go to” and many of those other questions you know I like to know upfront because I am nosy, but you are not supposed to bring up in polite conversation. There wasn’t even time to figure out if we had kids and husbands who might be compatible, which is mandatory friend criteria for burgeoning friendships back home, but not a concern here. (We were very lucky that they all did get along.) We were simply all new here, lost, confused, in the same boat and needing a shoulder to cry on, a smiling face to move towards when you walked into the school lobby and, most importantly, someone to laugh with at all the absurd experiences that were happening around us because, we all knew, if we didn’t laugh about them, we’d cry or, worse, go crazy.

Which leads me to believe that friendship is a lot like opportunity. It knocks on your door, all the time, everyday in countless ways, but you don’t usually open the door. How many opportunities have we all missed because we were too scared or busy to simply say yes to some odd invitation? I think if you look back, you could summon up a vast array of “missed friendship opportunities” because some strange person you met somewhere dressed, behaved or spoke very differently to you or just wasn’t what you perceived to be “your type”–I know I can think of thousands.

Can I get a bowl of nuts? #yasisland #stillspub #abudhabi #crowneplaza
Can I get some nuts, please?

To honor my dear friends going home this month, I vow, from now on, to welcome more people into my life the way I did you: with no questions asked, no outward appearance assessments or affinity tests. As one proverbial expat revolving door swings shut behind them, I hope that another is swooshing open in front of me brimming with another new friend–hopefully just like you. This friend will never replace my dear friend, but she will have to do. I wish the same open revolving door full of potential friends to you as well. Godspeed Shahana and family; I will miss you dearly. I know you will make many new friends, just like us, in your new home

How to Gift an Expat

How to Gift an Expat

 

Gifting Lizzy of Arabia, You got a gift, #fathersday
Aw shucks, is that for me? You shouldn’t have?! Well yeah, I did tell you exactly how to gift me. Thank you all the same. 😉

How to Gift an Expat, June Edition Ah, Spring… ‘tis the season for so many holidays—exhausting, I know. There’s Mother’s Day, graduations, SO many birthdays lately (I cannot even begin to count them all), and of course there’s Father’s Day–by the way, HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all the dads out there today. Need I mention all the very sad going away parties? Many of my family members and friends ask me often “how to gift an expat” in Abu Dhabi/Dubai when we have don’t have addresses. How do you? It’s a great question. I know my mother is very bothered by the fact that I have no address when she wants to send birthday cards or gifts to my kids. So, I have come up with a solution to satisfy her and to offer you.

You Got a Gift from Lizzy of Arabia, #fathersday
You Got a Gift! It’s fun to get these in your inbox.

The kind media staff at You Got a Gift brought this painless and novel form of gift-giving, for the expat in your life, to my attention, and I thought I would share it with you. (They even gave me a free pair of movie tix–thank you YGAG ;). This website is great and ever so easy. Basically, You Got A Gift sells e-gift cards for places that offer stuff you really want, like Vox cinema, GoSports, Toys R Us, electronics, books, beauty and wellness, fashion, and more. You choose the denomination, personalize a message, and You Got a Gift sends the e-cards straight to the recipient via Facebook, SMS or e-mail. What could be easier and who doesn’t want things like this, I ask? Yup, pretty much no one. I also liked that the recipient could choose what they really want, rather than me having to worry about that. Honestly, I cannot tell you how many unused spa cards I have; I hate massages. People don’t always know that though. It especially sucks to not fully appreciate being pampered here, because there must be a ratio of 5 “saloons” to every person. I tried this out, and it was honestly as easy as it sounds. I was strapped for time and late to an adult friend’s birthday party, I had to find a gift fast. I turned to You Got A Gift; I was glad that I did. It took me less than 5 minutes, and I even made funny a video message to accompany it right there on the spot. Giving less personal gifts, like money or gift cards, is always more fun with a cute message or funny video to give it some of your flair. The e-gift card was delivered before I even got to the party, and my friend loved it because it simple, easy, fun and unexpected! #fathersday. Gift cards, #amazon, #lizzyofarabia

For now, You Got a Gift is only here in the Middle East, so I cannot give it you unless you are here, friends–I’m very sorry to say–but you can give it to me, my family or your friends and family here (if you have any)—hint hint. Just kidding. Wait a minute! No, I am not! After all, you have Amazon.com and an address–you don’t need it anyway. You got a gift is for those of us who do not have addresses and even maybe some who do. Either way, it’s cool. Check it out or, better yet, tell your relatives to check it out. I might just give one to my husband from his kids for father’s day. Happy father’s day, daddy (R.I.P) and to my husband–you are an amazing father. I’d toot your horn, but I know you wouldn’t want that. You hate how I over share.      

Sorcery in The UAE

Sorcery in The UAE

 

Aladdin. Disney's Loveable Genie
Aladdin. Disney’s Lovable Jinn

In the short time that I have been living here, I seen more than a few stories in the local English-language newspapers about sorcery in the UAE. Yes, sorcery is apparently alive and well right here in Abu Dhabi and Dubai–enough to make the papers often and be prosecuted fairly regularly in a courtroom near me. Sorcery, really? Isn’t that just the stuff of fiction: Jinns and Spells? If you think that sorcery belongs on the pages of a Harry Potter novel and not in the 21st century Middle East, think again. 

The term genie comes from the Arabic word jinni, which referred to an evil spirit that could take the shape of an animal or person. It could be found in every kind of nonliving thing, even air and fire. Jinn (the plural of jinni) were said to have magical powers and are favorite figures in Islamic literature. Unlike witches, Jinn have free will and could be compelled to perform both good and evil acts, compared to a demon who would only hurt creatures or an angel with benevolent intentions. Knowing what to ask the spirit to perform is key: asking a spirit to perform a chore, counter its natural tendencies, would anger the spirit into retaliating against the sorcerer.

Genie in A Bottle
Genie in A Bottle

So, with that, every now and then I see a story in the papers here that seems so odd to my Western sensibility that I just want to cut and paste it somewhere. In the UAE papers, I regularly happen upon new stories involving sorcerers claiming to use supernatural powers or witchcraft to “help people fulfill their desires”, to unite estranged lovers, solve family disputes, provide miracle cures, find jobs and, of course, help people get rich quickly. Methods include the chanting of “strange words,” use of “witchcraft tools”, stones and herbs and, naturally, the handing over of large amounts of money.

Not long ago, Bahrain made sorcery and witchcraft a criminal offense, punishable with fines and jail terms. It already is a crime in Saudi Arabia, where 40 Indonesian guest workers are currently facing the death penalty accused of practising “witchcraft and sorcery”. There is no legal definition of witchcraft in Saudi Arabia, but horoscopes and fortune telling are condemned un-Islamic. It sounds to me like this century’s version of Salem. There are so many sorcery stories here to recount, but the funniest that I have seen so far is an older one. It is about a man, in Dubai, who told his victims he had “a lot of money,” but that witchcraft had turned it black – as proof, he produced black slips of paper with “$100” printed on them. He asked his victims for Dhs 300,000 (approximately $90,000), which he said he would use to buy special powder to remove the spell. He explained to the victims that he would put the money in a locker, sprinkle the powder on the notes and leave them there for 48 hours until they doubled, at which point the victim would receive double his money back. He must have been quite convincing because he managed to dupe a lot of people before Dubai Police caught him in a sting operation. Authorities in Bahrain have objected to the proposed plans to criminalize sorcery, offering that such cases should be brought to the court under the charges of embezzlement and cheating. Well, there is that, of course – but it isn’t half as interesting, is it? Other cases involve accoutrements, such as gazelle skin, which make these stories seem all the more attention-grabbing and bizarre to westerners.

Fear not, the countries of the Persian Gulf have identified this epidemic of sorcery as a mounting crisis and are dually and respectively clamping down on these charlatans. The authorities here see such examples of sorcery and black magic as a high crime and, perhaps worse, an insult to Islam. 

Holy Snake Handlers.
Holy Snake Handlers.  (Photo AP/Files)

On first read, this might sound so exotic and odd to westerners presumably because it involves jinns, witchcraft and gazelles rather than faith healers, speaking in tongues, casting out demons, and perhaps using snakes to do so–the latter are terms about which we are more accustomed to hearing. The awkward truth about snake-handling is that it’s in the Bible, just as jinns are mentioned in the Qu’ran. In the USA, we understand our local garden variety religious charlatan; they have been around since the pioneer days, if not longer. They too speak of miracle cures, secrets to great riches and promises of a greater experience in the afterlife, yet there is no U.S. governmental bureau cracking down on these churches and charlatans. To my understanding, these churches and scam artists practice their variety of “black magic” freely, at least, until someone dies from a snake bite or dies as a result of being treated with/by prayer. Thank goodness, UK papers report on cases like this. I did not see many reports online from US news outlets. Is the US still too lenient on so-called “faith healers”. Many say yes. Is the sorcery seen here in the Middle East so different to the individuals who eschew medical care for faith healers and snake handlers back home? I don’t know.

I initially jeered at these articles until I took that long, hard look at my own country and recognized, well, we are not so different after all, are we? The majority of the population doesn’t buy into sorcery here or faith healing there, and most people, in turn, do not advocate jihad or Christian Fundamentalism either, do they? When you stumble upon such articles here as a westerner, it’s easy to generalize and say things to yourself like “I cannot believe they believe in Jinns or sorcery,” with equal parts mockery and ridicule. But know when you do it, someone here might just be wondering the same thing about your country, your faith healers and snake handlers and make the very same generalization about your country and its charlatans. Next time, I will stop myself and try to read these articles more objectively. Though I still find Jinns and sorcery so much cooler sounding than holy snake handlers, maybe that’s just me?! 

Video of the World’s Tallest Building—And a Plane Seen From Space

Video of the World’s Tallest Building—And a Plane Seen From Space

 

Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa

It’s been a LONG weekend. Not only do I have the pressure of coughing up the final installment of the Road to Al Ain for you, but now I simply must let you know how we celebrated Easter here in Abu Dhabi today (yes, a day early, but who cares?)–it was decadent! Tonight, I offer a really cool HD Video of the World’s Tallest Building—And a Plane Seen From Space. I stumbled upon it on the Atlantic yesterday. An American company, named Skybox Imaging brought us this 27 second B&W short which features Dubai’s own Burj Khalifa–the tallest building in the world–for the moment. Check the lower righthand corner straight off for the plane. It’s really neat!

5 Things You Might Find Funny About Abu Dhabi

5 Things You Might Find Funny About Abu Dhabi

 

Scooby Dooby Doo!
Scooby Dooby Doo!

Abu Dhabi-Do! I bring you 5 Things You Might Find Funny About Abu Dhabi (aside from the name). Some friends, in the states, love to say Abu Dhabi because it sounds just a bit like Scooby-Dooby-Doo! I like to say it too. For those with a more complex sense of humor and those who need a bit more to be perplexed/amused by, this is for you.

Here are five things that I Find Funny (funny strange, not funny haha) about Abu Dhabi from a western perspective. They have taken me some time to get used to. I feel compelled to share them. They are as follows:

TGIT
Thursday is the New Friday, people!

 

1.  Thursday is Friday, Friday is Saturday, But They Are, in fact, Reversed. For those unacquainted with the Muslim World, Friday is the holy day of rest, much like our Sunday in the West–some shops are closed in reverence until 2 or 4pm. I can remember, as a kid, when most shops were closed on Sunday in America—it seems like a LONG time ago, but it wasn’t–I’m young, the UAE and I are babies. LOL. Sunday store closures reminds me of Blue Laws. In certain East Coast towns in America all commercial activities were prohibited on Sundays. They still exist in a few places.

Getting back to the weekend here though… Ideally, Saturday should be like Sunday here—a day of rest and relaxation–but it’s not. Does that make any sense? Probably not, let me try to explain. Friday is technically the day of rest here. For me, it’s the day I want to get stuff done, but I can’t. Many places are closed just like Sunday used to be when I was a kid growing up in my pretty conservative part of America. You were forced to “rest” because there was nothing else to do. Here, that’s Friday, leaving Saturday to be the day when you have to Go Go Go! I don’t like this very much. I would prefer Friday to be my busy day and Saturday to be the restful, family day. What can you do? Having said that, I am getting very used to Thursday being the new Friday. It feels a little naughty to have so much fun on a Thursday night to me still. TGIT!

Emirates' Post Box
Emirates’ Post Boxes line the town. Where the cards dropped go, no one knows!!

2.   There Is No Standard Address System in Abu Dhabi. For real. How do we get mail, you ask? The answer is we don’t, though I did receive one Christmas card (of 6) sent to my husband’s PO box at work. Thank you A & L.

How do we find places or each other’s home, you may ask? The answer is with landmarks—just like in the olden days. Or, we find them with a GPS Garmin—just like in the Modern days. I tend to rely more on landmarks here though because this cityscape is constantly shifting much like the sand upon which it’s all built. Everything’s always changing here. Last month you may have visited a place and you remember you went through three round-abouts and took a left to get there. The Garmin may even tell you to take the third exit at the round-about. You get there and–boom—there is NO third round-about. It’s gone! You MUST intuit this to take a left at the traffic light at the brand, spanking new intersection there which recently replaced the circle, and no one—not a soul—bothered to inform Garmin.

This also makes delivery services a challenge. Instead of a line for address, there is a space to draw a map or leave instructions such as this: “I live on the street after the airport road, but before the roundabout, Go past the mosque and make a U-turn. It’s the second house on the left.”

There is talk about us eventually having a state-of-the-art  address systemit will no doubt be unrivalled in its modernity and design—by 2015. Fingers crossed.

Abu Dhabi Road map
Abu Dhabi Road map

3.   Ever-Changing Road Names.  Just when I was starting to get to know my way around the city proper of Abu Dhabi—confidently differentiating between my Sheik Zayed the First street from my every other Sheik Zayed the somethingth Street, the city decided to change the name of all the roads?! WTH? How can you just do this to people? Easily, I guess. It’s their city, and they can do whatever they want.

Thermometer
Hot, hot, hot in Abu Dhabi!!

 4.  It’s Never Not Hot in Abu Dhabi. The average summer temperature is 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and in January the average high is 75. This is probably because the city is near some massive desert dunes.

5.   The Red Traffic Signal Leaves Enough Time To Read War & Peace in its entirety (the Cliff Notes version, at least) while you wait. Are you wondering what I am doing right now as I type? Yes, I am just waiting at a stop light. There is no Right On Red here, so I am waiting… I had time to unzip my computer bag, check my face, and edit a blog post all while I wait (though putting on make up while driving has just been banned here, thankfully). I am not sure who in the Department of Transportation here decided that any person, ever, needs over a minute and a half to cross the street, but someone did. My time living in New York City did not help my inability to sit at a traffic light for longer than 20-30 seconds, I’m sure. Sometimes, I believe I was sent to Abu Dhabi as an exercise in the Cultivation of patience.

Om. Om. Om… This light still has NOT changed.

Om, Om, Om. This light is never gonna change.

Om, Om…. Screw OM! This light is never gonna change, and I blow the light.

No cameras there. I’m all right. Waves of adrenaline. Yeah, that’s about how a bloody minute and a half feel at a stoplight here in Abu Dhabi, don’t they understand that no one on earth needs that long to cross a street? I’m getting mad again…

If this was another of life’s tests in the Cultivation of Patience, I failed. Sigh….