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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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. 

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. 

 

Daily Photo–Date Day?

Daily Photo–Date Day?

Behold the Biggest and Most All Encompassing Date-Tasting Competition in the World!

Yes, it was right here in the Abu Dhabi. Well it’s kind of about an hour and a half away, but it’s still Abu Dhabi. “Desurban Sprawl,” I tell you. Get it–Desert-suburban-urban sprawl? Even if you don’t get it, the desert, suburbs and city here are intertwined. In my experience, it takes moments to get out of the city or suburbs and into the desert, but it takes a lot longer to get somewhere for an authentic desert experience that is approachable for westerners.

Back in December when we traveled far and wide for the Camel Beauty Pageant, we stumbled upon the Date Competition. What? You think you don’t like dates?! Did I hear you right? Well that’s what my other half said when he walked into that tent–only to depart a half hour later–with a newfound appreciation for this succulent desert treat. He actually found a variety or two that he loved, after he tried about 40 at the urging of one of the Festival guides. How can you say no?!

With the same vigor some forty somethings approach so-called “Date Night” abroad, the UAE embraces Date Day: the actual Day of Judgement for local date growers. We, luckily, stumbled upon this tent the day we visited the Camel Festival in Al Dhafra. There were primitive, locally woven baskets brimming with freshly picked dates all from different plantations set out for tasting and judgement. Every passerby was asked in to taste and learn the derivation, quality and let’s say “terroir” of every contestant’s batch. In the same way, westerners speak of grapes for wine, Emirati farmers speak of dates for, well, “fruit’s sake”?

I have no idea which farmer or what date won the contest, but I can say this tent will be a first stop next December. Dates have so many health benefits. Dudes, eat your dates! 

Date Competition, camel festival, Al Dhafra, Abu Dhabi
Competing Dates

 

 

What! Me, Oppressed? Questions. Questions.

What! Me, Oppressed? Questions. Questions.

 

Al-Battullah, Iran
This is me wearing a traditional Al-Battullah. (This one made in China)

I get e-mails from time to time from readers who are contemplating a move here to Abu Dhabi. So far, it’s mostly women and their questions are no different to the ones I asked just last spring before we came. Do you have to wear a Burkha? Can girls wear bikinis? Can I jog there? Is it safe for Westerners? Can I drink/buy alcohol? All the important questions, I tell you! The answer is a resounding No to the first question and Yes to all the others. People from home ask me all the time if I have to “cover up.” I assume they mean do I have to dress head to toe in traditional garb? The answer is of course not! I don’t have to. This is the United Arab Emirates, not Saudi Arabia or Iran. In fact, it would be probably seem very odd if I did dress like Muslims here. To say Life is very different here than other parts of the Middle East is an understatement; it’s akin to comparing 21st century America to Victorian era England. Now, I am no expert on this place, but I am about to pose a lot of questions. Pause, and give them some thought.

Muslim:west cover up
Who Me? Oppressed?

A few weeks’ ago, a friend posted this cartoon on Facebook. It so truly captures my world these days and all the things I ponder as I meander through life while rearing my two soon-to-be teenage girls here in the Middle East. It so brilliantly illustrates the perceptions and misperceptions that the West and the Middle East have about one another, or perhaps about themselves/ourselves.

When I first got here in August and it was 115 degrees in the shade, I have to admit, I’d watch women dressed in their full abaya and nijab trying to eat a piece of pizza while clumsily shifting their nijabs so as not to outright consume them, and I wondered why. They cannot want to wear this! That would be impossible. I just couldn’t fathom it. Why didn’t they rise up like women did in the 60s in America when they burned their bras in protest of the patriarchal system which dictated social mores about how we women were supposed to dress, act and comport ourselves? Why didn’t these women burn their abayas? Were they not longing for social change deep under their seemingly hot robes?

It turns out that no, a lot of women here aren’t seething under their traditional garb–it’s rather the opposite. Some are upset about other matters, as we have seen in Saudi Arabia. Many of those ladies want on the roads, and they want to drive now! While Saudi Arabia scrambles to silence those uppity women banning the very act of protest, much of the rest of the Middle East continues on living very much in the 20th century, let’s say (early 20th?!). Some tell me that what they wear is very practical for the climate. I don’t entirely understand this, but I believe it. What the women wear here isn’t very different from the men–just a much darker color.

Here in the UAE, women have many rights. They hold high positions in government. They work. They drive. Some are entrepreneurs, like my friend Latifah–the Camel Cookie lady. While women here are a far cry from equal to their male counterparts, they are moving slowly in the right direction. So far, the vast proportion of local ladies that I have met very much choose the traditional dress over western dress, though they probably could eschew it if they so chose. They don’t. I have been told by one or two that they choose not to draw attention to themselves; a concept inconceivable to the West where grabbing attention by any means whatsoever is spoon fed to all little girls in probably the largest con on women ever called Disney. Yes, I am a Disney-hater. Hate the parks. Hate the movies. Hate the TV shows. Hate. Hate. Hate. (Maybe I don’t “hate” hate Frozen?! Still on the fence about this one. It’s got a couple of strong female leads.)

Anyway, would you be so judgmental about the dress these women choose, if you knew it was truly their choice and not laid out for them every morning by their domineering husbands? Could it be that these women are saying we like our traditional ways and want to keep our culture alive and strong and perhaps not let it become a messy, but free-ish, civilization like many western countries with very questionable social mores? After all, the Middle East is not the first to vehemently reject the western way of life though the west sort of demonizes them for doing so. Remember Ghandi--Most people revere him? Well he too wanted nothing to do with western thought and way of life. I find it so interesting how Ghandi gets a pass here, but anyway. I digress. I always do.

What if we, western women, are not dressing the way we do for ourselves and doing so in the spirit of being liberated as so many of us probably like to think we are doing? Instead, are we not perhaps being manipulated en masse by media, social mores, and culture, et al to dress in the way that we do? Are we not possibly being influenced by the likes of Disney, make up companies and fashion houses to live up to some ideal of how a woman should look? What if we are being coerced into thinking that we really do like to wear shoes that hurt us and mutilate our feet just to make our legs look longer and slimmer? Do we really wear the modern day girdle, Spanx, because we want to? Do we diet, exercise and obsess over our bodies to look good for ourselves or to feel more healthful? Does the average woman spend over $15,000 purchasing and over 474 days in all putting on make up in her lifetime because she is not herself without it? Is this for us, or is it for them? This begs the question what exactly is oppression? Are we, as women, being oppressed if we firmly believe that we are making these fashion decisions of our own accord? If you posit that women in the Middle East or women in the West were being forced to dress a certain way by a male dominated society, then who is indeed being oppressed?

Maybe no woman. Maybe every woman.

I really don’t know. Just a deep thought for the evening from Lizzy.

 

 

 

 

The Anatomy of a Seashell

The Anatomy of a Seashell
X-ray of a Whelk
X-ray of a Whelk

Ferebridae Shells Most of you probably don’t know that one of my favorite past times is collecting seashells. In fact, I take this hobby to new (sometimes pathological) heights. Not only do I collect shells, but I meticulously catalogue them and make thousands of plans for what I might do with them: jewelry, frames, coasters, Christmas ornaments? The choices are endless–no, perhaps since Pinterest came on the scene, the choices are now relentless. My husband fears that I will never do anything with them. I know he thinks I hoard them, but he does also enjoy the satisfaction of the low tide search with me from time to time, so he tolerates my growing collection. I fantasize about a career as a nautical illustrator on the coast of the south of France, but I think this career choice is as impractical as an Art History/Religion degree–wait, I did that?! The drawing to the right is not by me, but it is what I dream of doing someday, maybe when I get older. 

Part of why I love living here in Abu Dhabi so much is that the sea is my frontyard. Suburbia was never very easy for me. Honestly, give me a beach to walk and warmish weather, and I am happy for life.

So, I offer you this set of photos of X-rays of shells that I stumbled on from the Huffington Post. I think they are beautiful. Please have a look, if winter has you down in the dumps. Spring is almost here. The beach is calling you!

Nautilus Shell X-ray. Click on photo or Click on this text.
Nautilus Shell X-ray. Click on photo or Click on this text.

The Kind of Friends You Make Abroad

The Kind of Friends You Make Abroad

 

Cape Town, South Africa 1998
Cape Town, South Africa 1998

I thought I knew a lot about living overseas, and I kind of do. I have lived, studied and/or worked for over a year on three different continents and spent significant time on at least one other continent. Okay, one of those times in Europe was with my husband in London, but we were newlyweds–there was little to concern us other than where to live next.

Fast-forward twelve years.

I thought I knew a lot. I thought, “Sure, I can do this. I can move my family overseas–easy peasy. What’s to consider?” That was me last spring, this is me now.

What I neglected to consider was that, back when I lived abroad, it was just me. I was young. My parents were younger. I never needed much. I did not make a lot of money. I travelled light. My burdens were even lighter. I was carefree and independent.

Cheetah in the car, Dubai
Only in Dubai….

I expatriated with a husband, two daughters, a house full of furniture and memories. We left great friends and pets behind. We sold our souls for the Faustian bargain of travel, not for the fortune for which others may come to the Middle East. We simply wanted a place to work, school our daughters, hang our hats and chill as a family that was much closer to places in the world we wanted to see. We wanted to leap off the hamster wheel and try our luck! We had no grand visions of 7 star everything, BLING!, luxury, Porsches, Cheetahs as pets, household help (though that would be really nice), et al. We had a yen for a travel exit plan.

Square pegs
Square pegs, Square pegs, SQUARE PEGS!

It’s complicated. What isn’t? Relationships are tricky. Why should life, which should and is be dominated by relationships, be any easier? Establishing yourself professionally is hard. I wouldn’t really know. While I apply for every decent-sounding job under the Arabian sun, my husband plods along daily trying to make this square hole of a country fit into his concentrically round, engineer’s vision of both how a country and a workplace should be run. Every day, that day’s damned square peg tries to jam itself into Rob’s perfect circle. I cannot imagine the daily frustration he endures.

While he toils thusly, I sometimes (truly, not often enough) have a mental health morning, such as the other day. Dalia, the consummate hostess, availed far too many lucky new friends with a homemade Sudanese-ish Brunch. To say that this brunch was thoughtful is an understatement. Dalia made and presented delectable food that might, on any given day, cause Martha Stewart to gasp, pause and book a flight outta New England for just a second to sample other world’s cuisines. It was that good!! Thank you, Dalia for this!!

Dalia's Brunch, Sudanese brunch
Dalia’s Beautiful Brunch

My friends here are very different than the ones I had at home. Both sets are wonderful, loyal, unique and giving. In the past ten years, most of the friends I made in the U.S. happened to be the parents of friends of my kids. The friends I have made, so far, here in Abu Dhabi were forged out of some odd sense of urgency. Some are the parents of my kids’ friends. Some are empty nesters. Some are young mothers. Here, you become friends really fast. You learn each other’s life stories: triumphs and struggles in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee. My friends here come from all over the world. We, of course, share a common language, but we do not share a common cultural experience which makes getting to know each other much more exhilarating for a traveller, such as myself. What I have always loved most about travelling was learning each other’s history, both personal and cultural if you can even make that distinction—they are usually entwined just like the roots of a tree.

seahawks, jello-shots, superbowl 2014
A toast to my wonderful friends, back home, that toasted me during the Superbowl with my seriously juvenile weakness–Jell-o shots! I MISS YOU!! Friends. Yes, you too, Jell-o shots!! I just won’t venture into the Pork Fridge for you, Jell-O!

Here, we need to be supportive in a way usually reserved for one’s nuclear family. As expats, most of us have no family whatsoever: nuclear or extended. We must be prepared to be a shoulder to cry on to a complete stranger—soon to be your close friend—at any given moment. I should know. I did this just last week. It’s an amazingly equalizing and humbling experience to share some of your deepest worries and insecurities with a complete stranger. Dually, it’s joyful to share a laugh with a nod and wink about the hysterical aspects of expatriating. We find shared elation in the things that make no sense to us here from our foreign perspectives. We laugh and we laugh, I think, far more than we cry!

In the beginning, we bantered about our prospective time here in Abu Dhabi as though it were a prison sentence. It went a little like this when you met someone new.

Me: “Nice to meet you. How long have you been here. I have been here 6 weeks.

You: “8 weeks. How long are you supposed to be living here in Abu Dhabi?”

Me: “We are supposed to be doing 3-5. We’ll see.”

You: “Me too. 3-5. We’ll see”

Most conversations went a little like that, with an exaggerated “Inshallah” or two. Not there is anything at all wrong with being here in Abu Dhabi. Again, I love it here, but it’s hard for many people to make sense of a new place. The professional life is–let’s just say–nothing like anyone’s home. Many of us with kids feel some natural guilt for uprooting our children out of perfectly comfortable existences elsewhere for our dreams of travel, distance locations, fantastic experiences and I guess I cannot leave out that specter of the mid-life crisis that haunts many of the 40+ set even if they don’t know it yet.  In case you were wondering about the preponderance of the radio stations play 80s and 90s music here, well that’s the sound of mid-life crisis radio, friend.

Now, I am feeling a bit more seasoned to life here in Abu Dhabi. I know my way around. I can speak some key phrases in Arabic–almost convincingly, but everyone still laughs when I speak Arabic. Why?! I can drive in the round-a-bouts like a pro—like a Formula One Driver (Seriously, I fit right in). I know where to buy most of the things that I require to make my home comfortable and meals familiar-ish. I learned how to do all this with the help of friends who were also new and lost here and with the grace of those who had were longer into their “sentences” and who knew the ropes. Thankfully, I have two sets of both here and they help me survive this roller-coaster of an expat life here in Abu Dhabi like a pro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

12th Man in Abu Dhabi?

12th Man in Abu Dhabi?
12th Man on the Burj Khalifa
12th Man on the Burj Khalifa

So, I have to confess that I cannot stand watching football. Most everyone who knows me, knows this. We do kindly get an invitation from some lovely folks (The Baker Family) who invite us every year to their amazing Super Bowl party despite the fact that we don’t understand the game and are some times Vegan in February–don’t ask. We aren’t this year. I don’t know a thing about the game. If the game were not being played in my scandal-ridden home state (New Jersey) and it did not involve the team of my adopted home (Seattle), I would not make a mention of the Superbowl. But, both happen to be true, so I am.

Seattle is home to an amazing fan base for a game that I happen to find rather snore-worthy. While I have no time for the game itself, I have loads of admiration for its fans. Despite years and years of disappointment, Seattlites are really devoted! If it had been me, I would have switched teams years ago. Who doesn’t want to win?! Seattle has this 12th man thing that I have never really understood. In fact, I just had to look it up. To quote wiki:

“The 12th man or 12th player is a term for the fans within a stadium during American football and association football games. As most football leagues allow a maximum of eleven players per team on the playing field at a time, referring to a team’s fans as the 12th man implies that they have a potentially helpful role in the game.”

12th Man Soda, Jones
Jones 12th Man Soda

I have not heard of any other team who has such a passionate 12th man fan base. I’ll give it you, Seattle fans, you are fans like no other (but please remember to consider your source. This comes from someone who admittedly knows nothing about the sport). It is so much fun watching Facebook alight with Blue & Green skittles, Blue and Green Skittle-infused vodka, and some pretty amazing Blue and Green cakes. I am amazed at your creativity and would really like to try one of those jello shots, Anne!! You know all I care about is the food at the party in the same way others care about the halftime ads. Never fear die hard fans! You will not find me hogging precious TV-viewing couch space. You will find me at the table talking about the hors d’oeuvres and just how cheap avocados are every super bowl weekend. Yes, I mention this every year. Inexpensive Hass avocados and Costco samples are the highlights of Super Bowl weekend for me.

Seattle Seahawks-inspired Jello Shots
Seattle Seahawks-inspired Jello Shots, (photo courtesy of a friend’s FB page).

Fun Fact: Apparently, every year we move and leave a place, that city’s team goes to the Superbowl. True story. North Carolina went right after we moved away. Philadelphia went the year we left there. Seattle, you might want to pay us a small thanks for moving. Maybe? Probably not. I guess you might have gotten there on your own, but it couldn’t have hurt that we moved.

This morning, at 3am, there will be a reluctant 12th man in Abu Dhabi. She’ll not be at a Super Bowl party or at a football-starved, American expat bar here in Abu Dhabi, like Stars and Bars. She will be snoozing through this most important of games. But, she is kinda sorta with you in spirit, Seattle. Mostly because I love Washington, and I wish I could teleport myself there for just a few hours to hang out with good friends at a great party.

12th man cake
12th man cake

To conclude, I will share with you a video from my kids’ old elementary school, Centennial Elementary, put together by the very talented Mrs. Jana Gedde to the tune of another very famous Seattlite, Macklemore. Go Seahawks! You deserve it. It’s yours, and it’s gotta be this year because I cannot tell you when we will move from there again. 

 

 

 

 

 

With A Little Help From My Friends

With A Little Help From My Friends

Glass Half Full?
Glass Half Full?

Sometimes when you get so down, you forget the resources that you have knocking on your doors, texting and calling your phone, smiling at you when you need a smile and offering all varieties of assistance that you don’t even know that you need yet. I have been down for a few weeks, and I guess I have forgotten that, while times are momentarily turbulent for us, I have this whole host of wonderful friends who are just at my disposal waiting with a smile for me, a quick inside joke (like Haboub), a Facebook IM, whatever. I am a “glass half full” kind of girl in general, so much so that I usually see life that way, even if it’s half full of stuff you just wouldn’t want to drink or it’s a mirage. It’s not like me to get so down as I have recently. Someone eventually had to snap me out of it.

Wherever I travel and live, I find women who are amazing. We are all so different–I am never entirely sure how we find each other. Some are consummate career women (mostly my college friends). Some task themselves with the hardest job of all–staying home–and come out kinda, sorta unscathed. Some, like me, try to do a little of both albeit not all that well because you cannot; It’s just roundly impossible. Multi-tasking is a myth to fuel the mommy prescription drug industry and/or make us all feel like crap. My point is we may lead different lives, come from different places and have very different hobbies, but we seek each other out and fundamentally need each other to survive.

Le Boulanger, Marina Café. Abu Dhabi
Le Boulanger, Marina Café.

Today, despite feeling meh, I went out for a friend’s belated birthday brunch, which was hand’s down the best decision that I have made in weeks. The evening before, we had trouble choosing a spot collectively, so the “birthday girl” and a friend made an executive decision on a place to eat and another friend and I went along for the ride, not knowing where we were going. I love surprises, so this suited me just fine! I just hoped that this morning, like I hope every day, might involve some camels. They assured me that today involved no camels–Everyone here knows how much I adore them. We darted downtown towards the Corniche, and ended up at a spot very close to the Marina Mall named Le Boulanger. It is a café on the water with a gorgeous view that I have been wanting to try since we first got here. 

Camel Cookies, Abu Dhabi
Camel Cookies!!

We found some comfy sofas and plunked ourselves down. The temperature was in the 70s already, and it felt so nice after a cool, wintery run in the 60s (which is unusually cold for Abu Dhabi). Because life is so very whimsical, camels managed to work their way into our morning. While we glanced at our menus, a young, local woman, named Latifah, approached us and asked if we would try her cookies (made from Camel’s milk) appropriately named “Camel Cookies,” and pose for some photos for her Instagram account. We happily obliged. Who doesn’t want free cookies? Her Camel Cookies were divine. She just started this business, and if you want to try them and support her new business venture, check out her Instagram account here. We ate her yummy cookies, posed for some photos and spoke to her for some time about her business, life here in Abu Dhabi among other things. She was so pleasant to speak to. I can only speak for myself and my own experience, but expats seem to encounter so few locals here that I am grateful for any opportunity to meet and speak to them. Latifah was so outgoing, fun and entrenpenurial. I just felt honored to have been in the right place, at the right time to meet her. Please try her cookies! You won’t be disappointed!!

Camel Cookie
Camel Cookie

We traded contact information with Latifah, said goodbye and resumed the task at hand: brunching. Now culinarily, this place is nothing special, but it does have a lot of unique Arabic dishes on the menu, Shisha (for those who partake) and did I mention the great view? That’s what you come to Le Boulanger for–not so much the food. I can live with that. There is just about every world cuisine you can dream of represented here in Abu Dhabi, but very few options come with this view at such a reasonable price. We all ordered omelets and some manakish to share. You may remember that I am kind of obsessed with the stuff. I blogged about it here some time ago. It was just as good at Le Boulanger as it is at the Khalifa City A Bakery in the Pink Shops, which I highly recommend you visit if you ever find yourself in KCA. Again, most of you will probably never find yourself there, but if you did, eat manakish! We ate, drank, joked around, shared our problems: helped each other to find solutions and helped each other to forget them. You know, the usual stuff you do with your girlfriends wherever you are.

Lunch with my girlfriends at Le Boulanger
Lunch with my Friends.

Which brings me back to the beginning of my post. it is really hard for me to not get diverted in my writing or in any task in all honesty. Any small distraction can turn into my new theme, subject or raison d’être! Don’t think for even a second that camels or manakish were even on my radar six months ago, but oh how they are now, right?! It’s just that easy. After blogging so negatively last week, I feel it’s my duty to express some positivity and dually some gratitude for all the amazing things that I do have here in Abu Dhabi. Sure, some things are not as they were supposed to be, but I have gained some things that I couldn’t have planned for at all. I have forged a group of wonderful friends here from several continents and too many countries to list. Though we are all from different places and backgrounds, we are all facing many of the same challenges here: we are wives, mothers, far from our families, our parents are aging, and our children are fast becoming teenagers (God help us!). We are united in shared experience. There is nothing that helps you bond faster than being new, worried, lost or afraid. People step out of the woodwork to offer their assistance here if they believe you to be in any kind of trouble whatsoever. I can attest to this personally, because this has happened to me this past week. I am so grateful to every one of you that reached out to me in the smallest and largest of ways this past week. Life is full of challenges but if you have a group of girl friends to go share them with, the road is a lot less stressful. I am grateful every day for you all near and far, and you know who you are. Thank you!