September Travels: Dubai

A while back I’d told my husband that I wanted to do a sunshine/beach trip. Most of our travels end up being city breaks and a lot of hiking/exploration. So, I started researching places to go for a week-long trip. At the top of the list was Sardinia. Gorgeous landscape, clear blue water…basically ideal. But as I looked into it more, I realised that we’re the type to get bored and not want to lay by the pool/beach day after day. We’re also massive foodies and I knew that we’d want great food, no matter where we went.

As we discussed Sardinia a bit more, it started feeling like it wasn’t the place for us. Then, out of the blue, I suggested Taiwan. He looked at me and said…”Ok”. Don’t ask me how this came about, because I have no earthly idea. I think I was thinking “food” and we love Chinese / Taiwanese food…so why not go to Taiwan. It then turned into Taiwan + Hong Kong (both countries that our parents grew up in) and instead of 1 week, we made it a 2 week trip. We then booked our flights and the cheapest flights ended up being on Emirates with a layover in Dubai. I’ve always wanted to go to Dubai, but mainly for the sake of curiosity whereas Joe has had no interest. With a layover in Dubai it seemed like the perfect opportunity to spend a couple days there (at no extra cost with the flight) to get it out of my system. I think the convincing factor for him was that we’d spend a day at the Atlantis Resort Water Park – Aquaventure. A bit of background…at the ripe age of 28, I introduced Joe to waterparks. He’d never been (despite living in California) and has loved them ever since. Living in the UK means not very hot summers, so we actually haven’t been since we moved to London.

So what started out as a week-long trip to Sardinia, turned into a Dubai / Taiwan / Hong Kong trip. The Dubai leg has been completed so I thought I’d share some photos from our time there. We are currently still in Taiwan having waited out the typhoon that headed this way.

We stayed in the Jumeirah Beach Residence area, which thankfully was quite accessible by metro / tram. I can’t say the same for all of Dubai though because we tried to take the metro to as many places as possible but because of their locations and the lack of walkability of most areas of Dubai, getting around was a bit of a challenge. We’d been told that taking the taxi everywhere is normal, but we liked the flexibility of not having to queue. The times we used the metro was great. They’re spacious, air conditioned (VERY important) and clean.

The view from our hotel was of part of the Palm and the water.

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We also visited the Dubai Mall and grabbed a snack in their massive food court.

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They had a dunkin’ donuts and Texas Chicken which was pretty much Church’s Chicken (same logo and everything!)

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We then went to the Dubai Aquarium. I LOVE aquariums so this was kind of a no brainer. It’s not huge, but it is interesting. We took our time walking through it and the absolute highlight was getting there in time to see the otters being fed. I am fascinated by otters because they’re really smart (and cute!). At seaworld and the other aquariums I’d been to, I hadn’t ever seen them interact with a trainer as much as we did here. Because of how many pictures I took, it’ll need to be a separate post… 🙂

I think the thing we most looked forward to, was the food. We wondered how their restaurants and buffets compare to places like Vegas. We first went to Asado which is an Argentinian steak house. We ordered their variety meat grill which was huge. Their speciality is slow cooked baby goat. The meat was really good, but we found that some of the steaks were overcooked. The sirloin was perfectly cooked (by our medium-rare standards) but by the time we got to the tenderloin, it was almost at medium-well. We mentioned it to our waiter, and he promptly had another one brought out. Sidenote: the service we experienced in Dubai was AMAZING.

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On the way back to the metro, we walked past Burj Khalifa. It is really pretty at night!

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We also went to Aquaventure, which was really fun. Joe took video of the rides on his gopro here. We’d originally considered staying at the Atlantis hotel, but I’m really glad we didn’t because it would have made getting into different parts of Dubai a lot longer.

The next night we wanted to explore the Madinat Jumeirah area so we asked our hotel for a restaurant recommendation. They suggested and Italian place called Segreto which was a fabulous suggestion. My seafood soup and cannelloni was probably the best I’ve ever had.

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The next day we went to the Bur Dubai area to visit the Textile Souk. I actually didn’t have much luck with fabric here – I ended up only buying 1 piece of fabric. I don’t do well with extreme temperatures and it was really hot. Also, the men from the different souks would call out to us, follow us around trying to get us to come into their store etc. I know this is normal, but with the heat and not having much luck with fabric, it didn’t put me in a very good mood. I don’t know why, but when they bring my ethnicity into it, it really annoys me. Yelling “Ni Hao! Ni Hao!” at me is not going to make me want to talk to you. Or we would get “Konichiwa!” We took a water taxi over to the gold souk and then headed to dinner, which made the whole day much better.

My one fabric purchase.

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On the water taxi

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Dinner was at Yalumba‘s Tuesday night seafood buffet. Note, this is at the La Meridian near the airport, so quite far from where we were staying. We had such a hard time getting there from the airport metro stop, that we ended up taking a 5-minute taxi ride there. Joe found a way to walk back (thankfully) because the taxi driver wasn’t happy he had to get out of the queue to take us less than 1 km. If you’re in Dubai on a Tuesday night, and you love seafood, then you must go to Yalumba. The seafood was SO fresh, and there was a lot of it. They had the cold seafood, as well as hot cooked dishes with fish, crab etc. Joe’s favourite were the small dishes of whole scallops.

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Easter in Geneva

We went to Geneva a few weeks ago for the long Easter weekend. The city itself is quite small, but the lake is gorgeous. It’s actually just what we needed because we didn’t want anything too intense since we really needed a break from the hectic-ness of work and city life. The airport is a free 8 minute train ride from Geneva’s train station. When you get to your hotel, if they don’t give it to you already, ask for the free travel card so that you can use the trams and buses for free.

We got to walk around the Old Town, visit the cathedral that John Calvin used to preach at and we also saw the United Nations. On Sunday we rented a car and drove to Montreux which has a famous Jazz festival. Nearby is Chateau Chillon which is located on the eastern end of Lake Geneva. It’s remarkably well preserved and really neat! It sits on a rock that juts out on the lake. The weather was really cooperative and we really enjoyed our time there and in Montreux.

If we had more time we would have tried a glacier walk or gone up to Chamonix or Mont Blanc, but unfortunately we couldn’t. That’s the great thing about Geneva though, there are a lot of day trip or short trip opportunities from there!

 

Jet d'Eau - Lake Geneva
The famous Jet d’Eau – Lake Geneva

 

The flower clock of Geneva. It really does tell the time accurately
The flower clock of Geneva. It really does tell the time accurately

 

Inside St. Pierre Cathedral
Inside St. Pierre Cathedral

 

John Calvin's chair
John Calvin’s chair

 

These organ tubes look a bit like transformers
These organ tubes look a bit like transformers

 

Panoramic view from the top of the cathedral steps!
Panoramic view from the top of the cathedral steps!

 

The broken chair in front of the United Nations.  It symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and acts as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva.
The broken chair in front of the United Nations. It symbolises opposition to land mines and cluster bombs, and acts as a reminder to politicians and others visiting Geneva.

 

The front of the UN
The front of the UN
Art on the ceiling of one of the rooms in the United Nations by Miquel Barceló. It weighs about 35 tonnes.
Art on the ceiling of one of the rooms in the United Nations by Miquel Barceló. It weighs about 35 tonnes.
Chateau Chillon on a gorgeous day
Chateau Chillon on a gorgeous day

 

Lord Byron carved his name when he visited the Chateau. It was the inspiration for the poem Prisoner of Chillon
Lord Byron carved his name when he visited the Chateau. It was the inspiration for the poem Prisoner of Chillon

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One of my favourite photos from the weekend. It feels serene and like such a great place to relax!
One of my favourite photos from the weekend. It feels serene and like such a great place to relax!

 

Spain: Madrid

Sorry for the delay! I’ve been busy and it’s been hard to update the blog 🙂

The last stop on our Spain trip: MADRID! When we were planning this trip, for some reason, both Joe and I were more excited about Barcelona and Valencia than we were about Madrid. Not because of anything we’d heard, but because the sights and things to see in the other two cities seemed to outshine Madrid. It turns out, that we both enjoyed Madrid the most. There was an energy about Madrid that we liked, even though we didn’t really take in as many sights as we did in the previous two cities.

When we arrived, it was Thursday evening. We checked into our hotel, rested up and decided to go out and find a place for dinner. As we were navigating through the Sol area, we noticed it was absolutely rammed with people. We tried to cut through Plaza Major but it was exactly the same. I had no idea why it was so busy. Then we realised that everyone was waiting for a procession for Holy Week as it was the Thursday before Easter! It was all pretty neat.

While we were in Madrid, we encountered some fairly aggressive pickpocket schemes. I’d heard and read about how much worse pickpockets in Spain were, even more so than Paris and Rome. I have a messenger bag that fully zips and both Joe and I are fairly aware tourists so we don’t usually get targeted. Whilst in Madrid, we were around the royal palace area and these 2 girls came up to Joe and I with clipboards asking us to sign some petition. Most people who come up to you and try to sell you stuff or give you stuff to get money in return just move on when you say no. But these girls followed us as we tried to walk away, and one of them even grabbed Joe’s arm. This made me very suspicious. Joe signed the petition and they asked for ID which he refused. We figured if he took out his wallet, they’d grab it. We started following them and saw the harassing other tourists. I was covertly taking photos of them but Joe went off piste and was super obvious. They noticed us and started following us trying to take our cameras, which we of course refused. They realised we wouldn’t give in so they walked away. We saw a police car as we were leaving the area and showed them the photographs of the kids. Realistically unless the police actually catch them doing anything, they can’t do much. We noticed later though that the “petition” method is a common pickpocketing method. Usually while the person is busy signing the clipboard, someone else is trying to take their wallet or something. Something to watch out for if you’re visiting Spain.

The crowds on the Thursday before Good Friday
The crowds on the Thursday before Good Friday
One of the floats coming down was of Jesus carrying the cross
One of the floats coming down was of Jesus carrying the cross
The bear and the strawberry tree
The bear and the strawberry tree
In front of the palace
In front of the palace
In front of Parque del Retiro
In front of Parque del Retiro
The weather was perfect for our outing
The weather was perfect for our outing

Spain: Valencia

City stop #2 in Spain: Valencia! Like the orange and paella.

There’s a stall at the Portobello Road market that has paella that my husband absolutely LOVES. When we lived closer to the market, he would go just for the paella and bring it back to eat. He does that now, but not as often since we live farther away. Whenever we have guests in town, we bring them there and the people there know us (well him) really well. When we were discussing where to go in Spain, we chose the obvious cities such as Barcelona and Madrid but we had time for a third. It was basically a done deal when he realised that the chicken paella he is so fond of is called “Paella Valenciana”.

Valencia is a good place to go for a couple days. I have to admit, I had a rough time when we first got there. We went the wrong direction when we exited the train station and ended up in a part of town that was hard to navigate. We ended up finding our way to the nearest metro which looked abandoned (probably because it wasn’t in the main part of town). I think it was compounded by the fact that I was extremely tired from waking up super early to catch the train from Barcelona to Valencia. In any case, we made it to our hotel without too much more delay. After grabbing a quick lunch, we headed back to our hotel to take a much needed nap.

The best way to see the city is to just walk around and explore. There is also the area called the City of Arts and Sciences or Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, that has some good sights as well as the largest aquarium in Europe. Turns out, the weekend we were there was the annual training even for Mercedes Benz salespeople. They had hundreds of Mercedes Benz’s parked for them to test drive, including new 2013 models not yet released. It was pretty neat. The weather was really cooperative while we were there so we got some nice sunshine and got to escape the cold London weather.

The central market in Valencia
The central market in Valencia
Inside L'Oceanografic (the aquarium)
Inside L’Oceanografic (the aquarium)
There's a neat tunnel to an inner viewing dome. Notice Joe almost squashing a kid :)
There’s a neat tunnel to an inner viewing dome. Notice Joe almost squashing a kid 🙂
Bird inside a domed wildlife area
Bird inside a domed wildlife area
Cute little penguin :)
Cute little penguin 🙂

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Sharks
Sharks
Inside the tunnel viewing area
Inside the tunnel viewing area
I took this because my mother loves seahorses. They were so little!
I took this because my mother loves seahorses. They were so little!
Outside of L'Umbracle
Outside of L’Umbracle

Before our train to Madrid, we stopped by the bull-fighting museum. It included being able to walk around the bull-fighting ring. I can’t say that I agree with bull-fighting, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.

A stuffed bull. To be honest, it made me quite sad
A stuffed bull. To be honest, it made me quite sad
There were some matadors training while we were in the bull-fighting arena and I got some photos
There were some matadors training while we were in the bull-fighting arena and I got some photos

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Gaudi’s Barcelona

Gaudi. He makes up a lot of the things to see in Barcelona. So many, that it warrants its own post.

We visited 4 Gaudi buildings/locations while in Barcelona. Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, Parc Guell (free) and La Sagrada Familia. The Gaudi stuff is quite pricey so if cost is an issue, research which ones you’d like to see, and pick and choose. Since each place is owned and operated by different people, you can’t get 1 ticket to see everything, or get a discount on multiple tickets.

Casa Batllo:

Casa Mila (La Pedrera) – La Pedrera was originally built as an apartment building with spacious flats

La Sagrada Familia – One of the highlights of Barcelona. This amazing structure is still being built, even though Gaudi died in 1926. The different facades are so different from each other and unique in their own right. The interior is colourful and like no other cathedral I’ve ever been in. The size, intricacy and coolness are definitely worth seeing. The building is rich with symbolism and imagery.

Parc Guell – This park has a lot of Gaudi touches in it. It’s free to roam about and explore.

Edinburgh Panoramas

When it comes to photography, I’m still very much an amateur. Having learned photography in high school using a 35mm film camera and developing them in a darkroom, I was reluctant to take up using Photoshop. I have started using it a little now but it definitely doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does to others (and I’m considered part of the digital generation). One of the things I’ve discovered that I enjoy a lot is taking panoramic photographs. For those of you who follow my blog, you may have seen the photographs I took in Santorini. These days, point and shoot cameras and smart phones have software built in where users can create panoramic photographs. It’s such a great way to capture the beauty of a landscape or vista. The photographs below are individual photos stitched together using a software called Hugin. Here are 2 panoramas taken from Edinburgh castle. The first is from the walkway up to the castle and the second is taken from a higher point in the castle area. Enjoy!

Castle walkway panorama
Castle walkway panorama
The view of Edinburgh from the top of the castle
The view of Edinburgh from the top of the castle

Tower Bridge at Night

During the Olympics in London they hung Olympic rings from Tower Bridge. Here’s a night shot I was able to take one night we were out. The neat part about this photo is that we went to London Bridge to take some photographs and Joe was wearing his Chargers sweatshirt. As we walked up we heard a voice say: “No way! The Chargers?? There are Charger fans out here??” We stopped to talk to them and she told us that she’s Eric Weddle‘s mom and she and the family were there to see her niece compete in the Olympics. Pretty awesome 🙂

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