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As a blogger that lives in the UAE, I get a lot of questions from people who want to visit this country and even questions from those that live here. They usually range from the outlandish, “Do I need to speak Arabic to visit the UAE?” to the more sedate, “What are some fun activities I can do when its hot outside?” And boy is it HOT.

When summertime rolls around in the Middle East, its difficult to remember why I moved to this region. The air is thick with a cloying heat that wraps its hands around your neck and squeezes until you are literally gasping for water. 45 degrees is NO JOKE. Night time is a slight improvement, with the sun not blinding one’s eyes and the temperature dropping to a more manageable 35 degrees (I never knew I would find that temperature ‘manageable’- NEVER). Coupled with the slow pace of Ramdaan, this is a quiet time of year. I decided to use this downtime to explore 2 of Dubai’s attractions so that I could have my answers (and blog post) ready for when people ask me questions about them.

Here is a Panda’s unbiased reviews of 2 well known attractions in Dubai:

Dubai Garden Glow What is it?

Apparently this is the world’s largest glow in the dark garden (Dubai likes to be able to say “The World’s Largest/Tallest” when speaking about their tourist sites) and the structures are made of 10 million energy saving bulbs and yards of recycled luminous fabric. What is it? The Dubai Garden Glow is a set of artistic installations of lights. The aim of the Dubai Garden Glow project is to educate people about the significance of reducing our carbon footprint and preserving the world through using recyclables for the generations to come.

Who should go?

Everyone really. Its not physically taxing, is wheelchair friendly and will be enjoyed by a wide array of people. It makes for a great place for kids to explore, couples to amble along and friends to take pictures of themselves.

But honestly?

Apparently there are some nights where there’s entertainment and activities’ for kids. I wasn’t lucky enough to witness either. So don’t go expecting more than cool installations, a fiesta of colours and celebration of ideas facilitating for an absolutely amazing display of creativity at The Garden Glow.

Lastly,

There is a dinosaur park on site (which you don’t pay extra for) and if you have kids, it’s a cool place to take them so they can see the different dinosaurs and hear the sounds they make.

Panda’s Rating: 4 out of 5 pandas

Dubai Mall Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. What is it?

It’s the world’s second largest aquarium (see what I mean) featuring world’s largest acrylic panel (the glass) which is 75 centimetres thick (30 inches) and it is featured in the Guinness World Record Book (of course it is).

The aquarium itself boasts an Aquarium Tunnel where you can closely watch marine life, for as long as you want. I felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean, surrounded by water and colourful fishes and starfishes.

After visiting the Aquarium Tunnel your visit will continue to the Underwater ZOO, which is on another floor. Here you will see a lot of exotic animals, fishes, birds, turtles, spiders, otters, snails and many more creatures.

We also did a behind the scenes tour learning what they feed each animal as well as a glass bottom boat ride (this was completely pointless as I learnt & saw nothing interesting).

Who should go?

If you have NEVER been to an aquarium before then I suppose this one might blow your socks off. The kids I saw were definitely having a great time however I was slightly underwhelmed.

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There are so many things I like about living in Abu Dhabi.

“Like what?”

For starters, an abundance of excellent food, well constructed infrastructure and the general sensibility of people in charge.

“What do you mean?”

Well, Abu Dhabi is always on the lookout for ways to increase tourists to the emirate. Instead of building something tall, glitzy and death defying, they play on their strengths of heritage, culture and history. So what do they come up with? This magical looking piece of art…

What is it?

This is the Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi.  It is a permanent national tribute to His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the man who brought the emirates together and created the UAE.  The memorial opened earlier this year to mark 100 years since Sheikh Zayed’s birth. When you go you’ll find an incredible portrait of Sheikh Zayed, made up of hundreds of points of light. Called ‘The Constellation’. The Constellation is made up of more than 1300 geometric shapes suspended on more than 1000 cables. At night, these shapes shine like stars, evoking the timelessness of Sheikh Zayed’s vision as a guiding light for the UAE people.

Why should I visit it?

Well to be quite straightforward- its breath-taking and you’d be a fool not visit it! Its also FREE and educational so really, could you ask for more? The landscape of The Founder’s Memorial features plants and shrubbery indigenous to the UAE and the Arabian Peninsula which is known as the Sanctuary Garden. Its the perfect place to sit, reflect and maybe have a chat with friends while the sun goes down. Oh and I shouldn’t forget to mention that complimentary tours from trained guides are available in both Arabic and English.

When should I visit it?

Ideally you would go at a time when you can see the installation during the day for the “Well this is nice!” effect and then also watch it light up at night for the “Bloody hell this is spectacular!” moment. While the sunset view is nothing to write home about (head further down to Emirates Heritage Village for that incredible shot), its still worth a visit during that time especially when the winter is cooler and there are clouds in the sky which makes for pretty photos.

Are there any rules?

-No eating or drinking (but drinking water is allowed)

-Best to avoid PDA

-No dress code so wear whatever you feel like!

-Tripods are allowed

In conclusion,

This is a fabulous place to learn about Sheikh Zayed and the history of the UAE through art, landscape, words, stories and multimedia experiences. But more than that its a site worth visiting because it has a peaceful ambience and showcases an incredible piece of art. I personally, am loving this new addition to the city’s skyline!

Details:
  • The Founder’s Memorial is free to the public and open daily from 9.00am to 10.00pm.
  • Free visitor parking is available at the site and is accessible from 18th street.
  • On foot, the site can also be accessed from the Corniche.

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For those of you who don’t know- I have been competing in a local competition. Let me explain.

As a relatively new UAE resident, I have been participating in an ongoing (semi-serious) competition which would determine which was the best city- Abu Dhabi or Dubai?

Even though the criteria was not very well-defined, I was SO confident that my city- Abu Dhabi- would win. My itinerary was the perfect blend of culture, entertainment and beautiful views. It showcased life in Abu Dhabi perfectly and encapsulated the ambience of the city. Check out last month’s shenanigans here. I was cocky- How could I not win?

Then I had my weekend in Dubai. And I realised- in the surreal way you realise that you’ve just been in a car crash or are experiencing an earthquake- that I may have lost. And perhaps not a graceful defeat either- I may have been CRUSHED.

But to be honest, I am not sure… which is why I need your help to decide upon a winner. With that being said, lets review exactly why my ego has been so bruised; I mean, what is there to do & see in Dubai that hasn’t been done to death? What could possibly show off the emirate in a new and unique way that would change my preconceived notions? Time to find out…

I got this note the night before the weekend (instead of some useful packing information):

And then this itinerary on the morning of (too late to change what I had already packed):

Day 1 Stop 1: Dinner at the Mezza House (followed by a walk through Souk Al Bahar)

My itinerary started on a Thursday night and already I could feel like I was losing (My Abu Dhabi itinerary only began on a Friday afternoon). What could I possibly do on a Thursday evening in Dubai that didn’t involve a brunch or a bar?

Something very simple I was about to find out.

Despite a lengthy walk to locate this restaurant, Mezza House was the perfect blend of contemporary Arabian and Levantine food with generous portions, turquoise blue walls, Arabesque decor and pleasant greenery. The food consisted of a mix of the best of traditional dishes from Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan all the while being accompanied by live music from a rather talented Arabic singer. (My major excitement came from finding out that they served koosa bil laban– mince stuffed zucchinis in yoghurt sauce which is my FAVOURITE Syrian dish).

After a sumptuous dinner, we walked out of the restaurant and as we walked to the parking, we were confronted with this view.

This is it, I thought, here we go with the glitzy skyscrapers. But I was wrong. As the fountain started up its hourly show to the soundtrack of a James Bond theme song, hundreds of people crowded around to watch except me. As the crowd parted to move toward the dancing water, I was swiftly being led far away from the madness towards the Dubai Opera House where there was a noticeable lack of people, an abundance of grass and beautiful art installations such as these dandelions.

The massive Dubai Mall lay in front of me with swarming crowds of diners, shoppers and general chaos; Burj Khalifa to my left and the canal just at my feet but where I stood in silence, I felt a millions miles away from Dubai.

Suddenly the curtain began to slip in my mind- YOU MIGHT LOSE, my mind told me. I gritted my teeth and ignored myself.

Details:

Tel: +971 50 945 5597

Opening times: 9am to 2am everyday

Panda rating scale: 3 out of 5 pandas

Day 2 Stop 1: Breakfast at Arabian Tea House in Al Bastakiya

“Why are we driving 30 minutes just to get breakfast? I asked.

“Because this place has the best karak tea in the UAE”, was the answer I received.

As I woke myself up grumpily, I hoped this was the best tea in the WORLD for the hour I was waking up at.

After a 30 minute drive, I realised that it was not only the best tea I may have ever had, but it was quite possibly the best Arabic breakfast I had enjoyed since moving to the Middle East!

Behind a boring and unassuming wall is a charming garden cafe with a shady tree, flower pots, white basket chairs, draped sheer curtains and blue painted wooden benches with crisp white pillow covers.

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With India being less than a 4 hour flight away from the UAE, it really should be one of the more popular destinations for people who want a quick getaway and change of scenery from the Middle East. Yet somehow… it isn’t.

I recently spent a few days of leisure in India and upon my return, people seemed shocked that I had gone; enjoyed it and furthermore, not returned utterly sick. This got me thinking about how people perceive traveling to India. They are mostly-

-Off to find themselves/align their chakras in some yoga retreat at the foot of the Himalayas/by bathing in the Ganges (always white people)

-Off to buy copious amounts of blindingly yellow jewelry or an excessive amount of elaborate outfits for an opulent wedding (always brown people)

But did you know that you could go to India for the same reasons you travel to other places?! For relaxation, sightseeing and to enjoy culture & food?

Yes it’s true!

So this post will address some misconceptions people have about traveling to India and why I think they are pretty unfounded.

1. You need A LOT of time if you want to visit India

Obviously the longer you spend in a country, the more time you have to explore the places and the more relaxed you will feel. But India doesn’t have to be a 2 month long trip- I popped over for a weekend with some friends and enjoyed myself thoroughly! In that time we saw:

– The Taj Mahal

-Amber Fort

-The Wind Palace

As well as enjoyed some shopping and general leisurely time. We could’ve squeezed in more sightseeing but it was our choice to take it slow. I would’ve loved to spend more time of course, but I didn’t have the luxury of doing so. With that being said, I should also mention that roads in India are not ideal, public transportation isn’t always reliable and you can’t control traffic or cows on the road- therefore you may not see as many things as you would like to see which means you have to be a flexible traveler.

2. India is dirty and smells bad

If I had a dirham for every time I heard this I would literally be able to buy another Audi in cash. Every country has areas which are not so great and areas which are beautiful. India is no exception. When we landed in Delhi, my friend Krystel remarked on how clean the city was. But when we got to Japiur, she was shocked by the contrast between the cities as Jaipur had a lot of trash strewn across the sides of the road. Look -you could probably go to India and not see a single slum area if you plan your trip to precision. But seeing all aspects and sides of a country is part of the experience I think.

And as for smelling bad? India smells of curry and incense. Yes please! Beijing (China) and Antanarivo (Madagascar) have much stronger (and more unpleasant) smells in my opinion.

3. I’m black/white/Asian and I don’t want to be stared at.

If you don’t want to be stared at, don’t travel anywhere in Eastern Asia.

Sorry to be blunt but that’s the truth.

Don’t go to China, South Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia… you get the picture right?

In countries where the population is homogenous and there is a lack of diversity, its intriguing to the locals to see people they don’t normally see. I learnt this the hard way after living in Korea for 2 years “(Excuse me, can I touch your hair? It look like noodles”). It’s rare that people are staring at you because they think you are ugly/want to attack you. They are merely curious.

On the other hand, I am as local as can get when I go to India. See for yourself:

If you didn’t know any better, you would think I grew up in India instead of on the southernmost country in Africa.

And YET I GET STARED AT TOO.

I know staring isn’t considered polite in Western society but it’s normal in other cultures. If you can’t accept that, then stay at home.

4. I have heard it’s crazy and I think I will just be overwhelmed. How will I get around? Do the people speak English?

Yes India is crazy. Yes you might be overwhelmed. But what is more important is that you need to realize you will be fine. Why you ask?

Well for a few reasons:

The people will help you.

90% of people in India are warm, friendly and helpful. They will give a left kidney to ensure that you are enjoying you time in their country. If you ask for help, you will receive it.

The country is so bilingual that it’s astonishing.

When traveling around India, you will notice that most people in urban areas speak English. And not just to tourists; they speak English to each other too. Ads on TV are comfortably spoken in English and Hindi. Signs are in English as are menus. To be honest, India is even more bilingual than South Africa and that impresses me. You might have to wade through a thick accent and some head bobbing but I am pretty sure you will get the help you need!

And as for how will you get around?

Well, using the English you now realize is widely spoken in India, you can easily buy train tickets, take auto-rickshaws, hire a driver and generally exist. I personally advise people to hire a driver (it’s a really reasonably priced option) so you have some freedom, comfort and flexibility in your trip.

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With India being less than a 4 hour flight away from the UAE, it really should be one of the more popular destinations for people who want a quick getaway and change of scenery from the Middle East. Yet somehow… it isn’t.

I recently spent a few days of leisure in India and upon my return, people seemed shocked that I had gone; enjoyed it and furthermore, not comeback utterly sick. This got me thinking about how people perceive traveling to India. They are mostly-

-Off to find themselves/align their chakras in some yoga retreat at the foot of the Himalayas/by bathing in the Ganges (always white people)

-Off to buy copious amounts of blindingly yellow jewelry or an excessive amount of elaborate outfits for an opulent wedding (always brown people)

But did you know that you could go to India for the same reasons you travel to other places?! For relaxation, sightseeing and to enjoy culture & food?

Yes it’s true!

So this post will address some misconceptions people have about traveling to India and why I think they are pretty unfounded.

1. You need A LOT of time if you want to visit India

Obviously the longer you spend in a country, the more time you have to explore the places and the more relaxed you will feel. But India doesn’t have to be a 2 month long trip- I popped over for a weekend with some friends and enjoyed myself thoroughly! In that time we saw:

– The Taj Mahal

-Amber Fort

-The Wind Palace

As well as enjoyed some shopping and general leisurely time. We could’ve squeezed in more sightseeing but it was our choice to take it slow. I would’ve loved to spend more time of course, but I didn’t have the luxury of doing so. With that being said, I should also mention that roads in India are not ideal, public transportation isn’t always reliable and you can’t control traffic or cows on the road- therefore you may not see as many things as you would like to see which means you have to be a flexible traveler.

2. India is dirty and smells bad

If I had a dirham for every time I heard this I would literally be able to buy another Audi in cash. Every country has areas which are not so great and areas which are beautiful. India is no exception. When we landed in Delhi, my friend Krystel remarked on how clean the city was. But when we got to Japiur, she was shocked by the contrast between the cities as Jaipur had a lot of trash strewn across the sides of the road. Look -you could probably go to India and not see a single slum area if you plan your trip to precision. But seeing all aspects and sides of a country is part of the experience I think.

And as for smelling bad? India smells of curry and incense. Yes please! Beijing (China) and Antanarivo (Madagascar) have much stronger (and more unpleasant) smells in my opinion.

3. I’m black/white/Asian and I don’t want to be stared at.

If you don’t want to be stared at, don’t travel anywhere in Eastern Asia.

Sorry to be blunt but that’s the truth.

Don’t go to China, South Korea, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia… you get the picture right?

In countries where the population is homogenous and there is a lack of diversity, its intriguing to the locals to see people they don’t normally see. I learnt this the hard way after living in Korea for 2 years “(Excuse me, can I touch your hair? It look like noodles”). It’s rare that people are staring at you because they think you are ugly/want to attack you. They are merely curious.

On the other hand, I am as local as can get when I go to India. See for yourself:

If you didn’t know any better, you would think I grew up in India instead of on the southernmost country in Africa.

And YET I GET STARED AT TOO.

I know staring isn’t considered polite in Western society but it’s normal in other cultures. If you can’t accept that, then stay at home.

4. I have heard it’s crazy and I think I will just be overwhelmed. How will I get around? Do the people speak English?

Yes India is crazy. Yes you might be overwhelmed. But what is more important is that you need to realize you will be fine. Why you ask?

Well for a few reasons:

The people will help you.

90% of people in India are warm, friendly and helpful. They will give a left kidney to ensure that you are enjoying you time in their country. If you ask for help, you will receive it.

The country is so bilingual that it’s astonishing.

When traveling around India, you will notice that most people in urban areas speak English. And not just to tourists; they speak English to each other too. Ads on TV are comfortably spoken in English and Hindi. Signs are in English as are menus. To be honest, India is even more bilingual than South Africa and that impresses me. You might have to wade through a thick accent and some head bobbing but I am pretty sure you will get the help you need!

And as for how will you get around?

Well, using the English you now realize is widely spoken in India, you can easily buy train tickets, take auto-rickshaws, hire a driver and generally exist. I personally advise people to hire a driver (it’s a really reasonably priced option) so you have some freedom, comfort and flexibility in your trip.

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So many people I speak to are apprehensive about traveling through Africa. When people heard that I had traveled to Kenya (and made it back alive), I was inundated with questions. I get it; Africa seems like a scary continent of tribes, predators and civil unrest. But for me, traveling to Africa always gives me a feeling of coming home; a return to the familar and a peace with the craziness of it all.

What do you know about Kenya? Lets start with a PPG (Panda’s progressive Geography) lesson to kick off this blog post.

Kenya is located in East Africa, just along the equator. Ethiopia and Somalia lie to the north; Tanzania is in the south. Great Britain ruled Kenya until 1963. After Kenya gained independence, the country enjoyed many years of prosperity under the direction of President Kenyatta. After he died, Kenya struggled to stay united, however, recently, the country has become more peaceful and stable. The capital city of Kenya is Nairobi and Kenya has a myriad of diverse landscapes ranging from miles of coastal plains, highlands and even mountains. People in Kenya speak English, Swahili, and other tribal languages. Oh and the Kenyan Shilling is the most widely accepted currency.

So now you know a bit more about Kenya and where it is. Yet you still have a vast majority of questions that you want to fire at me so let the games begin!

-What was your plan of action in Kenya? In fact, do you need to have one at all?

Africa is not Europe. There is no metro to whisk you off to see the local sites, no easily navigatable road signage and wi-fi is as unpredictable as Beyonce’s hair. My advice is not only go with a plan- but if its your first time traveling to Africa/Kenya- go with a well thought out plan. I am not usually a structured traveler, preferring to just wing it when I get to a destination but I highly discourage this when traveling in Africa in order to avoid getting fleeced (I will come back to this later on) or overwhelmed with the crazy logistics of organising things.

Exapt Lion and I did a lot of research when planning our Kenya trip and looked at a ton of options. We knew we wanted to go on safari (her) and laze around near the ocean (me). So we tried to make our wishes work. We decided that we go on three days of safari and at the end of the safari, our transportation would drop us off at our pre-booked resort on along the east coast for 4 nights. Choosing a safari company seemed like an insurmountable challenge with the amont of operators to choose from, but we stuck to our plan of going from Nairobi to Mombabsa. Every single internet article recommnded visiting Masai Mara Park and every safari I found offered this as the first stop but I rejected the idea as it wasn’t along our route. I was starting to worry about my chosen plan when Expat Lion stumbled across Siku Njema Tours offering exactly what we wanted.

After some liasion with Benson, our safari guide, we were given a choice of national parks, a selection of accomodations to choose from as well as a detailed packing list. Plan One was in place.

Is it worth going on safari in Kenya? Do you see many animals?

Not that I am promoting myself as some sort of safari aficionado (I am NOT) but growing up in South Africa meant that I have been on more game drives in the first 25 years of my life than most people would ever see in a lifetime. Yet STILL I must admit that the safari experience in Kenya rocked my world. I surmise that this was because of our choice of locations…

Amboseli National Park

I had to really dig deep to find information about this park. Although famous in Kenya, most information online did not point me in the direction of this park but once I stumbled upon its existence, I knew I had to visit it. Why you ask? Well this is why-

Framed by the majestic Kilimanjaro,with an abundance of wildlife, this park was a photogrpaher’s dream. Expat Lion was jumping out of her seat uncontrollably because of spotting so many animals. Lets take a look shall we?

People advised me that I wouldn’t see many animals unless we went on early morning game drives. FALSE. This picture was snapped at 4pm in the afternoon:

And this one at 9am:

The elephants were living velvet with eyes of innocence, a spirit inside an animal so noble. As they moved I fell in love, smitten with their species, an embodiment of relaxed grace as their feet met the grassland. The babies’ ears waggled and shivered when the breeze caught them. I could have watched them all day and still I see them in my daydreams.

Animals aren’t bound by timings and since we did two 3 hour game drives in Amboseli, we were spoilt for choice with breathtaking views. Look at this stunning viewpoint of Kilimanjaro (not a strenuous walk at all) and this gorgeous sunset.

Seeing giraffes in the wild is always my favourite; I couldn’t get over how large their eyes were, like pools of chestnut gloss. When they stuck out their tongues to take in some leaves I couldn’t help but smile. On the TV they are elegant, enchanting, but in real life they were simply bewitching. Their splotched fur lay perfect over the lean muscle below and if anything their legs were even longer than I’d been expecting. After a time I pulled out my camera and began to take pictures, none of them would do them justice, I knew that – but at least I could try.

Taita Hills

Amboseli was incredible but we decided to move to a smaller game reseve for our next round of safaris. My reasoning was that a smaller area offered us more opportunties to see the Big 5. And I was not disappointed at all. Just look at Expat Lion’s African cousins:

In the dappled shade of the only tree lay the lion, his face framed by his gold and brown mane. He had all the equipment necessary to rip the traveller apart but none of the intention. In the early summer daylight he was simply golden, the sleek fur laid over his elegant frame and lean muscle. His nose was..

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A while back I wrote a post about exploring a city while on a layover.

The city I wrote about was Paris and I spoke at length about the efficient public transportation system and the ease of navigating through the city. In short, Paris- like most developed cities in first world countries- make for ideal destinations to explore while on a long layover.

But what happens when the city you want to explore is in a less developed country that seems a lot more intimidating? Do you stay in the airport and look longingly out the window? Or do you find a way to make it work?

You know my answer to this question… if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here!

Many moons ago- when I was a young panda cub in school- in our Social Studies classes, one part of the textbook was devoted to those ancient Egyptians whose technology was far and above anything the rest of the world could conceive, let alone execute. Of course I wanted to learn how to read hieroglyphics, climb down into the tombs of the kings, and imagine what life would have been like hanging out with Cleopatra. I’m pretty sure the Kardashians had nothing on her! I was fascinated; actually I was mildly obsessed and read every book I could about Egypt that I could find- I think I was a nerd. And this was back when being nerdy was still considered uncool long before Big Bang Theory and before the damn hipsters got hold of the culture! So when the opportunity presented itself, I booked a flight to the land of the Pharaohs, artefacts, and the majestic Nile River.

On our way to Kenya, Expat Lion and I found a flight which gave us a chance to visit Cairo for 14 hours. Most people advised against navigating this crazy city in just a day but with the help of a few friends, we managed to make it work. Here’s how we did it:

Step 1: Pick your spot/s

In any city, there are are certain must sees; and when you’re exploring on a layover you need to pick which one you well… MUST SEE. Its not always possible to cram in 4-5 attractions in one day especially not in a developing country.

Obviously, being our first time in Egypt, we wanted (desperately) to see the pyramids so we focused our layover time on achieving this goal. Luckily for me, through my friend The Wanderlusting Hijabi, I connected with Sherif from Puzzle Egypt (it was a friend of a friend situation) and so I had an awesome local tour guide to show us around Cairo. (But seriously though, are you following these two on their social media platforms? You should be).

We started our day at 8am and I have to say that Cairo seemed to have a certain hue to it at this time of the morning as the glow of the newly risen sun cast a dusty haze over the city, and I warmed to the affable chattering of our hosts as I waited to catch my first glimpse of the structures I had waited my whole life to see. The Pyramids of Giza. The symbol of Egypt and the subject of awe and study for thousands of years. No amount of desensitisation caused by years of exposure to the image could prepare me for that first glimpse of the pyramids themselves, or diminish the sense of wonder I felt as I saw flashes of those magnificent structures through the topography of Cairo.

Sherif and his friend Jimmy explained to us that since we landed on a Friday morning, we would be lucky enough to have no traffic on our route so what would normally take 2 hours, would only take us 45 minutes. Factor these things in when you’re planning your route… getting to your destination might not be the easiest thing in a city full of people, cows and chaotic traffic. Oh yes Cairo is CRAZY… I mean I knew Cairo was a big, bustling city. But what I didn’t really realize before I got there was that the city of 9.5 million is essentially chaos incarnate.

Traffic is INSANE. No one uses the painted lanes on the roads. Horns are constantly honking. People jump in and out of old VW buses in the middle of the road. And that road is being shared by everything from cars to buses to donkey carts. Enjoy the experience; after all, you didn’t travel to experience the same things you do where you live!

Step 2: Soak it up, take it in and enjoy!

After a few wrong turns, and the craziest driving I have ever seen, we finally reached our destination. When we reached the pyramids, I was EXCITED. I had watched Prince of Egypt a million times while I was growing up and I planned to be the Princess of Egypt now that I was finally there. And why not? I made it to a place I had only believed I would see through a screen.

It was an exhilarating & surreal feeling.

As I stood face to face with the Pyramids. I gazed up at the giant stone blocks, feeling very small. I heard camels and horses all around me; scarves and pyramid statues were waved in my face by market vendors; the sun beat down on my face and arms as I vainly tried to retreat and seek some shade. There was not a single hint of breeze in the desert landscape. But I could forget the heat and the touts as I took in the scale of the Pyramids and the Sphinx standing tall in the golden sand and wonder how the Egyptians built them so many thousands of years ago.

The Pyramids are located in the Libyan Desert in the town of Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. The first pyramid you come to is the Great Pyramid or the Pyramid of Khufu. Behind it is the Pyramid of Khafre which still has its original limestone covering at its peak. The third pyramid is Menkaure.

It’s not just the size and mind-blowing engineering feat of the pyramids, but every tomb and column is carved and decorated with hieroglyphs. First you marvel at sheer size of the columns and rooms carved in rock, and then your eyes start to focus on the detail; beautifully carved figures and symbols, all the birds instantly recognisable as ibis, owls or falcons. It’s a fascinating exercise, looking at hieroglyphics… A zig-zag for water, a triangle for giving, the lotus flower for rebirth and regeneration, and of course the raised disc for the great sun god Ra.

You can get a good photo of all three of the pyramids from the panorama point next to the Camel Station. And I didn’t know that you can also go inside the pyramids to take a look. The Pyramid of Khufu is where Lion and I entered… It’s a steep descent and is SERIOUSLY not for anyone with claustrophobia.

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For those of you who don’t know- I am competing in a local competition. Let me explain.

The pleasure — or misfortune — of living in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai as an expat is the topic of many friendly debates, articles, blog posts, and dinner conversations. More often than not it’s a contentious battle: mangroves vs. metro, Emirates Palace vs. Burj Al Arab, flowy abayas vs. tiny shorts, locals vs. tourists…the list goes on and on and the comparisons are endless.

And while the aforementioned criteria do have their place in determining which city ranks superior, the comparison deserves to be much deeper than the superfluous availability of milk cake, or the abundance of dancing fountains…

So when I got tired of local Dubai residents- who happen to be people I know for many years from South Africa- constantly talking about how much better Dubai is, I decided to invite them over to my Emirate for a weekend in the capital so they could see what life here is like.

The challenge: One weekend to showcase the best of what we have to offer in our respective cities.

Abu Dhabi was up first so Expat Lion and I worked to create a 1.5 day itinerary comprising of our favourite places that would give our guests the real-feel of Abu Dhabi.

Day 1 Stop 1: The Arthouse Café

Among the dazzling array of galleries, museums and cultural attractions that line the UAE capital lies an eye-catching café where you’re sure to feel right “art” home. The Art House Café is a cultural destination all of its own, with striking artwork adorning the walls and colourful furnishings made out of recycled items, including bird cages, old kettles, tin basins, barrels and much more. Art- from local and international artists is everywhere– on the walls, on the tables and in the form of the unique furniture and fittings which makes sense because the café is attached to one of the city’s cultural hubs, Etihad Modern Art Gallery.

Start your tour here for some delicious food, beautiful backdrops and a homely feeling.

Details:

Tel: +971 2 621 01 45

Opening times: Sunday to Thursday: 10.30am to 11.30pm
Friday: 1pm to midnight

Highly recommended are the karak chai, strawberry pina colada and dynamite shrimp!

Pug rating scale: 4 out of 5 pugs

Stop 2: Eastern Mangroves National Park

So for those of you who are not frequent readers of my blog- and therefore are living under a rock- you might not know that Abu Dhabi is home to thousands of acres of mangroves on its beautiful coastline. The best way to explore these mangroves are kayaking which is why I bundled my guests into kayaks and off we went! You start out in the open sea, before moving into the channels of the mangroves if you like. If you really love nature, you will be pleased as you get to see  an abundance of nature including herons, egrets and black crabs – skirting along the shoreline.

The kayaking is very serene as you drift through the mangroves, taking in the sights and sounds of the ecosystem. I always take a break on a sandy strip of land within the mangroves to disembark from the kayak for a swim or to take photos on the dock. On your return journey you will feel like you have had a good workout, but it is well worth it to see an alternative side to Abu Dhabi.

Details:

What do you need? Access to a kayak, paddle and a life jacket. Take along sunscreen, a hat & sunglasses.

What to wear? Prepare to get bit wet so dress accordingly, you can wear some comfortable clothes or swim wear.

Where? I always book my rental kayak from Charif from 

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You’re reading the title and wondering, “There is a difference between the two? What is she on about now?” But let me explain… Last month I didn’t do a lot of blogging and this was because of two main reasons:

  • School was crazy and I was mentally exhausted
  • I was fortunate enough to go on two holidays

Although I have been on many holidays throughout my life (starting with stays along the South African coast during school holidays with my parents- I don’t know how this was relaxing for my parents who had to pack for 4 children including one set of triplets then pile us in a Chrysler Voyager and listen to us bickering for hours on end), the difference between traveling and going on holiday only dawned on me last month (a late bloomer as usual).

So in early February I went on a road trip to Oman and in late February I kept it local by heading across the Emirate of Abu Dhabi to Al Ain- The Garden City. If you’ve stumbled across this post looking for two weekend getaway destinations then I will definitely provide you with all of the details you need to know! But the main question being asked here is: What makes one trip a holiday and one trip a “travel experience”?

Here are the main 3 differences between going on holiday and traveling from this intrepid- but sometimes- tired panda:

  1. You don’t feel tired after a holiday

The main reason I discovered the difference between traveling and going on a holiday was because I returned from Oman feeling relaxed! I couldn’t remember the last time I returned from a trip and didn’t feel like I needed to hibernate for three days! Instead I was refreshed and ready to go to work the next day (well kinda- teachers know the struggle). I thought back to a month long trip I took to India in 2012. Even though I was gone for an entire month, I still returned exhausted because each day was spent trying do as much as possible, travel the vast distances between cities, making my money last for the duration of my trip and doing the things necessary to ensure that happened- bargaining like crazy/ walking as much as possible etc. But when I returned from Oman- despite a 5 hour drive- I felt like I was floating on clouds. It was an amazing feeling. Who can fail to relax when these are your views in Oman?!

2. Where you stay can determine the type of trip you have

I remember being in my early twenties, sharing a hostel room in Singapore with seven other girls… there was NOTHING relaxing about that trust me. But when you travel, you only need a clean & safe place to sleep, leave your stuff and shower. If it’s close to public transportation that can take you where you want to go, then that’s a definite bonus! And off you go, exploring, trekking and immersing yourself in the trip in ways that leave you feeling tired but fulfilled. But recently, with the need for relaxation comes a need to spoil myself. I feel that I am working hard and thus, want to reward myself and supplement my holiday with a luxurious resort. And so I do. I was fortunate enough to stay at the highest resort in the Middle East when I went to Oman- Anantara Jabal Al Akhdar– and for the first time in my life I understood why some people insist on staying in 5 star places… its a different world! From the feel of the sheets to the view from my room, I thought I had died and become a celebrity.

Telal Resort in Al Ain was unexpectedly swanky too. The bathroom was the size of my bedroom in my apartment and again- the VIEWS!

The truth is pretty simple- if you spend a lot of money on your accommodation, you will want to spend as much time there as possible. Truthfully, the more you spend the more facilities your resort should have anyway. Like the archery and horse/camel riding on offer at Telal Resort:

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