Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cruising the Dubai Creek… in an Abra

I know I ended my last post saying that an Abra trip down the Dubai Creek can be a bit ‘smelly’ and that you should go prepared with perfumes and scents to help minimize the odor, but I really hope this does not discourage you… An Abra cruise down the creek is really an amazing experience and you should not miss out on it!
If you are ever in Dubai, do take make some time to step into this nice little traditional wooden boat that, for very long, was the main mode of transport for the local population.
Before, when there were no bridges or motorized vehicles around, the Abra was used by people who needed to go from one side of Dubai to another.
Nowadays, it is mostly enjoyed by people who live and work in the area, as well as tourists who take the Abra to go from the gold and spice souk to the textile souk on the other side.
A ride in the public Abra, which works as a water taxi, will cost you AED 1 (US 0.30) each way. There are several Abra stations along the creek, the main ones located near the souks in Deira and Bur Dubai.
Another option is to hire an Abra for private cruising around the creek. For this you should be prepared to pay anywhere between AED 50 and AED 70 (US 13 and US 19) an hour, depending on the boat, season and your negotiation skills!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wise tips for first time visitors to the UAE

During the four and a half years I’ve been in Abu Dhabi, I’ve had the pleasure of welcoming several friends and family members and showing them around the country that has welcomed me with open arms.
Most of the time, I am a great hostess (I hope?!), getting the house ready, planning all kinds of trips and sending my guests lots of information in advance so they can come prepared.
Recently though, I’ve noticed that, somehow, I have allowed my dear and beloved guests to make some classic rookie mistakes around here… Sorry guys! My bad! I should have warned you!
But now there are no more excuses! Although I can’t really redeem myself with the people who have already come by, I did make some notes to alleviate the impact of some experiences on future first time visitors…
Coming to Abu Dhabi? Remember the very important DON’Ts below!

…eat heavy and greasy food (a giant whopper from Burger King, for example) before your Desert Safari experience or else you will be ‘revisiting your lunch’ once the driver starts making the trip up and down those dunes!
…go for henna tattoos on your hands, arms or other exposed parts of your body if you have to attend a formal event or an important meeting. Henna tattoos may take a few days to disappear, even if you try to get rid of them by scrubbing your skin off!
…forget to call fancy hotels like Emirates Palace and Yas before stopping by during peak season – they might only let you in if you have a room or restaurant reservation!
…fail to remember that you are in a Muslim country and that you won’t be able to get a cold beer or glass of wine just about anytime, anywhere. If you do order this out of place, like in a mall for example, you may have to endure a weird look or speech from the waiter!
…get too close, kiss or hug for pictures inside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque or you might be reprimanded by security and even have your camera confiscated!
…enter the Dubai souk with your favorite designer handbag or you will attract a line of tireless and persistent men harassing you to buy fake copies of bags, watches and many other items!
…overlook the importance of having a bottle of perfume or some kind of nice scent always at hand, especially when you decide to take a trip down the Dubai Creek in one of those nice little Abras (traditional boats made of wood) – great for the eye, bad for the nose!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The most expensive handbag in the world

Image from Gulf News

The most expensive handbag in the world can be found at Mouawad boutique, located at The Dubai Mall.
Made entirely of 18k gold and adorned by 4,517 diamonds, the heart-shaped handbag was carefully crafted during 8,800 hours by a team of specialized artisans.
The price? AED 13.9 million (US 3.8 million).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Burj Khalifa – an amazing feat of engineering

A couple of days ago I went back to Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, located in Dubai, with a couple of friends visiting from Brazil. Interesting how every single time I go up there I leave in complete awe.
It’s not just the size or the height or the details of this unbelievable construction that seem to amaze me. It’s everything. Especially the truly wonderful understanding you get of how much mankind can achieve when there is enough creativity, vision, will, determination, cooperation and, well, money of course.

Here are a few impressive numbers for you:
  • 828 meters high
‘Only’ 447 more than the Empire State Building.
  • 200+ stories
With an observation deck on level 124, a hotel, a fitness club, residences, restaurants, offices…
  • 57 elevators
Which climb 10 meters per second!
  • 6 years
From beginning of excavation work to launch in January 2010.
  • 12,000 workers
From over 100 nationalities on site every single day during construction peak.

What does all of this get you? A total of seven world records:
  • Tallest building in the world
  • Tallest free-standing structure in the world
  • Highest number of stories in the world
  • Highest occupied floor in the world
  • Highest outdoor observation deck
  • Elevator with the longest travel distance
  • Tallest service elevator in the world

If you are ever around, do plan a visit to Burj Khalifa. The observation deck is open Sunday through Wednesday from 10am to 10pm and Thursday through Saturday from 10am to midnight.

But remember to buy your tickets online and in advance. Dated and timed, they will cost you AED 100 (US 28) – four times less than an immediate entry admission. For more info:


 Incredible views from the observation deck:

Just for fun... a Burj Khalifa in Rio de Janeiro.
Like the idea?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Great food just a phone call away

After such a busy weekend here in Abu Dhabi, filled with F1 related activities, all most of us want right now is to enjoy the peace and quiet of our home sweet home.

If you are too tired to even consider getting up from that couch and into the kitchen to cook a simple meal, I’ve got good news: you don’t have to!
Most people don’t know this, but Room Service Deliveries ( will bring delicious food from 17 great Abu Dhabi restaurants, including Prego’s, Royal Orchid, Cho Gao, Finz, Indigo, Benihana, Spaccanapoli, Rodeo Grill, and Mawal, right to your door.
If you don’t have a menu at hand, just go online, register and place your order. You may schedule a specific time or request immediate delivery (which will take approximately one hour). They accept major credit cards or cash on delivery – whatever works best for you!
Cool, right? The only bad thing is you will eventually have to get out of that comfy couch to open the door and receive your food!
Bon appétit!

Note: Room Service also has a wide selection of restaurants for delivery in Dubai.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Busy November

November will be a very busy month, with plenty of activities for everyone… Take a look below and plan ahead so you don't miss out on anything!

The race itself will only happen on Sunday, November 13, but for all three-day ticket holders, the fun already begins this Thursday, November 10, when they will have a sneak preview of the F1 Village and Pit Lane Walk. And there is a lot more to look forward besides the thrilling race, including the shows that will definitely get everyone up on their feet: Britney Spears on the 11th, Incubus and The Cult on the 12th, and the one and only Sir Paul McCartney on the 13th.
Now, if you don’t have a ticket for the F1 race, you can still join the fun – for free! Remember that several activities and shows are scheduled all around the city. The F1 Fan Zone at Abu Dhabi Corniche is a must for sure!

Not a fan of F1, but still passionate about cars? Hit the road and go take a look at the newest designs and tech innovations at the Dubai International Motor Show – the best and biggest motor event in the Middle East which will happen from November 10 to 14. Brands like De Macross, McLaren, MG and Spyker will make their debut, alongside returning participants like Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Cadillac, Ferrari, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Maserati, Porsche and many more.

If you are more into arts, I’ve got just the thing for you: the third edition of Abu Dhabi Art, from November 16 to 19. The event will take place at the Saadiyat Cultural District, Abu Dhabi, and will bring together a series of renowned galerists, curators and artists, specialists in modern and contemporary art. All four days will be filled with exhibitions, talks, workshops, book launches… Don’t miss it!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Emirates X Etihad

Although most people have only heard of Emirates, the popular airline based in Dubai, there is yet another very important carrier in the country that has grown tremendously over the past years: Etihad Airways, the National Airline of the United Arab Emirates. 

It’s understandable that so many people are familiar with Emirates and not so much with Etihad. After all, Emirates has been around for 26 years, ever since it operated its first flight out of Dubai back on October 25, 1985. Etihad, on the other hand, is a much younger airline. The Abu Dhabi based airline commenced operations just eight years back, on November 5, 2003, exactly eight years ago (Happy Birthday Etihad!).

Despite the age difference, Etihad soon presented itself as strong competition. Emirates is irrefutably the largest airline in the Middle East, operating over 2,400 passenger flights per week, to more than 100 cities in 60 plus countries across the world. But Etihad’s numbers are also very impressive: it already owns 63 aircraft and operates 86 passenger and cargo destinations to over 40 countries to date.

Was this massive growth possible because of protectionism? Well, the airlines certainly deny this. Although Emirates belongs to the Dubai government and Etihad belongs to the Abu Dhabi government, they both state that they are treated as a wholly independent business entity, susceptible to the global economic reality and challenges.

Whatever the case, the fact is Emirates has recorded an annual profit in every year since its third in operation. This past week, it reported half year profits of AED 826 million. Etihad is still struggling to break even, but by the looks of it, the airline should be able to celebrate this achievement very soon. 

I had the opportunity to try out both airlines and I can say they are truly excellent – especially when compared to the Brazilian and American carriers I used to fly with before. Great to board and look forward to great service and food without the ridiculous additionals ($$$$$) charged by so many airlines out there today. No wonder Emirates and Etihad have won so many awards!

The one thing missing for Etihad to be number one on my list? The long awaited flight to Brazil! Emirates already flies non-stop to São Paulo and will launch a daily flight to Rio de Janeiro on January 3, 2012.

C’mon Etihad! What are you waiting for?!?!?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Learning Arabic

A few months back I wrote a post about the task of mastering the Arabic language – a difficult one I must say, considering you have to deal with an entire different alphabet, written from right to left, several dialects and various interpretations...

Since most people around here do speak English, it is easy for you to get by with just the basic stuff like marhaba (hello), shukran (thanks), afwan (you are welcome) and so forth, but I must admit I feel a bit embarrassed that after four and a half years I am still unable to form a sentence in Arabic.

If you, like me, are considering dedicating a few hours of your time every week to learn the local language, here are some tips that might help get you started:

- Online
Today it is easy to learn Arabic online. Almost every mall in the country is filled with kiosks that sell CDs with learning systems that promise to be very useful.

During my last visit to Abu Dhabi Mall I bought myself one of those, supposedly the fastest, most effective way to learn words and phrases in Arabic and never forget them. Haven’t tried it out yet. Will let you know how it goes…

- Classroom
You are the kind of person who needs an actual, live teacher in front of you? Here are some good options…

Mother Tongue
The Mother Tongue is a very popular Arabic language center established in Abu Dhabi in 2005 as a specialized center for teaching Arabic to non-native speakers – from beginners to advanced levels.

For more information: / +971 2 639 3838 /

With over 130 years of experience and 500 centers spread all around the world, Berlitz is also here in Abu Dhabi. You can choose between a series of different options, including total immersion, private, semi-private and group programs. 

For more information: / +971 2 667 2287 /

Coming over for some tourism or a business trip and in a hurry to learn some basic words to break the ice? Try this website:

Bettawfeeq (good luck, or at least I was told…)!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The famous - and dreaded - Dubai stone

When I moved to the UAE I used to hear of the famous – and very much dreaded – Dubai stone: an average of 7kg of pure fat put on by many expats when they first arrive in the country.

At the time I thought this was just one of those myths that go around, but now, having put on some weight myself, I tend to think there must be some truth to it.

Actually, if you think about it, it makes total sense…

To start with, many expats living in the UAE come from places where it is possible to get a daily dose of unintentional exercise. Ride a bike to work, walk to and from places – even if only to the bus stop or the metro station. But here, we all get lazy and choose the car over our feet every chance we get.   

And then there is the heat and humidity almost all year round, which discourages us to do anything outdoors. Just the thought of it makes me feel sticky and tired.

In addition, people here have long working hours. This usually means we fall on two major traps: go for unhealthy food options available during lunch break and stay away from the gym once we get home late at night.

To top it all up, let’s be honest here, we expats love to live the good life. Every week we try out new restaurants, have drinks with friends, enjoy a very caloric brunch with a very generous free flow of bubbly…

Did we really think all this fat would transform into thin air and simply go away? Well, it isn’t. But there are ways to get rid of it:

Meals delivered to your doorstep
If you are too busy to cook or you simply do not know your way around the kitchen (which is my case), you can always try one of the several health and nutritious catering services available in the UAE.

Usually this is how they work: you make an appointment, meet with a nutritionist to evaluate your data and discuss your needs and goals, and receive balanced meals right at your doorstep.

Most of these places will offer different packages, so you can choose whatever makes more sense for your lifestyle.

Here are a couple of names so you can get started:

Counting points
Another way to lose weight is turn to the ever so popular Weight Watchers.

Although there are no physical meetings here in the UAE (at least I could never find them), today you have the option to do it online.

All you have to do is go to Weight Watchers, register, pay, and get started. You will be able to record your weight, track your points, and receive progress reports. And there are thousands of really great recipes for you to try!

Hit the gym
There is no way around it. Little or no exercise won’t help. You have to get active. Really active.

If you are not fond of weights or the basic machines you see everywhere, try fun classes like Hip Hop, Zumba, Kickboxing, Spinning, Tae Bo and many more offered by many gyms out there!

The important thing is to get moving! Even if you start with a small goal and a few set of exercises just like this...

Have fun!