Friday, April 25, 2014

top ten dubai

our first night in dubai

Dubai has built quite the reputation for being ridiculously over-the-top. While it definitely lives up to that hype, I would completely disagree with the idea that there is nothing more to Dubai than glitz and glam. It's actually a very diverse city that is a melting pot of several different Middle Eastern cultures.

Dubai is not just one destination, it's multiple destinations all in the same place. The beaches of a resort town, the religiousness of Islam, the flashiness of Vegas, the wealth of New York, the shopping of Palm Springs, the desert of the Middle East, the vastness of Los Angeles, the skyscrapers of Tokyo, the humbleness of migrant workers. It's flashy and new, yet strict and reserved. It's home of the haves, but also the have nots. It's the land of gold ATMs and people sharing beds in 8-hour shifts. It's one contradiction after another, and I was fascinated by the endlessly competing interests. Under the shiny facade, there is always more to the story.

Can I hop on my travel soapbox for just a minute? I work in sustainable tourism development so we talk a lot about connecting visitors with authentic travel experiences. If you travel without ever leaving the confines of the "touristy" part of a destination, you are missing the most rewarding part of travel. If I had visited Dubai and never left the resort areas, my impression of the city would be vastly different than it is.

One easy way Jon and I branch out is by eating in off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods. This is a win-win. The best food in a destination is usually hiding far from the touristy areas and this way you can get a real flavor (no pun intended) of the city. Eat where the locals eat and you'll probably get a great meal and a more authentic, local experience.

Rant over.

Without further adieu, and to finally wrap up this trip several weeks later, I present my top ten of Dubai:

10. Pakistani tea at Ravi - sometimes the humblest things are the best
9. Platinum Movie Theater
8. (tie) Bu Qtair - fish in a non-descript trailer is the best fish
8. (tie) Arabian tea house - how many of these can be about food?
7. Burj Khalifa
6. Dancing waters (aka Dubai Fountains)
5. Spice souk
4. Brunch. I'm still full. 
3. Desert Safari - dunes, camels & falcons, oh my!
2. Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi - totally worth the awkward van ride. 
1. Food tour - because we really love food. 
And not ranked (because you don't rank people), but definitely the highlight of the trip - spending time with a old friends and making new friends!

Monday, April 21, 2014

day 7: du-bye

All good things must come to an end. Unfortunately, that includes vacations. But since our plane didn't leave until 2:20 a.m., we still had the entire day to enjoy Dubai. We started at the top.

The Burj Khalifa is the world's tallest building. It towers over Dubai to the point of making all the other ridiculous skyscrapers look like child's play. It's 2,716 feet high with more than 160 stories - almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building. And yes, it does sway in the wind.

We weren't on our game for this one - apparently you have to make a reservation in advance to avoid paying a pretty penny to go up to the top. We had failed to do this so by the time we checked the times, only 8:00 a.m. on Saturday was available. This actually turned out to be great because it wasn't crowded, and we lucked out with the clearest day of the entire trip. Since the top is literally in the clouds, you need a clear, non-hazy day to fully enjoy the view.

The open air observation deck is on floor 124. The elevator was so fast (40 mph to be exact) we didn't even feel like we were moving - although my ears popped to remind me that we were. We were greeted with a mostly wide open desert view. Here's the weird part: it honestly didn't feel that high. I think it's deceiving because most skyscrapers are surrounded by other similarly sized skyscrapers. The Burj Khalifa is so tall that it completely skews your sense of height.

world's greatest selfie

you can see how big the dubai mall & fountains are!

Our next stop was one of the oddest of the trip. The Dubai flower garden was just plain weird. The flowers were pretty and they were everywhere, but I just couldn't get over the music and strange vibe. Sometimes Dubai knocks it out of the park, and sometimes it's so fake & contrived that it gives you the creeps. The flower garden gave me the creeps.


what is this place?!

After the strange flower garden experience, we headed to Dubai mall to buy some chocolates & dates and to meet up with Rob and some of his friends for lunch. We had met Jason briefly at church the day before, but this time he was joined with his awesome wife Bev & their two little ones. Jason & Bev are former Capitol Hill Baptist members (like us), and they now live in Dubai where Jason is a pastor at Redeemer Church. It turns out we have a lot in common (Go Nats!) and several mutual friends. It was so fun to get to know them & hear about their work in Dubai. It's always great to make new friends - especially halfway around the world. I loved their little cutie, Sam, who kept me entertained during lunch.

notice the aquarium behind us

After lunch we hung around the mall where we could probably live for a few years before getting bored. Jon got what he claims was the "best massage of his life", and I enjoyed a mani/pedi next door at the salon. It was a great & relaxing way to end the trip.

For dinner, we headed back to one of the food tour stops with Rob so we could enjoy a full portion of some of the favorites we had sampled on the tour. We also walked down the street to the sweet shop to buy some more baklava. I fell asleep on the couch while watching Gilmore Girls. Jon woke me up around midnight to leave for the airport. I didn't love the 2:20 a.m. departure, but the flight home was my best plane sleeping effort yet. Fourteen hours later, we arrived in DC at 9:00 a.m. surprisingly well rested. We breezed through customs (no small feat at Dulles), dropped our bags at home, and went straight to church!

Thus ends our trip to Dubai. I still have some general thoughts that I'll save for a quick wrap up post later this week.
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

day 6: the brunch to end all brunches

Have you ever been so full you that thought you'd never eat again? Yep, that was me on Friday. You'll be happy to know that I have overcome that ridiculous idea and have enjoyed several meals since then. In fact, I ate again the very next day. Shocking, I know. But before I swore off food for the rest of my life, we went to church.

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect at a church in Dubai. I imagined a small church full of expats meeting in a humble, undercover environment. I've obviously been watching too many foreign missions movies or something.

What greeted us at Redeemer Church of Dubai was a huge, lively, and diverse congregation that meets in the lovely JW Marriott hotel. There was valet parking, an expansive ballroom complete with chandeliers, and the best coffee & snack set up I've ever seen at a church.

But that really has nothing to do with why Redeemer is so great. It was the people. It was such a sweet congregation of believers who were all so earnest about the gospel. I was so encouraged to see the blending of cultures and backgrounds and their unity in Christ. Not to mention the music and the sermon completely blew me away. The pastor managed to make the message both understandable and challenging. Since English isn't the first language of many in the congregation, they try to speak plainly and clearly, yet it was plenty "meaty" for those of us who are church regulars. We met so many great people, and were completely blessed by the experience. God is doing some awesome things in Dubai.

church in Dubai looks something like this

After church, we headed to thee brunch. It was at the Madinat Jumeriah where we had been the previous day for shopping & the abra ride. I've been to some pretty great brunches - it is one of my favorite meals after all - but I've never seen anything like this. Like much of Dubai, there are no words to adequately describe it.

Beautiful people in beautiful clothes, flowing champagne, white columns, high ceilings, sunshine, umbrellas, draping flowers, palm trees, music, dancers, and food. So. Much. Food. I could have sworn I was at a Gatsby party. The brunch was really 3 restaurants full of various food stations that all connected and opened up onto an expansive balcony where there was, you guessed it, even more food. It's so massive, they have maps. For the price of admission, you could stay and graze all day. There is only 1 reservation per table per Sunday so time was of no essence.

and this is just the inside of one room

I would estimate there were at least three dozen food & drink stations. Freshly opened coconuts with a little (or a lot) of added rum, an entire station devoted to various types of foie gras, Asian food, Spanish food, seafood, blue food, green food, all food. And the craziest part is that the food was amazing. Most buffets emphasize quantity over quality, but they somehow managed to go above and beyond on both counts.

waiting to go much anticipation 

my first plate of food - mostly foie gras and mac 'n cheese because why not?
open coconut 
add rum 

I was mesmerized, and per usual, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. I think I made it through 3 plates of food + a dessert plate before I was completely tapped out. Keep in mind that this was the day after the food tour. And that's when I entered the most serious food coma of my life. Rob actually watched it wash over me, and he was quite concerned. He kept asking if I was ok. I was. I had just become the human equivalent of the fatted calf. It was both glorious and vile.

people started hoarding drinks near the end...i suspect things did not end well for this table. 
this is my "i'm so full, but trying to smile" face

We got home around 5:00 p.m. Yes, we had been there since around 12:30. I put on stretchy pants that were now stretching to a whole new level and assumed my position on the bed where I wallowed for the rest of the evening. I know I'm making this all sound rather miserable, but it was actually a highlight of the trip. It was such an over-the-top, see-and-be-seen experience that was just so Dubai. I am quite certain no brunch will ever come close to matching it.

vacations aren't always pretty.
Monday, April 14, 2014

company & catching up

It's been two weeks since my last blog. Oops! I'm not really sure where the time goes, but I have a sneaking suspicion that company, baseball, cars and yard work have eaten up most of April, which is apparently already halfway over.

My parents came to visit the first weekend of April. We had fun going to the Nats home opener, checking out a tag/barn sale in Maryland, eating good food, and going to see The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Ford's Theater. We also did a little car shopping. Even though Jon and I commute into DC together, it's becoming increasingly more complicated to be a one car family out in the 'burbs. We've been gradually checking out some options so we can hopefully purchase something in the next few months. [If you have a small-midsize SUV that you love or hate, I'd be interested in your thoughts.]

my barn sale find was this great lamp!

Since then, it's been a blur of more baseball, yard work, spring cleaning, more car shopping, happy hours, lunch with friends, church potlucks & picnics, and so on and so on. 

i guess this means it's time to get the yard in shape....
sometimes i get to have lunch with this little guy. it's the best.
and sometimes i get distracted by shiny things...
A couple of other notes while I'm catching up...

We had a pretty epic April Fool's Day. Jon fooled me into thinking our car was on the fritz. This is not exactly the most impressive joke, but he never fools me so it was impressive on that fact alone. [On that note, I'm not really sure what Jon was thinking with this one. All it did was make me realize how much we need a second car because we really would be in a bind if our one car did break down. So basically this little joke is going to cost Jon several thousand dollars.]

Even more fun was the prank we pulled on Dad. Mom gets him every year, and sometimes we team up to help. Since they were due to visit us later that week, I worked up a good story about someone from my office bringing back a case of diphtheria that had potentially infected all of us (I work in tourism development so my coworkers are often traveling to faraway places). I told him I was probably going to be quarantined and that their trip might be called off. I must have been incredibly convincing (although it doesn't usually take much) because he totally bought it. I laughed so hard I cried.

I'm almost done with my Dubai posts. I lost a little steam, but I'm going to power through and hopefully finish up this week.

Last but not least, the two best things from last week: 1. This awesome shirt from my friend who works at the Washington Free Beacon. 2. Our new Nats license plates - wouldn't they look even better on a new car? ;)