Posts in Travel

In the land of milk and honey

A boat passes the London EyeCurrently in the land of milk and honey, we are now in the city that never sleeps, New York. Before I begin babbling to no end about how fascinating this city is and how enchanted I am by what New York has to offer, I will go back in time three days ago and talk about our brief visit in London.

The picturesque BarnesIt was just perfect. On our way here, we decided to stop off in London, a city that occupies a special place in my heart. We stayed three days with my very good friend Pilar in Barnes (right), which is probably one of the most picturesque suburbs in the city. We had such a wonderful time and Pilar was just the most perfect host. She dined us and she wined us, taking us all over the place.

A moment in Times SquareAmong some of the places we visited was Madam Taussaud’s Wax Museum, the London Eye (the main image on the left), the Tate Modern museum, Leicester Square, Millennium Bridge and Richmond. Although I lived for a year in this city back in 2002 during my Masters, I just can never get enough of it. It always pulls me back.

Now here in New York, things cannot be more exciting. From Time Square (on the right) to the Empire State Building, Central Park and Rockefeller Centre, I feel I’m in one huge, long Hollywood movie. I can’t believe I’m actually here wandering the streets of a city I’m so familiar with thanks to myriads of New York-based films I’ve seen.

Anyway, I will write more about the Big Apple when I beat this jet lag. Yeah, it is bad. I can’t seem to adjust this stubborn body clock of mine. Today we have a day of excitement ahead of us including a Sex and the City Tour. Yes, I’m a huge — and proud — fan of this show. I will write more as time allows.

A trip north

Zubara FortWe had a very nice day today with Amal on a half-day trip to the north of Qatar. The excursion began at 9:00 am when we were picked up by a driver from Qatar International Tours who took us to our first stop of the day: Al Khor, Qatar’s second largest city. There was nothing much in this sleepy city besides a beach and a museum. We were amazed to see how little development had occurred in the second largest city when compared to Doha. Somehow it made us feel grateful to live in the Qatari capital.

We continued our trip north and stopped by Zubara fort [seen here], which was built in 1938 for military purposes and used against the Brits and Bahrainis. This was followed by a stopover at some excavations nearby. We then made our way further north to the last point in Qatar before the sea: al-Rowais, where we stopped for lunch at a traditional Qatari house. We also got to visit a high-end tent Majlis (complete with pool table and A/C), which is where Qatari men hang out.

The falconerThere we had a nice chat with a young Qatari man by the name of Ali about traditional marriages here. Amal and I asked him about the Qatari marriage tradition of not seeing one’s spouse until the wedding night. Ali had no problem with it and fully respected it, saying his parents have been happily married for thirty years now following the same tradition. After our brief chit-chat, Ali took us inside an adjacent house where he raised falcons. He insisted on us holding the birds and taking pictures with them. This was loads of fun. Those falcons are just fascinating creatures.

All in all we had a great time. It is a trip I would highly recommend to anyone visiting or currently residing in Doha. It is always refreshing to see Qatari landmarks besides air-conditioned malls and five-star hotels.

A Window on Lebanon

The sun sets over Byblos harborWell, the husband did it again. He created a fantastic gallery of a trip we took last year to Lebanon. You can click here or the gallery picture in the sidebar on the left to see the delights. He also made this wonderful panoramic image (350k!) of Beirut from the veranda of my sister’s house in Al-Ouzaei neighborhood in the suburbs of Beirut.

Still in the realm of photographs, we are now building up an interactive gallery featuring many of the pictures we have taken across the Middle East through the years. This gallery allows me to post individual images I want to show without a lot of fuss and viewers can comment on the pictures, even sending out TrackBacks. It’s really some neat stuff.

Another development you might have noticed on Mental mayhem is the addition of tabs up top there, beneath the banner This will hopefully make the site easier to navigate and more readily highlight some hidden site features like newswire, my archives and other surprises to come.

I’m also pleased to announce that there are two new domains for this blog: www.mentalmayhem.org and www.mentalmayhem.net. I tried to get www.mentalmayhem.com but it was already taken. Bastards! 😉 These domains are just another wonderful way to help you find the Mayhem.

Home, cold home!

SoldiersSo I’m home in Jordan and life couldn’t be better. I missed my family a great deal and being with them again means the world to me. One of the many good things about being here now is the cold weather. Yes, I missed that feeling. Last night it was 1 or 2 degrees Celsius (Back in Doha it was 20 – see the weather pixie below). I was freezing but I loved it, naturally, after over a year of living in the desert.

Tabla player and dancers during Egypt trip segmentAs soon as we got home we were greeted by mom’s delicious delicacies. God I missed her food. The dinner was followed by lots of chatting and catching up and playing with Amy and Jessica who get cuter by the day! They were so excited by the chocolate and gum we brought that they were bouncing all over the place with their mouth’s packed with sugary sweets.

After eating, and chilling a bit, we decided to go to the YWCA’s Christmas concert. Tania is playing in the choir’s band and managed to get us tickets for the event. We bundled up and headed to the concert, held at Al-Hussein Cultural Center in Ras Al-Ein.

This year’s concert had an international theme, as carols were performed in different languages and the story was presented via the journey of young Santa’s helpers that travel the world to try in search of a key that will grant them access to the city of Bethlehem, closed by an Israeli checkpoint. It was great fun.

I’m including some pictures [click for englargements] and maybe later some video of the event when bandwidth allows (a first for this blog if we can make it happen) to give you some idea of the atmosphere of the concert. Overall, I’m ecstatic to be back in Jordan and really looking forward to every single minute of the upcoming two weeks!

Going home

Jessica and Amy at Iraq el Amir

I just got my exit permit — my ticket to freedom out of this country — so we are all set to go to Amman. Three days left ladies and gentlemen … three days!

I’m really looking forward to this trip and excited most of all about spending the festive holiday season with my family and friends. I’m also looking forward to our first Jordanian bloggers meeting. After almost five months of our blogging exchange we will finally meet. It should be a memorable experience.

But of all those things that I can’t wait to do in Amman and all the people that I’m pining to spend time with, I just can’t wait to see my wonderful nieces Jessica and Amy.

Doha: One year and counting!

Today marks the one-year anniversary of our Qatar stint. All I can say is that it was interesting, but I’m not sure I can highly recommend it. Although, I must say I don’t think I’m really a Gulf kind of person. But in an effort to put a positive spin on things, I’ll highlight some of my favorite episodes of last year.

  1. The sand dunes adventure: We took this trip with Sandy when she came to visit last May. We had a blast, although Sandy was screaming most of the time, as she was terrified by the speed our diver chose for the adventure. We took a half-day trip to the dunes (left pic) where this wild man provided an adrenaline-pumping desert safari escapade. Ascending the dunes was exhilarating. But coming down could be a bit terrifying, although very enjoyable! I recommend this outing for anyone visiting Doha.
  2. The musical CATS (right pic): The best thing about attending this world-class show was sneaking in to the post-show cast party held at the Ritz-Carlton’s Admirals Club. In addition to having access to an open buffet (food and drinks!), we got to see the CATS dancers hit the dance floor. This was just so much fun, so much fun!
  3. Taking trips across the region: This has to include our favorite one to Lebanon (middle pic), where I got to ski for the very first time in my life. I was such a clumsy skier but I loved it anyway.
  4. Sandy & me silhouetted on top the Doha dunes
    Skiing in Faraya
    CATS at Doha's Ritz-Carlton
  5. Enjoyable time and fine meals at our favorite Doha restaurants: The Italian job at Ramada Hotel & Marriot’s Salsa.
  6. DVD Corner: The place is jam-packed with really good movies and always keeps updated with the latest releases. The best thing about it is that we are always given special treatment, as we are one of their favorite customers, for some reason (might be the 200+ DVDs we’ve rented)!
  7. BLOGGING: Getting involved in the wonderful world you see before you. (Thanks to Aunt Karen!)
  8. Making really good friends: I’ve made some relationships that I will cherish for many years to come.

Looking back, I guess the past year was not so bad after all! [Click the pix for bigger versions.]

Dubai’s museum

The museum's entrance

I was very impressed with the Dubai Museum on our visit last week. It was very fascinating to see how with the small amount of actual culture this city has how they managed to come up with a top notch exhibit, definitely the best museum I have seen in the Middle East.

If you are planning a visit to Dubai anytime soon, make sure to pay this place a visit. It’s located in the monumental Fahidi Fort, right in the middle of the city with modern buildings built all around it. One thing I recommend is the visual exhibit of the development of Dubai, detailing its history from when it is sole industry was pearl diving right up through its position as a world business and tourist destination.

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What an eventful trip!

Sun sets on the Burj al ArabWe
are back to Doha after a very eventful trip. By saying eventful I’m referring
to a major occurrence that fortunately left us in one piece. On the second day of
our trip we were involved in a serious car accident, which we escaped miraculously with only
a few bruises.

The accident took place at noon while Dalia was taking us on a Dubai tour. Everything was going well and we were enjoying a pleasant conversation while touring this amazing city when we were forcefully hit by a car from behind causing Dalia’s Honda SUV to swerve to the right. The accident didn’t stop here as we were immediately hit again, this time in the right front door by the same car (a Mini Cooper, if anyone is interested).

The crash was caused by a crazy young driver who was speeding and lost control of his vehicle. Thank God we were unharmed. We were also very thankful that two-month old Sanad was tightly strapped into his car seat and came out of the accident in a good shape. Right after the crash, we went to the hospital to make sure we were all good. Both Jeff and I were given Voltaren shots to ease any expected pain in the future.

Dubai Creek view
Regardless of this disturbance, we managed to enjoy our time in this mini-Manhattan of a city. The day after the big accident we took the Big Bus Tour which introduced us to Dubai’s landmarks and included stops at places such as the Dubai Museum and Merkato Mall among others. I recommend the bus trip for anyone visiting Dubai, especially those in the city for a short period of time. It is a very efficient and entertaining way to get to know the major landmarks.

As for my overall impression of Dubai, well, it is quite impressive with many things to see and places to visit. It was also very fascinating to see how this cosmopolitan place is still expanding at a world-record pace as construction is almost everywhere. For some reason, it seems like the rulers of Dubai are still not content with its highly acclaimed reputation and are working diligently to make sure it has the best of everything: the world’s biggest mall, the world’s tallest building, the world’s best airport, the world’s biggest water park …etc! It’s a bit too much and somehow feels wrong being so out of this world.

Those were my Dubai’s impressions for the day, I think I will write more in the coming days. Meanwhile, I will leave you with a travel log that I started when we first got there. Because of the trip circumstances, I only managed to write a travel log on the first day. I might add to it later. We’ll see. Comments are always welcome.

Day 1 ~ October 11

We arrived in Dubai at around 10:30 am local time after a smooth one-hour trip. After we picked up our rented car from the airport, we hit the road on our own — aided only by a map from Lonely Planet‘s guide to Dubai. With Jeff’s amazing sense of direction, we managed to find our way to the Hotel Intercontinental with no sweat.

CreeksideHowever, we were a bit taken aback with the amount of the traffic that we encountered on the way. The place is just jam-packed and driving in this cosmopolitan city was nerve-wracking.

After we checked in at the hotel, Dalia showed up with Sanad and we spent some time chatting in the room and getting ourselves introduced to her charming little boy. He is so adorable and definitely the ‘mini-me’ of his dad, Duri.

The first place we visited was of course the infamous City Centre. For many, this place is one of Dubai’s must-sees. I have to agree. This mall offers shoppers a wide range of various international brands in addition to a versatile food court. We were primarily interested in Ikea, Radioshack, and Magrudy’s bookstore.

I had an interesting encounter at the bookstore while I was trying to find Thomas Friedman’s latest book. I was surprised to learn that the book was “banned”. Yes you heard me right! Ironically enough, for a city that thrives to be a world business destination, Friedman’s scribbles seem to be a cause of concern.

The sun sets on Burj al ArabWhile we were still at the mall, we had a nice lunch with Dalia and Sanad at a place called Pizzaria Uno. Sanad was a well-behaved baby most of the time except for the occasional “feed me” or “change my diapers” cries.

We headed back to the hotel after maybe a three-hour visit to chill . We rested for a bit and got ourselves ready for the next adventure. Our second adventure of the day was a night dhow cruise of the Creek, which luckily enough we overlooked from our wonderful hotel room. We took a one-hour trip, which was very enjoyable, as we got to see Dubai’s famous towers erected along the creek. What was nice about the trip was the weather and the fact that we had the whole dhow to ourselves.

Before calling it a day we went to Wafi City, which is a complex of restaurants and a trendy shopping mall. The place is very posh and built as a pharanoic temple. Although the place is extremely pleasant to see it is somehow make-believe with desperate efforts to create this Egyptian ambiance. All in all it was a very fine day. The city is exciting with many things to see and many aspects to admire.

Dubai, here we come

This blog entry comes to you from Doha International Airport. Through our frequent flyer program we managed to get an admission to the VIP lounge here, thus giving us an access to a range of services. We get served food, and beverages, and are provided with newspapers and of course Internet. Very cool!

It’s around 7:19 am now and the plane leaves in an hour heading to Dubai. I’m very excited and very wired on Coffee. Three cups so far and counting!

Dubai trip

Natasha and Dalia at farewell party

We are all set to go to Dubai Monday morning to celebrate our one-year wedding
anniversary. Reservations are made, tickets are issued and spirits are high! The
trip is short but hopefully it will be sweet. We return Wednesday night, thus
celebrating nearly three full days.

I’m also looking forward to seeing my good friend Dalia who resides in Dubai with her husband Duri and their newborn son, Sanad. Unfortunately, Duri will be out of town while we are there, but we might be able to catch him briefly before our return.

I haven’t seen Dalia, in ages. The last time was in Jordan, maybe two years ago. I’m sure we will have many things to talk about, especially now that she just had a baby boy.

The picture here is of Dalia and I nearly three years ago. It was taken in Amman, Jordan at a farewell party for me before I went to London to pursue higher education. Since that time, I’m quite positive we both have changed a great deal, both physically and mentally. We shall see.