Dubai, travel

Meeting Penguins!!!

Alicia says her most memorable moment of our trip was skydiving (which I was not there for because I have extreme fear of falling from heights…How could that be her favourite moment if I wasn’t present?). I guess in contrast, one of my most memorable moments was one she skipped out on too – meeting penguins at Ski Dubai!! Ski Dubai is a mini ski resort / winter playground / penguin habitat inside, can you believe it, a mall! Obviously, compared to what we are used to in Canada, the snow and the hill looks extremely sad and fake. However, penguins!!

There are multiple packages available, where of course, the more you pay, the more interaction you get. I didn’t get to be immersed in a huddle of little penguins as I had wished for because that required a minimum of 4 people to book online. However, being able to see one so up close and touching their feathers was already very exciting as it is! I like to believe it is an unique experience few people get to have.

They have two types of penguins at Ski Dubai, King and Gentoo penguins (a bit under 20 in total). Both are pretty small in size even compared to me. So for the photo taking we had to sit or kneel down so they wouldn’t be as afraid.

For this basic package I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that the interaction and educational portion of it is quite limited.

The session included:

  • brief prep talk about the penguins and the centre by the trainer
  • viewing of aquarium where the penguins swim and reside
  • meeting one King and one Gentoo penguin individually and watching them play fetch (I didn’t get a chance to throw though)
  • taking turns within the group of about 10 people for photographs with each penguin

It doesn’t sound like much but nonetheless, I was definitely smiling the whole way through.

If you go with family/friends you have to take the photo as a group. As I went alone (lol) I got solo glam shots which I bought way too much of #noregrets

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I don’t think I am ever this smiley to people. 

 

With the King Penguin as he was more trained and friendly we were able to give it a little hug and a kiss, and touch the feathers on his back, chest and flippers.

 

 

My new pengfriend!


The feathers are surprisingly extremely soft, except for the flippers part which was more rough.

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This was not a very good shot….but I guess I had to for the memory. The photographer told me to do that pose. 

The Gentoo Penguin (Pumpkin, I believe) unfortunately was not trained enough for us to fully interact with. He was only trained to walk up to stand beside us for a photo. Pumpkin kept trying to walk into our area when it wasn’t his turn yet, haha.

The penguin encounter itself isn’t too expensive given how rare the experience is. However, where they rake your money is in the professional photographs they take of you. You aren’t even allowed just the digital copy unless you purchase the hard copy. Cameras and cell phones are strictly forbidden….there was no way you could sneak in a shot. Thus no penguin selfie possibility!

Where do I apply to be a real spokesperson? I think I am already looking the part.

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Dubai, travel

Cruising on The Yellow Boat

I think Alicia and I did UAE proud as we hit up nearly all of the most common tourist attractions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  This is proven as we met 3 different locals who seemed satisfied with our itinerary. The only thing we didn’t do was go to a Friday Brunch after party (more on Friday Brunch later).

Before I dive into the first activity we did I want to let you guys in on a tip to save some costs while travelling! There is a coupon book called The Entertainer that allows you to purchase BOGO coupons to use for various tourist attractions, restaurants etc… I wouldn’t recommend buying the book because you wouldn’t be able to use it all unless you plan to be in the area for a long period of time – but you can purchase individual coupons I believe through their app, or do what we did, which was to purchase individual hard copy coupons on eBay/Amazon. For about $5-10 each you can save up to $50 or so per person.

 

 

The Yellow Boats tour was an activity that Alicia found and originally I wasn’t extremely interested in it because I thought it could be a bit boring given that it the tour was for 90 minutes. However, these boats although by appearance look like little rescue boats, the exterior of the boat is pretty strong and so is the engine.

Once we were out of the Dubai Marina, the boat sped up so fast. Periodically, the driver would also purposely swerve the boat so we would be halfway in the air sideways – which was scary at first but exhilarating once I got used to it. Thank god for life jackets as the ride was pretty bumpy due to the speed.
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The Burj Al Arab that is designed to look like a sail.

The 90 minute tour brought us around Dubai Marina, the Palm Jumeirah (not allowed to go inside as it is private property) and an upclose view of the Burj Al Arab. The tour guide was exceptionally knowledgeable and charismatic as he explained many of the infrastructure to us, and we also got to stop at landmarks for photos.

 

Some videos that I attempted to take on a XiaoMi videocam. Excuse the awkward selfie and very long 2nd video (the end is when we reach the Burj Al Arab!!!! skip to there at least).

 

 

Fun fact that I learnt on this tour: all the boats/yachts are labelled and coded by their use DP for pleasure/personal, DT for Tourism and DC for Commerial – so if you see anyone having a fancy party but on a DT boat, no need to be jealous, it’s only rental ; )

 

 

 

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Dubai, travel

Old Dubai

After spending a week in Jordan, the change to a developed and thriving city was much appreciated and definitely missed. It was nice to return to a land with air conditioning, better Wi-Fi, more food choices, and less stares on being foreign.

Although Dubai is quite well known to be multicultural, what we found was the local foreigners were mostly Caucasian or South Asian – not so much East Asian. But I’m sure we stood out more because of our attire and conversation showing that we were clearly tourists.

Stepping into our hotel (Atana Hotel) which is only 3 to 4 star (in Dubai it can go up to 7 even….), was a huge breath of fresh air. I didn’t have much expectations for the hotel since we got it at a discount and I normally don’t stay in anything fancy…so I was extremely pleasantly surprised by how pretty our hotel lobby and even our rooms were; felt like entering paradise.  Ironically our hotel named their 2 towers after Adam and Eve.
However, as technologically advanced and developed Dubai is as a city, there is still a more “olden” part of it in the Bur Dubai and Deira area.
The main attraction in this area is travelling across the Dubai Creek in a local abra (little boat) and also the various specialty souks (markets) – especially the spice and gold souks. The common route is to go to Bur Dubai and take an abra to cross the creek to Deira where the souks are. 
The souks were actually more modern than we expected, I was legitimately expecting dinky shops but the souks were more of an open space market of multiple store fronts (actual building not just a simple stall).  The gold souks were quite luxurious as well with the most famous gold store blasting AC and even had free beverages for customers. They also hold the largest gold ring in the world!!!!
As expected the souks were flooded with tourists. Predominately at the spice and textile souks, the shopkeepers would shout out at us in various Asian languages to try to grab our attention. Usually it’s quite easy to ignore or play off, only one occasion did I have one shopkeeper literally try to drape a scarf around me….which I of course pushed his arm away : ‘)
It was nice to see the more cultural and heritage side of Dubai (we also visited the Dubai Museum – entrance was only like $3.00!) as for the rest of our trip we would be doing more modern and extravagant tourist activities!
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We also visited the Jumeirah Public Beach. How anyone can sunbathe in 35+ degree weather is beyond me.
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Jordan, travel

Mars on Earth

Wadi Rum is Earth’s Mars! Even Hollywood thinks Wadi Rum is the closest to what we believe Mars would look like as the film “The Martian”, was filmed with it as their backdrop. Apparently so was the last Transformers movie, except I don’t really recall.

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Wadi Rum

We travelled through the desert on the back of a pick up truck, not the safest way to travel admittedly, but pretty common in the area. What was added on to the truck for tourists was some cushioned benches and an optional cloth to cover the open roof. No seat belts of course.
Taking photos and videos while in the car was a bit worrisome however due to the bumpy ride. When I wasn’t using my phone I actually held on tightly to the pole that supported to the bench/car/roof rack.
Periodically we would get off the car for photos at points of interest.
One tip for you guys – don’t take off your shoes and walk on the sand barefoot. Alicia and I wore sandals and our tour guide earnestly thought it would be easier to walk barefoot than in sandals as sand would get inside and what not. We listened. BAD IDEA.  The sand was extremely hot and it literally felt like if I didn’t take a break and dig my feet further in the sand where it is cooler every few steps, that I would get a real burn.   We were quite displeased with our choice but also far too lazy to backtrack for shoes. We were past the point of return, haha.
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We asked our tour guide for our usual jumping photo together which he didn’t get, but somehow he took this really nice shot on his own accord.

Afterwards, we had a cultural lunch with a local family for a home-cooked meal. However, I’m quite sure this family frequently hosts such lunches for tourists because we bumped into another tourist with a guide there (and can you believe it, the meal cost us $20+ CAD!!). Have to admit, it was one of the better tasting things I ate during this trip, but was just ridiculous for what it was factually; as we were just eating in someone’s living room floor and there was lots of flies (I hate all bugs).
Wadi Rum was the final attraction of my trip to Jordan and I highly recommend going to visit. It’s a very safe country and I did not have any issues whatsoever or felt unsafe at any time. Tourism is extremely low right now and it’s a perfect time to see everything with low volume of other tourists (and of course in case the political situation does worsen).
Additional tip: You can use USD mostly everywhere and they seem to treat it 1:1 to JOD which is a very good deal…considering for us to exchange CAD to JOD, JOD was worth more than USD : ‘(   How the currency is worth so much, I still don’t understand.
Next up on the blog will be my travels in UAE!
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Jordan, travel

Public Beach at Aqaba

I wish our tour allowed us to stay longer in Aqaba, because the beach was gorgeous. We only had a half day there so unfortunately we did not get to do very much except take a quick peek at their local public beach.

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Something unique about beaches in Jordan is that there is a large distinction of ownership. The beach is basically divided up between various hotels – and to access the beach you would need to be a guest at the hotel or pay some sort of entrance fee.  We had a similar experience to visit the Dead Sea where we paid to enter a private beach.

Given our short time in Aqaba, our tour guide only brought us to the (free) public beach. Which is I’m sure just as gorgeous as anywhere else along the shoreline. However, the main flaw with this activity in our itinerary was our Aqaba visit happened to fall on a Friday, which is the main weekend day off for locals – and as such the beach was packed.

A beach being packed is just a bit of a nuisance to find your own spot, but the main problem we had was many locals (from nearby smaller cities that travelled as a weekend activity to the beach) enjoying the beach were not accustomed to seeing foreigner females. And that caused us to be some sort of tourist attraction to them, which I have to say made me feel quite uncomfortable. And it’s a very different feeling than being stared down when you’re at the club, it was like being watched as if you were some kind of zoo animal.  The male to female ratio at the beach was highly uneven and other than Alicia and I, I think all other females were dressed very culturally and if not very modestly (which we fail at doing because the weather is way too hot for us) and stayed in groups on the shore under umbrellas. We did see one woman go in the water in her full abaya though which is quite impressive.

The strongest memory I have from this day was the extremely awkward walk down a long bridge to get to the end of the dock for a more unobstructed view of the sea. The bridge was packed with probably over 60 men/boys whom were downright gawking, but thankfully do part way for us to walk through.  It was uncomfortable enough at the end of the dock where the majority of the people flocked at, that after a few minutes of waiting for Alicia to take videos, I had to return to an area with less people.  She crossed a fence to a more broken end of the bridge so her area was not as crowded.

I’m actually also quite thankful that other than staring there was never any remarks or cat calling made. We only experienced some very pre-teen boys trying to talk to us and ask for selfies together….which they took a bit far afterwards by trying to put their arms around our shoulders – which I also promptly flung off : /

Overall though, the experience of being stared at was not as prominent at any other city and I think it was mainly due to us being at a public beach on Friday. We had a few occasions of people asking to take pictures with us at various different sites…but that was mostly it.  There were other locals whom were friendly to us without trying to take photos with us of course:)

Anyway lesson learned from this story is:
1) go to a private beach in Aqaba, that is probably where the other tourists are at as we did not see anyone else that looked foreign
2) if you must go to the public beach, don’t go on a Friday ESPECIALLY if you are female
3) additional note: try scuba diving in Aqaba, it’s supposed to be very nice!

Culturally you aren’t allowed to swim in a bikini or even a one piece in the public beaches…but honestly given the amount of stares, you wouldn’t even want to.

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Jordan, travel

Jordan – Petra

The “Lost City” of Petra. One of the Modern 7 Wonders of the World, featured famously in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.  I have to shamefully admit that I did not even know about Petra until I was researching up on what there was to do in Jordan when contemplating whether or not I wanted to travel there. Considering I went to one Wonder of the World last year (Machu Pichcu), it made perfect sense to visit another this year!

Petra was the main highlight of our trip to Jordan and we got one full day there. I didn’t know what to expect as I had only watched a small BBC documentary on it and it seemed like Petra itself was a very large area, and I wasn’t sure if all of it was open to the public.

We just left the itinerary to our tour guide, who passed us off to a local English speaking guide. We were quite happy to separate from the rest of our regular tour group as they were middle aged aunties and uncles who probably would be slower walkers. However, the down side was our local guide would only take us for about 2 hours (to a specific location), and if we wanted his guidance for extra distance, it would cost us more. The guide took us on the Main Trail towards the famous Treasury.

On our own, we walked the Ad-Deir (Monastery Trail), up to “The Best View Ever” and also the Al-Khubtha Trail where the view of the Treasury from above is possible! According to their trail guide, we supposedly walked over 14km this day!!! However I’m not quite sure how accurate their measurements are because most of their “durations” were extremely long…we probably didn’t do the complete full trail as they are depicting.

The walk to the Monastery consisted of many flights of steps as we had to hike up towards the top of a mountain. For the “best view in Petra” we had to hike up some more too, but the shot was definitely well worth it.  The hike towards the viewing point of the Treasury from above however, was very brutal for me as we had walked for over 4-5 hours and the temperature was well over 35 degrees.

Some bedouins (local nomadic Arabs) followed us and guided us towards the Treasury look out point. I’m sure because they were banking that one of us (probably me) would eventually get too tired and lazy to do the hike, and request for a donkey ride up instead. However, I was too cheap, and also I don’t think it’s good treatment of the donkeys so I suffered and struggled through the walk at my own slow pace. It was definitely a cool view from up top but I was extremely tired, and also quite scared of the height to truly enjoy the view that I am sure was breathtaking.  We were thinking of tipping the bedouins a bit since they were so helpful (and because our guide wanted to charge us about $40 to take us up!!), but they ditched us as we started going back downhill along easier paths : /

I think Petra was the highlight of my trip even though I complained a lot about the heat and being tired. It was truly amazing to just simply be apart and being able to see such vastly different landscape and architecture than what we have back in the city and in Toronto.

Funny side story, we tried to bargain with a mini path side booth (like a really ghetto one where it just an old lady and a table of trinkets), and she was totally not having it. We had to fake pretend to leave and not buy anything before she would agree for like a $1-2 discount.  Haggling was much easier in Peru. It was confusing in general why items in Jordan were so costly given that they are still considered a developing country…Maybe the income disparity is high though as many of their American clothing at the malls were more expensive than they are back in Canada. I understand it is imported thus resulting in high prices…but it also means that there is a large enough population whom can afford such prices too. Yet there are children along the hikes of Petra who are trying to make money selling tourists rocks (illegal and kind of silly though as I can totally just pick up my own rock).

 

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events, Jordan, travel

Jordan – Mount Nebo and Petra by Night

Tour wise, this 3rd day of our trip was, hate to say it, but the most boring itinerary wise. Especially since we are not very biblical or knowledgeable in that aspect.

Our morning started off with a visit to Madaba, a city famous for it’s mosaic art, especially for the Madaba Map which dates back to the 6th century and has been preserved  inside the Church of Saint George. The map depicts various significant biblical sites at each region/country…but I feel like some of the locations are now named differently and the country borders have changed.

 

At the mosaic art store we visited for a brief tour, they had a large recreation of the map which was easier to read for reference too. The way the mosaic art is created is extremely intricate. Little tiny pieces are cut and put together to frame each section within the image, even if it is of the same colour it would be made up of many small pieces. Unfortunately for us, our special English guide didn’t talk to us much so we spent most of the time walking around the store ourselves.

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Later in the day we went to Mount Nebo which was where Moses was shown the view of The Promised Land.  At the summit of Mount Nebo we can see the same panoramic view that Moses was granted before he passed away in the area (exact location unknown).

 

Before our tour ended we visited another castle – Al Karak Castle. This was probably the most in detailed castle tour we had this whole week, perhaps due to its sheer size and preservation.

 

Our day should have ended after this castle visit (and after a long 3-4 hour ride to Petra), but our tour guide asked us if we would be interested in visiting Petra at night. We hadn’t really considered this option as the tour would bring us to Petra (the following day) for the whole day already. For some reason I also thought it was very expensive and that was why I wasn’t especially inclined to go. I think it only ended up being around $30 something CAD and we really had nothing else to do at night anyway that we decided to take the opportunity up!

Our guide helped us get tickets last minute and we arrived to our hotel with 45 minutes to spare before the event would start. Our guide (supposedly) arranged a driver for us for 8:15pm to go to the event which was to start at 8:30pm. As 8:15 was drawing closer and closer and no driver, or even confirmation that any driver was dispatched…someone at the hotel whom we thought was an employee at the time, offered to drive us for the same payment that we were expecting to make. Luckily, the driver who although was not a hotel employee -_- was a relative of a hotel owner, and an owner of his own tour guide company, safely drove us to and back from Petra.  We should really be more careful and weary of strangers to be honest, but we were so late!

The Petra by Night event started shortly after we arrived on site. The event was a small hike, around 4.3km one way towards the famous Treasury (usually seen as the image for Petra as one of The New 7  Wonders of the World). As it is in the evening the path is guided by paper lanterns scattered throughout the trail. As you finally reach the Treasury you are met by the view of its magnificent architecture in the bask of over 1,500 of paper lanterns.

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A very beautiful sight to see! But extremely difficult to take pictures of as the only light available was candlelight.  The tourist sitting beside me in the first row was so involved with his photography that he nearly got his leg on fire by kneeling too close to one of the candles.

Petra by Night is also a show. After everyone has arrived and settled down a small musical performance was made by local bedouins. To me, I have to admit it was not that interesting. I enjoyed the hiking part and view more – and to our delights, after the performance, actual lights turned on and shined towards the Treasury to allow us to take photographs more clearly!

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I enjoyed Petra by daytime much more, as you can walk much further within the area and you are able to see much more of the landscape, despite the gruelling heat. Will post about that next:)

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