08
Sep
14

OF WANDERLUST AND BUCKET LIST : FEW TRAVELS THROUGH THE YEARS.

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HOW DID I FALL IN LOVE WITH TRAVELING? You will not understand it unless you also love traveling. Call me cynical, but I will bet my last dirham on my pocket that we’re not on the same page unless we have the same passion.

More than two decades ago, I simply enjoyed going to tourist spots and hotel resorts with my parents and siblings, particularly when my Dad goes home for his vacation from Middle East where he used to work. I was also excited every time my classmates, teachers and I go to educational field trips together, then write and submit reaction papers after. Back then, I travel to just go and have fun. No responsibilities. Nothing in mind but fun.

TWELVE COUNTRIES IN THREE CONTINENTS AFTER, my reasons for traveling apparently evolved. I’d like to think it comes not with volume but with maturity. I liked the idea of having and sharing short vacation in different places with my own family. Nothing could be happier than seeing your own child delight in theme parks, dine and savor local food and appreciate discovering new things together. Chance and time allowed me to do solo traveling that challenged me to become less dependent and more responsible. While being vulnerable to a lot things, I revel each time I laugh at my mistakes whenever I take the wrong train, or during times when language barrier gets in the way. I found myself constantly craving to experience new ground, to taste dishes that are unusual to my palates, to learn beyond Geography and Social Science books by meeting persons native to a place, and being in places inscribed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, to celebrate adventures via either planned or spontaneous journeys, to know more about myself while exploring the world.

Traveling taught me to become more patient and more thankful. It made me feel more alive!

WANDERLUST AND BUCKET LIST. Needless to say, I have strong desire to wander and to be in places on my bucket list. I lust and love traveling. Europe, Africa and South America on my mind. However, shame on me as I haven’t been to most provinces in my own country and a long list of regions in Asia to set foot on. Those are on my list too.

WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE WITH TRAVELING? It gives you opportunities to see God’s creations. Healthier than a shot of vodka, a bottle of beer or a dose of sleeping pill, planning for the next trip and traveling are so therapeutic that it heals emotional, physical and psychological burdens.  Best of all, it lets you create memories to cherish and treasure forever.

2014 : JORDAN

Amman. Madaba. Mount Nebo. Dead Sea. Kerak Castle. Shobak Castle. Petra.

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2014 : UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Dubai, my current work place. Abu Dhabi. Sharjah and counting.

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2013 : NEPAL

Thamel, Boudhannath and Swayambunath in Kathmandu. Bhaktapur. Patan. Nagarkot.

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 2010 – 2013 :  MALAYSIA

Penang, my home from 2010-2013.  Kuala Lumpur. Genting Highlands, Pahang. Selangor. Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Malacca. Johor Bahru. Sabah, Kota Kinabalu.

One Of The Twins
dragon dance, george town, penang, malaysia
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2011, 2012, 2013 : SINGAPORE

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2010 : JAPAN

14 days in Tokyo.

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 2004, 2012, 2013 : THAILAND

Bangkok. Hat Yai. Chiang Mai.

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2005 : BRUNEI DARUSSALAM

Bendar Seri Begawan.

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 2005 : NEW ZEALAND

7 weeks in Auckland.

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2004, 2006, 2012 : HONG KONG

Disney's Royalties
Prince Charles & the Queen at wax museum
Bond. Pierce. Gelo & Gabby.
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2000 : UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Los Angeles. Anaheim. Malibu. Carmel. Monterey. Santa Barbara. San Francisco. Yosemite. Fresno. San Diego. Las Vegas. California and Nevada in 22 days.

Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, 2000
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 PHILIPPINES

Metro Manila. Cebu. Cagayan De Oro. Baguio City, La Trinidad, Benguet. Batangas. Cavite. Ilocos Norte. Ilocos Sur. Subic, Zambales. Bulacan. Laguna. Rizal. Capiz, Roxas. Boracay, Aklan. San Fernando, Pampanga. La Union. Tiaong, Quezon.

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“I will not be famous, great. I will go on adventuring, changing, opening my mind and my eyes, refusing to be stamped and stereotyped. The thing is to free one’s self,  to let it find its dimensions, not be impeded.”  ~ Virginia Woolf

 

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20
Jul
14

IFTAR BUFFET AT DUSIT THANI DUBAI

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If you must know, Iftar is the break of the fast at around sunset during the Islamic month of Ramadan. And if in case you’re in Dubai or nearby emirates, why not celebrate Iftar at Dusit Thani Dubai?

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Imagine the exquisite fusion of Arabian luxury and Asian hospitality.  The Emirati sophistication and Thai elegance.  Fascinating qualities combined under one roof, in a remarkable twin-skyscrapers that physically resemble two-palms-put-together greeting everyone, Sawasdee!

Conveniently located along Sheikh Zayed Road, Dusit Thani Dubai is only a stone-throw-away from the world’s tallest man-made structure, the iconic – Burj Khalifa, the massively impressive, Dubai Mall and Dubai’s World Trade Center and the rest of establishments comprising its commercial and financial district; not to forget its proximity to Dubai Metro Station – that defines accessibility in truest sense of the word.

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Dusit Thani Dubai.  A glimpse of Asia in the heart of Dubai, UAE (photo sourced from its website).

One will not only savor a sumptuous buffet spread at Dusit Thani Dubai while enjoying  Asian-Arabian ambiance, but would also make Ramadan more meaningful, as a percentage of proceeds from the dinner buffet goes to Operation Smile.
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Although I have an idea of the Fasting month, as a Non-Muslim-Overseas Filipino Worker who came from a 3-year-work-stint in Malaysia that’s also predominantly believer of Islamic faith, where I had a chance to partake in Berbuka Puasa (breaking of the fast in Malay) and go to Ramadan Night Markets, there’s still a bit of curiosity for me to experience Ramadan (and summer) here in UAE for the first time.

About 2 weeks after our company threw an Iftar buffet party at a different premier hotel, I was blessed to try the Iftar offerings at Dusit Thani Dubai with one of our young colleagues who generously accompanied me on the eve of Friday, 18th July 2014.

Together with Jessica, my taste buds were challenged by not one but three restaurants in Dusit, participating in its Iftar – The Californian (Continental cuisine), PAX (Italian cuisine) and Benjarong (Thai).

The Californian

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Benjarong

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PAX

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Because the three restaurants are located at the 24th floor of Dusit Thani, the view from where we sat at PAX gave us a breathtaking visual feast of the stretch of Sheikh Zayed Road and the magnificent, Burj Khalifa at another corner. The dining experience was heightened as the sky dramatically turned into dusk.

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Jessica, one of my young and brilliant colleagues at work in Dubai.

With fresh orange juice and Arabic beverages and tea inclusive in the buffet, dishes of 60% Arabic and 40% Asian-Continental were on the spread located at the middle of  the 3 particpating restaurants. Although the volume wasn’t as great as our expectations, I honestly found some of my favorites (Shawarma, Hummus, Babanoush, Tabouleh, Greek Salad with feta cheese, Caesar salad, Chicken Biryani, Chicken ala Kiev, various pasta dishes cooked on the spot and others) appetizingly good!  What I did was random sampling of little portions of what I fancied.
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Dates and tea.

Why dates at Iftar? A quick glance at Wiki states, “Traditionally but not mandatory, three dates are eaten to break the fast in emulation of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, who broke his fast in this manner. Many Muslims believe that feeding someone iftar as a form of charity is very rewarding and that such was practised by the Prophet Muhammad.”

*photos below are only a fraction of the entire Iftar offerings at Dusit Thani Dubai.

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What’s dining in Dubai without Shawarma? Unlimited Chicken Shawarma, anyone? :)

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Traditional Roasted Lamb Ouzi, served with Oriental rice and toasted nuts.

No meal is complete without sweet endings… Here are some of the desserts in the middle of the desert! :)
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Good food, good company, good times… Thank you, Dusit!

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I love that Pasta! Go figure why. Troop to Dusit Thani for your Iftar if you’re in Dubai!
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Special thanks goes to Ms. Danelle of Dusit Thani Dubai for the invitation to this Iftar.

Dusit Thani Dubai | 133 Sheikh Zayed Road, P.O. Box 23335 Dubai | Tel: +971 (4) 343 3333+971 (4) 343 3333 | Fax: :+971 (4) 343 4222+971 (4) 343 4222 | website : http://www.dusit.com/dusitthani/dubai/default-en.html

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11
Jul
14

DOCGELO’S CHOICES : REMARKABLE TASTES FROM MEMORABLE CITIES

Traveling and eating.

Food and places.

These are indubitably inseparable.

Each time I set foot in a country that’s absolutely new to my senses, I try my best not to leave without sampling any dish that at least represents that place, or any plateful delight that could make my days more memorable. Frequently, I crave not only for the food itself, but there’s so much longing for vivid moments inked in my memory to be re-experienced, to be replayed.

Imagine my joy when I read the below email sent to me by TheBetsy.com, asking my humble recommendation of the best restaurants from various cities I’ve been to.

 

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Admittedly, it’s flattering (and overwhelming). I’m honored actually. No word is enough to express my gratitude.

So without further ado, here’s my random list of remarkable tastes from memorable cities…

CHAR KOAY TEOW.  PENANG, MALAYSIA.

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Char Koay Teow, from Kafe Heng Huat, Lorong Selamat, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Dubbed as Malaysia’s gastronomic paradise, Penang boasts of diverse flavors, textures and tastes. Of all the countless dishes from local ethnic groups of Malays, Chinese and Indians, I consider Char Koay Teow as my ultimate favorite Malaysian dish. My taste buds fell in love with every plate of fried flat noodles, mixed with chili sauce, egg, fresh sprouts, cockles, Chinese chorizo or pork sausage and large prawns!

During the years of 2010 to 2013, when I had Butterworth, Penang as my second home, I usually satisfy my craving for CKT by going to the island via buses and ferry, just to indulge myself with such noodle dish, cooked on the spot in a hawker stall in Gurney Drive or in Kafe Heng Huat at Lorong Selamat, Georgetown. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2013/03/16/more-than-a-plateful-of-char-koay-teow/.

 

 HAINANESE CHICKEN RICE. CHINATOWN, SINGAPORE.

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Hainanese Chicken Rice, from Maxwell’s Tian Tian Chicken House, Chinatown, Singapore.

Maxwell’s Tian Tian Chicken House became a word of mouth after Anthony Bourdain gave it a thumbs up.  So famous, that what made it popular became one of my favorite chicken dishes too –Hainanese Chicken Rice…(believe me, this plate tasted so much better than it looks on photo). The rice was boiled with seasoned chicken stock; it’s already tasteful sans the tender chicken itself. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2011/09/07/chinatown-singapore/

BUTTERMILK FRIED CHICKEN. KETTLE, METRO MANILA, PHILIPPINES.

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Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Kettle, East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza Mall, Mandaluyong City, Philippines.

Kettle’s brilliant expression of the usual comfort food, fried chicken left all of us in awe and wonder. From its crispy and lightly battered skin (Sinful. Spells HYPERLIPIDEMIA, I know!), the tender chicken fillets in huge fractions were gloriously seasoned to perfection! They’re beautiful and ultimately delicious even without condiments! However, for complete Kettle experience, you need to dip a chunk of that happiness to its country gravy and drizzle it with cajun honey, toy it in your mouth, swallow smoothly then dunk your fork to those equally tasteful honey glazed cornbread muffins. Bliss! Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2014/01/27/kettle-at-shangri-la-plaza-east-wing-inspiring-comfort-food/

 

ONE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS TEA. ARABIAN TEA HOUSE, BUR DUBAI, DUBAI, UAE.

 

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Exotic Chicken Salad, 1001 Nights Tea, Arabian Tea House, Bur Dubai, Dubai, UAE.

My so-called comfort place in Dubai at present is Arabian Tea House in Bastakiya, Old Dubai. I love their 1001 Nights Tea from Sri Lanka. Fruity. Sublime. Soothing. They also have Green Tea and Jasmine, White Tea Jasmine and Marigold, English Breakfast, Early Grey, Fairytale, Turkish Delight, Ceylon Sencha, Exotic Paradise, Milk Oolong, Raspberry and Mint, Mysterious Passion and a whole lot more teas!

From their menu, I usually opt to have Exotic Chicken Salad.  Heavenly!

Served with complimentary Arabic bread, the Exotic Chicken Salad is the most delicious and freshest I’ve had! The fusion of textures and flavors of ripe mango and avocado, cucumber and lettuce was simply divine! The BBQ-flavored chicken also doesn’t disappoint. I can have this simple all-in-one-meal plus that 1001 Nights tea as my last meal when I die. I kid you not. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2014/04/05/bastakiya-al-fahidi-my-favorite-place-in-dubai-to-date/.

 

YAKINIKU BUFFET. KARUNESUTEHSYON GINZATEN, GINZA, TOKYO, JAPAN

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Yakiniku Lunch Buffet, Karunesutehsyon Ginzaten, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan.

Price for lunch buffet inclusive of drinks (sodas, juices, coffee) back in 2010 was Y1,000 and for dinner -it’s a whopping Y3,000/pax!  I don’t have idea what Karunesutehsyon Ginzaten serves for dinner but obviously, it must be something better as it’s thrice expensive compared to their lunch. Nonetheless, the marbling of the beef slices to grill, the tenderness of the pork and freshness of the fish cuts, and the pure excitement of grilling your own food made the entire dining experience memorable. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2010/03/26/letters-from-tokyo-7-yakiniku-buffet/

 

 
HALO-HALO. ICEBERG, THE PHILIPPINES!

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Special Halo-halo, Iceberg, Timog Avenue, Quezon City, Philippines.

If there’s one dessert that could best describe our being Filipino, it’s our very own, Halo-Halo in my own opinion. Troop to Iceberg restaurant in any of its branches in Metro Manila or to any street vendors of Halo-Halo in any parts of our country and you’ll know what I mean. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2010/04/25/much-ado-about-summer/

 

JORDANIAN BUFFET, Near MOUNT NEBO, JORDAN.

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Assa Mosa restaurant near Mount Nebo – Middle Eastern Buffet, Jordan.

I was never fond of eating lamb dishes unless it’s cooked well without leaving an after-taste. Luckily, my taste buds were treated to a few delicious lamb dishes I’ve ever sampled! I never found a single fault on everything we’ve feasted! Jordanian-Arabic food was that good!

I loved the Shish Kebab, the Oozie rice dish that was nicely seasoned,  the hummus dip, the local salads and everything that I paired with a small bottle of that smooth-tasting local red wine, appropriately called Mount Nebo. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2014/06/10/jordan-road-trip-x-food-trip/

 

MOMO AND VARIOUS NEPALESE DISHES. COSMO DE CAFE, KATHMANDU, NEPAL.

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Our lunch at one of the rooftop restaurants in Kathmandu, Nepal.

We had vegetable momo (Newar dumplings) instead of chicken momo (others offer buffalo momo) simply because there’s bird flu in Nepal during the time of our visit. How exciting, isn’t it? Going back to momo; We had it two ways – fried and steamed and found it just okay, nothing to rave about. What made it unusual or special perhaps, was its dip compared to the soy and chilies of Chinese. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2013/08/11/our-unforgettable-journey-from-malaysia-to-nepal/

 

SEAFOOD BUFFET. SARKIES, EASTERN AND ORIENTAL HOTEL, PENANG, MALAYSIA.

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Salmon Sashimi, Duo of Gravlax, Seafood Extravaganza Dinner Buffet, Sarkies, E&O Hotel, Penang, Malaysia.

Two words. Favorite and fresh! Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2013/03/17/sarkies-seafood-buffet-dinner-extravaganza-eastern-oriental-hotel-penang/

PAD THAI. CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET, BANGKOK, THAILAND.

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Best Pad Thai on my list. From a hawker stall in Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand.

Flavorful, mouthwatering, fragrant and inexpensive dishes pleased us all on our very first meal in Bangkok. From an eatery in the heart of Chatuchak Weekend Market, we had Shrimp Fried Rice, Pad Thai, Pork Barbecue that we’re missing in Penang, and a few fried goodies for our son, Gabby. Full blog post here : http://docgelo.com/2012/08/31/bangkok-2012-series-thai-food-porn/

I could continue to enumerate more however, these are the top 10 on my list as of present. Each taste reminds me of a moment. Every texture and spoonful of goodness relay something to cherish.

>><<

29
Jun
14

REMEMBERING GREATER HEIGHTS | AT THE TOP OF BURJ KHALIFA, DUBAI AND MORE

I remember the ticket that I paid online for 130 dirhams (or roughly 35 USD which was actually 4 times cheaper than availing it on the spot) exactly 5 days earlier, which I claimed at the basement of Dubai Mall reads:

“Get Ready to Enter the Record Books.

Valid for ONE Admission, Adult.

Entry Date & Time : 18-May-2014, 10:30AM.”

I remember it took 3 months of stay in Dubai before I finally found a chance to set foot at the viewing deck of the tallest man-made structure on Earth as of present. The iconic, Burj Khalifa.

I remember the moment I pressed Enter on my laptop’s keyboard after I decided to reserve an admission ticket, I wondered how would it feel to be on top of the world literally; to set my gaze below and afar from the 124th floor of the tallest of the skyscrapers. I casually thought if the experience of ascending Burj Khalifa would matter to me  5 or 10 years from now. If the experience would be any different from those few times I placed myself at a great vantage points.

I remember when I went to 1-Altitude Bar in Singapore with a bunch of fellow Asian bloggers, where we grabbed our drinks while watching Marina Bay Sands bursts its fireworks and laser beams. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?

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I remember when I was escorted by the PR-Coordinator of Marina Bay Sands to its Observatory deck and famous infinity pool. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?

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I remember when I saw the Lion City from its Singapore Flyer. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when I was looking down the huge boulders and gorge from a higher ground in Wawa Dam in Montalban, Rizal back home. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when my family and I went up the Sky Bridge at  41st level of Malaysia’s magnificence – the Petronas Twin Towers, and when excitement was brought even higher to its Observation deck at its 86th level. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when my family and I went up the rooftop restaurants in Patan, Nepal. The view from above was amazing! Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when my family and I went up the Swayambhunath Stupa or Monkey Temple -one of Nepal’s most sacred Buddhist shrines where we savored the breathtaking view of Kathmandu valley. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when my family and I went up another rooftop restaurant across Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu. The serenity from that height was unforgettable. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?
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I remember when my family and I spent our last night in Nepal at Peaceful Cottage in Nagarkot, a simple yet incredibly fantastic accomodation perched above 7000 feet, overlooking the Himalayan range. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?

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I remember when I stood at Mount Nebo in Jordan, the holy mountain where Prophet Moses breathed his last; where a vast mountainous desert and bodies of water are seen dividing Jordan and Israel geographically. Will it be the same feeling when I go up the Burj Khalifa?

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Fifteen minutes before the scheduled flight to the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa via its rapid but smooth lift, I was still thinking if the experience will be the same as the others. My stimulated thoughts of being At The Top were not interrupted by caffeine and a fruit tart.

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The queue was long but organized. Apparently, I was not alone in wanting to experience being  At The Top.
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I remember I read inspiring words on the walls on way up.
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Then at one corner, Kabayan-staff was repeatedly saying something like, “Stand in the circle, focus your gaze at the star inside the circle. That is where you’re going. You’re going to the 124th floor of Burj Khalifa.”
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I remember looking at plastered photos on the walls, depicting how the tallest building was built.
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I remember going inside the lift, and a few seconds and a blink after, I went out with the other tourists. We stepped out of Observation deck at Burj Khalifa’s 124th.

I remember I was there.
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I remember looking at Sheikh Zayed Road from above, the highway seemingly guarded by handsome skyscrapers, the majestic stretch where I and my colleagues pass by daily, to and from the office. The view was different At The Top.
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I remember clicking my camera several times over that intersection and Dubai Metro railway.
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I remember how beautiful Souk Al Bahar in front of Dubai Mall appeared At The Top.
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I remember being At The Top of Burj Khalifa was almost the same experience of being at any elevated places somewhere else.

I remember how humbling it was to feel so small from all the higher grounds I’ve ever planted my foot on.

>><<

 

10
Jun
14

JORDAN | ROAD TRIP X FOOD TRIP

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Similar to an impulse that travels from the brain to the spine and elsewhere, the decision to take my feet to one of the places in my bucket list happened spontaneously. Destination : Jordan.

My random online surfing during ungodly hours of the morning in mid-May of 2014 made me aware about His Holiness Pope Francis’ visit to the Holy Land.  With only knowledge of its proximity to my current work place in Dubai -despite the lack of preparation, research and concrete game plan, I found myself with complete requirements to travel to Amman in less than a week. In retrospect, it was like the stars, the moon, and the entire universe conspired, so to speak. I believe it was utterly destined. Budget but decent hotels booked online, a travel-guide-driver to tour me around was recommended, a “No-Objection-Certificate” or NOC  was issued by my sponsor and my employer, visa stamped on my passport, return tickets via Fly Dubai purchased, a few Jordanian dinar bills secured, a courage to travel alone on a limited budget and yes, probably fate brought my feet to Jordan. I was weak to elude such once-in-a-lifetime-chance!

After immensely devouring Fly Dubai’s Chicken-Ala-Kiev and eagerly starting to read one of Khaled Hosseini’s bestsellers, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” that I still have yet to finish, and that almost-3-hour-flight, I arrived at Queen Alia International Airport at around half hour past 9PM, May 22, 2014, Thursday. Following quick airport proceedings, I finally met Hasan or Abu Malek, my friendly Jordanian travel-guide-par-excellence; I easily spotted him at the Arrival area, holding a white sheet of paper with my nickname on it, so classic just like in the movies! I loved it! :D

Hasan (whose contact details are listed below for your reference), drove me from the airport to my hotel in Amman. His casual but warm welcome greetings was followed by a string of suggestions about our itineraries to maximize my very first visit in his home country. I surrendered everything to him. My epic Jordanian road trip began the following morning.

MADABA

About less-than-hour-drive from Amman, we reached Madaba, the small and quaint city famous for its 6th century Mosaic-Map of Jerusalem and parts of the Holy Land.  A Greek Orthodox religious service was being held inside St. George’s Church when we arrived so tourists were asked to wait after 9:15AM for admission. Tickets were sold at the parish office for one (1) JOD or Jordanian dinar  (US $ 1.41). 

As faithfuls began to exit the church, I saw a few people inside unrolling the carpets. And lo and behold, the mosaic maps that were brilliantly laid on the floor were exposed!  Amazing how colorful stones from Madaba and neighboring cities were used to create stunning mosaic in the church’s floor and in framed masterpieces. The appreciation of such ancient art and historical artifacts transcends religion!

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To appreciate more of Madaba’s stone mosaic art, Hasan took me to Nebo’s Pearl, an impressive souvenir shop where such art pieces are being made by hand, not by merely ordinary craftsmen but physically challenged yet skillful and artistic individuals.

Buying from such shop would not only aid the artisans, but fractions of the purchase of some items go to church as well.

I bought a medium-sized-wooden-jewelry-box with a colorful stone mosaic of  Madaba’s Tree of Life inlaid on its top. Some small souvenir items like fridge magnets, rosaries, Holy Water from place of Christ’s Baptism and small purses for a few relatives and friends were also irresistible to pass up.

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LUNCH

Traveling is futile without sampling local dishes. I’m grateful that Hasan brought me to the best and most affordable food places in Jordan during our road trip. Even more thankful that I didn’t have to pay for his meals as he eats for free in all of those restaurants we went to!

I was never fond of eating lamb dishes unless it’s cooked well without leaving an after-taste. Luckily, my taste buds were treated to a few delicious lamb dishes I’ve ever sampled! I never found a single fault on everything we’ve feasted! Jordanian-Arabic food was that good!

I loved the Shish Kebab, the Oozie rice dish that was nicely seasoned,  the hummus dip, the local salads and everything that I paired with a small bottle of that smooth-tasting local red wine, appropriately called Mount Nebo.
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MOUNT NEBO

Time was never wasted with a local travel guide, like Hasan who knows how to maximize the day and perfected the art of tour-guiding in his own country for more than 20 years!  After my last sip of Mount Nebo red wine, I had the small bottle with half of its contents takeaway, and went our way to our next stop. Where else but Mount Nebo!

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Mount Nebo, or according to Hasan, Mount Siyagha, was mentioned in the bible and history books, as the site where Prophet Moses died.  I’m far from being religious but there were no words to describe the feeling of being in the same mountain where Moses had his last breath, to be inside the humble museum where relics from old churches are kept and displayed, and to see the church that’s being built in Moses’ memorial site.
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The Church currently under construction in memorial site of Moses.

Inside the museum…

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I shall be forever grateful for the chance to be at the sacred place where the late Pope JPII stood.
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DEAD SEA

Forty-five minutes after discovering Mount Nebo, I was in the passenger’s seat again of  Hasan’s car.  He drove me next to one of the densest bodies of the water in the world. The  Dead Sea.

“Right across Dead Sea, you can see that mountain range -that’s Jerusalem already.”  he said.

While there are five star-hotels to that popular beach, Hasan took me to a nicer and cheaper access where I paid 20 JOD.

Did I try to take a dip and float like everyone else at Dead Sea?

No.

Forgive me as I came not prepared  for Dead Sea. Without beach towels and slippers, I had to buy flip-flops at whopping 5 JOD just to bear the scorching temperature of sand under my feet.

But of course, for posterity’s sake, I didn’t leave Dead Sea without sampling that famous mud pack. So I paid 1 JOD and a local man selling that black mud applied it generously on my face (3 JOD for entire body).

 

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So while everybody’s floating at Dead Sea, I was cam-whoring with my ear-to-ear-smile with that mud all over my face! It was itchy and a stinging sensation was really irritating, I had to rush to the shower area and removed it immediately. Ugh! The things you do for facebook, instagram, twitter and this blog! :P
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According to Hasan, since rain in Jordan is scarce, Dead Sea has been reduced to a meter every year and sadly, they predicted that in the next hundred years or God-forbid even sooner, Dead Sea may become extinct.

FROM DEAD SEA  EN ROUTE  TO  KERAK CASTLE

Moving on with our road trip, the next simple things and fascinating places that stimulated me were groups of sheep and goat, a spectacular coastline of salt, potash and whatnot, breathtaking mountainous view, and stone statues atop a mountain that according to Hasan, were naturally formed that depict the spot of what has been believed to be Sodom and Gomorrah.

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Sodom and Gomorrah stone statues.

A quick glance at Wiki, I read about  Sodom and Gomorrah as“The plain, which corresponds to the area just north of the modern-day Dead Sea, was compared to the garden of Eden[Gen.13:10] as being a land well-watered and green, suitable for grazing livestock.”

BELOW SEA LEVEL,

AT SEA LEVEL,

ABOVE SEA LEVEL

“The world’s lowest roads, Highway 90, run along the Israeli and West Bank shores of the Dead Sea, along with Highway 65 on the Jordanian side, at 393 m (1,289 ft) below sea level.” – Wiki

With this day-long road trip from almost North of Jordan, to its Southern part in Petra, we passed along the areas below sea level, at sea level and above sea level where indubitably, temperature and humidity vary.

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At Sea Level.  I had to ask Hasan for a quick photo-op!

As we reached sea level, we then drove to ascend to Kerak Castle, situated 960 meters above sea level.

KERAK,  JORDAN

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KERAK  CASTLE

Strategically built at 960 meters above sea level, Kerak Castle consists of numerous chambers, mosques, bedrooms, dining rooms that served military crusaders well during the ancient times. What remains now appears to be a fusion of West European, Byzantine, and Arabian architectures standing at its magnificence over looking the valleys.

The 1 JOD-entrance fee included a quick guided-tour inside Kerak Castle. It was dark inside, with only small flashlight from the local guide, and there’s almost nothing but caves and chambers, reminiscent of its historic past. In contrast, the view outside atop the mountain was breathtaking!

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SHOBAK  CASTLE

From one castle to another, Hasan drove me over the desert and mountainous roads of Kerak to Shobak Castle. A deserted crusader castle perched at 1300 meters above sea level.

And just as accurately as he calculated, we reached Shobak Castle few minutes before 6PM when sundown was seen at its full glory!  My photo could not do justice to the beauty of the mountains in Shobak Castle at that hour. I was told that during winter season, everything’s covered with snow and tranquility.

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PETRA

The last stop where we retired for the day was no less but in Petra, Jordan. I checked in at my reserved hotel while Hasan stayed with his friends’ place in Petra. Prior to that, he took me to another must-try local-eatery where Bukhara rice is offered. We ordered it, plus shish kebab (not on photo), hummus, salad and Arabic bread.

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The following  morning was spent remarkably in one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, probably the other reason why I went to Jordan. My blog post about my incredible experience in Petra here : http://docgelo.com/2014/05/29/petra-jordan-remarkable-steps-and-unforgettable-memories/

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Widest smile of astonishment that he set foot in Petra, Jordan! I big tick off from my bucket list!

With Hasan’s helpful advice to leave Petra at 11AM for us to reach Amman before the 4PM-6PM Holy Mass by Pope Francis at Amman International Stadium (set last 24th May 2014), we were on the roads for that almost 4-hour-drive early as scheduled. We made an almost 1-hour-stop at one of his favorites where he made me eat Jordan’s traditional dish called, Mansaf!

MANSAF, JORDANIAN TRADITIONAL DISH

It may sound overly ridiculous but I couldn’t imagine myself leaving Jordan without sampling its very own National dish. It was like watching Maleficent without knowing it stars Angelina Jolie!

A lamb dish cooked in sauce of fermented dried yoghurt served with rice and yoghurt sauce; Mansaf’s delicious! The lamb shank was very fork-tender with no unpleasant after-taste, the yoghurt sauce was not tangy and was just right. The rice was perfectly flavored; quite different from Biryani or other rice dishes I’ve had.

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Mansaf. Jordan’s National dish.
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With Hasan or Abu Malek. My newly found friend in Jordan! Shukran, Hasan! :D

After our hearty Mansaf-lunch, at the very same handsome restaurant, I managed to freshen up and changed into crisp clothes and got ready for High Mass at Amman International Stadium.

As we exited the highway and reached the capital city of Jordan, I was not in myself, probably out of severe excitement and incredible disbelief, when I asked Hasan what country does those flags displayed across Jordan’s, posted at poles along the roads represent.

“Vatican’s.”

“Oh yeah! The Pope’s here! I went here for that event, hahaha! Those yellow and white flags are of Vatican, of course! Silly me!” –Major face-palm moment! Toinks!

Hasan had to drop me off a few meters away from the stadium as roads were closed to traffic because of absolute security for the Pope.  We even saw together the helicopter descending from the sky; must be the Pope, we thought and numerous tourist buses and policemen scattered on the streets. He left me and I agreed to be pick up at 5:30PM, just timely for our dinner together and to catch my 11:45PM flight back to Dubai.

After walking several meters to the gates of Amman International Stadium, I asked the presumably Head of security or one of those in authorities.

“Hi Sir, Is this the gate to Pope Francis’ Holy Mass?”

“Yes, but you are 5 minutes late. The gates are closed.”

“How come? The Mass is scheduled at 4PM-6PM as posted on the website.”

“Yes, it closed at 3:10PM. It’s already 3:15PM. You were 5 minute-late.”

“Sir, I came a long way from Dubai for this.”

“Doesn’t matter. The gates are closed.”

End of story.
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There are more places in Jordan I’ve not seen, there are many other things to experience, I left that same night with unfinished business. Some other time, Jordan! See you again, soon!

I may not have seen the Pope up close in Amman, but I came back to Dubai enriched with new experiences I learned from my brief but memorable trip to Jordan. I may not have attended His Holiness’ High Mass in Jordan, but I’ve seen more of God’s creations and for that I’ll be thankful forever!

 

 >><<

*You may contact my ever friendly and trustworthy travel-guide-driver who became my friend-somewhat-like-a-family in Jordan through his facebook page : Hasan Bani Naser or Abu Malek. Please tell him, the Filipino Travel-Food Blogger, Gelo or whom he called, Abu Gabby referred you to him. Many thanks! https://www.facebook.com/hasan.mharebbaninaser?fref=ts

>><<

29
May
14

PETRA, JORDAN | REMARKABLE STEPS AND UNFORGETTABLE MEMORIES

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Petra, Jordan. One of the Seven Wonders of the World. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In this age when everything is measured in gigabyte memories and digital apps, I cherish experiencing places such as Petra that  left me in awe and gifted me with vivid moments to remember for as long as I live.

THE GAME PLAN

Sometimes, the spontaneous trips without itineraries are the most memorable ones. In my list of a few travels to date, my recent trip to Jordan was the most unplanned, however worthwhile. This short but sweet weekend-getaway from Dubai where I am currently based, resulted from the random impulse to attend the mass of His Holiness Pope Francis in Amman International Stadium scheduled last 24th May 2014, Saturday, 4PM-6PM (the date coincided with my days off at work) that I read from Jordan Embassy website. To be honest, I submitted an accomplished Media Accreditation form last 14th May 2014, a day before the deadline set by The Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan  to cover the momentous event, but even after the said date, I got no response. Perhaps, I thought, they would release the details near the date of the event for security purposes, or they really preferred mainstream media men and not just someone less famous from his virtual home in social media. Nonetheless, something within me made my decision firm to  travel again and discover Jordan this time hence, I did the needful.

Visa Requirements to travel to Jordan for Philippine-passport-holders and UAE Residents like me :

  • Original and copy of passport with at least 6 months validity
  • UAE Residence valid for more than 6 months.
  • Passport ID photo
  • NOC or No Objection Certificate from Sponsor and/or Employer
  • Hotel Reservation (plane tickets are not even a requirement as of this posting).
  • Visa fee (kindly check the embassy or consulate’s website).
  • 30 minutes to apply and wait for the visa to be issued at the consulate in Bur Dubai.

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THE  ARRIVAL

With only roundtrip tickets, boarding passes, 2 overnight-hotel-reservations, duffel and laptop bags on hand, I arrived safely in Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan right after attending to my 8 hour-work in Dubai, via a 2 hour and forty-five-minute-flight with FlyDubai Airlines at 9:35PM (Jordan time) last 22nd May 2014.

It was the first time that I didn’t google and prepare for itineraries because I surrendered everything to the local travel-guide-par-excellence, Hasan, who was recommended by my former student and her husband, Jill and Arence, who recently savored traveling to Jordan.  After conversing with Hasan on facebook and via few phone calls, I simply told him I just want to go to Petra and Dead Sea, and trusted him with the rest (where to go, where to eat, what to enjoy-after all, the best person to tour you around is a local like Hasan with 20 years of unparalleled tour guiding). He picked me up from the airport and drove me to my chosen budget hotel in Amman City Centre – the Canyon Boutique Hotel (affordable, huge and clean room with toilet and shower, fast and free wifi).

Fast forward to the late afternoon the day after I arrived in Jordan, I and my travel-guide-driver, Hasan ended our long but fun road trip (after going to Madaba, Mount Nebo, Dead Sea, Kerak, Showbak that certainly deserve a separate blog posts) in Petra, Jordan. I intently stayed overnight in Petra after spending a night in Amman just to be early at the gates of Petra the following day.

Hasan stayed with his friends after he drove me to Al Anbat Hotel in Petra (affordable, huge and clean room with toilet and shower but NO WIFI in the room -Do you know how it feels to be like lifeless even for overnight?).

The next morning, 24th May 2014, Saturday, Hasan picked me up from my hotel, left and dropped me off at the gates of Petra with pieces of his advice on my pocket :

  • Thou shall not tell the ticket counter that you came with a travel-guide for you will be charged with two tickets.
  • A pass for one day in Petra costs 50 JOD (Jordanian Dinar) or around 70.60 USD per pax.
  • One can avail of Passes for 2 days to a cheaper rate.
  • Access to Petra at night, when candles lord the desert floor in front of the tombs comes in different rate.
  • Tickets are inclusive of horse ride from a few meters after the gate to the Siq until the Treasury. Return rides via horse and carriages are available at another cost.
  • Avoid and just be polite with insistent vendors within Petra.

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“Horses are included in your tickets, Sir! Just give little tip to the guides.” 

“Thank you, but I want to walk and take photos.”

THE  SIQ

After 10 to 15 minute walk from the ticket counter, I found myself at the ancient main entrance to Petra. The Al-Siq or The Siq.

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Hemmed in by cliffs soaring up to 80 meters, the Siq is the stunning 1200 meter long, deep and narrow gorge. Motor vehicles are prohibited to go through the Siq, thus the options left for tourists are to ride horses, donkeys, horse-drawn-carriages or on foot. As mentioned, I went on foot not only because I would take photos but I absolutely wanted to absorb and feel every second of every minute of my walk through it. And there I was. Stunned and awed by God’s creations!

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I caught myself dropping my jaw and silently uttering, “Oh My God!  Oh My God!” upon the sight of the Siq. There’s nothing like it! The multitude of colors of sandstone from cream to rose-red to orange, burnt pink to rust and brown dazzled my eyes. The fact that I was walking the main passage way to Petra where the ancient city of Nabataeans was, that served as the gate to travelers and traders in caravans who came with Indian spices and silks, African ivory and animal hides, Arabian frankincense and myrrh, en route to Egypt and Europe, it’s beyond words. Unbelievable!

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About 45 minutes later, or probably, an hour of my slow-paced walk along the Siq, an incredible beam of golden sun rays at half hour past 8 in the morning, squeezed through those  rose-red sandstone and greeted me.  My heart raced a thousand beats!

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AL-KAZNEH or THE TREASURY

Ahhhh…Finally, the Treasury!

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No amount of words or volume of photos could ever do justice to Petra, particularly the Treasury. Nothing could ever prepare you for it. One must experience it to believe and understand its magnificence, brilliance and beauty.

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Before I click my camera a countless times, I stood still in front of the Al Kazneh or The Treasury. The clock’s hands seemed to cease from ticking. It was those travel moments that I wanted to relive and relive and relive endlessly. It was surreal.

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Al Kazneh or The Treasury is the pride and joy of Petra. The Nabataean’s creativity and artistic touch were apparent in the Hellenistic and Alexandrian architectural style of that 30 meter-wide and 43-meter high incredibly gorgeous facade. Carved in rose-red sandstone in the 1st century BC as a tomb, some scholars stated that it was later used as a temple. Although the exteriors was exquisitely carved, the interiors was empty with dark chamber.

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Didn’t I tell you I walked through the Siq and arrived at the Treasury in Petra on an empty stomach? With only frequent sips of water to beat the high morning Jordanian sun, I felt and heard borborygmi from my then hyperactive stomach. Good thing, I found the coolest unbranded coffee and snack shop in Jordan right in front of the Treasury.

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Too bad my photo of that bitter-sweet and authentic Arabic coffee that I paired with chicken wrap prepared and served to my table, was found to be blurry, and unfit of posting. Nevertheless, it was one of my most extraordinary breakfasts ever!

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After being fed, the tourist in me kicked in. I scouted some local young boys to take my cam and shoot my photos-worthy of instagram, facebook, twitter and blog posts. Tee-hee! :D

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The obligatory shot with the camels and donkey was followed with a once-in-a-lifetime photo-op with 2 good men geared in ancient Nabataean guard attires. While I was trying my best to smile and immortalize the moment, two adorable young tourists stole the show like random professional photo-bombers. Good job, kids! Good job! You made me think about the greatness of starting to travel, live and explore the world early. And you mean, EARLY! My goodness! :D

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I also saw more infectious and innocent smiles from another pair of kids who were too damn lucky to set foot in Petra and learned to appreciate the world we live in at such young age. Their parents were doing it so right!

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Hasan never forget to remind me that it would take me another hour to walk through the Siq again in my return to the gates. We agreed at 11AM pick up at the area after the ticket counter where he left me before 7 that morning. So immediately after soaking myself with the beauty of Al-Kazneh, I glanced at my wrist watch and it was already 9:45AM. I only had less than an hour to walk through the rest of Petra.

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These are the areas near the High Place of Sacrifice where religious ceremonies honoring Nabataean gods and funeral rites were held.

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THE MAIN THEATER

Other than the small tombs and chambers a few steps after Al Kazneh, the next must-see-ruin in Petra is the Main Theater.

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The theater has Graeco-Roman design but was actually built by ancient Arabs, the Nabataeans. The Main Theater could seat 3000 initially and was later extended to hold about 7000 people; it was that majestic!

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Written guides about Petra state that one needs 4 to 5 days to explore the entire Rose-Red City completely. There are more tombs and chambers on cliffs, the impressive Ad-Deir or the Monastery that could only be accessed after ascending a flight of 800 stairs cut into the rocky mountain.

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Obviously, I left an unfinished business in Petra. I opted not to wander further after the Main Theater and strolled my way back to the Treasury, then to the Siq.

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En route to the Siq and to the gates, I saw two young local kids playing.
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One of them saw me taking their photos on a whim. She approached me and offered me a bill just to take her portrait and let her see it. Meet Deema, one of the postcard vendors inside Petra.
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When I saw the money that Deema was offering, it was a ten (10) US dollar bill. She thought of disposing it casually as she only give importance to dinar. I told her not to do so as it amounts to seven (7 ) JOD (Jordanian dinar). I didn’t take the bill despite she was insistent but took 2 sets of postcards instead and gave her 2 dinars for them. She smiled after she saw her photo.

That brief encounter with innocence led to seeing flock of matured tourists hours before high noon.

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I had mixed emotions and thoughts with these tourists. I so appreciate the fact that in spite of their osteorarthritic and rheumatoid arthritic ages, they keep an inspiring enthusiasm to travel. On the other hand, I pity them for being exposed under the scorching sun at noon-time! Thus, keep in mind that the best timings to visit Petra is either early to mid-morning or mid-afternoon to avoid being sun kissed. Wear protective SPF lotion (which I didn’t;  so worthy to unfollow!), sun visors, hats, caps, umbrellas, sunnies or ghuttra to feel and look like local. :)
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I shall never forget that weekend morning in Petra.
Shukran, Petra, Jordan!

Thank you for that amazing experience!

03

“May you find the courage to walk to your own path.

May you dare to venture into the uncharted domain of your own heart.

Fear will show you the way, walk steadily toward it, for otherwise you will always be running.

Have trust and faith to guide you like a torch piercing darkness.

Do not believed and do not deny, but find out for yourself,

for there is no truth but the one you have earned in your own experience.”

- Yossi Ghinsberg -

 

*This Jordan Blog Series is not sponsored. It will be followed by blog posts about Madaba, Mount Nebo, Dead Sea, Kerak, and Shobak and the gastronomic feasts I had with my new found-Jordanian friend, Hasan, so please stay tuned. His photo and contact details will be shared on the coming posts. Thank you!

>><<

 

21
May
14

ORIGINAL WINGS & RINGS | DUBAI’S NEWEST TASTEFUL BITES

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THE STORY

It doesn’t happen on a weekly basis that I get to spend Monday afternoon with engaging stories, crunchiest onion rings, loud laughs, delightful burgers, thirst-quenching cocktails, interesting gyros, sublime desserts and best buffalo wings ever!

THE CAST

(from left to right) – Maria, Cleo, Xaviera, Ron and Jessica.

They’re a bunch of young, restless, intelligent and fun-loving colleagues that I have in Dubai.

And yes, aren’t they good looking too? (ayos ba, mga Kabayan?)

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THE VENUE

ORIGINAL WINGS & RINGS, DUBAI,

Liberty House, DFIC, Dubai.

(It’s conveniently located a stone’s throw away from Financial Centre Metro Station).

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THE AMBIANCE

Relaxed. Hip and Edgy. Playful. Non-intimidating. Family-friendly.

The most spacious American-Sports-themed bar and restaurants I’ve been to!

The celadon green, pomegranate pink and fresh orange hues made it more inviting.

Favorite games on the monitors while you sip your cocktails, beer, fruit juices or mocktails.

House music’s not bad too!

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THE MENU

Delicious Burgers that are good enough to be shared.

Nachos and Onion Rings that won’t stop you nibbling.

Quesadilla and Gyros.

Salads and more.

And of course, dare I say the BEST BUFFALO WINGS that won the vote of my taste buds.

Level of spiciness and flavors may depend on your preference too.

We tried BONELESS Original, Crazy and Parmesan and Garlic on Mild level of hotness.

Lip-smackingly good!!!

Flavors on the menu are insanely voluminous too.

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THE BEVERAGE DEPARTMENT

We washed everything down with cocktails, mocktails and fruit juices!

Does Sex On The Beach interest you? I mean the cocktail called SOTB.

Mojito, perhaps?

Fresh fruit juices, shakes, vodka, and a lot more.

Ahhhhh…Refreshing! Thirst-quenching! :D

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THE SWEETEST ENDING

I support dessert-lovers association (if there’s such!).

I believe a great meal is always made greater with sweets.

And on that department, Original Wings & Rings doesn’t disappoint.

Toothsome, textured and ultimately delightful cheesecakes and chocolate slices

served as a tempting end to our fun-filled late afternoon.

Although with limited choices, the trio that we sampled could effortlessly trigger a healthy competition even with the popular coffee shops around.

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THE FUN PART

Foosball. That Original Wings & Rings’ Foosball table brought out the kids in all of us.

Arcade-like-race car (or something like that!).

And who knows, OW&R Dubai next time would have some darts, basketball rings and table tennis too.

Just kidding.

Seriously, we had playful time.

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The gorgeous skyscrapers along Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai as our backdrop! How great the location of OW&R is!
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THE SERVICE

Friendly. Efficient. Quick. Service with smiles.

Rebecca, the wait staff who attended to us deserved a 100% mark on product-knowledge category!

She knows the menu by heart and smartly recommends what needs to be recommended.

Bravo!

 

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WHEN IN DUBAI,

Drop by one of the few I recommend.

I am betting my last dirham that you’ll love ORIGINAL WINGS & RINGS too just like we did.

TWO THUMBS UP!

A SURE HOME RUN!

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*Special thanks to Ms. Alena for the invitation, and for allowing me to share the fun, the onion rings, buffalo wings of OW&R Dubai to my fellows! 

*Although the meals and beverages were sponsored, the words, opinion and insights on this blog post weren’t influenced, and 100% blogger’s own.

ORIGINAL WINGS AND RINGS | website : http://www.buffalowingsandrings.com/ | facebook : https://www.facebook.com/OriginalWingsAndRings | instagram : @buffaloemirates | twitter : @buffalowingsae

>><<

 




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