15
Nov
14

5 PLACES TO VISIT IN RABAT, THE CAPITAL CITY OF THE KINGDOM OF MOROCCO

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An almost 2-hour-public train ride from Aeroport Mohammed V in Casablanca, that departed at 9:55AM via first-class-coach at 115 Moroccan Dirhams took me to Gare Rabat-Ville station. Next thing I knew – I found myself waiting for a blue petit-taxi-cab outside the 50-year-old terminal and checked in at my riad in a breeze.

Since I only have a day to spend in Morocco’s capital city prior heading to Chefchaouen and Fes, I decided to pre-arrange a 3-hour-afternoon-tour with the manager of the riad via e-mails about a month before my trip. I thought it’s wise to maximize my limited visit with a local tour guide who’s highly recommended by the hotel. Apparently, I gave my 100% trust to the hotel manager of that luxury riad in Rabat.

CONSIDER THIS A REMINDER WHEN TRAVELING AND DEALING WITH STRANGERS

The below itineraries were suggested by the multi-lingual male tour guide provided to me, along with a grand taxi or a vintage Mercedes sedan and a driver. The tour went fine and uneventful. I repeat, nothing unpleasant happened to me thankfully. However, after posting my photo with the tour guide on my Instagram account (@iamdocgelo) three weeks after the trip, one of the travelers I religiously follow on Instagram sent me direct messages that he and his friends were highway-robbed by the same tour guide during their 10-day-stay in Morocco (The reason why I personally decided to take down the said photo with that tour guide; I don’t want to imply I’m recommending him as well). They needed to call the Philippine Embassy and ask aid from the Ambassador.  Although I am sorry for what happened to them, I took everything positively as someone who shares the same passion in traveling became concerned and indirectly reminded me to be more vigilant and careful in dealing with strangers when traveling. Let it be a reminder to you as well. Don’t get me wrong – Morocco is safe even for solo-travelers like me; and the incident mentioned could happen anywhere to anyone, so let us all be extra-careful and prioritize safety at all times.
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Three hours were enough to visit 5 of the most interesting places in Rabat. Here’s the list of where I went.

(1) Mausoleum of Mohammed V

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Where the Royal tombs are.

After passing through countless foreign consulates and embassies along the road, we shortly arrived in one of Morocco’s most important and historic touristy places, the Mausoleum of Mohammed V and Hassan Tower.

The weather was so perfect in October. The cool breeze from Bou Regreg River complemented the gorgeous blue sky that afternoon. I went off the grand taxi cab alone as I was instructed by the tour guide to go inside the mausoleum and roam around the Hassan tower complex, take as many pictures as I want and meet him after half an hour for his brief explanation of the place.  Absolutely, not problem. I liked it that way.

Although I haven’t been to India yet, but it’s on my list, the first glimpse at the mausoleum made me think of Taj Mahal in Agra. Not only they’re both shrines for the tombs, but the immaculate and intricately designed structure made me perceived as such.

There were Royal guards on white and brown horses at the gates that looked like straight out of  Arabian Nights or Prince of Persia movie. I was told that those guards and horses go on shifts every one and half hour (or was it two?) as standing still under the sun, despite the cool almost-winter-weather could be so tiring and dehydrating too. Even horses are subjected to fatigue, hunger and dehydration, you know! :)

What makes the mausoleum significant? It is where King Mohammed V -the father of modern and independent Morocco is laid to rest. His tomb in flawless white marble can be seen and photographed by visitors from the balcony. Next to the King’s tomb are tombs of Hassan II, his son and the father of the present king of Morocco, Mohammed VI. Royal guards in handsome uniforms were stationed not only before the doors, but at the four corners of the mausoleum as well.

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The beautiful tiled wall inside the mausoleum.

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Moroccan details.
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One of the Royal guards in the mausoleum.

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Hassan Tower. Unfinished business.

The supposed to be world’s tallest minaret of a mosque was left undone after its founder, Sultan Yacoub Al Mansour died in 1199. Made of red sandstone, the Hassan Tower within the mausoleum complex was left incomplete with its height of 44 meters; they initially planned it to be 86 meters tall however, construction was ceased.

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One of the Royal guards at the gates of the Mausoleum.

Outside the mausoleum complex, I met one of Morocco’s traditional watermen in ful vivid attire!

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Obligatory touristy shot with Aguador, or the traditional Waterman.

(2) Kasbah of the Oudayas
 

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Bab Oudaia. The gates to the castle of the Oudaias.

The castle of the Udayas, or Kasbah of the Oudayas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located along Bou Regreg river -the body of water in Rabat that joins the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, the castle sets a romantic and relaxing ambiance after it was deserted following Sultan Yacoub Al Mansour’s death.

The café that serves that unforgettable and soothing Moroccan mint tea, coffee and sweet local pastries is one of the big reasons why one must not miss visiting Kasbah of the Oudayas.

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Where Tom Cruise shot his upcoming movie, Mission Impossible 5 a week before my trip!

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Bou Regreg River that meets the Atlantic Ocean. 
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That afternoon with Moroccan songs and traditional music.

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Cul de sac. Dead end of one of the narrow and blue-tinted alleys similar to Chefchaouen.

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Outside the oldest Portugese abode within Kasbah Oudayas.

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Moroccan delights perfectly paired with warm mint tea.

(3) Old Medina of Rabat

Teeming with handwoven colorful carpets made of sheep, camel hair, and silk, plus leather goods handcrafted by Moroccan artisans make the Old Medina of Rabat worth visiting. It’s a short walking distance from Kasbah of the Oudayas.

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Market scene in the Medina of Rabat.

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Those silk handwoven carpets laid on floor were my choices that I regret not buying.

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The oldest hotel in Rabat, I was told.

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Leather pattern maker within the Medina of Rabat.

(4) Kasbah Chellah

My afternoon tour of Rabat actually started at Castle of Chellah. After paying 10 Moroccan dirhams as admission fee, my eyes were treated to lush nature, made of olive and orange trees. There’s a garden inside with cemented walkway that leads to the ancient Roman necropolis. Right across the Roman necropolis are the ruins of an Arabic mosque, hammam or Moroccan bath and massage house and an Islamic school that was popular in the entire country.

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The Chellah Castle with its façade to the old necropolis.

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Spotted : Natural magic dragon amongst olive and orange trees within the gardens.

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The ancient Roman Necropolis.

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Storks and their huge nests atop ruins of the old Islamic school.

(5) Downtown Rabat

The buildings along the main boulevard in Rabat are reminiscent of French, Spanish and Portugese influences that blended well through the years with Moroccan history and African heritage. A stroll along the main road was so apt during sunset. A local beer could be enjoyed from an old French restaurant right across the Parlement du Maroc or the Parliament of Morocco. Other than the public train that runs from Northern Morocco to Marrakech, a city tram can be found in Rabat to its neighboring town of Sale.

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The Moroccan Parliament.
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Main Boulevard in Rabat.
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The Rabat-Sale tram.
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European influences are apparent in these century old buildings.

CAMEL MEAT, ANYONE?

My local tour guide suggested for us to dine at Tajine Wa Tanjia, an obviously upscale local restaurant in Rabat. After checking the menu, prices seemed affordable and reasonable so I gave my nod. When I asked for the house specialty, I received an instant reply of Camel Tanjia. Say, what? Camel? Caa-ca-camel?

Tajine or tagine and tanjia are Moroccan clay pots where meat such as lamb, chicken, and yes, camel are being made to tender-perfection.

I succumbed to my tour guide’s suggestion, and surprisingly, I found camel meat fork-tender and as tasteful as beef. There were no unpleasant after-taste as my taste buds tasted nice marinade of lemon and other preferred spices. I paired that camel tanjia with a bottle of red wine and Moroccan rice of course. What a way to end my first day in Morocco.

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Piping hot Moroccan bread, vegetables, olives and Camel Tanjia.

*All photos on this blog post are taken using Samsung Galaxy Note 3. This is not a sponsored post.
*This Morocco Travel Blog Series includes :

 

08
Nov
14

MEDINA OF FES, MOROCCO

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Ammoniacal odor inside Guerniz Tannery from  lime and pigeon droppings used to soften the hides.
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Belgha : Finely crafted and colorful Moroccan slippers inside Medina of Fes.1
Photographed and printed on postcards, the Bab Boujaloud, the gateway a UNESCO Heritage Site.

In retrospect, everything and everyone in Fes, Morocco was utterly interesting to a curious travel-enthusiast like me. From the offensive and pungent atmosphere lording one of the oldest tanneries in Guerniz, to plethora of colors and textures of local commodities sold in the old medina.

With the sun almost ready to set its glory that afternoon, and an apparent warning sign of impending drizzle from the rain clouds covering the walled city that seemed frozen in time, I left the courtyard of Riad Rcif with an expert-local-tour-guide whom I pre-arranged with my accommodation.
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The riad, or courtyard of Riad Rcif, my chosen kingdom for a night in Fes.

Silly me, I didn’t realize I would be walking around the medina of Fes for 3 hours literally. I was honestly expecting to ride a taxi cab or any mode of transportation but to my embarrassment,  I didn’t think I’d be strolling around the world’s largest car-free-urban-zone! Thankfully, I wore comfortable rubber shoes, however, it never crossed my mind that I’d be walking uphill and downhill, that eventually challenged my stamina and put me to fatigue within few minutes. In case we’re on the same page before I discovered Fes, this ancient part of Morocco has more than 9000 narrow alleys where only mules and donkeys are allowed and remain inaccessible to anything modern with wheels. Obviously, my preparation for this trip wasn’t enough. Nonetheless, everything went better than I imagined.
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A glimpse of the world’s largest car-free-urban-zone.

Just before the rain poured over Fes, we reached the medina via entering a massive gate known as the “bab.”  Bab Boujaloud serves as the access to the new souk and a gateway to countless mosques and oldest madrasa or Islamic schools in the world.
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Market scene in the Medina of Fes.
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Water Clock.

From the random market scenes, my attention was focused to Dar al-Magana, or the clock house. With 13 wooden windows and platforms with brass bowls, the water clock has its own unique mechanism that’s best explained on Wiki :

“The motion of the clock was presumably maintained by a kind of small cart which ran from left to right behind the twelve doors. At one end, the cart was attached to a rope with a hanging weight; at the other end to a rope with a weight that floated on the surface of a water reservoir that was drained at a regular pace. Each hour one of the doors opened; at the same time a metal ball was dropped into one of the twelve brass bowls. The rafters sticking out of the building above the doors (identical to the rafters of the Bou Inania Madrasa) supported a small roof to shield the doors and bowls. The bowls have been removed since 2004 and the clock mechanism is being restored as one of Fes’ remarkable landmarks.”

As bizaare as the water clock, there’s a stall across that sells bottled rose water and  dried rose hips.

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Bottled rose water, and rose hips. Their uses were unknown to me. Care to educate me?

Opposite to the water clock is the Madrasa Bou Inania; the only Muslim school in Fes with a minaret, or that tall spire with conical onion shaped structure, seen at a distance from the bab. It was an architectural masterpiece!

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I made it clear with my tour guide that I have limited pocket money hence, I didn’t have interest in buying unnecessary things. However, I effortlessly swallowed my words and digested it in no time when I purchased 3 wallets made of camel leather in different hues (I thought they’re good pieces to symbolize tanneries in Fes, and to be included in the little travel-inspired-prizes to be given away via a blog contest I’ll be conducting on December. Stay tuned!).

From else where in the medina, your nose will guide you towards one of the three oldest tanneries in Fes and probably the world. I went up the roof top of a leather shop over looking Guerniz Tannery.

Lime and ammonia from pigeon droppings are used to soak hides to soften them and to  scrape off hair easily. Needless to say, the aroma wasn’t pleasing to the senses, but the experience of actually looking at everything, like a scene directly out of a postcard or an Oscar-Award-Winning-Hollywood-movie was indeed one for the books!  Learning that their traditional tanning of leather takes about 1 to 1 and half month to do, I had deeper appreciation of the tedious labor exerted to create wallets, bags and other leather goods.
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Camel leather wallets. Bought 3 to be given away with other prizes to a lucky blog reader next month.

Following my tannery-experience, I found myself privileged to stand by the doors of Mosquee Al Qaraouiyine within the other medina. Considered as the most vibrant symbol of Moroccan architecture that was founded in the 9th century, Al Qaraouiyine University and Mosque holds Guiness World Records and listed by UNESCO as the oldest existing and continually operating educational institution in the world.
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Even feline species in Fes are fascinating and friendly.

Built in 13th century, another Islamic school that I saw in Fes was the  Attarine Madrasa. Its interiors was so intricate and opulent, it was actually breathtaking!
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Arabesque-beauty. That moment I wished I could read Arabic.

I was also brought to a store that creates and sells Djellaba, the traditional Berber long sleeved robe and scarf worn usually by locals of Northern Africa. It’s noteworthy that Berber men use cactus thread and all natural dyes in weaving Djellaba. The result was super-soft-woven masterpieces; I bought 2 scarves in dark brown and blue.
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Trying out traditional Berber attire called, Djellaba,  particularly worn in the desert; protective of sand storm.

Three hours of walking tour around the two medina, Fes-el Bali (the UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the district of Qaraouiyine wasn’t enough to cover everything about Fes. However, it’s still enriching than watching a mediocre film on screen, ergo, I would not trade the travel experience with something else.

>><<

*This Morocco Travel Blog Series includes :

04
Nov
14

TEN RANDOM REASONS WHY YOU MUST DINE IN ZURI RESTAURANT WHEN YOU’RE IN DUBAI.

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After a long and tiring day at work, I attended to an invitation from Zuri Restaurant through my fellow Filipino-UAE-based-blogger, Carla (My Yellow Bells). We came with another blogger-friend, Sheila (AB and Me), and shared the same table with Sarah (On Cloud Zen).  I arrived at Zuri with my pockets emptied of great expectations, however, I went home with stretched gastric mucosa and a wide smile on the face!

Here’s my list of

Ten Random Reasons Why You Must Dine At Zuri Restaurant When You’re In Dubai. 

(1) Unusual Buffet-Dining Concept.

Unlike the common eat-all-you-want-restaurants, Zuri doesn’t provide a buffet spread but menu on tablets, where diners can select as many dishes as they like with just a flick of a finger. When food is prepared fresh and served piping hot from the chef’s open-kitchen, tasting and sampling everything on the menu is always encouraged.

(2) Reasonable Price.

Inclusive of unlimited orders of available appetizers, entrée, desserts and mocktails, everything can be savored at a total rate of 225/-AED per pax only. Reasonable enough for me!

 

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Asian Mystery.  Mango juice, coconut puree, passion fruit and chili. I repeat -chili!
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(3) Cozy and romantic ambiance.

Minimalist yet classy and sophisticated interiors, almost-dim-lights, relaxing music, inviting mood. So perfect for special events or even for casual get-together.

(4) Accesibility.

Located a stone’s throw away at the back of Mall of Emirates in Al Barsha, Dubai, parking isn’t an issue for those diners with cars and Auris Plaza Hotel where Zuri is located is very accessible to commuters as well.
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Crab, tuna, bean, broth, sweet basil. Fried soft shell crab, pickled tuna, edamame beans, Asian master broth and sweet basil oil.

I love that soft-shell-crab soup not because I am biased with its main ingredient but it’s cleverly done with thin stock instead of rich and creamy soup, hence it’s not overwhelming. The chef knew how to highlight textures and flavors on each plate!
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Prawn, seaweed, marie rose, aioli, tamarind, corn. Grilled prawns with seaweed, curried marie rose, ginger aioli, tamarind jelly, and crunchy sweet corn.

What can I say? I love seafood! And Zuri presented it so well that I died and went to heaven and back! Hahaha!
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Scallops with cauliflower puree.

(5) Extraordinary fusion of textures, flavors, and taste!

Ingredients were played on plates so good, there’s a balance between taste, flavors, and textures. Case in point, the saltiness of scallops paired with almost-bland cauliflower puree. If that doesn’t sound creative and seems enticing to you, I rest my case.

 

(6) A considerable volume of choices.

In my opinion, the menu was well thought of. From its variety from poultry, meat and seafood, to mocktails and fresh juices and desserts, plus coffee or tea. The volume wasn’t insulting too. My definition of value for money and prioritizing quality over quantity.
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Duck, hoisin, butter squash, raisin, spring onion.

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Beef Cheek Risotto, Green Beans, Peanut, Garlic.

I am a fan of beef dishes when cooked to fork-tender and served medium well. The wait staff never failed to ask how I wanted my beef cheeks to be prepared, however, I found this dish so easily satiating and heavy as it’s served with risotto in coconut cream Its entirety is tasteful but made me feel full early.

(7) Quick service,  smart  and courteous wait staff.

A Filipina and a Burmese waitresses attended to our table the entire night. They made our dinner at Zuri extra remarkable and lovely. Seriously. I believe they deserve a salary raise for being so good at what they do.

(8) Dishes are  handsomely presented per plate, never boring.

Obviously, a self-explanatory creativity.

 

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Short Ribs Tamarind Peanut Teriyaki Purple Yam Jasmine Sweet Potato.

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Passionate Mint. Passion puree, mint leaves, honey. This is love in every sip.

(9) Mocktails and other drinks complement the entire dining experience. 

The Passionate Mint was so refresh while Asian Mystery (the mango with chili) was more than interesting; it’s seductive actually!

 

(10)  Spontaneity from starters to main dishes and desserts.

One may find it overly sweet but then again, creativity weighed more on my list. Imagine white chocolate as the egg white, and passion fruit jelly as the yolk. Who would’ve thought that a classic breakfast combo of eggs and bacon strips can be recreated into sweet endings? The chef and his culinary team were consistent and spontaneously witty from the start to finish!
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Bacon, Egg, Chips. Chef  Zaw Special.  That’s my dessert plate. DESSERT PLATE, YEAH!!!

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A corner at the lobby of Auris Plaza Hotel.

It’s difficult to beat the winning formula of satisfying your diners with discriminating taste, serving them with tasteful dishes and unforgettable dining experience via impeccable service, in a restaurant with sophisticated ambiance. Diners will surely spread the word about their pleasant gastronomic experience like an uncontrolled epidemic, without force and coercion.

Thumbs up to Zuri Restaurant! Thank you for inviting us!

ZURI RESTAURANT | AURIS PLAZA HOTEL, AL BARSHA, DUBAI  website : http://www.auris-hotels.com/en/auris-plaza-hotel/ | phone : +971 4 455 4800 | E-mail : reservation.plaza@auris-hotels.com

 
02
Nov
14

SHAYAN RESTAURANT IN DEIRA, DUBAI

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Cheers to Al Ghurair Rayhaan and Al Ghurair Arjaan by Rotana for hosting a Press and Bloggers Gathering!

It has been eight months since I arrived in Dubai which only means, it has been eight months of being exposed to diversities in cultures, people, religion and yes, cuisine! Among the many dishes available and made authentic by local and foreign chefs in this cosmopolitan city, the Iranian or Persian cuisine is one of the most fascinating.  And best place to sample it? SHAYAN RESTAURANT in AL GHURAIR BY ROTANA in Deira, Dubai.

I was fortunately invited to attend a Press and Bloggers Gathering hosted by Shayan Restaurant, and even luckier to treat my discriminating palates to a succulent taste of Iranian cuisine.  The night was filled with new introduction. First time to meet famous and established Dubai-based bloggers and press people, first time to dine while listening to soothing music played on traditional string instrument called, Santoor, and first time for my taste buds to be introduced to Iranian menu beyond skewered kebabs.

With elegant and modern interiors, yet casual and friendly atmosphere, quick and attentive service, most of all, interestingly good Persian food, Shayan Restaurant easily earned a spot on my personal list, as one of the best dining places in this emirate.

What did we sample?

Cold Mezzah, Sabzi platter was served generously…

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SABZI PLATTER : Lettuce, cucumber, radish, spring onion, mint leaves, cherry tomato and feta cheese.

Dip it, dunk it onto :

ZEYTOON PARVARDEH- green olives, walnut dressing and pomegranate.

MASTO KHIYAR – yogurt, cucumber and raisins.

  
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ASH  E RESHTEH – Traditional Persian Soup with noodles, mint, onions and topped with whey.

As Hot Mezzeh, the following authentic Iranian dishes landed on our table…
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SALAD SHIRAZI on the left, and KASHK E BADEMJAN on the right. Tongue-tied? Fine. It’s tasteful anyway!

KASHK E BADEMJAN -fried eggplant mixed with special aged curd, seasoned with traditional spices.

MIRZA GHASEMI -grilled eggplant mixed with fried egg and tomato.

SALAD SHIRAZI -traditional salad, mixed with cucumber, onion, virgin olive oil and lime juice.

The main dishes consist of …

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JOOJEH KABAB BEDONE OSTOKHAN – skewer of marinated chicken on the bone with saffron sauce.

TIKKE MASTI -cuts of beef tenderloin marinated with yoghurt, saffron and Persian spices.

CHELO KABAB KUBIDEH -skewers of minced lamb, with Persian spices and grated onions.

KEBAB MEYGOO -skewers of marinated grilled tiger prawn.

Those skewered goodness were all must-taste! Well seasoned, fork-tender and delightful in every bite!
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GHEYMEH BADEMJAN -lamb stew prepared with lentils, tomatoes and fried eggplant.

If you’re a follower of this blog, you must know that I’m not fond of lamb dishes unless it’s tender and cooked perfectly right without leaving an after-taste. That Gheymeh Bademjan (exhale! such effort in pronouncing Iranian food!) doesn’t disappoint. No overpowering flavor. Seriously delicious!

Noticeably, the use of spices, particularly the very expensive, saffron was done in abundance! Shayan offers saffron dishes, saffron rice and even saffron-flavored drinks! Need I say more?

BAGHALI POLO- steamed rice with fava beans and dill and SAFFRON RICE.

 
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SHOLEH ZARD-rice pudding flavoured with fine saffron, pistachios, almond and cinnamon.

The dessert reminded me of white porridge or chocolate champorado which are a classic favorite back home!

 

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SANTOOR.

 

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DUBAI BLOGGERS!

Interesting place, fascinating Persian cuisine, great company. Fun night!

Special thanks to Shayan Restaurant for the invitation!

SHAYAN RESTAURANT | 3rd floor of  Al Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana | Phone : +971 (0)4 293 3000 |

website : http://www.rotanatimes.com/alghurairrayhaanbyrotana/offers/9790

25
Oct
14

5 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER TRAVEL TO CHEFCHAOUEN, MOROCCO

In my recent brief but memorable first time trip to Northern Africa from my current home-base in Dubai, UAE, I only chose to experience three places in Morocco. Because of limited time and restricted budget, I only went to Rabat, Fes and Chefchaouen. That practical decision left me with an unfinished business with Morocco to go back and visit Casablanca, Essaouira, Tanger, Meknes, Volubilis, Marrakech, the Sahara desert and other fascinating places, in the near future.

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Chefchaouen, Morocco.

While everyone who have been to Chefchaouen, or Chaouen have published, posted and uploaded something about it on YouTube, travel blogs, books and magazines, I decided to share in a slightly different perspective, what I realized about this town that has been fast becoming favorite travel destination.

FIVE REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD NEVER TRAVEL TO CHEFCHAOUEN, MOROCCO

(1) If you have an aversion to long travel time, or particularly hate waiting for public buses or trains that only take passengers and ply the indirect routes in very few trips per day; worse, if you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg for an alternative solo-trip via grand taxi (read : vintage Mercedes sedans) to take you from point A in Morocco to Chefchaouen, then don’t even attempt to visit it. In other words, if you’re not adventurous, or if you’re not willing to take risks in the name of passion for travel, you may simply remain in your own comfort zone.

Chefchaouen is nestled beneath two mountain peaks, called Ech-Chaoua (the horns) of Rif Mountains in Northwest Morocco. It took me 4-hour-road-trip from my riad in Rabat, Morocco’s capital city, which I enjoyed immensely. The bilateral views by the windows of my grand taxi were awe-inspiring! Clear and blue sky, feathery clouds, gorgeous weather in October, crisp and fresh mountain breeze. I felt Mother Nature was smiling her sweetest to welcome my arrival. All worries and stress from hassles and challenges disappeared in a blink. It was pure bliss!

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I requested the taxi driver to park for few minutes, et voila! My first glimpse of that blue town at foot of Rif Mountain.

I left my riad in Rabat at 12 noon and reached Atlas Hotel in Chefchaouen at almost 4PM. Immediately after checking in, I went to the hotel’s balcony and savored the view of this charming Blue Pearl of Morocco.

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Chefchaouen viewed from Atlas Hotel.

(2) If you’re someone who’s meticulous with hotels or someone who prefers contemporary accommodation, Chefchaouen isn’t for you. Since the place is located high up on the mountains, most, if not all bed and breakfast, riads and inns are far from having complete amenities and facilities that could irk easily the picky tourist in you.

The most modern accomodation in Chefchaouen, the Atlas Hotel that I found online via the famous fashion blog of Bryan Boy, reminded me that being detached from reality and disconnected from urban necessities, specifically wifi access (because wifi-connection was only accessible at the lobby and not in the rooms of Atlas Hotel), is healthy for the soul and our entire being. The silence that lorded the entire hotel was ultimately relaxing and gave me irresistible opportunity to appreciate nature and casually commune with solitude.

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Where famous fashion blogger, Bryan Boy sat when he stayed in Atlas Hotel. End of story. :)
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Loneliest hotel room. Why? No wifi, lah! :(

(3) If for any reason you despise the color blue, you must not visit Chefchaouen. In case the place is new to your vocabulary and knowledge of geography and history, as it was to mine prior planning my trip to Morocco, you must know that this extraordinary town is washed in powder blue. According to historians, the blue-rinsed abodes and buildings came from the tradition of the town’s previous Jewish population.

The  Berbers, or the indigenous people of North Africa, had deep roots of resistance and rebellion against Spanish and French colonial forces. Several attempts were made in order to keep their independence and prevent assimilation until they were defeated in 1926. One Moroccan man personally told me that blue was painted over traditionally white houses (the place, Casablanca in south of Chefchaouen is called as such because- casa means house, and blanca, white) as a form of acceptance.

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I breathe for these touristy shots, worthy to be my Facebook cover photo! *insert silly laughs*

Let’s get down to business, shall we?

So ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I present to you,

*drum roll, please!*

the otherworldly, Chefchaouen, Morocco.

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Postcard-heaven! I’m into Postcrossing so finding these pretty postcards spelled bliss!

(4) If you have fear of something that you haven’t experienced yet, like becoming terribly worried of being offered by touts of illegal drugs, then don’t dare travel to Chefchaouen.

Hashish or marijuana that is locally produced and grown by farmers in industrial scale could be offered to you insistently by local and foreign touts around the medina. I read it from the National Geographic Traveler Morocco guide book that I purchased months before my trip, and I personally experienced it immediately upon arrival at my hotel.  A man approached me discreetly as I alight from my grand taxi, asked me if I’m interested with hashish. I just shook my head and said, No then I walked towards the lobby.

Hashish is still considered illegal in Chefchaouen, however it’s being frequently smuggled in compressed resin via fast boats to neighboring Italy, Spain and France. Apparently, I did go to Chaouen to experience a different kind of ecstasy from travel adventures, and still lucid never to experience being euphoric with illegal drugs.

I’d like to emphasize that traveling to Chefchaouen and entire Morocco is very safe even for solo-travelers like me, unless perhaps, you forgot to leave your anxiety at home.

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Some travel treasures to keep for a lifetime!
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Exposing Moroccan kids to selfie. Sue me now! :)
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Traditional Berber hand-woven masterpieces. From table runners to scarves and whatnot.

(5) If you prioritize dining in your favorite commercial coffee shops and fast-food joints like Starbucks Coffee, Mcdonald’s or KFC, I’m afraid Chefchaouen isn’t the travel destination for you.

While it’s been mandatory for me to treat my very own palates to local dishes in every places I go to, I found myself lured and enticed to the colors, flavors, the casual and laid-back atmosphere by the outdoor dining shops and sidewalk cafes in Chefchaouen. Not to forget the menu at Paloma Restaurant was absolutely affordable but satisfyingly good! Wifi was fast and free too!

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I tried the very Moroccan, Chicken tagine served with potato fries, free side dishes of aubergine and lentils, that I paired with piping hot Moroccan bread; I also sampled Paloma Restaurant’s Grilled prawns with spiced rice and fries. Everything on my table, including that 2 bottles of Coke, only cost 100 MAD (11.50 USD or 42 AED). That’s reasonably delicious!

The view from where I sat for dinner…

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I took my time and spent almost an hour and a half  having my early dinner at Paloma Restaurant, that’s only a stone’s throw away from the town square…

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Chefchaouen’s town square.

Before having breakfast the following day, I initially went to the balcony of Atlas Hotel again and treasured the freshest air to my lungs’ delight for the last time.

Then I confirmed from the staff at the concierge, my pre-arranged grand taxi and driver that took me to another 4-hour-road trip to Fes.
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That priceless smile from Mother Nature viewed from my 4-hour-road-trip from Chaouen to Fes.

Despite it’s physically challenging to explore Chefchaouen’s steep and cobbled alleys, that undoubtedly required comfortable shoes, extra patience, and proper breathing; in spite of its uphill roads to and from the hotel that demanded taking petit taxi for 10 Moroccan dirhams per tripconsidering the challenging and slow-paced transportation in and out of various places in Morocco, the experience of savoring cool mountain breeze while giving high regard to warm and welcoming smiles from the locals, the sight of those uniquely blue-tinted houses, were definitely one for the books!
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I’m glad I gave my plan to travel to this blue town of Chefchaouen a green light!

Have you been to Chefchaouen, Morocco? How was your experience?

>><<

 *This Morocco Blog Series includes :

*All photos on this blog post were taken using Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

>><<

16
Oct
14

RIAD RCIF : JEWEL IN THE MEDINA OF FES, MOROCCO

Still struggling as an Overseas Filipino Worker in United Arab Emirates, I’m renting a bed space in one of the most conveniently accessible flats located in Deira, Dubai. I’m usually out to work either on day or evening shifts, ergo sharing a place simply to sleep, and do some cooking and laundry isn’t a big issue to me; in fact, it makes me feel I’m backpacking daily in a flat with centralized air-conditioned room and whatnot.

For almost 7 months of being a bed-spacer in Dubai, staying in an elegant and luxurious, however unbelievably affordable accommodation in one of my dream destinations in another continent was indeed, a heavenly treat!

11 October 2014, Saturday.  On my third day in North Africa, I left Chefchaouen, the charming town washed in powder blue, located in Northeastern part of Morocco, at exactly 9AM via a pre-arranged grand taxi in my hotel. I could’ve opted for a cheaper alternative via public bus however, I gave importance to much needed comfort. During the road trip, I battled with somnolence and fatigue, but the bilateral views by my taxi windows were too difficult to miss!

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A glimpse of my 4-hour-road-trip via a grand taxi from Chefchaouen to Fes, Morocco.

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Unknown lake half way from Chefchaouen to Fes, Morocco. Mother Nature was smiling! Priceless!

After the long road trip from the upland, to zigzagging our way  down to several hills and mountains, I finally reached Fes in one piece at around 1PM. The taxi driver parked his vintage Mercedes sedan across Cinema Amal at the famous area, Place Rcif, just few steps out of the Old Fes medina. My problem that moment was neither I had a local sim card nor availed of roaming service. Good thing that the taxi driver who barely speaks English but fluent in French and Arabic, volunteered to call  Riad Rcif to notify them that I’ve arrived and for them to send their personnel to pick me up.

Then I found myself following Hassan, the staff from Riad Rcif to the old medina in Fes.
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My very first sight of the medina in Fes.

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Walking to Riad Rcif from the main street via the narrow and hilly alleyways of the medina was never a walk in the park! My physical state was moderately challenged!  Carrying a 50 liter backpack and a duffel bag (with my souvenir bag carried by Hassan) in the world’s largest car-free-urban-zone that goes uphill and downhill with left and right turns, was something I was never prepared of.  However, my fatigue and panting melted upon the sight of my chosen kingdom for a night in Fes.

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Incredibly stunning riad or courtyard, a warm welcome and a hot Moroccan mint tea  served with cookies.

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Smile of relief from fatigue and awe upon arriving at Riad Rcif, Fes, Morocco.
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Hisham, the owner of Riad Rcif welcoming another guests, a family from Australia.

Wow! Amazing! Wow!  -Those were the only words I uttered upon entering the riad.

It’s absolutely different when you see it up close than just looking at the riad’s photos online. Who would’ve thought that such opulent beauty is hidden amidst the ancient medina?

Mariam, the receptionist who speaks good English warmly welcomed me with a smile and offered me Moroccan mint tea. While attending to her to fill out the guest’s form and presenting my passport for identification, I was preoccupied focusing my gaze at every corner of the courtyard, sipping that one-of-a-kind-refreshingly-hot-mint-tea, and taking photos using my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (I brought my Nikon D7000 with its kit lens and a new 50mm lens only to find out that my cam’s sensor is already dirty and is screaming for maintenance cleaning!)

Then a family from Australia came in. Funny, we had the same reaction upon seeing the interiors of riad. Drop-jaw in awe!

Hisham, the owner and architect of the entire Riad Rcif welcomed me like a family. It felt like I came home to Fes!

“You were at the train station in Rabat the other day! I saw you wearing sunglasses and carrying backpack. Yes, It was you!” 

Apparently, Hisham and I were on the same 2 hour train ride from Casablanca to Rabat on my first day in Morocco.

I introduced myself to him and the next thing I knew, he upgraded my room to the most handsome suite for FREE! Sweet!

He mentioned  Riad Rcif, built in 1372, was renovated for 6 long years by almost 200 carpenters and artisans who tediously worked tile by tile to its opulence and  grandeur. His family was supposed to convert the then mansion of a governor, Pasha’s Palace to a museum, however thought of restoring it and converting to a visually stunning accommodation. Riad Rcif has been operating for barely 2 years but already gained recognition from TripAdvisor and actual guests. Salim, Hisham’s brother showed me the video of restoration of the riad from his laptop after I had dinner that night.

“Riad Rcif has 8 rooms and suites beautifully restored according to Andalousian-Moorish-Islamic architecture, with cedar wood ceiling, intricate wood carvings, columns and plasters with mosaic tiles, brass lamps, exquisite embroidery and luxurious fabrics.”

 

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No corner’s overlooked. Details matter!  Handwoven carpets have reversible sides – for winter and summer!

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The panoramic roof deck offers a 360 degree breathtaking view of the old city or the medina of Fes. It has a terrace-restaurant where dinner is served when it’s not drizzling.

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Found their house pet – a turtle without a name.

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At the Shisha room, still at the terrace.

I booked online via Agoda.com the Ambassador Suite, but as earlier mentioned, Hisham provided me a free upgrade to Cherine Royal Suite that boasts of large canopy bed, with 2 single beds, sculpted and handpainted cedar ceiling, Moroccan tiles, sitting area, flat screen TV, fridge, mini bar, toilet and bathroom, wardrobe, stained glass windows and doors, refreshingly good airconditioning unit and most importantly, free and fast wifi access!

Cherine Royal Suite

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Can you spot the toilet?
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The banyo was huge and pretty with hot and cold shower! Yeehaa!

Few minutes before 8 in the evening, Hassan, the hotel staff knocked on my door and invited me to go down for my pre-arranged dinner (after I asked Hisham, the owner, for his recommendation).

It was drizzling in Fes that night (which I so welcomed as it has been 7 months of no rain for me since I left my frequently-stormy-country, the Philippines and transferred to Dubai), so dinner was served at the courtyard instead of the terrace. I had mine along with two other senior women in the other table inside a gorgeous tiled room by the riad.

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The Moroccan vegetable salad prepared for me was absolutely divine! Unforgettable dining experience!

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Pastille. Perfectly seasoned chicken meat lies beneath that flaky crust. Yum!

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Chocolate cake and fresh fruits for desserts. I was so full that night! Hallelujah!

From smoothly coordinating through e-mail with Hisham’s sister who’s based in London (who manages all Riad Rcif’s correspondence from there), to pre-arranging an amusingly smart local guide, Abdul for a 3 hour walking tour within the selected alleys from 9000+ narrow streets (that deserves a separate post obviously), and pre-arranging an airport transport at 4AM the next day for me to catch my local flight to Casablanca at 6, to the friendly hospitality of the staff and the owners, to the extraordinary Moroccan interiors with homey atmosphere and more importantly, clean and almost spotless rooms, to the savory home cooking of Fathima, the matriarch of the family, I savored my one-day-millionaire-travel-experience entirely with pure bliss!

I promised myself to find time in the near future to revisit Fes and stay again at Riad Rcif, perhaps for a longer break.

I came home to retire to my single bed in our flat in Dubai with a smile on my face and pleasant memories to cherish for a lifetime!

I may be financially unstable at the moment and presently drown with problems, but if I die tomorrow,

I’m wealthier with memories and experiences!

>><<

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”  -Barack Obama.

*All photos on this blog post were taken using Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

>><<

*This is NOT a sponsored post.

Riad Rcif | address : Avenue Ben Mohamed El Alaoui, N° 1 Takharbicht Laayoune Rcif 30200 Fès Maroc | website : http://www.riadrcif.com/ | email : riadrcif@gmail.com

 

*This Morocco Blog Series includes :

08
Sep
14

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

docgelo

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.

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dragon dance, george town, penang, malaysia
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2011, 2012, 2013 : SINGAPORE

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infinity pool of marina bay sands sky park
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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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my family with ducks!Halfmoon Bay, Auckland, New Zealand
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2004, 2006, 2012 : HONG KONG

Disney's Royalties
Prince Charles & the Queen at wax museum
Bond. Pierce. Gelo & Gabby.
POOH!
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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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>><<




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