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 to 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 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.

One Of The Twins
dragon dance, george town, penang, malaysia
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January 2012 Batu Caves
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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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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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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

>><<

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.

 

email thebetsy

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

>><<




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