Monthly Archives: February 2013

Anniversary Celebration at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort

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Bab Al Shams (Arabic translation = “gateway to the sun”) is a true desert resort and spa.  Styled in a typical Arabic village/fort/oasis fashion, it was all snugged down in the desert dunes, just waiting for us to discover it.  Now it’s only about 45 minutes from Dubai, so it’s not a stretch to just go and spend a night or two there,  but it’s far enough away that you truly feel removed from the craziness that is Dubai.
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I’d seen the street signs for this resort, and noticed it popping up on my internet searches, but hadn’t thought seriously about this five-star beauty as a destination, simply because of the cost.  I mentioned it to TBG in passing one day and he said “Yeah, all the guys at work say to go spend a night there, it’s worth every penny – you wanna go??”  Ha!  I was already making reservations.
Our anniversary was coming up, so I justified the cost of the room for one night (around USD$430) with the fact that the resort offered so much in the way of amenities and experiences – plus, free breakfast in the morning.  Booked the room, then TBG said “don’t forget that special Arabian Buffet thing they’ve got – sposta be something special”.  Hmmm….. searching for “special Arabian Buffet thing” finally brought up the Al Hadheerah Arabian Buffet – but at a whopping AED425 per person…. Yikes.  That translated to over $150USD each!  Crazy.  Not happening crazy.
But wait – we have the Entertainer book – it has a voucher in it for “buy one get one free” Al Hadheerah buffets – so swallowing hard and quickly, I booked it, feeling quite extravagant, and not in a really good way, you know?  Like in a “what the heck are you spending this kind of money on a single meal” kind of extravagant.  But it kept bubbling up in my brain ….“once in a lifetime – file this experience away”.   Outdoor setting, incredible entertainment, buffet with more foods than I’ll ever know their names.

The day finally came, and the drive there was quick and easy with lovely desertscapes.  It’s kind of odd to call the desert lovely, but it really has this amazing beauty once you start looking past the bleakness.  As we approached the resort, there were riders on horseback – there was a desert endurance race (http://www.emirates247.com/sports/other/sheikh-mohammed-endurance-cup-on-saturday-2013-01-17-1.491425) going on – my photos aren’t the best, but they were waving at us, and then rode on their way, not wanting to lose any time.

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The one thing that struck me was the quietness, the sense of serenity we encountered, from the gentleman that asked us to “lift the boot, pleasesir” to the one who said “your bags will arrive shortly in your room”.  When we approached the check-in area, a gent offered us small cups of hot tea as a traditional desert welcome.  The reception area was lovely – well-appointed and understated.  There was an odd-shaped metal sculpture propped up in a corner, and when I asked what it was, a gent said “madame, it is a camel saddle frame.  Many blankets will make it more comfortable for both camel and rider.”  Interesting, isn’t it??
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One thing I noticed while walking to our room (a “special anniversary location” on the ground floor, far  end, corner with an unrestricted desert view for miles and miles) was the absence of noise.  All we heard was either wind or water, that’s all.  I loved that.  And the view!  Here are some shots of the view and our room…….

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We did some exploring, took a brazillion photos, wandered into a couple places that we likely weren’t sposta be in, but got some great photos.  There are many levels and little nooks and crannies in this resort – just gotta be willing to wander around and find them.  Oh, and there were refreshments.  <smile>
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It had been a long time since breakfast, and we were feeling just a bit hungry.  So, we found a little place for a bite to eat.  And, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  We took the opportunity to take some photos of each other in the late afternoon light, too….just messing around.

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We didn’t want much, since we knew we’d be feasting for supper.  A shared Arabian Appetizer plate sounded just right.
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Gorgeous, wasn’t it??  Hummus, babaganoush, falafel, and some other things I forget what they were, pretty tasty bites, though.  When we left that small restaurant, there were some pretty amazing adventures awaiting us – I’ll tell you about them next post.  😉

So, early that evening, we readied ourselves for the Arabian Buffet at the Al Hadheerah camp – I wasn’t quite certain what to expect, but knew it was outdoor dining, so I made sure to wear long sleeves and take a wrap.  A large golf cart limousine picked us up at the front door to drive us to the camp.  We enjoyed the low-level lighting, the desert sky and the excited chatter of our fellow riders.  Upon arriving at the camp, it was actually made to look as if it were an Arabian Camp – carpets over the sand for more comfortable footing, small kiosk tents set up with art work and clothing and other interesting bits in them, but beyond the short walkway of tents, around the corner were these incredible smells…. Oh my.

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There was roasting, and frying, and grilling, and baking and carving and slicing all happening at the same time, and with some of the most full, rich aromas you can imagine.  Suddenly, I  realized that my share of that little appetizer plate was *gone* and I was hungry!

We were a couple people back in line in the reception area, and I was looking around and realized that my mouth was watering at the smells!  To our right, there was a huge (5’ wide x 3’ deep) grill just *filled* with small fowl, maybe chickens, maybe not, with kebabs of who-knows-what sort of tasty bits, and something roasting over a spit – maybe a small lamb??

We were shown to some table choices, and we chose one about 4 tables from the stage, thinking we’d have an excellent vantage point for the Iranian Dancers and the Belly Dancers.  Our server arrived to take our drink orders and then… oh my.  The food began arriving!  Bowls and bowls of strange wonderfulness – they were called “salads” but were nothing like the salads we were used to.  Pickled bits of vegetables, olives in multiple shapes, colors, and flavors, and an interesting green used here called “rocket” – sort of reminds me of dandelion greens, slightly bitter if they’re large, but less so if they’re smaller.  There was hummus, and babaganoush and labneh with breads aplenty for dipping.
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All that would have been a feast in itself.  But remember that grill I told you about?  It was only one of many.  I even saw an underground oven that will roast a goat, or a small sheep intact!  There was a pulley-system to raise and lower both the heavy lid and the critter into and out of the pit.  Pretty cool.

There were seafood sections,  kabob sections, shawarma sections, sweets, desserts, a monstrous selection of dates, and a ton of stuff I’d never seen before.  Ever.  I was asking “so, what is this?”  a lot, but the servers were rushed, and their accents were so heavy it was difficult for my western ears to pick out the words.  But the food was awesome – TBG discovered that he truly loves pickled turnips – imagine that!

An interesting bit told to me by one of the shawarma guys, these skewer things are loaded from the top with yogurt-lime marinated meats…. And roasted vertically, allowing all the juices to run down.  The meat is served from the bottom of the skewer, sliced off fresh for each diner.  And, all the juices and yummy marinade goodness has dripped down onto your meat….. and the skewer keeps getting reloaded from the top, repeating the process.  Pretty cool.  I hope we have a photo of it, if not, I’ll find one and add it here.

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As our meal wound down and the trips to the various buffet areas started slowing, a gent began playing the oud – this is a traditional middle eastern instrument similar to a guitar – a very distinctive and enjoyable sound.  We realized it was also loud.  Really loud.  We’d chosen a table that was WAY too close to the speakers, and wished we’d made a different choice.  However, we did get a few photos of the Iranian Dancer as well as the Belly Dancer – fun stuff to watch!

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As the entertainment ended, we went back to our lovely room, and prepared for a great night’s sleep, having enjoyed ourselves a LOT.  There was a beautiful anniversary cake, box of chocolates, box of stuffed dates and a gorgeous fruit bowl left in our room by the Resort.  Such a wonderful gesture on their part – and a perfect bite of dessert!
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Looking out the windows, the scene was lovely under the moon and starlight.  Time for sleep.  Sadly, the mattress there was typical of all that we’ve found here – hard as a freekin rock.  Seriously.  Really hard.  Like painful.   OK, enough about the mattress, but it was really the only aggravation we experienced, and we were surprised.

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The resort itself it quite lovely – calm and peaceful.  A wonderful escape from the day-to-day stresses we all live with.  For us, this was a very very special anniversary splurge, one we’ll remember for a very long time.

Penguins! Penguins Everywhere!

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There’s only ONE place in the world where you can actually meet, play with, feed, hug and even smooch a penguin.  Guess where??  Well Dubai, of course!  And in particular, at Ski Dubai, an incredible indoor ski slope built in a shopping mall in the middle of the desert.

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Have I mentioned recently that Dubai is the epitome of “biggest, best, fastest, tallest, most and only”??  Well, it is, and quite often the words “Guinness Book of World Records Holder” are used.  Frankly, I think that the judges for this entity likely have an apartment in Dubai, since they *must* do so much work here!  <grin>

Anyhow, on to the Penguins – Ski Dubai has a program where you can actually get up close and personal with penguins.  You can see all the details here at www.skidubaipenguins.com/home where all the prices and perks are laid out.  I had read about them on a website and TBG told me to pick a date.  Since you had to have a group of 4 or pay for all 4 anyhow, we invited friends from here to join us.  So Tom and Coral met us there.

First, you get all suited up in fat clothes to keep you warm.  (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)  Insulated boots, pants, coat, and gloves.

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Can you tell how excited I was??   Then, you go into a very very very cold area to go play with the penguins and to be cautioned about stuff like…. You can’t take photos, you gotta buy the SkiDubai photos.  No feeding them anything but what the trainers give you.  Stuff like that… They gave us a lot of technical information that you can pretty much google for – but frankly, I was more interested in stuff like “How does eating fish equate to the giant penguin poop splashes (http://youtu.be/4_aX41OJ3yE) on the floor??”  Stuff you can’t google, you know?  But we did learn about their vetting procedure, the fact that there’s a penguin hospital on site, what their vitamin and feeding schedule looks like and such.  It was interesting, but not the main reason I was there.

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But once inside the special fences to keep the riff-raff out that didn’t pay to play, we were treated to penguins.  Real, live, cute-beyond-freekin-belief penguins.  Waddling, head-tilting flipper-flapping penguins, and I was instantly in love.  They were all my very own personal penguin friends at that point, I just knew it.

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We sat on really cold bench things to allow them to walk up to us at first, then we were all able to get down on our knees to get more on their level.  Then, we could touch them and pet them.  OH.MY.GOODNESS was I excited.

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You know how you get something in your mind about how something’s gonna feel, or taste or be like?  In your mind, it’s one way, but you may never know what it’s like in real life.  Well, touching those penguins was EXACTLY like I thought it was gonna be – silky smooth, but slightly stiff, really soft but firm too.  Exactly like I thought.  Well, except for those cute little yellow spots over their ears – those were like… um…. Have you ever touched the middle of a dandelion flower??

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To me, that’s exactly what that yellow velvety part over their ears felt like.  Amazing something so soft could be on a creature designed to survive sub-zero temps and freezing water, you know.  And apparently, it doesn’t affect their hearing one tiny little bit…. well, just a little bit while they’re underwater.  But it keeps their ears protected.

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We played with them with toys, followed them, let them follow us, we fed them, we chased them, let them chase us, caught them, sat with and hugged on them, I was just in love with these little critters!  Oh, and they come to Dubai from San Antonio Texas USA, Sea World, where I have a dear friend that’s an animal trainer – small world, huh??  :::waving at Catherine Brown:::

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The tour guide still had a surprise for us, though, we were gonna get to take home Penguin Art!  I had no idea what it was, but I knew I wanted it.  Have you ever felt that way?  Excited and didn’t know why?  That was exactly how I felt.  But the guide spread non-toxic paint on a sheet of paper, then a clean sheet, and asked Pebbles, one of my new peng-friends if she’d walk in the paint, then on the paper…. and she did!!  Pebbles made Penguin Art for us!!

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At the end of the day, I was exhausted, happy, and grinning from ear-to-ear I think, and TBG had a blast as well.  Was it spendy?  Definitely.  But was it a once-in-a-lifetime experience?  Likely.  I know I’ll never ever forget all my little penguin friends!!

Wait. Is that *real* grass??

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Excess, right?  I’ve written about it before.  But I didn’t truly realize the extent to which some residents here go in order to maintain a green “lawn”.

Having lived in the deep south in the US, I’ve been an advocate of the “pave it and paint it green once a year” movement.  Gaining no ground however, we simply installed a sprinkler system to maintain the grass looking lawnish.  Here?  What do they do here?  Short of having a guy that comes with your house, some people put out fake grass.

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Fake grass.  I always thought of it as “astroturf”…. The stuff that football stadiums are full of, and is the tacky looking green plastic grass tufts that people covered their cement patios with in the 70’s.  You know, it came all folded up in a plastic bag at the local discount store, and you unfolded it, and glued it down.

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Just like that old Virginia Slims’ commercial “We’ve come a long way baby!” – plastic grass ain’t what it used to be!  This stuff has evolved into some sophisticated groundcover.  Take a look at the varieties I found just at the local ACE Hardware…….

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It comes in different lengths, colors, densities, pretty amazing stuff.  And people will put this in their yard and pay the guy that came with their house to hose it off regularly, I suppose.  Maybe sweep off the leaves and flower blossoms?  Wait – wouldn’t that be pretty confusing to a cat – I mean, they’re wanting to dig in it and all, and that ain’t gonna happen.  Will dogs poop on it?  Or will they opt for something real like dirt or sand?

I also saw the cutest critter fountains – I decided they were meerkats, TBG says prairie dogs….  and a funny recreation of the Burj Al Arab…

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Anyhow – yes, just another example of excess and oddities I’ve seen.

Followup to Camelicious – taste test video inside

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OK, so here’s a video of me tasting camel’s milk for the first time…… it’s our first attempt.  I think we need better lighting….. <Smile>

Note to self – speak slower.  Even though you’re a Yankee, it’s easier for people to understand you if you speak more slowly.  And mercy, get better lighting!!!

Edited to add this nutrition label for the chocolate milk!

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Jerked back into reality

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Sometimes, this place is sorta like a big ole Disney-ish bubble, you know?  Very little crime, awesome weather during the winter, interesting places to go and things to do, top-level entertainment, and then there’s the camels…. <smile>

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The other day, TBG and I were driving to Abu Dhabi, and on the other side of the highway, driving towards Dubai, there was a huge tank being pulled on a flatbed, painted up all desert-camouflage.  Kinda brought back to my brain that we live in a part of the world here in the Middle East where there are some pretty significant issues being worked out.  Or worked on.  Or protested about.  People and ideas finding their way, making their complaints and grievances and beliefs known, and looking for betterment.  Or change.  Or recognition.

Sure isn’t Disneyworld.  I got jerked back into reality.