Monthly Archives: March 2013

Lost Chambers Aquarium and Palm Jumeirah Monorail + videos

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This was one of my very favorite days of exploring.  My friend Koral and I went to visit the Atlantis Resort which has the Lost Chambers Aquarium in it.  Now, this resort is located at the tippy-top of the giant man-made palm island here in Dubai.

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The Lost Chambers of Atlantis Aquarium is located inside the Atlantis Resort……

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And, as an added bonus, we decided to take the Monorail to the resort, since I’d read that the photo opportunities from the monorail were really fabulous.  Best of both worlds, plus, thanks to my handy Entertainer book, we had vouchers for buy-one-get-one-free entrance to the Aquarium.  There was also one in there for the dang monorail, but it never crossed my mind to look for one.

I’d read that finding the entrance to the monorail station and parking area was really hard, some people were *never* able to locate it, and gave up and just drove out to the Atlantis.   But I had some excellent instructions, and we just *barely* missed the entrance, so just went to the next U-turn place and turned around…. Then to the NEXT U-turn place to get back in the direction we needed (what a pain!!)  Got into the parking lot and got a front-row parking space.  Score!

Inside the monorail station, there were vending kiosks to buy your tickets.  But of course, there were guys around to take your money from you, insert it into the vending machine, and press the button, negating all that “self-service” ya know……  <insert rolling eyes here>  They even removed the ticket from the machine and would have likely walked over to the turnstiles and touched it to the little target had I not snatched it out of his hand…. Sheesh.  Overkill.  Anyhow, up about …. Um… maybe 4 levels of escalators past some pretty cool mosaic tile work

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And we were in the waiting area.  I’d been told to get a seat up front, as the photos were best from there so that’s what we did.  Apparently, everyone else with the large group of oriental tourists accompanying us had read the exact same advice, so the front car was packed and other cars were virtually empty.  Where’s the rolling eye thingy??  Ah well, it’s all good.

Info about this monorail – it’s been in operation since sometime in 2009.  It’s 5.45 km long, and takes 5 minutes each way.  Runs pretty frequently,  like every 10 minutes, IIRC.  The parking garage will hold 1500 cars, and can be expanded.  The monorail trains are driverless, and cost AED 25 return (about $9 USD round trip).  The inside of this train is pretty – unlike what I was expecting.  Sculptured seating was scooped out all along the sides, and there were some forward-facing seats up front.  Great windows, and they were clean, so photos were clear.  Now, it runs up the “trunk” of the palm tree, from the station to the Atlantis and back.  No other stops are open right now.  Here are some photos along the way.

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Approaching the Atlantis was an impressive site!  Lovely vantage point, too.  I’m so glad we decided to take the monorail, no matter how difficult it was to find the station!

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And we could clearly see the water park portion of the resort – sure looked like fun, if it was a bit warmer….wow.  Further out past the resort and the water park, you’ll see the “big water”…. that would be the Arabian Gulf.  Oh, and that big, long, straight slide exiting the pyramid-looking building?  It’s a waterslide.  But get this, at the bottom – you go through a giant clear tunnel under the dolphin area – how cool is that??

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So, here’s the Lost Chambers Aquarium….  And, according to their advertising brochure… “Imagine exploring the mysterious ruins of Atlantis, lost for thousands of years deep beneath the sea.  Now picture yourself being surrounded by 65,000 marine animals.  Come live out your own Atlantean adventure at the Lost Chambers Aquarium.  Explore the underwater mazes and tunnels of this lost civilization while encountering sharks, eels, seahorses and piranhas.  There are over 20 impressive marine life exhibits including a touch tank and our interactive Aquatheatre show”.

Here’s a ton of photos of the aquarium – be kind about my lack of mad photo skills.  And don’t forget, you’re exploring the sunken city of Atlantis….. so notice the “Atlantis” theme throughout!

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Listen – the effort that they put into the theming at the Atlantis was awesome!  The fish were cool, excellent variety, big, small, bright, creepy, all sorts of fish.  Riding the monorail was a fun experience too, got some great photos.    And my favorite part??  No tiny placards with information about each species that I always feel obligated to read.  I could just wander around, admire the pretty fish, take photos of stuff, and be happy.

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Door Mail – we get Door Mail

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And yes, that was a really bad play on the words from the US television show “Survivor” where they get “tree mail”……

Dubai has no real Postal Service like westerners are accustomed to.  So how do you get all that good junk mail??  Well, necessity is the mother of invention, right?  Ya get Door Mail.

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Mail that gets stuck to your door, hung off the door handle, tucked in the cracks, woven through the wrought iron, however it can be stuck on or around your door, it is.  And, what exactly *comes* as door mail you ask?  Menus,  newsletters,  sales flyers, advertising cards, lost cat flyers, newspapers, catalogs, brochures and more menus.  Here are a few photos of some of our daily door mail…

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The lack of street addresses means that any type of postal service customarily found in other countries is not possible here.  If you want an address, you can rent a Post Office Box here (starting around $600USD per year  if I recall correctly) and you have the ability to go to the Post Office here and pick up any mail you might receive.  Or, opt for home delivery 3x a week at a cost of around $1200USD per year, and you must buy their box, and pay to have it installed according to their directives.  So, if you’ve really been missing all the junk mail, catalogs, flyers and ads, you can get it, you just gotta pay.

Locating things here is interesting.  Some streets have no name or number, most buildings are known by the largest entity occupying them, or by a name.  But there is no such thing as an address that looks like

Bobby Jones

123 Woodham Way

Central, KS 11101

An address on someone’s business card might look like this….

Jafar’s Worldwide Carpets

Jumeirah Plaza, Close to Trade Center Roundabout, Across from Amman’s Auto Repair

3rd floor, Suite 308

974.351.6751

So, pretty much if you can’t find someone’s shop based on their description, you call for directions.

But what about all those flyers?  The junk mail, the ads, the sale papers screaming about how much money you can save??  How do they actually arrive at your door as door mail?  They’ve got a guy for that – driving around neighborhoods, attaching these to doors.  Bingo – jobs created.  What’s that?  What about if you go on vacation or holiday you ask?  Well then, your door looks like this….

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And yet *another* opportunity for some enterprising soul to begin a business to remove all those items from your door so it’s not so obvious that you’re not at home.  Could create even MORE jobs!

Dubai Miracle Garden

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There’s a huge Universal Studios gateway and façade here that’s not been touched in a long time, as far as I can tell.  Always dark at night.  But recently, a few weeks ago, there were lights on behind it, huge, bigger-than-football-stadium-lights-on-Saturday-night bright, too.  I was thinking “Hmm….. wonder if Universal is actually going to *do* something with that project??

A week or so ago, my friend Koral and I were on the way back from some exploring and noticed what looked like thatched roofs or small huts or a village being built….. we thought “Cool!  Something new to explore!” and promptly forgot about it.  Then TBG and I were driving past the location, and I noticed a small sign along the road with the Disney font used to spell out “Miracle Garden” – whooo hoooo!

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Something to feed my Disney addiction here, right?  Well…. Not exactly……

There was an article in February 20th issue of the Gulf News paper which provided an excellent commentary, but little means to locate the facility.   According to that article it opened on February 14th, and was free to the public to visit until 20 February.  Pictures taken by the paper’s photographer reminded me a LOT of the Paradise Gardens that used to be at Al Ain – I’d been looking forward to visiting them, but found out that they were closed indefinitely, with no info as to why or when they might reopen and no response to emails asking about it.  The gardens looked similar good reason, it appears that the Al Ain design company is also responsible for these gardens!  So, no travel to visit the same quality!

We started off to visit this place, and trying to figure out how to get into it was a challenge.  It was tough to find, down a road  that appeared to be to nowhere, but following signs that had us driving against the arrows…. Past tall empty lonesome-looking buildings under construction…. Following round-a-bouts that have no exits, it was just weird.

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We managed to find the entrance to this place, well, the parking lot, but getting *into* it was a puzzle – there are two very abrupt entrance points – or maybe one’s an entrance and one’s an exit?  Anyhow, the approach to the gate that we entered (apparently it was the back gate) was flanked by these HUGE flower pots and giant lighted white plastic sculpture things….  Interesting.  And I do mean *huge* flowerpots!

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See?  HUGE flowerpots!!

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The little hut on the right it where the man takes your money, and gives you this ticket…..  it is an Etrance Ticket.  I know, it *says* 30AED, but you’ll only be charged 20AED.  *shrug*  I got nothing.

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Inside, you’re greeted by a blazing collection of flowers – well a collection of COLORS…. As far as I could tell, there were only a couple different varieites of flowers that I noticed.  But they were in a variety of colors.  Quite lovely, and Dubai is doing an excellent  job of “greening” the desert by using drip irrigation.  And, as always, paying respect to the country’s leadership……

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Oh!  Something that was cool – the use of plastic water bottles to grow plants in vertical situations – I’ll try to separate out some of the photos here, it was an interesting use, and smart.  Goodness knows there are a brazillion water bottles here!

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Another interesting aspect of this display was the sheer number of men there – in yellow vests.  I’m assuming that they were either grass-guards or flower-picking-guards.  I didn’t notice any gardening efforts on their behalf, and they weren’t offering up information about what we were touring, so that’s all I can come up with.  But honestly, there must have been 50+ in this small area, perhaps more.  They were always backing away from us, or trying to hide behind a display, or twitching if we got too close to, or surely not, ON the grass.

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Yikes! Sorry about my finger being in there!

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There was a small tented snack-area in the back, it appeared that there were cold drinks in some kind of a cooler, and perhaps bags of snacks, like chips and such.  There was a small group of young Asian women visiting, they were having fun taking photos and in general goofing off…. They saw the “frozen yogurt” machine, and pointed and said “two”.  Shortly they were handed 2 cups of soft-serve frozen yogurt.

That first spoonful into their mouths was directly responsible for the smiles leaving their faces simultaneously,  and the “oh my goodness, what did I just put in my mouth??” look appearing to replace the smiles.

They both looked at the person behind the counter and asked “what flavor is this??”  The person behind the counter said “yogurt”.  OK, are you getting what happened here?  It was simply yogurt, frozen.  No sugar, no sweeteners, no flavorings…. Just yogurt.  Frozen.

There are prayer facilities here, as well as bathrooms for ablutions – the Islamic ritual of cleansing before prayers.  Sadly, there was someone in the bathroom wash area facilities performing a pedicure of some sort which I found odd.

Oh, and as we passed under one of the final archways made of empty beverage bottles as holders, a couple was taking turns posing for photos – I offered to take their photo together, and as they left, we were remarking on the recycling effort and using the bottles to grow and maintain the moisture in the plant root areas – the gent said “It is a noble effort”…. And I couldn’ t help but think “Yes.  Yes it is.”

Touching the wings of those that fly

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Birds of prey are some pretty awesome creatures, and I’m kind of obsessed with them.  OK, not obsessed, but I think they’re pretty dang badass, you know?   They one of nature’s most efficient hunters and I’m always amazed to see them in action.

Now, I don’t know about you,  but my opportunities to see these hunters in action in the wild are really limited.  TBG used to get to watch the American Bald Eagles hunt and fish over southern Alabama’s lakes and rivers.  He said that he regularly flew within sight of their nests and watched them raise families.

Me?  I don’t fly helicopters, so my chances are limited.  But when we stayed at the Bab Al Shams resort recently, there was a gent there that had a pair of falcons, and was providing an exhibition of their hunting abilities.

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Tiny bit of really cool information about falconry and the middle east…..

I *believe* that the falcons on display here are the Saker Falcons, common to wide open areas, and many desert areas.  I asked a number of times and the accent of the handler was quite heavy, and my American ears were not listening well, I fear.  They’re a common choice here because they adapt to the environment well and they’re apparently not afraid to tussle with their prey on the ground if needed.  Yikes!

The story was told that falcons are used in the desert as a hunting tool by the herders that travel the sands.  The diet of the herders would consist of camel milk and dates were it not for these hunters bringing back prey.  Now, this is important, their religion requires animals to be slaughtered in a certain manner so the hunters must bring the prey back alive.  Teaching them to do this must be an amazingly difficult task.

Typically, falcons are thought of as hobbies for the very rich, and in many instances, they are.  Another story told was about the Sheik’s falcon hunting and taking down a small desert deer.  Doesn’t seem like a big deal until you factor in the huge size difference!

Arabian falconers use a stiff reinforced tube called a mangala on their arm to allow the birds a stable place to perch and protect the handler’s arm from the bird’s talons.  These, like the leather hoods used to cover the birds’ heads to keep them calm have evolved into works of art with embroidery, beading,  feathers and embossing.

These are photos of the handler swinging a dead pigeon around in a huge circle in order to train the bird, teaching it to take down and return the prey.  The photos are sort of blurry in places, but understand that it was all happening REALLY fast!

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When this bird actually sat on my arm, for some reason I began talking to it in a low soothing voice.  TBG was taking photos, and the bird allowed me to pet it and to ruffle its feathers to see how they felt from the underside –  much softer than from the top side!  The bird’s handler said “he likes your voice, he turns his head towards you and leans in” – at least I *think* that’s what he said….

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TBG wanted to hold the falcon as well – and he wasn’t the least bit nervous about it – acted just like he’d been doing it all his life. 

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Well, he flies for a living, so I suppose it’s not such a big deal to him…. But to me?  I was touching the wing of one that flies, and it was pretty dang cool.

2013 Taste of Dubai Festival

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Held downtown in media city, just behind the CNN building, Taste of Dubai was held in the same location as the Dubai Christmas Festival had been.  We went on Friday, the second day, and arrived about an hour after it opened.  There was the oddest fog that was rolling in and out, I took some photos of it as we drove in.  Frankly, I didn’t know *what* it was –  clouds, fog, smoke, sandstorm, or what.  Crazy looking to watch the Burj Al Arab simply disappear!  But as we got closer to the coast, we realized it was fog rolling in.  Pretty amazing looking.

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Now, before the event, parking information wasn’t listed on their website, and I’d heard it was a big challenge.  I think had we waited much later to arrive, it would have been a big problem, but we found a spot in the lot at the end of the festival area, opposite the single entrance.  Which meant we had to walk all the way around the event to get inside.  The good news is that parking’s free on Friday!

As a huge fan of Disney’s Food and Wine Festival, I was quite eager to attend this event.  TBG got us tickets online at a discount, and bought us the VIP ticket package.  Now, what the VIP ticket package got us extra was 4x drinks and 3x signature dishes from our choice of chefs.  Oh, and entry into the British Airways VIP lounge area.  That last turned out to be the truly valuable aspect of this package, because seating was hard to come by!  Especially shaded seating.

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There were tons and tons and tons of food and drink samples.  I ate things that I wasn’t quite certain what they were, even after I’d asked!  One thing that was truly tasty was the fried prawns with sweet chili sauce from Royal Orchid restaurant.  And an incredibly wonderful staff was manning their booth – one of the women there noticed that my hands were quite full, and she actually placed it on my plate and then proceeded to add the sweet chili sauce too!  Such a level of service rarely exists here – I was grateful.  And, it was some killer stuff, too!

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DJs were playing music in some areas, some places had drummers, some had live music, there was quite a variety of things to listen to – and, save for the big stage, none of it was annoyingly loud.  Sadly, the VIP seating area was RIGHT NEXT to the big stage.  And it was loud.  Word to the wise, don’t sit too close if you’re looking for any conversation.

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There were fun things, a couple of folks in the Maggi booth were cooking up a storm, and one of the local radio stations was there doing a live remote with them.  It had drawn quite a crowd, as the pair were playing well off one another, and the crowd was enjoying their energy immensely.

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Shortly, along came one of the TOD celebrity chefs,  Gary Rhodes from the Grosvenor House’s Rhodes Mezzanine restaurant.  He brought some beverages for the Maggi booth folks, and things really started rocking from there – it was a good time.

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The individual restaurant booths were arranged in a semi-circle, all in the same area.  Consequently, the people traffic in that area was thick, and lots of people spilling food and drinks because they had to step up onto a platform to get into the booth, then step back down into the moving sea of people after negotiating all the other people trying to order, pay for, or see the tiny menus.  Word to the organizers, make the menus visible from the walkways, and put them all in the same general area, so folks know where to look.  And make clearly-marked queues!

But the food?  Oh my goodness…. It was exquisite…..  The Noodle House’s signature dish of chicken and prawns was pretty good, too spicy for my tender palate, but TBG enjoyed it.  Fogo Vivo’s Churrasco Selection of a beef cube, filet mignon wrapped In bacon, and a chicken drumstick left us both hungry – left most of it on the plate as well, I suppose we’re not fans of the particular spices used.  ThipTara’s Thai Ped Nam Ma Kam (BBQ Duck breast in tamarind sauce on top with crispy fried onion) got mixed reviews from us… we both loved the flavor of the duck, but the texture left us reminiscent of overcooked calamari.  We’re not fans of the layer of fat left on the duck, apparently.  But that onion ring?  It was one of the VERYVERYVERY best we’ve ever eaten.

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The Dynamite Shrimp at PF Chang’s was exactly what we wanted – perfect.

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We were both looking forward to Gaucho’s  Churrasco de Chorizo, spiral cut sirloin – we’re both fans of red meat.  Sadly, it was far too tough to cut with the plastic utensils given but the flavor was good.  My favorite?  No. 5 Lounge and Bar’s Mini Waygu burgers.  Oh my.  Perfectly done, perfect condiments, perfect flavor, easy to eat, yummy all the way around!  Lots of cold beverages served with a smile, great music, and grateful for the shady spots that the VIP Lounge provided!  As well as the cold beverages available….

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Lovely location, and a wonderful day!

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And there were goodies there, too…. see what I ended up bringing home?

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