Top 3 Must-See Tourist Traps in Dubai: Part One

After incredibly informal polls on students and friends, regarding where people must go when they come to Dubai, I have my first contender.

Coming in at number 3, in the top 3 terrifically tourist things to do in Dubai, a must-see is Atlantis!

Atlantis is a choose your own adventure destination, with lots of lavish to cheap options. It’s on the man made island Palm Jumeirah, which in and of itself makes it a top attraction. You can splash out a fortune for rooms that look into the aquarium. Or just stop-by.

Aquaventure is a popular destination for families or people who like fun. Ride the lazy river, hit the slides or rent a cabana on the Aquaventure private beach, where you can kayak or ride the banana boat. Get lunch at one of the fast-food type joints then buy expensive shaved ice.

Less fun: the dolphin encounter, dolphin swim, dolphin royal swim or dolphin scuba dive, depending on the price you want to pay. Not only would this freak me out, it’s too sad.

A positive: Atlantis aquarium breeds and release seahorses. Seahorses are going extinct. Because they are taken from the ocean to be pets. Seahorses are awesome. The males give birth. At night. Mysterious little creatures seahorses. Let them be free!

The Atlantis aquarium design is based on the Atlantis myth. We took our students this year on a great field trip and the guide said things like “These are the pods where the Atlantans slept…this is an ancient ATM…see this is for the clam shaped money”. There is a fake ancient language carved on fake ruins, which the huge variety of fish swim around. We saw massive, creepy groupers, those going-extinct-teeny-tiny sea horses, bright jellyfish, sting rays and of course, sharks.

Feed the sharks

Feed the sharks

Divers are in the tank on a regular basis, cleaning, feeding, checking on fish. You can scuba dive or snorkel in the tank. I will not be doing this activity.

The groupers were eating the sharks and had to be separated. They are horrifying with their slow mouths and dead-eye stare. They are one of the reasons everyone should be scared of fish.

“Epinephelus malabaricus” by jon hanson from london, Licensed under CC http://commons.wikimedia.org

A less family-style day can be had at Nasimi beach club, for the young, beautiful, bold, and restless, showing off tans in trendy bikinis. Popular at night for DJ’s, you can also rent a day bed.

Saffron is a popular Friday Brunch. Brunch in Dubai is not the typical eggs benedict, waffles, and bacon that Americans are used to do. A better nickname is Drunch, because these are all-you-can-eat all-you-can-drink affairs. Emphasis on the drinking. A Friday brunch in Dubai, is an experience.

If you don’t want to go all day or spend on attractions, just go for dinner.  Choose from a steakhouse or seafood, Italian, Japanese or French.

Lowest budget option: take the Palm monorail to Atlantis, walk in, wander around the interesting lobby sculptures and scope the place out. See a couple shops. Get a coffee and people watch. This will cost you less than $20. Again, part of the appeal is being on the palm, and you get a mini-palm tour just by going. Whenever I’m on the palm, it’s a bit surreal and though you may have seen pictures and views from above, when you’re there, it’s hard to believe. It’s one of those, pinch me, ‘I’m in Dubai!’ moments.

The following megastructures documentary gives you an idea of what an incredible engineering feat the Palm is. Atlantis, other hotels, homes and apartments, all that stuff is sitting on sand and rock. Dubai defied those who said it wasn’t possible.

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Mama Mia!

This Sunday is Mother’s Day in America. I love both my parents for always encouraging me to be my own person. They gave me the freedom to believe in my own ideas, supported my pursuits and are both loving, generous, funny people. Also they sent me to Norway when I was 16, so only have themselves to blame for me living halfway around the world. At least I never joined a cult!

I was so happy this past winter vacation that my mom came and joined me for some traveling and to see my life in Dubai. For months I was looking forward to meeting my mom in Rome. She had never been to Europe and can now say she has traveled to Europe and Asia.

We met at the Rome airport and I took her to my own favorite ‘Budapest Hotel’, called Panama Garden. It was the 3rd time in 2014 that I stayed at this illustrious location, my favorite. The little shops nearby had awesome Christmas displays in the window, that reminded my mom of Dayton’s Department store in downtown Minneapolis, before it was bought out by Macy’s. The windows were showing off their Christmas cookies in lovely tins, beautifully decorated green and red cakes, bursting with gift boxes, bows and holly.

Christmas Windows

I enjoyed being able to confidently show her around and navigate the city. Okay, I still totally got lost, but I know the layout of Rome much better now. We went to the restaurant Ginger and I love, Mangiafuoco, for fried olives, pasta, pizza, and waiters who know me now. My mom could not believe Italians each order their own pizza, but it’s true. Two people at a table = two pizzas, ten people at a table = ten pizzas, and so on. She also belatedly learned Campari soda is bitter like gin, because it’s a liquor and not a sweet Italian soda. Hilarious.

I discovered new things too, like the Quartier Coppede, which is the art nouveau district that surrounds Hotel Panama.

Quartiere Coppede

Quartiere Coppede

There is the frog fountain, which The Beatles famously jumped in, at the center of whimsical buildings sprouting leaves, flowers and faces.

frog fountain

frog fountain

We toured the old Roman ruins and stumbled across shops and cafes. We walked, a lot.

Colosseum

Colosseum

For Christmas, we went to Venice, where we stayed in an incredible hotel, just of the Grand Canal. Venice was still touristy, but quite emptied out. Past the throngs around Piazza San Marco, it was quiet, serene, and while cold, quite a nice time to explore its meandering alleys. We got lost on the winding back streets and would refresh ourselves with coffee at the myriad cafes.

Canal land

Piazza San Marco is of course incredible, but almost everywhere you look is a thing of beauty in this Renaissance city.

Churches everywhere

Churches everywhere

The shops get a bit repetitive, each one with Carnival masks and Venetian glass, though we lucked upon some unique places too. My mom said Venice was her favorite. Also looking Italian. My mom loved that people thought she was Italian. And it’s true, we brunettes fit right in.

Italian mama

Italian mama

After two weeks, we left the cold of Europe for the perfect winter warmth of Dubai. I wanted to show my mom everything!

My mom compared the city to living in the future, something out of Blade Runner, without the rain or Japanese. This city really must be an architects dream, because you are allowed to try all these crazy things. Even buildings that at first look very normal, will have some interesting detail.

The highlight for me, was the camel ride. Driving for about 30 minutes and suddenly you are completely out of the city. We rode in group consisting of a German family and their friends. On the typical desert safari, you get about 5 minutes or less on the camel. We got to ride for about an hour. I also enjoyed eating at Karma Cafe, with its awesome Dubai fountain views, and afterwards, going to Burj Khalifa’s viewing deck, ‘At the Top’. My mom pointed out, it should be called ‘At the Middle’, since the 124th floor, is not the top. I don’t care, I love Burj Khalifa.

Look Up!

Look Up!

If I had to guess, one of my Mom’s Dubai highlights would be her pool day at the Westin Hotel. The Arab hospitality of the hotels is off the charts. You don’t have to stay there, but can get a day pass and they will make you feel like a Queen. It’s indulgent and relaxing. She totally deserved it!

A big, super Happy Mother’s Day to my lovely, amazing Mom! I hope we can travel together again someday. Maybe Dad too. Love you both so much.

When in Rome… : A Visit to the Mausoleum of Augustus

I can’t wait to teach Ancient Rome this year! One of the most exciting units.

Understanding Rome

IMG_1652

Last month saw a momentous anniversary of the sort that doesn’t happen often; on the 19 August it was 2000 years exactly since the death of Augustus, Rome’s first emperor.

Much hand-wringing was employed over Rome’s lack of festivities, and it is true that while there have been many events over the course of the year (for example this exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale, this light show at the Forum of Augustus amongst others) if one hadn’t known the importance of the date already one could easily have wandered Rome on the 19 August with no idea of the occasion.

If I’m honest, part of me rather likes this. Far lesser anniversaries are elsewhere trumpeted from every municipal outpost. But not in Rome, which looks on with a languid seen-it-all-before gaze.

Mausoleum of Augustus on the left, Mussolini's Piazza Augusto Imperatore on the right. Mausoleum of Augustus on the left, Mussolini’s Piazza Augusto Imperatore on the right.

And so it was on…

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Summer is Over!

Tomorrow I report to work at 8am. We have a week to ready our rooms, but vacation is officially over. It was the summer to top all summers.

Even though last year, we went to Iceland, which I would name, hands- down, as my favorite place ever, this summer was so so fun. One of our taglines, each time we added something new and exciting to the mix, was ‘summer topping.’ And so much of it was completely unexpected.

Last time I wrote, it was about Lisbon. A beautiful city, with each and every corner holding some gem. It has history and modern vibrancy. It’s so pretty it made my heart ache. Furthermore, one of their national dishes is pork and clams. I also loved that you can take a short train trip to Cascais on the Atlantic Ocean. Although that water was so cold it was hard to swim. Perfect for a quick dip to cool yourself. I was sad to leave.

To top off the summer, we went on a huge cruise ship, the Norwegian Epic. It has been something we have both wanted to try and I was especially interested in a Mediterranean cruise.

The Norwegian Epic has the biggest water slide of any ship and the largest outdoor screen for movies. I finally saw ‘Chicago’. There were pools, bars, theaters, a few buffets and restaurants, with the fanciest “free” one being ‘The Manhattan Supper Club’; they served an excellent volcano cake.  We skipped anything with a cover charge. We did check out the casino, go to an impersonation show, ‘Legends’, and bingo. Our favorite thing was ‘Howling at the Moon’, a dueling piano show, where the audience gets to request songs and sing along. They also tell cheesy jokes, another one of my favorite things. We went three times! The hospitality on the ship was incredible and the whole experience very relaxing.

We were happily surprised that while our room was tiny, it was so well designed that it didn’t feel cramped. There was space for everything, including a place to tuck away my suitcase. It was nice to totally unpack for the week.

The port stops are not the best way to truly see a place, but you do get an enjoyable itty-bitty taste of each. The cruise ship went from the Port of Rome, to the Port of Florence, where we stayed in Pisa for the day, Cannes in France, Palma de Mallorca in Spain, Barcelona, a day at sea, then Naples, italy and back to Rome. Cannes was less awesome (trashier) than I expected and Palma de Mallorca more amazing (serenely elegant) than I imagined. This is the problem with expectations.

We were able to return to our favorite restaurant from our first night in Rome, Mangiafuoco, for a final dinner together. I really can’t understand why fried olives have not made it off the boot. This time, instead of catching up on our lives, we were reflecting on all we had seen and our hopes for the year ahead.

Ending in Rome felt full full circle. A complete and perfect ending to our incredible summer.

Red Bus and Bulls

We decided to hop on the “hop on-hop off” Red Bus tour in Lisbon. With Ginger’s bargaining skills, we were able to get our tickets validated for 3 days, quite helpful. Oddly enough, we had the same bus driver and salesman each time we hopped on, in much different parts of he city. They seemed as surprised as us to keep seeing each other!

The first time we got on, we quickly got off; it was just after “New Avenues”, a wide boulevard with many well known shops. I love that something named ‘New’ was built in the 19th century.

The Red Bus tour was telling us about Portuguese bull fighting, and we were passing the stadium, Campo Pequeno. It’s an Arabic style building where most of the action happens.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/96/Campo_Pequeno_Lisboa.JPG

What the Red Bus was was telling us was that in Portuguese bull fighting, men wrestle the bull and they do not kill him. We asked the driver to let us off and successfully bought a couple nose bleed seats. Without the Red Bus tour, we would have completely missed out on this opportunity.

This was also the evening we first tasted green wine with our fabulous casual dinner across from the stadium. Green wine is delicious. It is dry, light, crisp, refreshing and lightly sparkling. Green wine is more aptly translated to ‘young’ as it has been bottled within a year or less. Why are people so obsessed with aged wine? After drinking the obligatory post-meal espresso, we rushed to get to our seats.

The view was great. Even though our seats were high up, we could see everything. The performers come out to greet the audience.

Performers

Horses dance

While all the performers were on the field, the horses and their riders, cavaleiros, demonstrated dressage, horse dancing. After this grand entrance the real show began.

I was not prepared. I spent more than half my life as a vegetarian and I do not like cruelty against animals. The Red Bus told me they don’t kill the bulls! The bus didn’t tell me that the bulls would still bleed from the cavaleiros’ javelins. It was pretty horrific and all set to live music from a band. The band did an awesome job, mirroring their music to the rising and falling action.

horses dodge bulls

Horses dodge bulls

Most impressive was the horses. The fact that they didn’t freak out, but calmly and repeatedly ran towards the bulls and then successfully escaped them as well.

Once all the javelins are in the bull, the forcados enter the ring. These are the eight men that the Red Bus told us about. The audience goes totally hush. The first forcado in line moves forward, no weapon, no cape, then he claps and calls out to the bull, instigating the bull to run at the line of men. Once the bull is subdued, a bunch of brown cows are marched out, with bells on, and these help herd the bull off the field.

The ending was definitely the best part. Discussing it later with some Portuguese guys, they told me that these bulls live totally relaxed, free range lives for 4-6 years before entering the ring. Cattle are about 2 years old before slaughter. You cannot train a bull to fight, because then it learns strategy. Despite my shock, I’m glad I went.

 

Lovely Lisbon I love you

We booked a place in Lisbon for 3 days using Airbnb. We only committed to 3 days, because we weren’t sure we would like it. After the first 15 minutes at Elsa’s place this was a joke, because we loved it! We loved the city driving in, with its interesting, artistic graffiti, we loved the little cafe where she told us to meet her, we loved her neighborhood, Belem, and we loved her well-stocked apartment.

The street we stayed on was a few blocks and a whole word away from the more touristic main road, with its famous custard tart shop, Casa Pasteis De Belem. The desert, pastel de nata, is a specialty of the Portuguese.

"MargaretCafe PasteisDeNata" by Jpatokal - Own work. Creative Commons

“MargaretCafe PasteisDeNata” by Jpatokal – Own work. Creative Commons

The most famous place, was always too incredibly busy, but we did have the delicious tarts, from one of the other hundreds of nice cafes/pastry shops. They taste a lot like creme brulee on the inside.

Casa Pasteis De Belem brought in large crowds, as did the 500 year old Jeronimo Monastery.

https://i0.wp.com/www.joaoleitao.com/fotografias-lisboa/imagens/2011/11/mosteiro-jeronimos-belem-lisboa.jpg

 

Our apartment area, away from the crowds, was so charming; full of adorable little old ladies chatting each other in the streets and old men socializing in the many tiny cafes. Most of the buildings had teensy-weensy doorways and were covered in fantastic tile designs.

Per Elsa’s recommendation, we immediately headed to a local market. For 8 Euros, about $12, we got two kinds of fresh style cheese, tons olives, a big piece of sausage and bottles of water. This helped make good meals and snacks for a couple days.

The apartment also came with one of our favorite things- bikes! It was very close to a riding path on the beautiful Tagus river. The path crosses a couple other well known land marks, like Belem tower.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Torre_Bel%C3%A9m_April_2009-4a.jpg/1073px-Torre_Bel%C3%A9m_April_2009-4a.jpg

 

All we had seen was Belem and we had already seen so much!

The other really striking thing we saw was a red bridge that immediately reminded us both of San Fransisco’s Golden Gate, with a statue like Christ the Redeemer, from in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The bridge was originally named for the well-loved and hated, António de Oliveira Salazar, who ruled from 1932-1968. The new leader, Estado Novo, had a military coup launched at him in 1974. Instead of a successful coup, the people rose up, leading to a democratic government and a the end of Portugal’s colonial control in Africa and Asia. This is celebrated every year on April 25th as freedom day.

The Salazar Bridge became the April 25th Bridge. People that do not want their politics known, just call it The Bridge.

"Ponte25Abril1" by Vitor Oliveira from Torres Vedras, PORTUGAL - Lisboa vista de Almada (Portugal). Licensed under Creative Commons

“Ponte25Abril1” by Vitor Oliveira from Torres Vedras, PORTUGAL – Lisboa vista de Almada (Portugal). Licensed under Creative Commons

 

Portugal’s replica of Christ the Redeemer is called Christ the King, Creisto Rei. The Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon visited the inauguration of Christ the Redeemer in 1931 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Approval for Lisbon’s own statue was given in 1940 as a plea to keep Portugal out of World War II. When it was finally started in 1959, it was made as a thanks for keeping Portugal out of the war. The statue is at the end of The Bridge, and everywhere we went in Belem, it helped us navigate the hilly streets and find our way.

"CristoreiPortugal" by Magnusha - Own work.

“CristoreiPortugal” by Magnusha – Own work.

Hard to Leave

Just a few other things I loved in Hamburg:

This awesome, kitschy cafe, full of antique tins like the tins we were scoping out at the antique market. It served an incredible, and most importantly not too sweet, berry crumble:

 

crumble

 

Otto Von Bismark, a Prussian that dominated European politics in the late 1800’s, and his completely overpowering, massive statue near St. Pauli’s and the park:

 

Otto

 

Getting serenaded at an “authentic” Portuguese restaurant, in a city with the supposedly largest Portuguese population outside of Portugal and laughing so hard with Ginger that we cried:

 

serenade

 

It was so reminiscent of a Portlandia skit we have been watching:

The only good thing about leaving is that we were going to Lisbon, Portugal!