Hello Hatta

After only 25+ years in the UAE, we finally managed to make the road trip down to the elusive Hatta. I’m not sure why it took so long to get there, seeing as how it’s only an hour and a half away from home (way closer than Abu Dhabi), but somehow it always managed to evade us. The weather seemed to be turning for the better and with a long weekend at our disposal, we decided it was finally the right time to go.

Okay, so we did end up going round in circles for a bit thanks to Google Maps which seemed to be hell-bent on making us do rounds of Burj Khalifa, but we did eventually succeed in resetting our mental compasses and taking the right exit to be on our way. We left bright and early in the  morning, catching the sunrise and watched as the landscape changed from a cityscape to a desert and then to the rocky mountains that rose up before us.

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Happy National Day!

We took the Sharjah-Kalba road, which is parallel to the road that heads down to Fujairah, which would explain why the barren rocky landscape felt so familiar. We did our traditional spot a camel game, but it looked like even the camels were taking the day off to enjoy the National Day weekend away from all the traffic. Oh well, no ice-cream for anyone this time ^^

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Rocky Landscapes

Being early-birds paid off and we reached Hatta in good time, managing not only to avoid any traffic on the way, but also to secure a comfortable parking spot right next to Hatta Dam, which was where we were headed for some kayaking! Looking out at the dam was like looking at a sort of mountain oasis, a beautiful splash of glittering teal green surrounded by scraggly brown peaks, basking under a bright blue sky.

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First view of Hatta Dam

It was a stunning sight and a welcome relief of colour and we stopped for pictures before heading down to Hatta Kayak. Having never kayaked before, I was a bit uncertain as to whether we should be renting out kayaks, or if we should be stick to the familiar pedal boats, or better yet, taking a donut boat or a bicycle pontoon boat which I’d never seen before. We decided to be adventurous and take kayaks, and just prayed we wouldn’t topple over.

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Heading out in our kayaks

We left our mobile phones in the lockers, no one being willing to test just how waterproof they really are, and were pushed off into the lake in our colouful kayaks with assurances that any lack of swimming ability would not be a problem since we had our life jackets on. We managed to get a hang of the oars pretty quickly and soon decided it was time to turn around, head back and get our mobile phones out of the lockers so we could take some pictures out on the lake.

It was an amazing experience, not just kayaking for the first time, navigating around oncoming donut boats and dodging fellow kayakers while laughing at the struggling cyclists, but the place in itself was so peaceful, that after a while we just put down our oars and let the currents take us where they would, past leafless underwater trees and grey birds with long beaks. The weather had been great in the morning, but as we reached midday, the weather decided it wasn’t ready to turn into winter just yet and the temperature swung back to a sweltering 32°C.

After two hours of rowing, we were ready to head back in and head for lunch, but we were just half an hour shy of opening hours at the restaurant of choice, so we made a pit-stop at the fruit and vegetable market before going to Hatta Heritage Village to kill some time instead of going hiking as we had originally planned. It was an interesting experience, walking through the winding paths of the old village,  the remnants of lookout towers guarding us from either side.

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Lookout Tower

Being the National Day weekend, it was quite fitting that we had come to the Heritage Village so we could get a first hand view of how drastically the country has evolved over the last 46 years. We walked through homes and majlis and store rooms and outdoor kitchens, past the plain traditional kitchenware and beds to the more exotic tools and weapons like rifles called Umm Khams (a rifle that could load 5 bullets). Having been here for over 25 years, we are first hand witnesses of the evolution of the country, but this was another reminder of just how far a vision can carry you.

We were ready for lunch after having scaled up the rocky hill to the lookout point and the restaurant was ready for us at last. We ordered a chicken tanoor with some fatoosh, but being confused as usual about portion sizes, we opted for a 3 person tanoor to serve four. When the food came out, we realized even a 3 person serving was too big for us, none of us being heavy eaters. Nevertheless, we wolfed down as  much as we could, which was more than usual, thanks to all the kayaking and by the time we were done, it was time for some tea to keep us awake on the long drive back.

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Chicken tanoor!

Now, it’s common practice in the UAE, to head down to a cafeteria for tea… and Oman chips paratha… and now Lotus dessert. Exactly what this dessert is, I can’t exactly describe except that it has Lotus biscuits and tastes divine, like a soft cross between a caramel and a cheesecake. And if that doesn’t sound delicious enough.. did you hear me say “Lotus”? Enough said! So if you haven’t been to a cafeteria in the UAE before, it’s time to ditch that brunch and enjoy some of the finer things in life.

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Time for dessert

If you’ve never been to Hatta, I would definitely recommend going at least once. And if you’re into hiking, then it’s definitely worth more than one visit. And don’t forget the cafeteria! 🙂

Flag Island

November 2 marks Flag Day in the UAE so what better way to celebrate the occasion than heading down to Sharjah’s very own Flag Island, home of the 7th tallest flag pole in the world. I left work early so I could catch up with my family there for a late lunch and some gorgeous views of the flag in what is finally great weather.

The weather was pretty fantastic for Flag Day too, with a beautiful breeze wafting the flag up in the beautiful blue sky, and gently rippling the waters of the Khalid Lagoon. One of my favourite things about going to the island is the view of Souq Al Jubail which, for the uninitiated, is actually a fruit, vegetable, meat and fish market all in one. If you think it looks pretty fancy during the day, you haven’t seen it at night, when it’s lit up in all its splendour. It’s on my must visit list for next year’s Sharjah Light Festival.

After a yummy late lunch at Jones the Grocer, we headed to the open air amphitheater where the Emirati-Japanese band Kharsha were performing.  We’d gone to see Kharsha perform in Al Ain a few months ago and it was nice to see how fast their team of drummers is growing.

I can’t say exactly why one of the team is wearing a teddy bear mask, but I do love their Flag Day themed outfits. Very chic! Unfortunately we were rather late, and it was time for prayers after just one performance, so we decided to head home…not before stopping at KSHTA, the food truck area.

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Time for karak!

Unfortunately for us, we’d already had our late lunch and it was too early for dinner so we didn’t get a chance to sample much, except for a nice hot cup of karak, but we did have enough time to narrow down where we wanted to eat the next time we stopped by.

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The fanciest place for a burger – Graffiti Burger

From burgers to shawarma, from greasy fries to zafrani karak, dynamite shrimp to the classical falafel, they have it all. Looks like I’m going to have to go back on an empty stomach . ^^

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Fancy a place to sit?

If I’m not wrong KSHTA is here till the 5th of January, so that gives us plenty of time to sample a little bit of everything and of course, with the running track at Flag Island, there’s also enough time to run it all off.

 

Qdeemk Ndeemk

The resolution for this long weekend was not to stray too far from home and instead stay and explore the back alleys of Ajman. You might think that there’s not much happening in Ajman, and you would have been right a few years ago, but it’s come a long way since then, especially in terms of the foodie start-up scene. With a number of food trucks set up at the promenade in Ajman and a whole new set that we came across at the Mosaic Market, I was interested in trying something new.

For breakfast, we headed straight to Qdeemk Ndeemk whose modest exterior betrays an absolutely stunning interior.

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Welcome!

The cafe is large, yet cozy and oh so vibrant, with dated decor. Colourful canvases dot the walls and colourful cushions are scattered around, featuring legendary Arab icons such as Adel Emam, the Egyptian comedian, Abdul Halim Hafiz the Egyptian Singer (which got my mum reminiscing), and the famous Kuwaiti comedian, who incidentally was our neighbour in Kuwait.

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Everything about the cafe has a distinctly vintage feel to it, like a refreshing blast into the past. From typewriters (I have always wanted one of these), to radios, phones which would now be considered antique, however much of an affront that is to my not so distant childhood, and old television sets which go back to my parents’ generation. The not so flat screen generation.

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There were two other distinctly awesome things about this place, not counting the food. The car themed decor, which includes an entire bright red Mercedes as the highlight, which got my dad thinking back to his Mercedes days and the teapot chandeliers which I absolutely fell in love with ❤

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Half-cut cars… only my brother will get this joke *sigh*

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Well hello there beautiful ^^

When we were finally done ooh-ing and aah-ing at the interior design, we finally settled on three different kinds of breakfasts (Indian, American and Arabic) and of course no meal is truly complete without a cup of freshly brewed…karak ^^ The food was absolutely wonderful and the karak was spot on! Take note, every other restaurant who serves tea as a pot of hot water and tea bag on the side, that is such a no-no. When I’m ordering tea, I’m expecting a cuppa made with love, like karak ❤ I would highly recommend anyone coming down to Ajman not to miss breakfast here.

We polished off our meals, headed to the restroom, which also turned out to be a work of art with its mosaic tiles to match the rest of the cafe interior.

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Tiled toilets

As we headed back to the table, we were met with a tray filled with bakhoor and oud to get rid of any annoying lingering smell of food (really, I can’t believe no one has done this sooner, and no scented wipes don’t count) and the bill came with the characteristically Emarati Sharaawi Bros Mastic gum. If you live in the UAE, you know this gum is currency… used as change when supermarkets run out of 25 fils.

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The 4 stages of meal at Qdeemk Ndeemk

Final Verdict: must go again! The menu has so many yummy goodies to sample, it’s going to be hard to stay away.

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Don’t stay away too long!

Miracle Garden 2016

So this has become somewhat of a tradition… visiting Miracle Garden every year as soon the harsh summer shows signs of letting up. You may wonder why we choose to go the same place every year but the truth is, the flower arrangements change every year, which makes it a brand new experience every time you visit. This year, the highlight was the Guinness World Record holding largest flower arrangement in the form of an Airbus A380 (okay, that’s quite a mouthful).

The garden opens at 9am, but we were being lazy this time so we decided to go at 10am, anticipating that the good weather would hold. We weren’t quite so lucky. It would appear every time we’re blessed with a long weekend, the weather turns back to it’s evil summer spirit just to spite us. In any case, we were still early enough not to have any long queues at the ticket counter, so yayy!

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The perks of coming early… no line!

If there’s one thing I noticed the minute I stepped inside, it’s that this year, there are more flowers than ever before. The garden was completely carpeted in flowerbeds, besides the fancy decorative floral arrangements. The familiar arrangements from previous years had been revamped, and there were so many more things to discover.

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Remember me?

The “graveyard of cars” may have disappeared, but no season of Miracle Garden is complete without at least one epic car installation. In this case it was the Beetle Waterfall ^^

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One of the things I absolutely loved this year, was the fact that there were a lot more places to sit down to enjoy the view instead of rushing through. From the pavilions set up around the fountain, to the benches and swings set up around the perimeter of the park, there were so many vantage points from which you can appreciate the beauty around you.

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Pavilions around the fountain

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Garden swings ❤

For people who may find it difficult to wander around the whole park, don’t worry! There are special “taxis” to take you around the park for only AED 20 per taxi ^___^

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Floral Dhow

There were also a lot more places to eat this time around, Hardee’s and Krispy Kreme being new additions, but overall having a meal here is going to pack a bigger punch in your wallet than the entrance tickets. A simple shawarma which usually costs AED 5, costs about AED 30 in the park, so I wouldn’t really recommend eating at the garden unless you’re reallllllllllly hungry. Drinks too are super expensive so a bottle of water is probably the best way to go if you’re on a budget.

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Butterfly Windmills

La pièce de résistance though was most definitely the Airbus installation, and not just the plane, but also the landscaping around the plane.

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First glimpse of Emirates Airlines ❤

The coolest part had to be the  UAE flag on the tail and the rotating airplane turbines. Way cool! ❤

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Emirates Airbus A380

The park is open from 9am to 9pm on weekdays 9am to 11pm on weekends with tickets for adults costing only AED 40 (as of Dec 2016) , so if you haven’t gone already, it’s time to add this to your to-do list ^^

Mosaic Market

As a pre- National Day celebration, we decided to stay closer to home and visit the Mosaic Market which is held every Thursday and Friday at Safia Park in Ajman. We weren’t really sure what to expect, having only seen posters of the market on Facebook and Instagram, but they were convincing enough to get us out of the house on a Thursday evening, which is highly uncharacteristic of us. By the time we got to the park, we had come to one pre-event conclusion…we were clueless about a lot of the development that was taking place in Ajman. Jurf in particular, is like an area transformed.

Anyway, back to the market… the weather was lovely, ideal for a night out, and despite the rush we managed to find a parking spot not too far away from the park entrance.

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Getting in line for tickets

Tickets were AED 5 per head and once we were in, it was time to take the compulsory snap with the event hashtag ^^

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Hashtags are so in

My brother decided it was absolutely necessary to sample as much food as possible from as many stalls as possible, so we ended up having or at least watching him have dynamite shrimps from Foodbox, some concoction of berries and Red Bull, hot sweet corn on the cob, swirly potato chips, karak chai, Monkey Cookies and of course… and I mean of course…. we had to have Oman Chips paratha.

For those of you who’ve never been to UAE before, you must know this. Oman Chips sandwiches are tradition. If you come here and leave without having this sandwich and a karak, then you’ve really not visited UAE. More sacrilege than visiting UAE and not visiting Burj Khalifa if you ask me.

There were so many things to eat that you’d best come with an empty tummy if you’re looking to sample a bit of everything, including sweets from Sophie’s Kitchen and some good old food food, as I like to call it, from Qdeemk Ndeemk.

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So many places to check out!

Apart from the food, there were lots of activities, especially for kids, from an outdoor cinema, complete with comfy cushy bean bags, screening Freej to outdoor slides, paint walls and pull up bars. There was also a stall where you could try your luck and see if you could pick out an oyster with a pearl in it! I’ve only done this once as a child, but trust me… the feeling of opening up the shell and finding a beautiful pearl nestled inside the soft meat is like nothing else in the world, except perhaps winning the lottery ^^

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Celebrating National Day

Since it was the National Day weekend, we were also treated to traditional local plays and local dances, complete with swords.

If you haven’t been before, it’s well worth a visit and if you’re done with the market, there’s an entire park just waiting for a picnic and a running track to help you shed those pounds you put on at the market ^^