Ani:ME Abu Dhabi

Now this is what I call a weekend well-spent. We headed off to Ani:ME which was the biggest Anime and Japanese festival being held in UAE this year and we weren’t disappointed.  We bought our tickets online so we could get a nice discount and so we wouldn’t have to wait in line at the event and set off for Yas Island bright and early. If you haven’t been to Yas Island before, the signage to the du Forum might be a bit difficult to follow but there was no shortage of taxis who were willing to help point us in the right direction.

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Entrance through the torii

We entered, of course, through the torii, past Japanese eateries just opening up and straight into the tent, where we were met by a giant Robo Grendizer.

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It’s Robo Grendizer!

There were loads of places to be and tons of things to do, so we started by getting some of our favourite manga from Kinokuniya, drooling over a million and one gundam kits on sale and trying very very hard to exercise self-control… which, let me tell you, was not easy. Especially when you see the entire perfect edition of the Monster manga on sale…. and Noragami right below it.

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Prints from artists

Apart from getting your hands on mangas at events like these, it’s also a perfect opportunity to buy prints from your favourite animes from local artists. There were lots and lots of artists with ready prints for sale, while others were sketching on the spot. Is it too much to ask to find someone who loves Allelujah Haptism from Gundam 00 as much as me so I can plaster my wall with his photos? :P

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Autograph Time!

I resisted the tempatation to buy any FMA prints and we headed towards the area where all the signing events would be taking place. It turned out that Todd Haberkorn, who was the voice actor for Raki in Claymore and Ling Yao in FMA: Brotherhood, was going to be there so my brother lined up patiently for a photo, an autograph and a chance to talk about some of our favourite animes.

Yashuri Nightow was also there – the guy behind Gungrave

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Calligraphy by Ryujin Kobayashi

Apart from the anime and manga madness which included a screening of Naruto and cosplay competitions with a chance to compete in the World Cosplay Summit, there were also lots of cultural activities taking place, from calligraphy from the famous Ryujin Kobayashi, mochi pounding and kimono dressing.

My favourite, and I would definitely classify this as being a “cultural” activity, was taking pictures at the photo booth. We didn’t get a chance to go wild and do this in Akihabara so we decided not to miss the opportunity here. The photobooth was set up by Puripix and we ended up going… not once, but twice! The photos were printed at the booth in the form of stickers and you could choose to have 2 photos sent for free to your phone through the app, but we were hoping that all photos could be digitized because we had so much fun taking the photos and decorating them. When we downloaded the app, it turned out they were all digitized! We had to pay to get the other pics but it was well worth it- the picture quality was amazing, in fact I think the photobooth produced better quality pictures than a photo studio these days and for a much much better price!

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Time for some Japanese yummies

We finally headed out for lunch, deciding to skip the long lines for Soba and went to Yas Mall instead but not before saying bye to the bunny! There was a whole line-up of events for the evening, concerts and Gundam building contests. We weren’t able to stay longer, but there’s always next time :)

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Bye Bunny!

Dubai Fountain

Now that the weather is cooling down, at least in the evenings, it’s time to start venturing out and doing outdoorsy things again. Our first stop was The Dubai Fountain, the world’s tallest musical fountain. Since the boat rides are between 5.45pm to 10.45pm and we’re very very much morning people, we never actually thought of taking a ride through the fountain before. We decided we’d do something different, booked our tickets and braved our way through the weekend traffic to head to Dubai Mall. Despite having had to park on the 9th (and last) floor of the parking garage since all other levels and all underground parking was full, we finally made it… just in time.

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Looking across at Souq Al Bahar

We’d making the bookings online, so we went to collect our tickets from the At The Top counter, where we were surrounded by an endless mob of tourists. Luckily for us, there was more rush to head to the top of Burj Khalifa and less rush at the fountain, so we were in for a comfy ride.

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Heading out

I’d strategically picked the 6.15pm slot, which meant that we’d have time to watch the 6pm fountain show before sunset, and the 6.30pm show after sunset, during the ride. I’d highly recommend picking a time around sunset so you can enjoy the day and the night views of both the fountain and Burj Khalifa, which sparkles like a gem at night.

The weather was lovely, the boat entirely silent and the ride a smooth sail around the fountain, taking us from Dubai Mall, past Souk Al Bahar and past the recently opened Dubai Opera for a vantage point view of both Burj Khalifa and the fountain.

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The sun going down behind Dubai Opera

If you stand close to the fountain and the wind is just right, you should expect a nice cool shower, but when you’re in the boat, the driver takes you to a sweet spot, close enough for the fountain to seems magical, and just far away enough not to get a drop on you. For the photography enthusiast, it’s a great opportunity to get a non-crowded shot up close, but somehow nothing you capture will be as nice as it actually feels sitting in the boat, away from the crowds, softly rocking, watching the fountains dance to the music.

My biggest tip to anyone who’d like to plan a visit to the fountain would be this… if you’re heading out at night don’t strain your neck trying to get a glimpse of the top of the Burj. Instead, sink a little in your seat, tilt your head back and voila… the top will come down to you.

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Glittering in the night sky

Tickets cost only AED 65 for adults (as of Sept 16) and even if you’re travelling with kids, there’s no need to worry because there are life jackets available on board for adults and kids alike. No excuse not to go and spend a relaxing half hour along with your thoughts.

The Green Planet

We headed off to The Green Planet on their opening weekend, because who doesn’t want to experience a day in a rainforest, while living in the desert. To be honest, while landscaping in the UAE is a testament to human creativity and ingenuity which allows for 24/7, 365 days a year greenery that often makes you forget that you’re living in a desert, there are times when you crave something less manicured and something more wild and green.

Located at the City Walk, the Green Planet can be a bit hard to locate if it’s your first time in the area because there’s still some roadwork ongoing, but the building is easy to spot, and is located right opposite The Hub. We had booked tickets online, to avoid any potential queues at the ticketing counter, and decided that we’d head out bright and early so we’d get in just as the place opened up. We weren’t the only ones with the same idea, but we got our tickets easily enough, and were ushered through for our rainforest experience with two important reminders – No flash photography and No Touching!

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Welcome to The Green Planet

You start your visit at the ground floor, where you get an amazing view of where you’ll be headed (the rainforest above) while at the same time enjoying turtles and all sorts of fish in the aquarium. From the moment you enter, the temperature is a comfortable 20 something degrees, and while it’s humid it’s not uncomfortably so which means you can easily spend hours inside.

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Looking up

Once you’ve had your fill of looking at the fishes, you head into an elevator which takes you right to the top, from where you’ll begin your journey, naturally working your way downwards. The first thing we saw as we stepped off the elevator… were parrots! Just sitting there… comfortably… about to begin their early morning preening. I think the most surprising thing, for me at least and for the many kids who came in after us, was just how loud parrots can be. It’s positively startling, especially if you’re not expecting it.

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Too uncomfortable to preen in front of camera-wielding strangers

The thing I loved most about the place, was the fact that all the birds were free to fly around, which meant you had to spot them in all the dense foliage. There were signs all along the footbridges giving you the names and details of the birds, and you had to hope you were lucky enough to spot them. Free to fly also means free to poop, excuse the French, where and when they please, which often includes on unsuspecting visitors, which is why I’d advise you to keep a pack of wet wipes on you when you go. Just in case!

 

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Look who’s hiding

There were all sorts of birds, from green and red parrots, to toucans and then of course, there were the other animals which we had’t expected like the sloth (who was just beginning his rather slow journey into the rainforest) and rather large sleeping porcupines (in fact, I didn’t even know porcupines could be so big or that they are nocturnal!) There were also a number of fascinating critters, not all free to roam thank God. I wouldn’t quite know what to do with myself if that tarantula had been out wandering. One of the nicest things was that there were guides available everywhere who were willing to share their knowledge with you to help you pick out a male from a female lizard and also to creep you out by telling you just how lathe those lizards can get once they’re fully grown.

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The Frog Leg Beetle looks like an absolute jewel

The animals aren’t the only wow factor at the Green Planet- in fact for me, it was the tree that was perhaps the most awe-inspiring. The tree, as they explained to us, is man-made and other vegetation has been planted in such a way that it will grow over the structure which acts as a support. Which means, while the tree looks amazing now, it will take a few years before the tree is fully covered  in wild green and a place for all those animals to truly call home.

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First look at the man-made tree.

As we made our way down, over rope-bridges and past preening parrots, we met weaver ants making their homes, bees building their hive, leaf-cutter ants being their diligent selves carrying upto 5000 times their body weight in leaves and butterflies just sitting  pretty on the large leaves of the canopy.

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A place to call home

 

The experience was both wonderful and educational and I’m pretty sure I’d like to be back in a year or so to see how much the canopy has changed. The Green Planet is open from 10am to 10pm everyday (closing time extends upto midnight on Thursdays and Fridays) and tickets can be bought online or at the entrance for AED 95 for adults and AED 70 for children (Prices as of Sept 2016).

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The biggest parrots I’ve ever seen… and the cutest

WTC Souq and Mall

There are loads of malls in Abu Dhabi, and while Wahda Mall is my personal favourite, rather my mum’s favourite, WTC Souq and Mall are great places for tourists and for people looking for a good place to eat out with an ambiance to match.

We stopped at the souq first, which is filled with shops selling all sorts of tourist-y takeaways. I wouldn’t say that these are exactly “Emarati” souvenirs, most of them being imported from either Turkey or Iran, but there are plenty of exotic items that would make for great coffee table conversation.

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I need to get me one of these lamps!

Most stores sell decorative items- from the typical turquoise Persian enamel plates to the deep blue Turkish evil eye pendants, postcards (so you remember all the places you’ve visited and all the ones you’ve missed) and antique wooden furniture. Some stores sell spices- there’s one right at the entrance if you fancy some dries rose buds and marjorum. They were also selling something curiously translated as “crumple”- what that is, I can’t be sure. If spices aren’t your thing, or if you’d rather avoid possible questioning back at your home airports, then maybe taking back some traditional clothes would be best. Many stores sell taditional abayas and shailas for the ladies, and kandooras and gutras for the gents. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you could always change into your new local attire and roam the souq instead. And then of course there are the compulsory to camel embossed T-shirts to give to friends, because nothing says UAE like camels…even though you’re only likely to see them if you for a safari or the zoo.

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Anyone need an Aladdin lamp?

If you’re into art, there are also a couple of art galleries where you can pick up something truly unique. When we stopped there, we couldn’t resist getting some paintings by an Iraqi artist, and we weren’t the only ones in prowling the dark cramped aisles in the little gallery with more paintings than walking room, in search of Mr. Right. Always remember, if you’re at a souq… that means you have an unwritten license to bargain…at least a bit. The  best, and most commonly used, bargaining technique is to keep insisting that they tell you their “last price”. I’m terrible at bargaining, but it’s always worth a shot… my mum did end up getting a good discount (or so we were led to believe ;) ) If you’re worried about packaging, they can roll up the canvas for you, or you can have it framed at the gallery itself where you can pick it up later.

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One of the many market scenes painted by an Iraqi artist

If you start feeling peckish as you’re wandering around, there are a couple of coffee shops and a number of restaurants where you can sample Turkish, Lebanese and Indian cuisine and if none of those sound appealing, there a lot more places to eat right across in the mall which is just a pedestrian crossing away.

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“Eat of the good things wherewith We have provided you” – Quran 2:172

The mall itself is no less than a throwback to old souqs, with a similar wooden interior which is actually quite a refreshing change of scenery. The shops are about the same as in any other mall, but when it comes to food, they have a good number of popular eateries under one roof- PF Changs, Shake Shack, Romanos, Nandos and a long line of cafes and of course there’s the food court. Unfortunately, or fortunately rather, we were all fasting that day so we escaped the inevitable hole in our budget and instead wandered around the mall stopping to admire all the artsy sculptures that were up everywhere (except the polar bear which was positively frightening). We even got to enjoy people playing the clear piano that was made available to the public.

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Rhino alert!

There were also, surprisingly, places to sit that did not involve going to the food court. This is somewhat of a rarity in most malls across the country – so if you do see an empty bench, sit down and savour the moment.

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Don’t forget to look up and enjoy the architecture

 

The mall and souq are open from 10am to 10pm on weekdays and upto 11pm on weekends so there’s always a way to squeeze them into your itinerary.

Emirates Park Zoo

Now that the weather is getting better (I admit there’s still a long way to go), Emirates Park Zoo is  a great place to put on your list of places to visit on the weekend, especially if you have kids. It makes for a great day trip, and they even have a hotel you can stay at if you want to enjoy the experience for more than a day :)

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Lots of things to see!

I would recommend going in the morning in this weather and only attempting an afternoon visit once it cools down a bit, but in any case, you can always buy hats and water bottles right at the entrance so there’s no reason to worry. Also, they have mist sprayed outdoors which helps cool you down as well.

The best part about this place is that you actually get to interact with a lot of the animals- this includes being able to feed some animals like the giraffes and elephants. (I admit- this is why I was really here. I love giraffes <3 ). They also have lots of shows held throughout the day, which they periodically announce over the speakerphone in case you forget ^^

You can buy food for feeding at the entrance but it turned out the giraffes were happily fed by the time we reached. Some people still insisted on feeding them (and the wrong food at that!) despite clear signs asking not to. :( If you do get a chance to go, please don’t be tempted to do that.

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Don’t forget to feed the giraffes

There are all sorts of animals, ranging from the more domesticated chickens and turkeys to the exotic ostriches, gazelles and leopards. I experienced several firsts at the zoo- seeing my first Frizzled Chicken and also my first Capybara (I only ever read about Capybaras in the Noragami manga…go figure ).

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Smile for the camera

A lot of the birds and ducks aren’t kept in cages, which makes me wonder why they stick around… the promise of regular food perhaps? I suppose it’s a mark of how well the animals are looked after at the zoo.

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Time for a morning stroll

While we can escape the summer heat by heading to the air conditioned areas of the zoo, it’s a bit more difficult for those animals who aren’t used to the scorching temperatures, so you’ll normally notice those particular animals hiding out in their feeding areas, which are shaded and probably a lot cooler. So don’t feel too disappointed if you don’t see them roaming around. They’re just resting and will probably be up and about when it cools down ^^

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Did you know zebra stripes are unique like fingerprints?

It’s easy to lose track of time at the zoo, and you’ll probably find yourself spending about 2 hours there before wondering what time it is :) If you get hungry while you’re there, there are a couple of restaurants there that have you covered (yayy for Subway!).

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Hello sleepy :)

The zoo is typically open all year round,including on public holidays. Tickets for adults only cost AED 30 and similarly priced tickets are available for some of their special shows (prices as of Sept 2016).

Last Exit

It’s no secret that food trucks and pop-up restaurants are the new craze in UAE. Some of the more recognizable names include Salt, which now has a permanent home in at least three different emirates, Moti Roti, the Ramadan favourite and of course Parker’s, no key no entry. So it’s no surprise that a permanent food truck park has finally opened up in Dubai.

Last Exit is located on E11 on the way from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, just outside Jebel Ali which makes it a great alternative to stopping at the Adnoc service stations on the way back from Abu Dhabi.

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Welcome to Last Exit

What’s great about the place is that not only does it have a drive-through in case you’re in a hurry, but there’s also plenty of parking if you want to get some rest before hitting the road again.

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Drive through Big Smoke Burger

An interesting thing to note is that despite the absence of most of the big names, there are plenty of new-comers which shows the food truck business is alive and well. From burgers at Burger Pit, to coffee at the prerequisite Starbucks and dessert at Clinton Street Baking Company, you’re all set for a hearty meal. And of course, no food truck park can be complete without karak and parathas from My Karak.

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Nothing like starting the day with karak

With its vintage 1950s feel, the park is a great place to visit, even if you’re not a foodie (is there such a thing?). Not only are the food trucks painted with 50s themes, the indoor dining area is a blast into the past complete with a pinball machine and a juke box.

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Taking the 50s theme very seriously

From the gas pump nozzle door handles to the bicycle spoke lights, there’s no place left without decoration.  I didn’t go into the restroom, but later found out even that is a work of art.

While the indoor dining area will be the obvious preference in summers, the outdoor dining area will be a hit in winter. The seats are made from re-purposed tyres and the tables are old barrels. What’s not to love!

If you do get a chance to go, leave me a comment and recommend something yummy to try on my next visit :)

Emirates Palace

This Eid holiday, we decided to head down to Abu Dhabi and visit Emirates Palace. We couldn’t make up our minds whether to visit in the morning or wait till after sunset to catch a night view of palace, but the uncharacteristically hot weather made the decision for us and we ended up visiting after dinner.

I called in ahead to see if we could book a tour, but as it turned out, all tours were booked until the end of the month. The front desk said the only real difference between the tour and visiting on your own is that the tour includes a visit to the rooms. We figured we’d just enjoy the views of the lobby and have a nice gold-flaked cappuccino at Le Cafe instead.

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Le Cafe

If you are planning a visit, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. There is a dress code so say no to shorts, flip-flops, beach wear and generally looking like a bum. Smart casual is the way to go. The other important thing to remember, is that you may be turned away at the entrance if you can’t satisfy security that you’re not just going there to loiter. If you’re planning on going for dinner, or a cup of tea, then know the name of the cafe/restaurant, if you’ve booked a tour have all related information ready. “I’m just going to look around” does NOT qualify as a good answer.

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Waiting for someone? Wait in style!

From the moment we entered the hotel, it was as though we were surrounded by gold. Everything had either a touch of gold or was bathed in relaxing soft gold lighting. It was interesting to note that there were not a lot of skylights to allow for natural lighting, except for a few openings in the main dome area which I thought was a pity only because I’m a big fan of natural lighting. Looking up at the dome is rather mesmerizing and if I could I would lie down on the cold marble just look up and appreciate the structure.

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Looking up

While we were wandering around, I ran in to a friend and after catching up we decided it was time for a good cup of tea or coffee and started looking for Le Cafe. The signs aren’t very obvious, so we had to peek at the boards in front of several seating areas to find the cafe, and the mix of my bad eye-sight with the dim relaxing lighting made everything seem a bit more hazy. We found it eventually, and while the gold-leaf coffee was really good, I would probably not recommend the Masala Chai to anyone. It isn’t chai if they’re serving milk on the side.

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A great spot for a touristy picture!

We left after drinks, leaving behind people closing business deals and other people digging in to their dinner.

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It was a lovely experience, but next time I think I’d prefer to just wander around the hotel grounds during the day and take in the architecture, the landscaping, the beautiful fountains at the entrance… and a little bit of sun.

Chillout Ice Lounge, Dubai

If you haven’t figured it out already, the summer’s not showing any signs of ending any time soon. So how does one chill out in Dubai.. .apart from going to a mall that is? Well, there are more than a few icy options around to turn your summers into winter… there’s Ski Dubai in MOE (which has recently started overnight camping!), several ice skating rinks including the one in Dubai Mall and then… there’s the Chillout Ice Lounge! If you’re just looking for a place to relax, have a coffee and a bite to eat in the comfort of -6C then this place was made just for you.

The good news is you don’t need to lug your own snow boots and heavy jackets with you. Both are provided to you before you enter, along with a nice warm cap and gloves. The gloves, though aren’t as warm as we would have liked so I’d advise you to carry your own as well. Also, do come wearing jeans because there’s nothing to cover your legs. Once you’re all bundled up and look like you’re heading for an Alaskan expedition, that’s when you’re allowed in to the cafe which is full of beautiful ice sculptures.

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Fairies and Dragons

While some of them are just for admiring, there are even some that you can climb into, like chariots and cars, for that perfect photo op! (If you can bear to take your hands out of your gloves, or if you’re lucky enough to have gloves that work with your smartphone!)

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Some of the epic sculptures!

If you’re worried about how long you can stay inside, no need to worry! You can always warm yourself up with a steaming cup of tea or hot chocolate and of course, there’s always lunch to take your mind off the cold. Did I mention, your first drink is complimentary? ^^

One of the things I loved about the place was the fact that the lights keep changing colour, so you get to see the sculptures, literally, in a new light.

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The red dragon!

Tickets are only AED 75 per adult and AED 35 for kids (as of Aug 2016) and since you can stay in for as long as you can stay in, it’s definitely worth a visit!

Tears in Japan

Tears fall silently
In earnest desperation
Cherry blossoms bloom
On soft aizome squares- held
By ikemeso danshi

Hiroshima

Life sprouts, verdant green
In defiance of scorched streets
しかたがない

Giving Back – Ramadan 2016

This Ramadan, I have decided to compile a list of initiatives and causes to which you can contribute. Whether it’s volunteering your time, or donating your money, there’s always something you can do to put a smile on someone’s face. :)

If you know of any other great initiatives let me know so we can spread the goodness!

Iftar Meals for Distribution

This Ramadan, Najmat Lahore has specially prepared Iftar packs  for distribution to those in need.

Iftar Charity Box Donation

Mezbaan Hyderabad Restaurant is delivering iftar boxes straight to labour camps and construction sites. Meals can be bought on Cobone at the click of a button!

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A Kilo of Kindness

Movenpick hotels have launched the Kilo of Kindness campaign which is looking to collect donations of tinned and dry foods. Drop off locations are in the lobbies of the participating hotels, as listed on their website.

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Pay It Forward with Virgin Megastore

Virgin Megastore has teamed up with Fetchr to help people give back to Dubai Foundation for Women and Children. It’s as simple as buying an item, having it delivered through Fetchr and then filling up your box with goodies like women and children’s clothes and toys as well as electronics and then contacting Fetchr for a free pick up!

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Ramadan Donation Box

Nakheel and Dar Al Ber have teamed up with Ibn Battuta Mall to set up donation boxes across the mall, accepting donations of clothes, shoes, books and money.

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Volunteers in Deen Iftar Distribution

Volunteers in Deen is looking for help distributing iftar among labour camps in Sajaa Industrial Area, Sharjah. If you’re interested, check out their page and get in touch!

Sunglasses for Labourers

Emirates NBD has set up collecting booths across the UAE where you can donate your old sunglasses which will be repaired, sanitised and distributed to labour this Ramadan.

Ramadan Fridges

Join the group and set up a fridge outside your home or help to stock fridges around the UAE with your yummy goodies to help out people in need.

Reading Nation

Launched this Ramadan, the initiative aims to distribute 5 million books to refugees and schools and libraries around the world.Donations can be made via bank transfer, online via the Dubai Cares website, in person at leading malls or via SMS through du and Etisalat.

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UNRWA

UNRWA is looking for support to help feed around a million refugees in Gaza and a further 430000 refugees in Syria this Ramadan. For less than USD 200 you can feed a family for an entire month.

Futoor Alatool with Sheraa

Help in distributing iftar to a thousand people this Ramadan. To volunteer, get in touch with them at info@sheraa.ae or contact them via Twitter

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Pending Meal

Lahori Gate Restaurant and Kilby Cafe in Dubai are giving away meals to the less fortunate. Get in touch with them to pay for someone’s meal this Ramadan.

 

Share a Part of You

Like every year, City Centres all over the UAE are ready to take your donations of books, toys, clothes and electronic items.

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Dubai Blood Donation Centre

You can always take time out to donate blood at the Dubai Blood Donation Centre this Ramadan. The centre is open after iftar but make sure you check the procedures and requirements before you go.

Filling the Blues

Moti Roti is partnering with other local restaurants to provide food at construction sites every day, except Fridays.Whether you’re a restaurant or just someone who’d like to volunteer, make sure to fill out the form on their site.

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Shoebox Love 2016

It’s time to fill out those shoeboxes with all the little essentials to help out all the labour who help us out everyday. Baembu is looking for male volunteers for distribution at the labour camps but everyone else is welcome to pick up a box for donation.download

Ramadan Aman with Takatof

Lots of volunteers are required for lots of events being held across the emirates, from iftar distribution to heping out in the Quran recitation awards. To volunteer, register with Takatof and go through their available opportunities.

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Donate and Change Lives

Thumbay hospitals in Dubai, Ajman and Fujairah have launched a campaign to collect books and toys o don’t forget to take along your goodies to your next doctor’s appointment!

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A Touch of Love

Omo has launched their campaign to collect clothes for donation around the UAE. Check out their twitter page for more information about bin locations and how to arrange pickups via Careem.

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Spring in South Korea- Day 12

Day 12, also known as The Last Day, in the nicest sense of course ^^ There’s only one flight from home to Korea- at midnight- which meant we had the whole day to kill before heading to the airport. We were supposed, of course to check out of the hotel at midday but what of all our luggage and where exactly were we supposed to go? I had been counting on the hotel extending our check-out to at least 3pm but they weren’t too big on the extended check-out concept so instead they suggested that we could pay for half a day but the rates since booking had shot up considerably so that was a no-no. We decided to check out as planned at midday, ask the hotel to hold on to our luggage and head to Gangnam to meet up with my friend for lunch and a stroll around the area.

After breakfast, we finished packing everything in our new suitcase (yayy!), except the strawberries (what on earth does one do with fresh fruit when travelling?)  and after a smooth check-out we were all set to go to Gangnam by metro. (I think we used almost every imaginable form of public transport on this short trip- plane, taxi, car, van, bus, ferry, metro, train!)

The National Assembly station was right outside the hotel, so we headed down the escalator to buy our tickets at the machine. Again, we hadn’t bought transport cards so we had to use the one-time cards. My friend had told me that there was an express line to get to Gangnam, but I hadn’t the faintest idea if that would be at the same platform or another so we ended up taking the all-stop metro. As soon as we got out of the station, we realized we had to make a pit-stop before my rendez-vous… when you see Kyobo in front of you, you don’t just walk away!

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I could live here

There was so much to see in Kyobo and it’s hard to resist buying something, so I ended buying another Scratch Night View and gave me a discount coupon to use on my next visit. When we finally emerged from Kyobo, we ran into my friend who was coming to look for us ^^

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Nothing like flowers to remind you it’s Spring

We headed straight to lunch at the nearest Paris Baguette where there were a million and three things, out of which only three were halal sigh Self-control in the face of all those heavenly looking cakes was, I suppose, good practice since Ramadan is now right around the corner ^^ We had a nice lunch, filled with conversation and after we were nice and full, we hit the streets to explore Gangnam.

I’ve realized the pace of walking in Japan and Seoul, is really a world apart from back home- everyone is a power walker. I imagine it’s because most people walk to places or ride a bike since the weather is so nice most of the time…or else they take public transport because it’s so convenient. The killer weather most of the year back home doesn’t look too kindly upon people who’d like to walk outdoors … 9 months of the year to be exactㅋㅋㅋ

Most of the stores in Gangnam we’d come across in other places, but the great thing about this place was the fact that it was not filled with tourists so you got more of a life-in-everyday-Korea kind of feel. We walked all the way, through the subway, and back up to the popular Gangnam Style stop where of course mum and Z had to pose for pictures ^^ (Even all those stairs couldn’t stop my mum from posing) Mum had really wanted to come to Gangnam and I’d left it off my itinerary, but fate has a way of putting things in place I guess :)

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Time to pose!

From there, we went strolling along, mum looking for some nice age-appropriate clothes and a mobile phone cover. We didn’t manage to find any of those things, but what we did come across was a sign advertising a shoe that weighed as much as an egg. Mum was intrigued and it turned out the shop was just ahead. This was turning out to be mum’s lucky day-  not only were the shoes practically weightless, they looked amazing and…most importantly… came in her petite size! With our last-minute shopping in hand, we finally decided to head back to Yeouido where we’d relax for a while at a coffee shop and then catch the airport limousine bus to the airport.

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Just another day in Gangnam

On the way back my friend pointed out to us the Samsung headquarters (very chic) and I noticed a Gangnam tour bus. For someone short on time, I think the tour bus would be a nice way to see all the sights and pick out favourites for the next, hopefully longer, trip ^^

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Tour of Gangnam anyone?

My friend was awesome enough to take us all the way down to the subway, where we bought our tickets, and she showed us how to refund the money from our one-way passes and told us if we were in for some more shopping we should head to the Express Bus Terminal underground shopping area. We said our good-byes with promises of meeting again soon and headed off to find our platform. This proved to be the real challenge- probably even harder than mounting Seongsan Ilchulbong had been. We went up and down, and up and down, and somehow couldn’t find the platform going towards Yeouido, we always ended up at the platform heading onwards from Gangnam. -___-  Since my voice had been pretty much MIA since the day before, I wasn’t very willing to scare people with my hoarse voice to ask for directions. A girl who was passing by probably notice how lost we were and helpfully directed us back to the same platform, but I wasn’t convinced so I decided I’d ask someone waiting at the platform instead. She finally pointed us in the right direction, saying we were on the opposite side of where we should be and let us know how to get there. At laaaast, we had reached and managed to catch the express train straight to the National Assembly Station.

When we finally reached, we realized that none of us had taken down the exit number so we weren’t sure which exit would lead to our hotel. We decided anything was better than being underground with lost bearings, so we emerged from an exit and realized we had passed the same exit when walking back to our hotel from the cherry blossom festival. ^^ We walked back and stopped for some hot tea at  Cafe 7 Gram and a place to rest our weary legs. The tea was really good, or maybe that was my dead throat talking, but we’d finally found a place that didn’t serve tea the size of an upsized latte.

We were aiming for the 7pm bus to take us to the airport so collected our luggage from the hotel, walked across to the bus stop and as we waited, we watched the police clear up the scene of an accident that was holding up the traffic. It was interesting to see how they used white spray to mark the locations of the front tyres of both cars, took photos, then directed both cars to the side where they then had a discussion about the incident. We don’t do the whole white spray and photo thing back home so it was pretty informative to watch.

As the traffic cleared, our bus arrived…6030 to Incheon airport. The driver helped us with our luggage, we boarded, took a cue from the only other passengers on board, reclined our seats, closed our eyes and settled in for the night drive to the airport.

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Saying goodbye to the National Assembly building from the bus

The drive was not very long and when we got off at the airport, there were three main items on our agenda… 1.Dinner 2. Tax-free refund 3. What to do with our strawberries and umbrellas. I had check-in online to save time, but since the online check-in counter wasn’t manned they told us to go ahead to the business class counter where the guy at the desk was on his phone for forever and a bit. When he was finally done, we got our luggage checked in and asked him what to do with our umbrellas and strawberries. He said we could take the strawberries in hand, but said we couldn’t check-in the umbrellas. I was a bit confused when he said the umbrellas needed to be packed, because even if I couldn’t check them in, I should still be allowed to take them as a carry-on. In any case, we ditched my favourite umbrella ever at the nearest bin. Z stopped for a sandwich while mum and I then went to discover the world of tax-free refunds. I’m kind of glad we didn’t waste time filling out all those receipts since everything at the airport was automated. We had to show our receipts, which got scanned at the machine, along with our passport, then get receipts of over a certain value stamped at the customs counter before we could go to passport control.

In order to make sure everything went smoothly, I made sure everything was in my jacket pocket so I wouldn’t waste any time at the scanner. That kind of backfired when the security officer asked if he could check my hand-baggage which was in the same basket as my jacket. He asked me if I had change in my bag, to which I said yes.. I had a some change in my bag but I wondered why that would be of any concern. In any case, I thought it would be better to tell him where else I had change just in case there was some problem. I had in my jacket pocket, my mobile phone along with a whole bunch of coins that we’d collected in the morning to spend at the duty-free so we wouldn’t be left with any coins. It turned out that there were so many coins that even the security officer laughed before waving us on ahead. Note to self: I must learn the art of spending change when I travel, instead of jingling my way to the airport -___- The lady at passport control didn’t look like she was having a good day at all, she looked positively upset at having to be there doing her job, but she did it anyway and we were finally at the duty free.

We had set a couple of goals for the duty free: 1. Find dinner 2. Spend all change 3. Find a souvenir for my best friend 4. Get tax-free refund

Our progress was as follows: We finally managed to find a snow-globe at a souvenir store for my friend who collects them- why is it so hard to find snow globes these days. :( We went on to the tax-free counter, where they proceeded to refund us some but not all the cash against the receipts saying we’d have to go to another counter for that. The other counter, it turned out, was a million miles away and after half a million miles, mum was too tired to go on, so I went on ahead. It turned out, though, that the receipt was in Zs name, so he had to be there with his passport -__- He joined in a bit, we got that sorted and retraced our steps to get my mum. As we walked towards our gate, we kept an eye out for any place where we could get a bite to eat and some water, but a la Japan everything was either closed or closing. By the time we got to our gate, me and mum were positively starving so Z went off to look for  something to eat, while I quickly grabbed water from the nearest Mos Burger which was also about to close. We ended up having bread buns from Angel In Us which was pretty much the last coffee shop standing at that point.

I really liked Incheon airport, but at that point I was wondering how on earth it had been ranked number one for so many years (pushed to number 2 only in 2016), when everything including the duty free closes at night- what are late night passengers expected to do? I think Dubai has spoilt us in more ways than one, the airport being one of the things we take for granted. Remind to vote, if there is such a thing, for passenger’s choice of airport.

The flight was on time, and the only notable incident on the flight was the turbulence as I was waiting to use the restroom, it made me feel so dizzy that when it was mum’s turn to go, I wasn’t willing to accompany her ㅋㅋㅋ When it was time to eat, they brought out fruit yoghurt- a Korean brand but of course halal and I wished it had been easier to spot that brand while we were there. We finally landed at around Fajr and decided to have currency changed at an exchange near baggage claim before we got too lazy to do it later on. Not a wise decision – the exchange charged us a “service fee” for the conversion, which of course they didn’t tell us up-front -___- I only realized after I counted the change and looked at the receipt. Another note to self: change currency close to home where agencies won’t rip you off just for being there.

We got in to a taxi loaded with our luggage, the sweet smell of strawberries and sped off home. We had landed on a weekday though, so as we headed home, we watched the morning rush build and our driver’s anxiety increase since she was supposed to hand in her car at the end of the shift which was ending after just half an hour. There was no way she was going to make it back on time in all that traffic. ㅜㅜ As we got off, we gave her tips on how to get back from the fastest route and then headed… home.. at last <3 Alhamdulillah.