Miracle Garden 2015

If it isn’t already, going to Miracle Garden should become everybody’s annual winter tradition. For the skeptics who may think that the garden looks the same every year, think again… Miracle Garden evolves from year to year making it a new experience every time around. This time we decided to take Emirates Road to get there. It’s actually much more convenient taking Emirates road but again, the signs are virtually non-existent (in fact there’s only one sign along the way that says Miracle Garden) so be sure to follow the Arjan exit (Exit 30) to get there. As of today, only Phase I is open to the public. Hopefully Phase 2 which houses the Butterfly Garden will open soon. I’m just looking for another excuse to go back 🙂

So what were some of my favourite attractions this year? Here goes…

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Umbrella Pathway

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Flowers Boats

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Peacocks

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Floral Train

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Other end of the floral train…

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Floral Cars opposite Floral Windmills….makes them look like flying cars 😛

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Delicate Floral Eiffel Tower

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Floral Dhow next to the lake

 

If the pictures haven’t convinced you maybe the ticket prices will… Prices are the same as last year at AED 30 per person and free for kids 3 yrs old and below. The park is open from 9am to 9pm on weekdays and 9am to 11pm on weekends.  I would advise anyone visiting for the first time to come in at around 9-10am so you can beat the rush and so you can get lot of pictures without getting people in your shot. 🙂 Weekends are super busy so either start early or plan to come in on a weekday to make the most of your visit.

For more details, visit their website  or follow them on Twitter @AkarDMG.

To see what Miracle Garden looked like last year click here 🙂

Of friends and feather pens…

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I think I love shopping for stationery as much as I love writing letters… which is why this is the perfect birthday gift from my awesome friends.

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Feather Pen, Ink and Wax Seal Stamp

I’ve always been a bit curious as to how exactly feather pens and their cousin wooden dip pens work. I remember spending an entire vacation dipping my granddad’s wooden pens into ink bottles and scribbling nonsense just because it was so fascinating not to have an ink cartridge.  So how do fountain pens (quills, dip pens and all included) work? Quite simply… capillary action. Now that’s something they should mention in school when teaching you that boring concept. If you, like me, are interested in how a fountain pen works (and you should be, because a lot of thought went into making pens that we take for granted!)  then you can find out on Explain That StuffMeanwhile, I am going to test out my new acquisition so I can send out my next batch of letters in green ink! 🙂

Miracle Garden

Now that the scorching summer is officially here, I figured it would be nice to reminisce about the nice places you could visit in UAE if it were winter.

My favourite outdoor place, apart from all things Al Ain, that I’d recommend to everyone in winter would have to be Miracle Garden. Open all day (by all day, I mean sensible timings like 9am to 9pm on weekdays), Miracle Garden is home to 45 million flowers or so, but who’s counting, apart from the Guinness Book of World Records that is. Driving down from Ajman, the directions seem pretty straightforward -just grab E311 and you should find yourself there – but the lack of signs mean you have quite some guessing to do if you’re not familiar with the area. My advice would be to get your Google Maps out and let your GPS do the rest.

Once you find yourself there, admission is a mere AED 30 and if you’re too lazy to walk a couple of minutes from the free parking to the entrance there’s paid parking right in front.

Standing at the entrance you’ll automatically forget the long drive, the missed turns and the entrance fees because you’ll be looking at heaven in the desert.

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Floral Arches

Phase 1 has a number  of attractions that you won’t want to miss. We had entered from the VIP entrance, and walked left making our way from the beautiful flower carts towards the Gazebo Zone.

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Flower Cart

As we approached, we entered the “Upside Down Flowers Pathway”. The colours of the pots were so lovely it was as though you were walking through a piece of art.

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Upside Down Flowers Pathway

Once you get out of the Pathway, you find yourself at the mouth of the entrance to the Umbrella Pathway. To be honest, I couldn’t decided which one I liked more: the colourful flower pots or the Spidey-umbrellas.

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Umbrella Pathway

Needless to say, both pathways make for great pictures so don’t be surprised to find a lot of people there. Also, the shade from the sun is always much appreciated. After lingering in the two pathways, we decided to get a bite to eat from some of the kiosks in the shaded seating area. The best part about taking some time to grab a bite is that you don’t feel as though you are leaving all the beautiful attractions behind, because the seating area itself is an attraction. The smell of the flowers and the shade meant we were in no hurry to leave and took some rest before going on to explore the second half of the garden.

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Shaded Seating Area

After our snack, the first place that really caught our eye was Hessa square with its beautiful peacocks. Every park has its photo hotspots and and for Miracle Garden, after the pathways which are hotspot 1, this is hotspot number 2.

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Peacocks at Hessa Square

If you were to think that the peacocks were the highlight of the park, you’d be wrong. For me, the next attraction was perhaps my favourite: the Car Zone. What really blew me away was the idea behind the Car Zone. Re-purposing old cars that would have otherwise gone to the scrap yard to form a car graveyard of sorts filled with flowers.

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Car Zone

And it’s not just the flowers that made this place so gorgeous, but also the colourful graffiti sprayed all over the cars!

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Graveyard of Cars

Car Zone makes for a super picture hotspot 3. We reluctantly left and moved on to find ourselves at Shamsa Castle, or my next home. Next time, you might just see me in sitting in a rocking chair on the veranda reading a book and sipping ice-cold lemonade.

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Shamsa Castle

We had come full circle when we realized we hadn’t gone right to the centre of the park, so we took a quick detour just to see the giant Floral Clock.

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Floral Clock

In case you’re wondering what attractions I haven’t covered… don’t worry… there are plenty more in Phase 1. You can click on the map below to download a pdf.

Miracle Garden Layout

Miracle Garden Layout

And if, like me, you love all things floral, you’ll be happy to know that Phase 2 of Miracle Garden is due to open soon (October 2014) complete with a butterfly park!

Just remember, if you are planning to visit, the park is usually closed in summer so check out the Miracle Garden website before planning your trip!

The Great Sri Lankan Adventure – The End.

And so the great Sri Lankan adventure came to a close in much the same fashion as it had begun. We woke up bright and early at 6.30 am, only to switch off the alarm and get back into bed till at least 7 am. Took a nice long warm shower and headed down for breakfast. It was nice to see nothing had changed in the week that we had been away and we had a nice, light breakfast and were treated to the scenes of a Sri Lankan wedding. The bride looked stunning in her traditional white sari and more than her dress, it was her calm, poised and elegant attitude that made her look all the more attractive. We stopped to look at the happy couple before going down to roam around in the basement souvenir shop that we had bought our first postcards from. No poo paper here (there was a souvenir shop outside Pinnawala selling a variety of products made from elephant poo), only the regular elephant statues, magnets, masks, coins etc. I got some Sri Lanka stamps for a colleague at work who collects stamps and my brother bought a book to read on the plane.

After a while, mum and I decided to roam around the hotel and do some exploring. We weren’t sure where we were going when we found ourselves next to a tiny garden with a pond filled with water lillies. As we approached the garden, we found that someone had already beat us there, a man dressed in traditional garb and a drum slung across his neck and we figured he was there for the wedding we had seen earlier. He was there for a wedding, but not that wedding. We had in fact chanced upon the site of another wedding. Right opposite our vantage point, the bench in the garden, passed the procession for another wedding headed by traditional musicians and dancers who led the bridal party. Mum insisted that the first bride looked better. I would have to agree. We didn’t take any pictures because we didn’t mean to intrude but the drummer had allowed us to take a picture of him when we had entered the garden , before he went back to taking pictures of the garden.

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I spy with my Sri Lankan eye… a drummer taking pictures

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So what was he taking pictures of?

We waited patiently for all the wedding processions to end before making a run for it back up to our hotel room where we put the finishing touches to packing up our luggage and watched TV. We ordered an early lunch, seeing as how we had to check out by 3 pm (the hotel had granted us an extension), and by the time we finished our lunch of a kid’s meal of fish and chips, cheese pizza and a regular burger, dad came back from his morning meetings and art adventures. He had picked up an enormous canvas as large as a king-sized bed. It was a painting of horses but quite mediocre and not to mention hurriedly done, not at all in the class of the painting he had brought back with him on his first trip. The more pressing point, however, was how we were going to lug it around at the airport. Dad had it wrapped up in newspapers and taped it up and by 2.45 pm we were ready to check out and head to the airport. We paid in cash; counting in thousands is tedious business and I can’t imagine how the Italians and Koreans manage.

We finally set off with our driver/guide who we had retained for the last day as well, choosing him over a hotel transfer to the airport because he was much more informative and because we just enjoyed his company so much. Driving down, he told us that the Dutch had once created a canal for transport but thanks to the canal, the sea water had seeped into a nearby river which could no longer be used and as a result of which nearby paddy fields were given up on. Also along the way, he pointed out that people were fishing for prawns on our left. There were no people, only the tops of wooden spokes could be seen and he explained that the cage-like wooden structures were used to trap the prawns. He told us that we could go for a boat ride there as well, but we just headed for the airport where we bid a fond farewell to our guide whose contact details we took down in hopes that we could meet him again if we got another chance to come back to Sri Lanka.

It’s amazing the things you take for granted, living in the UAE – like clean toilets and great airports. You can check in pretty much whenever you like (obviously not seconds before the flight), and you’re guaranteed to just go in and be able to reach your gate where you can lounge around (no pun intended) outside till the gate officially opens. In Colombo, however, it was was very different. As the airport is much smaller in scale, because we were early (as usual), we couldn’t check in. In fact we had to sit outside in the waiting area till they announced the check-in and that the gate was ready for us. That was around 5pm. We didn’t let that deter us and spent the time browsing around the souvenir shops in the waiting area. We ended up buying cashews and a cute elephant cushion cover, while dad had lunch and my brother sampled more of the local soft drinks.

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Elephant Cushion Cover

At around 5pm, we joined the long queue to check-in and found ourselves behind someone who was leaving his family for the first time to go to Italy. There were lots of tears and fond farewells and it was reassuring to know that people are capable of so much love. Since we were without a porter, my brother had to do all the heavy lifting, but unlike Dubai, the airport is not a marathon course and it was just a matter of minutes before we were back to where we started – the statue of Buddha we had first seen on arrival. We roamed around in the Duty Free for a bit only to kill time, grabbed a coffee and a croissant to gobble down before the gate opened. Luckily our gate was next to a restroom and we thought we’d take a trip there before checking in, but dad mistakenly thought the plane was boarding (an hour and a half early) and got us all checked in. In fact, the gate had only just opened and off we went inside past the last security check, doffing shoes and all. Unlike the rest of the airport which was rather warm, the waiting area was really cold, a sign of things to come. We waited patiently, dad facebook-ing, my brother reading his book, and mum and I counting the minutes.

Boarding call announcement at last. Our seats were split up so mum asked the Italian couple sitting next to the men if they’d perhaps exchange seats to which the amiable lady replied, “Yes we can!” and promptly went on to swap seats with us, leaving us all seated together – under the killer A/C ducts. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice and decided early on to get a blanket and proceeded to cover my head. I may have looked ridiculous, actually I did look really ridiculous because I really have no turban wrapping skills to boast of, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. While the seats were as uncomfortable as when we flew down to Colombo, it seemed that the plane was now twice as cold. We were all huddled in blankets, and when I say all, I mean even the Italians and Europeans who were lucky enough to have hoodies and sweaters in their carry-ons because they were flying transit to Italy. Now where on earth were we supposed to get warm clothes, travelling from tropical Colombo to desert Dubai? I would have taken a picture of how ridiculous the entire cabin looked, except my fingers were numb and I wouldn’t take them out from under the blankets even if you paid me to. After a while it seemed the only requests the air hostesses were getting were to somehow raise the cabin temperature. They fielded the questions and repeated requests and each air hostess had her own response. Some said they had adjusted it (pacifying the people who would realize later they’d been conned), some said it was the cabin design and only our cabin was experiencing this extremely low temperature (you can’t really argue with aircraft design with the crew because they can;t really fix it, can they), some said it was simply not possible to change the temperature (again, it’s unreasonable to ask for the impossible so a great way to get people to stop asking) and yet others said the reason the cabin was so cold was because they were circulating external air into the cabin to prevent the spread of diseases. The last one seems like a sound reason, except by the time we landed in Dubai, the plane was a cacophony of people coughing, sneezing and blowing their noses. I think that flight caused more illness than it supposedly prevented.

Other than the sub-arctic temperatures, the flight was relatively uneventful (or maybe we were too numb to process anything), except for the one case of sudden turbulence and drop in an air pocket. It was so unexpected that there were cries in the cabin, a scurry of cabin crew rushing to their stations and one air hostess got injured. We reached Dubai safe, not sneezing, and on time thanks to the strong headwind. No rush at the immigration counter was compensated for by the extra long bus ride to the arrivals due to the then upcoming and now ongoing maintenance activities. In a short while, we were out of the airport and back at home with my fish who were glad to see the end of our week-long Sri Lankan adventure. Alhamdulillah.

The Great Sri Lankan Adventure – Day 6

After a fitful night’s sleep on Day 5 (not for lack of a comfortable bed, but more because we’re not used to changing beds almost every day), we headed from for a yummy buffet breakfast and got ready to head out of Kandy and on to the tea plantations.

Since we didn’t get much souvenir shopping done, our guide was nice enough to take us to several placed in Kandy before we checked out in the afternoon. First off, we were taken to a woodcraft factory and store, Rajanima Craft, where they showed us the different types of wood from which crafts were made by hand and how they were dyed. We learnt that ebony is the only wood that sinks and heard for the first time about rainbow wood. Rainbow wood is shaved and the shavings dropped in boiling water which causes the water to change colour. By adding things to this solution, such as lemon juice or chalk powder or even dipping iron rods, changes the colour of the water to a variety of colours such as pink, purple, blacks etc. The dyes are natural and fast so colours will not fade once applied to the wooden carvings. The gallery was lovely, filled with statues ranging from elephants to tortoises, fish, traditional masks, statues of Buddha ad even living room furniture. We didn’t buy anything and moved next door to the Batik factory/shop where they make hand-made Batik designs. The lady there took us through the Batik process where designs are first sketched on pure cotton or silk and coated with wax where they don’t want to dye the design. The cloth is then dipped into dyes moving subsequently from the lightest to the darkest colour. The shop was cleverly designed in that you would finish browsing everything available, make your selection only to find out that the cashier is on the 3rd floor… which means you have two more floors of batik designs to browse through. I indulged in a cute black and yellow Batik shirt with elephants. We left shortly after and pulled over to see some more sights on the way. At one stop, mum bought the cutest elephant carved straight from a coconut.

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Stopping to see the white statue of Buddha on a hilltop

 

Next stop was the gem museum. When we entered, they showed us a video of the gem mining process. I never knew mining gems was such a labour intensive process and so dangerous as well for the miners. The store had lots of jewellery with precious and semi-previous stones and after much consideration, we got a couple of things at a great price. The heat wore us down and we headed back to the hotel to do a quick check-out so we could escape the after-school rush in Kandy. We were lucky enough to avoid it and soon enough we had set off on another scenic journey, this time up the mountains to Nuwara Eliya. The winding road up the mountain is beautiful beyond words. No picture can adequately describe the beauty of our journey up the mountain.

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Driving up the mountain to Nuwara Eliya

All the way up the narrow two way road were shops selling fresh produce. It was a bit dizzying going up the winding road, but the sight of the sprawling tea plantations makes you forget everything, nausea included. We took some shots next to a tea plantation, where we finally narrow room next to the road where the car could be parked. While admiring the scenery, we were suddenly accosted by some tea plantation workers who insisted on being in our photos and the insisted they be paid. The got pretty persistent even after being paid and followed us back to the car asking for all sorts of things from more money to change for Euros.

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Tea picking in progress

We finally shook them off and went on our way further up the mountain and stopped at a gorgeous rest-house from where we could see the waterfalls from the veranda. It was lightly drizzling and while the guys opted for lunch upstairs, mum and I stayed downstairs for a light lunch of tea, cake and some attempts at a selfie.

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River view from the rest-house

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Waterfall view from the rest-house

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Back on the wet road

We were then off to find the Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Centre. Mackwoods, we learnt, is one of the biggest tea plantations in Sri Lanka and they even auction their tea to big labels like Dilmah and Lipton, who then sell the tea under their own label. We went through the process of how tea is made and toured the factory which could use some serious Kaizen improvements. We couldn’t believe that only the first three leaves of the plant are used to make tea. After touring the factory and seeing their sensory room, we moved to the store which was jam packed. Interesting thing to note though… to become a tea taster you have to swear off alcohol because it dulls your taste buds. Back at the store we bought my favourite cinnamon tea, cherry tea for my brother who loves all things berry and some loose tea leaves before sitting down for a complementary cup of tea in the pouring rain. Now if only there had been a side of pakoray or samosas to go with that tea… The mountains surrounding the factory were stunning and the landscaping just outside the factory itself was lovely, being filled with flowers. Before the rain got too heavy, we decided to make a move lest we stuck on the way up.

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Mackwoods Tea Plantation

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Outside the Mackwoods Tea Factory

At last we reached the hotel, St. Andrew’s Jetwing Hotel. As we walked in, the weather had cooled down as we had been promised, so instead of the customary cool towels and juice at the hotel reception, we were greeted with warm towels and a really tasty vegetable soup. We headed to our rooms which opened out into a veranda on the ground floor from where you climb up to a small spice garden. The hotel staff explained that the hotel was not air-conditioned, for a second setting off alarm bells in my head, when I realized that I was actually feeling cold. In fact, the temperature gets so low that all rooms are equipped with heaters. Mum and I decided to enjoy the great weather and took a long stroll outside which the men chilled indoors. We went up the stairs opposite our rooms landing in the spice garden and then came back down and around the colonial block heading to the reception. The lawn was lush green and the flowers lining the sides of the lawn, the buildings and the footpaths were simply stunning. If I would have taken a picture of every flower I’d never seen before I think I would have reached my room only in time for checkout the next day.

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View from our room at St. Andrews Jetwing… Up the stairs to the spice garden

We took our time sauntering along in the cool breeze, going wherever the path took us until we found ourselves in the rose garden filled with roses of all colours. In the face of so much beauty, we just sat down in the rose garden to take it all in. After a while we heard the sound of rumbling thunder and decided to make haste and head back to the room. By the time we got back in, it had started to rain. What is rain without a good cup of tea? We all head down to the hotel lobby where we took tea and coffee. We lazed around, mum and  I wrapping our shawls around us tightly and the men wearing their sweaters, and I found myself in the library. The library housed books ranging from ancient surgical and orthopaedic texts to the latest John Grisham. Also in the library were the hotel’s old accounts registers, dating as far back as the early 1900s, which we thumbed through. They were so detailed that it was really amazing. They included the names of guests, dates of their stay and all their expenses from billiards to drinks, all written in immaculate hand.

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A rose in bloom at the rose garden

After a while, my brother headed to the snooker room, which boasts a 128 year old snooker table, and played a round with one of the hotel employees who obliged to be his opponent. He finally won and with that we moved to the dining area for dinner.

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128 year old Snooker Table

Dinner was a set menu set to the sounds of the piano, but the staff was very accommodating even with a set menu, replacing egg dishes which we couldn’t eat with salads instead. Soup, just as the soup we had been served at check-in, was simply delicious. I’ve never been one for vegetable soup but this was a class apart. For the main course, I picked the creamy pasta and mum the tomato pasta which the men opted for for a mean with rice, chili chicken and some other things. Unfortunately for me, the creamy pasta sauce was not very well made, so I had to share mum’s yummy tomato pasta instead. The staff, on seeing that my plate was still full, offered to change the dish for me but I was already full and didn’t want to overstuff myself in light of tomorrow’s long drive to Colombo. Dessert was delicious fruits and an even more delicious cake with passionfruit sauce. After a drawn out dinner punctuated with my dad requesting songs from the piano player that he had never heard of, we head back to our rooms when we realized it was time for the restaurant to close. Mum and I rearranged our suitcases before hitting the sack and as soon as we had snuggled into bed and switched off the lights, someone switched on the dogs who wouldn’t stop barking. So much for a restful night before our long trip back to Colombo on Day 7.