Ramadan 2017

We’re four days into Ramadan and already there are a myriad of initiatives that you can take part in to give back to the community this year. I’ve compiled a short list below and will keep updating it with new and exciting findings.

Ramadan Kareem! May Allah accept our fasts, our prayers, our duaas, and the sincerity of our actions.

  • Eid Kits

    Open Arms UAE has issued a call to start collecting Eid Kits for the less privileged. You can either donate so they can purchase the required items on your behalf, or if you have some time you can buy the items yourself and drop them off at the designated drop-off locations.

  • Donate Blood

    Abu Dhabi Blood Bank has launched an appeal this Ramadan for donors to come forth and donate blood amid a drop this month. During Ramadan, the blood bank is open from 7am-3pm and 8pm-2am on weekdays and 8pm to 2am on Saturday.

  • Change for Good

    Coins left over from your last trip around the world? Money exchanges unwilling to accept them? No worries… now you can donate your leftover coins through the Currency Charity Bank! In collaboration with Dubai Municipality, The Emirates Airline Foundation will pick up the coins and will then use the money in their charity projects around the world. Also, if you’re just a visitor to the UAE, you can donate any spare change to the Currency Charity Bank and all the money will go to the UAE Food Bank. :)

 

  • OMO’s Touch of Love

    OMO is back this year with their Touch of Love Campaign in collaboration with Uber, making it even easier to donate clothes. If you’t arrange a drop-off, simply use the “UberOMO” option in the Uber app to arrange a free pick up between 5-10pm up till the 22nd of June! In addition, donation boxes will be set up in malls across the UAE such as Mirdif City Centre, Deira City Centre and Mall of the Emirates.

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  • Etihad Miles for Meals

    This year Etihad has partnered with Emirates Red Crescent to provide 20,000 meals to families in need in Somalia. How can you contribute? It’s as easy as donating miles. Every 750 Guest Miles will provide one meal.

  • Serve the Heroes

    Serve the Heroes is looking for 40 school/college going volunteers to serve iftar to Bee’ah workers at the Abdulla Labour Camp in Sharjah.

    Register here!

  • Wanna Read?

    Wanna Read are holding two events this Ramadan from the 1st to the 24th of June and are looking for volunteers in Abu Dhabi! Skill required – enthusiasm and a willingness to put a smile on a child’s face :)

    Dear Volunteers,

    Ramadan Mubarak!

    Please kindly be informed that Wanna Read? are holding two events during the holy…

    Posted by Compassionate UAE on Tuesday, 30 May 2017

  • Medicine Drop Box

    In collaboration with Al Ihsan Charity, Etisalat has set up Medicine Drop Boxes across 12 of its offices, where you can go to drop off unused medication to help the needy.

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  • Salma Aid – Humanitarian Food Relief

    This Ramadan, Salma Aid is looking for us to step up and contribute to their cause – to expand their network and provide food relief across the globe whenever disaster strikes.

    Donate by credit card. Just go to our website at www.salmaaid.com and click the “DONATE” button. For other donation options check out their Facebook Page.

  • Al Noor Ramadan Campaign

    For companies looking to do some CSR, this is the perfect opportunity. This Ramadan, donate a portion of your sales/service to Al Noor Training Centre for children with special needs.

    Get in touch here!

  • Al Maryah Island Toys and Clothes Drive

    The Galleria’s Great Room is the place to be on Al Maryah Island. This Ramadan, they’re collecting brand new toys and clothes for children 12 and under for distribution to charities around the country.

  • Ramadan Fridges

    A runaway success from 2016, Ramadan Fridges are back this year and the initiative is bigger than ever. Unlike last year, this year the initiative is operating under the Red Crescent umbrella (yayy!) and while any kind of food donation is appreciated (water, juices, fruits, vegetables, dates, etc.), the only major thing to keep in mind is that NO cooked food is allowed to be stocked in the fridges which is understandable. If you’re looking for some way to give back to the community this year, this is probably one of the best ways you can take part. Wondering where the fridges are located? Look no further!

    There are also apps available to track the fridge locations:
    Click here to download the app on Android
    Click here to download the app for iPhone

  • Dubai Cares ‘Back To School’ Initiative

    While it’s notoriously difficult to secure a place for a volunteer activity with Dubai Cares due to the vast number of applicants (always a wonderful problem to have ^^), this year there are 2800 spots available to take part in their ‘Back To School Initiative’! The initiative involves getting ready 50,000 schoolbags and pencil cases for distribution to Syrian refugees.

    Sign up here

  • Emirates Foundation

    There are lots and lots of opportunities available with the Emirates Foundation (Takatof) this Ramadan, and the best part is there are volunteer opportunities available in almost every Emirate! From distributing iftar packages to helping people with special needs get to the mosques for prayers, there are a number of ways in which you can help. You’ll need to register which won’t take too long and then you’re all set to go!

    Search for opportunities here

  • Iftar Meals for Distribution

    Want to distribute iftar at local mosques but don’t know where to source the meals from? There are a number of restaurants that offer high quality food especially during Ramadan for distribution in large volumes. Get in touch with you local mosque, see how you can help and then get in touch with some of these restaurants to source the food!

    – Saffron
    Karachi Darbar
    – Delhi Nihari
    Najmat Lahore

    Alternatively you can buy the meals through Groupon for Emirates Red Crescent who will also arrange the distribution.

    Emirates Red Crescent

  • Pakistan Association Dubai

    Pakistan Association Dubai is looking for volunteers at their mosque in Oud Metha where they will be serving iftar every day. Get in touch with PAD and see how you can help out :)

  • du

    This year du is looking for volunteers to help pack and distribute iftar meals around the UAE from the 20th of May to the 17th of June. Hurry up and register!

    Register here

  • Majid Al Futtaim

    Every year donation boxes go up in City Centres across the UAE collecting toys, books and clothes. This year is no different! Next time you head out to any City Centre don’t forget to drop off your bag of goodies.

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  • 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, check out the schedule on their website and get in touch.

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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 <3

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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 <3 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 <3

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 <3

The coolest part had to be the  UAE flag on the tail and the rotating airplane turbines. Way cool! <3

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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 ^^

Volunteering with Dubai Cares

If you’ve never volunteered with Dubai Cares before, it’s time to give it some serious thought. I never had an opportunity to take part in any of their events before, mainly due to the fact that there are more volunteers than slots available, which is probably the nicest problem to have, but managed to get a slot in the 3rd edition of Volunteer Emirates at Al Rashidiya Private School this year.

The charity school, with over 700 students, was in need of helping hands for a nice makeover. From arranging the library, painting murals, assembling shelving and setting up the theatre and even landscaping, people were ready to help with it all.

We started at around 8am, got assigned to our groups and I was in with the mural painting team. I’ll be frank, I’m not much of a painter, but there is something amazing about seeing the walls transform from a boring cream, to a rainbow of colours and images that would bring out the inner painter in us all.

While the other teams headed off to do the heavy lifting with the shelves and landscaping, we headed off to collect our paint, plastic rolls, brushes, thinner, gloves and all our energy so we could finish up before lunch. As we were working, I was reminded yet again of how volunteering brings out the best in people- everyone doing their best, working together and helping each other out whether that meant lending each other brushes and paints to avoid the long walk to the paint station, or giving their artistic opinion on whether the sand looked real enough or if we needed to figure out a new paint mixing formula instead.

Also, the team that had gathered was a true testament to the diversity in the UAE- so many different nationalities with their own unique backgrounds and experiences, brought together by a common cause, sharing and learning through great conversations over a palette and a fatayer. Many of us came in as strangers and left as friends with phone numbers exchanged and promises to meet again soon.

Even as we wrapped up, there was still lots of work being done to ready the school for the first day after the weekend. What a surprise it will be for the kids- to walk in on Sunday morning and see their school transformed… like magic… :)

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Tadaa… done, with moments to spare

I think we could all do with bringing some magic into other people’s lives <3

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.

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!

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.

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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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Al Noor Island – At Night

Having been to Al Noor Island during the day, we were determined to come back at night for a chance to catch my breath after a hectic week and for a chance to have my breath taken away by all the beauty on the island.

From the Literature Pavilion with its inviting cushions and rugs and its soothing water fountain, just asking to stay a little longer, we walked through the cactus garden and made our way towards a beautiful barren tree that kept changing colour.

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Literature Pavilion – I could have stayed here all night

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Colour Changing Tree

We then made our way past the soothing sound of lapping waves to the Ovo which is as much my favourite place on the island at night as it is during the day. It’s a strange feeling, looking up standing in the middle of the Ovo, on that narrow walkway, surrounded by water and darkness…

From the Ovo we moved across the bridge and into the Gleaming Meadows where you’re surrounded by lights like flowers changing colours.

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Gleaming Meadows and  the Ovo sitting pretty like a lotus ready to blossom

As we headed to the exit, we came across what I can only describe as a scene straight out of Avatar. Fine lights shimmering on the barren spindly branches of the trees above made it look like you were walking under the Milky Way. It was hypnotizing, and I should have liked nothing better than to be able to string up a hammock and go to sleep under that sparkling sky.

20160212_204821_1Milky Way <3

If you need a getaway after work, I can’t think of a better place to go and clear your mind.

Sharjah Light Festival 2016

Every February, for a fleeting few days, Sharjah organizes their annual Light Festival. This year, there were 18 places all around the vast emirate where you could go to catch a glimpse of the spectacular light show… for free!

Last year we stopped by Al Qasba, so this year we decided to head to Al Noor Island and catch the view of Al Noor Mosque (which on a side note, is open to non-Muslims for visits on Mondays (as of 2016) ) before heading to the Infinity Light Tunnel. It turned out to be a great idea, because not only is Al Noor Island a gem in itself at night, but the silence on the island and the clear view of the mosque afforded by the bridge make it an ideal place to sit down, relax and take everything in without all the crowds – oh and you also get a great view of the Majaz Waterfront fountain show from the island.

The mosque was stunning, and made even more so at Isha with the call to prayer.

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Al Noor Mosque at Isha

The light tunnel was a new addition to this year’s sites and proved to be one of the most popular attractions. This one’s definitely a keeper! :)

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Infinity Light Tunnel

On the way back home, we passed Masjid Al Maghfira, another must-visit site as well as Al Jubail Market (the newly opened fish, fruit and vegetable market) and the Supreme Council for Family Affairs. While we didn’t stop at these places, we were for once happy for the traffic so we could admire the view for a little longer ^^

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Masjid Al Maghfira

Maybe next year I should go to University City Hall where once upon a time long long ago I had my graduation ceremony :)

Sharjah Classic Cars Museum

After years of passing it on the way to and from university, we finally managed to visit Sharjah’s very own Classic Cars Museum.

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Sharjah Classic Cars Museum celebrating UAE’s 44th National Day :)

With over a hundred cars starting from the 1915 Dodge Model 30, the museum is a great place to walk through the evolution of automobiles.

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1915 Dodge Model 30

Ford, Dodge, Chevrolet, Fiat, Studebaker, Cadillac, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Plymouth, MG, Mercedes… you name… they have it…

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Nothing says style quite like a Rolls

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1938 Chevrolet Master Sedan

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Right hand drives :)

Walking through the museum I realized that they just don’t make them so pretty any more. They also don’t make them as long anymore, which is a relief! How on earth did anyone ever park an Eldorado?

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What an engine… like staring down the barrel of a gun!

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And of course.. how can I leave without a picture of the Stingray <3

What’s really interesting is that a lot of these cars have been donated for display by car owners, so they still have their actual number plates, not classic car plates, and since there are lots of classic car events and festivals, most cars even have Salik (toll gate stickers). How very modern ^^

The museum only charges AED5 per head for adults and is open from 8am to 8pm, except Fridays when it’s open from 4-8pm (as of Dec 2015).