Hello Hatta

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

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

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Happy National Day!

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

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Rocky Landscapes

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

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First view of Hatta Dam

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

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Heading out in our kayaks

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

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

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

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Lookout Tower

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

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

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Chicken tanoor!

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

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Time for dessert

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

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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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 ❤ ). 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).

Al Noor Island

If you haven’t already heard, Al Noor Island is finally open to the public! Located on the Khalid Lagoon, Al Noor Island houses not only the Butterfly House, but also boasts a series of art installations around the beautiful island.

We headed down to the island expecting only to find the Butterfly House but were in for a pleasant surprise. The walk down the bridge to the island is pretty scenic as you can enjoy clear views of the corniche and can see all the way up to Al Montazah water park! In fact the view was so lovely, and the weather even more so that we forgot about going to the island and just wanted to sit on the bench under the Draceana Draco tree and take in the view.

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Heading down to Al Noor Island

When we did manage to pull ourselves away, we found that the island had much more than the Butterfly House and Literature Pavilion that we had heard so much about. From gardens to sculptures and even a trampoline pathway (which by the way I just loved!)

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All the places you can’t miss!

Our first stop was the Butterfly House, an architectural beauty. With around 500 butterflies in the open, it’s a great place to learn more about butterflies and see them up close.

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Welcome to Butterfly Garden!

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A hot-house haven

We managed to see Common Mormons, Clippers, Leopard Lacewings (including one that had just come out of its cocoon), Peacock Pansies (one of which decided that my mum’s palm was just so comfortable to sit on it didn’t want to get off ❤ ) and Grey Pansies (who were feeding on pineapples). Since we had gone down in the morning and it was cloudy outside, we found most of the butterflies basking near the glass windows trying to warm up.

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Hello beautiful ❤

Right outside the hot house, is a cafe with not only the most gorgeous butterfly themed table tops, but also great tarts! 😛

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Time to relax

As we walked around, we realized that music was playing subtly all across the island… blending in so well with everything you hardly realize it’s there. We came across a number of sculptures as we walked through the various gardens, my favourites of which were the 7 m tall Ovo and the Torus.

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The Torus

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Ovo rising out of water

The other place on the island that we all fell in love with was the literature pavilion. Nestled in the greenery, is a white pavilion with a water fountain, benches, cushions and rugs… all that was missing was a good book to enjoy the great weather. I’ll have to come back better equipped next time!

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Literature Pavilion

We later found out that the island features a number of illuminated attractions at night, including glowing trees and the Ovo… this means I’m going to have to go again at night!

If you’re looking for someplace to spend a peaceful new year, this would be high up on my list ^^ The entrance to the island is located right behind Al Noor Mosque and the island is open from 9am to 11pm on weekdays and till midnight on weekends. Tickets cost AED 45 per adult and AED 25 for children, but since the Butterfly House closes at 6pm, ticket prices are reduced if you’re visiting in the evenings (as of Dec 2015).