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Travel: Amsterdam, Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Getting There…

airplane_wing-wideWhere do I begin? Let me start by saying, Dubai is a magical place and unlike any other city I have EVER been to. It is also where my husband and I celebrated our 2 year wedding anniversary. This was a very different kind of vacation for us. Usually, we lay out on a beach somewhere and plan to spend our time just relaxing. Prior to visiting Dubai, my only perception of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) were things I’d seen on television and in movies. Also, my independent research to make sure I was in line with the nations customs and had what I needed to enter the country. After all of this, nothing could have adequately set my expectations for one of the most memorable and enlightening weeks of my entire life to date!

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A direct flight to Dubai from Houston is about 15 hours, depending on your flight path. Of course taking this extremely long flight all at once would be like asking to have your teeth pulled – so I was grateful that our itinerary allowed us to split the duration of the flight almost exactly in half. With a nice layover in-between the halves (to and from), the flights were more than tolerable… they were actually enjoyable! I had time on the plane to catch up on my sleep and new movies. I had some pretty decent meals, savory snacks, complimentary wines, and time to meditate.

Amsterdam

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We touched down in Amsterdam and took the train into town from the airport. The temperature change from Houston to Amsterdam was drastic to say the least, but it opened up an opportunity for my husband to buy me a really fly leather jacket from The Netherlands! #Winning!

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During our 8 hour layover in Amsterdam, we did a lot of walking. In fact, I’ve never walked more than I did that entire week. When we arrived to Amsterdam, it was a regular work day morning for many of the locals. Businesses were opening and the morning dew brought new optimisms for incredible adventure. We walked in search for specialty foods and a chance to catch a glimpse of the infamous Red Light District. Let me just say, we got more than what we bargained for.

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It was so crazy to see people on a regular Tuesday morning have their cup of coffee along with their joint while in casual conversation and enjoying lovely sights just outside The Red Light District. Yes… weed is 100% legal and very accessible in Amsterdam. In nearly every “coffee shop” marijuana is on the menu just as commonly as espresso… and evidently, the two go hand in hand. I had to see it to believe it.

While being amused by it all, we made a point to find “Pannenkoeken” (Dutch pancakes). Thank you Anthony Bourdain!! Due to our recent obsession and binge watching of Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’, we are now conditioned to searching for unique eats and having the most authentic experiences in every new country we go to. Our “Pannenkoekens” reminded me of a savory crepe and could really be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Good stuff!

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We’d soaked up our time in Amsterdam faster than I could’ve ever imagined. Before we knew it, we were speed walking our way back to the train station, satisfied with the best Amsterdam had to offer. I’m talking about being full from the Dutch pancakes of course… what did you think I was talking about??

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Touchdown Dubai

Another 8 hours in the air and we had finally arrived to Dubai!!! When we first got there, the long lines to get through customs, along with the guards, were a little intimidating. Amidst hundreds and hundreds of people… everyone was silent! It was a big contrast from were we had just come from. I made sure not to lean on my husband or show any PDA because public displays of affection are prohibited and punishable by law. Yikes! Finally, through customs and via a (really nice) cab, we’d arrived to our hotel!… The Marina View Hotel. (Side note: all cabs in Dubai are really nice Toyota’s and Lexus’.)   It had felt like days of logistics but we’d arrived! We were physically beat on that first night but that didn’t stop us from walking to see our neighboring sights in the beautiful Dubai Marina. We’d later gotten massages to loosen up and reset our bodies for the adventures ahead.

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The Sites

We spent some time the following day at Mall of the Emirates – the largest mall in the WORLD! This mall made the Houston Galleria look tiny and every square inch of it was clean and shiny! One could easily spend a full day in that mall and still not see everything. The mall had every store that you’d find in the US… Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Prada, etc. and so many other world class designers that are not easy to find in the states. The largest mall in the world has much more than just shopping. Things such as the “diver wall” (a 3 story indoor water fall), the dancing fountains (mesmerizing choreographed water streams that dance to Arabian music), and Ski Dubai… a full fledged ski resort in the middle of this desert mall! I mean actual ski lifts, snow boarding, skiing… the whole nine. Just epic and unbelievable! The food court is like a restaurant haven. You will even find luxury cars for sale in the mall and all throughout the city. Lamborghini’s, Porsche’s, Ferrari’s and Bentley’s are everywhere and considered pretty common.

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Dubai holds many world records for really cool and amazing stuff. Of course there is the Burj Khalifah… the tallest building in the WORLD. There are long lines to view this building so be sure you look on Groupon for a ticket that let’s to skip the line! We did and it saved us at least an hour or two. I can thank my husband for that one. The only catch to this pass found on Groupon is in the fine print… the pass is only redeemable after 8pm. So if you want to do the Burj Khalifah during the day, I won’t advise purchasing this coupon. For us, the nighttime view was simply perfection. The worlds fastest elevator whisked us up to the 125th floor without us barely even noticing! Once there, the views were breathtaking. The Burj Khalifah stands 2, 716.5 feet tall, soaring over Dubai. It’s three times as tall as the Eiffel Tower and nearly twice as tall as the Empire State Building. Laid end to end, its pieces stretch over a quarter of the way around the world and there are over 160 stories!

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The Palm Islands are one of the most mysterious land masses on the planet. Created to resemble a palm tree, the palm islands are two artificial islands, Palm Jumeirah and Palm Jebel Ali. In totality they are the world’s largest man made islands. Now, I’ve tried to look into the science and technology behind how something like this can be created, sustainable and inhabitable, but I decided to marvel at it’s beauty and wonder instead. The Palm Island’s address is considered a status symbol in Dubai. Only the richest of the rich can reside here. It is here on Palm Island that you can also find the renowned Atlantis Hotel and Aquarium – Dubai. The aquarium is legendary. The best way to view the Palm Island is from the Marina Marriott accompanied with a FABULOUS happy hour.

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Other cool things to do and see while in Dubai are the Dubai Museum, the Dubai Heritage Center, Jemeirah Beach in the Arabian Gulf, Wafi Mall (Egyptian themed), the Marina Walk were you can walk along the water and enjoy great shopping and eateries. Shopping in Dubai is duty-free/ tax-free and the traditional markets, also known as the “souks”, are places where you can find hidden gems at great prices.

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The Food

The food in Dubai is wonderful. Lots of Indian and Mediterranean food done RIGHT! The lamb and gyro are perfection. On about our 4th day in Dubai, we wised up. In addition to being transported to the main attractions by tour bus, when we needed transportation we took public transit. There is really no need to take a cab everywhere we you can save sooo much money taking the train and the tram. Besides, it was adventurous! I didn’t even mind the walking, plus I knew it was needed after all of the french fries I was being fed. Even at fine restaurants, french fries seemed to be a valuable part of every meal. And guess what, women wearing the most traditional of abaya’s (The traditional black over-garment worn by women in the region for religious purposes) would lift the veil for each fry. (Sex and the City 2 reference.)

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The “shisha” otherwise known as hookah is the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s so smooth and true to the flavor of whatever you order and one order can last for hours. If you order strawberry shisha… expect the taste of real strawberries. Speaking of real fruit, enjoying a nice glass of fresh pressed, all-natural fruit juice is standard when enjoying your hookah after dinner and 100%  natural pressed juice is on nearly every restaurant menu. Restaurants stay open very late (3-4am) in Dubai, which we were grateful for! Since the time difference from home to Dubai was about a 12 hour differential, we would sleep until at least noon on some days and be up until 4, 5 and even 6am.

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Abu Dhabi 

Before this trip I didn’t realize how close Dubai was to Abu Dhabi. As an extended option from our tour package with Bus Bug Tours, we excitedly spent a day in Abu Dhabi! We met some cool people on the bus and chatted it up on the 2 hour double decked tour bus ride. It was then that I was reminded, we were TRULY in the desert. All the beautiful landscape that I marveled at previously had literally been placed in Dubai. Every flower, every blade of grass… nothing grows in the Arabian Desert – it never rains! Everyday is blue skies. While we were there, the temperature reached up to triple digits on some days. Thankfully, it was a dry heat – opposite of the humidity I’m used to in Houston. In other words, summer time in the desert was surprisingly tolerable! And the nights are comfortable. After leaving Dubai city limits, there was NOTHING but desert sand for a while. Even though we were on a (semi) air conditioned bus with other tourists, at some point I felt like I was seeing various mirages!

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Finally, we embarked on Abu Dhabi. There were a series of mosques to marvel at, but none compared to the Shiek Zayed Grand Mosque. I admit to having mild freak out when after reading the signs outside of the mosque, I thought we wouldn’t be able to enter due to how we were dressed. Fortunately, the kind folks who are responsible for the upkeep of this mosque, understand that many would come from around the world to experience this place and they are kind enough to open it up to the ‘less than prepared’ public.  They have a special area, prior to entering the mosque, were tourists can rent proper dress so that they are able to respectfully enter the Shiek Zayed Grand Mosque. We spent a good 2 hours here, gazing at all the pearl marble, gold and exquisite details on the outside and inside of the mosque. Once inside, if you wanted to go past a certain point, you even had to remove your shoes.

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The above mentions are all things we did of course (still can’t believe we did all of that), but I do recommend it all! Our week was so jam packed. There is just so much to do in Dubai, we didn’t want to miss anything! In one full week we still couldn’t do it all. One thing I’ll make a point to do WHEN I go back next time, is to visit Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. Yas Island is another man made island where you’ll find some of the world’s most beautiful and elaborate hotels, picture perfect beaches and exquisite dining. You’ll also find attractions such as Yas Waterworld, and Ferrari World (containing the world’s fastest roller-coaster). Yassss! lol There are a ton of construction projects going on in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I’m sure in 10 years there will be a whole list of new attractions!

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It was such a beautiful and enlightening experience full of wonder and culture. The indigenous people of this region are peaceful, friendly, innovative, and very family oriented. Underneath the traditional garments the women are extremely fashionable. They love designer labels and MAC make up! What makes Dubai so unique to me, is that it is one of the most modern and technologically advanced cities in the world yet it still holds true to traditional customs and teachings. I will definitely visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi again!!! My experience in the Middle East was incredible and one for the books!!!

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Thanks for reading! Xo -Riss

Carissa Stephens She's ChaRISSmatic

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