Sunday, June 30, 2013

Best attractions of Dubai

Best attractions of Dubai
Fun things to do to in Dubai

Dubai’s ambition has enabled it to become one of the world’s most dynamic city-states and a key regional hub in just a few years.

One of the seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates (UAE), it’s continuously rebuilding and re-inventing itself out of what is basically a limitless desert.

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So you’ll never run out of new things to do and unique places to go in Dubai.

The list is almost limitless, but TRAVELIFE Magazine picks the top 10 things you should definitely not miss if you're on your way to this amazing city-state.


Fun things to do to in Dubai

Watch mesmerized as water comes to life in the world-famous Dubai Fountains. With an estimated 10 million visitors a year, the Dubai Fountain is the largest musical fountain show in the world and one of the city’s top attractions.

Located at the center of a man-made lake in the upscale Burj Khalifa district, It shoots approximately 22,000 gallons of water into the air, up to 150 meters, at regular intervals the entire evening.

That’s about as high as a 40-storey building, complete with fantastic effects made up of 25 color projectors and over 6,000 lights to create 1,000 artistic views.

The Dubai Fountain is truly one spectacular aquatic show.


Fun things to do to in Dubai

Experience an entirely different thrill from Dubai’s fantastic duty-free shopping: zero-gravity via a few minutes on iFly Dubai. It’s basically indoor skydiving through a 10-meter long acrylic glass wind tunnel -- the first double vertical tunnel in the world.

And if you’re worried about the free fall, don’t be. Friendly and experienced iFly instructors take you through a 10-minute training session before your flight, teaching you a variety of flying positions and hand signals. And then you’re ready to jump and screaming “to infinity and beyond!”


Fun things to do to in Dubai

A Dubai vacation is not complete without a desert safari through Dubai’s so-called “barren region,” that is actually one of the most dramatic places on earth.

There are various tour packages available including day trips, night expeditions and even an overnight stay on the sand and under the sky.

While camped out on desert, enjoy a variety of Bedouin past times or sports activities such as dune bashing, camel riding, sand ski boarding and al fresco evenings of eating, drinking and belly dancing.

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Fun things to do to in Dubai

Take a break from Dubai’s heat and have a gigantic splash at the Wild Wadi Water Park. Known for their marvelous architecture and fantastic entertainment infrastructure, Wild Wadi Water Park is yet another of Dubai’s world-class innovations.

It’s ideal for families and friends; you can simply chill in a luxurious cabana or enjoy an adrenaline rush on one of their extreme water rides. Wild Wadi Water Part ensures a day well spent for everyone.


Fun things to do to in Dubai

Delight yourself with a night of romance and enchantment as you cruise on a traditional wooden Emirati boat along Dubai Creek.

This is one of the most enjoyable ways to see the sights of Dubai and also experience Dubai’s rich culture in a single tour.

You’ll see key landmarks in the districts of Deira, Bur Dubai and Dubai Creek, while dining on local cuisine and being entertained with lilting Arabic music and dancing.

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Fun things to do to in Dubai
If you can’t get enough of Dubai’s many world records, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper is another magnificent example.

It surpasses Taipei 101, previously the world’s tallest building at 508 meters, and the builders of Burj Khalifa certainly made sure that their new world record would be difficult to overtake.

At over 160 stories, Dubai’s pride stands 828 meters tall. Feel like you’re on top of the world as its high speed elevators take you up to the 124th floor in minutes; and there a breathtaking view awaits on the sky deck.

Built using over 330,000 cubic meters of concrete and 103,000 square meters of glass, the Burj Khalifa is truly a majestic modern-day wonder that shouldn’t be missed.


Fun things to do to in Dubai

Giorgio Armani’s first hotel project in the Middle East is crisp and sophisticated – the ultimate modern hotel with luxurious interiors and high-tech facilities, created and operated exactly as the international designer envisioned.

Armani reportedly takes a very hands-on approach regarding his pet project.

Located within the Burj Khalifa, it’s a superb vacation getaway that exceeds expectations in terms of sleek lavishness. Stay, dine and unwind in very fashionable luxury.


Fun things to do to in Dubai

Emiratis and Dubai expatriates love to dine and get together; and a relaxing, heartwarming brunch on Fridays and Saturdays is a well-loved Dubai institution that can go on for hours.

Taking advantage of this, Dubai’s hotels and restaurants offer brunch buffets that are literally gastronomic feasts.

Each brunch venue has its own character and unwritten dress code – there are fancy brunches and casual eat-in-shorts brunches, so there’s one for every budget and fashion inclination.

Fun things to do to in Dubai

With over 200 dishes and a spacious relaxing atmosphere, the brunch at the Saffron restaurant of the luxury Atlantis hotel on the man-made Palm Jumeirah island is among the best in the city-state.

And here’s a tip from the brunch veterans in Dubai: make sure to have breakfast so you don’t gorge in the first inning and find yourself out of the game before half-time. A Dubai brunch is all about staying power and smart eating.


Fun things to do to in Dubai

Ditch the shopping and fine dining for a couple of hours and head on to the Dubai museum for a comprehensive glimpse its rich culture and history.

It’s a fascinating museum with excellent exhibitions and recreations of Dubai life in the olden days, and an impressive collection of antiquities that will surely entertain the young and old.

Housed in the former 17th century Al Fahidi Fort, which is the oldest building in Dubai, it also contains remnants of excavated graves, and African and Chinese artifacts that exemplify Dubai’s early trade.


Fun things to do to in Dubai

Dubai may be in the middle of a modern boom but it’s still managed to retain a charming and antiquated feel in Bastakiyah, one of its oldest residential areas.

Take a tranquil stroll down the cobbled stones paths and examine the russet wind towers of this circa 1859 neighborhood.

Packed with locals and tourists, you’ll find old-fashioned coffee shops, art galleries and flea market stands; as well as isolated, hidden areas that bring a little calmness to the chaos around. It’s certainly a different side of Dubai that will just about round out your stay.


Size: 4,114 sq. km.


Religion: Islam


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Afternoon tea today. And Sri Lanka, here we come again for a Travelife...

This afternoon, we held an orientation for the group of Travelife readers and friends joining us for a Travelife to Sri Lanka next week.

This was very kindly hosted by H.E. Nawalage Bennett-Cooray, Ambassador of Sri Lanka, at his residence.


It was a drizzly day, but it was fine enough for the good Ambassador to order a large table to be set up by the swimming pool for afternoon tea.

Of course, the Ambassador served excellent Ceylon tea, accompanied by some Sri Lankan delicacies, to give us a taste of what was to come very soon.


Once more, it's a very nice and interesting group of Travelife readers and friends coming along to Sri Lanka.

Today, I met many of them for the first time, and everyone is excited to experience a country that has been named one of the destinations to visit in 2013 -- before the rest of the world discovers it.

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Meanwhile, I'm going ahead to Sri Lanka to visit 2 new destinations and to stay at 2 lovely hotels that have been on my bucket list for some time now.

I thought this was just about the right time to do so.


At the second dinner last night, I discussed my Sri Lanka plans with some friends.

One of them said: "No one joining you this time?"

I shook my head.

I'd deliberately decided to do this first part alone as a sort of complete detox: a new place and just myself for company -- plus some pretty amazing digs.

I'm always traveling with someone or with a group of people.


Tanzania in a few months...

After Sri Lanka, for example, it's Japan and Spain with a bunch of people, and then there's Tanzania for 3 pretty amazing safaris with a friend.

And so I thought I owed it to myself to create some real alone time for thinking and detox.


My last solo trip was about nine months ago, when I'd traveled to Jordan for three days prior to joining up with a group of friends in Jerusalem. I'd hired a guide and driver for my stay, but otherwise I was literally alone.

I'd done everything and anything I'd wanted, and that had been so enjoyable. That's pretty much how most of my non-solo trips also go, by the way, but it's so different when you psychologically feel the need to factor someone else into your plans.

I'd even ridden a donkey down to the ruins of Petra, and afterwards I'd sat out on the terrace of my hotel, the Four Seasons Amman, with a bottle of champagne until midnight, blogging about my day.


But Sri Lanka won't be solo for too long. In fact, the length of the solo stay is just perfect.

On the last night of this solo stay, some friends from Manila are following and staying at the same hotel, so it won't exactly be lonely.

Then, of course, the following day, 20 readers and friends are flying into Colombo to join us for a week of adventure in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


Friday, June 28, 2013

A picture-pretty dinner party with three ambassadors and wonderful conversations about the world.

Last night, in Manila living a Travelife, I attended a very intimate sit-down farewell dinner hosted by an ambassador of a European country for another ambassador colleague, due to depart Manila soon.


The ambassador is a very learned gentleman who enjoys serious discussions about a wide variety of topics, including politics, history and literature.

Meanwhile, the lady of the house is a very creative person who enjoys paying attention to the beauty of details.


Their dining room, in a fiery red with lovely antiques and Oriental porcelain, was very beautiful.

I kept wanting to take a photo, but I just couldn't bring myself to take my camera out that high as we were a very small table of 8 persons.

But from where I sat in the middle of the table, it was really a lovely view of the accents Madame had placed in her dining room. It almost inspired me to paint my own walls red, as it was like viewing a painting, to see all these graceful objects amidst a red background.

I really enjoyed this dinner. It was small so everyone could have a very nice conversation about everything in life.


It helped greatly too that Madame prepared such wonderful food.

Everything was simply delicious.

But her starter of a beef gelee with horseradish on the side, and her main course of dumplings with sour cream were so tasty that I would have asked for seconds if I was not so conscious of being seated at dinner party for 8 persons, and there were three ambassadors in the room.

Madame's dessert was so characteristic of her, as well.

It was so artistically done, with ruby red fruit jelly in the middle of some lovely frozen fruit.

The company chosen for this dinner was a very nice mix, too.


Everyone had lived in at least four or five different countries, and spoke at least four or five languages. So even if we were all from different countries (we were four Filipinos at that dinner), we could all relate to and discuss about other countries in depth.

It was like a first-degree of connectivity with the world.

6 out of 8 had a connection with Japan, everyone had a connection with France and could speak French, 6 out of 8 had a connection with Russia, and 5 out of 8 had a connection with China.

You get the picture.


The three ambassadors at that dinner were particularly conversant about history, politics and literature, so I was very much entertained with the discussions.

It certainly got me inspired to read more and to know more about the world from a perspective of real depth. It's so nice to learn and understand how other people live, how cultures develop and how countries operate.

I could have sat there talking all night, enjoying just another wonderful evening in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


Two dinners and one of our editors, playing on a Steinway grand piano

When I walked into my first sit-down dinner tonight, in Manila living a never-ending Travelife, the topic over pre-dinner cocktails was the one-upmanship situation between Taiwan and China.

It was terribly interesting, especially as the guests were all extremely knowledgeable about history and geopolitics.

Then over dinner we discussed Japanese literature at our end of the table.

Someone asked me for my suggestions on great Japanese literature.

Without hesitation, I said I liked the novelist Junichiro Tanizaki, who penned the post-war masterpiece called The Makioka Sisters, about a proud Osaka family that was slowly becoming impoverished.

The control with which Tanizaki approaches this delicate subject is really beautiful.


From this dinner in North Forbes, I proceeded to my second sit-down dinner, which was the one I had organized for 16 friends at Mr. Jaded's lovely house, a couple of blocks away in South Forbes.

He had very kindly offered his house and caterer, and all I had to do was organize the guests.

I invited some people who have gone on Travelife trips with me.


A Travelife editor on the piano...

Then I also asked some of my contributing editors to join us. It was a very nice mix of people and the topic for most of the night was about travel, of course.

After dinner, one of the Travelife editors was persuaded to start playing on Mr. Jaded's beautiful Steinway grand piano, while one of Travelife's directors was persuaded to sing.

We had such a great time enjoying the music and singing along.

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I specifically asked for songs we knew, and my talented editor started churning out one nice song after another, including "This Girl's in Love with You," and "Kahit ika'y panaginip lang."

I really like the melody and lyrics of the song "Kahit ika'y panaginip lang," by the way.


Some of the great contributing editors at Travelife Magazine...

Someone said: "Wow, the people at Travelife are so talented. They can write, they can play the piano, and they can sing."

They make great company, too.

What can I say? This is just one of the many reasons why we're the leading travel and lifestyle publication.

It's a wonderful night practically every evening of my never-ending Travelife. But tonight with its two sit-down dinners, three ambassadors, three contributing editors, and 12 other friends, was certainly one for the books.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nelson Mandela's jail on Robben Island, South Africa

With Nelson Mandela, South Africa's great leader and icon of democracy, in failing health, there is so much news coming out all over the world on his life and experiences.

We at Travelife Magazine, the leading travel & lifestyle publication, wish him a full and speedy recovery.


All the news on Nelson Mandela also made me remember my trip to South Africa last November.

The very first place we'd seen in South Africa, literally hours after coming off an overnight flight, was Nelson Mandela's home in a very nice neighborhood called Houghton in Johannesburg.

It was a lovely house with a tall wall surrounding it, in one of the best neighborhoods of the city, not far from our hotel, The Westcliff of the Orient-Express Hotels.

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We'd done an early check-in at the hotel and then, after freshening up, we'd jumped into a car with our guide for a city tour.

This was the very first place our guide took us to.


That's the hovercraft you have to take
to get to Robben Island from Cape Town

Then we'd visited Robben Island just off Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela had spent years behind bars.

Frankly, it's an effort to make this trip to Robben Island (at least pyschologically), as you need to wake up early and get on a hovercraft for a 30- or 40-minute ride to Robben Island.

There are no private tours so you just have to book your public tour in advance, get on the hovercraft, and then get on one of the waiting buses on Robben Island.

It's a cookie cutter tour when you get there, but you do see everything and you learn a lot about the history of the prison.


The solitary confinement jails on Robben Island

In hindsight, I am so glad we did this.

If I had been left to my own devices, I'd probably have slacked off and opted for a leisurely breakfast and a walk around the waterfront, even if I am very interested in Robben Island and the life of Nelson Mandela.

It's just that jails are not really attractive places to visit, and they leave you with a rather heavy feeling.


Fruits and smoked salmon as a first course almost everyday
for breakfast in South Africa

But the Travel Companion was insistent and he'd done all the research and bookings, so I basically just went along with his plans.

I'd done the Big Picture for our trip to South Africa, you see, but he was completely in charge of our day-to-day itinerary.

So our very eventful day began with our usual three-course breakfasts. That day, we had it in our hotel in Cape Town, which was the Mount Nelson Hotel, another member of the Orient-Express Hotels group.

Eggs benedict as a second course almost everyday
for breakfast in South Africa

We had big breakfasts everyday, and this is what we had on that day: smoked salmon and capers to start, and then grilled kippers and eggs benedict to share.

Then we had pastries and cheese, all washed down with delicious Rooibos tea, of course.

On that day, we had an extra course of a perfectly grilled kipper, with two eggs.

A car took us to the waterfront where we lined up with everyone for the first hovercraft departure for Robben Island.

There's a movie onboard about Robben Island so you won't get bored on the trip.


This is the first thing you see when you reach Robben Island

Once you arrive, you just have to take your pick from around 4 waiting buses -- each with a guide -- and then you'll all follow a step-by-step three-hour tour that operates like clockwork.

That was our first guide on the bus.
He was very good at entertaining us.

This tour takes you around the island, so you see the spectacular coastline with a view of Table Mountain.

It's really beautiful over there, and it's just unfortunate that none of the prisoners ever got to see these views perhaps.

The pretty spectacular scenery of Robben Island
as seen from our bus

Even the views from the coffee stop are good

You also see the pretty horrible jails used for solitary confinement of certain prisoners. I think this was where my heavy feeling started.

Then you get to the jail proper, where you're actually toured around by a former inmate and political prisoner.

This former inmate recalls his real experiences in the jail, so everything is interesting but very horrific, of course.

An ex-political prisoner took us around the jail proper

The highlight is getting to see Nelson Mandela's actual cell.

It's a small room with a mat on the floor, a very low table and a bowl. It's unthinkable how anyone could have spent years and years in such conditions.

And these were during the good years. There was a period when Nelson Mandela was placed in solitary confinement, and the cell you see below is the Four Seasons Hotel compared to the accommodations for solitary confinement.

Nelson Mandela's jail


Getting back to Cape Town on the 1 PM hovercraft back to reality, we were certainly in need of nourishment.

We decided to walk around the rather touristy waterfront to look for the least touristy restaurant we could find.

I think all the restaurants here are basically geared for the tourist market, but we walked past a steak restaurant with a sign saying it was voted the best in Cape Town -- and, well, we fell for it.

The food was just okay. We shared a dry aged T-bone for lunch, because I really wanted to have this, and then had a delicious sticky toffee pudding with ice cream for dessert.

But, for some reason, in spite of just a so-so steak, this lunch is one of my favorites in two weeks of pretty amazing lunches.

I didn't hear the end of this from the Travel Companion for a very long time, by the way. We were talking about favorite things on this South Africa trip once, and I happened to mention this lunch as among my favorites. He thought this was very funny considering how mediocre the steak was.

Actually, I liked this lunch a lot because of the conversation we had. A good meal isn't always about the food, for me.

After lunch, we walked around the mall.

Until that point, we still had not bought any souvenirs of consequence, as we didn't really have the time or the inclination to go into stores with a mission to use the credit card.

Thanks to the Travel Companion, we'd had a crazy schedule in Johannesburg, and then we'd spent the most relaxing part of our trip until then on safari in Sabi Sabi, which is basically in the middle of nowhere.

So there'd been nothing to buy.


But after this lunch, we walked into a craft store that was selling animal skins and found two very good -- trophy grade, my Travel Companion says -- zebra skins that were almost identical in look and also in price.

We both bought the zebra skins. One was slightly better than the other, and of course I got this one.


Lugging our purchases back, we just had enough time to call the hotel car to pick us up, and then to freshen up.

At the hotel, we picked up a picnic basket and then headed out to Table Mountain for that multi-million dollar sunset view.

All the goodies in our picnic basket

On a fine day, that sunset from Table Mountain is everything people say it is.

So don't ever miss it. And bring a picnic basket if you can...

View of Cape Town from up high

We were so lucky that the weather cooperated for much of this trip, in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.