Thursday, September 12, 2013

From one side of the Middle East to the other...

Istanbul, Turkey!
Istanbul wasn't a destination we had dreams of visiting.  Basically, another traveler friend told us Turkish Airlines was running great deals so we jumped on it..then did our research to see what we were in for.
Istanbul is such a unique city in that it is sitting on two continents, Europe and Asia, which are divided by the Bosphorus River.  It's the largest city in the Middle East and is full of fascinating history and beautiful Ottoman architecture.  Another fabulous thing was Istanbul gave us a break from the insane heat of Dubai so we were able to enjoy temps in the 70's-80's. 
We started our tour with a breathtaking cruise down the Bosphorus River.  Our boat lined the European side heading up and then the Asian side heading back so we could get great views of both.  Both sides were full of beautiful mosques with their minarets beaming up from all the other buildings and bright red Turkish flags flying all over.  We also visited the historical Aya Sofya, a once mosque turned Catholic Church turned museum, and the Blue Mosque which I had to cover my hair for.  Topaki Palace was another hot spot we toured which I didn't know much about going into, but it turned out to be a highlight for us.  We actually saw Moses' staff!!  I was very suspicious if it was the real deal so I had to do research, and supposedly, it's actually the staff of Moses! Whoa!  It was supposed to have been passed through generations and was brought to the Topaki Palace from Egypt in the early 1500's.  Istanbul is full of amazing history, and I feel like we barely touched the surface.
It's also full of great food and people.  We ate lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and found a great spicy tomato dip, aicili ezme, that we ordered at just about every meal.  One thing we noticed about the people was that they seem so connected to each other.  Women and women and men and men link arms to walk which you rarely see in America, especially between men.  It impressed us that they don't have that invisible wall up and link arms with friends while walking.  How sweet that was to see!  And lastly, I mention the Grand Bazaar because it was my favorite thing to do.  We don't typically shop while vacationing, but we do try to get a few local goods to bring back, and the Grand Bazaar was the place to look!  I believe Joshua found it covered 61 streets which we only saw a very small portion of.  But we got our share of shopping for evil eye things, lamps, and embroidery for the house!
Istanbul is also a very walkable city if you're there touring the historical sites.  Everything from our hotel was within walking distance.  We took no other modes of transportation besides the river cruise, and we took a ferry to Kadikoy on the Asia side for a rooftop lunch.  Speaking of, the city is full of amazing views everywhere and has tons of rooftop terraces on top of restaurants to take in the views which we fully took advantage of!  The streets are also full of unique bohemian-looking cafes with men gathering for tea and conversation.  Turkish tea was everywhere!  That was the thing to do, gather around the table in the afternoon for tea and sweets with friends.  And at night, tea and shisha which is known as hookah to us. 
Overall, we both loved Istanbul- the city we didn't know much about but, luckily, bought tickets to anyway.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dubai cont...

We only stayed on The Palm for a night because we wanted the experience, but it was too far away to be able to get out and enjoy the city.  So we moved hotels to the Park Regis Kris Kin.  We chose that hotel because the rooftop pool had an amazing view of downtown Dubai with the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
We'd gotten tickets to the observation deck at the Burj in advance so we headed straight there after checking in! We had to wait a little while for our time slot so we wandered around the Dubai Mall, the world's largest mall. That place is seriously insane!!!  We could not believe the size! Luckily, they had signs everywhere, but we still got turned around a few times.  Finally, our time came for the 'At the Top' observation deck of the Burj Khalifa.  This was a big moment for Joshua.  He's been looking up facts and videos on that building for a couple years now, and we actually got the experience of going inside.  It's 209 floors with the observation deck being on the 124th.  Up there, we towered over all the other skyscrapers even though we were only about halfway up.  I'm not sure why they put the deck on that floor since it goes so much higher, but I did get a nosebleed so maybe that has something to do with it.  Joshua was like a kid in a candy store...a little scared one though.  Poor thing doesn't like heights, but he still loved getting to see this amazing structure.  
We did so many other cool things in Dubai.  Souks are traditional middle eastern shopping areas so we visited a couple of those.  We saw the amazing Dubai fountains which happened to be one of my favorite parts! We went to the Medinat Jumeirah which is like a city in a city that has amazing views of the Burj al Arab, the sail-looking hotel building that is iconic to Dubai.  We saw the Dubai Marina with beautiful boats surrounded by tall skyscrapers, and luckily, most things we did were all indoors! That was heavenly considering it was 100°+ with crazy humidity!  It was much more intense than the heat back home!  
We also went out the nights we were there!  Our favorite place was Neos on the 64th floor of The Address Hotel.  We got an amazing window seat overlooking the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai fountains.  
Lastly, I have to mention the people!  They were all very nice and welcoming, and many wore their local attire which was so neat to see.  The men wore an all white thobe which is basically an ankle length robe with a guthra, a piece of fabric draped over the head held in place by a rope.  The women wore all black abayas which were flowing black robes with their hair completely covered.  Some women even covered their hands and face but only had their eyes showing.  We even saw a few that veiled their eyes with black lace. This is typical Dubai attire, but we also heard a lot of those people were from Saudi Arabia.  Even though the ladies were completely covered, they still carried high end designer bags and many had designer sunglasses too.   I saw a lady with a $4k Chanel bag, a Chanel shopping sack and a Rolex.. Oh the money in that city!!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Our first Dubai experience

Y'all, Dubai is just as fancy as everyone claims it is! And our first hotel was over-the-top crazy fancy! It reminded us of palaces we saw in Italy.. Opulent is the only word I can muster to describe the beauty.
It was Joshua's idea to stay on the Palm Jumeirah which is a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree. It sits right off mainland Dubai on the Persian Gulf and has a few hotels on the outskirts and houses in the center.  Once the taxi parked in front of our hotel, Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, we knew we were in for something very special!
Everything was oversized, gold, decadent and insanely opulent. HUGE chandeliers everywhere! Our room was just a regular room that faced the ocean, but the decor was very pretty, and the bathroom was my favorite part! 
We decided to head straight outside, despite the 100°+ temp, and check out the pool and spend time on the beach. Y'all, we swam off the Palm Island Jumeirah in the Persian Gulf! We still can't believe that! The water was very still like a lake beach. I assume it was because of the palm, and the water was very warm!  After our few hours at the beach, we got freshened up for dinner. 
We had 12 restaurant choices at the hotel, and we opted for Amala, the Indian cuisine.  Each restaurant had people from the specific region of the cuisine working there which we found interesting.  Amala was really unique in that it was buffet style, but the buffet came to us.  We told the waiter what we eat/don't eat, and he brought us plates upon plates to try.  We both agree that out of all our amazing dining experiences, Amala was the best..unfortunely, the most expensive too.  But it was well worth it! It's Dubai and to be expected.
After dinner, we hit up a cigar bar per Joshua's request.  It was totally up his alley! The waiter presented several types of cigars that fit Joshua's description of his liking, and he chose one while I sipped my wine and enjoyed the atmosphere.  
As we sat in the swanky cigar bar, we mostly recapped how amazing dinner was and how beautiful the hotel was, but we also enjoyed the time and experience together.  So far, Dubai is nice! Reallllly nice! 

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