Greetings from Dubai – Day 2

Good morning, sports fans! It’s about 7:30 AM Dubai time as I share this entry with you. So I’ll try to be a bit brief – HAH! Do I even know the meaning of that word? – as we finish packing, grab some breakfast and then embark Seabourn Encore in just a few hours.

Before we do, however, I thought I’d tell you about the remainder of our visit to Dubai.

On Saturday evening, we had the pleasure of dining at Al Nafoorah, an excellent Lebanese restaurant, in the imposing Emirates Towers, another hotel located about 10 minutes from our temporary home, Raffles Dubai. It has been highly rated for both its food and service, so I thought we’d give it a go. And, besides, when in Rome, right?

Emirates Lobby
The lobby at Emirates Tower

Emirates Lobby - 01
Fabulous floral arrangement in the Emirates Tower Lobby

Al Nafoorah Dining Room
The Dining Room at Al Naforrah

Because it was a beautiful evening – only about 85 degrees, but very dry – we opted to dine al fresco on the restaurant’s terrace. Our waiter was wonderful and made sensible and delicious recommendations, as we’re somewhat unfamiliar with traditional Lebanese cuisine. He suggested that we try a sampling of hot and cold mezze and then see how it goes. We accompanied the food with a delicious Lebanese Cabernet Sauvignon.

Al Naforrah Hummus
Tasty hummus – not too much garlic for AAC, CPA

Al Nafoorah Chef Salad
The chef’s salad, with an amazing pomegranate dressing

Al Nafoorah Chicken Livers
Sensational sauteéd chicken livers with pomegranate sauce

We had a marvelous meal, but never got beyond the mezze – the portions were just too large. One of them, the sauteéd chicken livers in a pomegranate sauce, is a must if you go. We also enjoyed the labneh (cucumber/yogurt/olive oil), and the grilled halloumi. Again, the service was so good, and we really appreciated that the waiter realized – after finishing off the mezze – we had no room for more food (and told us so). However, he presented us with a complimentary dessert of incredibly fresh melons and pineapple, accompanied by a delicious Ashtha bin asail (fresh cream with almonds, honey and pistachios) – the perfect ending to our meal.

Al Nafoorah - 02
Al Nafoorah’s light dessert – perfect finish

DINING TIP: Al Nafoorah

In Dubai, the weekend is Friday and Saturday. Yesterday being Sunday, it was the first day of the work-week. We found that out as we Uber’ed over to the Jumeirah Mosque for a morning tour. For the first time, we had traffic issues, but that was OK.

The Jumeirah Mosque offers an English-speaking tour at 10:00 AM every day, except Friday, for a very nominal fee. When you arrive at the Visitor’s Center to check in, there’s also a complimentary buffet. The tour attracts a large crowd, which I’d estimate at close to 200 people yesterday morning.

Our tour guide – originally from England – was Latifah, also know as Terry. She was very engaging and approachable, and walked us through not only the 5 pillars of Islam but, also, explained how the Mosque (any mosque, actually) is used for the formalities that are a part of the experience, including the ritual washing before entering and the removal of shoes and, even, how one prays when inside. This particular mosque, btw, dates back to the mid-1970s, so it’s rather new, as mosques go.

In a way, the experience felt like a bit of propaganda, but in a smart and strategic way. Especially interesting is that, when Latifah had finished her remarks, she opened it up to questions and she said that nothing was off limits. The assembled crowed, however, was a bit tame, so the questions were mostly benign. All-in-all, it was 75 minutes well-spent with several takeaways for thought.

Jumeirah Mosque - 01
Jumeirah Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque AAC - 01
AAC, CPA inside the Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque - Latifah - Terry
Our tour guide, Latifah

Jumeirah Mosque - AAC - 02
AAC, CPA back in his shoes following our tour of the Mosque

SIGHTSEEING TIP: Jumeirah Mosque

Once we returned the hotel, we decided to visit the adjacent Wafi Mall, which was accessible through an interior entrance. While our visit the previous day to Dubai Mall was nothing short of overwhelming and created all kinds of sensory overload, the much smaller Wafi Mall was much less intimidating – and almost empty of customers!

But it was fun to walk through and see what was on display. Some of the big names were there, and some of the design elements were photo-worthy.

Wafi Mall
Exterior entrance to Wafi Mall Souq

Wafi Mall Interior
Stained glass ceiling, consistent with Egyptian design 

We happened upon a wonderful venue – Wafi Gourmet – where one could shop or sit at one of several counters and enjoy a meal or a coffee or a sweet. It combined both modern and traditional kinds of merchandise.

Wafi Mall Spices
Fabulous selection of fresh spices at Wafi Gourmet

FOOD TIP: Wafi Gourmet

Having concluded our expeditions for the day, we hung around the suite and relaxed for a few hours.

Dubai Sunset
Another perfect Dubai sunset, as seen from our terrace

We elected to stay in the hotel on our 3rd and final night. We started off with cocktails at the Raffles Salon, located in the lobby.

Raffles Dubai Saloon
Raffles Dubai Salon

Cocktails - AAC
AAC, CPA anticipates his bespoke cocktail, the Gin and IT

While we awaited our cocktails, we had a chance, once again, to appreciate the lobby decor.

Raffles Lobby
The Raffles Dubai lobby – imposing but very welcoming, too

I’d like to be able to report to you that we enjoyed our cocktails but, alas, they were the one thing that let us down at this otherwise superb hotel. My Gordon’s martini was sorely lacking in gin, and I wasn’t exactly sure what the barman did to it; AAC, CPA’s Gin and IT, a concoction of gin, Martini Rosso and Angostura (as close to a Negroni as we were likely to get) was marginally better, but disappointing. The olives, however, were a smashing success. Dubai does olives really well.

As we left the Salon, we noticed the tea service (below), which is quite elegant. Note, if you can, the 3 miniature sand-timers in the lower part of the picture – to brew your tea for 3 or 4 or 5 minutes. Cool beans.

Raffles Tea Service

We then headed up to Raffles Gardens for dinner. Once again, we elected to dine outdoors as the weather was perfect for it.

Dinner Tent
Raffles Gardens

Dinner Tent - AAC
AAC, CPA inside our tent and anticipating more food

As the night before, we had a great waiter who helped us navigate the menu. This time we elected to share a mezze platter and a mixed grill, accompanied by a lovely bottle of rosé, perfect for a warm night.

Dinner Tent - Wine
A little underexposed, but you get the idea.

Raffles Night Exterior
Another view of the hotel from our tent in the gardens

After enjoying our food and wine, we returned to the suite for some final packing and preparation for today’s transfer to the ship.

As I contemplate our visit to Dubai, I’m so glad we had the opportunity to be here, even for only 2 full days. We had been told, from friends who had already been, to lower our expectations, that Dubai was some kind of Las Vegas on steroids. (There is, in fact, some truth to that.)

But we arrived with open minds and were not disappointed. It’s pretty amazing to be in a city which, until about 20 years ago, was almost nonexistent. The amount of building and infrastructure that has occurred here over that period of time is mind-boggling. When I consider the two “touristy” things we did here – visits to the Jumeirah Mosque and the Dubai Mall – it perfectly describes Dubai as a city of contrasts: the traditional versus the modern; the sacred versus the profane. Dubai attempts to have it both ways and, in many ways, succeeds.

Okay, kids, it’s time to get organized and on our way. The next time you hear from us, we’ll be aboard Seabourn Encore!

 

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Greetings from Dubai – Day 1

I’m writing to you from the 12th floor of the fabulous Raffles Dubai. We checked in last night around 10:00 PM. More about that in a bit.

Thought I’d finish telling you about our Etihad experience yesterday. It was flawless – you actually wanted the flight to be LONGER!

As I signed off yesterday (during the flight and after my first meal service), I became filled with ennui (and extreme fatigue) – perhaps the combination of jet lag and alcoholic intake. One of the nicest features of The Apartment is that one side can be converted into a very comfortable bed. Even thought it was a relatively short flight, I thought that a brief nap could do me no harm. So I asked the purser to make up my bed.

ETIHAD Bed
My bed aboard the Etihad A380 – doesn’t it look delightful?

I climbed under the covers and it was so luxurious and extremely comfortable. I’ve had the good fortune to fly on numerous flights that feature “lie flat beds”, but none came remotely close to the comfort level this one had. I closed the doors to my suite, was out cold in 5 minutes and slept for about an hour. How lucky am I?

Upon awakening, I felt that it was time to eat again. Why, I can’t possibly tell you. But I’d been told that the Etihad Steak Sandwich was a must, so I ordered one straightaway. In order to mitigate the damage, I invited AAC, CPA to join me and share the meal.

2nd Meal Service
Table for 2 at 36,000 feet

AAC wants food
AAC, CPA needs feeding

AAC happy
Etihad steak sandwich for 2 – AAC, CPA happy

The sandwich was accompanied by a truffled mayonnaise and warm garlic chips. And, of course, Eren (our food and beverage manager) paired the sandwich with a delicious Rioja. Somehow we devoured the sandwich in record time.

AAC, CPA wasn’t quite finished, however. He requested a plate of sweets to finish off the meal.

Dessert
Our totally unnecessary dessert – but delicious, nevertheless

By the time we finished stuffing ourselves, we were about 45 minutes from landing. Our flight crew – chef, food & beverage manager, purser and attendant – couldn’t have been nicer and we’ve never had better service in the air.

So thus say I: If you ever have the opportunity to fly Etihad in The Apartments, jump at it! We did it on AAdvantage miles – 110,000 each (BA from JFK – LHR; Etihad from LHR to AUH, tho’ after June 1st, nonstop Etihad award flights from JFK – AUH will be a bit more available due to the additional A380 daily flight for the same 110,000 miles). We would never pay for such a flight – the nonstop from JFK will currently set you back $15,881 PER PERSON!!!! – but the award is very achievable, provided that you can plan about 3 months ahead of your travel date, which is when the awards seem to appear.

TRAVEL TIP: Etihad Airways: Flying Reimagined

We had arranged with our hotel – Raffles Dubai – for a car to meet our flight and drive us to Dubai. We were lucky to be given “fast track” cards for border control, and we were sped through. Our luggage came up almost immediately and, before we knew it, we were met by a driver and hotel greeter and quickly en route to Dubai – about an 80 minute drive.

When we were about 5 minutes from the hotel, our greeter contacted them so that we’d be met upon arrival. As we got out of the car, Anita was waiting for us, whisked us through the lobby and took us immediately up to our suite to check us in.

We reserved one of the Landmark Suites, situated on the 12th floor of the pyramid-shaped hotel. It’s a sprawling space, with a huge living/dining area, wet bar, bedroom with separate dressing area, beautiful master bath with a jacuzzi and, finally, a powder room. Oh, and did I mention that we have 2 terraces?

An added benefit of being in the Landmark Suite is that you have access to the Raffles Lounge down on the 10th floor. It offers complimentary continental breakfast, afternoon tea and evening canapes and cocktails. It’s a nice extra.

Welcome to Raffles
Welcome sweets from the hotel

Living Room - Night
Our living and dining area with wet bar behind

Bedroom - Night
Our bedroom

It was well after midnight by the time we’d settled in, and we weren’t even really unpacking – we’re saving most of our things for the ship on Monday, and we’re just in Dubai for 2 full days. Finally, we passed out and got a relatively good night’s sleep.

We were up fairly bright and early this morning. We took our time waking up, as we’ve raced through 8 times zones since leaving New York on Wednesday night.

Dubai by Day
Good morning, Dubai – the view from our suite

Terrace - 01
Terrace #1 off the living room

Terrace - 02
Terrace #2 off the bedroom

Eventually we made our way down to breakfast at Azur, which features an extensive buffet of Eastern and Western dishes. If you book this hotel through the AmEx FHR program, breakfast is included, as is a $100 food and beverage credit. Thanks, Veronica!

HOTEL TIP: Raffles Dubai

Did I mention that it’s really hot here? During the day, the temperature climbs to about 100 degrees and barely dips below 80 at night. Although the skies are clear, there seems to be a haze around everything – not sure why that is.

Because of the heat, we were a bit concerned about getting around while we’re here. The hotel – lovely as it is – is not convenient to anything, so one would have to walk quite a distance just to find public transportation. We checked with the hotel’s concierge and found out that taxis and/or Uber are both viable ways to get around. We opted for Uber.

We decided to make a trip over to one of Dubai’s most famous destinations: Dubai Mall. For all of you mall-goers who shop ’til you drop, you may have think you’ve been to the mall. But not in your wildest imagination have you ever been to something like the one in Dubai. There are something like 1,200 stores, restaurants, cafes, etc., located in this one place. I’m not that much of a shopper, but I was totally overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the place. Oh, and if you want to put on the blades, there’s a skating rink!

Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall – Something for Everyone

Aquarium
Or maybe you’d like to visit an aquarium?

Ice Rink - 02
Or take a spin on the ice when it’s 98 degrees outside?

AAC - Garrett's
The Dubai Mall even has Garrett popcorn – a Chicago institution!

Shake Shack
Unlike in NYC, there’s no waiting here – step right in!

IHop
Or, perhaps, something very retro?

Diver Wall Sculpture - 02
Very cool art and so reminiscent of Rosa Mexicano in New York City

SIGHTSEEING TIP: THE DUBAI MALL

After about 90 minutes – when our eyes began to cross from all the different shops – we Uber’ed it back to the hotel. Oh, and entre nous, Uber is extremely affordable here and, so far, the drivers have all been great and very friendly.

Back at the hotel, we decided to sample the complimentary afternoon tea at the Raffles Lounge (which we needed like a hole in the head). But it was quite nice, as you will see below.

Afternoon Tea
AAC, CPA is happy again

After that, there was nothing else to do, except to laze on our terraces, which had just begun to move into the shade. While it was hot, it was also kind of dreamy just hanging around and taking in the sights. 

And then we passed out for an hour!

As I put the finishing touches on this entry, AAC, CPA is showering up in preparation for dinner at the beautiful Al Nafoorah Restaurant, located in the Emirates Tower. More about that later.

But here’s one last image for today – sunset in beautiful and exotic Dubai:

 

Sunset
“The sun sits low, (almost) as low as it’s going to go”
Wadaeaan al’an!

On the Road Again – Part Three

Greetings from the Concorde Room at JFK, which is the 1st class lounge for British Airways passengers. The great thing about this lounge is that you can have a lovely dinner on the ground before you board your flight. We’ve just finished a 3-course meal and have about an hour before we board our flight to London Heathrow (which you probably already know).

Before we got to the airport, though, here’s our intrepid AAC, CPA with the baggage (no, not me), whilst waiting for our car to arrive:

227
AAC, CPA with the bags

CONCORDE ROOM ENTRANCE
The dapper (and hungry) AAC, CPA arrives at the Concorde Room

The meal was quite delicious:

Artichoke
A grilled artichoke and frisee salad for AAC, CPA

Gravlax
A delicious gravlax with pickled fennel and lemon Greek yogurt for me

Sirloin
We both had the Szechuan Crusted NY Sirloin with Sauteed Baby Bok Choy

Mille Feuille
And we each had the Raspberry Mille Feuille with White Chocolate Ice Cream

Each course came with the appropriate wine pairings and we are both now very relaxed and satisfied. Can’t wait to board the plane and climb under the covers!

Getting back to business:

Now that I’ve told you about how we’re getting to Dubai and also about Seabourn Encore, I thought you might like to know our cruise itinerary. Although there are 9 sea days – the entire cruise is 19 days! – it is, especially for us, port intensive. And all of them are new to us, so it’s a good thing that we’ve done our homework and brought along sensible shoes!

We will sail from Dubai next Monday at approximately 5:00 PM. Here’s a look at our cruise itinerary:

Cruise Itinerary
Map courtesy of Seabourn

As you can see, our first stop will be Doha, Qatar. One of the things we were most looking forward to seeing was to visit the Museum of Islamic Art, designed by the renowned architect, I.M. Pei. As luck would have it, the museum is closed on Tuesdays which is, of course, the day we’ll be in port. (Grrrrr.) We will, however, most likely visit the famous Souq Waqif, the central market, which has served the city for many centuries. If falconry is your thing, the Falcon Souq is just next door!

Doha - Museum of Islamic Art - IM Pei
I.M. Pei designed the Museum of Islamic Art – closed on Tuesdays!

Doha - Souq Waqif
The Souq Waqif – centuries old

Following our depature from Doha, we’ll enjoy our first day at sea (my fave!)

Our next port is Muscat, Oman, the “Pearl of Mystic Arabia”. Muscat is a city of untold riches, as personified by such sites as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque and the recently built Muscat Royal Opera House, which attracts many of the world’s finest singers. Unfortunately, there will be no performances while we’re in town, but we hope to take a tour and see the opera house for ourselves.

Muscat - Sultan Taymoor Grand Mosque
The fantastic Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Muscat - Royal Opera House
The Muscat Royal Opera House

Muscat - Royal Opera House Interior
Interior of the Opera House

Following another sea day, we land in Salalah, Oman’s ancient incense capital and an oasis of lush vegetation, unlike the otherwise arid landscapes of the Arabian peninsula. One of the excursions offered will include a visit to Job’s tomb: a sacred site of pilgrimage for Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.

Salalah
Salalah, Oman

SONY DSC
A sacred biblical site: Job’s tomb

Once we depart from Salalah, we will then have 5 full sea days, giving us a chance to become really well acquainted with Encore and its passengers and crew. Hopefully, we’ll have good internet service during those seas days so that I can keep you up to date with all of our on board adventures.

Our next port – and the highlight of the trip for us – is Aqaba, Jordan which, for those of you who are Lawrence of Arabia fans, played a major role in the Arab revolt during World War I. Nowadays, the port serves as Jordan’s only deep water port and, as important, is the place from which you can get to Petra, the country’s most important historical attraction.

Because we are in port for only 11 hours, it was necessary for us to book a private car and guide, as we wanted to visit not only Petra but, also, Wadi Rum, which was also one of the primary locations in Lawrence of Arabia. This excursion will be very intensive, but also very exciting.

Long considered the Lost City, Petra is one of the most spectacular sights in all antiquity, a city carved out of solid sandstone, and lost to all but the most intrepid Bedouins until 1812, and excavation of the site didn’t begin until more than a full century later. To get to the main city, you walk on foot (or via a horse-drawn carriage for hire) through a narrow gorge, a mile-long siq. We’re told that a vist to Petra is an experience that you will not easily forget.

Petra Souq
You walk through the extremely narrow siq to get to Petra

Petra Treasury
Petra’s most famous landmark – the Treasury, carved out of sandstone

Once we’ve visited Petra, we’ll return through the gorge to our waiting car. As time is so short, we’ll have a box lunch en route to our next site, the majestic Wadi Rum, about an hour away. Indeed, we’ll be transported back to the time of T.E. Lawrence, Auda Abu Tayi, Prince Faisal and the fearless Bedouins who particpated in the Arab Revolt.

Wadi Rum
The majestic Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum - TE Lawrence
Memorial Carving of T.E. Lawrence at Wadi Rum

Following our visit to Wadi Rum, it’s back to the ship. I believe that this excursion will be one of the most memorable we’ve ever experienced.

Another sea day and, then, the ship will transit the Suez Canal. Having already been through the Panama Canal a few years ago, it will be very interesting to compare and contrast the experience. 

Suez Canal opening
The Suez Canal opened to traffic in 1869Suez Canal Modern
A more modern look at the Suez Canal

The following day, we land at Ashdod, the largest port in Israel and the main gateway to Jerusalem. From the port, it’s about a 75-minute drive (in good traffic!) to this sacred city. Again, because time is short, we’ve elected to hire a car and guide/driver to take us from the ship through the Judean Hills to Jerusalem. I visited Israel many years ago (let’s just say not in this millennium) but AAC, CPA has never been. So I’ve chosen what I believe to be the most important sites for us to see: the Old City (in quadrants for the many faiths who live and worship there), the Wailing Wall (the holiest Jewish site in the World) and the Dome of the Rock (the holiest of all Muslim shrines). 

AShdod
The port city of Ashdod, Israel

Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount
Jerusalem

Thanks to our good friend, Yaniv, who has been so generous in suggesting things to do while we’re in Israel, we’ve also scored a reservation for lunch at one of the city’s finest restaurants, Machneyuda, adjacent to the world-famous Mahane Yehuda Market. It seems that Israel has become a place for foodies!

Machneyuda
Machneyuda for lunch!

Mahane Yehuda Market
The Mahane Yehuda Market next door

After our return to the ship, Encore will reposition over to Haifa, Israel’s primary port and located about an hour away (by train) from Tel Aviv. AAC CPA and I have decided that we’ll venture out on our own, starting with a train ride and then visiting Yafo (Jaffa), the Old City, much of which has become a cultural enclave and also has wonderful cafes and restaurants. 

Tel Aviv - Yaffo
Yafo

So we’ll spend our day in Tel Aviv strolling around the city and taking in the sights. Then we’ll get back on the train to Haifa and return to the ship.

Another sea day and then we’ll travel to the Greek Islands. We’ll visit two ports: Rhodes and Santorini, both of which have rich histories and are extremely picturesque. Although excursions are available, I think we’ll opt for “independent activities”, checking out the sites, taking in the cafes, and just soaking up the atmosphere.

Rhodes
Rhodes

Santorini
The magical island of Santorini

We’ll depart Santorini late in the afternoon – it’s our last port and we’ll sail over to Piraeus (Athens), where we’ll disembark after our 19-day adventure aboard the beautiful Seabourn Encore and transfer to Athens International for our flights home – and to reality – and to getting on the scale to see how much damage we’ve done. 🙂

How lucky are we that we get to travel to these fabulous places? Stay tuned for my reports as we experience them.