Starting off the blog with some awesome news - my brother made it happen and has announced that he is going to be a father.
Congratulations Arn!! Very excited for you!
Just a quick update on our Dubai trip we took for the long weekend (Saudi National Day).
Dubai is a 1 hour flight for us from Khobar (Dammam airport) or an 8 hour drive. We've heard that it is the "Las Vegas of the Middle East". It has amazing, huge, 'over-the-top' buildings for sure and a TON of tourist activities but it is very expensive. A lunch of pizza, sandwich, and drinks came to close to $130US. A bucket of 4 beers was $55US (and these were regular-sized cans). Next time it will be duty free pool-side fill up for us for sure.
There also appears to be no rules with following Muslim traditions, as hotels can decide what they want to do...
For example, our hotel served no pork! They served booze (expensive) but you couldn't drink it in the pool. It had to be on the edge of the pool. If any alcohol spilled in the water, they would have to drain the pool.
Other hotels (the ones we will stay at next time) have pork (yay bacon!) and have swim up bars and a bit wilder pools (with DJ's)!
Oh well...one of those things we now know to research. Live & learn!
Here's a bit of info on Dubai:
- 15 years ago it was a small fishing village until a vision became a reality
- 2.2 million population (80% are expats)
- there are people from over 200 countries living in Dubai
- 85% of all Expats are Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Filipino, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan) - many working in the construction of buildings!
- 1.7 million men, 500K women - good odds for you ladies!!
- World's #1 airport for international passengers with 74.3 million in 2015 (rising almost 10% annually)
- 4.8 visitors annually per resident (#1 in the world, #2 is Amsterdam at 2.6)
- Dubai Mall is the world's largest shopping mall with 750,000 visitors per week
- they are still building - 1 of 4 cranes on Earth is located in Dubai
- a 45 minute drive to Abu Dhabi
- Many projects are underway as part of Vision 2020, since they are hosting Expo 2020. They are adding to their impressive attractions and want to make it a "one-stop vacation place" with plans to add a Legoland (opening soon), a full animal safari, a replica Eiffel Tower, a replica London Eye called the "Dubai Eye" that will be the world's largest ferris wheel, a canal like Venice, theme parks, and MANY more (just google them).
We arrived and cabbed to our hotel to check in, then cabbed to the Dubai Mall for some shopping and to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa - here are some stats on this spectacle:
The trip up this beast was freaky - scary, intimidating music as you walk to the elevator. A very fast elevator to the top, and an incredible view of the skyscrapers, fountains, and ocean around it. Lisa's heart was racing and almost broke the heart monitor on her fitbit. $150 each, some shaky legs, and a few photos later, we were on our way down to do some shopping!
The malls, besides being HUGE, offer some cool things - amusement parks, ice skating rinks, aquariums where you can scuba dive and go in tanks with sharks. They even have a ski hill in the Mall of the Emirates.
We went back to enjoy the pool and beach (and cold cocktails) at our hotel the Sofitel Palm Resort - this thing is crazy! 6 pools, many restaurants, and set up like a Caribbean resort. We were next to the Atlantis Hotel , which is like the famous one in the Bahamas with a large waterpark.
Oh ya, Lisa didn't make it past 7PM...must've been the fear from the Burj Khalifa, right??
Saturday morning we did a really cool Desert Adventure. They picked us up and drove 45 minutes to get into the desert.
1st stop - a camel farm. Got to see hundreds of camels, including 2 proud mommas who had babies that morning. It takes a few hours for a baby camel to stand and we got to see one stand for the very first time! Very cool! It was almost as wobbly as Lisa the previous night!
Then we got to ride a camel around. They are tall and have a funny smell!
A few interesting facts about camels:
- Arabian camels only have one hump, Asian camels have 2
- Arabian camels don't spit at you
- they can drink over 130L of water at a time, it can last for up to 50 days
- they can smell water 8-9 miles away and can walk for over 12 hours per day, which is why the nomadic Arabs would love riding them or even walking with them in the desert
- they can actually run up to 65 miles per hour (they have camel races in Dubai and in Saudi!)
- camel meat and milk is popular within the Arab countries. Their milk is said to increase fertility, which is why many parents have 7+ children. 'Desert Viagra' I guess??
- drivers need to be careful - if you hit a camel and provided you are one of the 10% of drivers who survive, you will be hit with a very hefty fee. The camel owner can claim charges of whatever they want. They justify it with how the camel produces many babies, milk, etc. The owner says you need to pay an amount and there is no way around it, you need to pay. It can be up to $1million US but the common amount is $300K...provided you survive the accident. Yikes!
2nd stop - we went quadding in the desert. This was AWESOME! Very cool experience to drive through the sand dunes and up & down the hills. VERY easy to get stuck if you don't know what you're doing. And you need LOTS of water!
3rd stop - sandboarding. This is just like snowboarding but down the sand dunes. Very fun. Jeff sucked, Lisa didn't. Climbing the sand hill was a bitch though, as it is very soft, and very steep! Maybe not making it to the bottom was Advantage Jeff!
Had to empty half the desert out of our shoes before leaving!!
Back to the hotel for afternoon & evening cocktails at the pool and beach! Woke up for some more pool time before flying home Sunday afternoon.
Dubai airport is a monster. Shopping everywhere! Not sure if we've ever seen a duty free selection like this place. Not that it matters when flying into Saudi!
Enjoy the pics and the jaywalking camel video!
OK everyone, that's it for now.
Next blog update is coming the last week of October once we return from Greece.
Canadian friends - stay warm! Those of you hitting the Alan Doyle show this weekend, we are jealous! Have fun!
American friends - 320 million people and Trump/Clinton are the best you could come up with?? Good luck!
T&A Members - the list keeps growing...as of today, 21 adults/4 kids for February's T&A Dominican Invasion Trip!
Robb & Michelle - our thoughts, prayers, and best wishes go out to you!! Hoping for the best!
Talk soon everyone! Cheers, J&L
* Just a reminder - you can click on photos to enlarge them and scroll over them to see comments *
Hi everyone, we hope you all had a great summer and are ready to jump into the fall season.
It's been a while since we updated the blog. We wanted to wait until we had some actual trips to speak about and we have just returned from our first big trip in this part of the world. Here are some stories and pics from our Italy trip, and a couple other updates. Enjoy...
TRIP TO BAHRAIN
We did a quick weekend trip to Bahrain August 26 & 27 and got some nice pics. In fact, we went there 3 out of 4 weekends. One weekend was just to go over Friday AM for breakfast, then shopping, movie, groceries, and back home.
Anyways, this weekend, we booked into the Ritz-Carlton and had a beautiful pool and beach area. The water was so warm from the summer that we couldn't really even swim - almost hot tub temperature. So we opted for cold drinks in the chilled pool.
Speaking of Bahrain... we've included a screenshot of a cool event they do twice a year called Tribfest. It must stand for TributeFest. Anyways, it's an outdoor event that runs from 10AM-10PM, has food, booze, etc, and many cover bands that switch every hour. Check out this lineup. Unfortunately, we'll miss this one since we're away that weekend. Pretty friggin' cool! We'll hit the spring concert though - April or May!
OVERALL THOUGHTS ON ITALY
What a beautiful country - so much to see & do, you need more than a week for sure!
THANK YOU to Avi & Michele for their recommendations on where to go!
Think of images you have of Italy or have seen of Italy - it really does look like that! Buildings are impressive. In fact, pictures don't do most of the buildings justice!
It's amazing to see the history and see what this culture did so long ago, as their buildings are far more impressive than what you see today!
Our favourite foods?
- bruschetta - Lisa ate it almost EVERY meal! Sometimes 3 times a day.
- pizza - so good here!
- ham & cheese panini - blew Jeff's mind how fresh and good it was.
Meals were so cheap - appies for 5 euros, entrees about 10.
Cheaper than home and much better!
There are small cars and scooters everywhere! Narrow streets and no room for 'Alberta trucks' and large SUV's! Driving - Saudi is chaos, Italy is organized chaos
Piazzas - open markets everywhere... great places to stop, hit a patio, have a drink, and people watch!
Water stations were all over (see the pic later!) - anyone could stop and refill their water bottles. Pretty cool!
Favorite places in Rome - Pantheon and St.Peter's Basilica
Favorite place in Italy - Sorrento...cool streets, not as busy, scenic as hell!
Rome is busy and is the #2 location for pickpocketing (next to Barcelona). Had to be careful. Jeff bought a 'belt wallet' that loops on the belt and tucks into your shorts. He quickly renamed it "the pecker pouch" and said if they wanted his wallet at least he'd get a good grab!
DAY 1 - FLIGHTS FROM DAMMAM TO RIYADH, RIYADH TO ROME
We had an early flight and got into Rome about 1:30PM. Quickly checked into our suite in Trastevere (really cool area) and went walking around. Stopped for the soon-to-be famous "bruschetta, pizza, and beer" meal. Crossed the bridge and went to an open-air piazza called Campo de Fiori. Wandered around and hit the shops and bars within Trastevere. So many cool shops - souvenirs, leather, clothing, food. Italian leather shoes feel soooo good!
DAY 2 - ROME
Got up early to visit the sights of Rome. Had to figure out a game plan since there are so many cool things to see. Walked to the Colosseum, Forum, a HUGE white building (below) - still not sure what exactly it was. Took the 'hop on, hop off' bus. It went to every attraction, had headphones explaining where we were and the history of the area. Jumped off at the Vatican - went in and saw the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. It was impressive but so busy and hot. Apparently, the pope was there, which explains all the people! Then went to Piazza Navona for a drink - it rained every day in Rome from 4-4:30PM, then cleared up. Lisa wonders why there are no toilet seats. Anyone? Trevi Fountain was busy and VERY cool! Apparently, throwing a coin over your shoulder grants you a wish of getting back to Rome again. Walked around looking for the Pantheon, came around the corner of a tiny street and there was the mammoth structure - so f'n impressive! Then off to the Spanish Steps before dinner and waaaay to many glasses (perhaps bottles) of wine. Tomorrow is gonna hurt!
DAY 3 - ROME
Got up early with a couple Advils, had breakfast and did a 'skip the line' tour of the Colosseum. Pretty cool inside! Can't imagine seeing a rock concert in here! Onto the bus again for a 1:30 appointment to get into St.Peter's Basilica. It's a famous and HUGE church in the Vatican. Lisa wasn't allowed in, since she was showing too much skin. Then she bought 2 souvenir scarves and covered up, Saudi style. There is no picture that does this church justice. You simply have to go inside to image the awesomeness of it! We took the elevator up and Lisa freaked. Once Jeff heard he could go to the top of the dome, he did it. 304 steps later and a lot of sweat, he had a killer view, some great pics, a racing ticker, and some wobbly legs. And he needed a cold beer! We hopped onto the bus to Piazza Navona for a beer and some people watching. Then walked to the Pantheon, where we were forced to sit under an umbrella with a few beers while it rained. Walked back through Trastevere and found a VERY cool back alley of bars - nobody drank in the bars, they just hung out drinking in the alley. Hung out with them, then walked over to a restaurant Avi & Michele recommended ... da Bucatino. So good! Off to sleep for an early morning rise to Venice!
DAY 4 - VENICE
Woke up early for a high-speed train ride to Venice. Yes, this thing did 300 km/hr. Venice is exactly what you see in the movies. Busy as hell with tourists, beautiful water, canals, boats, and cool & colourful buildings! There are NO vehicles in Venice, just boats. People water taxi from the airport. They park their vehicles in a parkade outside of Venice. There are so many tiny streets with cool shops. It is so easy to get lost, in fact, that is what made Venice fun. St.Mark's Basilica and St.Mark's Square were both very impressive!! Did a gondola ride - the tourist thing to do, the boat ride in the canal. Sumbitch wouldn't sing to us.
The craziest thing - there is no way you could've found someone in Venice if you tried. Our friends from the Saudi compound, Simon & Michelle, were walking down the street and neither of us knew the other would be there. Spent the bulk of the day wandering the streets and pub crawling with them. Surprise, surprise!
Trained back to Rome, packed our bags for another early morning.
And if Venice was Sinking...
DAY 5 - NAPLES, POMPEII, SORRENTO
Hopped onto our tour bus and headed south to Naples. Stopped for some scenic photos and headed to the base of Mount Vesuvius for lunch. It is a huge volcano that erupted and covered the town of Pompeii in 79 AD, killing everyone. Pompeii was built in 450BC - it was very impressive to see how they built a town back then that was able to keep standing, thousands of years later. Archaeologists have been digging the volcanic lava away from the town for years, finding a town that is still there, as well as many skeletons of Pompeii residents. The people of Pompeii were a horny bunch - lots of orgy paintings, roman bath houses, brothels, and bordellos. They even had symbols to tell people where to go - see the pictures below. Just not sure how good the action was on a stone bed. Good for leverage I guess!
Hopped onto our bus and settled into our Sorrento hotel on the mountain overlooking the Mediterranean. Walked into town and raised some hell.
DAY 6 - ISLAND OF CAPRI & BACK TO SORBENT
We slept in a bit, had breakfast, and hopped onto the ferry to the Island of Capri. It is beautiful! Tons of nice cliffs and grottos to boat into. Next time, we will rent a private boat for sure! Took a very scenic and scary drive up the mountain on a narrow road to Anacapri. Lisa may have shit her pants on one turn! Took the single seat tram to the top - every picture was like a post card. Stopped for a boat ride to the beautiful Blue Grotto (just youtube it) - friggin amazing! Lisa was so inspired by it's beauty, she geared down on our boat and jumped into the water. The Asian couple on our small boat may still be recovering from what they saw! Haha. Awesome! Went back to Sorrento and had a great dinner on a garden patio! What a day!
DAY 7 - FREE DAY (SORRENTO) & BACK TO ROME
We had a free day and walked into Sorrento to check out the streets and do some shopping (and shopping for more bruschetta and beer!). Beautiful place! Loved it here. Took the bus back to Rome and had one last walk to the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Trastevere markets.
DAY 8 - ROME & FLIGHT HOME
Had breakfast in the Trastevere Piazza (pictures are below) and then cabbed to the Rome airport to come home.
Here's where we had a brutal service experience with our airline - Saudia Airline. Here's a copy of the service complaint Jeff sent in...still no reply. Fuckers!
BRUTAL SERVICE STORY
Yesterday, we were flying from Rome to Riyadh on Saudia Airlines 208 and I experienced the WORST service I have ever seen in all my years of travel.
As my wife & I were boarding, a lady at the gate said something to one of the boarding agents and pointed to my shorts. He came over and said that I couldn't fly in my shorts which were knee length.
I told him I had no other pants and that I had worn those same shorts on the flights from Dammam to Riyadh and Riyadh to Rome with the same airline.
They didn't care and told me I couldn't fly unless I went and got pants. As you know, there are only high end fashion shops in the Rome airport and I had to run around to look for men's pants, worrying that I wouldn't catch my flight.
I only found one pair of pants - a pair of jeans at the Emporio Armani store - jeans that cost me $753.12 SAR or $200.75 US. This is a HUGE unexpected expense and a HUGE inconvenience.
I finally boarded and the men wouldn't give me the lady's name but said she was the Rome supervisor.
Now, I understand if there are rules...questions:
1) Why could I wear the same shorts on 2 of your flights one week ago?
2) why did they not tell me this when I checked my bags so I could've changed into jeans before my luggage was checked?
3) why were there men AND women on the same plane wearing shorter shorts?
At the end of the day, here's what I know.
I have experienced a BRUTAL service story and this was my first experience with your airline. I do expect a reply and want to find out what you will do to compensate me for this.
How you handle this will not only help me determine if I fly with your company again but also will help shape the stories I tell about your company and their service levels.
I look forward to hearing from you.
OK, thats it for now everyone. We are off to Dubai this weekend from Friday to Sunday. Will have an update on that incredible place with stories and pics of some of the fun we have planned.
We'll end with a few random pics - hope you're having a better day than this squirrel!
Chat soon everyone!
All posts are updated by Jeff & Lisa