Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi UAE

Marhabbah (Hello),                       

This past Thanksgiving weekend I took the opportunity to get out of Riyadh for a few days and re-revisit Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. I was there in 2013 but did not get a chance to get a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque.  Abu Dhabi is the capital of United Arab Emirates, located on the Arabian Gulf and situated among over 200 other islands.  The UAE is more conservative than Western countries but far more progressive than Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Wearing an abaya is not enforced, women can drive and there are movie theaters, night clubs and one can partake in a little libation!
            Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the Abu Dhabi’s grand mosque which was envisioned by the late president of the UAE; Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan whose final resting place is located next to the mosque. Containing four 350-foot minarets, 82 white marble domes, and possibly the world's largest hand-knotted carpet, the mosque can accommodate over 40,000 worshipers; 10,000 in the internal areas and 30,000 in the external areas.


It took over 3,000 workers and 38 contractors to complete this magnificent structure that is assembled from materials such as marble, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics. In the main prayer hall, the carpet, made in Iran, weighs over 30 tons was hand knotted and is probably the largest in the world!  Also in the main hall are 96 marble columns that are inlaid with Italian glass and mother-of-pearl. There are seven chandeliers that were imported from Germany that encompass Swarovski crystals!

           The reflective pools that surrounds the mosque really captures the beauty of the mosque, amplifying the white and gold colors during the day and amazingly at night.  This artifact is by all means a must see. Incorporate this tour into your trip to the UAE. Try to arrive at the mosque before 5pm so you can get some really great photos. The mosque is open daily except Fridays which is for worshipers only. The tour is free.

Over 41,000 "hits" on GMarie's Page and over 100 blog posts later, my adventures in Saudi Arabia, has come to an end.  I have been in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for four years. The years have been adventurous yet challenging but the cultural differences, language barriers and the extreme climate, I believe, have not been as much of an obstacle as I originally thought it would be.       . 
       I have thoroughly experienced the Saudi culture and all that it had to offer. As a Westerner, I had several pre-conceived notions that were cultivated by what is reported by the media about the Arab people, their religion and customs. But I have grown to realize, observe and have a better understanding and respect for their way of life. The day to day interaction with my Arab co-workers assisted in my understanding and perceptions. The close interactions torn down the barriers (i.e. religion, prejudices).
          I wrote in my first blog post that I would learn a lot about the Arab culture and about myself. Well, I have. I am now equipped with forbearance for others’ differences (i.e. religion, language barriers, culture), patience for the pace that others have and will always move to and regardless of where I am in this small world “People are the same wherever you go, there is good and bad in everyone. If only we could live together in perfect harmony, learn to give each other what we need to survive together alive.” (Ebony & Ivory by Steve Wonder and Paul McCartney).

          This experience has been invaluable, one of which I will never forget and enjoyed sharing every moment of it. “Catch me” on my next assignment and adventure through GMarie’s Page!

As-salaam Alaeikum (Peace be on to you) and thanks for reading!

All the best,

Friday, August 28, 2015

SAMA Money Museum, Riyadh Saudi Arabia

The post recreation department hosted a trip to the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) Money Museum. The currency of Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Riyal which is abbreviated as SAR or SR.I thought this venue would be something interesting to do outside of the normal shopping or visiting an eatery.  

Once inside museum, there were several halls to explore. In the first hall there were two silver dirhams (unit of currency in several Arab states) that date back to the year 165 hejira (H means the flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina) and 283H!

In another hall there were raw material and tools that are used for minting gold and silver and print the banknotes. In main showroom there were ancient currencies from pre-Islamic time to present day. Also on display were currencies from fellow Gulf States and other countries.

            In an adjacent hall, it was devoted to Saudi currency. This room contained coins that were struck (printed) during the periods of 1372 to 1375H. There was also paper money that was printed when King Fahd was the ruler. As of May 2007, the fifth domination of the Saudi Riyal features  King Abdulaziz Al Saud on the 500 riyal and  King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz's picture on all the other notes.

           Toward the end of the tour, there was a room that you could view films on how the currency is made and the proper way to check currency for authenticity.

           Before visiting the museum, which is located in the SAMA Head Office at King Saud Bin Abdulaziz Street in Riyadh (+966 1 466 2779), it would be a good idea to call the museum director first to make a reservation. The tour is free!

All the best,

Friday, June 5, 2015

Pattaya, Thailand

            I have heard that Thailand was a fun place to visit so I decided to go for a week.  I wanted a place on the water so I set my sights on visiting Pattaya, Thailand.  Pattaya, situated on the east side of the Gulf of Thailand, known for its beaches, water sports and naughty nightlife, is also a fast growing community for expat retirees because of the climate and low cost of living.
The flight from Riyadh Saudi Arabia to Bangkok is about seven and a half hours. Once my flight arrived into Bangkok, I was met by my friend Ken. We grabbed a cab and headed to Pattaya’s Cape Dara Resort which is an hour drive (all highway) from the airport.
The Cape Dora Resort (256 Dara Beach, Soi 20, Pattaya-Naklua Road, Pattaya, 20150 Thailand,  Tel.+66 38 933 888, or www.capedararesort.com) tucked away from the bustle of Pattaya is situated on the sea and resembles a ship’s main sail.  In the lobby, while checking in, you can feel the breezy air coming from the sea. Within the vicinity of the hotel lobby there is a beautiful infinity pool overlooking the sea.  Breathtaking! The ambience was very harmonious accompanied with a Thai element which absolutely oozes peacefulness and harmony. The anticipation of seeing my room was too much! 

            The room was comfortable and spacious with a lovely balcony to sit, relax and take in the beautiful view of the sea, of course, while indulged in a glass of bubbly. Simply, spectacular!  The bathroom contained a large shower and bathtub complimented by a panoramic view of the water.

I wanted to start my weekend retreat with some spa services. So co-located in the hotel is Luminous Spa on the 4th floor. It was fairly easy to get an appointment for just about any spa services being that Cape Dara is tucked away off the beaten path. Services can be rendered indoors or on the open-air gazebo so you can relax with a sea breeze and sounds of the sea! I opted for a 30 minute scrub and 90 minute aromatherapy massage. Yes, a bit of heaven at best!

After a relaxing day at the spa, before turning in for the night, I stopped by the concierge to inquire about the day activities in Pattaya.  There were a few choices that actually sparked my interest. But the one activity that stood out was the Sriracha Tiger Zoo. A chance at petting a baby tiger was not only a “bucket list” item but also one of those once in a lifetime things to do. So after breakfast in the morning, my first stop would be the Tiger Zoo.

Sriracha Tiger Zoo (341 Moo 3 Nongkham, Sriracha Chonburi 20110 Thailand Tel. +66 (0) 3829 6556-8) was only 40 minutes from the hotel.  We passed through a small portion of the city of Pattaya before enter the highway and then making our way through a remote part of Chonburi.  Once we entered the park, there were so many tigers located in their playground.  But, not only were there plenty of tigers, there were crocodiles, elephants and pigs as well.

There were also a few shows. The tiger venue show-cased the tigers are jumping through fire or climbing ladders and such.  At the elephant demonstration, they were either walking a tightrope or throwing real knives at an audience volunteer strapped to a spinning wheel.  The crocodile show is where there is a man who is sticking his limbs or his head inside the crocodile’s mouth. But the venue which was truly amazing was where you get to hold a tiger cub on your lap while feeding him or her milk from a bottle!  The crowd was snapping pictures left and right. Someone even said that though they didn’t know me personally, I was appeared extremely happy being at one with the tiger cub. The Sriracha Tiger Zoo was well worth the visit.

Another nice tourist attraction is the Nong Nooch Botanical Garden (34/1 Moo 7 Na Jomitien, Sattahip, Chonburi 20250, Thailand Tel+66 38 709358-60) which is known for its landscaped tropical gardens and Thai cultural shows.  The garden has a collection of orchids and palms as well as Asian, American and African species of cycads. Elephant shows are also held in the garden. It is unbelievable that they are trained to play football and basketball!

The last place I visited was one of Thailand’s most popular spot called the Walking Street! This popular tourist attraction draws many and truly offers something for all. The Street is filled with restaurants, open bars, live music, street entertainment, souvenir shops, massage parlors, night clubs, cabaret shows; all which makes for one gigantic party! The Street (under a mile long) is open to traffic during the day but after 6pm. It is closed to vehicular traffic and the party begins!

  Pattaya is a great weekend getaway for water sports, relaxing seaside massages, delicious seafood and electrifying night life!   On a final note, the three hour rule to arrive at the airport on international flights......trust me, with all of the folks that travel to and from Bangkok, you will need that time to catch your flight on time!

All the best,


Monday, May 11, 2015

Naila Art Galley, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

            I heard from a friend that the base Morale, Welfare Recreation (MWR) was sponsoring a trip to an art gallery in Riyadh. I always jump at the chance to get off the compound to do some exploring and gather information for my blog. About 45 minutes from our originating point the van parked in front of Naila Art Gallery.  Naila, in business since 2013 and known for showcasing local and international talent, was hosting a four day fair featuring the work of several Saudi-based artists.

The gallery, which has two levels, contained visual art from all mediums (i.e. sculptures, paintings, photography). The displays were impressive  but the added attraction was that the actual artist was there to represent and answer any questions pertaining to their work.
The gallery represents artists such as Najla Al-Ruwaitea (Najla.alrwaita@hotmail.com), Maliha AbdulRahman Z. Alsuwaida (MalihaAlsuwaida@gmail.com) and Reem Alsubaiy (vibjolie@yahoo.com).  My attention was focused on these three artists.  
Ms. Najla’s art piece “I see no evil, hear no evil, speech no evil” is metaphoric and causes you to understand and feel what’s being depicted in her work.
Ms. Maliha’s work was mostly of women cloaked in white garments. I found her art to be  aesthetically appealing creations.  

Ms. Reem’s self-portrait is a unique happy medium that stands out from the crowd. There are no gimmicks or distractions, just pure talent.

Each artist possesses very different styles but their creativity commands attention and evokes a conversation.

            Support the Arts. Naila Art Gallery (+966 11 880 5352, info@gallerynaila.com) is located on Al Takhassosi Street, Bldg. 247, in Riyadh. Admission is free and you won’t  be disappointed!

All the best,

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.....A Relaxing Retreat!

            My friend, Ethel who teach at one of the universities suggested that we take a weekend trip to Jeddah before she returns to the U.S.  She had not traveled outside of Riyadh since she had began working in the Kingdom and heard from other instructors that Jeddah a nice relaxing place to visit as well as take advantage of immersing her feet in the infamous body of water; the Red Sea. It had almost been three years since I first visited Jeddah. I really enjoyed my time there, so a return trip was a good idea!

Jeddah is only an hour and 30 minutes by air. While we waited for our flight, just like before, we saw quite a few men, some with their families clad in towels that are wrapped around their waist and one draped around their shoulders. Jeddah is the principal gateway to Mecca so they would be flying there to begin their journey to Mecca where they take their pilgrimages. 

        The turbulent descent and view of sand dunes reminded me that we would be landing in Jeddah shortly. We were welcomed by the afternoon humidity and an atmosphere that was a lot more relaxed than Riyadh. It is still required for women to wear the abaya but Jeddah is far more diverse and cosmopolitan than Riyadh.  We decided we would just relax the first day, grab a meal and start our exploration in the morning.

The next day, after securing transportation and grabbing a quick breakfast, we had a list of points of interest that we expressed to the driver that we would like to visit. The first stop would be the Floating Mosque located on Corniche Road. It is called the floating mosque because it sits right on the Red Sea. The pillars give the impression that the mosque is floating! The mosque was closed but that was fine. Along with the mosque’s magnificence and the historical significance of being at the Red Sea, the experience was surreal!

There was a group of woman who where coming from a tour bus. They immediately tied their skirts around their legs and put their feet in the Red Sea. Several splashed their faces in the body of water. I tried to communicate with them but they did not speak English. With several attempts to understand what we were saying to one another, I finally was able to get out of them that they were from Turkey! The two men with them wanted to take group photos. We exchanged email addresses in order to send the photos later. When I emailed my group photos, I received an email within minutes that said, “American Muslim, brothers and sisters, we are very happy to see the Red Sea with greetings and prayers”.  So,  they thought me and my girlfriend were Muslims!

Next stop on our list was the Makkah Gate known also as the Quran Gate. It is located on Makkah Mukkarran Road in the heart of Jeddah. This gate represented back in the day one of the main entrances for Hajj pilgrims.

After viewing those two magnificent sights, we hungry and decided to go get a bite to eat. On our way, I spotted a Harley Davidson store. You know I had to not only check out the bikes but also purchase a T-shirt that had “Jeddah, Saudi Arabia” on it. Mission accomplished….off to find something to eat!

The driver suggested a place called Salmontino Le Resto. Salmontino is French-Lebanese and specializes in all sorts of salmon dishes. His choice turned out to be a fantastic one! The restaurant is on the Corniche strip right across from the Red Sea. The ambience is one of fine dining, chic with jazz playing in the background. Once seated, we were greeted with a basket of fresh bread and salmon spread. As my appetizer, I ordered the Calamari and Shrimp Caesar.  Both dishes were very delectable!  The produce was fresh and crisp and the shrimp grilled to perfection! For my main course, I tried the Grilled Salmon PavĂ© served with wild rice and herb sauce. Absolutely, scrumptious!  The ambiance and service is well worth every Riyal! Owners, Joe Bassili and Hussni Ajlani, your restaurant ....worth the trip from Riyadh!  

To wrap up a wonderful day in Jeddah, what better sight to go check out than the King Fahd´s Fountain located on,.. you guess,… the Corniche. The water jet is 1,024 feet and is the highest in the world!  The salt-water fountain was donated by the late King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz to the City of Jeddah. Not only is the fountain spectacular to watch, it is a great place to enjoy a picnic dinner as the sun sets or to just get out and get some fresh air while taking a scroll along the Corniche.

Jeddah. A wonderful place to escape for a revitalizing retreat.

Until next time,….

Alhamdulillah! (Praise to Allah!)