Kuwait, The Happy Bubble

It was a perfect evening in Zwara Café at The Grand Avenues. I was sipping Turkish Coffee with medium sugar, just the way I like it, while discussing the Gulf War with my friends. The Ogaily and Kunafa that we were sharing were extremely tasteful that we had to cut the conversation to compliment them after every bite. I love talking about the Gulf War with Kuwaitis because I get to hear inside stories from people who witnessed the events, lived through it and survived it. And there we were, four Bahraini girls and a Kuwaiti one, having a rich conversation with classic Khaleeji songs playing in the background. My mind withdrew from the conversation when Abdulkarim Abdulqader started singing Meshtereeh. It was a pure Kuwaiti moment with all the traditional surroundings, the accent echoing all around us, the taste of the authentic desserts and the old music. I just wished that the beautiful feeling I felt right then could last forever.

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For three full days I felt like I was living on a cloud. I’m a person who gets easily irritated but I was in such a good mood that nothing was able to ruin it. I came to a conclusion that Kuwait is the most inspiring country in the Gulf. It’s easy to spot and feel the passion of the talented youth wherever you go. It was like watching a modern version of “7aflat elKuwait” and admiring every scene just like I used to do when I was a kid. Kuwaitis never fail to impress the world with their talents, uniqueness, originality and most importantly; their genuine love for their country.

It was very exciting to be surrounded by fashionable people. Girls, guys, mothers, kids, men and even grandmothers were dressed up. Each one of them had his own unique style. I admired how familiar they were with fashion and how they had the ability and confidence to play with their look. For example, if the outfit was too simple, the wavy hair and dark makeup would balance the look. It was also very interesting to see people spending the day out of their homes and enjoying their time. All restaurants and cafes were lively and full. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was vibrant everywhere we went. I believe that this was the source of the happy vibes I got.

We made the right decision by staying at Missoni Hotel. Fresh colors, very good service and location (it was not as far as people made it sound), and the view of the city extending over the sea was beautiful. But more was expected from a 5 starts hotel, like providing shower caps and cotton buds in the toilet. But it was a comfortable hotel nonetheless and the breakfast buffet was extremely delicious.

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Having late lunch at B+F was a pleasant experience. The food was very good and the restaurant was almost full which was not expected since it was half past three. 360 mall was nearly empty but it was nice to walk around the designer shops and cafes.

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We visited two local boutiques in AlJabria area. The Creative Style and My May. It wasn’t my favorite part of the trip as I’m not a fan of funky outfits but I made sure to buy the only classic item I found! It was raining outside and that was a lovely thing to remember other than digging for something that suited me.

Chocolate Bar was never my kind of café. But I was desperate for caffeine and it was one of the few attractive options at AlHamra Mall. The Turkish Coffee was good but the cookie wasn’t. Discovering this new mall was quite interesting as it was quiet with a variety of shops, mostly designers. Note that “quiet” in Kuwait means almost full but not crowded, while “quiet” in Bahrain means almost empty.

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Salheya was packed at night. All cafes and restaurants were full and we had to wait for almost an hour to get a table at Gathering. Walking with high heals was not easy because of all the bricks and it was funny how all women were watching their steps. I loved everything about Gathering; the style, the food, the colors and the location.

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The Avenues didn’t exist when I last went to Kuwait in 2007. I was mesmerized with the Grand Avenues the moment I stepped in. It was bright, spacious and grand! I couldn’t stop smiling while walking around and seeing people having coffee, shopping, eating, socializing and even working out! It was the place to be. I fell in love with the new section too (traditional souq) and enjoyed shopping there. All the cafes and restaurants were busy and tempting to try. I wish that I had more time to try them all but we only managed to try Figs and Katsuya for lunch, Life with Cacao and Zwara for dessert and Khobz ElDar for a snack.

I found the concepts and menus of the local contemporary restaurants very similar. They mainly served modern salads, pizzas, pastas and small dishes to share. But each one of them had something special that was highlighted by people.

Figs, excellent food.

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If I had to pick one restaurant to recommend after this trip, I’d definitely say Katsuya. I can easily say and without any competition that it’s the best Japanese food I’ve ever had. Every single dish was extremely tasteful and delicious. Staff were very helpful and friendly. Rating: 10/10.

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I liked the concept of Khobz ElDar, Saj on the go. The interior of the place was beautifully designed and the small place was well utilized. The taste was average though.

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Life with Cacao, what can I say! Delicious desserts that keep surprising you with every bite. Dip the cookies in the chocolate fondue and you’ll be in heaven. Their coffee was also good.

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Cocoa Room was lovely but I felt it was a bit overrated. Service was bad, tea was finished and falafel was finished too. We ordered two egg dishes and they were ok. BUT the Nutella French Toast was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. It looked beautiful and tasted even better.  Not to be missed if you’re visiting Kuwait.

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Melenzane was located in a complex inline with other restaurants and cafes and it was nice to walk outdoors and view the different available options. It was Thursday night and the place was packed. Food was good but also too heavy that we couldn’t finish any of the dishes. If I had to choose between Figs and Melenzane I’d go for Figs.

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We had another amazing dessert in Prime & Toast, Cream Ford Caramel. What I loved about it is how it tasted like a modernized version of a Ramadan homemade sweet. You can feel the famous taste of Morning Coffee biscuit mixed with condensed milk but it was much more than that. It had a rich taste and it was addictive. You won’t be able to put the spoon down.

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Putting food aside, I loved the local radio stations. Their DJs were funny and their choice of songs was upbeat and fun. We were thrilled when we opened the radio once and Ya Nar Shibby started playing. While walking to Melenzane, one of the passing cars was playing Ya Seedhum Wainek for Nawal.

Their publications are another story. The local newspapers and magazines are interesting and written/published by passionate people who have the experience and knowledge. Kuwait was always the leading country in the Gulf when it came to media and it’s impressive how it still is number one.

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Kuwait is a country of class and high taste. Inspiration can be found in every corner; between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the affordable and the expensive. People change after going through catastrophic events and I can see how the Gulf War changed Kuwait and every Kuwaiti. They grew out of it, built their country with love and confidence and they keep developing by the day. And I really respect that.

I’m sending my love to Kuwait through this post. الله يديم عليكم الأمان والسعادة

November 2013

Oman.. The Mountain & The Sea..

Living on an island in the Arabian Gulf, you’d expect being surround by beaches and sea activities. Unfortunately, we used to say that the closest decent beach to us was in Dubai. But after visiting Oman, i totally changed my mind. I an now definitely sure that Oman is the number one beach destination in the region.

We spent 4 nights in May 2013 (Labor Day holiday) in Shangri-La Barr Al Jissa. It was a great stay despite the slow service at the reception, the rainy storms at night and the smelly bed sheets.

Flight: Oman Air: 1 hour and thirty minutes from Bahrain to Muscat. Around BD70. It was my first time to try Oman Air and i was pleased.

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We got to witness how sweet and nice Omanis were as soon as we arrived. The guy who worked in Omantel in the airport was very  friendly and funny. The taxi driver who dropped us to the hotel gave us a tour and brief descriptions about every landmark that was on our way.

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The drive from the airport to the hotel was around one hour. The hotel was located on a mountain so the road got a bit scary after passing the center of the city which is around half an hour away from the hotel.

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissa consists of three different hotels; 1) Al-Husn, the most luxurious of the three and It has its own private beach and pool that kids under 16 years old can’t use. 2) Al-Bandar: Old town design, less luxurious than Al-Husn and better quality than Al-Waha. It was my least favorite. 3) Al-Waha: Family friendly & the cheapest of the three hotels. It has a shared beach with Al-Bandar but it also has its own pool. It’s the largest hotel of the three.

The view from the room in Al-Waha was very beautiful and relaxing (sea-view room). I used to wake up early in the morning, sit in the balcony , breath the fresh air and listen to the sound of the waves hitting the shore. Another option was to go for an early walk on the beach. The weather was good during the day/ stormy at night.

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After breakfast, most people lay by the beach, read a book while tanning and swim in the Gulf of Oman. The beach was very clean (no stones or sea weeds) and the temperature of the water was perfect. The waves were a bit high which made swimming much more fun.

Sea activities were also available; snorkeling, canoeing, fishing, boat rides etc.

The way the hotel was positioned between the stoney mountains added a lot to the atmosphere and it was a great reminder that you’re in Oman!

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In addition to the pool, there is a Lazy River that takes you from Al-Bandar to Al-Waha and vice versa!

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We were a bit disappointed with the rooms. The furniture was pretty old. You’d expect more luxury being in Shangri-La even if it was a resort especially that the room rate was not cheap. My friend couldn’t stand the smell of the sheets which I only noticed after she complained. I liked the cute traditional painting on top of the bed.

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Hotel Restaurants:

Sultana (Al-Husn): Fine dining. There are two dining areas; indoor & outdoor. When the weather is fine, dining outdoors is a must!. It’s too dark to see what you’re eating or to see the lovely view though. Delicious food & rich atmosphere.

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Samba (Al-Waha): Breakfast is served there. Loved the fresh colors of the interiors and the variety of food.

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Al Tanoor (Al Bandar): Breakfast is also served there. We tried it once but i preferred Samba.

Zafran Cafe: Located in an arcade and hotel residents can reach it by buggy. Loved their light sandwiches and tea.

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Not forgetting the best part of any beach holiday: Burger by the beach!

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More restaurants were available at the hotel. But we only tried the ones above since we used to leave the hotel to discover the city by afternoon.

Muscat:

The drive from the hotel to the city was an amazing experience. The hotel provided bus rides to the city at certain hours of the day but you can also take a taxi to reach faster. We tried both. The benefit of being on the bus gives you enough time to view the beautiful scenery with a mountain on your left side and the sea on your right! Once you pass that part, beautiful white buildings start appearing by the sides of the road. They are all designed in a similar way with the same height. Even the signs of the shops were very similar to each other which gave the city a very clean and tidy image. It didn’t look real. It felt like being in Lego Land!

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Souq Muttrah:

It’s beautiful how this souq is located in front of the corniche. The entrance is lined up with all the other shops which are facing the corniche that you don’t expect a whole souq right behind it. All kinds of shops can be found there; shoes, perfumes, souvenirs, toys, antiques etc. However, i expected more variety of local stuff but there wasn’t much to buy. It was raining when we went and we didn’t understand why the shops suddenly started closing. Shortly after, the place started flooding and we had to leave. It was a fun experience!

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On our way to Muttrah we found a small shop that served fried snacks. We had to try the Rgag when we found out that it was served there. We ordered one with cheese & honey and another with cheese & chips Oman. It was delicious!

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Royal Opera House:

Unfortunately it was closed when we went and they did’t allow any tourists inside. Everything looked grand from the outside and i was very sad that no shows were playing during our stay in Muscat. I will definitely fly there someday just to attend a show in this posh place.

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Opera Galleria is a shopping mall that is a part of the Opera House. It was too quiet with few shops open including the famous restaurant More. The local staff of the mall were not helpful at all and it was very difficult to find a taxi around the area.

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Jawharat AlShate’a Mall: There were a couple of cute cafes, a vintage shop and a post office inside (Those were the only places that caught my attention). But the mall itself looked very old just like a blast from the 80’s.

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Grand Mall: We went there planning to do some shopping but there was nothing to buy. None of the international clothing stores (Zara, Mango etc) were available. Footwear, make up, electronics, and perfume shops were there but it was shocking that a new mall which was supposed to be Grand didn’t sell any decent clothes!

Halwa ElDeewaneya: A local shop that sells Omani Halwa in different kinds and sizes. They offer packing the boxes and delivering them to the hotel to be taken home fresh.

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Restaurants:

1) Kargeen: We had high expectations about this restaurant because it looked beautiful in pictures. The outdoor area was nice but sitting there was not an option because of the stormy weather. We walked through mazes of trees till we reached the room where we were going to have our lunch/dinner. It looked like a dining room in a haunted house with a long dining table in the center and a chandelier hanging on top of it. It was impossible to identify the theme of the restaurant. It had no identity and more like “too much of everything”. The waitresses were dressed in Jasmin’s costume (from Aladdin)  and the service was extremely bad. It took them a very long time to take our orders and over an hour to get our food. Their excuse was that they had nothing to cover the plates with to bring them from the kitchen since it was raining heavily. They were waiting for the rain to stop!! We offered our umbrellas and they immediately got the food using them!

The food was average. All kinds of food were available on the menu (which was full of ads & looked more like a magazine) but we decided to try an Omani dish called Shuwa. It was delicious at the beginning but the high amount of herbs used made us all feel nauseous afterwards.

The music had nothing to do with the place. It was Egyptian and very out of date. On top of all that, the ceiling was leaking and our chair got wet. It was one of the worst and maybe the freakiest dining experiences i’ve ever had.

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Sliders Station: Loud and crowded in a beautiful way. It was located in a complex along with other cafes and restaurants. It was a Thursday night and all the locals were hanging out there. The food, which was shared, was good. I liked the sliders concept.

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The Chedi (hotel):

The moment i stepped in, i knew where i was going to stay in my next visit to Muscat. It wasn’t as big and bright as a chain hotel and not so dark and tight like a boutique hotel. It was somewhere in between. We had a look at the Long Pool Cabana which was full of expats enjoying their weekend in a chilled atmosphere. It was not possible to make a reservation in this restaurant so we made a reservation earlier that day at The Restaurant in the same hotel.

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The Restaurant:

One of the best dining experiences i’ve ever had. The place was gorgeous with many chandeliers hanging down the ceiling. The food was excellent and the atmosphere was very classy.

Don’t miss the unique toilets at the lobby of the hotel!

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I made sure to explore Muscat as a city although the main purpose of the trip was to relax by the beach. I was impressed with the clean and tidy look of the buildings and roads but i was also shocked to see how it lacked a lot of main attractions. The city has potential to grow and it is developing in a slow pace. Something has  to be done about providing more dining options and franchising shops and restaurants to entertain the tourists who visit mainly for the beach and sea activities.

Muscat is a great option for a short vacation even if you decide not to leave the hotel!