Siblings in Kuwait – Spring Break 2013

One of the deals we are giving our 5 siblings is a trip (once) to visit us. Abby is here for the semester subbing and Andrew came to visit for his Spring Break! Shannon was studying abroad in Barcelona so they met up in Kuwait. It was a memorable week for all! (see Shannon’s post for proof)

There was a little miscommunication ..Shannon arrived on Friday, March 22nd and Andrew arrived 24 hours later. Luckily we like Shannon so it worked out just fine 😉

Shannon made it!

It actually ended up being quite an interesting experience: Shannon met a guy from Portugal on the plane. He was visiting friends but they weren’t able to pick him up at the airport. Our friend, Dana, was driving so we all piled into her car and took him to Marina Mall. We invited him to have breakfast with us at Pain Quotidian…and ended up finding out he was visiting some Kuwaiti royalty that he had met on a road trip. Crazy! We ended up hanging out with him all day and had quite a bit of fun being hospitable. Bonus: he’s a great (self-taught) photographer!

girls & the gulf

jeff, shannon & city

The afternoon consisted of coffee and pedicures. Saturday was another early morning to pick Andrew up at the airport.

We had an amazing breakfast (as always) at the Cocoa Room before heading out to the desert!

Full and satisfied, Dana, Andrew, Shannon, Abby, Jeff and I headed out to do some desert hiking. We found some interesting things along the way!

We also managed to do some GeoCaching…

…and found lots and lots of bullets in the process.

It wasn’t the clearest day but we had a great (HOT) time! Check out the entire album for many more pictures 🙂

Before they came, we compiled a list of all the things we wanted to do with them. [As you can see, we take our food very seriously!] It was actually a pretty busy week! We gave them a taste of a lot of things and know we missed even more. Contrary to popular belief, there’s actually a lot to do in Kuwait (if you’re looking). Some of the blogs I use to find goings-on: 2:48AM, Life in Kuwait, The Grapevine Kuwait.

Shannon introduced me to Red Mango…how did I manage to get through the first 7 months here without ever stopping to try it?!

We ventured to Souq Sharq (a first for all of us!).

We made at stop at the Fish Market.

We (finally) tried a nearby bakery and enjoyed some Middle Eastern sweets.

Strolling through the Old Souq.

Dinner at the Old Souq

Our last night, we ventured to one of our favorite restaurants for some Turkish food and shisha.

Jeff getting fancy with shisha

Abby’s friend from high school (Lance) was in Kuwait for a couple months working on the oil fields and joined us…small world!

Andrew’s turn 🙂

It was a great week!!

Check out the rest of our pictures plus all of our iPhone photos 🙂

Our Guide: Phuket

Where We Stayed:

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PapaCrab Boutique Guesthouse. It’s a tiny (1o room) hotel run by a German guy and his Thai wife and it’s perfect. It’s a 2 minute walk from the beach, right around the corner from some quality restaurants and about 5 minutes away from a bakery.  It’s clean, simple and comfortable – exactly what you need for spending maximum time at the beach. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s a little general store in between the hotel and the beach which makes beverage runs quite nice 🙂

What We Ate:

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We ate at Kokosnuss German Bakery for breakfast, had some street food from the beach for lunch, and Skyla’s and Carbonara’s for dinner. I’d recommend them all to anyone. Breakfast was ham, cheese and homemade bread, costing us somewhere around $5 per day (total) for 3 people. Lunch was usually 3 servings of typical Thai food; Pad Thai, Noodle Soup with Prawns, etc. Each dish cost about 80 thb and whoever went and ordered got to have a beer while they waited. Total for lunch was usually ~300 thb or $10 total for 3 people. Dinner was slightly more expensive but the atmosphere at both places was worth it. At Skyla’s we had Pad Thai, Lettuce Wraps and Spicy Papaya Salad. At Carbonara’s we had pizza. I don’t remember the totals for each place, but they were slightly more expensive (120 thb – 150 thb) per dish.

What We Did:

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Mostly stayed at the beach on Kamala. One day we rented a car (~900 thb) and drove up to Banana Beach, which is quiet, secluded and difficult to access. We snorkled, swam, ate food at a tiny “restaurant” on the beach and had a good time. We also went to the Farmer’s Market that happens on Wednesday. It’s a fantastic place to get food of all sorts 🙂

Pro-Tips:

* We didn’t find a single place that accepted credit/debit cards, so carry cash. Not a single bank in Kamala accepted our Kuwait cards, so we had to go to SCB on the main strip to have them charge our American Credit cards. Again – take out LOTS of cash, because plastic won’t work!

* Once you’re in Kamala, plan to stay there. Taxis, Tuk-tuk’s, busses and rental cars are pricey. Scooters are cheap and we thought about renting them but decided against it (and were thankful we did, as it poured that day!) and ended up grabbing a car for the day.

* Buy towels there, and make sure you bargain. I’m a big fan of traveling light, so packing a towel wasn’t going to be something I did. The towels are cheap quality, so don’t pay full price.

* Rent a chair and umbrella every day. They cost about 100 thb per person per day, but they are absolute MUSTS. You have to have a place to escape the sun or you’ll fry. Chairs and umbrellas are plentiful, so don’t pay more than 100 thb per.

* Beer is cheap in Thailand and they’ll open it for you at the store so you can drink it walking out the door. Take advantage of this, as drinks on the beach get pricey fast.

Our Guide: Bangkok

Trying out a new type of post here, outlining the specifics of our trip for those interested in repeating parts or all of it. I spent a bunch of time taking pieces from other guides like these to formulate our vacation, so I know how useful they can be to anyone that happens to run across them on Google. On to the guiding…

Where we stayed:

Lub D, Silom. It’s a hostel, but we rented a private room on the top floor. It was perfection. It’s clean, has it’s own bathroom (toilet + shower) and is in a great location. We needed a place to stash our stuff, clean up and crash at the end of the day. This was that place. It’s got a safe inside the room for your valuables and a small bar in the lobby. There are several 7-11’s nearby and street food vendors all over the place. What else do you need? If you’re looking for luxury this probably isn’t for you.

What we ate:

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Street food. If you don’t want to, you don’t have to buy a single dish from a legitimate restaurant or grocery store. The street vendors in Bangkok (and Thailand in general) are phenomenal. Walk around in just about any direction for 5 minutes and you’ll run across some. They won’t speak English and they’ll only take cash, but when you’re paying 30 thb for a pile of pad thai, who cares? Be prepared to use some nonverbal communicative skills and lower your expectations on cleanliness. We never got sick from food, but they definitely aren’t held to the same level of cleanliness you’re used to. You’ve been warned.

What we did:

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Lots.

We visited Lumphini Park, which is akin to Central Park in NYC. It’s a massive green space in the middle of the city, complete with monitor lizards of up to 4 ft. Walking it is a great afternoon (or morning?) activity if you pair it with eating from all the vendors surrounding it. It’s free but the tricky part is finding a gate that’s open. This doesn’t always seem to follow logical rules, so you may end up walking a fair amount around it before being able to enter. If you’re staying at Lub D, it’s a 10 minute walk down the road.

We got several massages from Suanploo Thai Massage. We have nothing to compare Suanploo with because we were so happy with them we never went anywhere else. From our viewpoint, they have fantastic value as their hour long thai massages are around 280 thb. The people that work there are professional, the space is clean and the atmosphere is relaxing. We didn’t even try to beat it for our money. Again, if you’re staying at Lub D it’s about a 10 minute walk down the street in the other direction 🙂

We took a river taxi and visited Wat Arun. You can do these two independently or together, just make sure you do them.

We went to the weekend market, which is basically a gigantic mess of people selling anything and everything. It’s hot, sticky and densely packed with buyers and sellers. It’s a great place to people watch and fantastic place to go if you want to buy knockoff stuff. We ended up walking around a bit, eating some food and taking a stroll in a nearby park. To get there, just hop on the BTS and take it to Mo Chit. Get off and follow the throngs of people.

Pro-Tips:

* In general, you’ll need to carry cash with you at all times. Very few places accept cards and all of the places we ate ONLY accepted cash. With that in mind, try and have small bills/change available for purchasing food. Nobody wants to break a 1000 thb for a 60thb meal.

* It’s insanely hot and humid, so dress appropriately and always carry a bottle of water with you. We were told to avoid the tap water.

* Bargain any time you buy something other than food and massages. This includes taxi, tuk-tuk and goods.

Athens – Last (half) Day

Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

We absolutely couldn’t leave Athens without going up to the Acropolis! We got up early on Tuesday, packed up and headed out. We LOVED the location of our apartment…only a 15 minute walk from door to top of the Acropolis! We had an awesome time looking around before heading back down to catch the metro to the airport. This site was a great resource for us as we were traveling around the city! If you want to see all 500+ of our photos (Day 1 & 2 posts only have iPhone pictures), check out the album.

Ruins at the metro station.

Bye Athens!

Athens – Day 3

Day 3…a couple weeks later (Day 1 & Day 2)! We’ve been pretty busy at school, with our masters and traveling to Dubai. Day 3 turned out to be pretty great!

We made breakfast at the apartment…yogurt with muesli and BACON (on the side, not in the yogurt ;))! Jeff ended up eating pork at almost every meal while we were there. This summer should be interesting!

We headed out to Dionysus Theater. Before going in we bought a combo ticket that allowed us entry into several of the most famous sites. The tickets are valid for 4 days so there is plenty of time to hit everything. The Theater is at at the base of the acropolis. We explored a little but decided to save the Acropolis for later.

Next we walked to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. We were constantly amazed at how old and huge everything was!

In an attempt to save some money we tried to find a grocery store to buy food for a picnic. We failed. SO we ate at Smile again for lunch. This time we had the calamari. Except we ate it the way the Greeks do…grilled!

Our plan to go to the Acropolis in the afternoon was spoiled when we walked up to find out it was closed. With less than 24 hours left in Athens we panicked a little! We had to settle for seeing it from afar (again).

We consoled ourselves with a little more geocaching! It was a hard one…but Abby is getting to be a professional at finding those!

We continued walking around Monastiraki square and Plaka for gifts and souvenirs.

After 3 days full of walking we needed a few minutes of downtime (and drinks) so we stopped by our apartment before going to see the sunset at Areios Phagos (Rock of Aries near the Acropolis).

It was a little disappointing. But hopefully next time we’re in Athens we’ll be able to see a good one!

We went to the grocery store for the fixins to make our own Greek salad (minus the olives). It was fantastic! We aren’t huge feta fans but the Greeks sure know how to do it!

Entrance to our apartment. One of the coolest things about Athens is the ruins everywhere!

The perfect last dinner with a little TV!

Afterwards we went to Smile for one last visit. We couldn’t leave without having the famous Loukoumades! Connie treated us to homemade Greek yogurt with honey after the donuts…we’re going back just for that deliciousness!

We had AMAZING luck with the weather while we were in Greece! Even though we missed our original flight in Doha, we also missed all the heavy rains and flooding. Our 3 full days were gorgeous and we even got a little sun-kissed 🙂

Athens – Day 2

See Athens – day 1.

Yesterday consisted of lots of walking, a little running and lots more walking!

We started the day with the ceremonial changing of the guards at the Parliament. It takes place every Sunday at 10:30am and was pretty cool! (Video to come)

From there we walked to the Acropolis and bought 12€ tickets that grant us access to all the national archaeological sites and museums (valid for 4 days). We walked over to the Roman Agora before exploring the Ancient Agora. We’re still wrapping our heads around how old this stuff is!! While in the area we walked around Monastiraki square. All the while Jeff was on the look-out for geocaches 😉

About 3pm we decided it was time for lunch. We stopped for another round of gelato….

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…before another meal at Smile. We’ve made it a goal to eat there everyday we’re in Athens 🙂 This time Connie (the owner) surprised us with homemade Greek yogurt and honey. Words cannot express how good it was!

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After delicious beer and food, we walked to the Panathenaic Stadium. We were really excited for this…but it was even more amazing than expected! I dare say it was the best part of our trip! We toured the stadium (an audio tour is included in the 3€ entrance fee), saw all of the posters and torches for every Olympics since 1896 and ran a lap around the track. Priceless.

We had a quick pit-stop at the apartment before heading down to the port. We took the tram and walked the Zeas Port and back.

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We walked along the red (pen) lines.

We stopped for dinner in Mikrolimano at a place recommended by our AirBnB host. We were the only ones in the restaurant, but the fresh fish was worth it!

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Fried baby blunt snouted (mullet)

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Small gilt head bream

After dinner, we were surprised with an after dinner liqueur that we were told would make us sleep well and have good dreams – masticha, a traditional drink to the island of Chios. It was…interesting! We made it back to the metro by midnight and collapsed when we got to the apartment!

We’ve noticed that many Greeks have been incredibly nice to us since we got here! Connie at Smile, the server at Trehadiria (dinner), a random guy at the tram…we’ve loved it here and can’t wait to come back!

Athens – Day 1

Today made our crazy day yesterday worth it! We had a great sleep last night with the help of the amazing ‘blinds’ that are pretty standard in Europe. Jeff went out for breakfast (Greek pastries) and some essentials this morning. After getting ready for the day we headed out! We walked the 7ish minutes to the Acropolis. Amazing. We explored the Filopapou Hill while geocaching!

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Can you see the cache?

We made our way to the top during our hours in the park.

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We meandered to the north side if the acropolis for lunch (gyros and beer if course). We did a little more exploring before having some gelato and heading to the New Acropolis Museum for 2.5 hours (must go there I’d in Athens!). We found a small (health food) market for 2 bottles of wine and a bar chocolate.

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Greek wine!

We headed back to Smile for more deliciously amazing food!

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Spanakopita

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Moussaka

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Pork souvlaki

We’ll have many more non-iPhone pictures when we get back to Kuwait 🙂

Καληνύχτα και όνειρα γλυκά

And we’re off!

Today at school…we celebrated! It was probably one of the best days that we’ve seen since coming here. 99% of the students were dressed up in some way for the upcoming National and Liberation holidays (February 25th & 26th). The elementary school students all stood in the courtyard before school started and sang the national anthem. It was just fun! The rest of the day was filled with parties and more national fun 🙂

We got in the spirit too!

Accidentally cut off the top of Jeff’s head!

Since we’ve been told the country gets a little crazy for these holidays, we decided to get out (we have Sunday through Tuesday off). Jeff and I haven’t traveled since coming to Kuwait (we don’t count going home for Christmas) and this will also be Abby’s first travel since arriving. In a few short hours we’re heading to the airport, then to Doha (Qatar) for an hour layover before we reach our final destination of Athens (Greece) just before noon! None of us have been and we’re pretty excited to explore the city for 3 full days.

Happy weekend everyone! xoxo

We live in the desert.

Update: I found this post of a Kuwait blogger who went “behind the scenes” at the camel races. Jealous!

Saturday we had one of those moments where we realized that we live in Kuwait. In the desert. Seriously!? We joined 250 other people at the AWARE Center, climbed on buses and headed into the desert.

The ride out was pretty uneventful but it gave us a chance to watch out the window. We were completely surprised by the amount of trash. It was everywhere. Probably the hardest thing for us to see is the complete disregard (by some people) for their surroundings. Kuwait could be much more beautiful if  people used trash cans :/

After about 45 minutes we arrived at the camel races…in the middle of nowhere.

We had just under 2 hours to explore and relax before the races started. Luckily they fed us treats…

…dates, camel butter and camel milk…

…and tea.

We had the opportunity to ride camels. We decided against it. NOT!

(We did not edit the sound so you might want to turn the sound down. Also, sorry for the orientation of the video. Blame the camera man – Jeff. 😉

Abby and I made Jeff go first – it was just a little intimidating! The camel grew more unhappy with each rider – it refused to stand up fort he rider after me. We did notice that my camel ride was recorded by Al Watan TV…maybe I’ll become famous 😉

We went back to the diwaniya to watch the start of the camel race on TV. The older the camel the longer the race. The races on Saturday were 6k and 8k. They start far away and finish at the grand stands. The whole time there are cars following along on the outside of the tracks. Luckily people don’t ride the camels (except for this crazy guy), robots do! The people in the cars control the robots and their little flexible arm that spins around and slaps the camel. It’s crazy to watch!

Although we didn’t start our watch (what kind of runners are we?!), we think the camels ran 6k in 10-15 minutes. The weather was pretty decent (not too cold, not to hot and cloudy) the wind did pick up and we got to taste some sand. The Kuwaiti men had the right idea covering their mouths!

After the last race (there were 3), we headed to a ‘farm’ in the desert for the typical buffet spread.

All sorts of Lebanese food.

On our way back to the the AWARE center we got to see desert camping for the first time. There was even more trash, but this time we saw where it was all coming from. From November to March people are allowed to set up tents in the desert (leave them there) and go out to their camp whenever they want to. They practically make tent cities! We had no idea! But we’re pretty excited to try it for a night or two 🙂

Sorry for the crappy iPhone photos!

Yes…those are blow-up slides!

Just another day in the life of Lissa, Jeff & Abby! To see our entire photo album, click here. Or watch the video below!

We hang out with kids…voluntarily

Our Friday started out quite foggy again.

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The day also ended quite foggy! Luckily it turned out to be a gorgeous day in between. We don’t really follow the weather here so we don’t know why it has been so crazy (we’ve heard it hasn’t been like this in past years) but it’s foggier by the Gulf so it has to do have something to do with the water being warmer than the air. We’re practically meteorologists!

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I forgot about our dessert on Thursday evening! It was at the Chocolate Bar by Dana’s place. We had dark chocolate fondue…no idea how I forgot about it!

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Friday morning we got up WAY too early for a weekend and headed to a ‘yard’ sale. Abby got a few things for her classroom and Jeff and I picked up a pizza paddle. We also came home with 3 Disney movies! We had about 10 that we wanted to buys but narrowed it down to Fern Gully, Mary Poppins and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Abby and I had a great time reminiscing about our childhood 🙂

After the yard sale I made a breakfast that was ALMOST as good as the Cocoa Room…pumpkin pancakes 🙂

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We did buy the movies and pizza paddle for a reason. After a workout and a chill evening, we voluntarily hung out with 3 cute little girls (ages 4, 6/7, & 9). Even though we don’t really want kids of our own, we do enjoy hanging out with other people’s kids! You can’t call it babysitting when we volunteer to do it, don’t get paid and have fun! The girls played with our kittens, made their own pizza, played with balloons and watched Fern Gully. Pretty sure the 3 adults in the room enjoyed the movie more than the kids!

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Next up…camel races!