A weekend in Dubai

…2+ months later!

Way back in March, just over a week after returning from Athens, Jeff and I flew down to Dubai for a 3-day weekend. This time it wasn’t all fun and games…we attended and presented at the Google Apps for Education Summit at the American School of Dubai. Professionally it was a great experience for both of us and we’re excited to collaborate in the future with the new people we added to our PLN. Small world – one of the organizers of the Summit also graduated from Hope College. It was great to meet and hang out with Cindy 🙂

Even though the trip was short (approx 72 hours), we were able to squeeze in a little fun too! The trip started with the mandatory stop at the Duty Free store on our way out of the airport 😉 Thursday night we taxi’d from our hotel to The Walk at the Dubai Marina. We did (in fact) a little walking and took in the area. Unfortunately the views of the water weren’t too great because of the construction. We ate Mexican while sitting outside – the people watching was pretty fantastic. We were immediately struck by how many Westerners there were and by the amount of skin people were showing. We weren’t in Kuwait anymore!

After getting in quite late on Wednesday night, we had a little time change mishap on Thursday morning. We made sure to set several alarms for Thursday morning…but none of our devices switched to Dubai time (1-hour ahead of Kuwait) and there wasn’t a clock in the hotel room! We arrived a little late to the summit, but luckily we didn’t miss much! Our hotel was close enough to ASK to walk which was nice…even if it was hot and we had to brave the traffic.

After the conclusion of the Summit on Friday, we met a few other presenters for dinner at the Emirates Golf Club. We had a lovely dinner at M’s before heading downstairs to help Spike Bar close up for the night. The food was delicious but it was quite refreshing to be able to order & enjoy adult beverages at a restaurant! Since the night was still young, we stopped by the bar at a friend’s hotel. A great time was had by all!

Golf club lamp @ Emirates Golf Club

Saturday we hopped on the metro (with all our bags!) and stopped by the Dubai Mall on our way to the airport. As one of the world’s biggest malls, it was quite overwhelming. We ate lunch while gazing up at the world’s tallest building, had a quick encounter with a shark at the aquarium and wished we had time for ice skating!

ASD was gorgeous and Dubai was definitely a new take on the Middle East. It did seem a little sterile though…it was hard to find any culture because everything was so shiny and new. Our only regret of the whirlwind trip was that we didn’t buy Peter, our dads and Uncle Jim (& all the rest of you who play) golf paraphernalia from the Emirates Golf Club. Hopefully you guys can forgive us!

ASD campus from our hotel room

REAL grass!

To see all our photos from the trip, check out our camera and iPhone albums.

Our Guide: Phuket

Where We Stayed:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Guide to Kuwait Visitor Visas for American Citizens

When Andrew and Shannon came to visit, we wanted to make sure they knew exactly what to do when they got to the airport. Although it is free for Americans to obtain a visitor visa in Kuwait, we do in fact need them. So for future family members that come visit here is a how-to guide! Thanks bunches to Bryn and Dana for helping put this together (I didn’t actually do much work)!

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….

20130225-101038.jpg

…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!

20130225-172017.jpg

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.

20130225-202415.jpg

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!

20130225-204542.jpg

Fried baby blunt snouted (mullet)

20130225-204559.jpg

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!

20130223-223923.jpg

Can you see the cache?

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

20130223-224026.jpg
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.

20130223-225130.jpg

Greek wine!

We headed back to Smile for more deliciously amazing food!

20130223-225324.jpg

Spanakopita

20130223-225414.jpg

Moussaka

20130223-225445.jpg

Pork souvlaki

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

Καληνύχτα και όνειρα γλυκά

We made it…finally!

It has been a DAY! We were at the airport in Kuwait by 3am. Our flight left on time and we were excited to experience Qatar Airways for the first time. When we arrived in Doha, it took us awhile to get off the plane (we were near the back), get on the bus, go through security and arrive at our gate to leave for Athens. By then they had closed the gate and would not let us on (even though we didn’t have any checked luggage). No one along the way ever gave us special consideration thinking that we might miss our connection. We were not the only ones from our flight (but apparently there were a few who did make it) and we were told to go to be transfer desk. We were booked for the 1pm flight…and that’s all. We were nice and asked what they could do for us…nada. Upon further insistence we did get a voucher for (nasty) breakfast. Luckily I didn’t get the I edible eggs on toast like Jeff and Abby!

20130222-221523.jpg
Amongst all this…the blame was put on US for not making our connection. We were labeled as ‘gate no show.’ The most frustrating thing throughout the whole morning was that they never took responsibility for what happened. And they didn’t treat those passengers who missed the flight the same (some got into the silver lounge…others had to beg to even be put on the 1pm flight). The positive was that the airport did have free wifi! The views flying out of Doha were beautiful!! (Pictures when we get back)

In Athens, we missed he metro into the city by 10 seconds (literally) and then had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. We switched to the tram in the center of the city on our way to our AirBnB apartment. When our stop came…the door didn’t open! We had to go past our stop and walk back in the pouring rain. Jeff left to see about getting a SIM card for his phone and Abby and I waited to see if our ‘host’ showed up. She did…minutes after Jeff left but we had no way to contact him!

We finally made it to the cute apartment!

20130222-220929.jpg

Luckily the rain had stopped so we dropped our stuff and headed out for a bit to eat at a recommended restaurant!

20130222-221057.jpg
It was amazing to be able to order a beer with dinner again!

20130222-221626.jpg
The food was amazing…(oven baked feta)

20130222-221734.jpg
…but the gyros were to die for! In Abby’s words…”I’ve never eaten a gyro until this moment.”

20130222-221845.jpg
On top of the amazing food, the service at Smiles was fantastic! We may or may not be contemplating going back everyday 😉

Goodnight from Greece!

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