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Spain: Marbella and Mijas

Following three busy days of exploring Toledo and Granada and a hike in the Sierra Nevada that turned out much longer than expected due to us getting lost, we decided to spend some very relaxing days on the Costa del Sol, one of the sunniest parts of Spain and despite the throngs of tourists flocking to this area every year still a gorgeous coast.

La Costa del Sol: nice beaches, beautiful surroundings, and flowers everywhere!
La Costa del Sol: nice beaches, beautiful surroundings, and flowers everywhere!

We rented an apartment in a small village not far from Marbella, as we didn’t want to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle yet we did want to be able to visit the town – known for the many Arabs who visit it every summer – easily.

Not a bad view while having breakfast, right?
Not a bad view while having brunch, right?

That appeared to be slightly more complicated than expected. Or rather, we made it ourselves quite difficult. You see, I love the idea of days spending on the beach or by the pool, reading my book and listening some music, but once I finally get the chance to spend a day just doing that I feel bored easily and want to move my body. So I convinced Ahmed to walk on the beach to Marbella, which was ‘only’ 10 kilometers away from where we were.

It turned out 10 kilometers may appear little for a marathon runner, but it should not be underestimated when walking over the beach. After two hours or so we were only halfway. The sun was burning on our head and shoulders (of course we went during the hottest time of the day) and we did not exactly feel like walking another two hours, not to speak of how to get back.

The Costa del Sol as seen from Mijas Pueblo.
The Costa del Sol as seen from Mijas Pueblo.

So we decided to walk to the highway and hop on a bus. But that was also easier said than done: once at the bus stop we saw this bus was only coming once every two hours or so, and – you guessed it right – it had just passed. We had no other option than to hitchhike or take a taxi to the town. The former resulted impossible, but luckily we did find a taxi who stopped and took us, charging us a fortune that was difficult to bear knowing that we had a cute little rental car parked right under our apartment.

Marbella
Marbella

Marbella, however, was well worth the journey. Though the tourist boom has undoubtedly taken part of its former charm, it is a well maintained village and beautifully located.

 

Mijas Pueblo

What we liked even more was Mijas Pueblo, a tiny village up the mountains that is famous mainly because of its stunning views. Having learnt from our Marbella experience (I haven’t even talked about the adventure to get back to our apartment in the evening!) we decided to take our car and drive up the mountain.

Chapel in Mijas Pueblo
Chapel in Mijas Pueblo

Although this village, the views aside, doesn’t boast of many attractions, it is mainly worth visiting because of its typical Andalusian character of whitewashed houses and maze-like windy streets. In fact, it is one of the most visited Andalusian traditional white villages. To make your experience complete, you can rent a donkey taxi to go up and visit the town.

Experiencing with my camera
Experiencing with my camera

Ahmed and I decided to do the climb up the village without the help of a donkey, and I had a great time photographing all the gorgeous views, houses, alleys and flowers.

Snapshots of Mijas Pueblo
Snapshots of Mijas Pueblo

The following day we were going to our next destination, Córdoba, where we both had been before but about which we were both happily surprised. I’ll write about that in my next post.

In Mijas Pueblo
In Mijas Pueblo

Curious what happened on our way back from Marbella to our apartment? We thought there was only one bus going back, and only every two hours, so to be sure we decided to take the one before the last. We were at the bus stop 30 (!) minutes before the bus departed, but somehow it left without us, because I was looking for coins to pay the tickets and Ahmed was busy on his phone booking our next hotel!

We didn’t want to wait another two hours, so we tried to hitch-hike (no one even looked at us) or find a taxi (there weren’t any). Somehow, we were so busy looking for other ways to get home that we missed the last bus as well!

We were quite desperate when a friendly bus driver told us there was another bus going to where we had to go; we had to wait another 40 minutes or so but that was totally ok for us!

Sneak preview of my travels in April and May!

Spain: Toledo and Granada

Last April and May the hubby and I did some amazing travels, about which I hadn’t find the time yet to write about and show you some pics. The truth is we visited so many picturesque places and saw so many stunning things that I simply don’t know where to start and what images to show you.

So I decided to simply divide our travels into several posts as well as to make some collages to be able to show you some of the places we visited. Today I will talk about the two first towns we drove to after landing in Madrid (we didn’t skip the Spanish capital but kept it until the very end): Toledo and Granada.

 

Toledo

View of Toledo
View of Toledo

The small and amiable town of Toledo is located at only 70 kilometers south of Madrid and should be on anyone’s travel list. There is plenty to visit, but we went mainly for the stunning views.

The town, which may seem of little importance, has been the capital during Visigothic Spain, the capital of one of the richest Taifas of Al-Andalus, and of Castile, until the court moved to Madrid in the 16th century. The result is an interesting mix of cultures located on a hill and surrounded by hills, which offer scenic views of the medieval town.

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One of the city gates

Though we only stayed one night, we did feel we had enough time to explore the UNESCO-enlisted old town. If you like to enter the cathedral and museums you may want to stay another night. We were happy we had only planned one day in this town, because when we woke up the next day it was raining cats and dogs, and Toledo is a town you only want to visit when the weather is good.

 

Granada

Fountain in Granadas new mosque
Fountain in the garden of Granada’s new mosque overlooking the Alhambra

While driving south, the sky cleared and a warm spring sun appeared. We checked in at our hotel in the middle of the center and immediately took off to explore the town, as we had booked only one night here as well.

Several weeks prior to our trip we had tried to book tickets for the Alhambra, the enchanting attraction most people visit Granada for, but they were already sold out. Although it is possible to obtain tickets on the day of the visit, it is very difficult and we decided to forget about it this time, given that we had already visited the Alhambra when we visited the town nine years ago, albeit not together.

Alhambra
The Alhambra

Luckily, we did manage to see the Alhambra from outside from the touristy Plaza San Nicolás, both during the day, around sunset, and at night, which allowed us to observe the architectural marvel in its full glory.

Not being able to visit the city’s highlight also allowed us to focus on different historical places that are also well worth a visit but are often overlooked by tourists due to time restraints, such as the Madraza, an old Islamic school with magnificent Arabesque decorations.

The Madraza is currently a cultural space of the University of Granada.
The Madraza is currently a cultural space of the University of Granada.

Walking around in the town, we both wondered why we hadn’t chosen Granada to study back in 2005. We met in Sevilla, which perhaps has more to offer for young students, but Granada is at least as beautiful. Plus, it is known for being a university town and has plenty of interesting places to go to.

The Church of Santa, located right at the end of Plaza Nueva, was built on the site of a former mosque and used the minaret for its bell tower.
The Church of Santa, located right at the end of Plaza Nueva, was built on the site of a former mosque and used the minaret for its bell tower.

One interesting neighborhood is Albaicín, the city’s old Arabic neighborhood, where the windy streets and whitewashed houses haven’t changed much since it was inhabited by the Arabs.

Albaicín is a wonderful place in itself, but its most loved attraction is the views it offers of the Alhambra, as both the neighborhood and the palace are situated on two different hills.

Visitors watching the Alhambra from Plaza San Nicolás
Visitors watching the Alhambra from Plaza San Nicolás

The area also houses Granada’s new Great Mosque, which offers views as stunning as from Plaza San Nicolás, but without the throngs of tourists and locals that gather at the square around sunset.

Tapas at Albaicín neighborhood
Tapas in Albaicín neighborhood

In addition to this, Albaicín is a popular spot for a drink and tapas. Not only has Granada very good tapas, they are also not expensive at all. Often, you will be served a tapa with every drink you offer.

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Calle Galderería Nueva is a lively “souq-like” street full of teterías (tearooms) and shisha places

Descending from Albaicín we found ourselves in the middle of the huzzle and buzzle of Calle Galderería Nueva, a lively street full of small shops selling everything from Arabic-style clothing to accessories, tearooms, and shisha places.

By that time, we already realized we had made a mistake by only booking one night in this wonderful town, but we had already booked our next night elsewhere, so we could not change plans anymore.

Cahorros walk
Los Cahorros walk

On our way to the Costa del Sol we stopped by Monachil, a small town less than 10 kilometers away from Granada and gate to the gorgeous Sierra Nevada. We parked the car to do the Cahorros walk, a spectacular hike that follows a gorge, passes greener than green fields, and returns to the town over the mountain to offer incredible views.

Occasionally, we had to crawl during Los Cahorros walk
Occasionally, we had to crawl during Los Cahorros walk

The hike was a lot of fun, including hanging bridges, caves, metal handles to help you stay on the path, and sometimes the necessity to crawl to get past the overhanging rocks.

We did kinda lose our way (the route was not very well signposted) but to be honest I didn’t mind spending some extra hours hiking in this gorgeous landscape.

These were only the first three days of our trip, so stay tuned for more pictures and stories about the places we visited!

 

The Great Mosque of Córdoba

What I’ve been up to – July

While July was a relatively quiet month due to Ramadan and the summer holidays, I managed to have 15 articles published in the Saudi Gazette. Most events I covered this month concerned art exhibitions and other cultural events. I also wrote several health features. In addition, the three articles about my trip to Singapore came out, in addition to another travel article to a very special place.

Art & Culture

Painting from the exhibition "The Language of Human Consciousness"
Painting from the exhibition “The Language of Human Consciousness”

One of the largest events this month was the opening on July 10 of the mega exhibition “The Language of Human Consciousness” at Athr Gallery about geometry. The inauguration included a panel discussion led by Tate Modern Director Chris Dercon. Unfortunately, the talk was not very entertaining, as it was rather technical and abstract; the exhibition itself is all the more interesting, with works from over 20 galleries around the world. Read the article here.

Germans and Saudis celebrate Germany's victory of the World Cup.
Germans and Saudis celebrate Germany’s victory of the World Cup.

Another major event was, of course, the World Cup final matches, and though I was sorry Holland didn’t make it to the final I was happy to support our neighbor Germany for once. The consulate was pretty packed and the atmosphere tensed, until the Germans, nearly at the end of the extra time, saved their country’s pride and reputation. This picture was published in the Saudi Gazette a few days later.

France Consulate celebrating its national day
France Consulate celebrating its national day

 

World Cup champion or not, the French had their own celebration the day after, when the consulate observed “Le Quatorze Juillet” or July 14 National Day. It was a pretty plane event without any surprises, but there were some interesting remarks in the speech (in Arabic) by the French consul general.

Woman selling traditional foods in Al-Balad
Woman selling traditional foods in Al-Balad

Together with my family-in-law, I also visited Jeddah’s Old Town, which held a festival on the occasion of Ramadan. We were all amazed by how Al-Balad (the old town) had been changed. The municipality has truly done a great job reviving this area, and we all hope it will continue its efforts. I interviewed my husband’s stepfather and mother-in-law for the article, which came out on the newspaper’s front page!

Exhibition on Saudi Arabia in Singapore
Exhibition on Saudi Arabia in Singapore

The festival in Al-Balad is not the only thing the Saudi authorities are doing to revive their culture and heritage; when I was in Singapore nearly two months ago I came across an exhibition on “The Kingdom” (as Saudis themselves refer to their country) organized by the Saudi Embassy there. I thought it would be nice to write about it.

Lastly, I wrote something on the iRead competition organized by Saudi Aramco, which aims to promote reading in this country. The sad truth is that almost no one here reads novels.

 

Food

"Straits Kitchen," a halal restaurant at Grand Hyatt Singapore
“Straits Kitchen,” a halal restaurant at Grand Hyatt Singapore

Food-wise, July was a quiet month as well. For some reason, I don’t really like dining out during Ramadan. In the evening, when breaking the fast, I like to keep things light on my stomach (and most restaurants charge you for an exorbitant buffet), and in the morning I am careful not to eat things that make me thirsty. However, I did write an article on the halal dining scene in Singapore, as the press trip I attended focused on that. And I must say, for a country with only a Muslim majority it does have a large variety of halal venues. (I didn’t try any of the meat though.)

 

Travel

Singapore's infinity pool on top of Marina Bay Sands
Singapore’s infinity pool on top of Marina Bay Sands

On this blog I already wrote about my trip to Singapore in June. However, my most important article on this press trip for our travel page came out on July 5. I decided to focus on Singapore as an ideal destination for Saudi families.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba, Spain
The Great Mosque of Córdoba, Spain

Although I didn’t travel in July, I did also write an article about the Great Mosque of Córdoba in Southern Spain, which I visited with hubby in April. This mosque holds a very special place in my heart, and if you haven’t been there yet you should schedule your next trip! I will hopefully soon write more about the great trip we did in April and May this year.

 

Health & Green Living

Sambousa - a favorite during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia
Sambousa – a favorite during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia

For our Wholesome Living page, which comes out every Saturday, I focused this month on Ramadan-related health issues. My first article was on how to get healthy and fit during Ramadan. (Note: fried sambousas, as seen in the picture above, do NOT fit in a healthful Ramadan diet!)

Something that really bothers me to see here is the amount of food wasted throughout the year, but especially in Ramadan. I wrote about this issue before in the Arab News, but after reading that Saudis on average throw away an appalling 35 to 40 percent of cooked rice I knew I had to write about this again.

The last health story this month was about a topic relevant all year long: the fat vs. sugar debate. I have been noticing that lately, nutritionists (whether professionals or semi-professionals) seem to blame the obesity epidemic on the amount of sugar we eat. Low-fat is so 1990s, you could say. I was very curious what scientific studies say about this and came across a very interesting BBC video, which I used for an article on this topic.

 

Miscellaneous

Signature Interiors' new showroom
Signature Interiors’ new showroom

To conclude this post, I wrote several miscellaneous articles, such as this one about the opening of a new showroom. I just love their designs as well as the furniture and art they get from India, Turkey, and the Middle East. I would definitely furnish my house with their stuff if I had the money!

I also got in touch with someone who created a website to check how much salary you should get. I doubt its accuracy, because I got a ridiculously high amount – more than 2.5 times as much as I currently earn! Nevertheless did I write about the website, as I do support the idea.

U.S. Consul General Anne Casper during her farewell speech
U.S. Consul General Anne Casper during her farewell speech

A last event I attended was an iftar (breaking of the fast) on the second day of Ramadan organized by the U.S. Consulate. While this is a yearly event, this time it was combined with the farewell of the U.S. Consul General Anne Casper. Read the article here.

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Ramadan 2014: How did it go?

So here we are, nearly on the eve of Eid (al-Fitr, also known as the “Sugar Feast”), the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.

I can’t wait for Ramadan to be over, but on the other hand I can’t believe it’s been a month I wrote this post with tips for a happy Ramadan. This year, I was determined to spend the holy Muslim month in a useful and positive way. Did I succeed? Read below to find out how I did regarding diet, training, energy levels, and work.

(Pictures are taken during a trip to Al-Balad, Jeddah’s Historical Town that recently gained Unesco status, and from an iftar meal (breaking of the fast) at my mother-in-law’s)

 

Diet

Iftar table set at my mother-in-law
Lavish iftar table set at my mother-in-law’s

During previous Ramadan months I sometimes struggled to eat enough. A few years ago I ended up with (not wanted) weight loss and anemia. This year I paid extra attention to my diet, eating enough complex carbs, (mainly plant-based) protein, and healthy fats. I mostly ate a relatively small iftar in order to be able to do my runs later in the evening. Following my trainings I would have a meal with proteins and carbs. As planned, we ate suhoor around 1 a.m. (though this shifted to 2 a.m. as the month progressed) and went to bed between 2 and 2:30 a.m. I then woke up again some 10 minutes before the Fajr (dawn) prayer to eat yoghurt with oats and muesli and dates.

Balilah - a traditional Ramadan dish containing chickpeas, pickles, vinegar, and optional) hot sauce
Balilah – a traditional Ramadan dish containing chickpeas, pickles, vinegar, and (optional) hot sauce

The result is that my weight remained stable, so in this sense I was successful.

 

Training

Jeddahs Old Town Al-Balad) during Ramadan
Jeddah’s Old Town Al-Balad) during Ramadan

My goal was to take it easy on the exercise front and not run more than an hour a day four times a week. I later changed this to 45 minutes, as I also wanted to incorporate some strength training in my sessions and did not want to exceed much over one hour.

Despite my high energy levels I could stick to this, and after four weeks of following this schedule I can say that I probably maintained my fitness pretty well. This last week, however, I felt weaker than before, and so I am looking forward to build up my strength and stamina again after this month. I also got some pain in my hip, which could be due to dehydration or the extra burden on my body as it couldn’t recover that well during the day. Often, it was difficult to motivate myself, but once a week I ran outside with some running buddies, which gave me the energy to keep up my trainings.

Woman selling traditional foods in Al-Balad
Woman selling traditional foods in Al-Balad

Before Ramadan, I thought I would focus on cross-training on the days I did not run, but the truth is I haven’t done much swimming or spinning. In this sense, I failed I guess. (I did buy goggles today, so I may be more motivated to go swimming from now on. Haven’t tried them yet, though.)

 

Energy levels

People praying on the streets of Jeddah
People praying on the streets of Jeddah

The question is: Did my diet and training regimes help me to remain energetic and positive this month?

The first week was terrific. I felt good and although I was tired in the afternoon due to low blood sugar and dehydration, I recovered quickly after breaking the fast. I studied Arabic every day, did my runs and had to really force myself not to get carried away. I also did my work as usual.

Traditional sandals sold in Al-Balad
Traditional sandals sold in Al-Balad

The second week was already more difficult, with a major dip around the end of the week on my birthday. I found it hard to concentrate and felt lazy and sluggish. While I always struggle a bit with getting myself to write this week it was even more difficult to force myself to be productive.

The third and fourth week were even worse, and today and yesterday I spent the weekend working because I thought I didn’t do enough during the week. Feeling lazy and unproductive is a shortcut for me to be down, so I have been having a hard time to stay positive. As I said, I can’t wait for this month to be over.

 

Work

My husbands stepfather
My husband’s stepfather showed us around in Al-Balad

As said, though the first week I managed to do my work as usual, the weeks after I struggled to be productive. I tend to procrastinate and while on normal days I can then get a coffee and force myself to write during Ramadan my concentration went below zero. I truly believe it is the low sugar and dehydration that fogs my brain and makes it impossible to think clearly, and so I can’t wait to go back to my normal routine.

 

Some last thoughts  on Ramadan 2014

Sambousa - a favorite during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia
Sambousa – a favorite during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia

All in all, I think I did best on the diet and exercise front. I am less happy with how things went regarding work and energy levels/boredom. Also, I probably saw too little daylight, which affected my mood as well.

I think I also missed a good opportunity to focus on spirituality this month. The truth is I wasn’t very motivated to read about Islam or other faiths. Somehow, so little can be done on Ramadan days; so much time is spent preparing iftar and at my family-in-law’s. On the other hand, this gave me the opportunity to practice my Arabic, and although it is difficult to say whether I improved I do think I learned some important new words. In any case, I am excited to go back to taking Arabic classes in September/October, so my wish to learn Arabic did revive.

Ramadan festival in Al-Balad
Ramadan festival in Al-Balad

Lastly, I think for a person who is convinced of Islam and Ramadan being part of that it is much easier to fast a whole month. For me, it is just something I do because I happen to be married to a Saudi. I never chose to follow this faith myself, and I am not so sure about the benefits of fasting. If I saw it as an ordeal and tried to meditate and read about different faiths more this month would perhaps be easier and more beneficial. What do you think?

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Al-Balad was recently declared a Unesco World Heritage Site…
Despite Al-Balads recent recognition as
…despite that, many buildings are still in a dire state

Happy Eid!

World Cup opening

What I’ve been up to – June

Believe me, I’ve been intending to write this post about half a month ago. Or actually, by the end of June I was already thinking I should prepare my write-up about that month, before July passes and I haven’t told you yet about the events I attended and articles I wrote. It happened to me before, you know.

Come July 19, and I still haven’t posted you about what I’ve been up to last month. The truth is: Every week I had something (I thought) more interesting to talk about, such as my tips for a happy Ramadan, my trip in June to Singapore, and, not to forget, my birthday. But, no worries, ’cause here is an overview of the articles I wrote this month.

 

Art & Culture

Caribbean beats at the French Consulate
Caribbean beats at the French Consulate

The most spectacular event of the month was the opening of World Cup at the French Consulate. It was probably more swinging than the Brazilian one in Sao Paulo. Though the Caribbean beats and dance were not exactly “Saudi-proof,” I wrote about it in the paper. Of course, with some self-censure applied.

Landscape impressions by Idris Al-Daw
Landscape impressions by Idris Al-Daw

The French Consulate did not organize only this event, however. Throughout the year, it has been giving French, Saudi, other Arab, and even African artists the chance to showcase their work at the consulate. Two exhibitions I covered were the one about landscape impressions and women expressions as well as the first African art exhibition.

The Italian football team
The Italian football team

And as we’re talking about football, the Italians and British decided to challenge each other on the evening before the game in Brazil. Guess what? The British beat the Italians easily. Luckily, for the Italians, this was not an omen for the ‘real’ game in Manaus.

Performance during the celebration of the Italian National Day
Performance during the celebration of the Italian National Day

The Italians were more successful during the celebration of their national day on June 2, though, truth be told, they had some technical issues as well. Read about it in my article.

Graphic Design exhibition at Dar Al-Hekma University
Graphic Design exhibition at Dar Al-Hekma University

And, lastly, I covered a graphic design exhibition at one of Jeddah’s major private universities, where I saw some impressive work by senior students.

Food

Faris Al-Torki, owner of #F6_or Faris - a breakfast joint born out of a hashtag
Faris Al-Torki, owner of #F6_or Faris – a breakfast joint born out of a hashtag

Earlier this year, I did a restaurant review for a very special place in Jeddah: a small joint on Tahlia Street that was born out of a hashtag called #F6or_Faris (pronounce Futoor Faris, which translates as Faris’ Breakfast). It’s a very interesting story and the owner was simply amazing! He is an example for many Saudi entrepreneurs.

Breakfast at F6or_Faris
Breakfast at F6or_Faris

Plus his breakfast isn’t bad, either! Faris is opening a second branch now on King Road.

Breakfast at F6or_Faris
Breakfast at F6or_Faris

After writing the article, I realized breakfast joints have been mushrooming in the city in the last few years and decided to write about it.

World Cup nights at Park Hyatt
World Cup nights at Park Hyatt

Another food and World Cup-related article was my piece about Park Hyatt, which organized special “World Cup nights” at their Andalusia Restaurant, including the possibility to watch the matches with colleagues or family in one of the air-conditioned tents.

 

Travel

Bratislava Old Town
Bratislava Old Town

About a year ago, I traveled to Vienna and Bratislava to accompany my husband on a business trip. I had been to both cities before, I was impressed by both cities, and I wrote an article about both for the Saudi Gazette. The one about the Slovakian capital came out this month.

 

Health

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I wrote quite a lot on health-related issues. One thing I thought would be nice to cover is the pre-holiday stress many people experience. I did my research and wrote about the topic in my article “Relax! Holiday season is almost there.”

Another thing I thought would be interesting is a plea for a healthy diet. You know, there are so many diets these days – paleo, vegan, intermittent fasting, gluten-free – while in the end being healthy shouldn’t be that complicated. I believe the secret lies in just a little bit of everything: No forbidden foods or combinations, just common sense. Easy, right? (That does not mean I don’t support certain diets. For me, following a vegetarian diet is very easy, and I do it for ethical and environmental reasons. However, when talking purely about health, I think eating a bit of everything is most beneficial.)

With Ramadan around the corner, I also decided to tackle some issues regarding this holy month. One such topic I had been wanting to cover for years was whether diabetics should or should not fast. I got good feedback about the article.

Secondly, I wanted to stress on the impact of giving and charity on our well-being. I figured Ramadan was the perfect time of the year to write about that.

 

Miscellaneous

A front page story about a Dutch politician who converted to Islam and is to establish the first Islamic political party in Europe appeared in the Saudi Gazette on 22 October.

My manager has been encouraging me to start doing business interviews. While I still need to get into the routine of approaching CEOs and other business people I did make an attempt this month during an interview with the CEO and General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Saudi Arabia.

Lastly, you may have heard about the row between Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands due to an anti-Islam sticker by a very stupid Dutch parliamentarian. Much has been said about the issue, but I felt I wanted to have a word as well, given my position as a Dutch married to a Saudi. Plus, most opinions are either totally pro-Dutch of pro-Saudi, and I felt a more balanced argument was needed. Hence, I wrote an opinion article for the Saudi Gazette on the matter.

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Birthday thoughts – turning 28

A few days ago I came across an article about turning 28. What a coincidence, I thought, as I would be 28 in a few days. I knew the article was gonna ravage my mood, as it was full of warnings and well-meant advises about reaching this “turning point.”

You may wonder why on earth 28 would be a turning point, but according to this article, when we reach this age we need to get serious about dating – especially if you want to have kids, ’cause, you know, your biological clock is ticking; career – if you wanna switch careers do it now, or else you’ll be stuck in a field you don’t like forever; health – you may have gotten away with junk food until this age, but you should really start watching every bite you stuff in your face to avoid excess fat on the abdomen/hips/butt/you-name-it.

Last year's birthday cheesecake
Last year’s birthday cheesecake

Objectively speaking, I shouldn’t be too worried (as no one should). After all, aging happens only gradually, and a number, in the end, is just a number. What matters more is how you treat your body, I believe. Give it some exercise, some wholesome food, and don’t skimp on sleep. And, not to forget, a little fun from time to time goes a long way as well.

That is not to say I don’t feel like being in a transition period. I don’t know (and don’t care) if it’s the age, but my husband and I have been playing with the idea of change, and we both are convinced we need some new challenges during the course of this year.

For me, that challenge could be anything, from exercise challenges to improving my Arabic, and from taking a course in journalism or writing to enhance my skills to reading some inspiring books.

Turning 27 and getting a golden medal from a friend.
Turning 27 and getting a golden medal from a friend.

Or, maybe, just maybe, we take a leap of faith and decide on some drastic changes. Let’s see what happens in the next few months.

Lovely birthday gifts from some friends
Lovely birthday gifts from some friends

And, to totally wipe out the birhday blues: Turns out women are happiest at the age of 28. Ha! Cheers to a great year!

 

Singapore

Singapore: utopia on earth?

Last month, my work allowed me to travel again. I can hardly keep up with all the trips I made in the last 12 months. Following media trips to Switzerland (read here part 1, 2, and 3), Abu Dhabi and London I was invited on a visit to the tiny city-state of Singapore in South-East Asia.

Singapore skyline by night
Singapore skyline by night

I had been once to Singapore before, with my husband on our way to New-Zealand back in 2012. In that time, we stayed a few nights to rest from the first leg of our journey and diminish the effects of the jet lag we would sure have. We walked around and saw some of the highlights, but by far not everything there is to do and see.

The Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay hosts flowers from all over the world.
The Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay contains flowers from all over the world.

Although Singapore is one of the smallest states worldwide, it actually has a lot to offer for tourists. However, what makes the country unique for me is that it is one of the most religiously diverse places in the world. In Singapore, you will find a Buddhist temple on Mosque Street, or a mosque next to a church. But what you don’t find is people fighting because of their religion. Singapore is a very tranquil country in which the different ethnic groups live next to and with each other peacefully.

Sultan Mosque, the largest mosque in Singapore
Sultan Mosque, the largest mosque in Singapore

When the Brits set foot on the island back in 1819, the population was predominantly Malay. However, soon the country became dominated by immigrants from China, Malaysia, and India. The fourth major group are the “Eurasians,” descendants from mixed European and Asian marriages.

While the British planned to separate the various ethnics in different neighborhoods – hence the still existing China Town, Little India, and Arab Quarter – they ended up living together without any problems.

The result of this is also a very interesting cuisine, and we got the chance to make some of its dishes during a cooking class at Food Playground.

Satay with tofu
Satay with tofu

I finally got to learn how to make Chicken Satay (tofu for me), a dish I truly love and is quite popular in the Netherlands as well due to the Indonesian influence there. I could eat peanut sauce every day and not get bored of it! I was surprised how complicated and time consuming it is to make good peanut sauce, though. I remember seeing some recipes on the Internet calling for peanut butter, water, soy sauce, and perhaps a little chilli, but I can tell you that is not the real thing! This was so much tastier and unlike any peanut sauce I had before. If I have enough courage and time I will try to replicate this recipe at home.

Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow

We also made Char Kway Teow, a fried noodle dish with egg, prawns (not for me) garlic, chives, bean sprouts and soy sauce. I’m not a big noodle eater, but this was definitely an easy to make and quite tasty dish.

Kueh Dadar, or stuffed coconut crepes
Kueh Dadar, or stuffed coconut crepes

Naturally, our meal wouldn’t be complete without ending it on a sweet note. For this we made crepes made of flour, egg, coconut milk and pandan juice (which gives it the green color) stuffed with a concoction of grated coconut and palm sugar. As you can see on the picture, I became quite a master in Kueh Dadar!

Infinity pool
Marina Bay Sands infinity pool

The cooking class was the highlight of the trip for me. I always enjoy trying new dishes and learning about ingredients.

Another highlight was our visit to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and particularly the infinity pool on top of the three skyscrapers. Too bad we just had a glimpse of the rooftop swimming pool, but it was nevertheless special to see.

Singapore's infinity pool on top of Marina Bay Sands
Singapore’s infinity pool on top of Marina Bay Sands

As always, we had way too little time to see and do it all, so it would always be a good idea to come back. To find out what other highlights we visited you can check the article I wrote in the Saudi Gazette: “Singapore: A family friendly getaway.”

Gardens by the Bay
Gardens by the Bay
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