Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.....A Bird's-Eye View

A friend captured this picture of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque recently. The SZGM is to me by far, the most beautiful building in Abu Dhabi. As long as I've lived here, I'm still taken aback by its beauty daily

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Missing My Mom

In October, I lost my beautiful mother to COPD. I can't begin to explain the depth of the loss I feel, and I won't try. Instead, I thought I'd share some pictures of Mom's visit to Abu Dhabi from 2012. As my sister and I were going through my Mom's belongings after the funeral, it made me smile to see all of her UAE treasures she had around her house from her trip. I remember I had to give her extra luggage when she left for everything she bought. I joked that my Mom was probably the only person to visit here and buy so much that she even had decor for her kitchen and bathrooms to take home with her.

This summer when I was in the US for vacation she talked about making another visit to the UAE. Oh, how wish she could have.

I remember being so happy to have her in my house I didn't want to let her go.

At the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Mom and the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

Mom and what I like to call the "Silver Surfers" at Dubai Mall

Dhow cruise around Dubai Marina at night.

Atlantis on the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai's large man made island shaped like a palm tree.

Beach BBQ at Traders Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Catching an Abu Dhabi Film Festival premiere at Emirates Palace.

Emirates Palace

Mom and Tyler at Le Boulanger, my favorite outdoor cafe.

More Emirates Palace

Mom with some of the future plans for Saadiyat Island.

Taking a Personal Rapid Transit, a driverless car, to lunch at Masdar City.

Inside the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Mom inside the SZGM.

A favorite of mine. Love and miss this woman so much.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Blu Skies

I’m about to let you in on a little secret that many in the United Arab Emirates don’t know about. It’s something I discovered on my very first visit to the UAE several years ago. Tucked away amongst the hotels on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island is an absolutely gorgeous hotel with breathtaking views, attentive staff, and fabulous food.
The Radisson Blu on Yas Island always brings a smile to my face, because it is where I fell in love with Abu Dhabi. I remember waking up my first morning in the emirate, and looking out from my balcony at the Radisson Blu in sheer amazement at the beautiful crystal clear Arabian Gulf, the beautifully manicured grounds of the hotel and the adjacent Yas Links Golf Course. As a matter of fact, it’s a picture taken from the balcony that morning that I share with people when I want to show off the place I now call home.
My favorite picture of Abu Dhabi taken from the Radisson Blu on Yas Island

Besides spectacular views, Radisson Blu on Yas Island boasts extremely comfortable and luxurious rooms with beds fit for a queen. The staff is extremely hospitable, and the customer service goes beyond that of many 5 star hotels. There are warm welcomes and smiling faces to greet you at every turn it seems.
As if the beautiful landscape and gracious staff aren’t enough to entice you to stay at Radisson Blu, they have absolutely amazing food. Whether it’s cheeseburgers and fries ordered from room service after midnight (I did this my first night, and my husband and I still talk about this meal), or the oh so fabulously delish Italian food offered at Filini, Radisson Blu’s dining choices are sure to please any palate. I highly recommend the PaccheriallaSiciliana at Filini, it’s a paccheri pasta with eggplant, smoked ricotta, and basil, it is one of my all time favorite pasta dishes.It will be love at first bite, trust me.
PaccheriallaSiciliana and Ravioli Gamberi 
Oh, and did I mention the spa? For the weary traveler or just someone that needs a relaxing escape from reality, the tranquil spa at Radisson Blu on Yas Island offers a variety of treatments to help you relieve stress and feel refreshed.  Or perhaps laying by the pool is how you like to unwind. Radisson Blu has your relaxation needs covered.
Are you thinking about booking a trip to Abu Dhabi, or perhaps a staycation here in the emirate? This fabulous hotel is close to all of Abu Dhabi’s attractions including Yas Marina Circuit F1 track, Ferrari World, and the new YasWaterworld. For a limited time guest can save 20% on bookings at Radisson BluYas Island in Abu Dhabi, and other select destinations including our neighbor to the north, Dubai. The Radisson Blu at Deira Creek in Dubai is also a splendid hotel with wonderful views of Deira Creek and it’s many dhow boats.
Book a stay with Radisson Blu, and I assure you an experience like no other. Make sure to sign up as a Club Carlson member and take advantage of future Radisson Blu offers around the world. I’ve stayed at several Radisson Blu hotels including properties in Milan and Salzburg and they all adhere to the same high level of customer service I’ve come to expect from this exceptional chain.
 I have been compensated for this article, but as a Club Carlson Member and Radisson Blu fan all experiences, thoughts, and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Raha International School - An Excellent Choice

In May our son, Andrew, sported a cap and gown down the aisle and was recognized at Raha International School's Graduation or Celebration as they called it. A few days ago, we actually received his final results from the International Baccalaureate for his Diploma Program exams he took for all of his subjects in early May. These exams are what determines if a student actually receives the coveted IB diploma and truly graduates. Yes, it's a little "cart before the horse", but lots of things are different when you're an expat kid.
Prior to moving to the UAE, I did extensive research on schools and the various curricula for our two teenagers. With university in sight, I knew the educational choices we made for them would be paramount to any other made during our move.

In my research I found that the International Baccalaureate fit our children perfectly, as both were excelling in all of their subjects at the private school they had attended in the US for many years. I have never been a fan of curricula that teach to a test like the Virginia Standards of Learning offered in public schools in our home state. To each his own, but I prefer my children learn to be free thinkers and learn to apply the knowledge they gain in the classroom to become global citizens. To me this is far more important than being able to mark A,B, or C on a multiple choice test. The IB curriculum may not fit every child, but the learner profile can be found here for those interested.
In 2010 when we made our move, Raha International School was the only all IB school in Abu Dhabi catering to all 12 grade levels. I'll be honest when I say there are no perfect schools in Abu Dhabi, they are all run as businesses and this can lead to some hiccups from time to time. Still, I can not say enough positive things about our experience at Raha.

The value of Raha and the IB education have become extremely evident this past week as we received my son's final marks. He indeed passed and has officially earned an International Baccalaureate Diploma, but that is not all he has earned. You see his scores on his final exams translate to credit hours at universities in the United States. In fact, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University aka Virginia Tech, which he will be attending in the fall, these exam scores have earned him a year's worth of credits at the university and he hasn't even started taking classes there yet. Not only has the IB reduced the time it will take him to earn a bachelor's degree, it has saved us thousands of US dollars in tuition. The later of the two my son keeps pointing out to us.

For my husband and I, it's nice to see choices we made as new expats years ago were the right ones. You can do tons of research, but sometimes you just never know until you see them played out. We are both extremely proud of Andrew, and we look forward to him being just as successful at Virginia Tech as he has been at Raha. He currently plans to stick with his Arabic language studies, so that he can return to Abu Dhabi to work after earning a degree in business.

He left for the US in June, and was only gone for about a week before he was telling me how much he missed the UAE. It's nice to know he loves this country he now calls his second home, again some reassurance that we made the right choice by moving here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Me vs. Salmonella

Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi

Due to some really bad luck and a weak immune system, I spent last week in Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi fighting a really bad case of Salmonella Typhimurium. This girl isn't a fan of hospitals, so waiting until I lost several pounds and needed what the doctors termed "IV resuscitation and rehydration" bought me a week long stay.

Before you start feeling bad for me having to endure a week in the hospital, this post is not about sympathy or pity. It's about my experience at Burjeel Hospital.

You see, since moving here one of my biggest fears has been having to be hospitalized. My family and I have had some less than desirable experiences with medical professionals here over the past few years, and the thought of having to stay in a medical facility for more than a day quite frankly scared me. I can honestly say Burjeel has laid my fears to rest.

First of all, let me say just stepping into Burjeel the germaphobe in me relaxes a bit. Yes, you can laugh at the fact that a self confessed germaphobe got Salmonella (I assure you it didn't come from my house though). Burjeel's facilities are immaculate, and their housekeeping staff is on hand cleaning throughout the day. When you're being admitted due to a bacterial infection this really means a lot.

Next, and the part that shocked me and my visitors is it's really hard to call Burjeel a hospital. As I was wheeled into my room, it was like entering a hotel suite not a hospital room. Yes, there was a hospital bed, but there was also a sitting area complete with sofa, coffee table, chair, and fridge. There was also a separate regular bed for guest and a changing area and wardrobe along with a large private bathroom. Oh, and I can't leave out the balcony! Although it had a safety lock, I had a balcony that ran the entire length of my room with an amazing view of Abu Dhabi and Reem Island. Friends joked that they were going to book their next staycation at Burjeel.

It wasn't just the amenities in the room that gave Burjeel a hotel like feel. My guest were able to order room service and have it delivered to my room on linen covered rolling tables complete with origami folded napkins. I didn't get to eat any of it, but my visitors all said the food was quite delicious and not what you would expect from a hospital restaurant. I was able to eat a bit of the the food prescribed for me my last 2 days there and it was not your typical hospital food. Even my bland diet wasn't bad. I should also mention, there's a lady that comes around with afternoon tea or coffee like clockwork everyday. Sadly, the state of my insides did not permit this coffee/tea lover to have any though.

Burjeel was plush and comfortable as hospitals go, but none of that would mean anything if the staff wasn't competent. Though extremely leery at first, the doctors and nursing staff put my mind to rest and I was able to relax and let them take care of me knowing they were all looking out for my best interest. The awesome nursing team on the 4th floor all went out of their way to try to make sure I was comfortable. Their round the clock care was the best nursing I have seen in Abu Dhabi.

My doctor, Dr. Hassan, was also top notch. My husband was in the US on business while I was in the hospital, and I joked that he must have been paying Dr. Hassan or telling him how hardheaded I can be. I'm not a fan of hospitals, so if I could have had it my way I would have been released way earlier than I probably should have been. I asked Dr. Hassan daily when could I leave, and he held fast to goals he had set for me with fluid and food intake before even considering my release. Looking back now and reviewing my lab reports I know I was very sick, and I'm so thankful Dr. Hassan stood his ground and kept me in the hospital where I needed to be.

I'm currently out of the hospital and still recovering on medication at home. I have conquered my fear of being hospitalized here, and might even not wait so long before seeking medical attention next time. Although, I pray there isn't a next time. Salmonella is serious stuff folks, especially if you have a weak immune system. This germaphobe will be even more cautious in the future.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Girl Time at The Galleria

Have you been to The Galleria at Maryah Island?  This weekend my daughter and I had the pleasure of visiting as The Galleria wrapped up its Spring Festival, an entertaining month filled with art, music, and films for audiences of all ages.

I don't think I have been in a more breathtaking "theater", as The Galleria had the Abu Dhabi skyline as its backdrop for its movie screenings. That's right, my daughter and I got to lay underneath the beautiful night sky on big comfy loungers and take in the Cherien Dabis film, Amreeka. Amreeka is about a Palestinian family that finds themselves plucked out of Bethlehem and dropped into American society. Great movie, and I especially recommend it to any expats here in the Middle East. It's an interesting look at the flip side of the coin.
The Galleria's theater with a view.

Al fresco dining at Emporio Armani Caffè
Prior to getting all cozy and enjoying the film, we enjoyed some retail therapy. With labels ranging from Gucci to Dior, and my daughter's favorite, Alexander McQueen, The Galleria will bring out the inner Carrie Bradshaw in any woman. I behaved myself for the most part, but I've put together an impressive birthday wishlist.

Perfect spot for a quiet dinner.
I can't leave out another magnificent part of our evening at The Galleria.....dinner! My lovely dinner date and I enjoyed a quiet dinner at Emporio Armani Caffè. As the name would suggest, Emporio Armani Caffè was created by the man himself, Mr. Giorgio Armani, and it serves a variety of Milanese fare. A perfect dinner choice for two girls that just so happen to love Milan.

Sorry, but as always, I have to share when I have a fabulous meal. For starters we shared the Vellutata di Zuchinne, a zucchini cream soup with Robiola cheese and croutons. Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables, and as I enjoyed every spoonful of this soup I felt slighted that I hadn't experienced it before now.
Vellutata di Zuchinne

We also enjoyed an Insalata di Tonno, perfectly grilled sesame and black pepper crusted tuna served over a bed of mixed greens with cherry tomatoes and eggplant. The flavorful warm tuna mixed with the robust flavors of the cold mixed salad form a perfect duet.

Insalata di Tonno

For our main course, we both were feeling carnivorous and opted for some of Armani's beef dishes. My daughter had the Tagliata di Manzo, a melt in your mouth beef tenderloin, that she claimed was "pure Heaven". Served atop a bed of plump perfectly cooked asparagus, she said she could not dare let a piece go to waste despite feeling quite full.
Tagliata di Manzo

I opted for a tender slow roasted veal shank, the Ossobuco. Served with a medley of some of my favorite roasted vegetables including squash and zucchini along with creamy mashed potatoes, the Ossobuco was one big delicious serving of comfort food. This dish reminds me of one my mother would have spent hours cooking while filling the house with delightful aromas.

We could have stopped at the main course, but my daughter's eyes lit up when she saw a warm chocolate fondant served with pistachio ice cream on the dolci menu. Suddenly, she got her second wind and had to have this Tortino al Cioccolato with a warm cup of hot chocolate. Based on the fact that she did not leave a single crumb behind, I would say she quite enjoyed it.
Tortino al Cioccolato

I believe it is safe to say that The Galleria and Emporio Armani Caffè get two thumbs up in not only my book, but my daughter's as well. She spent the entire night posting her "story" to her friends on Snapchat. As a mom of teenagers it's always nice to know you have successfully entertained them, and it would seem our evening at The Galleria was a smash hit.

The Galleria at Maryah Island
Thursday: 10am - 12am
Friday: 12 Noon - 12am
Saturday – Wednesday: 10am - 10pm

Weekdays: 10am - 10pm
Weekends: 10am - 12am

The Emporio Armani Caffè
Telephone: 02 676 6995

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Bedouin Affair

I was going through my pictures this week for other posts and came across my pictures from Valentine's Day. This year I took on the task of planning our Valentine's Day dinner, since the hubby did it last year. Knowing I could not compete with or even top his performance that made all of our male friends mad for making them look bad, I decided to go with a more simple affair.

I went with a Bedouin style Valentine's Day surprise, and chose the Kite Beach on Yas Island as the backdrop. The beach is about 10 minutes from our house, and gets its name from the hoards of kite surfers that you'll find there during the day every day of the week. We both love Abu Dhabi, so I thought enjoying the emirate's uniqueness and beauty would be a perfect way to spend Valentine's Day. I should also mention, it was wayyyyyy cheaper than Emirates Palace. Enjoy the pics!

Yes, they even have cleaners on the beach here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Revisiting Filini

Abu Dhabi is filled with many wonderful restaurants, it seems every week there is a new place springing up to try. Unfortunately, this makes it harder to get back to some places we've enjoyed eating at in the past. Such was the case for Filini at The Radisson Blu on Yas Island.

First off let me say, the Radisson Blu on Yas holds a special place in my heart. It was the first place I stayed in Abu Dhabi when I came over for my first visit in 2009. It's a lovely hotel, and the staff is very attentive. I was of course very excited to have a chance to sample some of the new and improved menu at Filini prepared by Chef Emanuele who hails from Italy. In all of our travels, Italian food and wine is pretty high on our list.
Filini at the Raddison Blu Yas Island

Chef Emanuele is absolutely amazing! I keep telling my friends it was like a completely different Filini. We started with an anipasto misto and capaccio di polipo. The anipasto misto was devine and had all of my favorites; Italian cold cuts, Buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomato, artichokes, along with grilled eggplant and squash. The veggie lover in me could have feasted on nothing but this and been happy. 
Anipasto Misto

The capaccio di polipo was quite tasty. For the non Italian speakers, polipo is octopus. Before those without more adventurous palates turn their noses up, let me just say you really shouldn't knock it till you try it. Thinly sliced and accompanied by asparagus and tomatoes comfit, the capaccio di polipo was quite good.

An Italian meal would not be an Italian meal without pasta. I have to say this was my favorite part of the entire meal. I'm the type of person where I'll have a dish I really enjoy, and it will stick in my mind forever. We were able to sample the Paccheri alla Siciliana, a paccheri pasta with eggplant, smoked ricotta, and basil. Take note, THIS IS AN ABSOLUTELY AMAZING PASTA DISH. When I think of Italian food now, it is the first dish that comes to my mind. Needless to say, I will be going back to Filini more often from now on for this masterpiece.
Paccheri alla Siciliana and Ravioli Gamberi 

We also had the ravioli gamberi, prawn stuffed ravioli in a delicious cherry tomato sauce. In my book, you can never go wrong with a seafood stuffed ravioli. The dish was hearty but not too heavy, and the sauce was reminiscent of those I've had during our travels in Italy.

One can't live on pasta alone, so for our next course we were introduced to some of the meat and fish dishes Filini offers. My husband was quite happy when we were presented agnello con patate e carciofi, roasted lamb chops with roasted baby potatoes and tender artichokes. To say the chops were succulent would be an understatement, another example of Chef Emanuele out doing himself.

Spigola al forno, a pan roasted sea bass was our choice of dishes from the sea. It was complimented by zucchini and a lovey confit tomato. The fish was cooked to perfection, not too dry and perfectly flaky. This was quite a mouth watering dish. Coming from coastal Virginia where seafood is a part of life, I can be quite critical when it comes to fish. I was really pleased to see Chef Emanuele really knew how to prepare fish just to the point of perfection. 

Dessert was a sampling of Filini's finest including tiramisu, cannolis, and chocolate soufflé. Tiramisu is a favorite of mine, and Filini's tiramisu is absolutely scrumptious.

Chef Emanuele is an absolute gem, and his creations are beyond delicious. I highly recommend an evening at Filini, I promise you will not be disappointed. You may even see me there enjoying my new fav, Paccheri alla Siciliana.

For Reservations Call: Tel: +971 2 656 2000
Opening hours:
Lunch: Noon - 15:00 (Daily)
Dinner: 18:00 - 23:30 (Daily)

Monday, February 17, 2014

My Favorite Abu Dhabi Wildcat Featured in Sport 360

Andrew "The Kid" Williams for Abu Dhabi

My son, Andrew, got the attention of Sport360 this weekend after his performance against Al Ain. Check out the story about my running back here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

My Favorite Salon in Abu Dhabi

Marquee at The Eastern Mangroves Promenade

I get asked all the time for recommendations for hair salons here, especially from new expats. There is nothing scarier than putting your locks into the hands of a stranger for most women. I'm probably the the worst, because in the states my hairdresser was my sister. I always knew with her I would get her best work, because unlike most stylists and their customers she would still have to face me after. Not to mention, I'm the big sister, so I know she is the one stylist that will listen to me......or else.

Well ladies, after searching and trying several salons in Abu Dhabi, I have found a true winner that ticks all the boxes for me. Marquee, a new salon that has opened up at the The Promenade at the Eastern Mangroves, has just won over this tough customer. I am absolutely in love with the place.

Marquee is all about glamour, and they set the mood for the experience right from the start. Guests are welcomed with a yummy fruit cocktail in a champagne flute to start your unforgettable experience, and the music playing takes you back to a time of old Hollywood glamour. At Marquee you can quickly let go of all your stresses, and imagine you are Hollywood royalty the likes of  Marilyn, Audrey, or Grace. 

My stylist for the day was Cat Hawkes, the Artistic Director for Marquee. Cat hails from London where she still owns a chain of salons. She made my day when she did what no other stylist in Abu Dhabi has done. She asked me lots of questions about my hair and about my style preferences. Cat then took time to assess my hair and scalp to see exactly what treatments would be of most benefit to me.

We then proceeded to the shampooing station that is state of the art. No uncomfortable shampoo chairs to be found at Marquee. My neck usually aches after getting my hair washed at most salons, but Marquee has chairs that recline till you are laying flat like on a bed. This really makes you feel like your hair and scalp are getting a spa treatment. 

My golden locks got the red carpet treatment literally. I had a Kevin Murphy Red Carpet hair facial, that's right I said hair facial. Hats off to Kevin Murphy, because he is a pure genius. I learned from Cat he is a world renowned stylist from Australia that developed a line of sulphate and paraben free hair treatments after not being satisfied with the numerous ones he tried.  

My locks were exfoliated and detoxified with a Maxi Wash that felt like sheer heaven. This wash removes all of the residues from using hair styling products, and opens up you hair for the nourishing treatments that follow. I then had a Balancing Wash applied to balance the pH level of my hair followed by a Hydrate Me Wash to quench my parched strands. Ladies, this experience really does have all the lovely tingling relaxing sensations of a facial, but on your head. 

The pampering didn't stop with the washes, I then had Kevin Murphy's Born Again Treatment Masque mixed with a Blonde Me treatment applied to my hair. Cat explained the Blonde Me would tone my blonde staving off any yellow or brassy tones.  After 10 minutes or so of relaxing under the steamer, again daydreaming of being a Hollywood starlet it was time to rinse. Again, I applaud the comfortable shampooing beds.

The last part of my Marquee experience is when Cat showed off her skills as a top notch stylist. I requested to keep my locks long, but really wanted a style that framed my face better. I admit after having a stylist here cut my hair too short a year and a half ago, I have been gun shy when it comes to getting it cut. Until I heard about Marquee, I was holding off getting a cut until I saw my sister this coming summer.

I received a cut that frames my face as requested using the Diamond Dry Cut method. This is the UAE, the country where meals are laden with gold, so I have to actually clarify that there were no diamonds used to cut my hair. The "diamonds" are referring to the angles dividing the curved sections of the scalp. You're thinking so what, but let me put this in laymen's terms what this type of cut does for those of us that aren't stylists. Cutting the hair this way tailors the cut to each individuals scalp and face shape. This makes for a more natural look cut, and it is easier for you to re-create that same great look at home that the stylist gives you the day you get your hair done.Thanks to Marquee, I have looked like I have just stepped out of the salon everyday since my visit.

Marquee gets a two thumbs up in my book. I highly recommend if you are looking for a stylist in Abu Dhabi look no further. Oh and don't despair Dubai, Marquee also has a salon at the Arabian Ranches Golf Club and another opening at The Lakes. Call and make a booking at Marquee today.

Before Marquee
After Marquee
Marquee Locations:


Location: Eastern Mangroves Promenade, Abu Dhabi
Opening hours: Seven days a week, 10am – 10pm
Telephone: 02 449 4044
Email: Reception.em@marquee.ae 


Location: First floor, Arabian Ranches Golf Club, Arabian Ranches, Dubai
Opening hours: Seven days a week, 8am – 8pm
Telephone: 04 420 7700
Email: Reception.argc@marquee.ae