Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rüdesheim, Germany - Oct 2008

Rüdesheim is a small town along the Rhine River, not too far from Wiesbaden, where I used to live in Germany. I have been there a couple of times, along the riverfront and town center, but I have never been to the viewpoint up on the hills until October 2008. I had just gotten my new Mini Cooper and drove around the area. I picked up a friend who lives nearby and ended up on this area.

Rüdesheim is in the heart of the Rheingau wine region. There are picturesque vineyards all over the area. It was October, harvest time, the vineyards were flaunting their autumn colors in full display. The viewpoint is at a park-like setting dominated by the Niederwald monument Germania, commemorating the Franco-Prussian War. The vista from this location was magnificent -- a panoramic scenery encompassing the winding river and the vibrant vineyard landscape below.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Making Some Noise

As the end was nearing to Grace and Jason stopping by each table with the photographer to take a picture with each group, someone from the Antonio family decided to get the family group to take one last photo with the bride and the groom. So we gathered all the Antonios as best as we can. There were a couple of people missing, although present at the wedding reception, that somehow did not make it in this group picture.

The photographer was encouraging all of us to scream as loud as we can. Yes, it was a rambunctious bunch. The two youngest in the family, Siena and Jayan, looked baffled and terrified. The other people at the reception were probably wondering what the ruckus was about.

Anyway, the picture below was the result. It's a great picture during a glorious event -- Grace and Jason's big day on 6 Sep 2009.

Click on the photo to enlarge.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Liwa Date Festival

I really haven't ventured out of Abu Dhabi the last two weeks. I am making up for it. Yesterday, my Friday off, I ventured deep into the UAE desert to check out the Liwa Date Festival. The Liwa Oasis is more than two hours drive from Abu Dhabi and approximately 20 miles from the Saudi Arabia border. It is located in Abu Dhabi's Western Region on the northern edge of Rub al Khali desert.

I have blogged about the mostly ornamental date palms in Abu Dhabi ( In Liwa area, date farming is serious business and an important branch of their economy.

With my java juice in hand, I was ready to go for the long drive thru the desolate desert.

I don't know how to operate the GPS on my vehicle. I did a quick internet check the night before on google map and mapquest, but the maps were not that straightforward. I actually relied on the sign shown below which was posted every 6 miles or so. I had to turn around at one point because I was not seeing the yellow signs anymore.

The following short clip is at about 30 minutes into my trip.

The picture shows about the half-way point to the Liwa Oasis.

Not knowing what to expect along the way, I brought with me lunch (chow mein, fried rice, and sweet and sour fish) from a grocery store in Abu Dhabi, and nuts and trail mix for snacks. I always have a box of bottled water in my vehicle. The refrigerated middle console is quite handy for cooled drinks.

Because it was Friday, the festival did not open until 2PM. I made a few stops along the way, as well as checking out the surrounding area of Liwa once I got there. I hope you are not sick of looking at pictures of orange colored sand dunes; I am always in awe seeing these wonderful displays by mother nature.

In some areas, the dunes encroach into the road. The edge of the fairly high dune pictured below is at the road's shoulder.

It is not all sand. There is actually quite a bit of green areas, and not all are palm dates.

I also noticed bales of hay that were "rolled". I am not sure what type of grass was grown to make the hay, but it would seem unlikely to grow grass for hay in the middle of a desert.

Along the way, I noticed the following house designed similar to the traditional Emirati fort.

And finally, the Liwa Date Festival.

Along with the displays of dates and contest for best dates, there were also exhibits of Liwa Oasis way of living from the past and market selling traditional local handicrafts. Most of the vendors were women wearing black niqab and abaya (full black veil and long black tunic). I really couldn't take too many picture for that reason.

A nice hand crafted coffee table and chair in the shape of a boat.

Just before my drive back to Abu Dhabi, as shown on the dashboard at 5:05PM, it was 49 degrees C or about 120 degrees F. It was not really that bad.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Exotic Fruits

One of the benefits living in the UAE is the variety of produce available. With the fertile Mediterranean countries not too far away, and the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia very accessible, fruits and vegetables from these areas are readily available here. I have had the pleasure to enjoy a lot of fruits and vegetables sold in Abu Dhabi that I grew up eating in the Philippines. I especially like the exotic tropical fruits.

The pictured fruits shown below, balimbing (starfruit) and atis (sugar apple or custard apple), are fruits that I grew up eating.

For two good-sized balimbing, I paid a little bit more than $2. They turned out to be sweet and succulent. They were eaten with a light sprinkle of salt.

The three pieces of atis cost less than $2. They were also sweet. But the fruit is full of black seeds, so there was not really that much of the fruit left to eat.

Mangoes, papayas, and coconuts are also plentiful here. There are many variety of mangoes from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. I prefer the smaller Indian mango that is a bit sour; I eat it with alamang, a Filipino salty shrimp paste. The papaya can be eaten green while still unripe. I usually slice it in smaller pieces then dip in in a vinegar, salt, and pepper sauce. I also use the unripe papaya for cooking tinolang manok, chicken soup with papaya and ginger. A ripened papaya is also a treat. It has a distinctive taste --hard to describe, but otherwise pleasing.

The coconut was purchased whole for less than $1. The vendor cuts the top off and slips a straw inside. The "buko" juice inside the coconut shell was wonderful. The shell is then cut in half to reveal the white coconut "meat". The meat from fresh, as well newer coconuts, are tender and tastier. Otherwise, the meat is quite hard for the older fruits.

When I stayed home for a day two weeks ago because of neck issues, the hotel staff was nice enough to send up a fruit basket for me. Included in the basket were rambutan, the reddish prickly fruit pictured below:

I don't think I have ever eaten this before. Once you remove the scary looking outer skin, a white, juicy flesh is revealed . It is quite tasty.

There are many other exotic, tropical fruits that are available in the UAE such as lanzones, jackfruit, durian, etc. There are still a whole bunch exotic fruits I have yet to try here in the UAE.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mall of the Emirates

Dubai has a host of super malls. The two that I have been to, the Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall, are just two examples. Malls, here, serve other practical purposes beside shopping. It is one of the more convenient places to meet. It is also a popular place to cool off when the temperature outside hovers 100+ degrees consistently.

To cool off even more, you can go skiing inside one of these malls. The Mall of the Emirates is home to Ski Dubai. The following is a description lifted from wikipedia:

"Opened in November 2005, the indoor resort features an 85-meter high indoor mountain with 5 slopes of varying steepness and difficulty, including a 400-meter-long run, the world's first indoor black run, and a 90-meter-long quarter pipe for snowboarders. A quad lift and a tow lift carry skiers and snowboarders up the mountain. Adjoining the slopes is a 3,000-square-meter Snow Park play area comprising sled and toboggan runs, an icy body slide, climbing towers, a snowball shooting gallery, an ice cave and a 3D theater. Other attractions include a mirror maze and a snowman-making area. Winter clothing, ski and snowboard equipment are included in the price of admission."

The Ski Dubai portion of the mall from the outside.

Ski Dubai from the inside.

Other parts of the Mall of the Emirates.