Palestine, UAE, Syria, Egypt and Iran. . . Day 20

We have spent nearly 9 weeks now studying the F&B industry in both the US and abroad in support of our project. While working here in the UAE we wanted to get better acclimated with the local food . . . we had mastered every variation of the shawarma but surly there had to be more. We did a great deal of research to find the hidden local food spots. . . outside of the glamorous, tourist filled city of Dubai, littered with more US food chains than the entire state of Ohio. Ultimately we settled on a food tour offered in old town Deira.

 

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Scheduled for 5 hours after work we tactfully planned our day around limiting our food intake. We met our guide Arva and seven other foodies down in Deira to commence our middle eastern food tour. . .

Our first stop . . . Qwaider Al Nabulsi . . . part falafel and shawarma shop part Palestinian sweet shop

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They made homemade, stuffed falafel with tatbeela. . .

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then we headed to the other side for . . .

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 Musakhan, a Palestinian chicken pie (much better than it looks). . . this is great. . . we are still at the first stop and I am not only learning about new foods but also about the way you eat them . . . there’s a method for everything and they hold the traditions of how you eat as high as the food itself. . . I love it

 We finished off with kunafa, a cheese pie with kataifi noodle pastry on the top

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 Gina has mentioned on this trip that she would like to open a kunafa shop back in the US, and now I can see why . . . incredibly addicting. At this point Arva suggests that our stomachs should be approximately 15% full . . . “oh boy” . . . I need to start pacing myself

 

Next stop . . . baklava and Arabian coffee. . . along with coffee etiquette at Samadi Sweets

         1.)  If I do not offer you coffee when you enter my home, you are not welcome

         2.)  If you do not accept the coffee, you are here on serious business and need to talk

         3.)  Always accept with your right hand

so much baklava

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I mean . . . do I even need to say anything?

 

 

Continuing on our way . . . we make a quick pit stop in an ice cream shop. Syrian pistachio Boozah ice cream

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We watch as they beat out the ice cream and roll it. . . made with extra polymers the ice cream is actually cut and eaten with a fork. . . probably discovered due to the fact that anything normal form of ice cream would liquify with the first scoop here.

 

Next we head on for Egyptian feeter (pizza). As a note, the desserts are mixed intermittently with the main course offerings as middle easterners incorporate sweets throughout the day. I loved this guy . . . tossing the dough around, he gets it about 4 times as large as a regular pizza and very very thin. . . then they fill with the normal toppings and roll the pizza dough over the top . . . it was amazing.

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As we are exiting . . they tell us to take the remaining pieces . . Travis houses 5 pieces of pizza . . . so much for being at 35%

 

 

Al Tawasol, our fifth stop . . . consists of traditional Emirati lamb machboos and laham salona. . . served over two kinds of rice and laban (drinking yogurt)

 

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and we learned the three different methods for eating with your hands. . .

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Despite being incredibly hot in this tent . . . it was an awesome experience.

 

 

As we continued, we made a stop at Sadaf Iranian Sweets and Spices, where our tour guide and her mother do their spice shopping. Our tour guide lives in this neighborhood and has for most of her life. . . it’s been amazing to see her interact with the shop owners.

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throughout the tour, Arva keeps mentioning ‘using different eyes’ and the way that you look at food. It is not uncommon for shop owners to simply hand over full sized portions as a tasting sample based on this method . . . it happened so frequently that several members on the tour were now avoiding this . . . I was well over 100% at this point . . . still one more stop

 

We finished the tour at an Iranian restaurant, Abshar

We saw how they make Iranian Sangak (stone bread) which might be the best bread I have ever had . . . which we ate with cheese and rayhaan leaves as a small sandwich. . . won as my favorite thing on the tour

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 Mahkloot Faloodeh. . . the Iranian sundae . . . served with frozen sugar syrup, rose water, saffron ice cream

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And Iranian black tea

 

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This tour was one of the highlights of my stay here in Dubai. Aside from the amazing food, Arva made the tour so much more than that. Her story is very interesting, born and raised in Sharjah and Dubai. . . she later moved to the US and received her MBA before discovering her love of food and opening the Frying Pan Food Adventures business. She is roughly our age and has the number one rated Activity on Trip Advisor. . . it was great to talk to her about the business and we found it comical that was share a common language from business school. . . targeting, positioning, etc.

Arva was open to any question. She covered Muslim prayer rituals, Ramadan, citizenship, cultural pressures in the Middle East and common misconceptions. She has tied her love of food to a very impressive understanding of middle eastern history and culture. As she has positioned . . . this tour is really excellent for those who are looking for the non-tourist tour. . . hidden off the beaten path. . .

 Check it out here . . . 

http://www.fryingpanadventures.com/

 

Another Day Another Souk . . . Day 19

So our deck is 113 slides.

If there is one thing they teach you in business school. . . keep the slides simple and keep them short . . . in the famous words of Gregg Silver “oh boy”

We have had several meetings with the executive team over the last week since our initial pitch, and they are very interested in seeing a detailed, tactical approach to the strategy.  As we are wrapping up from a content perspective we are really struggling to skim down the material, and rightfully so as I believe the team has really worked to develop a comprehensive implementation plan.

We decide to break for lunch and then revisit the effort.  Most of the team hits up the grocery store downstairs . . Gregg and I decide to hit the pool for lunch.  I do not think I could ever work from home given that I would likely start talking to myself (more than I already do) and the inevitablie distraction from these guys. . .

dogs

(come on . . .of course. . . walt and pete had to make the blog)

but hitting the pool for my lunch break and some vitamin D could likely sway my decision. It’s ironic, we have not one but two pools right outside our apartment and the beach is across the street but we have yet to fully utilize any of the options.  Today will mark the last day at the pool.

After work we decide to head back down the souks (I know. . . you are sick of this story, but we cannot help ourselves. . . we are souk masters)

Gregg and Travis needed to pick up their custom tailored shirts and the rest of us tagged along to gather gifts for friends back home . . . last minute I know

En route to the souk . . . we lost JCIII

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. . . the metro doors are seriously no joke here

 

We arrived in Deira. . . first stop . . . Lavash.

back to lavash

 

I know, I know. . . if you have read any of the prior blogs between the souks and Lavash you are probably wondering if we do anything else around here. . . hang with me

We. Love. Lavash

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Another great shawarma. . . another 5 AED. . .

lavash cut

They are now, “like our brothers”

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Next we head to the Dubai Museum which had been on the team’s to-do list since we got here.  As we approached the museum I hear Gregg,

“are those bats?”       – – excuse me?

I look up, and there are hundreds of birds flying, uncomfortably close to human level . . . I was less than thrilled about the idea of wrestling with one of these things. . .

birds

We still decide to enter. . .

museum

What I was not aware of is that the museum is open air and as I turn the corner the bird situation outside was only a taste of what was inside the closed walls.  The guys generally seem unaffected . . .while I am envisioning myself running wild,in a panic through the courtyard. . . there was simply no way this was going to be an enjoyable experience.

Travis attempts to buy a ticket

“3 AED please” . . . basically 80 cents

Travis hands him 5 AED. . .

“Sorry no change”

The guys are confused, and I am thanking God. . . get me out of here.

 

 

Next stop, the souks

Gregg and Joey had visited a scarf shop two nights ago and made fast friends with the shop owners.  Matt and I figured this would be a great place to find gifts, we had no idea what we were in for.

scarves

This guy had shelves and shelves and shelves of scarfs. . . and proceeded to pull them all down and remove all packaging, if you looked, he opened.  We had scarves all over thep lace. Even when people began settling on their decision, he was still opening more scarves. So.many.scarves.

After around 30-45 minutes of looking at scarves (can’t even believe I just wrote that). . .we began the negotiating.

This was not your typical tourist side shop negotiating.  After twenty minutes of negotiating. . . we reached an agreement. Apparently I was stubborn enough . . he only referred to me as “the boss” for the rest of the evening. . . shout out to Negotiations class . . putting my BATNA to use.

I thought we were settled but we had only just began. . . each person had to individually negotiate as well . . .we must have spent 90 minutes in there.

I didn’t think I would buy any . . . I bought six. Crap.

Onto the boats and onto the textile souks.

boat

souks

 

These guys are good.  Both Travis and Gregg are thrilled with their new custom shirts. . . the rest feel its necessary to follow suit and have one made as well.  This is a continuous process back and forth to buy the fabric and then confirm with the tailor. . . located just down the alley. . .

fabric

These guys are great though . . . gave us orange juice boxes and caramels.

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They will be ready in two days  . . guess that means another trip to the souks

Dubai Does Speakeasy. . . Day 18

The UAE team is really struggling here in Dubai . . . dropping left and right.  Certain people we are assuming ate at the wrong shawarma shop . . . enough said, I somehow managed to develop a head cold in 100 degree weather, and now Travis.

During our recent road trip to Oman . . . Travis, Gregg and I decided to venture ashore to check out the views.  I failed to mention that when Travis and I first got out of the water. . . he looks over at me and asks if he is bleeding. . .

It’s all over his face and hands. . . we can’t even discover the source.  He says he’s fine, we brush it off, and continue to move along

Later when Gregg joins, he looks over at Travis,

“Travis there is blood running down your leg. . . “

Another wound . . . Travis remains unaffected. . .

We swim back to the boat and somehow Travis has managed acquire another “scratch”. . . . as he would later reference them to the pharmacist, this was no scratch.

Now, two days later, we are wrapping up the workday and Travis chimes in, very casually

 “Hey guys, I think maybe I should have this checked out”

His wound was certainly infected.  Gregg and Travis quickly depart for the hospital. A hospital that was located inside a mall.

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 . . .a global themed mall.

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How bizarre 

 

 

While we wait for the prognosis. . . the rest of the team works to get some things done, I checked in at work and decided to take a run. Strangely every building here looks the same, and everyday there is new construction dictating that you learn a new route . . . I was lost . . . but the view certainly wasn’t bad

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During the day it had hit the team that this is our last week . . . 

We decide to head out for the evening and check out a place called the Speakeasy that is located down the street.  Dubai really nailed the ‘speakeasy’ concept. . . 

You walk into this bar, which resembles an irish pub. . . dimly lit, darts, a long bar and several booths

However they have club lighting going crazy in the front of the bar and the Grease montage music video playing on tv? I think they may have missed the mark. . . 

We were basically the only people there and despite the extremely awkward surroundings we decided to hang around for the band, with whom we became fast friends. . . leaving our booth in the back for ‘front row’ seats to the show

They were requesting songs to play and naturally we recommended ‘Happy Birthday’ for Joey.  While Joey’s birthday is not until September. . . today seemed as good as any to celebrate

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joe and gree

 

At this point there were still very few patrons in the bar. . . as such our celebration attracted most of their attention . . . and led to the introduction to a fellow Americano who challenged us to a game of darts

Kate and Gregg vs. Joey and the American

darts

not sure how this happened. . . tied down to the very last shot. . . and Gregg throws for the win.

Of course we were as obnoxious as we could be. . . 

We arrived home . . . glad to see Travis does not need to have his foot amputated . . . another great day in Dubai. . . four days left to go

124 Floors Over Dubai . . . Day 17

Ahhh. . . the start of the work week

The team is back at it as we prepare for our last week of work and our final presentation on Thursday.

After work we headed to meet the General Manager who is handling one of our client’s largest accounts. 

Our ride to work has become rather entertaining. . . if you have the pleasure of traveling on the Dubai Metro . . . pay close attention to the English translator

dubai sign

 SHARAF DG

RASHidiya

I understand you are not likely to find humor in this story but please understand that he is a very excited man . . . and the guys have found great pleasure in attempting to imitate this accent. . .  I spend a majority of the ride avoiding eye contact as I cannot stop laughing

As we wait for the meeting. . . they continue to perfect their accents

  group work

For our meeting, Matt took the lead on this addressing a majority of our outstanding operational issues that will help to define the final strategy.

After our meeting the group split, half of the team went to the souks (see Joey’s prior blog post)

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Gregg “supermanning” into his souk attire after our meeting

and the other half hung back to grab dinner and tour the Burj Khalifa. . . I was apart of the latter.

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Dinner in a mall. . . again. . . oy vey

However we steered clear of the food court .  . at Travis’s recommendation we found a restaurant facing the fountains.  Anticipating outrageous pricing for the view. . . we were pleasantly surprised, and the food was great.

group dinner

However, the view clearly the best part

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Shortly after we sat. . . The light of the fountain started sparkling . . then on the building as well. . .

And then the sweet sound of Whitney. . . I Will Always Love You . . . blared throughout the courtyard . . .

 

I seriously underestimated how awesome this is. . .

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After dinner . . . we headed up to the observation deck. . . 124 floors in less than 1 minute. . .

Perfect timing. . . another fountain show. . . incredible

night fountain 

 

 

However, my enjoyment was short lived as I was quickly reminded how much I dislike tourist attractions and the subsequent crowds . . .

  1. Riding up on the elevators, the elevator operator kindly asks a large family to wait for the next lift so they can ride together . . . the family continues to push their children through the turnstile anyways. . . completely ignoring his request
  2. Inside as we wait for the elevators, they talk over the woman who is trying to explain the facts of the observation deck, the dedicated lifts, the time up, etc.
  3. Ohhh. . . and they are littering candy wrappers all over the floor (btw everywhere in Dubai is impeccably clean) and the lady ends up picking them up
  4. We arrive on the observation deck . .. where Travis, Matt and myself find space facing the fountain . . and gina in the section next to us.  We are patiently waiting, as a woman continues to tap me and nudge me out of the way. . . Matt and I end up having to take turns. . . there are children screaming . . .
  5. Exiting the elevator . . . a boy actually pushed me out . . . seriously?

I’m getting anxiety even writing this blog. . .

 

Nevertheless. . . the view was worth it

dubai city

Goats on Boats . . . Day 16

If yesterday was our worst day . . . today was certainly the best.

 

 

 

We depart again for Oman. . . feels like Groundhog day. . . but we are determined. . . We WILL go to Oman today

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The best part about making the same 2 hour car ride for the second time . . .  Image

more CAMELS!!

And yes. . . more goats. . . they run this town

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We reach the Oman border . . . praying for better luck today

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Well today is definitely a new day . . .we made amazing time to the border, cross through both entrances without question . . . of course I am quickly silenced for noticing this. . . we still had the drive through Oman

And what . . . a . . . drive

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We pass through multiple small villages, and I mean small.  Generally consisting of ten to twenty buildings, none resembling any form of commercial activity . . are they all self sustaining?  The drive is fairly consistent terrain, out to the peninsula and into an inlet, back and forth along the coast.

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Gregg and I insist on stopping at every turn. . . Matt is convinced that we will not make it the 40 km to Khasab before sunset (it is only noon).   I think he was hungry. . .but he was also right.  We had no idea where this day was going to take us.

 

We make it into town of Khasab, the capital of Musandam, it once takes a few loops around this small town before we find a place for lunch.  The menu was limited. . . and entirely in Arabic but our waiter was kind enough to walk us through.  We settled on kebabs. . . they were great.

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We enjoyed a traditional Omani BBQ . . . surrounded by town locals. . . playing Catch Me if You Can, in English, on an old box television set. . . by all measures an awesome experience.

At this point we had reached the tip of the peninsula and had no further plans.  We had heard that the dhow cruises were popular but we only heard mention of ½ day and full day excursions and assumed we had surely missed the opportunity.

First office . . closed.

Second office . . . “you want dhow cruise? No problem, I have dhow cruise for you in 15 minutes . . 100 durham ($27)”

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We took a ride along the coast, towards the Straits of Hormuz. . . bordering the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

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We came across a few dolphins and it was similar to what I have seen in the past, flirting with the top of the water and then swimming away.

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This continued for around twenty minutes and then the dolphins wanted to play. . .

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They followed our boat back and forth across the bay . . . among them was a mother and baby and the baby imitated every move . . . it was incredible to watch

 

As we continued further into the bay, they served tea and fresh fruit

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We came across this ‘village’ which seemingly has no roads to it.  As we learned, access to the peninsula had been limited prior to the modern coast road from the UAE.

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Further on we docked . . . and spent some time in the water.

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Travis brought out his quadricopter, which was a huge hit with a young traveler on our boat.  Even with no common language, it was no secret. . this boy wanted to play with this new toy . . . amazed by it before even realizing what it could do.

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matt and the quad

Travis, Gregg and I ventured on the small island where we docked.  Getting there was rather difficult, Gregg had to resort to flippers and Travis experienced not one but three bleeding situations . . . “it’s just a scratch”

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But the climb was well worth the view.

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We discovered there were two goats on the island?  How on earth did they get out there? We would later come to find out . . .

 

 

For now, it was time to head in. . .

As we were nearing the shore. . . we noticed a large number of boats leaving the dock at very high speeds.

boat smugglers

We assumed . . .

1)   They were racing

2)   They were the town workers and they were heading home for the evening

 

We were wrong. . . Apparently, the boats come from Iran in the morning, full of goats (yes, goats on boats – sounds like a wrap song) and other cargo, and then they leave right at sunset to increase the chances they won’t be caught by the Iranian Navy

Read more here. . .

http://observers.france24.com/content/20130711-oman-haven-iranian-smugglers-khasab

As we docked it was incredible to see that the town was coming alive around sunset.  We assume that being so hot during the day and that everyone is working . . . they all meet at the shore after work. Multiple soccer games going on. . . all the locals down there to watch

soccer

 

The day was coming to and end. . . and we made our way back to Dubai

watchtower drive back

 

simply incredible . .

unedited sun

Oman . . . Ohhh no. . . .Day 15

Our excitement to travel to Oman and Abu Dhabi took a quick reality check today.

Anything that could have gone wrong today. . . did.

We were ½ hour late out the door, not bad for our group, but late nonetheless

Off to Oman. . .

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First stop in Ajman.  As I mentioned yesterday, we are still trying to remember the adjustment to the work week.  We arrive in Ajman, it’s Friday morning, everything is closed.  We snap a picture of the mosque . . . Gregg sits in the back, broken hearted as we drive through the souk – closed for business on Fridays. “No souks!”

Continue heading to Ras Al-Khaimah, aka R.A.K City.  Again, everything is closed, this city actually looks abandoned.  At this point we are starving, the only source of food we can find is the mall food court.  Are you kidding me?  I’ve had a lifetime’s share of food court experiences on this trip.

We grab food and continue on to Oman. . . we had long since abandoned our Mapquest directions and resorted to using google maps. . . and subsequently all of Matt’s data.  The drive to Oman is beautiful, beautiful homes scattered throughout the desert, we leave the coastline view and drive towards the interior. .

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and I am pretty sure their goats outnumber people

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Before we even realized, we were no longer on a road. . . driving along, five deep in our chevy Malibu. . .

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We approach what appears to be a very small border control area. . .

“No entrance, Emiratis only”

In the famous words of Gregg Silver . . Oh boy . . .

Google maps had served us wrong. The guards were nice enough, and pointed us back in the right direction.  On our drive back to the main road we began to realize this was likely some type military entrance or training area.  Get us out!

 

We head to the ‘correct’ Oman border, park, head inside, hand over our passports

uae border

“One car?”

“Yes, one car for the five of us”

“Insurance form?”

“Huh?”

Apparently, when you cross the border with a rental car you need a specific form provided by the rental agency.  Travis had informed them of our plans but they had failed to inform of us of the need for this form. . . boo to Budget rentals.

At this point . . .we are feeling completely defeated.

It must be said though, the border patrol agents are as nice as they come. They worked to provide alternative solutions, another rental from town, hiring a taxi, even a bike.  Our phones where not working since we were now in the Oman territory and switched over from Du. . . (oh….duuuuu). The agent proceeds to hand over his personal phone for our use, many thanks to the UAE border patrol.

We were informed Travis would need to be in person to receive the form, the closest location was back in RAK city approximately 30km . . . off we go.

You must understand that this was no ordinary excursion. . . today would mark Travis’s 30th country in his passport. . . a monumentuous occasion and we were determined to make this happen

We arrive at the Budget store in RAK city, more paperwork and forms to be filled and transmitted between offices.  Faxed back and forth.  I think they should have been apart of the GAP program.

However, the Budget agent did go above and beyond to assist in getting our paperwork worked out.

 

By the time it was completed it was about 5:30pm and the team was at a cross roads. Continue on to Oman, getting at most an hour of sunlight or head back to Dubai and begin again tomorrow.  The only problem with tomorrow is that we were planning on Abu Dhabi. Ultimately we decided to try again tomorrow. . . back to Dubai

Once we arrived back in our city we agreed on dinner, Lavash . .  .Travis simply needed to try the 5 AED shawarma. Like everything else, this journey proved more difficult . . . the highway system is not exactly intuitive at one point we pulled up the Google maps and saw the roads were literally intersecting from every single direction.

 

Now back at the apartment, eating my cold Falafel wrap and I have somehow developed a cold. . .

Here’s to tomorrow. . .

Tika Puka What? – Day 14

TGI. . . Thursday?

Still not quite used to our week ending on a Thursday.  The team had a meeting at The Address Hotel with the CEO after work to discuss the last component to add to our final presentation next week. 

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Although the client and the holding company are well established, their vision for where they want to take the company parallels with a startup, which is giving the team a lot of freedom to be creative about our strategy.  As we wrapped up the meeting a local hotel in the Dubai Marina, we decided it was finally time to listen to our client . . .

We needed to get out of the city.

 

We headed back to the apartment to change for the evening and spontaneously decided if we were going to do this we were going all in. Oman tomorrow. Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

Being our last weekend here we wanted to fit in as much as possible.

Passports Check

Rental Car Check

Blogger who did a similar route and detailed her travels Check

PDF maps with guided routes Check

 

 

Now it was time to go celebrate.

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We headed back to Madinat, again, at the advice of our client who insisted that we needed to try the “Tiki Puka Puka” (if that is even the name. . .we improvised). 

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Imagine a long island, but worse. . . I could not get this thing down. . . each drink and I would look down .. . making no progress. . . feeling defeated

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I look to my left, Joey is done.

Straw that broke the camel's back

The group heads back to our original stomping grounds . . Bar Zar

Matt and I decided it was time to become one with the locals (joking, this place is littered with expats)

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 . . . shisha