Category Archives: Exploring

Noire: dining in the dark! at Fairmont Dubai

I have recently dined at Noire, a new concept restaurant at The Fairmont Hotel Sheik Zayed Road.

As the website states ”from pitch-black settings, night vision equipped waiters or the thrill of experiencing 5-star gourmet cuisine sight unseen, Noire brings you a culinary adventure unlike anything else in town and one of the top experiences in Dubai”, the restaurant offers a very peculiar dining experience.

Noire Dubai

The original idea came to Mr. Edouard De Broglie, an entrepreneur who founded an ethic investment company where 50% of the staff were people with vision impairment. The main goal is to put people in a position to understand other people’s life experience by “putting yourself in the others shoes to better understand” and possibly to raise some funds for charitable organizations.

Even though it lasts just the time of a dinner, it proved to be very touching and instructive.

The dinner takes place in the dark. A pitch black where you cannot see anything apart the red dot on the infrared googles used by the waiters. Listen to the noises in the dark, touch to understand and learn what you have on the table or in the plate, recognize the scents and discover the taste of the proposed foods. Yes, because the chef won’t tell you what you are eating until the dinner is over and you have tried to guess the various ingredients.

We can summarize the dinner as “an experience to learn to see beyond the appearance“.

You will be surprised in discovering that your brain might be deceived by your taste buds if not supported by your eyes. And you will ended up feeling different textures and aromas than the one you would have expected by looking at the plate.

We arrived at Fairmont Hotel by metro, the nearest station is World Trade Center few meters from the hotel, and went to the 9th floor where the restaurant is located. We got lost since there was no one and couldn’t find anything looking like a restaurant. We finally understood that the restaurant is adjacent to the shisha cafe available on the terrace that serves the purpose of meeting points for the restaurant guests.

We were offered a welcome drink and then had to wait some 40 minutes!! before being allowed to enter the restaurant.

The waiters are very well trained and after having escorted us to our table, they helped us understanding what was on the table: on the right spoons and two glasses, on the left forks and bread, in the center the napkin.

After few minutes the appetizer was served. It is difficult to dig into the meal without seeing anything, but not impossible after some practice. After few failures, I eventually managed to get a full spoon of food and bring it to the mouth.

Something fried was tasting like fish. There was salad. Maybe berries and fois gras. It was a continue murmuring and mumbling “taste like fish”, “mine got hazelnuts”, “s..t I spilled the wine”. It is difficult to talk to your partner because you don’t what they are doing, if they understand you, how far are they.

In the main course I found some beef, maybe cabbage, some kind of fish and potatoes. The dessert was formed by a cake, an ice cream and something like a pudding. Soft and creamy one bite and poppy and crunchy the other one.

We all felt the burning taste of chilly since there were many “oh gosh it’s spicy!!”. In reality was pepper.

I was there celebrating my birthday and I was amazingly celebrated by the staff  that invited all the guests to sing for me. It was really a great sensation because almost everybody sang. Something I doubt would have been happened if with the lights were on.

Once we were safely guided outside, we found the chef waiting for us with a display of the food we had.

Dinner at Noire Fairmont Dubai

Left: starterLeft: starter with battered oysters, salad, strawberries, foie gras, avocado and hazelnut. Center: main course with bbq eel, wagyu beef, salad, fries and caw flower. Left: dessert with panna cotta, red velvet cake and oreo ice cream and pepper.

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A Day at the Butterfly Garden in Dubai

Dubai is a wonderful city built where once there was the desert. Skyscrapers, roads and other structures took the place that once was of the sand and completely changed the landscape.

One thing remains though: the dry climate that characterizes this part of the world and that make it naturally unsuitable for many green plants and animals.

In an attempt to make the city greener, the government and major developers have spared no efforts in creating parks and green areas all over the city, which are usually packed with people on weekends.

Few years ago the Miracle Garden opened and was an immediate success. During the good season (that here is winter), an astonishing display of flowers arranged in a way to display colorful houses, patterns and other artifacts. Due to the success of the Miracle Garden, a new Butterfly Garden opened close by. An opportunity to see such marvelous creatures in a place where it was hard to see any that we didn’t miss.

The entrance fee is 50 AED but I guess it is justified by the high costs the management has to maintain a suitable environment for the butterflies to survive. They require constant care and a daily provision of flowers to suck the nectar from.

The show the butterflies offers in their three different closed environments is breathtaking.

Butterfly 1Butterfly 2Butterfly 3Butterfly 4Butterfly 5Butterfly 6Butterfly 7

Nice Old Town

A day in Nice – Cote d’Azur – France

The city of Nice was founded by the Greek in 350 BC and was given the name Nikaia in honor of a victory that the Greek gained against the neighboring Ligurians (Nike is the Greek goddess of victory indeed). The city turned to be one of the most important and busy trading ports in the Ligurian sea and in the 7th Century joined the Genoese League formed by the towns of Liguria and actively participated in the wars and history of Italy. Nice fought against Genoa as an ally of Pisa, then it fell more than once into the hands of the Counts of Provence but finally remained independent even if related to Genoa.

Towards the end of the 14th Century, Nice placed itself under the protection of the Counts of Savoy and it passed from French, Franco-Ottoman and Italian dominion during the successive centuries, it eventually ended to be part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia from 1814. From 1860, after the Treaty of Turing, Nice was again and definitely ceded to France as a territorial reward for French assistance in the Second Italian War of Independence against Austria.

Nice in 1624

The city of Nice in a 17th Century’s Italian map

 Today Nice is the 6th most populous city in France and even though its international airport is quite small, it’s one of the most popular in the country. The runaway is off-shore and the first time I landed in this airport I thought we were landing in the sea by mistake. The organization of the airport is excellent and usually you’ll be able to pass the customs and get your luggage within half an hour. The airport has ample availability of paid parking, taxis and bus shuttles to ease pick up and drop off operations. It is perfectly located close to the “promenade des Anglais” and the highway. 

Nice Cote d'Azur Airport

Nice Airport is perfectly located and easily accessible. The first time you land here you will be thinking to land in water! Screenshot from Google Map.

Coming from the airport, at the end of the “Promenade des Anglais” there is the old town together with the ruins of the ancient castle that definitely are worth paying a visit. You might park your car (if you have a friend picking you up or you have rented one) in the numerous parking available withing the old city. They usually offer parking for free for the first hour and then they charge an average of 2 Euro per hour. The Castle Hill is a must see because from the top of the hill you can enjoy the mesmerizing landscape that the city has to offer.

Nice Old Town

Nice Vieille Ville – Nice Old Town view from Castle Hill.

Nice Promenade des Anglais

The Promenade des Anglais, literally the promenade of the English is ideal for a relaxing walk close to the beach.

Waterfall at Nice Castle Hill

The waterfall at the Castle Hill is very popular with visitors.

The old town offers many things to do: shopping, dining, historical exploring and so more. It is easy to spend few hours wandering around and enjoying a meal and a drink in the old town city center without feeling the time passing. Just outside the old town starts the ‘new nice city center’ that offers high end and souvenirs shopping options and many more restaurants, cafeterias and pizzeria.

Place Massena is the most popular rendez-vous point in the city center and it is very close to the old town and easily reachable by walk from the Promenade des Anglais. It usually offer free entertaining options and an astonishing view.

Bubble Games at Place Massena

Place Massena is usually packed with street artist performing their art.

Nice Place Massena

Superb view of Nice surrounding hills from Place Massena. The wet area usually hosts fountain shows.

There are still many things to write and say about Nice, but I stuck to what we have seen in that day only.

Freed Sea turtle

The day I rescued a Sea Turtle from a fish trap!

It was a normal Friday in Saudi Arabia when I decided to go to the beach and enjoy the amazing Red Sea Coral Reef with some colleagues. We were well equipped, someone had a water proof camera (myself), someone else fishing gear and pretty much everybody was wearing a snorkel, goggles and suitable shoes to safely walk in a rocky sea.

We were taking funny photo when we noticed that something was violently moving in the shallow water close to us. We were firstly scared, because we thought it could have been a shark or some other dangerous fish, but then we realized it was a Sea Turtle trapped in a fishing net.

We approached the Turtle in an attempt to free it from the fish trap but the turtle wasn’t very happy of our presence. We insisted in pursuing our goal and tried our best to cut the fishing net that was literally strangling the poor marine creature.

Turtle Rescue Operation

The Turtle was very scared and tried to bite us more than once.

It was a complicated job since the turtle was biting and slapping our hands since it was very scared and the fishing net was super resilient. We did not have any cutting tool, hence we had to figure out how to free the turtle without hurting it.

Rescuing a Turtle

The delicate rescuing operation required 20 minutes and 4 people

Once the the first flap was freed, the turtle seemed realize we were helping and stopped being hostile and almost started cooperating with us. After the right flap, we managed to free the left one and then the head with a very delicate operation. The turtle cooperation was important since with a single bite it could have easily chopped off a finger.

The emotion in seeing the turtle free and happy was unique.

Freed Sea turtle

Also thanks to the turtle trust and cooperation, we managed to free it from the net

   As soon as we put it back in the water, it quickly disappeared leaving us proud of our actions.

Who should be ashamed of his misbehaving is the person who abandoned a fishing net in the middle of the coral reef, endangering many wild animals.

Rabigh Coral Reef

Exploring the amazing Coral Reef in Rabigh, Saudi Arabia

If you live and work in a small town in Saudi Arabia as I did for almost 18 months, you will easily understand that there is not much to do except working. The nearest mall with a decent level of shops and restaurants was at 150 km from the town where we were based: Rabigh.

During the weekdays, there was very little time to go around and explore, since we were all knackered and were usually opting for a quick stroll in town or paying a visit at the barber. During the weekends, or better during the Fridays since it was the only day off we have got, we used to explore the neighbouring towns and cities like Masturah, Taif, KAEC and finally Jeddah.

However, we soon realized the best entertainment available was really close to our camp: Rabigh Corniche (promenade) and its amazing Coral Reef. The first time we went to the beach, we understood that there were present a certain number of corals and that the deep sea was few meters away. We did not have the proper tools, like reinforced shoes or snorkel and hence we just took a photo from the edge.

The edge of the Red Sea Coral Reef

The edge of Rabigh coral Reef. The deep sea had a superb blue colour.

During the subsequent week, we went many times to the specialised shop and bought snorkels, shoes, water proof cameras and torches and whatever we thought it could have been useful. finally it came Friday again and we rushed to the beach early in the morning.

Once in the crystal clear water, we discovered a surprisingly alive and colourful environment. Unfortunately, I am going to post only few of the thousands photos I took of many different animals.

Rabigh Coral Reef

Crystal Clear Water and undisturbed wild life in Rabigh Coral Reef.

Rabigh Fish

One of the hundreds different fishes in the Red Sea

Rainbow Butterfly at Rabigh Coral Reef

The Rainbow Butterfly Fish is one of my favourite.

Red Sea corals

Corals are everywhere and of every shade of colours.

The Giant Clams are really huge. One alone can weight several Kq.

The Giant Clams are really huge. One alone can weight several Kq.

Sea Snake at Rabigh Coral Reef

I thought this was a Sea-Horse, when I realized it was a snake I literally jumped out of the water

  Unfortunately, the photo I have taken of the giant turtle that we rescued from a fishing net was too blurry to be posted.

The coral reef is also the natural habitat of Octopus, a marvellous animal that we studied in an attempt to kill some hours and that we ended up fishing with great success. But this is going to be another story.

Hotel Review – Bayside Hotel Azur Takeshiba – Tokyo

When we decided to travel to Japan and to spend few days in Tokyo, most of the best hotels in town were already fully booked or with only super expensive suites available. Among the ones with rooms available at an affordable price, we opted for Bayside Hotel Azur Takeshiba hotel that is conveniently located at 7 minutes’ walk from Hamamatsucho Station, which offers links to the major JR Lines (Yamamote in first place), the airport monorail and subway system.

It’s location is superb if you land at Tokyo Haneda Airport, especially at night, since the hotel can be easily reached in 20 minutes from that airport. Moreover, the hotel  is close to Tsukiji Fish Market and Hinode Pier from where you can get a boat and explore the bay or cruise the river up to Asakusa district.

The hotel is a bit anonymous, with very little decorations and the main entrance is tricky to be found. Just remember that the lobby is located at the 4th floor, hence you need to get the elevator from the 1st floor (note also that the ground floor does not exist in Japan. They start counting from 1).

Bayside Hotel Azur Takeshiba

The hotel is conveniently located close to Hinode Pier and Hamamtsucho Train/Metro Station – photo from Google Images

The hotel staff was very helpful but no one speaks a fluent English. However, they managed to handle a simple discussion about timings, rules and basic information.

As common in Tokyo, the room was very small with enough space for the bed, a tiny desk with chair and very few amenities. We had issues in managing our luggage since there was space to open only one bag at a time. We are 1.90 m tall and found the space just enough to survive even though the bed was surprisingly big enough.

The bathroom was minimal with a smart toilet, sink and shower. A hair drier and some toiletries were available as well as towels. Both bathroom and room were always very clean and in order.

When I booked a standard double room with city view, I was optimistically hoping to have a superb view of Tokyo. Unfortunately, our room no. 715 offered only close buildings and the elevated train rail.  The room is perfectly sound-proofed and we did not get disturbed by any noise coming from outside. However, you might prefer to try a bay view room for a hopefully better view.

The hotel offers a free WiFi connection that works perfectly in the lobby but has sometimes problems in the room. We did not have any meal at the hotel, therefore I cannot provide any comments.

The hotel accepts credit cards (useful to specify in Japan, since many commercial activities accept only cash).

Hotel Review: Mediterranean Hotel Limassol – Cyprus

We stayed in this hotel during our stay in Limassol and we were positively impressed by the beauty of the hotel and its facilities and by the almost perfect service offered. Quality of the food and management of pools and beach facilities are outstanding as well as the provided entertainment and security services. The hotel had just few negative points that you might want to consider in order to keep under control your expenses and properly plan your stay.

We reached Limassol from Paphos by using the Intercity Bus, a very convenient mean of transportation that connects the major cities in Cyprus and hopped off at Old Limassol Port. From there we caught Bus 30 and reached the hotel in 20/25 minutes. Indeed, the hotel indeed is quite far from the city centre.

When we arrived at the hotel, the doorman (a single doorman) was busy with someone else, hence we had to carry our luggage by ourselves. The check in was quick and hassle free and appreciated the warm welcome the desk operator gave us.

When we reached our room, we found a bottle of spumante (sparkling wine from Italy) and a chocolate mousse cake to celebrate our anniversary. Really a nice touch we have appreciated and the cake . . . wow it was super good. The room was spacious and well-furnished and the bed very comfortable.

The washroom was alright even though there weren’t as many amenities as we expected. No shaving kit, no toothbrush or paste, hence you might want to take them with you and no bathrobe or slippers. The shampoo and soap provided, on the contrary, were of great quality.

The best part of the room was the balcony and the fantastic view offered.

Mediterranean Hotel Room View

The breathtaking view from our Mediterranean Hotel Room – Photo rights reserved

We have immediately enjoyed the beach and the pool facilities that looked so inviting. We had to collect our towels from the gymnasium and select an available chaise lounge. We were impressed by the cleanliness of  the hotel and by the efficient security service that were patrolling the facility and quickly block beggars or unauthorized sellers.

The beach facility was very well maintained, clean and enjoyable. The hotel policy is that you cannot secure your bench for more than one hour in your absence. This solution guarantees a constant availability of lounges and reduces the number of complaints from other guests. The sand is dark color and it gets very very hot during the day, hence remember to wear flip flop or other beach shoes to move comfortably from/to the sea and around.

Mediterranean Hotel Beach - Limassol by AndreaDetto

The beach facilities at Mediterranean Hotel are great. – Photo rights reserved

One negative note is the price of food and drinks served at the beach or the pool. After few hours under the sun, we had to order some drinks: a big bottle of water and a lemonade. Nothing special but we ended up paying few Euro for a bottle of local water that in the street shops in front of the hotel costs 0,50/0,75 Euro. Same for other drinks and cocktails that are slightly more expensive than the average prices we have paid outside the hotel. Food is superb even though a bit pricey if you decide to go A La Carte. The most convenient option is to get advantage of the excellent daily buffet that is cheaper and provide you with a great variety of food options.. Just to have an idea: we had a lunch buffet for something around 20 Euro per person, while a single main course was around 15 Euro. We found the service always excellent and attentive.

Mediterranean Food Selection - photo by AndreaDetto

The food quality and taste was excellent as well as the service. In this photo sea food salad and halloumi sandwich – Photo rights reserved

The hotel is very alive and provide a great selection of entertainments that is weekly repeated. We had the chance to enjoy a Greek buffet at one of the many restaurants available and the entertainment was amazing with Greek music and dancers and an extraordinary equilibrist who was holding a tower of 20 glasses on his head. there were other organized nights with Italian buffet, live Jazz music and so on. Definitely a nice stay. The only little problem is that if you have a sea view room and want to stay in your room and relax, you might be annoyed by the music and laughs that, however, eventually stop at 11pm circa.

Mediterranean Hotel Interiors - photo by AndreaDetto

The hotel is very well decorated both inside and outside. – Photo rights reserved.

The WiFi coverage is great and works perfectly in the rooms, restaurants, pool and beach area. Concierge and front desk operators were very helpful and polite and ready to answer to all our questions.

Regarding the expenses, remember that water is not daily provided in your room and hence you are forced to buy it from within the hotel. As already said, it is more expensive than outside the hotel and therefore you might want to smuggle it in your room from a local shop. It can seem silly, but if you drink an average of 2 bottles of water a day per person, you might easily save a 10/15 euro per day.

The shops that are in the hotel should be avoided if possible. We have found magnets and other souvenirs costing even 10 times more than outside the hotel and swim suites costing up to 200 Euro while in the shops in Limassol city there are much cheaper options. Moreover, we asked for a late check out that was granted for few hours for a small fee of 15 Euro.

If you have to go to the airport from the hotel, ask the concierge to book for you a shared taxi. It is really convenient because it will cost you only 12 Euro per person and it is much faster than the available buses.