Tag Archives: explore

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.

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.

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.

Japanese breakfast at Sukiya Takeshiba – Minato, Tokyo

During our stay in Japan we tried each and every traditional dish we encountered on our way. We haven’t limited our exploration to the most popular ramen and sushi options and we included rice cakes, dried fish, matcha tea products and so on. In order to do so, we booked the hotel without any meal included to avoid the usual “international breakfast” you might find all over the world.

Obviously, the first morning we woke up in the Asian Country, we rushed to the nearest breakfast restaurant and ordered one of the “special” breakfast options (the menu was only in Japanese but luckily was provided with photos of the meals).

If you are used to western food and taste, you might find the Japanese breakfast weird. We have got steamed rice, miso soup (made with green onions, seaweed, tofu and fermented soy beans paste), nori (dried seaweed), tsukemono (pickles) and natto (fermented soy beans) and a raw egg.

The Japanese Break Fast

Japanese breakfast in a common restaurant in Tokyo. Natto (the fermented soy beans) can be disgusting for someone.

Since I didn’t know what to do or how to combine the food together, considering that no one was speaking English in the restaurant, I had to learn from another customer how to deal with the food I had in front of me.

so I added some soy sauce to the natto, I had the miso soup with the spring onions and some rice with the nori. I was enjoying my breakfast when I saw the other customer breaking the raw egg on top of the rice and enjoying it. My partner stopped eating while I managed to have the unusual mix. But the worst moment was when we had to eat natto. 

The taste itself is not bad, but the consistency and texture of the mix is weird. The fermented soybeans are covered by a filamentous and sticky jelly that resembles something really unpleasant. Again, my partner gave up at the first bite, I struggled to have a second. I had to drink an entire glass of iced barely tea to cancel the fastidious sensation from my mouth.

Needless to say that we have opted for a somehow more suitable breakfast option during the rest of our holiday.The service was nice and the food came quick because precooked and ready to eat. Even though it is based on a fast-food philosophy, the quality of the food was good enough.

Funny start of our holiday.

5 Indisputable Reasons to Visit Bucharest – Romania

I have been once in Romania and loved the Country. If you are looking for a destination off the usual tourist path but that offers as many beautiful things to enjoy as the other European cities, Bucharest is the right option for you. The life in the Romanian Capital differs from the stressful rhythm in most of the other European capitals. Therefore you can have a wonderful holiday in a peaceful environment without compromising on the quality of your stay and the number of things to see, experiment or do. Without letting aside the superb food selection.

Above everything, it is worth mentioning that Bucharest is still a relatively cheap city if compared with the other European cities since a stay can cost as little as 40 euro per day in well located hotels and meals are served at 10 Euro per person.

1 – The amazing parks and public gardens

If you think that your city is the best in terms of public parks, once you will have visited Bucharest you might change idea. The city has at least 4 major parks: Cismigiu Garden (in the photo), Botanical Garden, Carol I Parkv and Herastrau Park that give to the capital real fresh air and the constant sensation to live in close contact with the nature. Moreover, there are other open gardens with museums and local markets that are really enjoyable (e.g. the Dimitrie Gusti National Village Museum).

Parcul Cismigiu - Bucharest

Parcul Cismigiu is simply astonishing and worth to pay a visit.

2 – The surprisingly good food

No matter where you decide to stop for a break, lunch or dinner, you will get something your taste buds will enjoy. I had dozens placinte that are sold in many kiosks around the city. They are a traditional pastry usually filled with cheese, ricotta and dill, apples or just plain.  Romanians love polenta (they called it mamaliga) that usually comes with cheese (branza) or pork sausages (carnati) and pork or beef meat. Among the many traditional dishes available, my favourite is the tochitura that consists of beef and pork stewed chunks served with mamaliga, branza and a fried egg (see photo).

Tochitura pork beef stew - Bucharest

Tochitura is a stew made with pork, beef and sometimes chicken served with mamaliga (polenta) and cheese and a fried egg.

3 – The Old Town

The old town is a most enticing area of the city with the historic architecture, the old churches, the outdoor terraces and cafés and the romantic feel. The Old Town is the old district of artisans and merchants that emerged around the Princely Court, back in the 16th century.

The beauty of this part of the city, a fifth of which was destroyed to accommodate Ceausescu City Project, was recently restored with a series of renovation works that breathed new life in the superb period buildings.

The old town is now the real centre of the Capital with restaurants, pubs and much more.

Bucharest old town

Bucharest Old Town is under constant renovation and is rich in historical building, pubs and restaurants. – Photo from Google Images

4 – The Communist Legacy

Romanians ended the Communist Dictatorial Regime on December 25, 1989 after vibrant protests started in the city of Timisoara that culminated with the capture and execution of death sentence of the President Ceausescu and his wife. The leadership of Nicolae Ceaușescu (also leader of the Romanian communist party) lasted almost 34 years and the symbol of that period of time is certainly the impressive Palace of the Parliament.  This gigantic building was ordered by Ceaușescu in the 80’s and its construction started in 1984 and was completed (only partially) in 1997.

It cost almost 4 billions Euro that were taken from the population as ‘donation’ and therefore it was also called ‘Casa Poporului’ (House of the People). The building is the second world’s largest office building by floor after Pentagon, it has more than 1,000 rooms available, 8 underground levels and a anti-nuclear bunker. Rumours say that a secret tunnel links the building with the airport and the most important places of the City.

Casa Popolurui - Bucharest

Casa Popolurui is immense. Book in advance to visit its interior.

View from Palace of Parliament in Bucharest

The view of Piata Constitutiei from the balcony in the today palace of Parliament.

5 – The Night-life

Of all the wonderful things that Bucharest has to offer, night-life is not the least of them. There is something for everyone in this town: and I mean everyone. From trendy bars to Irish pubs, lounge clubs and jazz clubs and the odd steamy strip shows. Bucharest is a young and energetic city and the renovated old town, packed with pubs, restaurants and clubs, soon became the central night-life strip.

Among the various clubs and discos available, surly the most famous is the Bamboo Club, whereas one of the most popular restaurants and beer hall is Caru’ cu Bere that is a must for all the visitors.

That’s how Booking.com managed the Best Price Guarantee policy . . . incredible!

I like travelling and exploring the world with my partner. We usually organize our trips using some well known website and looking for hotels’ and places’ to visit reviews before booking anything. We rarely use a tour operator since we like to book things by ourselves and avoid paying overheads and end up in tourist traps as many agencies’ packages try to do.

For hotels, I started booking directly with the hotel but soon realized that sometimes some websites have discounts or special fares to enjoy. Among those I noticed Booking.com was one of the best in terms of user interface and rates. Moreover, I found their smartphone app really useful and easy to use, hence we started using it copiously. One of the feature I like the most is the possibility to download an off-line guide of the City you are going to visit after the booking.

I have never got a problem and most of the time we managed to save some money by booking through Booking.com.

We recently visited Cyprus and after a quick screening of the hotels available and applicable rates, I have booked two of them through the app. I have immediately sent the booking confirmation to my partner who quickly replied (a bit upset), that she found a better deal on another website of a local travel agency. She asked me to cancel the booking with Booking.com and re-book with the other company.

I wasn’t very happy to book with a never-used-before website even though the better deal meant saving almost 100 Euro, a non-negligible amount. Stuck in the dilemma booking.com or not booking.com, I decided to write to the customer care and let them know.

Amazingly, they quickly replied that they verified the better deal I mentioned in my e-mail and they were going to refund the difference thanks to their Best Price Guarantee policy..

Booking.com  e-mail

The e-mail I received from Booking.com with their Best Rate Guarantee implementation. Some info omitted for Privacy.

As instructed, I went to Cyprus, enjoyed the hotel and the island and paid the bills accordingly. Once back in the usual routine, I scanned the invoice of the hotel bill and sent a copy to the customer care. I thought: “now they will let me wait ages before processing my refund request”. I was wrong. Two days later an agent from the Customer Care in London called me and verified if I was fine with receiving the refund on my debit/credit card. She gave me few easy instruction to follow saying that an e-mail with a link was on the way.

Booking.com e-mail refund

Booking.com refund confirmation and instruction e-mail.

I received the mentioned additional e-mail the day after and after having inserted my debit card details, I had to wait just 3 business days to receive the refund on my account. Superb.

I was positively impressed by the hassle-free management of the issue by Booking.com and was talking about it with some friends when I received a further e-mail from the booking company. “Something wrong” I said aloud while reading the e-mail on my smartphone. “What’s going on?” my friends promptly asked.

“Ah no, everything is superb!”  I exclaimed. Since I have used Booking.com quite often during the past year, they promoted me to a Booking Genius hence they have unlocked the Genius discount that gives me a further 10% discount  on a wide range of hotels.

That’s why I will never stop using Booking.com for my booking needs.