Travelling in the Middle East

Sunset in Dubai Mall

Last week as many times before, I was travelling in the Middle East, this time visiting Dubai and Kuwait City. While in the Middle East you encounter many contradictions and sometimes all that bling bling just makes you sick: high rise buildings, expensive cars, huge differences between the rich and the poor. Yet every time I’m quite excited to go back and it is not just because of the amazing weather (but yes, the weather is perfect this time of the year, just under 30 degrees, milky sky, little bit humid but not too much).

What makes me happy to go back is definitely the people. People often ask me how come I as a woman work and travel in the Middle East. Well for those who are not very familiar with the region this may come as a surprise: No, I don’t meet with Sheikhs. Actually during the numerous trips I have done in the region I have only twice met a local person for work, one Kuwaiti and one Emirati. These are usually the owners of the businesses who are not actively involved in daily decision making. The Kuwaiti was joking a lot and called his wife instantly saying that I look like Nicole Kidman (yeah, I wish!) and then took me to a Porsche ride (naturally) and the Emirati seemed like he had no idea about his company’s business. The working class and middle and upper management in the local companies consists mainly of Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian and North African people as well as Indians, Filippino and other Asian nationalities. These people are usually very welcoming and relaxed to work with. It is quite heart warming when your customer goes to get you Indian biryani chicken take away meal so that you don’t have to move from your hotel room in the night in dull Kuwait City and risk you life by crossing that beach highway with 4 lanes in each direction that has a pedestrian crossing only in each two kilometers distance (I counted on my first night there).

Boy on a beach in Kuwait City
Boy on a beach in Kuwait City

So this is what Middle East is really about:

– Air conditioning. I never travel without a cashmere scarf /shawl AND my lightweight down jacket. They come in extremely handy while in freezing cold airplane, taxi, metro or even in a hotel room. Even if you manage to switch off the A/C, it will take time to warm up. Yes I’m from Finland and YES I feel cold!

–  Customer service. It can be too good. “Hello mam!”, ”How can help you mam?”, “Is that all mam?”, “May I repeat your order mam? This comes with a guaranteed smile. Actually quite refreshing after Paris.

– Malls. If you can, take a scooter with you. Especially if you plan to visit Dubai Mall or the craziest of all, The Avenues Mall in Kuwait. You end up walking way over one kilometer and find everything from Ikea and H&M, to Dean and Deluca and Dior.

– Cars. The bigger the better. Unless it is a Porsche or a Ferrari. Take ear plugs if your hotel is anywhere near the highway; otherwise your good night sleep will suffer from those F1 sounds.

– Food. You will find each and every American, British, Canadian, Lebanese and French (fast) food chain in Gulf. You won’t go hungry. Meat overdose is common after a week’s trip and all those kebabs…  Om nom nom.

– Fruit juice. They compensate the lack of alcohol with the most delicious fresh fruit cocktails. I could travel to Dubai just for that.

– Christmas decoration including wine glasses. In Kuwait where alcohol is strictly forbidden, it’s kind of funny to see Pottery Barn and likes filled with Christmas decorations. Do they use wine glasses for a fruit juice or do they import illegally?

– Full face veil. I don’t care if you were a hijab scarf and how you dress, it is your own choice and your right. But it just is not dignified to eat a Shake Shack burger and fries and having to lift your mouth piece every time you want to take a bite. And while you do that, I can see half of your face anyway.

– Caste society. It won’t take your long time to notice the hierarchy between Gulf nationals, Arabs from other countries, Indians, Pakistani, Philippine and Bangladesh people.

– Prostitution. Go to any normal club in Dubai and you will see it. In Kuwait they precised to me in my hotel that I cannot have any guests in the room. Next morning I read from newspaper about Romanian girls that got arrested for prostitution, newspaper was speculating why do they have to give entry visa to unmarried women who don’t have family in Kuwait. Luckily I’m honorable married gal these days!

– Safety. Feel free to leave your bags unattended, anytime anywhere. You will find it from where it was. (I know, I have left my engagement ring in a public hotel restroom in Qatar). This is awesome for someone like me who tends easily to get her stuff stolen.

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Holiday at home

Parisian Balcony

Hey y’all. It has been a long weekend in Paris. Today is a Toussaint, All Saints’ Day, so I took also the Monday off to have a little mini break. This time I had no trips ahead and stayed in Paris, not too bad after a few hectic months. Actually I feel more rested than in a long time! Here are some of my favorite things during this mini holiday at home:

  • Sunshine in November
  • Geraniums in my French balcony that are still blooming
  • The Lebanese coffee table that I found on Sunday from our neighbourhood’s Vide-Grenier, sort of a street flea market that is organized about once a year in each Parisian neighbourhood
  • Baraka documentary (oldie but goodie)
  • Home yoga videos, I’m currently hooked on Yoga with Adriene
  • Ping pong match in the park (except when I lose and that’s often)
  • Jogging in Petite Ceinture, old railway line close to our place
  • Walking late in the evening and listening to Finnish top 50 from Spotify
  • Sleeping and reading a book in bed
  • Did I mention sleeping?
  • Having coffee or dinner with friend(s)
  • Uusi Muusa that finally opened today (Yep it is in Finnish)
  • Icelandic Police series Trapped 
  • Homemade Guacamole with nachos

Oh yes, I think this might have been one of the best holidays ever. Tomorrow back to the office, but before that, a movie night (with Guacamole of course)!

How to enjoy sunny Autumn day in Paris

Jardin de Tuileries

Here comes the recipe:

  • Go see an Expo, preferably an exhibition that everyone is talking about. This way when your friends and colleagues ask what you did this weekend, you can casually say “on est allé voir l’expo…”, cite a name of the artist and drop a few comments about it. This weekend we went to see Mexique exhibition in Grand Palais, safe bet. I was bit disappointed that there was so few Frida Kahlo paintings but was happy to discover Diego Rivera and few others.
  • Take a stroll in a park, preferably Tuileries or Jardin de Luxembourg. If you go to Tuileries, have take away hot chocolate at Angelina, don’t be repelled by the constant queue, usually there is a cart outside that sells the famous hot chocolate. It’s like having liquid chocolate with a straw, yum yum. Sit in one of the green chairs and enjoy the sun, you know that next time you will see it, it will be February.
  • Wander more in the city and visit occasional book stores. For English books I’m fan of WHSmith which is conveniently just outside Tuileries. It’s not very hippy but I always go out with a new book (except this Saturday when my husband reminded me of all those books in our shelf that I didn’t read. Next time I go alone.)

Angelina

That was my Saturday, pretty good one. So that the weekend would not be perfect, today, just when I was having coffee with a friend in Odeon, it started raining cats and dogs. Having optimistic nature, I never carry umbrella with me just in case. Rain didn’t stop so we went to a tourist store to by umbrellas, but I thought it was a good idea to by a rain cape instead, Paris written all over it. It was not as cute and funny as I thought, it was actually pretty ridiculous, at least when I wore it in metro. Shame.

So there you go, DOs for a sunny Paris day and DONTs for a rainy Paris day! x

Louvre in the sunset

Petit weekend in Marseille

Port of Marseille

Last weekend we headed for a Petit Weekend in Marseille. I had heard somewhat controversial experiences about Marseille and was not sure what to expect. Maybe because of that I was very positively surprised and I can truly say that Marseille is the most interesting city that I’ve visited in France, after Paris of course… Wondering from one neighborhood to the other you find so many different things, in one district you’ll find North Africa, in one black Africa, in one hipster area with small art galleries and boutiques, then typical French city with its big boulevards and statues, and finally an ultra hippy museum district. Not to mention the amazing arid islands outside Marseille, îles du Frioul and one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, les Calanques. We must have walked close to 20 kilometres per day during the weekend, from one neighborhood to the other and hiking on the coast and in the islands.

Marseille

Syrian restaurant in Marseille

Oriental store in Marseille

We stayed in Mama Shelter Marseille which ended up being easy and cozy option for the weekend. The hotel is not located in touristic zone and we ended up discovering the little side streets on the way to Vieux Port and the center of the city. Notre Dame du Mont area close to hotel was lively at night with many restaurants and even more bars..

Port of Marseille

We started the weekend discovering Mucem, Museum of European and Mediterranean civilizations,and we were not disappointed. The entry is for free and you have amazing views to the sea to the harbor of Marseille on the top of the museum. You have to pay to get into the exhibitions, but since weather was good we contented to admire the beautiful architecture and amazing views.

Mucem Marseille

Mucem Marseille

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Later in the afternoon we took an Uber to give us a ride to les Calanques. Not totally recommended as our driver got lost on the way… On the positive note he had to stop the “meter” and we got a ride close to Cassis for 30 euros, not a bad deal. We got out by the restaurant Presqu’Ile from where we set off to hiking trails. We visited two of the Calanques and took a dip in the sea in Calanque de Port Pin. Highly recommended. On the way back we walked until Cassis and took a bus there to return to Marseille.

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Also Notre Dame de Garde garde church is worth visiting,  if only for the amazing view over Marseille and the Mediterranean.

View over Marseille from Notre Dame de Garde

Since we took evening train back to Paris and still had time, we took a ferry from Vieux Port,Marseille harbour, to Iles de Frioul. Highly recommended! These arid islands allow you to totally disconnect. Bliss. In harbour there are many restaurants and cafés if you get hungry on the way.

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We also liked a lot quartier du Panier, district just behind the Marseille City Hall. It is an interesting area with many art galleries, restaurants and cafés. Rue des Pistolets had a nice plaza with many terrasses, if we would have had more time we would have stayed for a verre.

Quartier de Panier Marseille

All in all, I highly recommend going to Marseille! So many things to see or do. And only 3.5 hour train ride from Paris… If you have a tight budget, you can get great deals with Ouigo which leaves from Marne-la-Vallée.

That’s it for now, good night! x

In the South

Cannes la Croisette

I spent the last week in Cannes for work. I was lucky to have a little time to discover the beautiful coast and managed to have a few previous hours of sunshine on the very first and last day of the trip. Well deserved after spending four full days stuck in -1 level at the exhibition center and only catching the sunset, I’d say. I know Cannes quite well since I spent there one month on a legendary EF language course back in 2001 (god I’m getting old!).I’ve been back to Côte d’Azur a few times ever since, I just love the palm trees, fresh sea breeze, turquoise water, sea food, expensive drinks and,of cours, the soleil. Also the fact that I used to watch Sous le Soleil or Saint Tropez, as Finns know it, often after school might have caused this affection with the Sud.

People often have this image that Côte d’Azur is for jet set, and it is true to some extend, where else you can get a cabriolet ride to work and you get invited to a yacht? But I’m sure everyone finds their favorite spot there, either in a small village or in one of the fancy beach destinations.

Cannes Ile Sainte Marguerite
Harbour of Ile Sainte Marguerite

Cannes is not my favorite spot at the coast, if you want to go discover the region you’ll do better by staying in Nice, which is very central and has better connections to visit nearby villages (Strong recommendation to beautiful Eze). Yet you can discover beautiful things in Cannes too, my colleague had a great idea to visit the Îles de Lérins just outside Cannes. We visited the bigger one of the islands, Île Sainte Marguerite. It is only 15 minutes ferry ride away from Cannes and it is definitely worth visiting. The smell of pine trees and crystal clear water is just amazing. I even took a dip in the sea, for a Finn the temperature was just fine in early October, a french colleague struggled a bit but eventually made it 😉 You will find a few nice restaurants on the island so you won’t go hungry or you can take picnic with you.

Cannes Ile Sainte MargueriteCannes Ile Sainte MargueriteCannes Ile Sainte Marguerite

All pics are from the island, taken by my Samsung, so quality is not the best. These picture make me dream, I already told everyone I’ll be moving to South soon, haha. Next weekend we’re actually heading to Marseille with my hubby, new city to check out! I hope the weather will be treating us as nicely as in Cannes..

Have a great week everyone! x

Discovering Herb Ritts

Maison Européenne de la Photographie

A few weeks ago we passed the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Marais and I told myself that I will have to go check it out soon. In Paris we have too many museums with huge collections of historical paintings in them, but I’m more into contemporary style and I especially like photography exhibitions and museums. Last Saturday we finally decided to go check MEP out. We were a bit surprised to find a queue outside on a normal Saturday afternoon, but the reason quite obviously was the Herb Ritts exhibition going on in the top floor.

Marais Paris

I didn’t know Herb Ritts before, but I was definitely happy to discover him. Celebrities’ favorite photographer, you can find many interesting celeb pics from this expo. But not only that, I also liked a lot his pictures from Africa, he had quite some talent. Pictures are easy to watch, no surprises there, but they are captivating. Male visitors seemed to be very much fascinated by the famous naked supermodel picture that includes Naomi, Cindy and some other gals, actually this one might explain the queue outside..

Anyway, go check out the exhibition before the end of October! In MEP there were also a few other interesting exhibitions to see. 8 euros well spent I say. The Maison actually feels homy and atmosphere is tranquille unlike in some other museums invaded by crowds of tourists (yes, we Parisians dislike tourists, sorry about that). Nice bonus is the neighborhood, you can’t go wrong with Marais on a beautiful September day.

Jardin dans les Marais

Ps. If you do go to Marais, eat falafel in Mi-Va-Mi in Rue des Rosiers, it is just the best!

Qi Gong and stuff

Riquet Paris

This weekend started zen with a Qi Gong practice in 104 center in north of Paris, Riquet neighborhood. It was now the second time that I went there, it just makes me feel good. 104 is an inspiring place, it is a cultural center hosting theater, dance and visual arts, spectacles and exhibitions. The place has a really good wibe, you just feel comfortable and welcome there. Qi Gong classes take place once in a month and the crowd is a nice mix of grannies and random people. A friend took me there once last Spring and ever since I’ve wanted to go again. Best thing is that the classes are for free!

Centre 104 Paris

If you want to hang out in the center after the class, you find the Grand Central bistro that is not bad at all for a late brunch. If you are lucky there might be some exhibition going on or you can just watch people dancing. This time there was a bio market selling vegetables, bread and cheese in the courtyard. 104 center is in 19th arrondissement, close to Canal de l’Ourcq or bassin de la villette. So after the Qi Gong class we headed with a friend to a café by the canal to enjoy some fresh orange juice (I was tempted to have prosecco but was wise this time) and felt really zen.

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It appeared that we were not the only ones enjoying the sunny day by the Canal. There were many people picnicking and playing petanque and mölkky. Yes, Parisians love mölkky, probably because it resembles petanque but it is way more hipster. They don’t know that in Finland it is only played in cottages wearing jogging pants that have seen their better days, haha.

Bassin de la villette Paris

The day continued in the Marais district, more about that later. I ended up hanging out the whole day in my yoga, sorry Qi Gong, leggings. They were so comfy to wear that I might repeat that. I just need to buy longer tops, my husband said I look like a teenager on my way to the technoparade that was going on the city at the same time. Oh well..

hanging out in yoga pants in Marais

That’s it for now. I’m off to watch War and Peace, BBC miniseries recommended to me by my mother. I’m not sure what to think of my mom giving me recommendations for TV series, seems that she is more IN than I am. But the series is good, strong recommendation to this one.

Have a good night! x

Paris lately

Sunset in Paris Pasteur

You know you have lived in Paris too long when:

  • You get desperate when you just miss the metro and next one is coming in 4 minutes
  • You get very upset when you get out of the metro and you realize that your exit is on the other side of the platform
  • You avoid by all means making an eye contact in a metro, at least during rush hours (Actually eye contact would be difficult anyway when somebody’s hair/shoulder/arm is between you and your book.)

Continue reading

Calm weekend (tranquilo)

When you start using expressions like hijo de puta and plata in your daily life, you know you’ve been watching too much Narcos.  Still one episode left of the second season. Good thing about this TV marathon is that my Spanish is coming back, all those two beginners courses that I took back in the Uni. I’m not sure when I can use my revived skills though (*dreaming of a holiday in Mexico…) and if people will appreciate the gangster Spanish I’ve learned. Continue reading

Day trip to Chantilly

We’ve been lucky to have still great weather in Paris, so last Saturday we decided to get out of the city. My favorite weekend getaway places from Paris are definitely in Normandy area (Sea! Do I need to say more?), but this time we wanted to do just a day trip within a short distance. The town of Chantilly is only 30 minutes train ride away from Gare du Nord and it is definitely worth visiting to see the famous Château de Chantilly as well as the vast area of gardens and forest surrounding it. Continue reading