Saturday, July 4, 2015

US Trip - San Francisco

It was almost 10PM when we landed on San Francisco International Airport. We were picked up by the Juanatas, Ne's church friends from Ugong, Pasig. They were very nice and very hospitable. They are Christian family and I sensed sincerity and goodness. We stayed in their beautiful home at Vallejo. It was only one night accommodation and I really appreciated their kindness.

The next day, we headed to the Ferry Terminal and bought tickets. We were going to Pier 39. During the trip, the view along the Napa River was amazing. The calm waters made the journey even better as we took some pictures.

We arrived at Port of San Francisco before 9AM and we roamed the area. We walked along the streets and found some interesting places. Pier 39 is a unique site on its own. It has plenty of stalls, markets, stores and food centers. I saw the place where you can take a ferry towards Alcatraz but unfortunately, it requires advance booking as it was full that day.

Then, we visited the popular tourist attraction Fisherman's Wharf. It is located in Pier 39 but this area has other attractions such as museums and parks. But most importantly, there are plenty of seafood restaurants! We tried this crab soup in bread (I forgot the exact name) that is being sold along the streets and I must say, it was very tasty! Also, around the area is a sea lion colony.

Of course, we wouldn't miss to visit the famous Golden Gate. From Pier 39, we walked and looked for a bus stop so that we can take it but we got lost so we just decided to take a cab. Ah, it was an ecstatic feeling and I couldn't hide my happiness when I saw the prominent structure. It was a perfect day and a perfect way to appreciate the beauty.

At around 5PM, we went back to Fisherman's Wharf and waited for Pam. It was very nice of her to drive us around the city. We went to Japantown (first time to hear such kind of place, mostly it is Chinatown) and Pam treated us some snacks from Sophie's Crepes. We also visited The Coit Tower and drove around the city at night. It was a magnificent view of the skyscrapers of the city and the lights that surrounded them.

Lastly, Pam treated us (again) to a sumptuous dinner at Cha Cha Cha. The foods were seriously deelish! We were fortunate to get a table as it was filled with customers. After that, Pam drove us to the bus station where we took a bus going to Los Angeles. Play below video to see other pictures of our trip in San Francisco.

Friday, July 3, 2015

John Legend Live in Dubai

Dubai Jazz Festival happened last February but I really have to post this because I was very excited about this event! I am a big fan of John Legend and I saw him live for the first time last March 28, 2009. I even blogged about it. Anyway, the festival was a 3 day event but I only attended the last one.

The opening performer was Esperanza Spalding. She is the first Jazz act to win 'Best New Artist' in the Grammy Awards. I am not really a big fan of jazz music but when I heard her, I appreciated it. She is best known for playing a big jazz guitar. Her music is very relaxing and it seems like there was an overflowing of coolness in the atmosphere that time.

After almost an hour, John Legend came out of the stage and everyone was screaming his name. The above video was his performance of his very first hit song 'Ordinary People'. I lost track of the number of songs he did but I am proud to say that I know ALL of the songs that he performed. I was singing my lungs out haha. Other people didn't really know some of his songs but everyone was enjoying every minute of his performance.

He also performed his latest hit 'All of Me' but unfortunately, I ran out of battery. He did a very unique version of the song. He mixed it with Arabic 'touch' and was joined by three other performers playing instruments. I found the above video on YouTube and trust me, this version is quite enchanting. I am hoping to see him again live very soon.

2nd video courtesy of Fleur Yennek-Butcher

Iftar Dinner @ Al Hallab

Iftar is the meal consumed by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan or the holy month. As a tradition in our office, we organized an iftar dinner with colleagues from SPb visiting Dubai for business matters. After considering several options, we booked tables in Al Hallab Restaurant at Mall of the Emirates.

The meal is a buffet style and I must say that there are variety of foods that you will enjoy. Our Russian colleagues enjoyed their meals. The atmosphere in the restaurant is very pleasant and very nice and the staff are really accommodating and helpful. The food option starts from appetizer to main course and dessert, all separated by big tables. I am very satisfied with the taste of the food, it is very different from other iftar meals that we had. The restaurant was full that time so if you want to eat there, better book early. Also, the buffet will end at 9PM but we stayed longer just to talk with each other and had a very wonderful time bonding with the Russian colleagues.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

US Trip - Miami

After the quick 'rest days' in Tampa, we headed to Miami via Megabus. Can you believe that we bought those tickets for only 1 dollar each? When I booked it online, I think it was on sale. Anyway, we reached our destination before 12PM. We checked in at 'Metropolitan by COMO' and I must say, the hotel is okay but not that great and it was a bit expensive when I booked it. We rested for a while then searched for a place to eat as were very hungry after the bus trip.

We found this place called 'Maxine's Bistro & Bar'. We were surprised with the serving, it was huge and we weren't able to finish all of them so we had a takeout.

We walked around the streets of Miami, around South Beach. It was raining that time so we really didn't enjoy it. So we decided to go back to hotel and rest instead. We also had drinks in the hotel's bar and ordered 'Singapore Sling' and 'Sleeping Volcano'.

The next day was more exciting. We had an early breakfast in the hotel. I think we were the first one in the restaurant. The breakfast meal wasn't that good. It wasn't a buffet so we had to order. We ate a simple omelet and a chicken/pork sausage. But the surroundings and atmosphere is kind of nice and properly designed.

After that, we walked around the beach. The weather was very good that time. We saw some tourists enjoying the water. We walked almost three hours and just enjoyed the sun and took some pictures. After that quick dip, we went to the streets and looked for some stores that are selling souvenirs. It was just a one day stay in Miami. We can't say that it was a great vacation but it was good enough to see this famous city. We will definitely come back to Miami but for sure it will be longer. See below video to see other pictures that we took.

Monday, June 22, 2015

US Trip - Tampa

After that quick tour in Washington DC, we flew next to Tampa, the "hometown" of Ne. We stayed for two days at their house. It was like a very smooth and relaxing two days as we only cooked and visited a Filipino store and a mall. I really liked the Ledet's house as it is very spacious and properly designed. I also liked the "old" stuff inside the house and their pool. I stayed in their guest room and Ne was kind enough to bring me new (newly washed?) bed sheets and blanket haha.

As I mentioned, we went to this Filipino food cafe named 'Filipiniana'. You can visit their Facebook page by clicking here. They are selling Pinoy delicacies and we ordered 'Halo Halo' that time. We went there with Ne's friend Sandy and her husband Steve.

The couple was very kind enough to drive us to one of the biggest malls in Tampa, the International Plaza. We just walked around the mall and checked some stall for some interesting things to buy but in the end, we bagged nothing. We really didn't spend much time to see other things around Tampa. Instead, we took the chance to rest and wash our clothes at the Ledet's mansion hehe.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

US Trip - Washington DC

From New York, we took a bus ( as early as 6 AM to visit the capital of the USA. It took us four hours to reach it. We headed directly to 'The National Mall'.  We spent almost whole day to walk around the park. Trust me, you must be prepared for a long walk but each stop was an unforgettable experience. The 'Washington Monument' was the first one who greeted us. It was actually built to commemorate the first American president.

Then we walked towards the 'National World War II Memorial', a memorial that was dedicated to the Americans who served during the World War II. 

Next stop was the very famous Lincoln Memorial; I have seen this place several times only in the movies but that time was a special one because it was just right in front of me. As we all know, it was built to honor Abraham Lincoln.

If you love watching thriller films that include the CIA, FBI or other security agencies, then US Capitol building should be familiar to you. Though we didn't get the chance to get inside, still it was a good sight and a chip of good memory for us. We were joking that every time we will see this building in movies, we can finally say to ourselves, "oh, I've been there" haha.

Of course who doesn't know the president's residential building, the 'White House’? Still, we didn't enter as it was impossible to get inside without an appointment with the world's most powerful man. But we were satisfied just to see it but it was strange to see that other tourists were waving 'Hi' to the building.

Then there was this 'Smithsonian Building' which was mentioned in Dan Brown's 'The Lost Symbol'. They also call it 'The Castle’ and was constructed of Seneca red sandstone in the faux Norman style. See below video to see more of the pictures we took in the national mall.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

US Trip - New York

September last year was my first time visiting United States. New York was my point of entry and from JFK airport, I met my very good friend Kristine (also known as 'Ne') who is a resident of Tampa, Florida. From the airport, we headed directly to our hotel. It was in Lexington Avenue where the cab drive dropped us. The hotel was DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Metropolitan and it was an expensive hotel and the room was very small. Nevertheless, after a few hours of resting (I had a red eye flight) we went out and roamed the big apple.

The streets are indeed very busy and a bit crowded. I was very amazed with some of the building architecture and at the back of my mind, I was trying to rewind some scenes from the movies and TV series that I have watched which had a NY location. We walked and walked until our feet brought us somewhere.

We passed by the Rockefeller Center where we rested (again) for a while. We also spotted the famous Radio City.

Finally, we reached the New York Times Square. Oh yes, the lights were astonishing and you can see tourists in every corner. The place is very famous for big screens and several stores near the area. We found a diner and attempted to eat there but once we saw the menu and the prices, we left and looked for a mini-store somewhere else haha.

The next day was more exciting. As early as 8 AM, we walked towards the Battery Park and bought tickets for a ferry ride. And finally, I saw the Statue of Liberty! It felt like I accomplished something big hehe. Seeing it right in front of me was unbelievable!

Our next stop was at Empire State Building and we were singing 'Empire State of Mind' all throughout the tour (of course we were not that loud). The view from the top was amazing and the weather was perfect. 

From there, we took the famous subway and looked for the 9/11 Memorial Park. When we reached it, it was raining so we just had a very quick look at the place. Play below video to see more pictures that we took during our New York trip.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

How to Get Driving License in UAE

Today, I just passed my final road test and I can't hide my happiness. It took me almost a year just to finish this course. Anyway, the major reason why it took me that long is that I always travel due to work and everytime I leave, I have to stop my classes. And when I return from my trip, I have to wait for another slot and instructor. Also, my initial classes were only on Fridays so I really wasted a lot of time. So if you want to get your license faster, make it twice a week and don't leave the country at all.

Anyway, below are the steps on how to secure a driving license in UAE:
  1. Registration. You can go to any offices or outlets that are available for your school (mine was Belhasa Driving Center in Al Quoz). You have to bring all the required documents upon registration. Click here to see the list of documents that you need to bring.
  2. Theory Classes. Next is to attend the theory/lecture classes. It is like a classroom but the number of students is superb (at least 70 students in one room!). You have to complete 8 classes and you have an option to finish it all in 1 day. It will require 8 hours. What I did was I took classes 1-4 in one Saturday (8AM to 12PM) and classes 5-8 in another Saturday (1PM to 5PM). You can see the lecture schedule on this link (I took mine in Al Wasl).
  3. Pass the Theory Exam. After the theory classes, you should set a schedule on when you want to take the theory test. The exam will be time limited to 40 minutes. You have to get at least 23 correct answers out of 35 questions. There is an RTA mobile app where it has some useful and sample questionnaires of the exam.
  4. Schedule Your Classes. After passing the theory test, you may now start your practical classes. You will be given 3 options. (1) Regular classes: you can have Sunday/Wednesday or Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Saturday. (2) Fridays only (3) VIP/Shifting: you can schedule any day (except Friday) and any time you want but you should set your appointment in the reception and can only be cancelled within 24 hours [this option is the most expensive].
  5. Pass the Signal Test. After several practical classes, your instructor might ask you to take the parking test on which your ability to park properly is being assessed. Your instructor will give you 2 to 4 lessons for this. Just remember all the pointers that they will give you. You just need to remember the turning points for each type of parking.
  6. Pass the Assessment Test. This test is like the final road test but being supervised by the driving school examiner. It will only take 8 to 15 minutes and you just need to relax. Show the examiner that you are turning your head during lane change and that you are very observant of the road. You just need to drive around the area near your school to test your left and right turn capabilities.
  7. Final Road Test. This will be handled by the RTA and will be the same as assessment road. You can have 12 minor faults to pass but 1 immediate fail (major error) will require you to retake the test. During this test, just do the same thing with your assessment test. But this time, the examiner might be tricky and will ask you to change lane under the signal or park in a no-parking zone. You just need to focus and again, relax.
Freeway classes can be taken before or after the final road test. After you have completed the seven procedures, clear your accounts and go to the main office to get your license. I didn't discuss the amount and the total expenses as it might discourage you (yes, it is not cheap to get a license here).

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