King of Brie – Meaux

When my first cousin Jo-Anna mentioned they were planning on going to Europe on one of Tim’s business trips with the boys, we could not pass up the opportunity to meet them over the Eid al Fitr long weekend. We flew on the evening of Wednesday, June 13th, arrived in the early hours of Thursday morning, and found our rental car waiting. We had one day to tour the French countryside north of the city before meeting up with the gang in central Paris.

We hit the highway headed northwest to Chantilly. We were in search of the famous Chantilly cream and lace but found neither (they don’t make the lace there anymore and it is hard to find the cream). However, we were not disappointed. Firstly, we found a coffee shop, Couleurs Café, that was open and owned by a local lady – delicious coffee and croissants (though she only had one chocolate left and Dan ordered it first…). After our morning caffeine injection, we set out on foot towards the Château de Chantilly and viewed it from afar across the water.

Croissant and coffee at Couleurs Café

Bec outside Château de Chantilly

Our next stop was the town of Senlis which had a lovely cathedral in the old centre. We parked the car, did some shopping, and eventually found a spot for lunch. Le Scaramouche happened to be right across from the cathedral and is also a Michelin restaurant. We could not resist the snails as an appie – Dan had to have the steak tartare with frites and I went for the salade de chèvre chaud (i.e. hot goat cheese salad) which was of course accompanied by some amazing French red and the most fantastic view.

French snails oh my

Steak tartare

One of Bec’s fav’s – salade de chèvre chaud

Senlis Cathedral view

Considering we had only been in France for a few hours and we had already experienced a lot, we were getting pretty tired so we headed for our final destination – the small town of Meaux, just outside of Paris near Disneyland. We wouldn’t have heard of this town if our Cheese of the Month club at Jones the Grocer in Abu Dhabi had not featured them in their recent newsletter and named them the “King of Brie”. We tried this cheese back in April, noticed it was made near Paris and then the stars started to align.

We arrived in Meaux after taking a leisurely drive through the French countryside and received a nice welcome from our BnB hosts at Chambres chez Annie and Alain. It was getting later so we decided to have dinner in and quickly popped out to pick up a bottle of wine, cheese, saucisson, and crackers from the local Carrefour. The next morning, we had a simple, but amazing breakfast of artisan baguette from the local bakery, jams, and fresh orange juice (petit dejuner).

Our first stop of the day, was, not surprisingly, to the Carrefour to pick up some more wine and champagne. We then stopped at the local Nicholas wine shop as we believed we had some time to kill and asked about the “Bière de Meaux”. They did not carry the beer, but they directed us to the fromagerie around the corner. We popped in and were greeted by a local Frenchmen who gave us some friendly advice – not only on the cheese, but on the local mustard as well. We picked up some Moutarde de Meaux, bière, and foie gras de canard.

Meaux Fromager shop

Next stop? Local cheese producers, Saint Faron. We got out of the rental car, took a pic and started to head inside (while passing a man taking out a stack of boxes which initially I thought were pizza boxes, but soon realized they were boxes of cheese wheels) for the tour we believed was beginning at 11:00. We asked about the “tour” and were kindly told we missed it and could do the self-guided version. It was pretty well done, but when we got back the line for cheese purchases was even longer than when we got there so we couldn’t even grab a wheel!

Fromagerie visit at Saint Faron

Dan somehow knew there was a World War I museum conveniently located very nearby the cheese factory … highly suspicious… I agreed to go in thinking we could breeze through it and head back to St. Faron for some cheese before they closed at 12:30. However, it had way too much information and exhibits to “breeze through”. So we enjoyed the Musée de la Grande Guerre (The Great War museum) and then decided to have a picnic lunch outside in the beautiful gardens. We dined on a couple of local Meaux beers and our leftovers from the day before.

World War I Museum

Picnic lunch at the museum

We then hit the highway to Paris to meet up with the fam’.

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Ramadan Kareem

The holy month of Ramadan started on Thursday, May 17th.  On the first night, we went to the opening of Deadpool 2 with Nadia…the theatre was empty as most people were at iftar dinner (i.e. the breaking of the fast).  The next morning, I took Nadia with me for a desert drive as she had always wanted to get out on the dunes (but her hubby did that for work so did not enjoy doing that in his spare time).  Bec opted out as well to get a few things done at home.

Dan and Nadia desert drive

The following weekend, I played a round of golf with Laurie at Yas Links while Bec was having a furry friend dropped off at the apartment.  Bella the Pomeranian spent the day with us while her owners had a beach day.  She sure didn’t like me, not one bit, except when we took her for a walk around the block.  Otherwise, she was Becca’s dog.  Later that night, I met back up with Laurie, Spence, and Otti for a guys evening brunch at Asia de Cuba.  Yes, “evening brunch” doesn’t quite sound right, but trust me, it was a lot of fun.  While the guys were doing brunch, Bec met up with Nadia for some sushi at Toki followed by a night cap at the St. Regis Bar.

Bella the Pomeranian

Bella exhausted after a walk around the block

On Friday, June 1st, Bec and I finally got a chance to visit the Louvre Abu Dhabi.  She had pre-purchased tickets to a globe exhibition and Spence decided to join us last minute.  I’d like to go back to the museum some time soon.  That night, Laurie and Amanda came down to our neighborhood and we went out to see the new Star Wars flick, Solo, in the plush Rhodes cinematic experience.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

3 museum goers

Bec also attended an iftar dinner with her colleagues at the Le Royal Meridian the following week, her first ever Ramadan tent.  Otherwise, the majority of the month we really kept busy trying to finish off furnishing the new apartment with a few trips to my favourite store, IKEA.  Bec also found out about the imminent tax increase on alcohol starting at the end of Ramadan – and once she did she was out in full force.  She made sure to shop all of the sales at each liquor store in the city to fill the pantry from top to bottom before the 2018 Abu Dhabi Alcohol Crisis would see us paying an additional 30% on top of already expensive prices.  Ramadan ended on Thursday, June 14th and we would be heading off to Paris for the Eid al Fitr long weekend.

Iftar dinner in the Ramadan tent

Car was full to the brim after an IKEA trip

Ramadan Kareem

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Beginning of Spring

As the snow was beginning to melt back in Canada, it was starting to heat up here in Abu Dhabi for May springtime. The first weekend of May, we had Spence over for make your own pizza night and then on Saturday we joined him for a day at Jumeirah beach.

Pizza night

The next week, we met up with Laurie and Amanda for a Mazzei Chianti wine dinner evening at Roberto’s.  On Friday, May 11th, we joined them again for an indoor 5km race through Ferrari World with a post race breaky in Yas Mall. By this time of year, it is getting too hot for outdoor races.

Wine dinner at Roberto’s

Dan pushing it to the max

Post Ferrari World race

That evening, Dan and I went for a Chateaubriand dinner at Ray’s Grill. As you may remember from prior years, we have typically celebrated Dan’s Abu Dhabi workiversary by going out for a nice steak dinner. We sat down and ordered a pre-dinner cocktail and waited for the meat to arrive which is carved table-side.

Bec enjoying a cocktail

Chateaubriand dinner at Ray’s Grill

The steak was served along with a nice bottle of red and I started to ask Dan about his new job. He didn’t answer me right away and when I looked up he took a sip of wine and then spit out his wine on his plate. I was confused and quickly asked him if he was choking, which he nodded yes. I jumped out of my chair and yelled “Oh my God, he’s choking”. The couple seated at the table next to us jumped up as well and the woman started trying to give Dan the Heimlich with his chair in between which was not working well. Dan pushed the chair away and her husband got behind him and gave Dan a good couple of heave ho’s while I stood there watching in utter shock and fear. It seemed like forever and finally Dan spit or swallowed the culprit piece of steak that had lodged in his airway. Both of us were shaking as we sat back down after a few hugs from our new best friends. We finished our meal and said a big thank-you to our saviours who told us they were staying in the hotel. We grabbed their email address and headed home to relay the story to our friend Jen from Dubai who was staying the night with us. The next day, we decided we wanted to thank Mark and his wife and we knew they were planning to be relaxing at the pool. So, we wandered over there in the late afternoon and finally spotted them. We thanked them again and sent over a bottle of Prosecco for them to enjoy.

That evening, we had a pasta making class at our local Jones the Grocer. We learned how to make two types of pasta from scratch including butternut goat cheese tortellini with burnt sage butter and Mediterranean tomato and vegetable ragout with Parmesan and basil.

Pasta making night

On Monday, May 14th we attended our last Zayed Sports City stairs and Yoga in Mushrif Park sessions (things shut down here before Ramadan / summer). After our workout, we decided we would head to SALT that is located outside of the park and had been tempting us since we started our yoga sessions there 8 weeks back. The concept sprouted from a food truck on Kite Beach in Dubai and has expanded across the country. We order the “Hook” and the “Original” (two mini wagyu sliders per order) with fries and enjoyed them fully! Not sure why I was letting Dan have steak again so soon after the incident but it was a nice treat before Ramadan which was set to begin in a few days on Thursday, May 15th.

Dan made famous at ZSC

SALT burger

Post-yoga burger

 

 

 

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Mikut Tonë Bardi

Back from Beirut, we were looking forward to seeing an old friend.  A colleague of mine from Albania had dropped us a line to let us know he would be in the UAE.  Unfortunately, both Bec and I’s weekend was already fully booked so we decided to drive up to Dubai on Wednesday, April 18th.  We found Bardi in his downtown hotel and had a quick hello.  We hopped back in the car and drove over to the nearby City Walk, a new outdoor shopping and dining area.  Neither Bec or I had been so we explored the area with Bardi in search of somewhere to eat.  We settled on Toro + Ko, a Spanish tapas restaurant.  We caught up with Bardi and ordered some tuna tartare, patatas bravas, smoked chicken croquettes, and a squid ink paella.  We strolled around the City Walk a bit more and got a few photos with Bardi before dropping him back at his hotel.  Interesting fact, Bardi was with Bec and I when we first visited the UAE back in 2011.  It was a great evening and so nice to see our friend.

Dan, Bec, and Bardi at City Walk

After dinner stroll

That weekend Bec led us over to Stratos, a revolving lounge, for sundowners.  On Friday, I played in the Abu Dhabi Oilman’s golf tournament and Bec enjoyed a 40th birthday party at the Eastern Mangroves brunch.  We finished off the weekend with a day at the Jumeirah beach and BBQ.

Happy 40th Birthday Jerry!

Margarita at Jumeirah pool

Bec enjoying a relaxing afternoon

The next week we joined a new meetup group for an Alsace wine dinner and attended a meet n’ greet at our building.  On the weekend, I met a few guys for a desert motocross experience called Just Gas It.  I had an absolute blast taking on the dunes with a KTM 450 SX-F beneath me.  That night, we attended another 40th birthday party / housewarming out on Saadiyat Island.  All in all, an awesome April.

Dan geared up for a 2 h desert blast

Seasoned dunebashers

Look at this spread!

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Beirut Blog

April started with Easter.  We had our close friends over for a traditional meal of ham, Bev’s scalloped potatoes, and JeriLynne’s famous carrots.

Happy Easter!

That weekend, we were invited by one of our AD Wine Club friends to go boating around AD’s small islands.  We met at Marina Mall and set out on the water to Bahraini Island.  A real fun bunch of people.

Castaways

Cruising home

On Friday, April 13th Bec and I headed for AUH airport.  We were off to Beirut, Lebanon for a 3 day weekend.  We were informed on the aircraft that one of us could be upgraded.  Before I could turn around, Bec had grabbed her things and was headed for the front of the plane.

We arrived in Beirut just 4 hours later and it was a pleasant spring day on the Mediterranean.  We grabbed a cab and headed for our hotel in central Beirut.  We were soon out exploring the city and made our way down to Zaitunay Bay, the city’s marina.  We had a nice Lebanese lunch of a flat kibbeh, purslane salad, and a pile of olives (still can’t get enough Uncle Dale!).  We back tracked a bit and walked down the famous shopping street of Hamra.  We caught a great view from the 20th floor of the Crowne Plaza and visited the first ever Patchi chocolate shop, a favorite of ours in AD.  That night, we did a little bar hopping in the Hamra district.  First stop was the Main Street Cocktail Bar which was overflowing with people, but we still managed to get a seat and sample a cocktail or two.  Later, we stopped in at La Prague for a cheese plate accompanied by some terrific Lebanese wine.  On our way home, we found a true Beirut gem, the Salon Beyrouth near our hotel.

Zaitunay Bay

Flat kibbeh…one of Dan’s favorites but they are usually shaped like a lemon

Looking east from the 20th floor of the Crowne Plaza

A Beirut beer at the hotel…did I mention that a full dish of nuts come with every drink?

On Saturday morning, we visited the weekly market at Souq El Tayeb.  We had a fabulous breakfast as we watched the interaction between shoppers and stall keepers.  We did a little shopping ourselves picking up some dried fruit and fresh blackberries.  The shopping continued nearby and we found a silver serving tray that we thought would be a nice addition to the home bar.  Bec took care of the bill as a gift to me for reaching my 50th country visited.  A real milestone on our travel journey!

We walked through downtown Beirut that is home to a dense concentration of edifices of varying faiths.  The Al Omari Mosque, Mansour Assaf Mosque, Saint George Maronite Cathedral, Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, and the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral to name a few.  We continued through Martyrs’ Square and checked out the funky neighborhood of Saifi Village.  We moved east down Gourard Armenia Street and stopped in at a few art galleries along the way.  We got a good tip from a local artist to visit the nearby Nicolas Sursock Museum, so we went, but it was closed for a private function.  We stayed for a traditional Lebanese drink of sharab el toot with zanjibayl which translates as mulberry syrup and ginger.  Delicious!  We continued down to the famous nightlife district of Mar Mikhail, but it was a little early to get a real feel for it.  So, we turned tail and headed back to Beirut Souks mall.  We stopped for a beer and grilled calamari and did a little more shopping before heading back to the hotel.

What a breakfast!

Labneh anyone? Soooo good.

Dan in Souk el Tayeb

Martyr’s Monument with Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque in background

Cruising down Gourard Armenia Street

Stairs up to Nicolas Sursock Museum

Grilled squid…a must in the Med

Bec loves Beirut

That night, we went for a walk down the Corniche Ain Mreisse and had dinner on the water.  We couldn’t resist and headed back to our local, Salon Beyrouth, to end the night.  They had a band playing and we had just as much fun as the first night.

Corniche Ain Mreisse…everyone loves a good corniche!

Dinner on the Beirut waterfront

With just a half day left in the city, we wanted to see Pigeons’ Rock.  So, back down to the Corniche we went and walked along the promenade with our coffees.  There was some sort of race going on and the traffic had been blocked off at both ends (which I’m sure made for a more enjoyable walk).  People were out fishing and swimming along the jagged shore.  We finally made it to the Raouche district and caught our first glimpse of the impressive rocks.  We came across a restaurant that had been recommended to us, Al Falamanki, a local chain that, in this case, is built on top of the seaside cliffs.  We had a great breakfast overlooking the sea and famous rocks.  Maybe a bit reminicent of our time in Albania?  From there, it was back to the hotel and on to Abu Dhabi.  Very impressed Beirut, next time we’d like to see a little countryside!

Pigeons’ Rocks

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March Madness

After the move, we started getting settled in the new pad. We had barely unpacked and found out we had an unexpected friend in town from Canada. Jesse McLeay was visiting for work and dropped us a line. We gave him a quick tour of Abu Dhabi including a stop outside the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum, had him over for a drink, and then took him out for dinner at the Belgian Café. It was great to see him and we hope he is able to come back for work again in future.

Dan and McLeay at the Louvre

Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum

Canada visitor – Cheers to that!

The month of March was a bit mad as we had a lot of different things going on throughout the month. Dan got his desert fix in with an Oryx Club drive and I participated in the 10km Year of Zayed race. We explored our new neighbourhood a bit further – we went for dinner at Villa Toscana, met a friend for cocktails at Asia de Cuba, and went for a sunset bike ride.

10km Year of Zayed

Renting Bec a bike

Dan cruising

Sunset Corniche view

We also went to a couple of shows during the Abu Dhabi Festival over at Emirates Palace including the Merchants of Bollywood and the Don Quixote Spanish ballet. Before the Bollywood show, we met up with our friends for dinner and I finally got to try the famous camel burger (and yes, those are real gold flakes).

Outside Emirates Palace

Camel burger

Pre-show cocktails

Ready for the ballet

We also met up with friends for the Flavours of the Palace event and an evening brunch at Caramel Lounge while our friend Spence’s sister was visiting.

Flavours of the Palace

Girls at the evening brunch

Boys side of the table

If that doesn’t sound mad enough, we also had a night away in the Liwa Desert. We pulled a Bucket Challenge and it was one of Dan’s picks to drive all the way across the emirate of Abu Dhabi to the Saudi border. We set out early on a foggy Friday morning and hit the road. We drove to the border town of Sila where we stopped to have a picnic lunch. We then continued on to the Saudi border, missed the last u-turn option and ended up going through the border control. We had to explain that we were not intending to go to Saudi and quickly turned around. Dan’s plan included driving south along the border to the Liwa Desert. We found the road he was looking for, but realized it was not a paved road (as it had appeared so on Google maps). We drove for a few minutes, but then decided to turn back in case it turned into an off-roading experience and, unfortunately, we did not have the Jeep. So, we turned around and cut south a little further east on the E-15 passing through beautiful remote dunes (maybe the most remote area of the UAE). We drove far enough south to reach the Saudi border once again and gazed out into the Rub al Khali.  From there, we hightailed it to the Tilal Liwa Resort.

Look at that fog!

Sila lunch stop

Desert camel

Coming back from the camel races

In the morning, Dan went for a quick desert drive on the resort quad bikes (he somehow convinced them to give him the “fast” one which is only used by staff for emergencies). After a dip in the pool, we hit the road back to AD and on the way we decided to go to one place we have been talking about for ages but never been inside … the Emirates National Auto Museum (aka the Car Museum), which houses a collection of over 200 cars including the Sheikh’s Mercedes rainbow collection and the world’s largest truck.

Quad biking

World’s largest truck

Sheikh’s Mercedes rainbow collection

After we returned from Liwa, I volunteered at the Special Olympics MENA games for 3 days and was assigned to the hand ball event. Even though I didn’t know much about the sport, it was great to be involved and see the games. Mr. Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics, also attended the awards ceremony and we got to take a selfie with him.

Selfie with Tim Shriver

Iraqi handball team

During the last week of the month, we ended up pet-sitting (as I had signed us up for this). We got the request to pet sit for a few nights, but to our surprise it was not for a cat or a dog as we had assumed but, a guinea pig. The little guy arrived and he was pretty shy or scared but eventually he warmed up to us and was following us around the apartment. A pretty fun experience for us!

Guinea pig sitting

At the end of the month, we joined the Abu Dhabi Wine Club meetup group for a tasting of Peter Lehman wines at La Cava. On March 31st, we also joined a small InterNations group who were visiting the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve. We walked around the reserve with the main attraction being the resident flamingos. That evening, we went for the first time to the Mother of the Nation Festival along the Corniche and enjoyed some Korean cuisine from one of the many food trucks. All in all a pretty mad March!

Wine tasting at La Cava

Al Wathba flamingos

MOTN Festival

 

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On the Move in February

We had a pretty busy February.  We were invited over to our friends Nat & Jerry’s place to celebrate their son’s birthday on Friday, Feb 2nd before hitting the road to Al Ain, the Emirate’s second biggest city.  We first hit up the Hili Archaeological Park which contains the ruins of tombs dating back to 2500 – 2000 BC.  We checked into our hotel and had a quiet dinner that night.  The next morning, we were on our way to the Al Ain Zoo bright and early to participate in a run through the zoo.  I ran 5 km, but Bec out showed me and did 10 km.  We hung out at the hotel pool for a while and went for a post race massage before packing up and heading for home.

Dan at Hili Archaeological Park in Al Ain

The animals were a bit confused at the zoo

Al Ain Zoo Race finishers

On February 8th, we met our friends Nadia and Rene for a drink at Pool Bar, that ended up as dinner at the restaurant Toro Toro which we had been wanting to try for quite some time.

On Valentine’s Day, we had dinner with our friends Jenn and Spence at the Italian restaurant Circo in the InterContinental Hotel.  It was extra special because our other friend Jen was singing operatic love songs for the dinner guests with another member from their group, Vox Livens.

Two members of Vox Livens

That weekend, we finally got to use the present I gave Rebecca on her birthday back in November…tickets to the newly opened Dubai Opera.  I chose Aida, a four act opera by Guiseppe Verdi first performed in Egypt in 1871.  The show was great and the Dubai Opera is quite an amazing building.  By chance, our friends Maliha and Hervé were having a housewarming party at their place in the Dubai Marina that evening.  We didn’t arrive until midnight, but all of the guests were still there so we grabbed a plate of French cheese and a glass of champagne.  On Saturday, we popped by the Last Exit for lunch and once back in Abu Dhabi we stopped in at the National Theatre for an exhibition called Van Gogh Alive.

Dan on JBR beach in Dubai

Van Gogh Alive exhibition

We did well in keeping up with our yoga, stair training, running, and my Body Pump throughout the month.  However, we did have a major distraction pending.  We made the decision to move in early February and the 23rd would be the big day. The movers arrived at 8:30 am and got to packing.  I really couldn’t believe the effort they go to in ensuring your belongings aren’t damaged.  By 1:00 pm, the truck was loaded and headed over to the new spot where Bec had been busy cleaning.  The unpacking was dragging on so Bec and I rolled up our sleeves and helped the guys finish up around 6:00 pm.  It was an exhausting day but we rewarded ourselves with pizza and beer as per tradition.  We had been in our previous place for 5-1/2 years, but we were excited to be in a new spot. One of the main reasons we moved was to have a bit more space and to have more room for visitors! Hoping our friends and family will visit us soon!!

Move day pizza – keeping up the tradition

Sunset from the new pad

The next day, leaving Bec behind to begin dealing with the disaster in the apartment, I was off again to Al Ain, this time with Laurie and Spence.  Bec challenged me to sign up for the Wadi Adventure Race so I in turn challenged Laurie and Spence.  We signed up for the 10 km race (others being 5 km or 15 km).  The race took us over too many A-frames to count, under barbed wire, through sandy patches, up into the foothills of Jebel Hafeet, swimming/wading our way through a waterpark, carrying sandbags, dragging tires, and whatever else the sadistic course designer had thought of.  The three of us ran it as a team and finished in about 1 h 30 min. We were 48th, 49th, and 50th out of 250 people so not a bad showing.

10 km W.A.R. finishers

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