Adventures in Aqaba

Let’s start with the obvious: living in the desert is dry and lacking… water.  Enter Aqaba – a wonderful city in Southern Jordan right on the Red Sea.   The drive from Amman (Jordan’s capital city) is about 3.5 hours.  The road conditions could stand to be improved in certain stretches but overall it’s an easy drive.  As usual in Jordan, watch out for the (highway) speed bumps!

Prior to vacationing in Aqaba, I had never seen the Red Sea.  The water was much clearer than expected and they even had a few reefs!

We’ve been to Aqaba twice now and stayed at the Kempinski Aqaba.  Both times we went with the “full board” room rate.  For those of you unfamiliar with the various rate terms they tend to use:

  • Full Board – Inclusion of all meals along with a room
  • Half Board – Inclusion of 2 meals (usually breakfast and dinner) with room
  • Room + Breakfast – this one’s pretty self-explanatory
  • Room – Just the room
  • All-Inclusive – includes drinks, all meals along with room

The exact inclusions vary from hotel to hotel so always make sure to check the rate details of a room you are trying to book.  Some hotels include breakfast but do not state so in the room rate.  Others may define “all-inclusive” as meals and drinks EXCLUDING alcoholic beverages (this is especially something to check for in regions where alcohol is not widely served.)

But enough about room rates – back to the Kempinski Aqaba.  Our full board rate included all our meals along with non-alcoholic drinks.  The advantages here are that we didn’t have to think about where we were going to eat and it was easier to budget in advance.  The downside is you feel a bit stuck at the hotel since you have already paid for your meals there.  In the case of the Kempinski Aqaba we really didn’t feel stuck!  The food at each meal was wonderful.  They also served different meals in different locations so you weren’t always eating in the same place!

From food to fun:  for a family with a 3 year old this place had plenty of it!  The hotel offers several beautiful pools – including a heated kiddie pool that’s shallow.  One of the pools is a swim up bar – with my son loved as much as we did!  The pools and swim up bar where a perfect option for the afternoons when it was just too hot to sit on the beach.  We went in July and the temperatures generally hold steady at over 100 F.

Speaking of beaches, the hotel has the best one!  Much of the coast line is more rock based.  Not here!  They fly in white sand that’s SO SOFT – so soft that I preferred to put a towel directly on the sand as opposed to a lounger.  But even white sand gets hot in the extreme temperatures here.  So we spent our mornings at the beach and our afternoons either napping in the room or at the pool.

You may have heard me talk about “Jordan nice” before.  That is to say, the people here are extremely friendly!  Aqaba proved to be no different!  My son stood out on the hotel dock looking longingly at all the boats for about 10 minutes.  A local with a few friends in a speed boat saw him and pulled up and offered us a ride.  They took us all the way out to see the giant container ships my son had been eyeing – he loved the up close and personal look!

 

 

 

Black & White Ball

While I spend most of my days in a glorified “mom uniform” of black leggings or jeggings with some sort of baggy (excuse, flowy) top, I do, on occasion get dressed up.  Late last week I had the opportunity to attend the Black & White Ball held at the beautiful Intercontinental Amman. I know for formal events like this people often end up spending quite a bit of cash (and time) on updos at a salon, professional make-up application, nails and, of course, a fabulous dress! Due to some practice (and some circumstances that severely constrained my time) I am here to report that you can do it – and look f.a.b.u.l.o.u.s. without all the time (and cash) at a salon.

Let me break my look (and how I got it) down for you:

  • Nails:  Essie At Home Gel is 100% where it’s at.  I was very skeptical about a no-light, at-home, DIY product but I’m happy to be wrong here.  The two step process is easy, goes on smooth and dries as quickly as you would expect gel at the salon.  It stays well too.  I used the “Take a Walk” color from their fashion show line.  Best part?  Due to the staying power you can do your nails up to a few days in advance and still have them looking great!
  • Hair:  I am proud member of the #topknotforlife club.  It’s my go-to hairstyle most days because it’s easy!  Given an ill-timed late nap that left me only 30 minutes (you read that right) to get ready for the ball I knew my only option was to go with a bun (aka a neater version of a top knot).  {Side note, where was my fairy godmother and cute forest animals to get me dressed in no time while signing?!}. I dug out a silver metal ring to put around my bun for a dressier effect, sprayed a ton of high gloss hair-spray on it and 5 minutes later – DONE!
    • Fashion on a budget tip:  Always shop the H&M accessory section for inexpensive items that you can use to jazz up a look!
  • Make-up:  a few products go a long way – try to play up your favorite feature.  For me, that’s my green eyes!  So I spend little time on face/lips and focus on bringing out my eyes.  My 5 minute face goes like this:
    • Apply a CC cream.  I have dry skin and really love Chanel’s CC Cream.  I realize it’s a bit pricey but I don’t mind spending a bit more on products I am putting on my skin!  (Hence why I shop things like trendy accessories on a budget!).  I apply it all over my face with a kabuki brush.
    • Use a smidge of powder blush on the apples of my cheeks.  I am fair-skinned so I go with a light color like The Aphrodisiac
    • Eyes:  This is where I spend most of my 5 minutes.
      • I start with a pencil liner.  Most days I use a brown tone but for going out, I like to use a deep, sparkly purple to bring out the green in my eyes.
      • Next I use an eyelid primer.  I know what you are thinking – shouldn’t that go on first?  Well, yes but for me it works better to do it following my liner.  Always go with what works for you!
      • Now the main event – the color!  I love a smoky eye but did not have time for that this evening so I went with a very shimmery deep brown blended into the purple eyeliner.
      • Mascara:  Great Lash. Always.  I refuse to use anything else.  It’s affordable and it works – why mess with a good thing?!
    • Lips:  Since I have fair-skin (aka I am one pale Royel) and I have already played up my eyes, I stick with a peachy/rose light lipstick with a little lip gloss over top.
  • Dress:  I always shop the quality department stores (Nordstrom, Saks, Neiman, etc) sales and look for timeless dresses and occasion pieces that I can use in different ways.  I stick mainly with black pieces – you can mix and match textures/fabrics/design as long as the color is the same.  For tonight’s occasion I selected a mid-riff baring 2 piece ensemble:
    • Black ball skirt from Saks – floor length with a little shimmer, I originally bought this for the Opera Opening gala and paired it with a smart shirt and belt.  I went a different direction this time (knowing there would be dancing involved) and paired it with…
    • A black scuba top with an interesting applique.
    • The length of the skirt allowed me to stick to my favorite black, patent leather Ferragamo FLATS.  (again, dancing)

Overall, I am pleased with how the look turned out – what do you think?

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I’m the one on the right!

Dead Sea – Where to Stay

The Jordanian Shores of the Dead Sea feature many hotel resorts.  While most are quite nice, I exclusively stay at the Marriot Dead Sea these days.  I stayed here for the first time because it was a Marriott property and that’s the brand I have all of my points under.  (Please tell me I am not the only one who is beholden to certain hotel/airline/car rental brands because of the promise of points and status?!?!). However ever return stay to the property is because of the above and beyond service I receive from the staff there in every area!  Here’s what you can expect:

  • Arrival at Property:  Make sure you have made your reservation at least 24 hours in advance.  This will ensure your name is on the list at the guard hut outside and will expedite entering the property.  Once your name has been verified they will check your car before lowering the barriers so you can drive into the property.
  • Arrival on Property: You can self park or valet.  Either way, you will need to put all your bags through a screener (like at the airport) and walk through a metal detector prior to entering the hotel itself.  At the Marriott, there are always plenty of staff who will help you get your bags on/off the belt and bring them inside.
  • Check in/check out:  Everyone is welcomed with a refreshing local juice (the last few times it has been apple with ginger – DIVINE!) They have a dedicated desk (with a place to sit!) for any level Marriott Rewards Elite Member.
    • As with any hotel in the region, you will need to provide ID (passports unless you are a local or resident of Jordan) for EACH person staying in the room.  Don’t be alarmed when they ask and make copies of these documents.
    • You will also need to provide your credit card of which they will take a deposit.  Note to ask them to take the deposit in local currency (Jordanian Dinars) as opposed to you currency of origin – the exchange rate is fixed but if you use the credit card rate they are able to charge you more.
  • Rooms:  If possible, ask for a Dead Sea view room – the hotel was thoughtfully built so that most of the rooms do have a view.  I have stayed in many different rooms but the top floor (5th) is my favorite and offers the best views.  That being said, some people prefer the ground floor so they can walk right out to the pool.
    • Note:  Unlike Marriott properties in the USA, they are NOT smoke-free in the region here.  If, like me, you prefer a non-smoking room, be sure to request this in your reservation and confirm upon arrival.  This is where the fantastic staff comes into play once again – if you get a smoke free room that… isn’t don’t hesitate to call the front desk – they will make it right!
  • Spa:  The spa is wonderful here and closely parallels what you would find in the USA.  If you are an Elite member you have free access to the facilities.  Otherwise, you can enter for a fee OR gain access by booking a treatment.  I have yet to try everything the spa has to offer but here’s what I do know:
    • There is a mixed area (meaning men and women) that has an indoor pool, hot tub and a Dead Sea pool.  The latter is nice if the weather is crappy OR you or unable to traverse the rocky shores to get in the actual Dead Sea.  The pool in the Spa will allow you to experience the dense water!
      • Note the lounge chairs around the pool are so comfortable!  They feature a triangular pillow I had never seen before and it basically feels like you are laying on a comfy bed!
    • The women’s only area features the expected: locker room, changing facilities, restrooms and shower.  It also has:
      • Sauna – in case you desire more dry heat
      • Steam room – infused with mint this room is my personal heaven!
      • Hot tub – with a lovely waterfall
  • Access to the Dead Sea:  The only way to actually access the water is through the one public beach or hotel.  The Marriott’s access point is beautifully landscaped.  They even offer a golf cart ride down for those who cannot make the walk.  Marriott also provides you with a few urn’s of Dead Sea mud right on the shores.
  • Pools:  The hotel features 3 pools – 1 that is adults only, 1 that is for hotel guests only (you can purchase a day pass to the facilities) and 1 for everyone.  There is some seasonality to the pools so check with the hotel if you have your heart set on any one particular one!
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View from the balcony off the hotel lobby

 

  • Dining:  This is going to be a separate post – check back soon!

So if you head to the Dead Sea, I recommend the Marriott Dead Sea! Tell them Rey sent you!

Keep shining my friends!

~Rey

 

 

 

 

Dead Sea – Getting There

Getting to the lowest point on Earth is a quick 45 minute drive from Amman along the Dead Sea highway.  While it is a nice 4 lane road there are a few hazards to watch out for:

  • Speed Bumps.  In the middle of the highway.  Not a joke – if you see everyone braking for no apparent reason, the reason is speed bumps.
  • Markets/Picnics/Shops more or less ON the road. Especially on Fridays expect to contend with people walking right on the road as you pass through towns.
  • Serious elevation changes.  We are talking ears popping like you are on a plane changes.  Remember, you are heading (or leaving) the lowest point on Earth!
    • In addition to remembering some chewing gum for the trip, utilize your vehicle’s lower gears when descending.  This will avoid the need to ride the brakes all the way down (which can cause them to smoke and burn out- last thing you want when traversing elevation is no brakes!)
  • Random checkpoints.  It’s common to see police standing on the side of the road holding a small “stop sign.”. If they wave the sign in your direction, don’t panic!  Slow down, pull over as instructed and roll down your window.  They will ask you for your papers and where you are headed.  Be nice, answer the questions and you should be on your way in no time!
  • Other drivers.  I’ll dedicate a separate post to driving in the Middle East (which I happen to love but recognize it can be challenging) but a few notes: lanes are a suggestion, drivers are often distracted (by the view, their phone, other passengers) and turning left from the far right lane or vice versa is common place.

In short, drive defensively and pay attention!

Drive safe my friends!

~Rey

Dead Sea Mud Floats

The lowest point of Earth.  Several rivers end here.  Once the water spills into the Dead Sea it is stuck with nowhere to flow.  Given the year round sunshine and warm temperatures, the water evaporates resulting in a super-salty dense lake (the water is 10x saltier than sea water!). The main attraction here is floating in the Dead Sea.  Even I, “Miss Sink Like a Rock Rey” can float effortlessly here.  In fact, you can more or less “sit” in the water and remain upright.  The water is so dense that while floating is easy, actually swimming is a difficult feat.  Not that you would want to swim – splashing water into one’s face results in burning eyes and a salty taste.

In addition to floating effortlessly, the Dead Sea provides visitors with rich, black mud.  Some say the mud has healing powers.  Whether you believe it can heal all that ails you or not, there is no arguing that the mineral rich mud can leave your skin feeling very soft.  The trick is to balance the healing powers of the mud with the drying nature of salt.  The best way I have found might seem counterintuitive but I swear by the results!  First,  go for a dip in the Dead Sea and stay in for 5-10 minutes.  You’ll come out of the water with a white film of salt all over – resist the urge to wash it off!  Apply the mud all over yourself and then bake in the sun for approximately 10 minutes.  Now return to the Dead Sea to start to get the mud off.  Finish by rinsing in one of the fresh water showers the resorts provide by the water.  For optimal softness, I recommend following up with a Dead Sea derived lotion.  My favorite brand is Trinitae.

Sounds like a messy good time right?!  Let’s talk about accessing the Dead Sea.  Most of the access points are on the Jordanian shores.  The only access points are via the hotel/resorts or the one public beach.

The Public Beach is the cheapest way to access the Dead Sea for the day.  At time of this posting, it was 20 JD per person for access to the waters as well as public pool and locker/shower facilities.  Mud costs an additional 3 JD per person.  There is a café there as well that offers local fare – I have not eaten there so cannot speak to the quality/prices.  If you are only going for a quick dip and moving on, this is probably the best option.  Note the facilities are basic but as clean as to be expected for a public facility boarding the saltiest body of water!

Many of the hotels offer day passes as well.  The  Dead Sea Marriott offers a 60 JD day pass.  Before you think that’s 3x more let me explain.  The day pass offers access to the resorts pools, the Dead Sea access point, mud, a towel and more!  The day pass includes a few 15JD vouchers that can be used at any of the hotel’s restaurants.  So if you plan on making a day of it, eating a meal and using the mud this is by far the better option.  The facilities are also much nicer!

Should you choose to stay overnight, any of the hotels will include access with your room rate!

Now that you have chosen an access option, let’s talk about getting in the salty waters!  Expect a hike from wherever you parked down to the waters.  The length of hike varies depending on which property you are using.  The walk from the Marriott pool area down to the water is about 5-10 minutes.  They offer both stairs (more direct route) or ramps (longer distance but no steps!).  They also offer a golf cart ride down if needed.

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The shores of the Dead Sea at the Public Beach

 

Once at the “beach” you will need to traverse some rocky terrain.  The Marriott provides water shoes that the water can easily move in/out of but protect your feet.  If you didn’t bring your own don’t be a hero – where the communal shoes!!!!  I cannot say “watch your step enough!” (Side note:  anytime I say watch your step, my brain says “mind your step” in the British airport lady voice – just me again?!). The rocks can be very slippery and are definitely uneven.  Depending on where you accessed, the rocks will continue as you wade in or might taper off to mud.  Either way, don’t spend a lot of time standing – get in the water and FLOAT!!!!

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Float on my friends!

~Rey

 

Yalla! Let’s Go!

Hello Readers! I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ve been meaning to start a blog for… let’s just say awhile.  One of my favorite things about the internet is how it can connect you to people and places everywhere around the world.  As an immigrant and now an expat I have been fortunate to see much of the world and meet many wonderful people.  This space will be a place for me to chronicle the fun I have had (aka places I have traveled to), people I have met (via my medium of choice – fashion as a means of expression) and the food I have been fortunate to eat.  I hope my stories will bring you a smile, inspiration or a stepping stone to try something new.

As we say in Arabic, Yalla! (Let’s Go!)

~Rey