Tag Archives: shopping

Welcome to Jordan: Exploring Amman

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Welcome to Jordan

While Amman perhaps doesn’t offer the kind of exhilarating souk experience with an overwhelming array of spices, artisanal ware and relentless bargaining we often imagine of Arabic cities, it has a subtle charm of its own.

The old part of town, in central Amman, is where the souks lie, beneath Continue reading

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Bastakia: Art, Heritage and Crafts in Dubai

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series The Emirates

A stroll through Dubai’s Bastakia Quarter is like a stroll back in time, or a walk through a movie set. If you take the chance to step away from Dubai’s bustling, shiny shopping malls or its luxury beaches for a walk through this historical neighbourhood, you will find peace, beautiful architecture, and Middle Eastern art and heritage.

A beautiful mosque stands at the edge of the Bastakia Quarter. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

Bastakia in Bur Dubai is easily reached by heading to Al Fahidi metro station and walking up Al Satwa Road towards the creek. Once you reach Bastakia, immerse yourself in the area by walking around the tiny alleys and seeing what you discover! The neighbourhood is home to the Coin Museum, the Coffee Museum, various art galleries, craft shops and cafes set in sunny courtyards. Most of my purchases during my visit to Dubai are from Bastakia — there’s a wonderful incense shop where I brought some oud crystals for burning and an art shop where a lovely man wrote my name in Arabic and framed it. There are also shops filled with Iranian pottery, handicrafts and jewellery.

Often named ‘Old Dubai’, Bastakia is also home to the remnants of Dubai’s old wall, constructed in 1800 from gypsum and coral. The neighbourhood has recently undergone restoration and is now a completely pedestrianised heritage centre, so it’s a perfect, peaceful place to see traditional Middle Eastern buildings and visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Here you can also go upstairs for great views of the neighbourhood.

Shops, cafes, galleries and museums are hidden in the narrow winding allies. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

My favourite part of the Bastakia Quarter is the Arabian Tea House Restaurant and Café, and not just because the food is delicious — this courtyard café is dreamy! In my opinion, there’s no better word to sum up the atmosphere as you sit down under the white canopies amidst the trees and flowers, order a cool minty lemonade filled with ice, and enjoy your surroundings. They also boast a selection of over a hundred different kinds of tea from all over the world, and an impressive variety of dishes to keep you going throughout the day, from traditional breakfasts, to barbecue, to hearty salads and afternoon teas.

Mosaic graffiti spotted in Bastakia. Photo © Kathryn Parsons

One of the best things I found about visiting Bastakia was that it was an ideal place to visit with others or alone. I first went with a group of people, which was ideal for meandering around the lanes, checking out the art and enjoying a nice lunch — even if we did occasionally lose somebody to the next alluring alleyway or art gallery! But it was also great to visit the quarter alone. The second time I went, I was visiting my sister who worked in Dubai at the time, so I had a few days to entertain myself. Aside from being invited to lunch by two men on the metro who were on their way to their mother’s house, I spent the afternoon in uninterrupted peace walking round Bastakia. I got to spend as long as I wanted pondering the interesting graffiti, sampling the scents of each incense and, best of all, drinking coffee and writing alone in the serene courtyard café.

Featured image © Kathryn Parsons

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Welcome to Jordan: Everyday Realities

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Welcome to Jordan

I had heard a lot of criticism about Amman as a city — that it is boring with nothing to do or see. In no way is this true — the city has plenty to offer! It may just take some effort to discover.

I moved here as part of my BA Arabic degree, which meant spending the entire academic year in a country I had never visited before. Having never travelled in the Middle East, this was rather an exciting prospect and, having come not as a tourist, but to stay (if only for a limited period), I wanted to know what the city was like to live in.

Having spent three months here so far, I have built up a list of observations that I found surprising, coming from a European background, which any visitor will notice sooner or later.

Blue skies and all day long sunshine over Amman's busy and often dangerous roads. Photo © Annabella Ahola

Blue skies and all day long sunshine over Amman’s busy and often dangerous roads. Photo © Annabella Ahola

Weather

While the assumption is that it is always hot in the Middle East, this is not entirely true. Admittedly, the heat in late August can be overwhelming — over 30 degrees and sunny all day long. But you get used to it very fast: soon 30 degrees feels like nothing. It gets to the point where you almost forget what a cloudy day looks like.

Come mid-September, everyone keenly awaits for the first signs of rain. “Look, clouds!” someone may shout, and everyone goes over to the window in eager anticipation. Jordan is 90% desert, and the climate is respectively a desert climate — scorching hot in the day, cold at night. Houses have little to no heating, and in November a common complaint is how cold it is — colder inside than out.

Amman is hilly, and there is a constant breeze — refreshing in summer, but in late Autumn, 18 degrees makes you think “winter is coming” (summer in Northern European terms!) There is a promise of ice and maybe even snow by January: sounds slippery considering the steepness of these hills.

City layout

The layout of the city (due to its fast growth) makes it very difficult to walk anywhere. Granted, there are a few areas where the pavements are decent enough to walk on, but for the most part, excursions on foot often mean dealing with cracked pavements that can be up to two feet high, and honking horns. Venturing from one area to another, the roads resemble motorways because of the amount of cars and lanes, and pedestrian crossings are virtually non-existent. Be prepared to walk a mile to encounter a bridge, or dare to run across the road fearing for your life.

Amidst the new builds in hilly Amman stands the remains of a Roman Amphitheater picture © Annabella Ahola

Amidst the new builds in hilly Amman stands the remains of a Roman Amphitheater. Photo © Annabella Ahola

Transportation

The above point means that taking a taxi anywhere is a common means of transport. Buses exist, but they are rare, and no one really seems to know their timetables and routes. The joke is that the bus is so fast you cannot even see it. There are also white servees taxis: a kind of shared minibus. With no designated route, they leave as they fill up with customers. Outside, men shout destinations at passersby, and you get on a bus heading in your direction, telling the driver where to drop you off. Sounds daunting, but it is very cheap — 35 qirsh* for a ride. A taxi across the city will cost you about 2 dinars. That said, taxis might not be easy to get, depending on how busy it is. A driver may even refuse to take you, and foreigners run the risk of getting ripped off. Hence one must always check to make sure the meter is running, or to agree on a price before boarding.

Money

Despite the preconceptions one might have about the Middle East, Jordan is not a cheap country to live in. The dinar is stronger than the pound, and the prices in supermarkets and Western-style malls are similar to those found in Europe. (This is why it is better to leave the malls for a special treat, and stick to local shops and produce.) Prices can vary significantly depending on where you are. A Turkish coffee from a corner shop could cost 35 qirsh, an American-style filter coffee, 2 dinars. In a nicer mall café, this could be 4 dinars including tax and service charge. That said, not all prices are fixed. A good rule of thumb is that if there is no price tag, the price is negotiable. This is particularly true for the souks, such as those in the older part of town. Traditionally, for Arabs, haggling is an art form, and agreeing to the price right away is somewhat disrespectful and makes you look like a fool.

Shopping

When it comes to the kind of produce on offer, Amman has a lot of variety. In the bigger malls and supermarkets, one finds a lot of the same brands and products as in Europe. No big culture shock there. However, when it comes to more specialised things, such as organic produce, or foods aimed at vegans or people with allergies (tofu, gluten free…) the struggle is real. If these are available, they are rare and difficult to find.

The Taj Mall in Amman, where the likes of Miss Selfridge and Burberry can be found. © Annabella Ahola

The Taj Mall in Amman, where the likes of Miss Selfridge and Burberry can be found. Picture © Annabella Ahola

“If you have specialist needs — like a particular brand of shampoo you like — bring a supply of it with you,” we were advised by our school. But with limited suitcase space, I think I am OK with my hair adjusting to something new, for now.

[*a qirsh is one hundredth of a dinar. 1 dinar is equivalent to £1.11 at time of publication].

Featured image © Anton Mukhametchin

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Lost in Jeju

Here, my friend, I present my love letter to this tiny volcano island in South Korea called Jeju. It was the destination of my graduation trip with university roommates to celebrate the next phase of my life. No need for a visa, Jeju is becoming a top choice for short travel for Chinese people.

Despite the language difficulties, Jeju is a wonderful place for independent travellers since the local people are warm and friendly, the weather is delightfully cool, the view of the sea is breathtaking, the city is well planned and artistic … and most importantly, there are so many cuisines to taste! I could only ever point on the menu and try to communicate with the waitress using the simple but universal hand gestures — “One this, one that, kam sa ham ni da (thank you)!” — and then give a small bow to show my gratitude and respect.

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24 Hours in Brooklyn

You would be surprised how much you can fit into 24 hours when in a new city for the first time. I spent a frosty Saturday exploring the hidden delights of Brooklyn; a day which involved a lot of eating, drinking, shopping and dancing! Here is my guide for how to spend a day in the cool borough of Brooklyn:

BREAKFAST

Wake up to pancakes, good coffee and soft reggae at Bushwick Living Room, an adorable café located on Flushing Avenue. The café is a really cosy place with great food, atmosphere and prices and is a perfect place to grab breakfast or brunch.

SHOPPING

Spend the morning roaming the Brooklyn Flea Market, which has moved indoors for winter. The market has an amazing variety of stalls offering vintage clothes and shoes, jewellery, bags, rugs, toys, trinkets and books, and is connected to the Smorgasburg food market which is perfect for a quick mid-shop pit stop.

LUNCH

For lunch, check out Roberta’s, a place recommended to me by a Brooklyn local. It’s hidden down a quiet street – but just look for the red door. Inside, the restaurant is super cosy with wooden benches, low lighting and candles, reminiscent of a ski lodge café. Roberta’s does great pizzas and even better mimosas for manageable New York prices! You’ll find Roberta’s on Moore Street, about a minute’s walk from the Morgan Avenue L train stop.

VIEWS

To walk off all the pizza and cocktails head over to Brooklyn Bridge where you’ll get amazing views of Manhattan’s skyline, the river and Lady Liberty. Go in the late afternoon or early evening, it’s the perfect time to take a stroll as the views are highlighted by the beautiful New York sunset.

Brooklyn bridge- Author's own

Brooklyn bridge- Author’s own

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