Life with the Vespa – Part 1

Posted by Mark

vespa

Every now and then I’m going to post a series of posts on life with my Vespa. It’s something I thought about doing when I decided to get the bike and I think it would make for some interesting posts. It’s been a month since I got my Vespa and I’ve basically been riding it every day. I’m actually trying to ride it as much as I can because whenever I’m on it I feel like I’m on a vacation. It’s such an odd feeling but it makes sense since the only times I ever ridden a scooter before were on vacations. It also probably doesn’t help that I’m usually in my shorts and a tank top while riding the Vespa (and helmet of course).

I’ve been using the Vespa mostly for trips in and around Salmiya, for example I live in the beginning of Salmiya while my two best friends live on the other end of Salmiya. Previously I used to drive my FJ Cruiser over to their place and get stuck in traffic but now I take the Vespa and it cuts down on so much time and stress. There are no traffic problems when I’m riding my Vespa since I just zip between cars all the way to the front of the pack. I’ve actually practically stopped using my FJ for any Salmiya trip because riding the Vespa around isn’t only much more fun but so much more convenient. Even picking up groceries from Sultan is really doable with the Vespa since there’s a large compartment under the seat which holds all my grocery bags.

I’m also really glad I went with the yellow color, it really looks great on the road even though I end up getting much more attention than I want. I keep getting stopped by people asking me about the bike which is nice but sometimes all you really want to do is just get from point A to point B without socializing so it kinda feels like a waiter opening a conversation with you while you’re trying to enjoy your meal. On more than one occasion I would be at a red light waiting and the person in the car next to me would start making conversation over the bike or after parking the bike somewhere, someone would come up to me and ask me where I’ve gotten it from and how much it costs.

Other than strangers though my friends also ask me about the bike but mostly on the fact if I’ve gotten into any dangerous situations. So far not really, I thought I would have issues with taxi drivers and bus drivers whom I usually detest the most when in my FJ, but turns out they’re actually the friendliest drivers to me when I’m on my Vespa. The only close call I’ve actually had wasn’t related to the Vespa. I was riding down Baghdad Street in Salmiya and the road was empty since I had taken off at the previous traffic light first and all the cars were behind me when I suddenly see an SUV driving towards me. Turns out an old man took the wrong turn at a traffic light up ahead and ended up driving down the wrong way of the street. I slammed my brakes and pulled over to the side quickly (thank you ABS!) while he continued to drive past me only to realize there was a fleet of cars right behind me. That’s when he realized what he had done wrong and stopped his car. Luckily all the cars stopped their cars as well and allowed him to climb over the median strip over to the correct side of the road. So bizarre.


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Frankly Speaking

Posted by Mark

nes

Last week I was invited by both GUST University and NES to come in and speak about my blog to their students. I was never a big fan of public speaking since back when I was working in advertising, public speaking was part of my job. I was always presenting work to clients and it was always a nerve-racking experience but last week I realized, I actually love public speaking when it has to do with my blog. I mean why wouldn’t I? Getting invited to come and basically talk about myself to a large group of people who are interested in what I have to say, who wouldn’t love that? Although I do that with the blog on a day to day basis, in person its a completely different experience.

At both GUST and NES I spoke about various blog related topics but the most important one I wanted to discuss with everyone was not only how the blog had taken over my life, but how it’s also taken over my day to day thinking process. It’s something I’ve only come to realize recently and something I’m still trying to understand better so it was pretty therapeutic talking about it out loud.

Speaking to all the students last week was a very exciting experience for me and I’m hopefully going to being doing more of it from now. Thank you to everyone who attended, NES students you guys were a blast and GUST students, I’m sorry you had to endure an hour and a half of my sober ramblings!


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A Sushi Place Called Sushi

Posted by Mark

sushi1

Last night I headed to dinner with a friend to Thai Chow King, my favorite Thai hole-in-the-wall restaurant. But, when we got there it turned out the place was closed because it was Sunday. So I quickly started thinking of another place to go and I remembered that earlier in the day someone had told me about a new Sushi place that was open in Courtyard by Marriott. Supposedly it was better than EDO so we decided to head there to try it out.

The restaurant is called Sushi, they been open since June and are located in the main lobby of the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Kuwait City. I didn’t know how packed they would be so I called them up when I was on my way and made a reservation for two but when I got there only one table was occupied by what I assume was a hotel guest. Right as we sat down the waitress came up and told us that since we arrived before 8PM we would still be eligible for their happy hour and everything on the menu was 50% off. Hearing that we proceeded to order the following:

Crab Stick Salad KD4.100
Edamame KD1.500
Miso Soup (x2) KD2.400
Maguro (Tuna Sashimi) KD3.500
Hamachi (Yellowtail Sashimi) KD4.250
Shake (Salmon Sashimi) KD2.500
Unagi (Eel) KD5.000
Maguro (Tuna Sushi) KD2.000
Supreme Maki Roll KD5.000
Spider Maki Roll KD4.000
Flying Salmon Roll KD4.000
Shrimp Tempura KD3.250

I didn’t take any pictures of the dishes since I don’t always want to be that annoying person during dinner, but in any case, everything looked exactly like you would expect it everywhere else. Everything except for the Miso Soup that is, the Miso Soup. The Miso Soup arrived on a large slab with the bowl filled with Miso and three different solid ingredients located on the side, the tofu, seaweed and spring onions. You get to mix the ingredients into the bowl yourself which adds a bit of interaction to what usually is a straightforward dish. From all the items the only dish that really grabbed my attention was the Unagi which was smoked eel, grilled and covered in a sweet sauce. We weren’t planning to order this at first but the waitress recommended it and I was glad she did. On the other hand the worst of the bunch had to be the Supreme Maki and Spider Maki rolls. The Spider Maki rolls contained soft shell crab but it just tasted very bland while the Supreme Maki was a lobster roll that tasted like cocktail sauce which put me off. Everything else was fairly decent but definitely not better than EDO.

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Now there are a few pros and cons about the place. The ambiance could be an issue, if you’re looking for somewhere quiet and private, Sushi is for you. If you’re looking for a more lively atmosphere and a place where you can go and be seen, look elsewhere. While writing this review I also noticed we never got served the Flying Salmon even though it was in the bill. That’s not too bad of a hit though because at the end we got the 50% happy hour discount. So even though the original bill came out over KD40, we ended up paying just KD22.700. Which brings me to another subject.

Satchi no longer have the cheapest Salmon Sashimi in Kuwait, the new title holder is Sushi at Courtyard because with their happy hour discount their salmon sashimi comes out to just KD1.250.

So if you’re interested in trying them out, they’re open from 12PM to 3PM and then again from 7PM to 11PM. They’re closed on Fridays and happy hour is everyday from 7PM to 8PM. Just call ahead to make sure they still have the happy hour since the waitress kind of hinted this is a temporary thing (most likely to attract people). Their phone number is 22997000.


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Dating with Tinder in Kuwait

Posted by Mark

tinder

A friend recently asked me why I don’t write about the dating app Tinder. At first I wasn’t very sure if the local Tinder users would appreciate this extra attention, but then I thought about it again and realized a post about Tinder could actually boost it locally. So I decided to do some research and the first thing I did was google “tinder kuwait” which landed me on an extremely entertaining local blog called Single in the Shires. The blog is about the dating adventures of a single British girl living in Kuwait and since she was a Tinder user, I decided to contact her and ask her if she’d be willing to write the review instead. She nicely accepted and you can check it out below:

Swipe Right
When Mark asked me to guest blog for him I was delighted. Then I realized that I had to write about my shameful love life for the Kuwait blogosphere to digest. I hold my hands up… I am in my 30s and I’m single (audible gasp). And moving to Kuwait certainly hasn’t helped change matters. How could it? Gone are my days of meeting guys in nightclubs and bars. First date nerves are no longer steadied with a couple of wines. Dinners no longer turn in to dancing. And, for a change, I can remember every single disastrous detail the next day (not always a good idea). Plus, how on earth are you supposed to meet eligible bachelors in Kuwait – and by eligible I mean NOT the ones that follow you through Avenues, try and get your attention whilst driving dangerously or beep their horns as they drive past you when you’re trying to cross the street. Those men are a no no.

So, moving to Kuwait has meant embracing online dating – something I wasn’t a fan of in London. In fact, I’m even less of a fan now but needs must. And without match.com or mysinglefriend.co.uk there wasn’t much chance of even an internet date. Until Tinder popped up.

Tinder is an app that allows you to select your chosen target demographic (in my case: male, 32-38, within 50km) and then view their pictures. Like the look of them? Swipe right. Don’t like the look of them? Swipe left. Yes it’s shallow but it’s more fun than reading dating profiles that have been embellished beyond belief (ie the guy who said he was over 6 foot and was shorter than me on the date – and I’m 5 foot 7). The app pulls the pictures from your Facebook profile and it seems many users in Kuwait fail to review these and make any changes. Why else would there be 100s of profiles featuring men with their brides or profiles pictures that are of their children?!

You see, to some this is a dating site and to others it’s a hook up app. From talking to friends it seems men treat it as a hook up app and girls are a bit more willing to believe they’ll meet someone lovely and ride off in to the sunset to start their ‘happy ever after’. Wake up girls, you are not riding off in to the sunset with the guy that takes a selfie in the gym mirrors with his top off. That guy will always like himself just that little bit more than he likes you.

I could reel off my disastrous encounters thanks to Tinder but have chosen to protect the not-so-innocent. Plus, I don’t want to tempt fate. You see, for all my cynicism I am still hopeful that one day I’ll swipe right and meet a normal, well-adjusted guy that doesn’t want to show me the inside of his pants on Whatsapp after three messages.

So would I recommend Tinder? Well in the absence of an alternative then I suppose I would – as long as you don’t take it too seriously. Remember; online you can be whoever you want to be. Just take it all with a pinch of salt and swipe away. Who knows, you may have better luck than me.

SiS


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Vine Mediterranean Restaurant

Posted by Mark

vine1

The other day when I wrote about Semsom I mentioned if anyone knew of a place that made tabbouleh with quinoa to let me know. Turns out a small restaurant in Bnied Al-Gar does called Vine. Vine has been open for around nine months now and it’s a nice looking hole in the wall fusion mediterranean restaurant.

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I passed by at around 12:30PM for an early lunch and the place was empty. Right as soon as I sat down this very friendly woman welcomed me. She looked like she might have been the head chef but it was difficult to figure her out since she was also the waitress and the person that takes the orders on the phone. Thinking about it she might even be one of the owners even. Right as soon as I sat down and without me asking, she brought over a bottle of Acqua Panna water and opened it for me. Not a big deal since I actually wanted water but that move would definitely irritate people who didn’t. The menu was located on their iPad so I flipped through it quickly and then asked the waitress for her recommendations. Even though they had a whole bunch of different kinds of tabbouleh I knew I wanted to try the quinoa version, I also knew I wanted hummus and after discussing it with her I went for the edamame one. She also recommended the kubba quinoa for starters while for the main course she recommended I go for the kafta yort oglo which I also did. So in the end my order was the following:

Tabbouleh Quinoa KD3.000
Kubba Quinoa KD3.250
Hummus Edamame KD1.900
Kafta Yort Glo KD4.750

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Before the food started arriving I was served some complimentary bread and cheese. I also asked for some olives which turned out to be delicious. While waiting for the starters I took a good look at the place. There were around 6 or 7 tables which is pretty good for a hole in the wall and I also liked their purple colored window shades which were letting in some beautiful light. The first dishes to arrive were the tabbouleh and hummus, the tabbouleh served in a cute little jar. The hummus was alright, I didn’t taste a lot of edamame in it and I actually prefer the one at Katsuya more than this. The tabbouleh was pretty good but made slightly different from the one I had tried at a restaurant in Lebanon. The one I had in Lebanon the actual quinoa was fully cooked to the point where the germ had separated from the seed. In Vine’s tabbouleh, the quinoa wasn’t fully cooked so the germ was still inside the seed so I really couldn’t taste the quinoa in the tabbouleh. The kubba quinoa arrived soon after and even though I couldn’t taste the quinoa in it as well I still thought it was delicious and my favorite starter of the three. If only they had a healthier baked version instead of fried that would have been perfect. Finally my kafta yort oglo arrived which was composed of kafta covered in laban sauce and pine nuts. Like everything else the presentation was first-rate but also like everything else, it wasn’t a dish that stuck out or would make me want to come back again.

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Once I was done with my food I couldn’t ask for the bill since there was no one in the restaurant. I waited a bit and at one point I was thinking of going back into the kitchen to look for someone. I decided to stay put and finally after a few more minutes of just waiting, the waitress came out apologizing for being gone for so long. That made it slightly better and I asked for the bill. Price wise I think it’s fairly reasonable, I ordered enough food for two people and the bill came out to KD13.900 which isn’t too bad. Overall, even though the food wasn’t extraordinary and the service slightly careless, I actually had a pleasant experience. Maybe because I was in a good mood, or maybe because I love hole in the walls but I’d probably go back and try some of their other dishes. For more information you can check them out on instagram @vinekwt


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ORA Japanese Tapas

Posted by Mark

ora1

ORA is a Japanese Tapas restaurant that opened around 3 months ago in Arabella. I was out of the country when I was originally invited for a tasting and then only managed to finally pass by and try it out last week. The story behind ORA is an interesting one, five friends from Kuwait who went to school in California met Executive Chef Tiger at Katsuya in Beverly Hills. One thing led to another and the five friends came back to Kuwait with Chef Tiger and together they created ORA.

ora2

Most of the people go to ORA in the evening but I headed there with a friend for lunch since I wanted natural daylight for my photos. At night the place is very dim and from what I’ve been told the place is usually packed and the atmosphere makes you feel like you’re in Dubai. That’s generally the best compliment you can give to a place here… when it doesn’t make you feel like you’re in Kuwait. We ended up ordering the following dishes:

Yellowtail Tacos KD5.500
Salmon Crab Avocado Salad (x2) KD9.000
Crispy Rice Spicy Tuna KD3.500
Tiger Shrimp Tempura Roll KD4.750
Yellowtail Chili Miso KD6.500
Donburi Short Rib KD5.500
Chocolate & Salted Caramel Bread Pudding KD3.750

Chef Tiger was the Executive Chef at Katsuya in Brentwood, Los Angeles for four years before helping them open their locations in Hollywood and Glendale. He has an extensive background with Katsuya and that inspiration is reflected in his dishes. Like Katsuya you can’t compare ORA to regular traditional Japanese restaurants since the dishes are much more evolved. From all the dishes we had my favorite probably had to be the Yellowtail Chili Miso with my least favorite being the Salmon Crab Avocado Salad. I still think EDO has the best Salmon Crab Avocado Salad but my issue with the one at ORA was it was just a bit too safe of a dish compared to everything else we had. Unlike the other dishes it didn’t look like it was taken to the next step, one that would allow it to be distinguished from all the other Salmon Crab Avocado Salads in Kuwait. I wasn’t planning on having dessert but I was glad I did. Instead of using bread for their Chocolate & Salted Caramel Bread Pudding, ORA use croissant which makes it super fluffy while probably adding another thousand calories. But, the chef has somehow managed to make it taste very light which resulted in my original plan of having just one bite fail miserably.

ora3

One thing that really stuck out for me was the service, not only were the waiters quiet, fast and well informed, but at least with our waiter he made us feel like we were at a spa since he was very soothing and borderline therapeutic. The interior of ORA is another thing I liked about the place. It’s a beautiful minimal space and from all the restaurants at Arabella probably the nicest looking and most luxurious. Speaking of luxury, I found the prices at ORA fairly reasonable for this style of place. Sure if you order one of the lobster dishes you’re going to end up paying upwards of KD20 but majority of the items are all well within reach. Their prices are actually similar to Katsuya and MAKI but the place manages to feel a lot more upscale which makes it a perfect place for dates and special occasions. Our bill came out to KD45 and that included food, beverages and tips. The only negative aspect about ORA is the fact that it’s in Arabella which itself isn’t very luxurious. Right on top of ORA is Margherita the pizza place and right across ORA is Texas Roadhouse and there is a Pinkberry on top of that. There’s a large Red Lobster at the main entrance with an Olive Garden in front of it as well. Arabella kinda feels like an outdoor food court because of all the franchises.

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I liked ORA a lot and it’s a place I would definitely go back to. Also unlike most restaurants who bring in big international chefs, Chef Tiger is here to stay and he’s brought along two of his sous chefs with him so the food should continue to remain good. ORA is open from 12PM to 4PM and then again from 6PM till 12AM. It’s always better to call ahead for reserverations and their number is 22275090. For more information you can check out their instagram @ora_kw


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M.I.A.

Posted by Mark

campsite

I should have posted this earlier but basically the reason I haven’t been posting here for a few days is because I’m on vacation right now. I’m spending my time with friends outdoors and checking my emails just once a day. It feels good to be disconnected but everything will be back to normal in a couple of days once I’m back in Kuwait.


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The Demise of Local Blogs

Posted by Mark

blogsinkuwait

Around a month ago I got a phone call from a reporter at Al Qabas newspaper. He was doing a story on the state of the local blogging scene and had some questions he wanted to ask me. On Saturday the article was finally released with a large dramatic headline that roughly translates to “Blogs have Declined by 97% while Instagram Grows and Grows”.

I started blogging back in 2003 when me and a friend started Qhate, which at that time was the first and only blog in Kuwait until Zaydoun launched Kuwait Unplugged soon after. I’m going to sound like a grand parent reminiscing about the past but I’ve seen hundreds of blogs come and go during this time and the whole local blogging community evolve. It wasn’t just us geeks and dorks anymore sitting on a computer and writing into the wee hours of the morning while snacking on Nutella sandwiches. Everyone suddenly wanted to become a blogger and one by one people started setting up their own blogs and posting. Many and by many I mean 97% of them were rubbish either just copying pasting articles from other international blogs or just became a tool for local advertising and media agencies to hawk products and services to readers who were naive enough to fall for the posts.

The fact that blogs in Kuwait have declined by 97% is a good thing.

A lot of people ask me all the time why I haven’t shifted to Instagram. Simple, Instagram isn’t a replacement for blogs.

What I found ironic about the Al Qabas article was how they made it seem like blogging as a medium itself was dying when ironically it’s the newspapers who are the ones suffering because of blogs and other online news sources. I mean the article itself uses a screen capture of my blog from back in 2012 and what I am guessing is a screen capture of The Blogs Lounge from around the same time. Where the hell did they even manage to find a capture of my blog from 2012 and why couldn’t they get a recent one? Newspapers are large companies while blogs are like mom-and-pop stores, we actually care about our posts and readers.

I don’t think of myself as a great writer and I never pretend to be one either. But I can tell you one thing and that is the fact that I dedicate every waking hour to this blog trying to find something to write about so everyone else can read it. It’s in my head all the time, everything I do everywhere I go I’m always looking for something to write about. It’s taken over my life and my thinking process. It’s become my life actually. It’s so difficult for me to focus on something because I’m always distracted, I’m always reading, I’m always trying to absorb as much information as I can hoping one thing or another will trigger an idea for a new post. It’s a challenge every single day because this is Kuwait and not a lot of things happen here. It’s exhausting and sometimes I just wish I didn’t have this blog just so that I could shift my focus onto other projects.

But I love it, I love what I do and I love how I somehow manage to find stuff to write about on a daily basis and I’ve been doing this for over ten years now. It’s something I’m really good at and as long as I can keep coming up with interesting content for my readers this is something I am going to keep doing.

So yes most of the blogs in Kuwait are dead but mine isn’t and I’m not going anywhere.


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His Essentials Barbershop

Posted by Mark

he1

Until late last year, my hair cut was pretty simple, I’d just get it shaved with a machine at the small barbershop under my building and that was it. Then one day, I decided I wanted to grow my hair, I didn’t have a plan or anything in mind, I just hadn’t changed my haircut in 14 years and decided I would grow it. A few months passed by and I was in Lebanon with a friend and he decided to take me to his barber called Bob. Bob was really talented and worked on my hair as if it was a sculpture. I hadn’t seen anyone work in the same way he did and by the time he was done I couldn’t believe my hair could look that good. Fast forward a few weeks and I’m in Kuwait, my hair has grown and I’m looking for someone to cut it. I considered flying to Lebanon for a weekend but didn’t think it would be feasible to fly out twice a month for a haircut, I needed someone locally.

I asked my friends and got two recommendations, the first guy I called was on his annual leave so I ended up going to the second barber who ended up butchering my hair. He cut it too short and killed any style that my hair had, it was depressing but the worst part is, a month later I headed back to the same friggin’ guy! Even though he sucked at least I knew what to expect and to me that was a safer bet then going to someone else and possibly ending up with something even worse. My second hair cut sucked even more than the first one since he ended up cutting my hair even shorter. So when one of my contacts called me and told me about a new barbershop she was helping launch, I thought maybe its time I try someone else.

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The new barbershop is called His Essentials and is located on the ground floor of Dar Al Awadi. When I got there I was contemplating if I should take my camera inside with me or leave it in the car. I wasn’t expecting much of the place honestly so didn’t think I would take any pictures but in the end decided I would take it in just in case. Once I walked in the place looked pretty cool. It wasn’t very big but the curvy design of the store gives you the impression of a very long hallway that would lead you somewhere, a cool illusion that makes the place look bigger than it actually is. I told the receptionist I had an appointment and he lead me to my barber and his station. I explained to the barber the story of my hair, how the other barber messed it up twice and also showed him photos of when I had first gotten it cut in Lebanon. He told me not worry about it and that he would get my hair looking good again. Right away my barber started noticing where the other barber went wrong. He highlighted the areas the previous barber had cut too short and he then proceeded to tell me how he would fix my hair by not cutting some parts at all and letting them grow. Thats when I started feeling comfortable and I knew I was in good hands. Once he was done I looked at my hair, it was still long and it was starting to get its style back and I loved it. Although not as good as Bob I was happy I had found a good barber locally that would at least not butcher Bob’s work.

Before I left the shop I got a small tour of all the various brands they sold which they’re importing to Kuwait themselves including: Baxter of California, Eshave, Balla Powder, Brooklyn Grooming, Beardition, Emerald Bay Tan and California Tan.

I know from my friends that it’s very difficult to find beard products locally and they had a whole bunch including beard shampoos, conditioners, oils and even little cool beard combs. I ended up paying around KD32 for a royal haircut, a beard trim, a Baxter deodorant and an Emerald Bay tanning lotion. When it comes to haircuts and shaves they have two options for each. The royal haircut costs KD15 and includes washing your hair twice, a head massage, a hair mask and oil while the classic haircut is your regular haircut and costs KD8. The regular beard trim/shave costs KD5 but they also have a royal shave for KD10 and that involves 8 various stages of products as well as cold and hot towels. I’d personally get a classic haircut next time since I think KD15 is just too much to pay for a haircut.

If you’re interested to check out the place their phone number is 22322336 and you can check their instagram account for their opening hours [Here]


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Do we need a new airport?

Posted by Mark

newkuwaitairport

A few days ago I posted about how the construction of the new Kuwait airport was been put on hold indefinitely and oddly enough, some people were actually pleased with the news. One of the comments was that the new airport would make Kuwait very difficult to live in (because more people would come to Kuwait) while another person didn’t think anything was wrong with the current airport.


[YouTube]

I personally would love a new airport especially the Foster + Partners design that got approved (watch the video above). I travel a lot and arriving at a clean, bright and organized airport is a much more positive experience than arriving at a crowded, gloomy and depressing one. I’d love to pass through an eGate and avoid the long lines at immigration or wander around a large duty free to kill time before my flight. Also the first thing new visitors to Kuwait will see is the airport and first impressions matter. Kuwait is so much better than what the current airport leads you to believe.

But that’s my opinion, I’m curious to know if I am alone in this because I don’t think I am. Do we need a new airport?


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