Online-only Dubai visas for GCC expats starting from October

Posted by Mark

ekupdate

Starting October, GCC expats will no longer be able to get a visa on arrival to the UAE. Instead, GCC expats are required to apply for a visa online before the trip. The idea behind this is do reduce long queues for on-site visa applications and payment at the airport. They’ve already started the online service and a friend of mine just applied for his visa online and the total amount he had to pay was AED230 (around KD19).

Although the graphic above has been making its way around whatsapp, according to online news sources [1,2] it’s not accurate. Applying for an online visa became possible starting May 15th but visitors will continue to be able to get visas on arrival until October. You can apply for visas online at [ednrd.ae]

Thanks Fahad


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Club Life – Lebanon

Posted by Mark

Every year I like to post an updated list of the hottest places in Lebanon to check out. Since I know a lot of people are heading to Beirut at the moment I figured it was time to post this list. The venues are posted in the order I went to:

busstation

The Bus Station
When I first heard about this place I thought they meant The Train Station which I had posted about [Here]. Turns out The Bus Station is located right next to The Train Station except it’s an indoor venue. It’s literally an old bus station which they’ve turned into a giant club and there are a bunch of busses scattered all around as a reminder. The night I went to it Red Bull were hosting the evening and live bands were performing. The Bus Station is located in Mar Mikhael and is a project by überhaus.

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Twenty Seven
After The Bus Station I headed to another new place that opened up called Twenty Seven. It’s located in the Beirut Souks and is run by the Skybar Group. DJETTE (pictured above), one of my favorite Lebanese DJ’s is a resident there so it’s definitely a place I would want to hit up on my trips. They also bring in a lot of international acts so there is always something going on. Follow them on instagram to stay updated on their upcoming events. [Link]

grandfactory

The Grand Factory
Located on the rooftop of a factory in the industrial Karantina area of Beirut, The Grand Factory is one of the hottest venues at the moment. The space is obviously very industrial looking and the journey begins with a fun ride in a giant industrial elevator to the top. It’s the new home of C U NXT SAT. [Link]

offon

OFF / ON
OFF & ON is a barbershop by day and a crazy club at night. Walking by the shop you can’t even tell there is a club right on top of it but if you’re in the know, a guy sitting in the barber chair will hit a hidden switch revealing a hidden door that leads to the club upstairs. Would have taken a better picture but by this point in the evening I was already too trashed. OFF & ON is located in the back of the An-Nahar building, same building that has Iris on the roof. [Link]

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B018
For frequent travelers to Beirut, this place doesn’t need an introduction and they just celebrated their 21 year anniversary a few nights ago. B018 is a place I highly recommend heading there after clubbing, preferably around 5AM. The best feeling is when you’re completely wasted and they open up the roof so you can see the sun come up, and then they close it again so you could continue to party. It’s really what makes B018 special, it’s the club everyone goes to after a night of hard clubbing and just before going to breakfast. [Link]


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My First Harley Ride

Posted by Mark

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A couple of weeks ago Harley Davidson sent me to Lebanon to participate in their spring ride. They were launching their brand new showroom in Lebanon and invited some media members from around the region to cover the opening and then take part in the ride the following day. My ride with Harley has been a work in progress for probably over a year now since they had invited me to two rides last year. I ended up backing out from both of those rides because I hadn’t ridden a motorbike for a few years and wasn’t sure I’d still remember how to. So Harley offered to hook me up with refresher courses in Bahrain which I managed to conveniently get done during the GulfRun weekend back in January.

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I had never taken part in a Harley ride before or yet alone any kind of ride that consisted of more than two riders so I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy riding with a large crowd. We were around six media members and we all met up at the lobby of our hotel on the morning of our ride. Once we were all there we were taken to the parking lot where we had our brand new Harley’s waiting for us. Before the trip they had asked us to name three Harley bikes we would like to ride and they hooked us all up with one of the bikes on our list, I ended up with a 2015 V-Rod. We took off from our hotel, filled up our bikes with fuel and headed to the Harley dealership which was the meeting point for all the riders.

There were over 200 bikers at the starting point of our trip which was just insane. I didn’t even realize how complicated the logistics of organizing and riding with 200 bikers was until this trip, it’s just mind boggling. Imagine how long a line of 200 bikers is? It’s like a train going through a city. Actually a friend of mine said it better, it’s like a village on wheels and the amount of work that goes behind a smooth ride is impressive.

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Our ride started off in Beirut and then headed south away from the city into the mountains. In addition to the 200+ riders there was a crew of Harley volunteers who would help make this journey as easy and smooth as possible. These members would ride ahead of the main group and block traffic for us or stop at intersections and point us towards the direction we need to go in. Once the group passes they then catch up and head to the front again and repeat the same thing over and over. Even a fuel stop requires a lot of logistics, imagine 200 bikers stopping at a gas station… they literally took over the whole block.

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We had lunch half way through the ride at a scenic spot beside a river. It wasn’t a sunny day and in fact it started raining in Beirut while we were in the mountains so on our way back into the city we all got into our rain gear just in case. We passed through some really beautiful locations along the way but sadly since I was riding I couldn’t take any photos. It was one of those occasions where I just had to enjoy the moment for myself but as a photographer I was hurting inside because I would see a beautiful shot with my eyes but I wouldn’t be able to capture it not even on my phone. Harley Davidson did have a photographer on this ride which is how I got these shots but I honestly don’t think he was great, he missed a lot of beautiful moments and for some reason applied so many random filters on the photos I think he ruined them. I just spent half an hour trying my best to fix them up so I could use them for this post. If I ever go on a ride similar to this again I’m going to figure out a way to take photos myself while riding.

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The V-Rod bike I rode was surprisingly very easy to ride. Even though the bike was big, heavy and had a lot of power, the throttle was very smooth and the bike just seemed so rider friendly and forgiving. Compared to my friends KTM RC8 I was riding a few weeks back, I felt so much more comfortable riding the V-Rod.

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It was a super fun ride and I’m glad I got to experience it. I was honestly never a Harley fan before I started working with them, I’ve always been and still am a sports bike kind of guy. But, riding a Harley and riding in a large group like this has given me a better understanding on why people love Harley’s so much. Even though there were over 200 bikes I don’t think any two were the same because everyone customizes their bikes to their liking. I think people also love the feeling of belonging. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, once you’re on a Harley you’re automatically accepted into this world and I think thats an amazing thing.


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Review: The Smallville Hotel – Beirut, Lebanon

Posted by Mark

smallville

Around two weeks back I was in Lebanon for the weekend and stayed at a hotel called The Smallville. When I’m in Lebanon I usually stay at one of the beautiful guesthouses like Beyt, but because I was booking last minute I couldn’t find any availability which is why I ended up booking at Smallville. The hotel is fairly new having been open for around a year now and going by the pictures online it looked like a trendy place to stay. More importantly though it was fairly affordable compared to some of the other options I was looking at.

After spending two nights there I can easily say it’s now one of my favorite places to stay when I go down to Lebanon and it’s incredible value for money.

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The hotel itself is located in a quiet neighborhood but its still very close to Achrafieh, Gemeyze and Downtown. The room was fairly large and I had the regular “Premium King” room yet it came with a small kitchen, a seating area and a balcony with a view. The staff where really friendly throughout the stay even when I stumbled into the hotel lobby at 6AM from a night out and started mumbling to them about my checkout time (which they replied telling me I could checkout whenever I woke up no issues). It feels like a hotel made for fun party goers and I like that because you feel comfortable even when you do silly things.

My room cost me $118 a night and I booked last minute so you could probably get it cheaper if you book earlier. When I was checking out the manager gave me his card and told me to contact him the next time I want to book since he could offer me an even better deal. I’ve already recommended the hotel to some friends who ended up loving it as well so if you’re looking for a trendy and affordable place to stay in while visiting Lebanon, then I’d highly recommend The Smallville. Here is a link to their [Website]


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I flew Kuwait Airways and I liked it

Posted by Mark

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This past weekend Harley Davidson sent me to Lebanon for a bike ride as part of a media trip. They took care of my airline ticket and I hadn’t noticed until the very last minute that they had booked Kuwait Airways for me. If I had noticed earlier I would have obviously requested to change my flight to MEA but it was too late to change the ticket and I was stuck flying Kuwait Airways.

While checking in at the airport I asked if I was flying a new plane and turns out I was. I still wasn’t too thrilled about flying on the new planes because based on the photos Kuwait Airways had published in their instagram account (here and here), the new planes looked outdated, ugly and gloomy. Not sure why Kuwait Airways posted those horrible pictures but turns out they’re misleading and not an accurate representation of how the planes actually look like.

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When I got onboard the new plane I was completely taken a back by how nice and bright the interior was. In the photos on the Kuwait Airways instagram account, the chairs looked dark and the walls and ceiling had a dull grey tone but in reality, the blues were vibrant and the walls and ceiling were bright and light colored. I sat down in my seat and noticed I had really good legroom as well, so far I was really impressed. I started flipping through the media center checking it out while the passenger next to me plugged in a USB stick with movies and started watching something. This is a completely new Kuwait Airways and I was liking it.

I flew both ways with the new Kuwait Airways plane and honestly I think the planes are better than the MEA ones which I normally fly with to Lebanon. There was even internet onboard the Kuwait Airways plane which I tried out on the way back ($10 for 30mins, $20 for 1 hour and $40 for 3 hours). Even the food wasn’t too bad at all and because no one flies Kuwait Airways, the plane wasn’t very packed making the experience even more enjoyable.


[YouTube]

I did have an issue though and it was with the flight attendants. When I headed to the bathroom at the back of the plane while we were flying, I noticed one of the flight attendants was sitting in a passenger seat with the headphones on watching a movie. I thought that was pretty unprofessional. Another incident which also showed a lack of professionalism, when we landed and the plane was still on the runway heading towards our parking spot, a passenger got up from his seat and started getting his bag from the overhead compartment. Instead of the Kuwait Airways flight attendant telling the man to sit back down she got up and walked over to him and helped him carry his bag down from the overhead compartment. Then other people started getting up to get their overhead bags while the plane was still moving. Total chaos and I though it was ridiculous that the flight attendants weren’t telling the passengers to stay seated until the plane stopped. But then again this was Kuwait Airways. Although everything does look new, modern and up to date, end of the day this is still the same airline and the flight attendants are a reminder of that.

Putting aside my issue with the flight attendants I actually had a great experience with Kuwait Airways. In fact I would choose Kuwait Airways over MEA in a heart beat if the Kuwait Airways flight wasn’t an hour longer (they don’t fly over Syria, Jordan or Israel so they take a big detour). I thought the in-flight entertainment system had more than enough entertainment for the 3 hour flight, I found the seats comfortable, the legroom was great and my overall experience was very positive. The only thing I would say though is that they can update all their planes as much as they want, they can get the new A380s even and have onboard showers but that’s not going to be enough to move the airline forward unless the employees get retrained and their professionalism reestablished. And I’m not talking about just the onboard flight attendants but every employee you interact with from the minute you checkin to the last Kuwait Airways employee you see should reflect this new and improved Kuwait Airways. Other than that they’re off to a pretty good start.


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Skiing in Marrakesh

Posted by Mark

ski-marrakesh-1

As I mentioned in my previous post on my stay in Marrakesh, my main reason going there was for a ski holiday. Not many people consider Marrakesh as a ski destination and even I didn’t even know they had slopes until a friend pitched the idea. Preparing for the trip was a bit of a pain since there was very very little information online on skiing in Marrakesh. I couldn’t even find a website that told me if it had snowed in the mountains or if the slopes were even open. All I knew is that the ski slopes were around an hour and a half drive from the main city and located in an area called Oukaimeden. Originally I wanted to take my own snowboard and boots with me since I wasn’t sure I could rent gear over there but, since I didn’t even know if the slopes were open, I decided not to go through the hassle and instead just took my snowboarding clothes with me.

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Once my friends and me were in Marrakesh we asked around if there was snow in Oukaimeden and to our relief turns out there was. We rented a car with a driver and headed out to the slopes the following day. We ended up leaving the medina at around 9:30AM and arrived to the slopes before noon. The road to the top of the mountain was small and not very eventful except for this one incident involving a camel. Some people have camels on the side of the road for tourists to sit on and take photos and one went wild and ran into the middle of the road just as my driver was speeding to overtake another car on the road. Luckily we missed the camel which continued running down the run barely missing other cars.

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Once we arrived to the slopes things got a bit intense. Two of my friends had never snowboarded before and needed an instructor. We spotted some guys hanging around on the side of the road and when they noticed we were tourists they all attacked our car. Turns out they were all instructors / guides and started arguing amongst each other on who saw us first and who should get us. Too dramatic but understandable since it’s a very poor country and everyone is trying to make a living. After having our driver translate for us we found out that they charge 100dhms an hour to take care of us either by instructing or just helping us get around. 100dhms is just KD3 so we each took a guide and headed towards the best equipment rental store to get our gear.

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Their best equipment rental store was ghetto, like if your local bakala decided to rent out 90s ski gear (including neon colored one piece ski suits). But, compared to the alternative (people renting boots and equipment on the side of the road) this place seemed like a great find. Renting boots and a snowboard cost us 250dhms (KD7.7) each for the day, which I think was expensive compared to everything else. I think we could have gotten them even cheaper if we had asked for the gear for half a day or at least haggled. Once we got our stuff we headed to the first slope. A day ski pass to access the slopes is just 50dhms (KD1.5) which is the cheapest I’ve paid anywhere… ever. The bottom of the slopes was pretty packed but once you get the lift and head to the top its empty. That’s because many people just play with the snow at the bottom of the slopes or ride sleds. There aren’t many people who ski and there weren’t any other tourists from what I could tell.

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One thing I found interesting is there were people walking around the slopes selling coffee and traditional Moroccan sweets. There was even a stand where you could pick up a bowl of steaming hot snails (a delicacy over there) if you wanted to. It’s actually pretty smart especially if you’re looking for a bit of an energy boost.

After spending sometime at the first slope we then decided to tackle their largest and steepest slope but that was a bit of a distance away. Our guides gave us three options of getting there:

1) Drive there by car
2) Walk
3) Take a donkey ride

Obviously we opted for the donkey ride which was a ton of fun and something again I hadn’t experienced in any other ski slope in the world.

Their highest slope was insanely cool and according to my guide 3000m high. The ride to the top was fairly long, maybe around 20 minutes and the closer we got to the summit the worst the visibility got. It was extremely foggy with a visibility of around 10m or so. Once we got off the lift at the top I couldn’t tell where the slope started and just figured I’d accidently end up flying off a cliff on my way down. But my guide knew the route by heart, which was great since we were going to snowboard down the slope blindly. It had snowed all night and there was a blizzard while we were at the top so the snow was fantastically deep and powdery.

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Getting a guide was the smartest thing I did since I really couldn’t see shit the first half of the route down. I kept yelling at him that I couldn’t see and he just kept yelling back that if I see rocks to start turning the other way. Simple obvious advice but it worked.

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Anyway I got to the bottom of the slope in one piece even though I did face plant on more than one occasion. Would I recommend skiing in Marrakesh? Hell yes I would, it’s a wonderful experience and they have enough strange characteristics to make the experience unique to them. It’s also a very affordable ski experience, one of the cheapest I’m aware of. Since it’s difficult to find information online what I would recommend to do if you’re interested in skiing in Marrakesh is to call a hotel there and ask them if the slopes are open. I would also do a search for #oukaimeden on instagram since I found a few photos of people on the slopes that way. If anyone has any questions let me know.


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Riad Mena & Beyond – Marrakesh

Posted by Mark

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Last week I ended up going to Marrakesh for the weekend on a ski trip. Originally me and my friends were supposed to go snowboarding in France but on the days we wanted to go there was school break so we figured the slopes would be packed. So we decided to fly out from Paris to Marrakesh and go snowboarding there instead. That turned out to be the best idea ever and one of the reasons the trip turned out so great was because of where we stayed in Marrakesh, Riad Mena & Beyond.

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The old medina of Marrakesh is packed with houses all stuck together and many have been turned into guest houses which they call riads. The guest houses are usually very similar in structure, a large courtyard in the middle and rooms located around it. I’m not sure how I found out about Riad Mena & Beyond but I do remember that when I first saw the pictures I knew it was where I wanted to stay.

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Riad Mena & Beyond is located very close to the main medina square where everything takes place in. It’s around a 10 minute walk from the chaos of the square but the area the actual riad is in is very quiet and calm. Then once you’re inside the riad you can’t hear anything taking place outside and so you’re in a completely different world. The riads architecture is very traditional but the owner has managed to tastefully combine contemporary furniture with it and she even managed to fit a Pod chair into the environment and still make it work.

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I was upgraded to The Grand room which is a suite and the largest room in the riad. I had seen pictures of the room but only once I walked in did I realize how big it truly was. I couldn’t even snapchat the room all in one snap since walking from one side to the other needed more than 10 seconds. It was such a beautiful room and super cozy, I loved coming back at the end of the day and just chilling in the room which even has its own fireplace.

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The riad itself is a great place to just hang around and chill in as well. There are lots of spaces you can just lay around and lounge in even on the roof if you want to tan or just enjoy the beautiful weather. That means even if there are other people staying at the riad you could still have your private space for you and your friends.

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I only had two issues with the Mena & Beyond and both were fairly minor (as in they’re easy to fix). The first was with the riads wifi. At night it would sometimes work or sometimes not work in my room, it was very random but not a deal breaker for me since I was trying to stay away from the web as much as I could anyway. The other issue I had was with the breakfast which mostly consisted of various traditional bread with jams and butter. Exciting the first day but couldn’t stand it anymore by the third day.

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Riad Mena & Beyond is a very new guesthouse that just opened up this past September. I really loved the space and I would not only recommend it to friends (which I’ve already done) but it’s where I’m staying the next time I’m back in Marrakesh again. Prices start at 140euro a night all the way up to 350euro for The Grand room which I stayed in. Here is a link to their website with a ton of great photos of the place [Link]


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I’m Out

Posted by Mark

plane-window

I’ll be traveling for the next two weeks so my posting schedule will be a bit messed up. As usual, you can follow me on instagram (@mark248am) or even snapchat (mark248am) if you’d like to see what I’m up to.


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Inside the New Kuwait Airways Planes and Airport Lounge

Posted by Mark


[YouTube]

Last month Kuwait Airways started receiving their first batch of leased planes and alongside these planes, Kuwait Airways have also gone ahead and given their premium class checking area a facelift as well as the Dasman Lounge.


[YouTube]

In the first video on top we get to the see the business class and economy class of the new planes as well as a tour of the new media system. In the second video we get taken on a tour of the new check in area followed by a tour of the lounge. Both the plane interiors and the lounge look outdated to me but I guess its better than what we had.

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OXadventure are Looking for Volunteers

Posted by Mark

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OXadventure is a local non-profit organization which was started by three young Kuwaitis who had a passion for travel, charity work and adventure. During their carefully planned trips, the OXadventure team completes charity and humanitarian work in the countries they travel to while safely exploring them on a budget. They get to see things the way the locals do as opposed to tourists. The trips have also developed into an accredited internship program in a couple of universities in Kuwait.

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OXadventure have a trip coming up in February and are looking for volunteers. They will be traveling to Nepal for a spiritual five-day yoga hike and refurbishing a school in rural Kathmandu. The trip is from February 19th to March 1st so if you’re interested in being part of this send an email to info@oxadventure.com or give them a call on ‪90998807‬.


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