My Money Exchange Guy

Posted by Mark

exchange

Years ago I started exchanging my money before I traveled from this small money exchange shop down the street from my place. It’s run by a grumpy sounding old man who always gave me great exchange rates, had odd currencies which I needed but nobody else had plus he memorized my name which is why he’s been my go-to guy ever since. Recently a bunch of new exchange places started popping up. I think there are around 2 or 3 in his same building, around 2 across the street and 2 more in the building next door. Not sure why all these exchange places started opening up on my street but it seems it’s affecting the business of my money exchange guy. So recently he’s been trying to attract more customers. One way is by giving guests water or a fruit drink but the other thing he’s been doing which caught my interest was trying to get people to spread the word about his shop. When you exchange money he now hands you back your money in an envelop with his businesses card and a small paper with the following message on it:

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Friends, (His first line was definitely a lot more embellished)
Please use your phones to photograph Masood’s Exchange in Al-Salmiya business card and send it to all your friends and family. Please be sure to ask them to forward that image to their friends and family members as well. If it’s possible, post the photo of the business card along with the above paragraph on Viber, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and Tango.

Thank you!

Your brother,
Masood

I thought that was cute and since I like the place I figured I’d help him out by posting about it here. His shop is located near Burger King and Pizza Hut in the old Salmiya on Salem Al Mubarek Street. Here is it on [Google Maps] I don’t know where everyone usually exchanges their money, probably at the airport but if you’re in the neighborhood check his place out. Thats the picture of his shop on top.


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Things to do in Lebanon this Eid (Part 1)

Posted by Mark

Lots of people travel to Lebanon during Eid because its so close, so this year I decided to ask two friends of mine to put together their recommendations on what to do and where to go. My friends also happen to have the two most popular blogs in Lebanon, Najib runs BlogBaladi.com while Gino runs Ginosblog.com. First up is Najib’s recommendations, check them out below and then make sure you check out his blog [Here]

lecrep

La Creperie Jounieh
For those of you who don’t know La Creperie yet, it’s is one of Lebanon’s most authentic and beautiful restaurants and has been serving great food since 1968. The restaurant was recently renovated and relaunched and is originally an 18th century picturesque Ottoman house that offers a breathtaking view across the Jounieh Bay. An ideal place for a late afternoon meal, sunset drinks or a Sunday family lunch. [Link]

Garden State
One of the hottest outdoor venues this summer in Beirut holding a different theme on a daily basis. Thursday is the busiest with pop music from the 80s and 90s, Sundays are chill out Apero Electro with live cooking. Wednesday is a dog-friendly day where everyone can bring his dog. [Link]

beer

Colonel Beer
A local microbrewery and restaurant located in the heart of Batroun. Colonel Beer is only few meters away from the beach and you can enjoy BBQs, freshly brewed beer, local artists and a great atmosphere. [Link]

Burgers at Smoking Bun
The best street burger in Beirut. [Link]

Helado Ice Cream
My favorite icecream shop in Lebanon. The flavors are quite original and delicious. There’s Baileys, Whiskey, Green Apple, Fig, Lotus, Oreo and others. Make sure you drop by on your way back from the beach. [Link]

Taanayel Ecolodge
A traditional village located in the heart of the Bekaa. A great place to walk around and enjoy nature, have great food at Al Khan Al Makssoud and have fun with the various outdoor activities. [Link]

Karting at RPM
RPM (Racing Park Mtein) is the newest and hottest karting circuit in Lebanon. It’s a long drive from Beirut (1 hour or more) but it’s totally worth it and there’s a lot of sightseeing to do on the way to Mtein. [Link]

Mir Amin Palace
The Chouf is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful areas in Lebanon. It boasts the biggest Cedars forest in Lebanon, historical palaces built by the Emirs of Lebanon (most notably the magnificent Beiteddine palace), as well as beautiful old Lebanese houses, monasteries and attractions. It’s the perfect getaway from the city. The Mir Amin Palace Hotel is the ideal place to stay when you’re planning a weekend in the Chouf. [Link]

Pinea Campus
A gorgeous campsite surrounded by a large stone pines forest and located in Haitoura area in Jezzine (South Lebanon). It’s a great spot for camping, enjoying outdoor activities like ATVing, Skeet/Trap shooting (Tiro), mountain biking, horseback riding and Hiking and chill grills on Sunday. [Link]

chez

Chez Sami’s Seafood Restaurant
Check out Chez Sami’s new terrace (Chez Sami Le Deck) and enjoy a splendid view while having the most delicious seafood. [Link]


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Traveling During Eid?

Posted by Mark

Good Luck! [YouTube]

aiprot


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Kuwait Airport Review

Posted by Mark

airport

The brutally honest review below was making its way around whatsapp earlier today:

Review by Mark Stableford (Kuwait) 10th July 2015
This has to be one of the worst, most confusing and incompetent airports on the planet. Departing, there is not one single check-in hall, but four – each at completely different ends and corners of the airport. You can only get into two of them from the outside, while the other two are burrowed deep inside where you would not expect them, each of them again at different ends of the airport. It is completely confusing and time consuming to find where to check in, involving walking in and out the building (bearing in mind its 50c outside) and across large distances through what looks like a refugee camp. It takes many visits and missed flights to eventually get some idea of the layout and check in process. If you do manage to check in, you then have to encounter a myriad of incompetent, slow and lazy barriers from security through immigration. If your boarding pass is printed on a piece of paper instead of cardboard, you will be sent back to do your check-in all over again.

On arriving in the country you can spend hours trying to get through immigration along with teaming masses of other poor souls (South East Asian migrant labour) with people running between queues as one is closed whilst her majesty there takes a phone call, wanders off to the toilet, or just simply closes up her booth having lost interest. You can end up at the back end of a queue again many times doing this. The airport completely lacks any signage or common sense. Asking for help or information is a pointless waste of time. Nobody knows, or nobody cares (unless you are lucky enough to find an Indian or Philippino member of staff), but then they are almost always completely powerless to help. Its also filthy.

Unfortunately it sums up almost Kuwait infrastructure and management. What a contrast to places like Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Worst of all, this was not too many decades ago the most advanced and progressive country in the region. What a absolute shame. 0/10 is all this miserable horror of an place deserves. Unfortunately the minimum one can give is 1/10.

The average score for the airport is a 2/10. We need the new airport now more than ever. [Source]


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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.

27

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]

bo18

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

harley1

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.

smallville2

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

ku1

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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