The Night I Was Crowned Empress

Today, reading that Japan revealed the name of its new imperial era in line with the new emperor’s reign took me back in time to 2001 when I was crowned empress in Vietnam .

It was in Huế – ancient capital and UNESCO World Heritage site – and our tour guide Huu had planned a royal dinner experience in a historic residential palace for our group of twelve ladies. Before the pickup time, he recommended we dress light to avoid feeling hot as we were to add another layer upon arrival : a traditional costume. His advice provoked one friend to wonder loudly: “Can we wear our swimsuits?”- light, isn’t it ?! Unbaffled, Huu replied : “The name of the agency I work for is Exotissimo, not Erotissimo. “

So that evening, on our way to dinner, Huu asked us to choose two people to dress as emperor and empress, the others will be mandarins. While one friend requested to carry the male crown, the female one  landed on my head:a friend kindly suggested to bequeath the coveted title to my humble self , the baby of the group – her words not mine…

For me, that was a battle won without arms

Excitedly, we all wore our outfits and proudly headed towards the old palace with great fanfare, accompanied by two people holding an umbrella each for our highnesses.

We had a private room for ourselves and the culinary experience was heavenly. Needless to say all of us, mandarins and royals delighted in the authentic Huế dishes that were once the prerogatives of royalties of the Nguyễn Dynasty. However few details set the royal couple apart:

-our table was higher than the mandarins’. The latter were divided on two long tables of five facing each other, one on our right and one on the left.

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-In front of us, a band was playing traditional music🎶

-Two people stood by our sides throughout the whole evening with the sole duty of fanning us

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-Our dishes were ostentatiously decorated

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PS: We had so much fun with bouts of loud laughters that two Frenchmen – not wearing the “vietnamese court attire” – came knocking on our door. They were with a group of tourists visiting from France; drawn by the noise, they came to inquire about the reason we were having more fun than their crew..and we explained jokingly : husbands were miles away

PPS: Actually this sojourn is among one of the most memorable I did with the girlfriends. Just like that, we all fell in love with this breathtaking country, the heartwarming hospitality of the Vietnamese people, a world class gastronomy… not to mention the diversity of the shopping that drove us crazy and resulted in serious overweight luggage on the return flights.

Jules Verne and The Right Century

Here we go again, I can’t help myself but every time I’m at an airport I think of those thousands of people converging from all over the world and the different reasons behind their presence at that moment : business, leisure, family, medical or simply transit…

So I watch these bustling activities around me but…with the eyes of a 17th century man, yes a man not a woman. I suppose the reason behind this “gender swapping “ outlook is that unlike nowadays, women were a minority at the traveling stations. Seeing them now equal in number to men, moving freely and easily, is in fact :

-a way of recognizing these drastic changes and the updated demographic dynamics in the passengers’ hubs, and

-appreciating the advance in technology that reshaped the travel industry..

So airports have this scene-from-a-science-fiction-movie effect on me, something I’ve never felt when I watched humankind’s greatest leap in the transportation field : Apollo 11 landing on the moon! I know some would raise their eyebrows in disagreement but when this milestone was broadcasted live on television, I was too young and wasn’t among the 500 millions who followed – avidly or skeptically- Armstrong’s first steps on the moon..I missed the real deal, I missed the buzz…

Back to the airports, the millions of people are not watching the action, they are the action, we are part of the same scene that’s being replicated at the same time, at different airports around the world.

Jules Verne comes to my mind too…“Around the world in 80 days” ?! We are way past that.

Hence, for the person that I am, cursed or blessed with the wanderlust bug, I am definitely living in the right century: the easiness and speed in moving from place to place and the comfort we enjoy on board nowadays never fail to amaze me. It’s not the Titanic or Orient Express kind of luxury, but it’s definitely the one that appeals to me : massage before and during the flight, bespoke meals concocted by an inflight chef, a flat bed with crispy white linen, pyjamas and a pair of slippers for an unparalleled comfort, a bathroom bigger than my guest toilet in my birth country with the possibility to book a hot shower (timed but), a lounge bar and a praying area. Well, that’s Etihad Airways for you and I’m certainly a fan.

When the chef holds a knife at your throat

Continuing with the Turkish carne, and throwing it back to March 2016 in Dubai, here is a photo with #Nusret AKA #SaltBae holding a knife to my throat. Honestly, he doesn’t need to as the yummy kebabs are too good to resist.

However, this photo brings back childhood nightmares : eating, especially eating fruits, which I abhorred. Just kidding… my dear mom never held a knife to my throat even though I can ascertain she would have loved to on many occasions, and definitely, when she realized that the pediatrician’s advice was fruitless..he had told her ” let her be hungry and ask for food “ ! Which I didn’t, for a full day until she collapsed with helpless tears of frustration.

22 years later I was confronted with the same nightmare from another perspective though… with my son ..karma I guess, or rather DNA?

Are You a Massage Lover?

There are two different types of people: the massage lovers and the others. I belong to the first group and admit having tried almost every kind of massage one might have heard of…yes, wherever my wanderlust bug took me I thrived to indulge in my favorite pastime.

While the “Razzie award” belongs to the Inca massage in Agua Calientes, Peru (it triggered pain in my neck i.e. Brufen was my best friend for quite a few days ), some of the best experiences were in :

Siem Reap, Cambodia – 25 February 2003 : advertised as “massage by blinds”, all the employees in this center were professionally trained visually impaired masseurs and masseuses.

Sri Lanka : Ayurveda treatments

Spice Gardens in Matala, Sri Lanka – 24 February 2004

and the star of them all, the Shirodhara – oil dripping technique 27 March 2017

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29 March 2017

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-Bali – 22 August 2012 : yummy treat(ments) i.e. coffee scrubs, chocolate massages…

Maldives – 10 July 2012 : the outdoor picture perfect spectacular setting

Shanghai, China – 4/5 September 2011 : relieved me from a chronic back pain in only one session…like magic!

Chiang Mai, Thailand – 15 November 2007 : Sleep inducing reflexology

– Chiang Mai, Thailand – November 2007 : the 2-hour body massage felt like seconds

Bagan, Myanmar9 February 2005: Room-reflexology

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Madagascar: much needed pampering between hikes

Reserva Forestal Los Santos, Costa Rica – 22 March 2018 : excellent “surround sound system” reaching us from the surrounding rainforest…chirping birds, cascading waterfall… live, no CD.

However, the one treatment that left me with the strongest impact was closer to home…Yes, here in Abu Dhabi where I enjoy an established yet dynamic routine.

Honestly, I went to the spa at the Emirates Palace out of curiosity…understandably, it’s the most luxurious spa I’ve ever been to. I suspected the tag price to be associated with the lavishness, the splendor of the surroundings.

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I found out it wasn’t exactly true: the treatment was above my expectations…pure bliss is a cliché! Words fail me… I can’t describe the burst of emotions I never knew existed and caused my eyes to well up with tears towards the end of the treatment, once I felt, inch by inch, a warm blanket descending on my back before being left there and covering me like a warm cocoon.

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Heroin! It’s like heroin! Yes, well suddenly this particular article came to my mind…I read it twelve years ago in a Glamour UK issue while visiting my daughter Sara in Beirut. It was the addiction journal of a teenager who revealed that the first time she tried heroin it felt like she was being enveloped in a warm blanket. I still remember that I thought then and there why wouldn’t she simply envelope herself in a warm blanket instead of letting herself be sucked into the downhill spiral that could have cost her her life?! Strange how our memory works.

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Anyway, back outside sipping on my minted tea in the relaxing area, a smooth transition before exiting the enchanting “realms of the senses”, I inquired about the “heroin effect ” treatment.  They don’t have it on the menu, it was bespoke! They came up with it when I asked for a “brain teaser” : a relaxing and energizing treatment.

Still under the spell, I left the premises with the feeling that the treatment I just experienced could really lead to a habit, a guilt free and harmless habit.

A Day at the Louvre – Abu Dhabi, with the kids

In the beginning, Aboudi quite enjoyed playing tourist, taking pictures of Leonardo’s La Ferronnière,

admiring “leaf because no briefs” Apollo , the Belvedere Apollo ,

and stroking the head of a marble statue after getting (naughty) teta’s permission for “ touching “ . Honestly, I thought his question was intended for another part of her anatomy  but apparently he was too prudish to act on the obvious object of his fascination. Luckily, the mama was away and didn’t notice the security guard who warned him afterwards “ not to touch”.

However, we soon found out the visit wasn’t quite up to Aboudi’s expectations: when mama told him we were going to see Mr. Bean’s painting AKA Whistler’s Mother (James McNeill Whistler). He built up a hype so strong that nothing interested him anymore throughout our flânerie…he kept on repeating despondently the same litany “when are we going to see Mr. Bean’s painting ?” Once there, the disappointment mirrored in his eyes was explained by the “where’s Mr. Bean ?!” His logical question echoed in the silence of the big hall and triggered a few smiles among the art aficionados who witnessed the endearing legitimate confusion of a four year old boy .

“Let’s sit down and enjoy the ba7er (sea)”. His enthusiastic suggestion once he saw the magnificent sea view that welcomes the visitors on the way to the restaurant reassured us about his aesthetic appreciation’s skills…what’s even better ?

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His “can we stay until night time?”  request in the Children’s Museum !!

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Home Away From Home”

Among the many advantages we get to enjoy living in Abu Dhabi, this quiet, peaceful and laidback capital, is its proximity to Dubai. The energy, vibe and joie de vivre you feel in this cosmopolitan city remind me of Beirut my beloved hometown where going out for dinner means having a good meal but also see and be seen.Throughout the years, the experience evolved from the odd weekends with the family or the few weekday trips with the girls to more frequent and longer stays.15 January 2017

View from The Marina Residence, The Palm – 25 April 2016

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Sunset from The Marina Residence, The Palm – 24 April 2016

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The Palm – 14 January 2017

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The Palm – 14 January 2017

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The Palm – 14 January 2017

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Sunset from the Loft, Downtown Dubai – 11 May 2017

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The Loft, Downtown Dubai – – 13 January 2017

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Burj Khalifa – 4 November 2016

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The Dubai Mall – 17 January 2017

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Mall of the Emirates– 14 January 2017

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Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Part 2

Day 2

Old Cataract & Nubian village with family & friends

While bride & father of the bride were going through last minute details, mother of the bride was dutifully entertaining the early bird guest, lovely Samira, both having fun posing for a memorable photoshoot at the Old Cataract…and then again during the cruise to the Nubian village with family & friends.

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We were outshined by the real star we met earlier at breakfast – Jamila Bouhired – a famous Algerian militant who opposed the French colonial rule in Algeria

Girls Just Want to Have Fun – Part I

Day 1- Old Cataract & Nubian village

So, we arrived to “Awesome Aswan “ a few days before my daughter Myriam’s wedding and my dear Samouh was like: Ghina habibti I see a situation here:

-the place is spectacular

-you like photos

I know my math and I’m acting accordingly! 💡 a bee line to the hotel reception and he booked us a photographer ☺️😅

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I Left my Heart In Portofino

// Part 2 //Portofino, the Italian Riviera – June 2014

Having made up our mind a bit late on this trip, Hotel Splendido  was fully booked and so we stayed at its sister hotel, the Splendido Mare. To make it up for us, we were given a suite which we declined in favor of a room with a breathtaking view of the spectacular harbour, the 15th century Castello Brown and the beautiful surrounding hills.

And that wasn’t all…the bonus was its terrace ,

ideal for a room-serviced breakfast

The concierge recommended we have the afternoon tea at the  Splendido, and dinner at the Mare. It sounded like an excellent plan so we let him go ahead with the booking.

Excellent plan yes but up there, once I stepped down off the shuttle that zigzags uphill and downhill between the two hotels, I fell under the spell of the stunning panorama and had a change of heart…I was reluctant to stick to the initial plan: I preferred to prolong our stay and have dinner where we could feast our eyes as well as our taste buds. And that we did…

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However despite its unparalleled beauty, it wasn’t the Splendido that triggered my emotions…strangely though it happened at the Mare, when we returned.

Once back in our hotel room, I went to the bathroom for my nightly skincare routine, but abruptly stopped it and did a rushed U-turn towards the door as if I were under hypnosis . “Speak Softly, Love”, the soundtrack of  “ The Godfather”.

I could hear it as our “room with a view ” was above the restaurant !! This unexpected combination of many favorites – song, movie, Italy- was the culmination and the greatest finale to this extraordinary night, a night to remember…

Having lost my ability to speak, I got hold of my husband’s hand and dragged him towards the small balcony where we could feast our eyes as well as our ears…Wishing the singer will never stop, I basked in the magic of the moment, oblivious to the tiny droplets that were finding their way slowly down my cheeks.