Letter for a friend

Before I came to Abu dhabi, exactly 4  years ago, this little guy was my friend. Everyday he would just come outside the window and look at me throughout the glass.
I made a habit in feeding him so he would return every day. I cant imagine his disappointment when, one day he came for his daily food but nobody was there anymore.
My poor little bird, I keep wondering what has become of you?
I wish you can just fly away and find me here in this warm beautiful country, far away from the grey communist buildings and the grey sky of the winter. Even though, every place has his disadvantage, and here you would be probably starving or just hit up with a stone by the naughty kids who are rarely teached to respect a tiny creature like you.
My dear friend I hope you found someone who is looking after you the same way I did.

Arab heritage in the heart of Singapore

I am back to Singapore for the 3rd time this month, ready to follow up with my sightseeing plan even though I know already that will be difficult to find a colleague ready to join my new adventure.

Exactly how I predicted, once I disclosed my little secret, my work mates start laughing and nobody seemed to take me seriously enough: “Arab street? You came all this way to see the Arab street? Are you not tired of arabs?”
I decided to ignore the sarcastic comments and wearing my pink dress that I brought special for this occasion I am rushing down to the lobby excited to start a day full of colors and creativity.
Surprisingly, on the last moment three other colleagues showed interested in my plan, curious or maybe out of ideas while in Singapore, waiting for me downstairs, ready to discover a culture so familiar to them but placed in a different context, in the heart of the Asian world.

Arab quarter located in the heart of Singapore

First thing that welcomes us once we step out of the taxi is the beautiful Masjid Sultan Mosque, which gives the place a magical touch.

A bunch of muslims (arabs, turks, indians and singaporian) are gathered outside of the mosque waiting for the daily prayer, united not by nationality, appearance nor even by the same language but by the common beliefs and divinity.
For the tourists, the 200 years old mosque framed by palm trees impress by its size and beautiful design, taking them in the mystical journey of middle eastern tales of Scheherazade, Aladdin and other fictional characters.

The shops around the mosque display a wide variety of brightly colored fabrics and Persian carpets but despite the fairy tales, the rugs dont seems to master any supernatural powers and disappointed I am forced to continue my journey by feet and not floating around on top of a magical carpet.

In contrast with the other areas of Singapore, the Arab neighborhood seems a little bit messy and unattended with hundred waste bins aligned on the tiny colorful streets and beggars trying to win some coins so essential for survival.
Shocking discovery for a country where chewing gum or smoking on the street is totally prohibited and the economy its in full blossom.

Two of my colleagues returned to the hotel immediately, probably regreting their decision to accompany me in a place which cant compete with the fame of the marvelous Marina Bay sands and its gardens, being rarely included in the “must see” list of the regular tourists.

I am not giving up just yet, having a little bit more sense of adventure and curiosity, I continue my sightseeing with the graffitis covering the walls of restaurants and shops, the main point of attractions and the perfect background for some good Instagram pictures.

Fancy manicure, a place to “die for” or just a fresh fish in the Mad sailors restaurant? That’s the perfect place!

Buy me coffee…Make me coffee…Be coffee

By far my favorite art mural is a huge creation hidden somewhere behind a parking lot, describing a busy day of an Arabic coffee shop and the perfect formula used to create the aromatic liquid which my life depends on a daily basis.

Western food and beers on Arab territory

Not long after, we stop for a quick dinner and I have a hard time choosing something from the menu, Singaporean food being the last on my preference list, always tasteless, weird and overpriced. I exhale relaxed when I find few western options and I order the buffalo chicken wings but I am about to regret my choice with the first bite, the wings being covered not in a buffalo sauce but with a tick layer of bbq ketchup.
All the restaurants in the area are serving alcohol which is a little bit surprising being the fact that we are on an Arab “territory” where the alcohol is considered “haram” (big sin). I am not complaining thought and without thinking twice I am ordering a Corona to help me extinguish the unpleasant taste of my meal.

On the other side of the road, beautiful decorated restaurants with oriental motifs are inviting the costumers to taste delicious arabic and turkish delights and I can never say NO to a warm, creamy plate of Kunafeh and a strong black tea.

Singapore, the international hub of love, respect and acceptance

Singapore managed to develop one of the most harmonious society of the world, where people with different nationality, religion and belifs have learned to live in peace, exchange customs, ideas and learn from one another.
Little India and China town are just few steps away from the Arab quarter and once again this beautiful open minded country is proving that acceptance and integration between different comunities strengthens personal identities, making the world a better place.

Louvre Abu dhabi, a place beyond imagination

UAE government came out with the brilliant idea of opening a replica of the most famous museum of the world, Louvre, right in the middle of the desert. With a final cost of 2 billion dollars and 24.000 square meters in size, Abu dhabi invites the art passionate from all over the world to visit the largest and the most luxurious art museum ever built in the Arabian peninsula.
The museum’s design combine the elegance of the past with the luxury of the present, representing a floating dome with an web pattern which allows the sun to filter inside the inner courtyard, resembling rays of sunlight passing through date palm leaves in an oasis.

Taking advantage of my friend’s visit in town, I decided to surprise them, spending the weekend not in a coffee shop or a mall but in the middle of impressive masterpieces of contemporary and modern design, divided chronologically from prehistory to the present in 12 art galleries.

“Everything you imagine is real”~Picasso

After skipping the line with our online tickets (60dh per person) we step on the “world stone carpet” covering the floor of the first Art gallery, chamber which illustrate the great importance that humanity always showed to the most cruel stage of existance: Death.

Gold funerary masks, houses of the dead and other burial objects were used by the mankind since the oldest time trying to obtain their immortality when faced with death.
Today, after more than 3000 years, the humans seems to not have changed much, still trying to buy their after life comfort either by building imposing graves or by taking with them gold coins or other objects which will guarantee the necessary bribe for what may come after life.

“Does gold confer eternal life liberating our existence from the finite realm? Gold glows in the gloom of tombs but only bones have been found behind these masks.”

The greatest symbolism regarding the after life is found with no doubt in the ancient Egyptian culture were dead bodies were mummified and prepared for their journey to the afterworld, trip considered full of dangers.
Henuttawy(950-900BC), one of the Egyptian queens found her eternal peace in a beautiful sarcophagi, imprinted with symbols and holy decorations which may have not confer her immortality but definitely brought her lot of fame and admirers under the roof of the Louvre museum.

The great statues of Ramses II and the stale of Tutankhamun representing his offerings to the god Osiris are attracting the visitors like a magnet captivating with their mystery and customs even the most advanced civilization of the modern world.

~Ramses II~

~Stale of Tutankamun~~Osiris, God of the underworld~

“The world doesnt make any sense so why should I paint pictures that do?”~Picasso

Leaving the land of dead behind we approach the Victorian era when drama was a developing form of art and the great artists maintained their own “immortality” over the time, through their great creations.
One of the most admired painting covering the walls of the Louvre brings a smile on the visitors face when associated with the famous comedy show “Mister Bean” in which Whistler’s mother lost her face in a terrible incident.

Now the atmosphere inside of the museum is more relaxed as we are stepping inside the Modern art gallery much more abstract but closer to our understanding. Let’s be honest, 90% of the Louvre visitors are young people with no clue about art but with a high enthusiasm in discovering new things and shoot some great instagram pictures.

“There is only one difference between art and science. In science, the Universe is in control. In Art, you are.” Harry Kroto, Nobel prize in chemistry

Distancing themselves from the academic conventions, the modern artists implemented a more creative approach to express their artistic view over the life, using powerful mix of colors and abstract patterns. The talent is being replaced by creativity and the result may be disappointing for the traditional art critics but this form of art is getting more and more popularity among the young population being more affordable than any Picasso or Rembrandt and easier to assimilate.
I have no clue what the artists were trying to recreate in those modern paintings but my “professional eye” suggest that we are talking about….
• a great DNA sample from a mosquito battlefield
• a couple sitting naked on a bench on a first date
• a cricket playing his ballad in a metro station
• a group of drunk aliens taking a selfie

My friends found another funny meanings for each painting and laughing out loud we are moving forward to the main point of attraction, “The fountain of light”. The chandelier was created in 2016 by the artist Ai Weiwei from China using steel and glass crystals.
Oh God, It would look so good in my living room even though I doubt the authenticity of Chinese stones (hey Weiwei, I was just kidding).
We are rushing towards the inner courtyard where warm rays of winter sun are penetrating the web ceiling, creating one of the most beautiful painting of all, a game of shadows and rain of light. Since the opening, the visitors tried to find the most appropriate description for the 180 meters canopy which covers the museum; some would say it resemble a dome, a cupola, a space frame or even a bird nest while others would find a more powerful meanings, “a fingerprint which touches water”.

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of every day life”~Picasso

We end up this amazing visit with a photoshoot session outside of the museum, in the beautiful park with a magnetic view over the city.
Everything about Lovre impress; from the imposing architecture created by Jean Nouvel, the extensive collection of mix culture, the cocktail of ancient and modern believes until the perfect location chosen right in the middle of an artificial island, surrounded by sea, palm trees and modern skyscrapers.
The perfect way to purify your mind and soul!

Mornings above the…fog

It was an agitated week for the residents of the UAE but also for the tourists who had the “opportunity” to experience one of the most weird meteorological phenomenon of this region.

The country was shrouded in a white dense veil of fog which lasted from late in the night until midday, creating lot of troubles on ground such as condensed traffic but mostly in the sky, a high number of flights being canceled or diverted to the neighbor airports.

The fog in UAE cant be compared with anything that you might have encountered before…its tick, bright and very humid but its also an amazing experience which should not be missed.

I managed to shoot some pictures in the morning right before the nasty cloud wrapped in his mysterious arms the skyscrapers which seemed to be untouchable before.

Who said the fog can’t be beautiful?

Sunset in fog

Gone with the Wind(mills)

Windmills used to be one of the most famous landmarks of Netherlands, fighting in present to win the unfair competition with the modern touristic attraction like the Red light district, the famous Madame Tussauds, or other museums less artistic, dedicated exclusive to the adults.

Over the time, the windmills cluttered in the center of the capital Amsterdam were slowly relocated to the suburbs where the wind conditions were more favorable, making space to the countless cafeterias where the joints of marijuana are smoked freely and legally and to the nasty shops which display a wide varieties of condoms and other sexual toys for the foreigners and locals delight.

Zaanse Schans, an open air museum dedicated to the windmills

Only eight historical windmills were preserved and today stand beautifully aligned next by a lake in Zaanse Schans, a small town located 30 minutes away from Amsterdam.

Stepping out of the train I am entering the magic land of a fairytale, wandering the cobblestones streets in a warm sunny day of October. The smell of fresh baked bread, wooden houses and green fields are inviting me to discover the life style of 18th and 19th century.

Around the corner, De Goyer, one of the most iconic and oldest mill of Amsterdam is welcoming the tourists for the past 300 years, tempting them with the best beer in Amsterdam, brewed just next door.

Excited, I continue my journey and I am not disappointed at all when, over the bridge, I discover few other mills gracious dancing in the wind.
If in the past the windmills used to serve various purposes from grinding different grains (including the mustard, the favorite dutch condiment) to preventing the city from the floods, in present their activity is resumed to office work (like De Bloem) or just enchanting the tourists.

Local cafeterias, cheese factories and clog museums (dutch famous wooden shoes) are opening their doors for the visitors who decide to spend an enjoyable day in the middle of the nature.

“Too much bread and …we are dead”

The little ones (but not only) are delighted and jump restless from a place to another, playing inside of the giant shoes or feeding the poor goats who are overwhelmed not only by the bread ingested but also by the attention received, always looking cute and ready for pictures.

A journey of a thousands miles begins with a fabulous pair of…clogs

Few noisy scholars are writing their homework inside the Clog museum under the close supervision of their teachers and what can be more pleasant than a quiz where all the answers can be found behind a showcase filled with history about…shoes.

Traditional clogs are still used in present in agriculture and in some factories to prevent the mud from touching the feet being often associated with cheap footwear wore by the farmers in the past. However new, modern clogs are considered fashionable today and can be very expensive especially if they are covered with Swarovski or other precious stones.

The heaven of shoes is just one step away and its so charming for the tourists who cant leave Netherlands without the right pair of clogs or…for those with strict baggage allowance at least with some miniature keys chains.

The beautiful town across the Zaan river

Some nasty clouds are taking over the sun, reminding me that weather can be unpredictable during autumn and I decide to return to the hotel but not before paying a short visit to the mystical town radiating its beauty in magnetic waves from the other side of the lake.
Here, the atmosphere change completely, the foreigners giggles being replaced with a deep, mesmerizing… silence. I can almost hear the soft autumn breeze, the leafs losing the battle with life and laying now hopeless on the pavement.

Inside the homes, same heaven continues its existence and I find myself invading the perfect world of the residents with my curious gaze through the window.
I notice a couple having lunch, him holding her hand over the table, she radiating of happiness while the bottle of champagne its waiting patient to be replaced with a new one. The piano remain silent in one corner of the dining room, completing the perfect picture of a loving family in a regular day of October.
Few yards away, a young lady is laying lazy on the couch reading a book and slowly sipping from her coffee while a whole library covering the walls of the room is waiting to be browsed.
Another house…another story and I am floating back to the train station, like a thief who just stole a precious moment from totally stranger’s life.
I am woken up by the train whistle approaching the station and I step back on the carriage, leaving behind this wonderful world of peace and love so different from the noisy capital Amsterdam.

Flying to the fairy land

Its such an amazing feeling to live in a hot country when other parts of the world are freezing cold…

When I was little I’ve been told that even birds are running from the winter, migrating to the “warm countries” but at that time I thought “warm countries” represent a fairy land and not a real place on the map. My parents and teachers never named those places maybe not to destroy the mysticism or simply because they never asked themselves this question: “Where are the warm countries?” Few days ago I asked my mother: “Mom did you ever wonder where the birds migrates for winter?” After few moments of deep thoughts she answered me dry “No, they never told us”.
Almost 30 years of my life I ignored this matter myself, being too busy or to careless to find an answer. Every October I observed the number of pigeons multiplying on the beaches and streets of Abu Dhabi and I even heard stories of magical pink flamingos wandering the desert.
I am blessed to live in the fairy land of the warm countries where hundred species of birds find their refuge every winter.
Sharing my little friends antipatie for rainy, cloudy days I find myself relaxing under the gentle sun of November with no desire to return to my cold, grey country, Romania.

Stangers in Moscow

“Moscow is the city where if Marilyn Monroe should walk down the street with nothing in but shoes, people would stare at her feet first.” John Gunther

I am walking down the Red square admiring the beautiful mixture of Sovietic arhitecture and new era design and even if is not my first time in Moscow I am still stunned by the greatness which surrounds me at every step.

Surprisingly, even if its the end of september the weather is still warm and I decide to leave behind the winter clothes that I brought with me “preventive”, replacing it with something more “fashionable”, trying to keep up the rythm with the elegant russian ladies wandering the streets of the Capital city.
Most of my colleagues are in Moscow for the first time and I tear up with regret my long list of museums, decided to be their guide outside of the Kremlin walls.

Saint Basil’s cathedral

We start our short visit with the famous, colorful landmark situated right in the heart of the city: the cathedral of Vasily the blessed commonly known as Saint Basil’s cathedral. The unique construction was finished in 1561 and incorporates 10 side churches, the last one covering the grave of the venerated Saint Vasily.

While some “critics” would say the cathedral reseamble a bonfire pointing the infinite sky I did find a more creative description: a giant ice cream with rainbow flavor. If in my previous visits I tried to behave the best way possible, right now the child inside me is ready to taste the havenly cup even if it means crushing some religious boundaries.

While the moscovits are throwing me a surprised look, (“how am I capable of such blasphemy?”) I set up a new trend and just couple of minutes later few other rebels following my sinful behavior start “licking” the domes of the holy church.

Lenin’s tomb

Its time to stop our silly photoshoot trying not to disturb the eternal sleep of Vladimir Lenin who is resting peacefully just few steps away from us.

The body of the imposing sovietic leader had been on public display shortly after his death (1924),  russian authorities making great effort to keep his appearance intact over the time. The mausolem is visted daily by a huge crowed who is subject of high security measures at the entrance and is required to pay great respect to the dead leader once they are inside: hats, hands in pocket, talking and photography are strictly forbiden.

Moscow always feels like home

Moscow always made me feel like home giving me that feeling of similarity, of belonging and everything seems just right: the grey comunist buildings outside of the Red square, the countless churches whispering their prayers towards the sky, the candles lited inside of the cathedral with their believers kneeled in front of the holy icons, the people struggling to convert strong communist concepts into modern beliefs, the “babuska” (old lady) who won’t refrain from judging with loud voice two teenagers kissing on the street, locals still struggling with the english, reluctant to the foreign tourists visiting their country.

Kazan cathedral

We step inside of one of the most proeminant church in the Red square, the Kazan cathedral, some of us for a brief prayer while others curious to discover what is hidden under the roof of an ortodox worship place.

Soon after, we are about to be kicked out by an angry christian who feels insulted by a colleague attempt of taking a picture inside of the holy church. Russians pay great respect to their religion like any other believers in the world, fact which should be known by everybody, especially when a big sign with “photography prohibited” is hanging on the outside door.

Outside of Kremlin walls

We leave behind the majestic Red square,passing  through the Ressurection gate where a bronze plaque is marking the kilometer zero of russian highway system.

Here, hundred tourists and locals on both sides are gathering around the plaque, waiting impatient their turn to make a wish. The legend says that throwing a coin over the shoulder will bring you great fortune but only if the coin will land in the bronze circle. I tried my luck…

You can never force your faith but you can definitely add a “shot” of hapiness to your life…and meanwhile in Russia the good mood is not measured in glasses but in barells of…vodka: “Nostrovia”

We continue our walk outside of the Kremlin wall towards the Alexander’s gardens where million blossomed flowers are spreading their fragrance in the air but the only smell that we are interested in right now its the one of baked bread coming from the restaurants situated alongside the bridge.

Vintage dinning

The sun is about to settle down and we decide to end up the evening with a traditional dinner in a pleasant location. Once inside, we step back into the past where everything around reminds of sweet years of childhood: vintage furniture, black and white tv, creepy dolls and the unforgettable flavors of mulled wine and grandmas food.

Surprisingly russian food is not very similar with my country’s food (Romania) even though our past is so close connected. I open the pages of the “slavic magazine” which serves as menu card and I choose a soup and a main course based on the pictures displayed.
Russian food is definitely not on my preference list but I totally enjoy the atmosphere and the two glasses of aromatic mulled wine responsible with my red nose and the big smile on my face.

Moscow by night

Outside everything changed completely, the majestic empress is now ready to shine in its ceremonial clothing.
Moscow by night is full of magic, its fascinating and enigmatic. Beside that, now its the time when the locals start gathering inside of the fashionable shopping malls situated not only across the square but also bellow it (underground).

Facing the Red square is GUM department, a building with a fascinating history like everything else in Russia, built in 1893 and unique for that time due to its glass ceiling, functioning in present as a shopping mall.

Its time to end our visit and while my colleagues try to avoid the terrific traffic of Moscow walking towards the hotel, I prefer to wait for the shuttle bus, paying a visit to the famous Bolshoi theatre on my way.

P.S: the photos were taken during 3 different visits in Moscow, some of them in 2017 while others in 2014 but all the places mentioned above can be visit in just few hours, being located extremly close to each other.

Spasiba mother Russia!