Middle-East travel: Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi

By Marina Aagaard, MFT.

A visit to the UAE is incomplete without a visit to Abu Dhabi. The 68th most expensive city in the world. That’s not so bad.

It is Tuesday. We borrow our friend’s car. We drive from Dubai southwards to Abu Dhabi. It is not difficult to find the way … (the six-lane highway goes directly from city to city).

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Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is the capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the United Arab Emirates, UAE, 1.5 million inhabitants, and also the capital of the UAE. Abu Dhabi is both government center and a cultural center, though more subdued than Dubai.

The city lies on the coast of the Persian Gulf and has an impressive skyline: Abu Dhabi offers a variety of skyscrapers and more are coming. Many are unusual architectural masterpieces with glass facades that reflect the surroundings.

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Besides the city itself, the capital’s top attractions are: Grand Mosque (the Great Mosque), Emirates Palace and Ferrari World, the amusement center with a dreaded roller coaster … and if you have time and money Yas Marina Formula 1 Circuit.

Yas Island

We cruise into the Viceroy Yas Hotel driveway in an open GranCabrio and therefore are able to hear engine sounds at full volume. That’s cool; someone are driving on the track, even though it’s Tuesday at noon.
Regrettably it is not a Formula 1 race, but a bunch of lucky people with sufficient money in their pockets allowing them to race around the track in Formula 3 cars.

We park the car and take a stroll to see what the facility can offer. Is it ok? I think so.

The architects Rani Hashid and Lisa Anne Couture of Asymptote Architects describes it this way: Yas Hotel, a 500-room, 85,000-square-foot complex, one of the main architectural features of the ambitious 36-billion-dollar Yas Marina area and associated Formula 1 racetrack Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Asymptote envisioned an architectural landmark that integrates several dominant inspirations ranging from the aesthetics and forms associated with speed, movement and design and patterns of ancient Islamic art and craft traditions.

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Design details are ultra cool. Steel strips in the flooring simulates racetrack markings. Even the restrooms are special with distinct lighting effects.

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Time for a light lunch at Amici Restaurant. The menu boasted a special dish with pasta with cauliflower and truffle … and then tiramisu in glass. Yes, please.

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The cameras were out to get it all in. Until a guard appeared and explained: Mobile pics are ok, but photos (with pro-looking equipment/for pro use) must be cleared by the PR department. This rule applies in many places, so be prepared, if you wish to take photos.

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Smiles and thumbs up: Car and hotel both get a ‘yes’ from me; lots of X-factor. From the hotel we drove to the Great Mosque, the Grand Mosque.

Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, the main mosque in the UAE. “Grand” is no exaggeration.Accommodate over 41,000 worshipers. Finished in 2007. Construction spending 4 billion DKK, 545 million USD.  Length: 420 m (1,380 ft). Width: 290 m (950 ft). Height largest dome, 85 m (279 ft); 82 domes in seven different sizes and four minarets with a height of 107 m (351 ft).

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Entrance and mosque manners

First you pass through security. Men and women enter through separate entrances in a container-like building; compared to the mosque the entrance is ‘minimalistic’.

Female entrance piktogram shows traditional clothing (chador) With hair covered but face free. Western clothing is welcome, but you must follow local guidelines:

Women must cover the hair, ears and shoulders, arms and legs. Shorts, skirts or tight clothing like leggings are not allowed.

Men may have bare arms, but no bare shoulders or bare legs; shorts are not allowed.

The clothes must not be too tight, transparent or display offensive words or images (common of many western T-shirts). If you do not wearing proper clothing, one can in the mosque borrow a local cover-all.

Mosque manners:

  • There must be silence.
  • Smoking is prohibited.
  • Mobile phones must be muted.
  • Food and drinks are prohibited.
  • You should not lie on the floor (or sleep).
  • Do not caress or embrace each other.

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After you have gone through security, you walk through the gardens and into the cloisters. Here you take off your shoes and you walk around in stockings or bare feet.

All over the mosque there are guards to ensure that there are no infringements of the rules: Some young tourists took a picture without their hair covered and that led to a reprimand and order of deletion of the image from the camera.

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The guards also keep a close eye on that you do not get too close to or past the barriers: Fully understandable that the landmark is supervised; there can be up to 30,000 visitors a day, 4-5 million tourists and worshipers per year (2012).

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque design “unite the world” with materials from many countries including India, Italy, Germany, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, China, England, New Zealand, Macedonia and the United Arab Emirates (wikipedia).

The Mosque have walls, floors and columns covered with white marble and ceramic. It creates an almost dreamlike, pure and soothing expression.

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More than 3,000 workers and 38 construction companies participated in the construction of the mosque. Some building materials were chosen for design reasons, others for their ‘staying power’; marble, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals, and ceramics (Wikipedia).

On the walls, floors and pillars: Man-made vines; a magical sight.

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The mosque is full of unique items: Among others the carpet of the large prayer hall: The world’s largest carpet (wikipedia). Made by The Iran Carpet Company, designed by Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi and made by 1200-1300 craftsmen. The carpet measures 5,627 sqm. (60,570 sq ft), there are 2.268.000.000 knots and it weighs 35 tonnes. It is predominantly of wool from New Zealand and Iran. It took two years to make the carpet (wikipedia).

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There are seven chandeliers from Faustig in Munich. They consist of millions of Swarovski crystals. The largest of the chandeliers is the world’s third largest and has a diameter of 10 m (33 ft) and a height of 15 m (49 ft).

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The 96 columns in the prayer hall are covered with marble with decorations of mother of pearl. The columns are exceptionally elegant, beautiful without seeming overly decorated.

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The columns around the main square have stylized flowers made of semi-precious stones and mother of pearl. The tops are stylized palm leaves covered with gold leaf.
The columns are reflecting in two large pools.

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The mosque has to be one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. Huge, but elegant and airy. If you have the chance, visit.t should be seen.

Emirates Palace Hotel

Impressive. On the outside as well as the inside. The Emirates Palace is a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi in marble, gold and other precious materials. There are 114 domes, the highest 80 meters high. There are 394 rooms and suites. On the grounds there is a 1.3 km private beach and 85 acres of gardens and lawns.

The hotel looks magnificent both during the day and in the evening. Am I just too easy to impress? No, the number of tourists from around the world, swarming the street taking photo after photo, suggests that I’m not the only one, who think the hotel is worth seeing.

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Not everything that glitters is gold, but in the Emirates Palace Hotel it (almost) is …

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Even the restroom fittings are elegant and gold-clad.

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In front of the main entrance there is a staircase and waterfall and at base there are several fountains. A most popular selfie location, so you have to be patient.

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The hotel houses the rich, the famous and the well-dressed and there is no access in casual beach clothing. Arms, legs and feet must be suitably covered.
If your clothing is acceptable, however, you are welcome to visit the exclusive hotel, even if you have not booked a suite for the night.

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You can dine in one of the restaurants or enjoy an afternoon tea in the cafe. This day we visited the brasserie, where there was a buffet (a health challenge; for many including yours truly; it’s hard not to overindulge. A la carte is preferable. We took a chance, though, and had a memorable visual and gustatory experience at a reasonable price.

The buffet was the most exclusive, I’ve experienced to date. E.g. an impressive fish buffet with not only ‘standard’ fish, but also fish dishes, oysters, prawns and whole crab claws.

Plus a sushi buffet, a buffet with local dishes, small dishes, fine cheeses with tasty ‘extras’, a wide variety of breads and biscuits, a huge dessert buffet with many exciting desserts and lots of fresh fruit. In addition a chocolate fondue and Arabic delicacies and several kinds of dates.

Local Arabic specialties.

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International specialties. The small plate in the middle contains a salad with quail eggs.

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Semi-healthy dessert. Fresh fruit and several kinds of mousse, panna cotta, cheesecake, cake and a delicious crème brûlée; a favorite.

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A delicious tuna dish.

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In addition to a wide range of hot dishes, there were 3-4 cooks making special dishes on request. A paradise for food lovers.

That was nice.

After this tasty end to the day, we headed back north and were soon back in Dubai.

After a sightseeing-packed day we sleep heavily.

Aalborg to Amsterdam travel: A Holland sneak(er) peak

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

Third time lucky! Twice I have been in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport lately. But only in transit. Now it is. Travel destination: Amsterdam.

The occasion? KLM has a march campaign ‘Amsterdam sneaker’. What is this about? Well, the airline is based in Amsterdam, Holland, and boasts, that the Dutch capital is so ‘compact’, that it can easily be experienced by foot.

To stress that they mean it, KLM has even produced a walking shoe, a sneaker, designed to get around in the city …

During march KLM have an Amsterdam Sneaker auction with sneakers including trips – and the full amount from this  auction is donated to UNICEF.

A good cause. I am happy to hop into a pair of sneakers, thank you, KLM, to investigate!

Wednesday afternoon. Aalborg Airport in northern Denmark. First a cup of coffee.

Shopping? I have a hard time resisting the Champagne family. But have to. Not because of the price of course, DKK 17.999 (more than 2000 EUR) for the ‘head of the family’ containing 15 litres, but because of lack of space in my carry-on luggage …

It is almost time. The Cityhopper arrives – gets ready – and we leave on time.

The online magazine Holland Herald matches my shoes. Or is it the other way around?
A coincidence? I think not!

Food is nice. On board food, too. When it is tasty, that is (not always the case). This serving was unusually delicious – and not just because I was pretty hungry.

I won’t get tired of a view like this; beautiful clouds seen from above.

A short flight of only 1:05 h. And so we land on time in AMS, Amsterdam Schiphol.
With a medium-sized aircraft you are not always stepping out right at the gate door.
But it is o.k. Here you get a ride in a solar powered bus!

Taxi or train? Taxi approx. 30 min., 42 EUR. Train approx. 10 min. 5 EUR. That settles it. I buy a ticket and find my way to the platform.

After a short train ride you arrive at the busy Amsterdam Central Station.

Immediately when you get out into the streets you realize that Amsterdam is a bike city. There are bikes everywhere. And hundreds of bikes are parked around the station.
There is even a bike parking house.

It is now evening and I find a map on my iPhone to guide me on my walk to the hotel.
I get a bit of night sightseeing as I find my way through a ‘red light district’ with many small cafés and ‘coffee’ shops …

In just 10 minutes I reach the hotel, Pulitzer, situated down a small alley alongside one of the numerous canals. Beautiful.

After a quick snack and a cup of herbal tea it is bedtime for bonzo.

Goodnight.

Everyday excellent exercise: Stair walking – for fitness, fat loss and fun

By Marina Aagaard, MFT

Take the stairs. It is excellent exercise. It is fun; it is an experience, you see the World (buildings) from different angles. Your legs and heart get stronger and stair walking burns lots of calories. Use the stairs in the everyday and when travelling.

A 80 kg (~160 lb) person burns approx. 9 kcal (calories) during 1 minute of stair walking.

A 80 kg (~160 lb) person burns approx. 1 kcal in 1 minute waiting for/using elevator.

Walking down stairs burns approx. 175-275 kcal per hour; 3-4,5 kcal per minute.

Walking up stairs burns approx. 530-835 kcal per hour; 8-14 kcal per minute.

Walking up and down stairs burns approx. 355-555 kcal per hour; 6-9 kcal per minute.

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Unfortunately the stairs are not always visible. You may have to look for them. True story:

Portier 1: Can I help you?
Marina: Yes, I would like to use the stairs instead of the elevator.
Portier 1: Not a good idea. They are not easily accessible and rather narrow, not safe.
Marina: (Facial expression: ?????????????????) But, I prefer taking the stairs.
Portier 1: (Facial expression: ?????). Well, then I will have someone taking you up.
Portier 2: (Leading the way. Points to stairs. Walks away).
Marina: (Walk the stairs. Breathe loudly. Count. 4:40) ... 537, 538, 539, 540!

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Happy health. Fun Fitness: Peak Performance.

Fitness wellness travel: Stavanger, Norway

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

A small holiday is also a holiday. And a holiday facilitates recovery and performance; this means fitness. If there is no time for a real holiday, you can create your own look-alike (e.g. transform a work trip or an extended weekend). In this case a mini-cruise to Norway.
Last weekend I took the super ferry MS Bergensfjord to a training event in Norway, and was able to energize – have a mini-holiday – for two days in Stavanger before the workshops in Sandnes.Norway is one of the most beautiful countries in the World (and one of the richest, too, because of the oil), unfortunately also one of the most expensive …

There are approx. 5 mio. Norwegians and in Greater Stavanger, the third city of Norway, there are about 130.000 inhabitants.Stavanger was founded in 1125, when the Stavangers cathedral was inaugurated. The city is a mix of buildings from many timeperiods and in the city centre, there are a lot of wooden houses from around 1800 and 1900.

Stavanger rosa hus Stavanger street and buildings foto Marina Aagaard Stavanger buildings foto Marina Aagaard Stavanger building foto Marina Aagaard Stavanger city Marina Aagaard fitness blogApart from old houses Stavanger, which is centre of the Norwegian oil industry has a lot of modern company buildings and exciting new housing as well as exciting art and progressive street art.
Norsk Oljemuseum Stavanger Norge Foto Henrik ElstrupStavanger Petrol Museum front foto Marina Aagaard Norsk Oljemuseum, The Norwegian Petroleum Museum (photos above), is an interesting structure and recommended, if you are interested in machinery, oil riggs, museums (I am).Stavanger Geoparken Norge foto Marina Aagaard

By the Olje Museum there is the Geopark (above); a different, experimental city park testing new forms of recycling of ideas and materials from the petroleum industry.

Stavanger bus skur

Stavanger bus shed ad. Is it just me or is this ad a little more cool than the usual bus shed toothpaste and shampoo ads?

Stavanger buildings:

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Stavanger Louis Poulsen lampVandalism or street art?
Danish Louis Poulsen Pullert street lamps by the museum
(and in the driveway at home).

Hotel: Scandic Stavanger City. Nice hotel with fine design details and a gym (but did bodyweight training in the room) … super nice food.
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Ordnung muss sein. Norwegian style.

Stavanger street art mural and more:
Stavanger mural and chairs foto Marina Aagaard

Old-school graffiti (calligraphy).
Stavanger calligraphy art

Animal life in Stavanger; whale, beavers and giraffe!

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Stavanger beavers

Stavanger giraffe

iPhone emergency room! Every city should have one …

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Dark art: Sverd i fjell (Swords in Rock) by Hafrsfjord fjord. Memorial outside Stavanger with free gigantic swords in the rock in memory of the battle of Hafrsfjord in 872. (Fritz Røed, 1983).

Sverd i fjell Stavanger Norge Foto Henrik Elstrup

Art on four wheels: An Electric car looking good: Tesla. There are a lot of those in Norway. Note license plate EL (seen on all the electric cars).Tesla el-bil i Norge EL nummerplade foto Marina Aagaard

Street art (PR) in a different way: Car on wall. Seen before,
but the wheel tracks are new.

Bil på mur ved Stavanger Norge foto Henrik Elstrup

Stavanger most popular attraction; Preikestolen. A rock overhang 600 m above Lysefjorden; requires a walk of 3-6 hours (return) (it is worth it).

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All this in just a couple of days. A small holiday IS also a holiday.

Think about it.

Travelling Moments: Beauty Is In The Eye of The Beholder

By Marina Aagaard, MFE

Once I had a guest from ‘down under’ visiting Denmark, a-nice-country-but-not-one-to-visit-if-you-want-guaranteed-sun. I apologized as often before: “I am sorry about this weather, the rain and the fog” (it was summer). He replied “It is super nice, I am used to sun 365 days a year, so this different and refreshing”.
That reply made me aware, that I personally prefer very varied views and ‘weathers’ and from that time, I have welcomed most weather situations at home and travelling … even if I am surrounded by notions of “sun equals fun”.

I was reminded of this, because of the different views lately:
Last week on a cruise. This weekend back to ‘work’. And, thanks to the NGTF, National Gymnastics Federation, who invited me, that work, group exercise course instructor training, brought me back to Oslo, Norway.

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Last week: Mediterranean plus Ibiza view from cruise ship balcony cabin. Nice.
Note: Natural colours … no filters, no photoshop, just nature!

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This week: Oslo view (rooftops, castle carden) from hotelroom terrace. Super nice!
Note: Natural colours … no filters, no photoshop, just nature (soft summer rain)!

A 1-1 score; Mediterranean Sea versus Oslo City sensations. It is hard to pick a favourite; which place truly has the most beautiful view and ‘winning’ ambience?
It all depends … on the day, the situation, the company and your mood.