Tag Archives Travel

No passports needed to visit Saudi

Bahraini ID Card

Finally, after 25 years or so of establishing the Gulf Cooperation Council, citizens of both Bahrain and Saudi will soon be able to visit each other’s country by just using their identity card rather than a passport. This will take effect in 30 days due to an agreement signed at the Interior Ministers’s meeting in Riyadh yesterday.

Thanks! That should make things a bit easier. You wouldn’t believe the number of times that I found out that I didn’t have my passport with me when I reached the border point on the causeway! Soon, I won’t have to worry about that.

One thing they could do is unify the visas throughout the Gulf so that residents in one country can easily go to another without having to go through the onerous steps of getting a recurrent visa from one country or another. For instance, we go through hell (and a lot of begging) to get our engineer a visa so he can visit our customers in Saudi.

Ah well, one step at a time I guess. As allowing citizens to travel to each other’s country has taken 26 years to achieve, to get residents to do so will probably take oooh, another 260 years. Not bad.

Incidentally, did you know that there is a page listing the lost and found ID cards on the Ministry of Interior’s website? Quite nifty isn’t it!

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Off to Amman, Jordan

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I’ll be off for a couple of days to Jordan, the first in my life! But, as I told my wife this morning, all hotel lobbies and conference halls look virtually identical, down to the smell of the cleaning solvents they use!

It’s the semi-annual meeting of the IREX advisory council.

Any idea as to who should be the Scapegoat this time?

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Yumm, good breakfast!

Some days are just special… today is one of those days, I can tell.

The alarm clock woke me up at 4.30am. I hit the snooze button a couple of times and eventually dragged myself out of bed and into the shower 10 minutes later.

Before doing that however, and as I do not use the alarm clock that often, I switched on the bedside lamp to shut the bloody thing up for good so as not to wake Frances up too early. Let her enjoy a few more minutes of sleep. That’s when I noticed that the date set on the clock was wrong, it suggested that today is supposed to be the 29th of April. Stupid alarm and stupid person who screwed up the date. I spent a few seconds fixing that mistake and reset it to the proper date. 30 April 2007. Thanks very much.

Croissant for breakfast

Shaved, showered, dressed and downstairs to bid Filbert good morning at about 5.15am. Got the paper on the way to the car and drove off to Muharraq to catch the plane to Abu Dhabi.

The drive was good and unhurried, it was early yet and not too many people on the road still. I arrived at the car parking lot and got the best slot I have ever managed to get in that place! This is going to be a really good day.

Off to the airport building and the check in computer. Unfortunately it wouldn’t accept my frequent flyer card and nicely told me that it was at fault, apologised profusely and asked me to present myself at a check-in counter, which I did after standing in queue for a short while.

“Good morning sir,” said a laid back almost smiling clerk,
“Good morning!” I replied, joyful even at that early hour, and handed over the ticket printout, my frequent flyer card and my ID.
The guy punched a few buttons and then asked me a rather peculiar question: “did you change your booking recently sir?”
Huh? “Erm, no, why do you ask” as he carried on punching keys,
“Well, it says here that you’re traveling tomorrow, but no worries I found you a seat!”
“WHAT? Whadayameantravelingtomorrow?Ididntchangeanyreservations!”
“Well sir, it says here that you’d be traveling on the 30th?”
“Yeah, so? Today is the 30th!”
(Oh God, a moron in front of me, was the look that drew on his face… smile resumed:)
“Actually sir, it’s the 29th today.”
“Ohmygod. Noway. Isn’t it Monday today?”
“That would be tomorrow sir, today is Sunday”
(muttering and feeling rather stupid) “Oh, in that case, I’ll see you tomorrow morning! Thanks my friend.”
“So shall I cancel today’s travel then?”
“Erm, yeah, thanks, I’ll see you tomorrow”

EXIT, STAGE LEFT!

Damn, how did that happen?

Ah well. Downstairs I go to a café, buy a couple of croissants and latté to go and then drive back to the office… there is nothing like starting a day with a good breakfast, even if you have to drive to another island to get it!

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Goooood Morning Kuwait!

Kuwait City Panorama

It was a good show and I met with great people who I have admired for a long time. It was wonderful to put faces to name and online personalities.

The discussion was excellent, though probably too short of course to cover all the topics we wanted to cover; however, it is enough to entice the viewer to investigate blogging and maybe think of starting a blog themselves, which would be an excellent result of this program. Because of the topics discussed, I hope that the community too will be more aware of our activities and read our blogs to know us better and share in our passions and things that we choose to cover.

The program is anticipated to be aired in April. I shall let you know the actual date when the schedule is actually confirmed.

Diwaniyyat Al-Osbou - Kuwait

The topics discussed included the definition of blogging, what is normally covered in blogs, differences between blogs and forums, the credibility issue, the non-existing specific laws on internet media, how should bloggers be regarded (ie, journalists or normal citizens), how blogs affect political issues and of course how we – as bloggers – evaluate the future of blogging.

It should be a good episode and I am really glad to have taken part. Thanks to Tariq Al-Rubei and Bader Al-Fraih for organising it and inviting me to join this illustrious group.

Getting to Kuwait was a story in itself too! We were schedule to shoot the episode at 9pm so I thought there would be plenty of time to take the 4pm Gulf Air flight from Bahrain to arrive in Kuwait about 5pm. That is, if the plane did not get delayed, twice!

Gulf Air were good enough to actually contact me to tell me that the plane was initially delayed to 6.30pm, which means that I still arrive in Kuwait in plenty of time for the show, but by the time I arrived at the airport, the plane was delayed again and scheduled now to depart at 7.30pm which means there would have been very little time to get from the airport to the studio.

Fortunately it departed just after 7pm, landed at Kuwait airport at 8.10 and as I didn’t have any luggage with me I flew through immigration to be picked up by Bader and flew again directly to the station!

Diwaniyyat Al-Osbou - Kuwait

We arrived with just 5 minutes to spare. Even though it was a recorded show, the studio schedule was fully booked for last night which meant that we only had a specific period to record the show. TV cannot be delayed! Both Bader and I quickly changed at the station and were led to our seats for the recording to start.

It was worth it I think.

Thanks to KTV and everyone who worked at making this program a reality. We should have something like this done by Bahrain TV. I’ll talk to some people I know and see if they accept such an idea.

I hope the flight back to Bahrain this afternoon won’t be delayed this time.

This brings back memories of what GULF AIR actually means: Get Used to Late Flights And Incorrect Reservations!

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Metalwork

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Metalwork

Metalwork, originally uploaded by malyousif.



At a Marrakech souvenir outlet.

I bought quite a lot of things from this shop; leather cushions, bags, Moroccan clothes for the wife and kids and other stuff. This constituted my first ever souvenir shopping! I normally don’t bother with any souvenir shopping in the countries I visit for business or short trips, but Marrakech was the first exception to that rule.

The one thing I did want to get is one of those lamps, a fanous, which would have looked fantastic at the front door, unfortunately the size of the object and the inversely proportional size of my wallet didn’t allow me that luxury. Next time inshallah.

I hope you are having a wonderful Friday. And do please spare a though for those people who are paying for our freedom, with theirs.

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Time to have fun!

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Djemaa el Fna performer at night

Djemaa el Fna performer at night, originally uploaded by malyousif.



I’m sure that a lot of you are pretty fed up with bad news, politics and the rest of the depressing posts. So allow me to share with you this picture I shot in Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech recently.

New friends and I decided to go have dinner in an upmarket authentic restaurant, but see the city at night at the same time, and believe me, Djemaa el Fna comes into its own at night. I’ll post more pictures of the square and the old Medina over the next few days ( watch my Marrakech set on Flickr) where you will see how vibrant it gets; the people, music, noise, hustle & bustle, smells, lights, shadows, the ethereal lighting and business still being conducted at that time of night and the sights in and of the narrow alleyways of the Casbah are all thrilling even more than daytime Marrakech.

We walked for about an hour through the narrow alleyways until we got to the exquisite and excellent (and rather expensive) Yaqout restaurant and had an excellent Moroccan meal.

But before all of that, in Djemaa el Fna, I was busy shooting when this jolly guy just jumped in front of my camera singing, dancing and clapping those mini-symbals all happy and smiley, fortunately my reflex took over and I pointed the camera down at him and shot him!

I love this picture, so vibrant and jolly.

Have a wonderful day my friends, and think happy thoughts!

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Marrakech

An eight hour flight will get you from Abu Dhabi to Casablanca, another 30 minutes in a connecting flight will get you to Marrakech, and will immerse you in a love that only a fortunate few will experience in their lifetimes.

I didn’t know much about Morocco, I still don’t, but that didn’t stop me from the wonder and awe of seeing the snow covered Atlas mountains from air, or the desert in between them and the sudden and abundant appearance of orange groves surrounding the city. I forgot what it was like to view ochre, burnt umber and green parcels of land; I forgot organised cultivation and farming, the last I have experienced was in Texas while flying. I forgot the hundreds of villages that these parcels create of farmers and their dependents live in, I forgot most of all the beauty of this tapestry, and it is these that evoked the immediate feeling of love to this land and its people, even before meeting them! What aided that, I must admit, was the pleasure of having a Moroccan neighbour for 7 years in Bahrain. Now I am a guest in her country for but a few days, the first of which had tremendous impact on me.

I had to get out.

Disregarding the back-pain and the more than 12 hours of travel time, I had to go visit the town I have briefly read about; so in the company of a fellow Bahraini and a new Jordanian friend we got into a taxi that took us to the heart of the old town: the Medina, which the taxi conveniently dropped us at what possibly is the largest traditional crafts shop in town. And I want to buy almost every single article it contains! From fantastically constructed side-tables with intricate inlaid mother of pearl and ivory, through to several iterations of Berber carpets and copper and bronze fanouses, lamps, to cushions and their covers and leather goods which are a fetishist’s wet dream! I want them all, my home would certainly benefit greatly from them.

Fortunately; however, my travel experience kicked in and I just contented myself to taking photographs – when allowed – in the knowledge that I want to see what others have to offer and then utilise the last day in this distinct city to buy a few articles.

Walking out of that centre, we started walking in the general direction of the flow of people, stopping every few minutes – to the detriment and annoyance of my friends – to take pictures. Thankfully, most people did not mind once permission is politely sought, and there are an awful lot of subjects that you simply must shoot! This town is anything but un-photogenic, every single thing in here lends itself to a great picture: the old man sitting by his shop, the restaurant grilling skewers of meat, the children playing, the people walking, the traditional fashion, the old doors, the narrow alleyways, the shops and their contents, the eccentrics… everything. And this is not an exaggeration. By the time I reached my room again last night, I have shot 248 photographs, most of which are usable! The value of a 4GB CF card has certainly proved itself worthy.

Onward we walked, and fortunately intercepted by an 11-year-old urchin who promised to take us through the Casbah and before we knew it, we were following this kid through the most amazing mazes which opened up to uncover tremendous architectural and artistic features in the most unlikely of places! The alleyways, some of which are probably not more than a meter wide, had intricately constructed doors with their awnings, high walls, some of which looked like ancient ruins with cacti growing on top of them, electricity wires snaking between houses and even small recesses where kids played with their spin-tops or even football in these areas not larger than 3 meters by 3 meters.

After about an hour and a half of following the kid, we exit yet another winding alleyway into a main street in the depths of the old city, and we are yet again hit with that distinct smell of spices, to enter a traditional alternative medicine shop in which all your senses are bombarded at the very same instant: your sight is flooded with all rich colours imaginable, your sense of smell is attacked with the most sensual smell of spice which lead the rest of the senses to add to the tremendous experience for your visit to become whole.

And I continued to photograph things which I became aware of; framing, adjusting and shooting as I went along.

Walking further down the road we decided that we have seen enough of this area of town and it is time to do the time-honoured thing and hail a taxi to take us to the next feature, after rewarding the boy for him giving us a nice tour through the Casbah. As we were thirsty and ready for a coffee, we asked the barely-Arabic speaking taxi driver to take us to a nice place in which we can sit, chill out and watch the world go by while enjoying a nice cup of coffee. As none of us have mastered French yet, we thought that our louder voices and gesticulations were enough to communicate to the driver where we wanted to go. And off he went. For half an hour circling the city dodging impatient pedestrians and starved looking horses, donkeys and mules drawing touristic and freight carriages, all the while the three of us watching this great city’s neighbourhoods and features going by with our mouths open with wonder… this is a place that is so completely different from the imagination, and most certainly different from any Arab city I have ever been in. It is a one and only experience.

We stop and ask for the charge, the silly twit expected that we must have had wool on our eyes; he asked for about $100 for his trouble, but he (happily enough) accepted $3!

Dropping us at the entrance of what ultimately knew to be the Djemaa el Fna, the busiest square in the entire African continent, we walked with the throng and stopped aghast at the site that greeted us only a few minutes from leaving the taxi. How can such a multitude of people gather in a single location? There must have been thousands of people in there; locals trying to sell their wares, tourists and onlookers all in one place! There were snake charmers, fortune tellers, spice sellers, tarot card readers, dancers, jugglers, food sellers, story tellers and probably an awful lot more that I have missed. It was yet another sensual over-drive!

Marrakesh Market

And the camera continued to add its voice to the cacophony, but unfortunately a lot of these vendors refused to allow their pictures to be taken without being rewarded first. I didn’t have the local currency yet to oblige, nor did I have the inclination to be forced into giving, so most I have left to be, but I still managed to take a lot of general shots which I shall treasure for a long time to come.

Time was getting on, and we had to get back to the hotel to attend the welcoming activities of the conference we were invited to attend so we decided to make our way back to the hotel. We thought we knew the general direction, and as the street was familiar looking and the buildings too – all buildings in this city appear to be of a standard pinkish-orange colour – we decided to walk. Half an hour later I prevailed on my friends to hail a cab as I was convinced that we were hopelessly lost, especially after I stopped a lady and asked for directions to our hotel, the incredulous look on her face when I said we could walk to it sealed the situation, and a cab was hailed. It appeared were were significantly away from the hotel, apart from it being at the complete opposite direction of where we were walking!

That was the first afternoon in Marrakech my friends, a city I am determined to bring my family to as soon as possible for them to enjoy too, as I am absolutely sure that they would enjoy it tremendously, and yes, this is based on just a few hours of being here.

I am in love with this place, and I will leave a little bit of my heart in it on my departure… simply as an excuse to come back and retrieve it with the ones I love!

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The Old Berber Man

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The Old Berber Man

The Old Berber Man, originally uploaded by malyousif.



There are a lot of colourful (and pushy!) characters in the main square of Marrakesh, this is supposed to be the largest open air market in Africa, and there are loads of opportunities to take photographs, but better start with your pocket full of coins as everyone will demand to be paid to get their picture taken!

It’s immense fun though.

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Brrrrrrr

Bahrain Weather Map - at 850mb

My brother Jamal just emailed me this weather map for next week, specifically on the coming Thursday 18th of January, in which temperatures in Bahrain are set to drop to zero degrees! I have no idea if this is actually true so far as the 5 day forecast of today obviously stops at Sunday 14 Jan.

If the temperature does indeed drop to freezing, then we can expect quite a few funerals the day after, ones in which the family of the deceased would have to pay mourners to accompany the precession to the final resting place.

I hope it doesn’t get to that level, we are really not prepared for cold weather here, and most certainly are not prepared for rain, hail, sleet nor snow; those things can stay in Europe for all I care (other than the rain, my garden needs it!)

However, the astute observer, and those who know how to fly planes, would immediately be drawn to that little figure on the top left corner of the image, which says 850mb. Do you know what that number indicates? It’s the air pressure measured in millibars, and through that one could deduce the level or height above mean sea level that weather chart is predicting. As far as my simple calculations are concerned, that weather chart indicates the predicted pressure and temperature patterns at a height of approximately 5000 feet! (assuming a pressure lapse rate of 30 feet per millibar under 10,000 feet and the MSL is 1013.25mb)

I would therefore suggest that you shouldn’t rush out and fall over each other to buy yet another heater, the prices of which I am told have shot through the roof! Judging by the average norms for this time of the year – even when you take this inordinately cold December and January – I would say that the temperature on Thursday the 18th would probably be between 16 – 19 degrees Celsius.

So make sure that you refer whoever gives you this chart or “advises” you to go and buy more heaters because it will get freezing from Saudi or wherever (they’re out of stock in Bahrain they say,) refer them to this post and slap them on their heads. Maybe that will knock some sense into them.

I won’t be here to experience it on that day (un)fortunately, I’ll be enjoying the weather in Marrakesh to which I will be traveling from the 13th to the 19th to participate in an IREX media advisory board meeting.

I wonder what the weather is going to be like there?

MUCH more important, who should be the Mtv scapegoat for that week?

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Vlog #26: 12 hours in Beirut

One of my greatest regrets is that I didn’t have the chance to spend any time in Lebanon, Beirut specifically. The only time I had was a couple of months ago. I flew there on the 14th of June to attend an IREX meeting, unfortunately personal tragedy struck and I had to fly back home the very next day.

That being said, the time I did manage to spend in Beirut allowed me to fall in love with it and its people. True, I’ve been in love with it even before stepping foot in there, and that got me thinking about the reasons why Arabs regard Lebanon the way they do, that question was further prompted by Ash in one of her comments.

Well, my take is the following:

People feel much more empathy to that which they are familiar with. Lebanon and the Lebanese are much closer to our souls in this area of the world than Sudan or even Egypt for that matter, let alone Darfur.

Lebanon to us is much more than a place;
Lebanon to us is the spirit of Arabia,
Lebanon to us is the culture,
Lebanon to us is the art,
Lebanon to us is an idea,
Lebanon to us is the history,
Lebanon to us is the poetry,
Lebanon to us is the literature,
Lebanon to us is the darling young bride,
Lebanon to us is much more than all of the above combined:

Lebanon to us, is our soul.

How can we NOT feel distraught at what is happening there?

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