Nigeria – Six months in Abuja

Nigeria is a place I will never forget. The largest country in Africa in population and one of the richest country on natural resources in the world. 

Nigeria a place which you will either love it or hate it. I still have not decided..

Lagos is the largest city and is a place where about 20 million people live and work. Every day more Nigerians are coming to Lagos and the city is really over crowded. Most of the population lives in slums, in very poor conditions.

Abuja on the other hand is a very welcoming city to the expats. The city was build 40 years ago and it is the official capital of Nigeria. Wide roads, new buildings and a less crowded place than Lagos. People in Abuja are friendly and nice too. Most of the population lives in the outskirts of Abuja where the housing is more affordable and they come in the capital for work. Some of the people have to travel up to 2 hours to arrive to their homes but I never heard someone complaining.

They say Nigerians are highly corrupted. I believe that because the country is very rich in resources hence the population is starving. Hence, I have lived and worked there for 6 months and I have not a single corruption story to tell you. On the contrary, my experience was that Nigerian businessmen are trustworthy and honest. There are not really many things to do in Abuja apart from seeing the Zuma Rock, the football stadium and the really big Church downtown.

Abuja is the centre for the Diplomats and the government officials so you will find beautiful hotels and restaurants. I have stayed in most of the hotels in Abuja such as the Fraser Suites, the Hawthorn Suites, the SV Chrome and the beautiful boutique hotel Nordic Hotel and Nordic Villa.

It is advised to not walk alone in Abuja, so always use UBER – which has excellent drivers and I have never had any problem, or hire a driver from a company. They can be very flexible with their rates.

Eat at the hotels and at my favourite, Cafe de Vie in Maitama ! Read the Abuja Times to learn the latest news about the capital.

If you need to travel domestically please use the Air Peace. There are many airlines in Nigeria but they are not the best one when it comes to maintenance and there were many accidents reported. I have used the Air Peace several times and I have been told that is the best domestic airline. All the Air Peace flights are always fully booked so if you cannot find a ticket try with Bristow. It is more expensive and you will have to travel to the airport to get a ticket unless your company has an account with them.

One last advice, is to always have a lot of cash with you because the card scams in Nigeria is very often. Most of the ATMs are hacked and they will try to steal money from your bank account.

Abuja

TIP: Before travelling to Africa do not forget to have your World Health Organisation yellow booklet for the Africa Vaccines. Note that you would need to have the vaccines at least two weeks before travelling. For more info visit: https://www.who.int/ith/updates/20110427/en/

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Anantara Peace Heaven Tangalle Resort

Looking through the window of the airplane as you are about to land in Sri Lanka you see a beautiful tropical jungle ! Sri Lanka is a unique place ! Is a beautiful island just below India and very close to the Maldives.

After landing you take a car and you travel about 4 hours to reach the ultimate heaven! The Anantara Peace Heaven Tangale Resort is a brand new resort and the first of the Anantara group in Sri Lanka.

I cant really describe how amazing my experience at this resort was.

Although we arrived very late at night, the check in was a fantastic experience. Our driver got complementary accommodation in the resort for as long as we were staying there.

The fist night we checked in to a beautiful garden villa but the next day we asked to be upgraded and got the most amazing ocean view pool Villa you will ever see! All villas are really spacious and the bathrooms are massive with luxurious amenities.

Extra Luxury : Each villa has a Butler service

The management of the this hotel really thought of everything !! Inside the villa you can find flip-flops (in case you didn’t bring with you), a bag for the swimming pool, 3 kind of pillows, even a anti-mosquito gel.

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My Ocean View Villa

The breakfast was huge as well! They are offering wonderful selection of every kind of breakfast you can think of: from international, to Arabic and Chinese. All the fruits were really tasty and fresh. Do not forget to try the amazing coconuts!

Beautiful to See: The resort has a local person who climbs the coconut trees and cuts the fruits to be served to the guests!

Although the infinity pool is beautiful we fell in love with the beach. The sun beds were really comfortable, the staff very nice and very considerate.

Extra Pampering: Once you were siting in the pool or in the beach, the staff would bring you the towels and a basket with: two bottles of water, a pair of flip flops, 2 fresh oranges and a sun block!

Everyone in the hotel is really friendly and polite. They were extremely helpful. The Resort also offers 3 restaurants and 3 spots for private dining.

I would definitely recommend the Private Dining as the set menu is really massive and delicious.

Once in Sri Lanka you have to try the sea food and especially the crabs, the lobster and the shrimps. Do not miss the curries ! Although most of them are really spicy, the taste is rewarding!

Enjoy !

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The Italian Restaurant

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Sri Lanka Map

Check the Map 🙂

Book here : http://tangalle.anantara.com/

 

Six months in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

For the western world Saudi Arabia is definitely not a destination anyone would think its great to live or travel. In fact the county has no tourists apart for the religious purposes. So if you are not an Muslim, such as myself, it is highly unlikely you will ever be able to get a tourist visa and enter the Kingdom.

However there are many foreigners living and working in Saudi Arabia. From example there is a very large community of American citizens working in the country but generally you will find people from all over the world. That is how I arrived in Saudi to work for six months!

The capital of Saudi Arabia is Riyadh and the second largest city is Jeddah.

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Riyadh city

Saudi Arabia is not an easy place to live. There are many rules you have to follow and certain social etiquette you have to follow. For example, every restaurant has two entrances – one for the single men and one entrance for families. Men and women are not supposed to dine together or drink coffee in public unless they are related.

Until recently you could have ended up in jail if you were drinking coffee with a colleague in public if the Religious Police, or as they called, the Mutawa would see you. Hence, few months ago the Saudi King decided that the religious police should not be authorized to arrest anyone! That is a progress!

Women are those who have many of the restrictions .. for example, women are not allowed to drive, so every woman needs to have a car and a driver. Also, all women are obligated to wear the Abaya even the foreigners. Abaya is a long rope, mostly back that covers your body reaching to the toes. As a foreigner I was always wearing the abaya once I was out of my compound but I never covered my hair or face. This is something actually acceptable. People here understands that you are not western lady and even not a muslim person. They really respect that and they never create a problem. That is because most of the saudi businessmen travel a lot and they are fully exposed to the western cultures.

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Me in Abaya

People thought I was not going to be safe in Saudi because people are extremely religious. That is a misconception! People in Saudi are perfectly normal. I always felt perfectly safe being around Saudis, I felt respected and welcome. Saudis are really hospitable people and they would never try to “force their religion to you”. That is another myth as well.

Saudis are genuine peaceful and unlike most people think they are against the terrorism. 

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The Kempinski, Burj Rafal

If you respect their culture and follow their rules, you have nothing to worry about. The reason is that the government is open to the foreigners. They understand that they need to exchange knowledge and grow the economy of the country. That is why they have made sure that foreigners will feel as comfortable as possible. The capital has almost 80 western compounds. The security measures are really tight and the compounds are protected 24/7 from the national army!

Inside the compounds the rules are entirely western; No police or religious police is ever allowed to enter the compounds and disturb the foreigners. The compounds have all the facilities including, restaurants, schools & nurseries, sport activities, pool areas and entertainment such as cinemas, bowling clubs etc.

The Diplomatic Quarter is another place where the expats can feel as Home ! Most of the Embassies are located inside the Diplomatic Quarter. This is also, an area protected by the national army and the special forces. Of course each embassy have its own security as well. Some of the Embassies are really active hosting concerts, movie nights, formal or casual dinners, events etc. Again the Saudi government and the Saudi people are ok with this. They understand and respect us the way we understand and respect them.

Needless to say that Saudi is a “dry country” – meaning, there is no Alcohol sold in the entire country

Riyadh is not a the most beautiful city in world because there are many constructions going on at the moment, as the new Metro; a mega project which will be amazing to see once its done. However, the city has many beautiful landmark building such as the Kingdom Tower, the Al Faisaliah tower and the Burj Rafal Tower where the Kempinski Hotel is located. Another mega project that should be finished soon is the King Abdullah Financial District; a complex of beautiful towers that soon will be the heart of the business life in Saudi!

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King Abdullah Financial District

Saudis love dining out! That’s why the capital is full of restaurants ! Here you will find all the international food chains, etc McDonalds, Burger King, TGIF, Five Guys, but you will also find boutique burger places and all kinds of the international cuisine.

 

Quick Guide:

When in Riyadh

Stay at the Kempinski Burj Rafal – because is really beautiful and modern

Rent a car from Europcar  they really have the best fleet and the best customer service

Order from Maestro Pizza – the most delicious pizza place, 100% Saudi made

Try the Biscuits of Anoosh – simply delicious & 100% Saudi

Visit – The Edge of the World  – is breathtaking

Dine at the famous turkish restaurant Tugra, at the The Globe and at the Spazio 77 –  fine dining restaurants with amazing panoramic view of Riyadh

Buy a perfume from O100

Explore the various malls where you will find all the international fashion brands

 

Botswana Tales #2: Safari at Chobe National Park

The safari is surely one of the most interesting experiences in life and not everyone will be able to live it. But mark my words: it is worth it!

After spending four months in Botswana, I managed to organise a safari in the famous Chobe National Park. Definitely the Okavango Delta is the most famous attraction of Botswana and I would not disagree but the Chobe National Park is equal in beauty and it is full of the wild life.

 Tip: You can access the Kasane area via road, it takes about 6 hours drive from Gaborone and you will need to use a 4×4 vehicle, or by air with Air Botswana. The flight takes about 2 hours.

We started our tour with a river safari. The river is the natural boarder between Botswana and Namibia. It is magnificent to see two countries, separated by a wide river. Our driver was experienced and he was explaining all the kind of details. There are several animals living inside and around of this river such as hippos, crocodiles, impalas, buffalos, elephants as well as all kind of birds.

The river tour takes about 3 hours and the waters are very dangerous. Luckily the guides really know how close they can go to the animals and they are really careful.

Tip: The best season to have a safari in Botswana is from May to October – before the raining season

The following day we woke up 5am to start the real safari inside the National Park. The guide told us, that early morning is the best time to see the predators in action! The tour started at 5:30 and lasted until 11am. It was an amazing experience although we were not able to see the Lions.. This is what happens in the wild.. you have to be lucky; you do not have a date with the animals.

However, we saw a family of elephants, we saw the african buffalos, we saw lots of impalas, many wild boars, hawks, the african wild cat, wild rabbits and baboons. I have to admit, the most friendly animals are the elephants and the giraffes!

Tip: The are is not Malaria free. The visitor is advised to use the anti mosquito spray called, peaceful sleep , on the body and on the clothes.

At the same day, we had also a night safari; started at 10pm for only an hour! It is a bit scary because the night in the park is really dark and the driver is looking for the eyes of the animals. Despite that, I would definitely recommend it as it is a very special experience.

On the last day, we decided to visit one of the village. The people in the villages in Kasane are really poor. Although they have a school, not all children are attending the classes. The life for the people is harsh. That is why, we decided to buy books, colouring pencils and cookies for the children of the village. The amount we spent was very small, but we felt we contributed a little to these children. When you are around them, you feel you are not doing enough for them; but no matter how small is the contribution it is worth it !

*Tip: Gather a small amount and buy something for the kids; clothes, shoes, food or school supplies are always welcome.

**Dress Tips:

#1: Buy fake hair and do some braids on your head! It is really comfortable when you are in the wild because it can last up to a week and you do not need to worry on washing them!

#2: Always wear hats and long-sleeves! Try to cover as much of your body as possible.

Some more pictures!

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*all photos taken by me