11

Zoës Kitchen

Zoës Kitchen is a fast casual restaurant chain headquartered in Plano, Texas, United States that has grown to include more than 100 locations across 15 states with plans to expand further. The menu features Zoë’s family recipes that are Mediterranean-inspired comfort food with made-from-scratch recipes using fresh ingredients.

The team hand-washes, cuts and prepares each item from scratch in the kitchen. Nothing is fried and there are no microwaves! What you’ll find at Zoës Kitchen is Mediterranean-inspired food, where grilling is the predominate method of cooking along with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, olive oil and lean proteins (source)

The Atmosphere is Clean and Casual.

Zoës Kitchen marlton

Zoës Kitchen is a counter-serve chain: you order the food at the counter and then a staff will bring it to your table.

The space at Zoës Kitchen is light, airy, clean, and fresh. Masood and I dined here twice—lunch with colleagues and then dinner alone. There are splashes of vibrant colors everywhere.

The restaurant was packed during lunch, but the ever-smiling staff handled the hungry crowd very well so that in no time, we were able to find a table for ourselves. And it’s very nice that the food did not take long to arrive on our table.

The Food is Fresh and Delicious.

hummus and pita

Hummus and Pita • $4.99

Freshly made on premises. The taste was good but I feel they should lessen the amount of olive oil in the hummus.

VEGGIE PITA PIZZA

Veggie Pita Pizza • $8.49

Roasted vegetables, mozzarella, feta, fresh basil, caramelized onions, mushrooms, side greek salad. The vegetable topping was generous, fresh and crisp.

Zoës Kitchen

Shrimp Kabobs • $9.99

Two charbroiled kabobs, zucchini, rice pilaf, cucumber raita, side greek salad, pita bread. I loved this! The shrimps tasted fresh and had that hint of herbs. Good thing Masood doesn’t eat shrimps. I got to eat this all by myself.

The Verdict:

I would recommend this place over any other fast food joint out there. The food is fresh, healthier, and service is quick. You’ll leave satiated but not heavy.

Zoës Kitchen

500 Route 73 South Ste. B-7
Marlton NJ. 08053
Phone: 856-334-5615
Fax: 856-334-5619
11-9 Daily

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Zoës Kitchen locations

Catering is available.

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19

statue of liberty

You just have to meet her, specially if it’s your first time in New York. Once back home, people who learn that you have been to New York will pose the first question: have you seen the Statue of Liberty? I suppose I succumbed more to this pressure than actual desire or keenness to see the statue.

By the way, if Lady Liberty can so famously represent freedom whilst fully clothed then why are covered Muslimahs viewed as oppressed?

The Tickets:

tickets to the statue of liberty

Back in Boston, I checked online if we could purchase a ticket with access to the crown. Turns out you have to book several months in advance to get this! I just checked the availability again today and the next available date is in September.

“That’s okay,” Masood and I tried to console ourselves, “We can conserve our energy to see the rest of the city if we don’t climb to the crown.” You see, there are 162 narrow and tight steps from the top of the pedestal to the crown. There is no elevator access from the top of the pedestal to the crown platform. That is quite a workout for a tourist who only has two days to spare to see the city!

By the way, we bought the tickets on site for $17 per person ($13 for the ferry and $4 for the audio that we forgot to claim!). Online tickets can be purchased from the Statue Cruises’ website.

Warning: Airport-style security ahead!

security at the statue of liberty

For a brief moment, I felt like I was boarding a flight! The security is complete with those metal detecting gates and X-ray machines for the bags. Shoes, belts and jackets were removed. Pockets were emptied.

It was a hot day so we stayed in the covered, lower deck of the boat while waiting for the rest of the visitors to arrive.

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on our way to Stratton island

The Beast:

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Wet & Wild

Owner’s description: New York’s only jet-powered thrill boat! The Beast leaves all others in its wake as the Captain takes this custom-built 70-foot offshore racing powerboat up to 45mph on a ride down to the Statue of Liberty.

Some of the positive reviews online include:

“Absolutely hilarious and fun. My (almost) 60 year old mum and I had a brilliant time on the beast. The loud music was great, totally added to the fun and we got close up photos of the Manhattan sky line and statue of liberty.”

“They stop right in front of the statue for photos and then the crew went around to take your photo for you using your own camera. This was probably the best part of the trip. The views and photo ops from the boat are far better than actually on liberty island. As you can’t actually climb the statue at the moment we didn’t even bother with the hassle and long lines going to the island as there was really no point.”

And some weren’t too happy:

“The guys operating this boat will do anything and EVERYTHING to get you soaked…and if the tsunami of toxic waves attacking you aren’t enough, they’ve got super-soakers that they blast the kids with! I wore sunglasses, and they were ZERO protection from the torrential river bursts…my contacts were SATURATED, my eyes were burning, and all I could think of was rushing back to the hotel and de-toxing! Honestly, if you’re a germ-phobe don’t even THINK about this one!”

“For 25 minutes only, there is no time for courtesy here, it’s a ping pong ride to one location, if you wish to experience the true tour of NY, take the traditional boat, the tour is more rich and covers many of NY landmarks over the 90 min duration.”

But we took the regular cruise and enjoyed the slow cruise down River Hudson:

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Sweet & Slow

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We love this kid!

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We were so entertained by how parents were instructing their children to pose in front of the statue! So much excitement.

We strolled around a bit, took photographs, looked back at the famous skyline, then headed back to the ferry.

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Meet the Battery Park Eagle:

eagle

This bronze eagle is part of the World War II war memorial in Battery Park in New York City. The eagle is set on a pedestal of polished black granite, grips a laurel wreath over a wave—signifying the act of mourning at the watery grave.

This statue was created by Albino Manca, an Italian-born sculptor and was installed on February 4, 1963. The memorial was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy three months later.

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Want a free ride? Here’s a tip:

My sister, Sophia and her BFF, Saima ji, told me about this. Instead of paying for the boat ride, climb aboard the Staten Island Ferry. This ferry provides service between St. George on Staten Island and Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan. This basically is designed for the city commuters so it does not really stop at the Liberty Island. However, it sails very close to the island allowing you to enjoy a close-up view of Lady Liberty. And it’s absolutely free! That’s fun and free for you!

Kero, another Dubai blogger, writes about her trip to see the Statue of Liberty here.

Kenneth blogs about how things look beneath Lady Liberty’s dress here.

 

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12
muttrah corniche

The Al-Lawatiya Masjid along the Muttrah Corniche, it’s blue-green dome and miraret with intricate design stand proud amidst white structures, facing the sea. This photograph was taken at dawn.

The Planning:

Well, there wasn’t any. Just like our previous trip to Muscat three years ago this, too, was completely unplanned.  With nothing else to do with our weekend except grocery shopping and laundry, my sister, Sophia, and I impulsively decided on a road trip to Muscat. Masood’s reaction, when I put down the phone after speaking with my sister at 1am, was, “Seriously?” I answered by packing a small suitcase.

The Road Trip:

muscat

A tree laden with sweet, ripe dates.

We took the Dubai-Hatta highway. It took us about two hours to reach the UAE-Oman border. Then it took us two hours to get the visa! It was a long weekend for us in the UAE and it appeared like everyone was heading to Oman. While parents stood restlessly in the queues that moved at a speed of 2 inches per hour, children from different nationalities played with each other. It’s amazing how language wasn’t a barrier and they were all running and having fun together.

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Unlike our previous road trip where we made frequent stops and saw some crazy stuff along the way, this time we just drove straight to Muscat, mostly because it was too hot and bright outside.

9 am – we left Dubai
11 am – at the UAE – Oman border
1 pm – finally got the visa stamped on our passport (AED 50 each) 
1:30 pm – resumed our drive to Muscat
4:30 pm – arrived at Muttrah Corniche 
 

The Hotel:

Leaving the more expensive and comfortable hotels of the newer neighborhoods of Muscat, we decided to stay close to Muttrah Corniche so that we could go for long walks during the evening and early morning. The problem, however, with this old Muscat neighborhood is that there are only three or four hotels, two of which were closed for renovation. They’re all three-star hotels that, by UAE standards, is like a one-star hotel.

I was having a bad headache that afternoon due to which I didn’t feel like taking any pictures of our room. Besides, there was nothing in the room that would inspire me to take pictures—blue curtains with lavender lining and unnecessary amount of tassels adorned the glass doors of the two small balconies that faced the corniche, there was a golden watch on the wall that did not work, red and pink plastic flowers were haphazardly arranged in golden vases with floral patterns, and random pieces of imitation artwork in cheap frames were scattered on the walls in no particular order or arrangement.

The fish market at Muttrah at 5:30 am.

The fish market at Muttrah at 5:30 am. You can see the giant white incense burner, a famous landmark, nestled between the mountains.

Factors that made it worth staying in this hotel include their clean rooms, freshly-laundered sheets, a working air-conditioning system, a nearby masjid, and the Muttrah corniche view at dawn and dusk.

The Food:

It was utterly frustrating that along the entire 3 km stretch of Muttrah corniche, no restaurant was open for business at 5 pm. We were so hungry that we stopped at the first Lulu Hypermarket we saw and had KFC. The other option was Mc Donald’s.

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A restaurant situated right across the Muttrah fish market.

Like every other place, this French restaurant was also closed during the afternoon and there was a board that said they were opening after 6 pm. But no, we didn’t get the chance to eat here, although there are some good reviews online. My sister took this picture because she was fascinated with the huge bones decorating their balcony. I am assuming those are camel bones but they appeared creepy to me because they were big enough to look like human bones!

Fortunately, we had a fantastic dinner that evening!

The Fishers Grilled restaurant in Muttrah

The Fishers Grilled restaurant in Muttrah

The Fishers Grilled is a tiny place that serves delicious grilled freshly-caught fish. It is located in front of the fish market. As you can see from the picture above, there isn’t even enough space to put the tables and chairs inside. However, they have a small but air-conditioned family room with a glass door that offers some privacy for the ladies. Due to the humid weather, we opted to sit in the family room.

The staff only speaks Arabic, but that shouldn’t be an issue because the fish is on display and you simply have to choose and point at it. While waiting for the fish, we were served a bowl of some white sesame sauce, a plate of fresh salad with the most delicious olive oil and lemon-based dressing, and some warm tandoori roti.

fishers grilled muscat

grilled fish muscat

Marinated with just the right amount of spices and salt, the juice from the onion and tomatoes slowly incorporating into the fish as it grilled — perfection. We devoured it all and licked our fingers afterwards.

We had lunch at Masood’s cousin house the following day, where his lovely wife prepared a huge feast while looking after three adorable little girls, the youngest only 4 months old!

Muttrah Souq:

muttrah souq

From roughguides.com:

Muttrah souk is Muscat at its most magical: an absorbing labyrinth of narrow, perfume-laden alleyways packed with colourful little shops stacked high with tubs of frankincense and bukhoor, old silver khanjars, Bedu jewellery and other exotic paraphernalia – one of the few markets in the world where it’s possible to buy gold, frankincense and myrrh all under a single roof. You could spend many enjoyable hours here, haggling over handicrafts and attempting to make sense of the maze, especially if you venture away from the heavily touristed main drag into the tangled backstreets beyond.

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Architecture and Landmarks:

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Al Alam Palace – This is the ceremonial palace of the sultan of Oman. It’s not open to the public but it’s accessible for photography.

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The Drive to Sur and Wadi Tiwi:

Masood has a cousin who teaches in a university in Sur. He invited us over to his place for lunch so we drove from Muscat to Sur with a GPS to guide us.  Sur, a city located in northeastern Oman, is known as a major dhow-building town, the very same wooden ships that were used for trade two centuries ago.

Muscat to Sur

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My youngest sister, Sonia, insisted to see a dam so we decided to check that out on our way to Sur. Unfortunately, we lost our way and ended up in some remote village where nobody seemed to knew that there is a dam in this country.

While sitting in the car contemplating our next move, a lady emerged from a nearby house with a little girl in tow. Upon seeing us, she wrapped her scarf about her more tightly, quickened her pace, and entered the gate of another house while leaving her daughter behind. Her little girl threw a brief, curious glance towards us then followed her mother inside the house.

Moments later, we spotted two young Omani men chatting in their car. We asked them for directions. One of them put on his brightest smile—the morning sun making his eyes appear grayish-blue—and greeted us cheerfully. Although he wasn’t aware of any dam, he did tell us how to find our way out of the village. And then he offered us to have lunch! We were so touched by the kind gesture of this stranger! Actually, this is what Arabs are known for— their warm hospitality. We thanked him from the bottom of our hearts and resumed our journey towards Sur.

wadi tiwi

A bridge in Wadi Tiwi

After a hearty lunch, Masood’s cousin and his family took us to visit Wadi Tiwi. Before we left their home, we I teased their three-year-old with the we’re-taking-your-baby-sibling-home-with-us joke due to which, as expected, she cried a bucket of tears. Poor girl. Once we were on the road, she forgot all about it and we were back on speaking terms.

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roughguides.com describes this place:

Wadi Tiwi, another spectacularly deep and narrow gorge carved out of the mountains, running between towering cliffs right down to the sea. It’s less unspoiled than Wadi Shab, thanks to the presence of a road through the ravine (although, as at Wadi Shab, the dramatic scenery at the entrance has been ruined by the construction of a large flyover), although it compensates with its old traditional villages, surrounded by lush plantations of date and banana, and criss-crossed with a network of gurgling aflaj.

The road into the wadi was being widened and modernized at the time of writing, running along the valley floor, between plantations and past the rock pools which collect between the huge boulders below. After around 5km you’ll reach the picturesque village of Harat Bidah, where the road narrows dramatically, squeezing its way between old houses and high stone walls. Past here the tarmac ends and a rough track climbs steeply for a further 5km up to the village of Mibam – a spectacular, if nerve-jangling, drive.

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While trying to wash his car, this happened. Twenty minutes later, and with the help of several men, the SUV was pulled out of the water.

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Wadi Tiwi is such a lovely place for some picnic and swimming. There are farm houses nearby that have mango and date plantations. We’re so grateful to Masood’s cousin and his family for showing us this beautiful place in Oman that we never would have discovered on our own.

A trip to Muscat and its neighboring cities is highly recommended. Posts from my previous trip include:

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