Accidental find in Deira

Piccolo Mondo from outside

Don’t you love how unexpected/wrong tuns end up with wonderful and surprising finds? We were out for lunch earlier today (the husband don’t want me to cook on my day off…cough) and on our way home, we got into a little of traffic on the way to Al Ittihad Road. My husband took a detour and drove back towards Deira City Center onto Port Saeed area.

We passed by Al Serkal Building – that gothic style building in Deira with classic cars inside the ground floor, as seen from outside. He drove us there but the security guard said the building is closed on Fridays and Saturdays, otherwise, it’s free to enter and take a look at the owner’s interesting collection of vintage and collector’s item cars from his travels all around the world, including Phillippines’ unique makeshift bus called the jeepney!

So since Al Serkal building was closed, we entered the building right across the street. It’s a unique looking building – round and cylindrical and there’s a Piccolo Mondo Avenue Cafe on the facade.

That’s the Google map for you in case you want to seek out and find it.

The restaurant and cafe had two floors, the lower floor served buffet lunch (for 49 dirhams!) but no one was there…which was a waste because never mind the food, I think it was nothing special but the ambiance was something out of the ordinary. There are collections of art and objects which are personal collection of the owner himself.

Piccolo Mondo Avenue from Sandier Pastures on Vimeo.

The ground floor was a little dark for my taste so we headed out on the first floor through a wooden spiral staircase with art and more art on the walls…

The upper floor was…something. The glass roof let in so much natural light from outside.

piccolo 1

piccolo 2

piccolo 4

I like this wall with all the quote art.

piccolo 3

If you live in Dubai, you all know that a wrong turn could mean loss of precious time. But today, we didn’t care about the time since it’s the weekend and we had fun with our accidental find.


Accidental finds in Deira.

A photo posted by Grace | Sandier Pastures (@sandierpastures) on


Our afternoon nap time was cut off a bit but we did love discovering a place unexpectedly. We’ll have to go back and eat there or something.

piccolo 5

I feel pity there was really no one there but the waiter on duty folding napkins said “don’t worry Madam, this place gets packed at night for shisha”.

What to do in Dubai for a short trip

header image

What is a “short” trip, anyway? Well, it really depends on an individual’s perception of time. A few hours of layover time? 24 hours? A few days maybe?

I often get emails like,

“I’ll be in Dubai for a short layover what do you suggest I do? Where do I go? Must not miss places?”

“I don’t want to see malls and new glitzy buildings. I want something with culture and character – is there something like that there?”

So now, I’m going to list down things to do in Dubai so next time you find yourself having a few hours to spare in this metropolitan hub, you’ll be a little more informed and you wouldn’t waste precious time.

1. Go to the Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall

Photo credit

Even if visiting a retail shop on a short layover in the UAE is not your idea of fun, The Dubai Mall is still worth a visit. Not only it’s a haven for shoppers, there are several attractions within the area of Downtown Dubai so you can maximize your time to see attractions within the premises of the mall like, the world’s largest panel aquarium 

Dubai aquarium

Photo credit

the wonderful show of water, light and music of the Dubai fountains if you’re arriving at towards evening time

Dubai fountain

Photo credit

plus the shopping center is a doorstep in front of the tallest building in the world – the Burj Khalifa.

Burj Khalifa

Photo credit

The Dubai Mall can be accessible by taxi or by public transport via the Dubai Metro Red Line. Stop at Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall station. The train station and the mall is conveniently connected by a covered and temperature controlled walkway. 

2. Be on top of the world

at the top

Photo credit

While you’re at the Dubai Mall, you shouldn’t pass up the chance to see the world from the top. Access to the Burj Khalifa from the mall is at the lower ground floor.

TIP: Buying your At the Top ticket online will cost you much less than if you buy at the ticket office and you’ll also avoid long lines.

3. Take a peek at Dubai’s history at Bur Dubai

bastakiya wind towers

From Downtown Dubai (Dubai Mall) you can take either a cab or better and cheaper by Metro to the old part of Dubai – the Bastakiya District. The tiny Bastakiya quarter was established at the end of the 19th century by well-to-do textile and pearl traders from Bastak, Iran (thus the name Bastakiya). Its labyrinthine lanes are lined with restored merchant’s houses, art galleries, cafés, and boutique hotels. The Bastakiya is a picturesque step into Dubai’s past.

Textile souq is located just a few minutes stroll from Bastakiya and Dubai museum. You’ll see bright colored fabrics and local costumes however, you might be offered to buy a pashmina every step of the way. 

textile souk

Photo credit

Dubai Museum takes tourists and residents a peek at Dubai’s beginnings. After Dubai museum, you can take a walk to the direction of the textile souq or if you have time to the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Culture and Understanding at the Heritage and Diving Village. Take the creek side to walk. It’s really a refreshing experience especially during cooler months in Dubai (late November to March).

stroll through heritage village

Now it’s time to go to the other side of the creek. Find the abra station. It’s right at the start of the textile souq, where a huge building of Bank of Baroda stands.

abra station 2

This area must be one of the remaining authentic parts of Dubai on the creek side where you can witness a different side of Dubai life.

The Bastakiya District, Dubai Museum and textile souq is accessible by taxi or public transport via the Dubai Metro. Get down at Al Fahidi Metro station on the Green Line and walk towards the direction of the creek.

4. Cross the creek


Dubai is divided into two areas by a natural water inlet called The Dubai Creek: Deira (old Dubai) and Bur Dubai side (new Dubai). From either side of the creek, you can get on a motorized wooden boat called “abra”, the traditional mode of transportation since before the bridges were built. Crossing the Dubai creek in the primitive way is not only fun, it’s cheap! It only costs AED1 per person one way!

dubai creek

Riding an abra while in Dubai is not to be missed – it’s a great break from all that huge commercial malls and other touristy stuff. Plus it’s a good chance to take beautiful photos of life on the creek, as it happens.

Abra station, Bur Dubai side:

5. Smell and see the old world cham of the spice souq and gold souq

spice souq

The Spice Souk is known as the biggest spice market in Dubai with a wide range of spices, herbs, incense and traditional medicinal products. The spice stands are interesting – providing smells and sights you don’t often encounter.

A little warning though: some merchants can be really annoying. Yes, you will be asked to buy cashmere and fake watches but don’t let that bother you.

The neighboring gold souq is where you can find gold jewelry in every type, size and design.

Gold Souq

My honest opinion as someone who has been here for almost 10 years and taking friends who visit Dubai: If you’ve never experienced a souk before, then you might find this area interesting. I sure was impressed the first time I saw all the glittering gold pieces way back in 2006. But if you’ve visited souks in other countries such as Istanbul, where the spice souk is so much more impressive, then I would suggest spending your time elsewhere.

I would still strongly suggest to take the boat ride across the creek though, that is an adventure in itself.

So there, I think these are the top 5 “staples” when visiting Dubai but if you have more time…

6. Dip your feet in the sand.

Black Palace Beach
Photo credit

Dubai is blessed to have powder soft white sand and crystal clear waters in our beaches. There are plenty of public beaches too that are free to enter. My personal favorite Dubai beaches are Kite Beach, Black Palace Beach and Jumeirah Open Beach.

7. Be amazed at Souk Madinat Jumeirah

madinat jumeirah

I didn’t include Madinat Jumeirah in the top five not because it’s not worth visiting but because when you’re in Dubai for a really short trip, it would not fit into the bill of places to visit when you’re in a rush. You need to spend time here. I love, love this place! A great place to unwind have lunch, shop and take many amazing pictures.

Apart from the maze-like souk, the outside area is like a little Venice. Madinat Jumeirah translates into the ‘City of Jumeirah’, so named because of the sheer variety of this magnificent resort, located in the heart of fashionable Jumeirah. The concept is one of ‘old Arabia’ in a totally luxurious context.

Madinat Jumeirah

8. Take the monorail to Atlantis, The Palm

The Palm Monorail is a good vantage point to see the Palm Jumeirah. From the elevated platform you can have an excellent view of the biggest man-made island in the world, the Palm Jumeirah. Round trip ticket price of the monorail is not cheap at 25 dirhams but the view and visit to Atlantis Hotel is still worth it.

At this moment, the monorail station is not connected with Dubai metro or the Dubai tram. However, access has been easier if you take the tram and get down at Palm Jumeirah station – the monorail station is a short walk away.

9. Get on a Desert Safari adventure

desert safari

If you happen to be in Dubai during winter time, consider the desert safari for sure, it is a nice experience. Mostly done int he afternoon, you will be collected from your hotel (or you go at a designated meeting place) and driven out to the desert. The driver lets a little air out of the tires and he drives all over the huge sand dunes. After spending a great time over the sand dunes you then are taken to an outdoor area filled with tables and huge cushions and surrounded by stalls where you are given a buffet dinner and treated to belly dancing and other shows.

Read my previous post: Dubai desert safari

TIPS: (1) Don’t try this if you get even mild travel / motion sickness! (2) Find the right vendor as there are many offering cheap desert tour with mediocre service.

10. Feel the metropolitan x beach vibe at The Walk, JBR

the walk

The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence is Dubai’s first outdoor shopping and fine dining promenade where you can explore stylish boutiques, restaurants, shopping spots. This attractive outdoor shopping and dining promenade was an immediate hit when it opened in 2008.

The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence can be accessed by public transport via the Dubai Metro Red Line. Get down at Dubai Marina station and change to the Dubai tram stopping at Jumeirah Beach Residence 1.

Don’t want your adventure to stop at Dubai? Make Dubai your starting point for an adventure!

Word just came through that Royal Caribbean’s newest addition, Ovation of the Seas will depart on a series of 3, 5 and 7 day cruises around Europe before heading to Dubai and from here, on a 52 day Global Odyssey tour to the East.

To help promote the routes and destinations Ovation of the Seas is taking in Europe before heading to Asia, they are mapping her journey on Royal Caribbean’s Instagram. In 27 posts, Royal Caribbean’s Instagram account will show Ovation of the Seas as she travels to different destinations, creating one final image which features a Bird’s Eye view of the ship with the European stops on each side.


I have not been on a cruise and I dream of being in one someday! I know there are so many myths about going on a cruise like you’ll get bored because of the long journey, for example but scratch that, this ship offers so much entertainment on board including (gasp) floating on air inside an iFly tube and surfing simulation!

Royal Caribbean International launches Quantum of the Seas, the newest ship in the fleet, in November 2014. View across the pool deck at sunset

Royal Caribbean International launches Quantum of the Seas, the newest ship in the fleet, in November 2014.
View across the pool deck at sunset

An exciting feature of the Ovation of the Seas ship (and could easily become my favorite) is the North Star, a jewel-shaped capsule that gently ascends over 300 feet above sea level offering breath-taking 360° views of the sea and the ship’s destinations. Ah, I am sure the views would be unbeatable.

Before I swoon too much about this new ship, I am proud to announce that I am one of the contributors to the Royal Caribbean’s Instagram project and my photos (set of photos presented as a gif) will be used to represent one of their destinations (Dubai) in the full mosaic. Watch out for the project hashtag #ExtraordinaryOvation and hashtag for the ship is #OvationoftheSeas.

So, looking at the above list, what would you do if you have a day in Dubai? And have you been on a cruise?

How does watching a sunset make you feel?

aboard metro

The one thing I look forward to when going home after work and aboard the Dubai Metro? Sunsets. I know they are beautiful and Instagrammable. I wish more would really notice and appreciate the show in the sky at the end of the day, no matter where they are.

I love that for a few minutes, the sky is a spectacle of color — and then it’s over. I am drawn with sunsets not just because they are beautiful but because they are fleeting, just like my commute (only 10 minutes). And just like life too. Every day and every moment is fleeting. I want to stop and appreciate some of the things, even for just 10 minutes.

aboard metro 2

burj khalifa sunset

Zoom in and there you go, the silhouette of the high and mighty Burj Khalifa along with the array of tall buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road in the horizon. I arrive at my stop and when all the passengers hurry to the escalators to the exit, I stay for a while at the platform and just look at this.

sunset at DAFZA station

Then I get home and see this. When I greet my children at the door a few minutes late than usual, my daughter would ask, “Oh, the sunset today was nice huh?” She knows what I was up to.

sunset at home

There’s a reason sunsets are timeless and constant themes of poets, writers and romantics — they’re inspiring. Most people only take time to look at it during vacations. I don’t want to wait for my vacation to enjoy the sunset so I watch out for them every day on my ride home. Some days they’re spectacular, sometimes not. I still do appreciate both. 

So back to the question: How does watching the sunset make you feel? It makes me feel calm, peaceful and grateful, like, thank-you-for-another-day-of-life-grateful. Next chance to see the sunset is tomorrow, give it a bit of your time. I promise you it’s worth taking some time off the screens of your smartphones.

** I took these photos with my phone so they’re not too sharp or clear. No edits were added except for cropping some pics and putting the watermark. These photos does not do justice to what you can see with your naked eye. 

Year of the fire monkey 2016

HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone! How did you spend your new year? Hope it was a good one!

Thank you for all the messages you sent to me via email, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram asking if me and my family are ok after several news broadcasts reached you regarding the massive fire in Dubai last new year’s eve.

We are all fine and wasn’t near the vicinity. We were at home, like all the other new year’s eve nights in the past.

However, I had many friends who were at Downtown Dubai waiting for the fireworks show when the fire broke out. Dubai Police was very efficient to take action to evacuate people to safety, successfully managing crowd control.

The fire broke out at 9:30 pm and there was speculation the annual fireworks show at Burj Khalifa could be cancelled but no, it went on despite the fire still going on. The live broadcast on TV however shifted its focus to the countdown and fireworks show at Burj Al Arab. (Dubai new year fireworks show is on at 3 locations: Burj Khalifa Downtown Dubai, Burj Al Arab, Atlantis and JBR)

The hotel that was on fire on New Year’s eve was The Address Downtown Dubai, one of Dubai’s most beautiful and iconic buildings.


We saw it being constructed when we came to Dubai in 2007 and completed. We personally love The Address brand of hotels. We are frequent diners of their restaurants and have stayed in one of their hotels. It breaks my heart to see it on fire on live tv.

It definitely wasn’t a great way to welcome the year of the FIRE monkey.

How about you, where were you when 2016 rolled in? What do you look forward to in 2016?

Warm winter this year in Dubai

dubai winter 1

Something’s wrong with this year’s “winter”. Well, before I begin – I know the thought of “winter” in the Middle East might have you all laughing. But as a matter of fact, there IS winter in desert land, even if people living outside of the Middle East would like to prefer to it still as summer. 

I can’t blame you…it was 29C at 2pm today.

It’s really strange because for the past few years, we turn our aircondition off by mid-November. What’s the date now? It’s already December and it would still be difficult to sleep well without aircon.

P and me in Prague

Pristine and I was just in Prague exactly a week ago. We were wrapped in layers and layers of clothing and waterproof jacket, with leather gloves, beanie hats and half knee boots.

P and me

Today we are in Dubai, feeling the warm desert sun and digging our heels into the soft, powdery sand.

us at the beach

I realized I’ve not posted photos of the kids lately, so here are some taken this afternoon while we were at the Ritz Carlton Dubai (Jumeirah Beach Residence) for their Christmas tree lighting ceremony. We had ample time before the event started so we headed out to the beach.

dubai winter 4

dubai winter 2

Can you tell how they love the beach?

dubai winter 3

The water was already a little bit cold (I wouldn’t swim in it, personally). But the afternoon sun felt so warm.

The cloudless blue sky was perfect background for the airshow as well.


airshow 2


We didn’t know there would be an airshow. December 2nd was the UAE National Day thus the display of the colors of the UAE flag. It’s my first time to see anything like it.

dubai winter 5

I am expecting the weather and temps would mellow a bit in a few days. While I do not mind the warm winter, it would be nice to turn off the aircon to save on energy and sleep with the windows open.

Fire in Deira!


A fire broke out at a building just opposite my work place a few hours ago. The fire started very small at 5:30 pm. My colleagues and I ran to the meeting room to see the flame starting to get bigger and bigger, right in front of our eyes!

Surprisingly, the people in the building were so chill about it at first. I didn’t see any movements with a hint of panic. We even saw some taking their laundry hanging to dry in the balcony and peeking at the small fire.

fire 1

Fire in Deira from Sandier Pastures on Vimeo.

The fire started in a space between two buildings. The location of the buildings is in Salahuddin road, between Crowne Plaza Deira and Movenpick Deira hotels, right along the Dubai Metro Green Line elevated platform.

fire 2

It was a little bit windier than usual early this evening so it made the fire situation worse. After taking the above picture from my office building, we were asked to evacuate because the smoke is coming in to our direction. I grabbed my belongings and ran out. Most of my colleagues (Muslims) were out for their prayers and I met them outside, they left everything in our building: car keys, wallets, mobile phone etc. Police has prevented anyone from entering our office building.

The flames quickly spread, first to the right building and then in a few minutes, both buildings were engulfed.

fire 3

A few minutes after the fire started, Dubai Metro Green Line operations (both directions) was stopped. People were asked to move away as far as possible, I took the above photo at the entrance gate of Muraqqabat Police station.

fire 4

More sirens and the number of fire trucks increased. What made this scarier is that there is a petrol station RIGHT NEXT to the burning building and the Emarat petrol station was rained on by burning objects. Police drove us further away.

fire 5

Movenpick Hotel Deira tweeted that they have evacuated all their guests as precaution.

fire 7

salahuddin road closed

fire 6

Police restricted access to Salahuddin road on both directions and drove people all the way across the street to Best Western Inn (formerly Traders Hotel Deira).

Since the train operations were halted, I could not go home and so were the rest of the people there. So many were taking photos and videos and since I was stranded, I got busy tweeting the whole situation. You can see my live tweets about the fire on Twitter at @sandierpastures.

The Metro operations still hadn’t resumed by 7:30 pm, two hours after the fire started. Everyone was driven out of Salahuddin road so it was time for me to go home.  There was traffic all over but thankfully, I was able to get on a bus going to the direction of my home. The bus was so crowded but nevertheless I was happy to finally get home.

I am still reeling from the shock of what I saw. My mind and prayers are with the people who lived in the building. Please keep them in your prayers, that everyone got out safely and that they may find shelter and comfort tonight.

UPDATE: 11pm, 23 November 2015

Dubai Police is reporting no casualties or injuries. I suppose because most of the residents in the building were out working when the fire broke out except for a few having day offs. Glad to hear no one got hurt but still all of them are left homeless.

It’s a Frozen frenzy Disney on Ice in Dubai


A dream is a wish your heart makes…after watching the first ever Disney On Ice in Dubai last year with the kids, I dreamed of watching it again when they announced shows this year. And what’s more, there’s Frozen! My dream came true when I was again invited to the private screening for media, with the kids!

kids ready for the show


It was a hot and very humid day in Dubai last Tuesday but inside the World Trade Center Arena, it was cold…there was ice!

This year’s show is titled, Disney On Ice Princesses and Heroes. The ice-skating musical will bring Disney’s beloved characters to life. Queen Elsa, Princess Anna and snowman Olaf from the smash hit Frozen comprised the biggest chunk of the show, while eight Disney princesses, including Snow White, Belle, Jasmine and Aurora, take audiences back a few years. Ariel and her Prince was there, to the delight of my little boy. Ariel is his favorite Disney princess.  

Ariel and Prince Eric




Photo credit: Four Communications

The show stretches to an hour long before a break of 15 minutes and then..Frozen! Disney’s Frozen makes its UAE on-ice debut in Disney On Ice presents Princesses and Heroes to the delight of the fans! 



Disney knows no age, really. When Elsa sang the hit soundtrack Let it Go, of course everyone in the arena were singing, including moms and dads!

The show started yesterday and until the new show time slot added on Sunday, June 14th, at 3.30pm. Take your kids! It’s a fun family show you will never forget. Limited tickets still available for weekend shows from Virgin Megastores and online at

* You can see short videos I took of the show on my Instagram account. Follow me there! Compared to the last year’s media preview, I was seated a bit far from the stage and do not own a mighty zoom lens, so my apologies for the distant photos.

Did you know?

Disney on Ice is known for its colourful outfits and familiar props, and Princesses and Heroes is no different with 750 costumes in total. That means each performer has an average of five costumes, which were put together by a team of over 60 people. 

Street Nights at JBR

street nights logo

NOTE: This event ran from 30th April to 9th May so it has ended at the time of this writing. However, I’ll be offering tips you can make use of to make your street nights experience better the next time they do it again.

We’re seeing more and more of these culture events in Dubai lately and we went to one last weekend – The Street Nights JBR at The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence. We’ve heard of it before but when you live on the other side of Dubai, JBR and Dubai Marina side sounds so far and exhausting and make you question if it’s worth the time (and the traffic!) at all.

TIP: JBR is a notorious area for congestion and heavy, heavy traffic, especially on weekends. Take the Metro + tram combination and walk to the venue. “The Walk’ is named aptly, for people should all walk, not drive!

yumtingz 1

First food truck sighting at the beginning of the street food venue! This is called Yumtingz, selling burgers and refreshing drinks. We had to stop and have some!

yumtings menu

TIP: If you see this food truck again somewhere in Dubai, I highly recommend the beef burger and their refreshing drinks called Passiona and Basil Mango.

yumtingz 3

There is a space at the back of the truck as well with the delight of the children. As the sun set, more and more people were coming to the event and getting stuck at the Yumtingz food truck.

yumtingz 4

The Walk at JBR showcased delicious, unique street food concepts, daring street art and underground urban beats with participation of over 50 local street artists.

street vendors

I found these posters poking fun at some “Dubai lifestyle”, which I can’t deny has some truth in it.

funny posters

During the ten-day event, local street artists offered live painting, air-brush performances, and DJs spun their latest tracks, and creative home-grown food concepts in the form of…food trucks!

What is a food truck? A food truck is a large vehicle with on-board kitchen equipped to cook and sell food.

Lately, food trucks have exploded in popularity here in the UAE. But with the high temperatures during summer, I can imagine it is not easy for food trucks due to many complicated municipality laws that govern street food and food safety.

moti roti food truck

This Moti Roti food truck is probably the most beautiful of all. I love the vintage feel of the colors and the design.  I spoke to some of the food truck people and surprised to hear some were made here (I thought all food trucks were imported from outside the country).

panifico food truck

brooklyn bros

brooklyn bros 2

food truck 2

TIP: Don’t eat up to your maximum from the first food truck that you see. Explore the place and then sample a menu from each.

us at jbr

jbr 2

We had a lovely time though it was already pretty warm even at night. We would love to go to another street festival again in the future, hopefully in the cooler months (erm, which means not in another 6 months!) Taking the kids to a street festival was a great break from the usual mall trips. It’s refreshing to stroll outside too. And was it worth our time coming from the other side of Dubai? The answer is yes.

The worst dust storm in 8 years


We woke up this morning with a little haze outside. Another sandstorm/dust storm? The above pic was taken Thursday morning (it’s Tuesday now).

Dubai had one hell of crazy weather last week. It changed from clear blue skies on Wednesday to apocalyptic dust storm on Thursday and again beautiful, beautiful weather on Friday!

This is not new. We get this often when the season changes from ‘winter’ to summer. Haze, heavy fogging. But then it didn’t stop right there. The dust storm escalated and became worse until it blanketed the whole city (maybe the whole country?) with thick, yellow dust.

dust storm

The above photo has no filter whatsoever. It is what it is, the view outside my office, straight from the camera. It lasted until late afternoon. At first I thought everyone was suddenly using Instagram and applying a yellowish filter or sepia. Nope, see the dust storm photos shared by readers of Emirates 24/7.

Last Thursday’s haze that saw wind speeds reach 65 km per hour and visibility drop to a mere 100 metres in some places. The dust storm has forced Saudi Arabia and Qatar to close down schools.

That was the worst dust storm/sandstorm I’ve seen in our 8 years living in the UAE.

Have you seen the movie Mission Impossible 4, where Tom Cruise is being chased by a massive sandstorm? I was like, what an exaggeration! That never happens in real life! Dang, movie special effects!


But whoa, last week, we were reminded that it could happen!

Thankfully, the weather cleared up and we had our glorious clear, blue skies back again, just in time for the weekend. We drove to Umm Al Quwain, one of the seven emirates of the UAE, just less than an hour from Dubai.

umm al quwain

What a nice, quiet community just off the main road in Umm Al Quwain.

villa in umm al quwain

Our friend and his family are leaving the UAE and going back to Japan. I feel bad we didn’t see them as often as we should have. They’ve been here for about 8 years too and now, they’re going back ‘home’. Again, we were reminded of the transient life here, one day, we may be the one to say goodbye too.

But first, barbecue and pool time!

pool gate

pool time

And then playing with their dog!


I have a confession to make: I am scared of dogs (especially the small, aggressive ones) but this dog was so gentle. He is already 15 years old with very mild character. The kids LOVED him and asked whether our friends would bring the dog back to Japan because if not? Insert puppy dog eyes of pleading here.


There is a forecast of fog/haze and dust storm again in the next few days. I hope it’s nothing serious like the one we had last Thursday.

Outside Ghubaiba station

Photo walk: Learning to use the lenses

Outside Ghubaiba station

I was out and about in Deira and Bur Dubai last weekend for my first photo walk with Helen Shippey, a Dubai based photographer whom I’ve ‘met’ and became friends with in social media. We bumped into each other on our visit to Al Tamimi stables. Lovely person online, lovelier person offline.

Each of the participants of the photo walk had their own goals in joining but mine was to familiarize myself with using the two lenses I have.

The photo walk started at the abra station at the Bur Dubai side and at around 3:30 pm when all the participants gathered, we took the abra (a small motorboat that crosses the creek) to the Deira side.

abras at the creek

This old side of Dubai is a treasure trove of photo opportunities, that’s why I joined this photo walk. I’ve been here so many times and had taken a lot of photos in the past but never when I was alone – just me and my camera. It’s always with family so all my photos are ‘chance’ photos, taken during child chasing breaks.

abra at the creek

I took the two lenses that I bought recently: my Sigma 10-20mm wide angle lens and Nikon 35mm prime lens. I was excited to take these babies out and looking forward to the outcome.

Crossing the creek presents a wonderful opportunity to take photos of these small moving motor boats. I attached the bigger wide angle lens and started to click away.

abra at Dubai creek

abra at Dubai creek


I think I have taken lots and lots of photos of abras so I wanted something different. Like, take close up shots of people, for example.There are so many interesting characters in Dubai – from that abra driver who manipulates his motor boat day in and day out, to that Pakistani guy peeking through an old wooden boat that carries cargo between UAE and Iran, to that local girl sitting all by herself, nothing but her eyes seen under that burqa at the courtyard of the old spice market to the very aggressive (and at times annoying) spice and what nots vendors in Deira souk.

However, many do not like their photos taken, so we’re restricted to take photos of scenes and things (but one must be careful not to take photos of locals in the background, especially ladies, without their permissison!).

spice souq

I learned a lot during the two hour photo walk session. One is that I need more practice, especially with using the new lenses. Which appropriate lens to use, under which available (light) circumstances, etc.

And I learned that there are things which shouldn’t be taken with a 10-20mm wide angle lens: buildings up close. The image distortion is dizzying. I know this lens is great for wide landscape to “get the bigger picture” so it’s certainly not for buildings and cramped spaces.

It would work for these.

abras at the creek

abras at the creek

But not for these!

wide lens distortion

Oh God, no.

wide lens distortion

Vertigo, anyone?

wide angle distortion

I am still playing around with the depth of field of the 35mm prime lens and happy with the result but could be wonderful to take a face of a person against a nice backdrop!

depth of field

I also learned that it’s not easy to keep on changing lenses…moments could escape you easily. But I would still insist you get a prime lens.

A big bonus of using prime lenses is that they’re usually ‘faster’. This means they have a larger maximum aperture, which enables quicker shutter speeds. ‘Faster’ lenses aren’t just good for avoiding camera-shake and freezing the action in dull lighting conditions, another big advantage is that you can get a much tighter depth of field, enabling you to isolate the main point of interest in a shot by blurring the background.

Additional read: What is a prime lens and why use one?

I didn’t take too many pictures during the photo walk as much as I expected I would. I am not sure why, maybe because I am too familiar with the place that I got used to it and suddenly, they weren’t that “picture-worthy” enough for me or I was just discouraged with some of the photos taken with my wide angle lens – it’s not a bad lens, it was just not apt for crowded places like the Deira souk, I suppose. I also felt I can’t capture some scenes perfectly using the more restrictive 35mm prime…which brings me to realize I might need a more flexible lens like the Nikon 24-70mm  (someone stop me from this lens obsession!! This is an expensive hobby!!).

The 24-70mm is a versatile lens can be used for many different kinds of photography needs – from wide-angle landscapes and panoramas, to portraits and events. Why didn’t I buy it? IT IS EXPENSIVE!!

Back to the photo walk…

rule of thirds

Helen also talked about composition. Composition is the pleasant arrangement of elements within a frame which give the most powerful ability to attract the eye, and to keep it exploring within the frame for as long as possible. That’s why I didn’t take too many photos because I felt, simply feeling that there is a picture to be made, and just snapping away from wherever I’m standing, is the best way to take bad pictures. I didn’t want to ask myself later “What was I thinking?”

Again, maybe too much familiarity of the place might have put me off into going into a clicking frenzy.  Maybe when I choose to join another photo walk, it would be a place new to me so I can see it with fresh eyes and hopefully find more interesting things to shoot.

I walked with Helen towards the Metro station when the session ended and we stopped to see the sun just setting in the horizon. I was too lazy to take out my SLR and used my iPhone and put “composition” into action. I like how this turned out and glad we stopped by to take this shot. And this is one of the important things she pointed out during the photo walk: to stop and look for beauty wherever you are and then capture it.


*photo taken with an iPhone 5, filter added via Instagram app*

It was quite a tiring day, but fun nevertheless. Helen is very warm and welcoming and open to all questions about photography. You can connect with her through Twitter and Instagram or follow the Shippey Photography Facebook page for updates about future photo walks.

All photos taken using Nikon D5300 unless otherwise stated.