Ramadan is festive with Al-Balad

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Updated 12 August 2013
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Ramadan is festive with Al-Balad

Downtown Jeddah attracts hundreds of locals during Ramadan, most of them looking to spend quality time with their families in a quintessential setting and enjoy traditional Hejazi food.
Al-Balad comes alive during Ramadan as large numbers of citizens and expats take to its streets, enjoying the heritage and local traditions.
“I love taking my children to hang out and spend family-time in Al-Balad; I relay stories to them about how it was and how my father used to take us every Ramadan to walk where my grandparents walked and see where they used to live,” said Sameer Abduljawwad, 54-year-old college professor. “I know my children might not like going to the same place every year, but these will be great memories that they will someday cherish,” he added.
Many shopkeepers have been working and selling their products for generations now, some even inherited their jobs from their fathers and grandfathers.
“Its sad to see downtown shops no longer operated by Saudis. I guess the younger generation is now busy with their phones and want to work behind a desk,” said Abu Mahmoud, a salesman at an Oud shop. “My great-grandfather owned this place and used to mix the oud himself and his son acquired the profession after him and so did I; I love this job and I hope one day, my son will do the same. We are known for this profession and I want to preserve the family business,” he added.
Going to Al-Balad can be one of the most exciting things to do, especially in Ramadan when the festive decoration and the tempting food stalls are everywhere. When walking to the center of Al-Balad you will pass by street peddlers who spread their products on the ground, asking you to buy. “We get our products from a businessman. He pays us a daily fee and we get tips if we sell more,” said Kahireyya, a Yemeni street peddler selling plastic children’s toys. “I love this area because it is full of people and it is entertaining; even if I don’t sell a lot,” she added.
Walking past the street peddlers will lead you to the core of the historical area where you will find the food stalls, especially those selling “baleela”, street-warm chickpeas dishes. “We all come from different areas and we have been selling here for years. Most of us have morning jobs and we like to be here because it’s a tradition for us and we want to hold on to it,” said Abu Khalid. “You cannot imagine the income that we get from selling a six riyal cup on baleela. Many people come from all around the Kingdom to eat this popular dish and we are so proud of that,” he added.
Other than baleela, there are also date stalls from all around the Kingdom. Here you will find all types of different dates, from fat, sugary Qassim dates to the dark and flavorful Ajwa dates, believed to be the dates the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) ate to break his fasts. “We begin selling dates one month before Ramadan because we know there is high demand for it. People like to break their fast with a few dates, they also buy each other baskets of dates as gifts and send their family and friends,” said Am Mohammed. “We also offer supplies to local restaurants and cafes that offer Ramadan iftar. We spend time and money to clean them and put them in beautiful boxes to attract people to buy them,” he added.
Walking further you will encounter the gold market called Souk Al-Nada where you can find different gold and diamond designs that are reflective of the Saudi culture. At this souk, you will also come across Hussien Al-Abdali who has been selling miswak for 45 years in the same location; I highly recommend you buy his miswak.
Walking toward the open souk you will be heading toward Souk Al-Alawi, which is the oldest souk in Jeddah, of course it has been renovated and the merchandise now differs from what it used to be. In this market you will be find fabrics, carpets, electronics, accessories, oud among many other items. You should pay a visit to Abu Deema’s Kebda stall, which offers cooked liver. He is known for the best kebda in the area and people come from different parts of Jeddah just to buy his delicious sandwiches.
Near the souk is the well-known Beit Nassief (Nassief’s house), one of the well-preserved examples of old Jeddawi architecture, including a staircase designed wide enough to allow a camel to transport goods to the rooftop gazebo for festive occasions.
Every Ramadan the location host’s daily entertainment and cultural events, including poetry recitals and play productions by artists dressed in traditional Hejazi outfits, with themes centered on traditional customs.
Ali, a folkloric dancer, laments that many younger Saudis do not know about their traditions anymore. “This is why we keep repeating the local folkloric plays to introduce the youth of them,” he said. “At other times, a storyteller narrates stories from the past to an audience of many different nationalities.”
Leaving Beit Nassief on your right and walking toward Al-Khaskeyya Souk you will also find fabrics, accessories and clothing that are cheap and colorful.
“This is a great place to get good deals and bargains on perfumes and handbags. I buy my Eid clothing, abayas and other accessories from here and I always get complements for fusing Saudi and Indian fashion styles together,” said Mariam an Indian expatriate living in Jeddah.
When you visit Al-Balad, make sure to bring your camera along with you to take photos of the old buildings and people; I personally love seeing the traditional Hejazi outfits and food stalls.

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Bulgari hotel: An Italian escape in Dubai

Luxury doesn’t shout its presence with bling or ostentatious features, instead it quietly whispers. (bulgarihotels.com)
Updated 19 April 2018
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Bulgari hotel: An Italian escape in Dubai

  • The “urban oasis” is currently the only hotel situated on the offshore Jumeira Bay island
  • Home to just 110 rooms, suites and villas, the sprawling low-rise property oozes Italian elegance with its minimalist aesthetic

DUBAI: Bulgari, the venerated Italian design house, has just five hotels around the world. And even in Dubai — a city crammed with luxury hotels — the Bulgari Resort manages to seem exclusive. The “urban oasis” is currently the only hotel situated on the offshore Jumeira Bay island, offering guests some respite from the city’s often-hectic atmosphere, even though it is literally minutes away from the pulsing heart of Dubai.

Home to just 110 rooms, suites and villas, the sprawling low-rise property oozes Italian elegance with its minimalist aesthetic. Master architects Antonio Citterio and Patricia Viel — who are responsible for all the Bulgari hotels worldwide — have used a neutral color palette and custom motifs, such as coral-inspired lacquered steel parapets and mashrabiya-patterned accents, to give the hotel a sense of place.

Here, luxury doesn’t shout its presence with bling or ostentatious features, instead it quietly whispers, with fine materials — from Italian marble to sumptuous silks, impeccable attention to detail, and touches including the signature fragrance that wafts around you from the second you enter.

The hotel is responsible for a couple of firsts for the brand, including its ‘Little Gems’ kids club — where children are entertained with bespoke activities such as cooking classes and treasure hunts while their parents enjoy some downtime — and the global debut of the Bulgari Marina & Yacht Club, which has its own pool and recreation facilities, signature seafood restaurant, and 50-berth harbor.

All rooms and suites feature a walk-in closet, spacious balconies, smooth one-touch button controls, and bathrooms with standalone tubs boasting enviable views — making for some excellent Insta-fodder. The signature trunk-style mini-bar is as funky as it is functional, and the trendy basket beach bags are perfect for stashing your souvenirs — including designer knick-knacks from on-site concept store La Galleria.

The one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas offer private pools and butler service, but you don’t want to miss the resort’s circular central pool, where luxury cabanas with oversized daybeds and on-call service invite you to lounge the day away. Just adjacent is the crescent-shaped private beach, with the gentle waters of the Arabian Gulf offering perfect swimming conditions, even if the tip of the seahorse-shaped island mars the view slightly.

Whether you opt for a beach-and-pool day or a Dubai-sightseeing trip, your evening should definitely be devoted to the quintessentially Italian aperitivo experience at Il Bar, where an oval-shaped chrome counter provides a social centerpiece, and an outdoor terrace offers marina views. The seriously chic Il Ristorante (by lauded Italian chef Niko Romito) is just next door, and shares the terrace. Its tiramisu is one of the best in town, as is the freshly baked rustic bread.

Offering a more pared-back dining experience are La Spiaggia, a beachside restaurant and bar, and Il Café, the Bulgari take on a casual all-day dining destination which still features jaw-dropping design, and, in line with the whole ‘nothing is too much trouble’ service ethos, serves breakfast all day.

That ethos extends to the spa too, where therapists provide the ultimate in pampering using top-shelf products, including La Mer, in a soothing nature-inspired space. The use of rare precious materials, including grey Vicenza stone and green onyx, infuse the environment with a subtle opulence.

A 25-meter indoor swimming pool with its own cabanas, extensive facilities (including a shower offering a “Caribbean thunderstorm” experience), and private hammam, plus an exclusive Lee Mullins training program at the state-of-the-art gym complete the impressive recreation facilities at the resort.

If you’re looking for a classy, authentic ‘slice-of-Italy’ experience in the Middle East, then the Bulgari Resort Dubai is where you should check in.