Sharm El-Sheikh, city of peace

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Updated 23 November 2012
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Sharm El-Sheikh, city of peace

Sharm El-Sheikh’s beautiful beaches and the desert activities make the city one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Middle East. Many hotels offer reasonable packages for groups and families who are looking for a new adventure.
The city is situated on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, overlooking the Red Sea. Sharm El-Sheikh is called the “city of peace”, referring to the large number of international peace conferences that have been held here.
Sharm El-Sheikh offers a dramatic mountain backdrop and stretches of golden beaches on outstanding waters. It has an international reputation as the most extraordinary diving destination in the Red Sea. Scuba diving and snorkeling is always a rewarding experience here, thanks to the crystal clear water, magnificent corals, exotic underwater flora and rare tropical fish.
The list of things to do at the seashore also includes parasailing. Take a jet boat and head for the open water while you are suspended from a parachute. If heights are not your thing, take a glass-bottom boat to see the Rea Sea underwater life. Beach explorers may enjoy windsurfing, kite surfing, boating, canoeing or simply lying by the beach and getting a suntan.
Ras Mohammed, about 20km south of Sharm El-Sheikh, is a must-see national park of South Sinai, located on the tip of the Sinai Peninsula. It has famous dive sites in the Red Sea, with 800-meter deep reef walls and coral gardens. The quantity and variety of sea life are exceptional and put this diving spot among the best around the world.
For those who are looking for land activities, Sharm El-Sheikh provides many, such as biking, hiking, horseriding or simply driving to the Sinai desert and go camel trekking. One can go on a camel ride to the Bedouin tents and enjoy a real Bedouin dinner with them under the desert stars, away from the noise of the city.
Take a camel ride to the Moses Mountain and follow the footsteps of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) when he climbed Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments from Allah. The climbing requires an individual to be in moderate shape. It takes about three hours to climb the 2,285-meter peak following the path of Moses, via a stairway of nearly 4,000 steps.
Some companies offer a package deal that includes exploring the desert on a quad bike or buggy and enjoying a cooked meal by the Sinai Bedouins. You could also just drink Egyptian tea and smoke shisha in one of the tents built especially to welcome tourists who are looking to experience the real Bedouin life in the desert and get a chance to see the sunset from the top of the mountain.
Millions of years ago, the sea covered Sinai. This left a brilliant legacy upon the landscape of the colored canyon, close to the coastal town of Nuweiba. The walls of the canyon reach up to 16 stories. One can easily say it is the most colorful and intriguing rock formation in all of Sinai.
The canyon mouth is accessible by car; it is perfect for a short hike of about 700 meters. As one ventures into the canyon, the walls narrow width to just a few feet in some places, which gives the place a secretive atmosphere. This canyon is most commonly compared to the Jordanian city of Petra, even though the canyon was not man-made.
The Pharaoh’s Island is also a must-visit. It lies just a few kilometers south of Taba, at the very top of the Gulf of Aqaba and just a few hundred meters from the coast. The island is one of the most blatantly picturesque spots in the entire gulf. Many boat trips take tourists to this location.
The Pharaonic Water Park, Cleo Park, is located in Na’ama Bay and it is the first themed water park in Sharm El-Sheikh. It is the perfect place for thrills seekers and water enthusiasts: it offers Cleopatra baths, Nile adventure river rides, Nile spring cruise, a young pharos oasis and slides.
For some fun at night, one can go to Na’ama Bay, by far the busiest place in Sharm El-Sheikh. It is open during daytime but it comes alive at almost midnight. Many say it is the heart of Sharm El-Sheikh, as everyone meets here after a long day at the beach. Na’ama Bay’s open-air area offers a huge number of local and international restaurants that are open until after midnight. Coffee shops offer live local music and shisha. Souvenir shopping can get quite hectic here, when friendly Egyptian sellers are trying to make a profit.
For a more modern and less chaotic night out, go to Soho Square. It offers complete entertainment for the whole family. The ice rink, bowling alley and kids’ arcade are perfect for the young ones to enjoy while parents can smoke shisha and have dinner.
Soho Square offers the best selection of restaurants from Japanese, Thai, Cantonese, Italian and Indian to Egyptian and many open-air coffee shops that offer shisha. There are also a few shops selling souvenirs and clothing.
II Mercato is another shopping destination in Sharm El-Sheikh. It is the open-air version of Dubai’s II Mercato and designed by the same architect. Apart from many restaurants and shisha cafes, it is a child-friendly place with open parks and game rooms. The shops filled with local and international brands and of course many souvenirs provide great presents for friends and family that weren’t so lucky to visit Sharm El-Sheikh yet.

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The mussels from Brussels: 48 hours in Belgium’s classy capital

City Square in Brussels. (Shutterstock)
Updated 05 November 2018
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The mussels from Brussels: 48 hours in Belgium’s classy capital

  • A quick guide to the Belgian capital, Brussels
  • Not the first destination that comes to mind for a European mini-break, but Brussels turned out to be quite the surprise

LONDON: It’s not the first destination that comes to mind for a European mini-break, but Brussels turned out to be quite the surprise.
With a couple of days to spare in the UK, my travel partner and I decided to find the quickest — and most affordable — trip, and our search took us to the Belgian capital.
Tickets and hotel booked, we jetted off with little expectations except wanting to find the perfect waffle.
Landing in Brussels at noon, we headed straight to our hotel to drop off our bags, and were delighted it was a 12-minute drive from the airport. Our temporary home of choice was the ultra-affordable ($96 per night) Aloft Brussels Schuman in Place Jean Rey, a fuss-free four-star establishment that impressed with its laidback atmosphere and street-art-inspired rooms.

A main street in Brussels. (Shutterstock)

We began our sightseeing at the European Parliament Hemicycle — the main office of the members of the European Parliament. It certainly offered a great insight into the world’s largest transnational parliament’s role and powers. Entry is free, but you’ll need ID.
After that, we headed to one of the city’s most famous landmarks: Grand Place. Breathtakingly beautiful is an understatement; this UNESCO World Heritage Site — home to the city’s Town Hall and main museum — is so impressive it’s hard to take in its true scale.
A few blocks away is the Manneken Pis, a bronze statue that’s too cheeky to feature a picture of, but is so well-known we had to include it in our tour. The sculpture is said to be the best-known symbol of the people of Brussels, representing their “sense of humor and independence of mind.”
You could spend hours exploring this area. We stumbled upon Comic Strip Route, a trail featuring 50-odd colorful murals that represent the city’s comics heritage (Brussels is the birthplace of The Smurfs and Tintin, among others).

It was time to find a snack, and during our walk we passed by a tearoom that had a long queue outside. Surely a good sign? Turns out we were at Maison Dandoy, a Belgian institution dating back to 1829, known for its speculoos and waffles.
It was worth the wait. We had the best waffle we’ve ever eaten: freshly cooked, crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. The addition of speculoos-flavoured ice-cream was delightful.
Later we made a final stop at Frit Flagey for a cone of Belgian frites — another oh-so-tasty local delicacy.

On our second day, we headed to the Atomium, an iconic building built in 1958 and renovated at a cost of €26 million in 2006. It’s certainly peculiar; but it’s the only place that offers a 360-degree view of Brussels. Strike it lucky with clear skies, and you’ll get a great experience.
Next to it is the mildly amusing Mini-Europe, a park that displays, you guessed it, mini replicas of monuments in the European Union, at a scale of 1:25. Cool spots were Big Ben — let’s face it, it will probably be demolished post-Brexit next year — and a real piece of the Berlin Wall.
A short walk away is the Brussels Expo. We came across a “Star Wars: Identities” exhibition that appealed to our inner nerd. Upcoming events include “Walking with Dinosaurs” and the Brussels Motor Show.
With the end of our trip fast approaching, there was just time for an early dinner. We saved the best dining experience to last. Mussels are a must-have, and we couldn’t have found a better place than Le Zinneke, a charming bistro serving up over 69 mussel dishes. We opted for the signature Fisherman’s Style — a delightful pot served in a vegetable and herb mix, with a side of Belgian fries. Each pot contains over a kilogram of mussels and, although the friendly staff may advise you take one each, we’d suggest sharing.
Brussels and its friendly people were a pleasant surprise, and we’d definitely return. And with its most famous foods being waffles, chocolate, fries and mussels, it’s the perfect stop for a halal break.