You all know by now that we love learning more about the UAE. The best places to visit and explore, the tastiest restaurants, the most entertaining upcoming events, and the best places to pamper ourselves. Which is why we love Jo, the lovely lady behind the blog An Expat Abroad. Bringing us, and you, the best of the best across Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and much further afield, Jo has become our go-to lady for hints and tips on where’s hot right now. And although we feel like we already know Jo from the words written on her blog, we thought we’d get to know her better with a few questions.
Hi, Jo, it’s lovely to meet you! How long have you lived in Abu Dhabi for?
Nearly eight years, I moved to Abu Dhabi permanently on 1st September 2009 but I’ve been here on and off since July 2008.
What do you love most about living in the Middle East?
I love the daily dose of sunshine and the ease of living here, and the fantastic opportunities this region has given myself and my family. I love that we’ve made friends from all over the world and have had the opportunity to experience so many new things that only the UAE has to offer. So much has changed in our short time here, I love seeing how the region has evolved and trying all the many new experiences on offer with friends, family and visitors, as well as featuring them on my blog.
Do you miss anything about home? Or has Abu Dhabi stolen your heart like many others?
I miss my friends, the different seasons and the rain! Luckily all our good friends have made the effort to come and visit, some many times. It’s always amazing to share our adopted home country with our nearest and dearest. I love the changing of seasons in the UK but you can’t beat the year round sunshine and seeing the sea every day, something you easily take for granted. As for the rain, I do miss it but after a couple of days getting soaked I’m over it!
You’ve been here a long time now, but did you find leaving the UK hard initially?
Actually, I didn’t really. My husband was already living in the UAE full-time and it was an exciting opportunity to finally pack up and start our new adventure. The children also adapted really well and settled quickly so that made the transition that much easier. There have obviously been times of homesickness but I think overall it was definitely the right decision, I didn’t want to be the person who regretted not taking the opportunity in years to come, better to come and try than not try at all was my motto. I’ve met some great friends since living here but still find the transient lifestyle and frequent goodbyes unsettling at times.
Tell us a bit about your favourite family activity in Abu Dhabi.
Our favourite family activity was always a day out on our boat cruising around the Abu Dhabi coastline with friends and visitors. Beach BBQs and picnics, watersports and just chilling on the beach are a great way to enjoy an Abu Dhabi weekend. The children are now grown up and we recently sold our boat so we need to find some new activities to fill our weekends (besides constant brunching!).
I can see you love to travel. Where has been your most memorable holiday so far?
Since moving to the UAE we have travelled to some amazing places and Bali is now the most memorable place I have visited, it even knocked Cape Town off the top of my list. I loved the diverse nature of the country, the beautiful beaches, the mountains and lakes, the hippy vibe of Ubud, the culture, the food and the people. We are extremely lucky here in the Middle East to be near so many great countries and even enjoy wonderful staycations nearer to home. My favourite city is still New York, I’ve been three times so far in different seasons, each a unique trip offering different experiences. It’s a city I can’t wait to revisit even with the 14-hour flight from the UAE.
If you don’t fancy getting on a plane where do you enjoy checking into for a staycation?
My favourite staycation to date is Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter, just a couple of hours drive from the capital. It’s a striking and architecturally impressive retreat that blends Emirati heritage and culture with modern-day hospitality, offering the epitome of elegance and charm. It’s set against a striking backdrop of the region’s biggest dunes and its beautiful interiors combine traditional furniture, textiles, ceramics and artefacts. The service is impeccable, the stylish restaurants offer a variety of cuisines, there is a fantastic spa, and a multitude of activities from camel rides and dune bashing to falconry. It’s the perfect sanctuary for a long weekend to relax and enjoy a peaceful little snippet of desert life – a must visit at some point while you are in the UAE.
Brunch is practically an institution in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where is your favourite?
Asking for my favourite brunch is like asking me to choose my favourite child! My favourite Chinese/Cantonese brunch is at Hakkasan, my favourite table brunch is at Market Kitchen at Le Royal Meridien Hotel, and my favourite Saturday brunch is at Todds English’s Olives at the Venetian Village. In Dubai, I do love the opulent Traiteur brunch at the Park Hyatt and the crazy party atmosphere of Saffron at the Atlantis has to be seen to be believed!
And your favourite restaurant?
Again it’s a tricky one to choose just one favourite. For Italian I would always pick Circo at the Intercontinental Abu Dhabi, Tamba at The Hub is a must do for Indian inspired cuisine and has the best desserts in the capital, and BU!, also at The Hub, is a great place to dine and enjoy a night out. For drinks and bar bites Zuma is top of my list followed closely by Asia de Cuba.
It seems you’re a dab hand at being an expat now. What is your advice for other expats?
My top advice for any new expats would be don’t be phased by the admin when you first get here, it is frustrating and long winded but it’s totally worth it in the end. To anyone moving with children do your research and get your school place/s secured as soon as you can to ensure you get your first choice. Grab the local free magazines to see what’s going on, read expat blogs to get advice and of course, buy the ENTERTAINER as soon as you arrive to start saving as soon as possible.
And lastly, where do you enjoy using your ENTERTAINER?
I love that I can share my ENTERTAINER Apps with the whole family and everyone can use them wherever they are. We use our ENTERTAINER frequently to eat out and explore new places, enjoy brunches and try the Monthly Offers, as well as for activities such as rounds of golf, YAS Waterworld, shooting and spa treatments. Visitors are amazed by the versatility of the product and how easy it is to save money, we always take guests on desert safaris using our ENTERTAINER offers. I would say that as an expat it’s a must have and we have used it since we arrived, first in book form and over the past few years as an App.
Thank you, Jo for taking the time to answer our questions! Make sure you take a look at her amazing blog here and keep an eye out for a little something special we did with Jo very soon. All we’ll say at this moment is it involves LOTS of delicious food at one of Jo’s favourite restaurants in Abu Dhabi.