THE MONEL RESTAURANT - ARCADE
If you would have suggested to me that I would have a pellet gun in my hands and be shooting at twirling duck targets in an arcade while waiting to be seated for a dinner reservation our first night in Islamabad - I would not have believed you.
My Alaska street cred was put to question by my fellow American journalists so I had to represent. They called out the name of my former governor, Sarah Palin, for Godsakes.
I outshot our armed guard, which is not a good thing, because I am not a good shot. I elected not to shoot any of the little white babies that were spinning on the bottom row of targets, just couldn't dive into such cold waters.
The restaurant, of course, is the exquisite The Monel, seven terraces on a hillside overlooking the glittering capital city. It is a box to be checked on the must do list.
Named after a brilliant-colored pheasant native to Pakistan, the menu reflects the memorably pleasing native dishes of this beautiful country as well as traditional international crowd pleasers. The menu is so extensive that ordering can take a while for the uninitiated.
This is a great spot to share dishes family style with your group, and try a few bites of the over-a-dozen different flavors of freshly baked Naan bread to find your favorites.
For those dining with companions who chose a deep pan pepperoni pizza or Chinese chicken chow mein, there are individual platters that offer generous helpings.
My Pakistani platter was a delightful feast of juicy Chicken Seekh Kebab, Chicken Tikka, Marsaka Biryani, boneless Chicken Bhartam, Kachumer Salad and Gulab Jaman.
My favorite hotel in the world is Islamabad Serena. Why? Not the comfortable bed or well appointed guest rooms.
Not the lovely pool, which I chose not to visit because I wasn't thinking poolside when I packed, and the swimsuits available for sale on campus were ... well, let's just say no one wants to see this body in something that skimpy.
Not the customer service, which was impeccable or the security which was very apparent as the other guests were a rather highbrow mix of sports teams, fashionistas, business tycoons, diplomats, and men dressed like third world dictators - some of whom might have actually been third world dictators.
No, she won me over to the point that I named my next pet, a stray feral cat from Hoonah, Alaska - Islamabad Serena because of the exquisite breakfast bar.
No joke. Live music, exceptional people watching, and several lines that went on forever overflowing with the heavenly delights of every civilized country in the region and beyond.
If I never left the property and just ate there I would be happy for years tasting inviting dishes made from who knows what, but some of which were amazingly delicious! The gracious staff cooking the fresh hot meals to order could not be more accommodating.
I was not allowed to drive while I was in Islamabad, not because I was a woman or because I had the odd habit of actually obeying traffic rules - something that is not a part of the local culture.
This was fine, because I was too busy gawking out the window trying to take photos that adequately captured things I found fascinating.
Take, for example, the very popular family-on-a-motorcycle. This was a new thing for me as we just don't have that many motorcycles in Alaska and no one is putting the baby on their lap while driving. Loading up the family in the back of a pickup truck, women and children sitting in the bed - was also something I saw a lot of.
Let me throw out that traffic in this city travels at a relatively slow pace - you could overtake just about anyone quite easily on a trotting horse.
This is mostly due to the fact that what is traveling on the road is very varied.
In American Amish-country the horse-drawn carriages clip along on the side of the street, but in downtown Islamabad the bulky size of some loads forces them to meander right down the middle.
Since this is the norm, no one seems to raise an eyebrow, or honk a horn over it, everyone just gets out of the way and diverts to another - I want to say lane, but I don't recall lanes being marked even if there was space for half-a-dozen of them on the street. Buses, donkeys, motorcycles, Mercedes, and bicycle-drawn carts all share the same space.
I only saw one accident while I was there, a minor one where a woman caught her shoe and fell off a motorcycle. No blood.
The police presence is impressive. At every major intersection there seems to be a manned police checkpoint, that, oddly, appears to be sponsored by Pepsi cola.
How Pepsi police has come to be a thing is of great interest to me, but no one I found had an answer or was wiling to postulate a hypothesis.
I did ask, and they were not handing out free samples of Pepsi or participating in the Pepsi Challenge at these locations. Pepsi also was not sold there.
There is a seven-year-old reddit.com that asks "Does Pepsi really sponsor police checkpoints?" that was archived after three comments, two of which were deleted.
PAKISTAN NATIONAL COUNCIL OF THE ARTS
This impressive collection is worth a day trip.
The PNCA's focus ranges from film to puppetry, and its efforts to preserve historic art forms while encouraging and educating new artists is commendable.
I appreciated the range of visual arts on display - from classical paintings to very modern interpretations of social issues and concerns. The installations were meaningful and important.
What I learned is that Pakistan is a very complicated place - especially for women. The textures are multi-layered with a lot of nuance.
I was met with a lot of kindness, curiosity, and individuals going out of their way to make sure that I felt safe, welcome, and respected.
What I saw on the streets and reflected in the art in the museum demonstrated to me that for a woman in Pakistan, that was a very unique space to be in. Let's be clear that the women here absolutely do not enjoy the same freedom and autonomy as women in my world, which is amazing short-sided. There were so smart, resourceful and clever - get out of their way and they would flip the Pakistan economy to one that was far more robust.
Women, especially young women, felt very comfortable approaching and engaging with me whenever I strayed a few feet from the rest of my group.
A bit too comfortable - there were times when I felt I was being viewed as more of a sideshow curiosity than a random person.
I was told that for many I met that I was the first American - White - Blonde - Christian -Journalist that they had ever come in contact with. I guess this explains the bewildering experience of having total strangers ask for a photo with you.