Monday, 31 March 2008

Burj Al Arab

The Burj-Al-Arab  (The Arabic Tower in Arabic) is a iconic structure in Dubai - it likes to be known as the world's only 7-star hotel and allegedly, it caters to the whims and fantasies of the rich.  It costs from about £800 per night!  As you can see from the photo, it's built on its own little man-made island, a hundred metres or so from the mainland - accessedburj_al_arab_dubai_01 by a little causeway.  This causeway is guarded and is a hotel that you cannot just go into - security will not let you in!

 

 

 

It is HUGE and is significantly taller than it appears to the eye.  It is nearly the height of the Empire State Building in New York.  I am not trying to give you a lesson but this sets the scene of some photos I am about to show you.

Dubai loves to go a little overboard - in so many ways.  As a publicity stunt for a tennis tournament here a couple of years ago, they turned the helipad at the top of the Burj into a tennis court, where Andre Agassi and Roger Federer played a game.  In the photo above, you can just about see the helipad - the circular structure at the top right of the building.  (I think the helicopter transfer is about £1,400 from the airport.)

These photos just freak me out!  The view from the photo shows just how far up this helipad is!tennis dubai 1

The water and buildings you can see in this picture (above) are mostly hotels and restaurants.

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Can you imagine if one of them ran just that little too far in order to return a shot - it makes me giddy just thinking about it!

Similarly, for a golf promotion, Tiger Woods hit some balls off the helipad too.

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The photo below shows another hotel - this is the Jumeirah Beach Hotel, shaped like a wave.

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When we were here last year, we were lucky enough to go on a boat trip with some friends who had a yacht!  What we found astonishing is the view of the Burj-al-Arab from the back (from the sea looking towards the shore).  This is what we saw:

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Put simply, we saw the largest cross (the Christian symbol) in the Middle East!!  It is apparently widely disputed, whether the British architects made it intentionally, or whether it is a harmless coincidence.   The UAE is an Islamic country and this symbol surely would not make the locals happy, as the Burj-al-Arab is the iconic tower representing the dream of the modern Dubai. 

You have to wonder. . . it made us chuckle!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Our Garden

Our garden is now finished!

As with so many things her in Dubai, actually getting it landscaped was a bit of a palava.  Not in terms of trying to find someone to do it - in fact, they were practically knocking the door down, but because we are tenants!

Emaar are the builders of our house, so we had to approach them for permission to turn out giant sandpit into a habitable garden.  Tim had to go their offices, join the queue with a number and wait for his turn.  He had to bring - wait for it - our passports and resident visas, our tenancy agreement, a letter from our landlord stating it was OK to do the garden, a plan of the proposed garden, oh and 5000 Dhs (nearly £700) deposit, in case the gardeners made a mess in the common areas of the development which required sorting out.  Once Tim submitted all the paperwork, approval would take about 2 weeks.

We got all of this approval - honestly, it's a little overboard as surely ANYTHING would be better than pure desert sand?

Here is how they did it:

Picture 1 - the sand remains underneath the garden.  So it is made completely wet and flattened - all manually.

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Pictures 2 & 3 - the sand is then compacted

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Picture 4 & 5  - interlock is then laid - they are the cheapest materials to use, and let's face it, it's not our house so we had to spend the minimum amount possible!

The will be the lounging area (4)IMG_1241 - the pipes sticking up are for the irrigation system which is imperative here.  Grass will die within about 2 days if not irrigated properly.  Fortunately, the system can be installed quickly and cheaply in the sane!

This picture (number 5) is of the area where the dining table will be.IMG_1247   Again, you can see the pipework surrounding this area - we are having a border of grass around the dining area.

 

 

 

Picture 6 - starting to come together a little bit more.   These squares are for our plaIMG_1248nts as we're not appreciating the value of darling landlord's house too much by spending too much money on plants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures 7, 8, 9, 10

The completed project -

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Picture 11 - the house and garden - our home!

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The Booze Run

Here in Dubai, there is no alcohol for sale in any of the super/hypermarkets nor in many of the restaurants. If you want to buy an alcoholic drink with your meal, you need to dine at one of the international hotels, which stock alcohol by the bucketload – with prices to match.

Non-muslims can, however, apply for an alcohol licence, which allows you to both have alcohol in your house and to buy booze from the local stockists (phone 800-BOOZE locally for details!!). Anyway, our application form for alcohol has to be stamped by Tim’s company. I have the paperwork here but I keep forgetting to process it! One of the major alcohol chains out here is called “A & E”. I always have a chuckle at the title, but it really stands for African & Eastern. In the background of this photo, you can just about see the lorry with “Thirsty?” written on the side – that is the A&E truck!

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The A&E shops here are really funny – it took me ages to find one. They’re always accessed by a side door, well away from the rest of the shops in the centre. It looks a little like a porn shop – literally one grey door “in” and one grey door “out” with no window displays or advertising. Terribly amusing! Prices are high – an average bottle of wine is likely to cost about £7, with 30% in tax added on top. It makes it a pricey glass of wine – certainly not for sloshing into casseroles! There are two ways around this – one perfectly legal, the other not.

The first is to bring in duty free from the airport – you are allowed on arrival at Dubai to buy varying quantities of alcohol, up to about 4 bottles of wine per adult or 2 bottles of wine and case of beer . . . . we brought a pile in when we arrived, so we do have a bottle of scotch, gin and pimms here in the house. When my friend Janine came, she also used her allowance and brought in 2 bottles of wine and a case of beer, which was much appreciated. Anyone care to visit???

The other way is to do the “booze run” as it is commonly known. In one of the northern emirates, Umm Al Quwain, there is a shop called Barracuda, which is located right in the middle of nowhere next to a water park. We happened to visit the water park with friends and had a really good time. Loads of fun rides for the clip_image004children to do – and quite a few for the grown-up daredevils too. Ella turned into a water-park demon – she LOVED it and went down quite a few of the faster rides with Tim. Oliver was quaking in his swim-shorts and went down the little chutes instead.

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The reason why it’s illegal to go to the booze shop next to the park is that in order to get back from Umm Al Quwain, you have to drive through Sharjah to get back to Dubai (Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain and Dubai are three of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates) and the really fun part about Sharjah is that it is completely dry – even possession of alcohol is illegal in this emirate. The booze shop is amazing – two massive rooms full to the brim of every possible bottle of booze you can imagine.

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The place was full of ex-pats filling up their trolleys with cases of beer, wine, champagne . . . . who then loaded into their cars and covered the loot with blankets and towels. Apparently, Sharjah police occasionally set up roadblocks and randomly search vehicles. Similarly, if you have a car crash – you have to call the traffic police (another story for another day, but you can’t get your car fixed by a garage without the traffic police report) which again could cause trouble if they find you in possession of alcohol.

I couldn’t possibly tell you whether we bought any contraband or smuggled it through Sharjah . . . . .

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Good deals and the art of haggling . .

Here in Dubai we have regular malls where the items are all of a fixed price, and also areas where a bit of haggling is expected.  I find myself regularly in an area called Satwa - it is near the children's school and Ella and I regularly while away the odd hour while waiting for Oliver to finish school.

Our experiencsatwaes of haggling are varied - sometimes successful, sometimes not.  I went to the "pot shop" the other day to buy some plant pots (no, not the smoking variety!) and came away having spent £50 on two very large plant pots.  I was fairly pleased with myself - I felt I had haggled relatively well (down from £75) and was happy with my purchase.  I then returned home, where him indoors got a bit annoyed that I had spent so much on pots . . .  . however lovely they may have been.

"You have to remember", I said "I'm walking into their shop, driving a very large new car and am accompanied by a little English girl in a private school uniform.  There is only so much discount they are going to give me."  Tim nodded in agreement, probably wishing he had gone instead!

On a different occasion, Tim then went to buy some plants on the same street - he walked away with some cracking house plants for about £20.  We were very pleased, so a few days later, I thought I would go back for some more.  It didn't matter how much I pleaded, cajoled, flirted even, I couldn't get the same plants for less than £30.  This was getting frustrating.

The final straw for me was going to get keys cut.  This time, I thought I would keep Ella hidden, so I parked the car outside the shop with her inside, made myself look as scruffy as possible and sauntered into the key cutting shop.  "Hello, how much to have keys cut please" I asked . . . . . "madame", came the response, "normally they are 5 Dirhams each, but for you, your keys are special you see . . . . . . .  the price will be 10 Dirhams each"

It appears that I just don't have the face for or the knack of haggling!   Tim can do the shopping from now on!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Polo

Last week, we were invited to watch the polo at the Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club, which incidentally is about a 200 yard walk from our house.  This event was a charity event, inviting people to bring picnics and watch the polo.IMG_1354

We drove up, next to our friends cars, with our boot full of loot - from sunshades and rugs to picnic hampers, drinks, chairs and bean bags!

It was not remotely a "posh" affair - everyone there was very normal with lots of laughter and talking.

 IMG_1310 We had a great day - much alcohol was consumed by most.  Strangely, for a dry country, it was absolutely fine (and the order of the day) for most parties to have bottles of wine sticking out from their cool boxes.  The kids had a great time running around with other children and a ball, coming back to feast on yet another cookie! IMG_1357

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We managed to keep the kids occupied until we all finally flaked out by about 8.30pm.  Admittedly, once it got dark, we did occupy the kids with a DVD in the car, but ultimately, it bought us a bit more time out and about with the grown-ups!

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The next polo match is in a few weeks . . . . can't wait!

Crazy . . .

One of the things that I fear out here the most, is a car accident.  Because most of the roads are fast, you are pretty much guaranteed to be shaken up pretty badly if you find yourself in a crash.  Sadly, drivers out here do not help themselves - fast cars weave in and out of traffic.  Forget the three second rule that we have in the UK, cars tailgate each other here, even at 100kph.  Today for example, I was driving down the highway at about 100kph, looked in my mirror and saw a seriously fast car coming down the outside lane to my left.  I travel on this road multiple times a day and I happen to know that 50 yards on from where I was driving, the lane disappears and merges . . . . . Fortunately, I was able to move out of the way and as the lane merged, he swerved in front of me, only to manoeuvre his car 2 more lanes to the right on to the hard shoulder as the traffic just wasn't moving fast enough to cater for his speed.  He continued on the hard shoulder for a couple of seconds before swerving back out into the fast lane.

I spoke to Tim later and he said that a Mercedes driver nearly took his bumper off on a different highway . . . . apparently the motto is "when" you have a car accident, rather than "if" . . . .  (can you see why we have big cars?!)

Yesterday was a really foggy day - Tim tells me that it gets foggy around this time of year and it was pretty bad - visibility was really low, but did this stop the bad driving?  Not a chance - drivers drove as fast as ever . . . . 

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Whilst 99.9% of the time, I blame the driver, here's the strange thing - cars do not have rear fog lights over here . . . . it is remarkably odd.  My car - a 2008 Ford - is imported from the US, and I have massive front fog lights on the front of the car, so it's not difficult for people to see me coming . . . . but they do not exist on the back, which leaves me a sitting target in reduced visibility.  Tim's car is the same . . . . 

Last night, the news was full of a 200 car pile up on the Dubai - Abu Dhabi road.  5 dead, 300-odd injured and 92 cars caught fire.  Horrible, horrible, horrible.

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Whilst I'm sure that everyone was driving both too fast and too close for the conditions, one has to ask . . . . surely fog lights on the back of cars should be mandatory out here?

Monday, 3 March 2008

Our First Visitor

Before we left the UK, my best friend Janine and I were regularly in tears in anticipation of my departure . . . . so much so that her lovely husband decided to buy her a flight to Dubai.  He even bought it before we left, so that we both had something to look forward to!  What a star . . . .!!

Anyway, this was the weekend when she came.  Janine arrived on Friday morning, following a 7 hour overnight flight, to much squealing and squeaking from me at the airport, whilst the kids just about muttered a "hello" - that was the start of an appalling day's behaviour from them . . . .

Janine decided it was easier to just keep going rather than coming home to bed, so we went to the beach.  When we first got there, we witnessed a bit of do . .  . the police were on the beach trying to round up a lady.  There was a large crowd so we couldn't really see a great deal, but it appears that the "lady" was Russian and rather drunk at 9.40am!  She had allegedly had a warning, which she clearly ignored, so the police were called.  I was told by the deck-chair man, that she will be "taken to prison until she is normal and then they will wait for an explanation".  The inference was that this lady would certainly serve some time . .  . . quite how much I don't know, but methinks that a Dubai jail will sober her up fast!

The beach is a strange place here - now, I'm not a personal fan of publishing photos of me on the net, but there is a significance of this photo.  Firstly, you will see people like me dressed normally for a beach, but it's very common to see other nationalities on the beach in their black stuff, which incidentally stays on, whether they are just standing on the beach or swimming in the sea! 

 

If you look at the ladies on the right - they turned into quite an annoyance . . .These ladies were part of a larger group - maybe 10 or so in total, Picture 006 and for some reason they decided that they wanted to take photos of our kids.  This is quite common here - it bugs the heck out of us, but it happens each time we are at the beach or park.  Suddenly, you will see one of our children, smiling away at a camera, with an adult next to them . . . . I even found Ella at the airport talking into a mobile phone of some random person - they thought she was fascinating.  Now, before you say we should keep a closer eye on them, people can come and sit next to the kids in a flash of an eye and this is a very non-threatening society - I have talked to numerous people about this behaviour and each time I have been told that it's purely because people love children.  But frankly, it annoys us and may cause a problem one day, especially when we return to the UK.  Tim told the people to stop and moved the children - the adults then positioned themselves so that they could still get our children in the picture . . . . . he told them to stop again . . . eventually, Tim just moved the kids out of the way of the lens, but he was cross.

We left the beach after a few hours - the children couldn't stop moaning and whining - maybe they were tired, or showing off - but they were just plain horrible!  We came back home, via the petrol station, where the man from Costa Coffee comes running out of his little shop to serve you in the comfort of your own car, while of course the petrol attendants are filling your car up with petrol and cleaning your windscreen . . . . it's fabulous being so lazy. 

After a swim in our pool, believe it or not, Janine was still up and had some energy, so we went off for dinner.  We went to an area called Madinat (a kind of market with loads of restaurants set within  hotel district, with waterways running around it) - which is on the coast, close to the famous Dubai icon "The Burj Al-Arab" - seen here in the background. 

It was lovely - a bit blowy and chilly still, but we ate outside (not bad for February) and had a lovely view of the area.  However, by 10pm, I could see that J was about to fall asleep into her dinner!  We came home soon after that.

Incidentally, I did manage to get the guest room sorted out - most of the boxes frankly, have just been moved to my room!  However, here is a taster of our spare room should you wish to come and visit - and we hope you will!

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The next day, we decided to travel inland to Hatta.  Hatta is approximately 100km from Dubai and is in the mountains.  We passed some spectacular scenery - moving from dusty Dubai, into spectacular desert scenery to the mountains.

IMG_1085[1] This particular place is called "Big Red" - a very large sand dune over 300 feet high.  Its red glow, which is eerie or delightful depending on your point of view, comes from the iron oxide in the sand. Sometimes it seems that the UAE motto is: "if it's sandy, drive up it," and Big Red is no exception to this rule - we saw loads of places renting out quad bikes and you can go up this dune by either bike or 4x4.  Next time perhaps.

We made it to Hatta - apparently one of the oldest villages in the emirate of Dubai, and we found it delightful . . . . so far removed from the glitz and madness of Dubai.  IMG_1238

We hung about at the pool for the day, indulging in a lovely barbeque for lunch.  The kids were even adventurous enough to go on a camel!!!

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You can see from the scenery, that it really is a lovely place to be . . . . we will certainly be back. 

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Cramming all that we could into 48 crazy hours, Janine and I then went to the Dubai Jazz Festival - an annual affair, set outside in an amphitheatre.  We saw Courtney Pine (jazz saxophonist) and then Robin Gibb (of Bee Gees fame) - it was rather surreal . . . .  for one of the acts, everyone lounged around on bean-bags drinking wine, beer or coffee.  The picture above is apparently from the Robin Gibb show.  I have to confess that we were absolutely exhausted and didn't stay to the end.  Janine was flying home the next morning, which meant a 6am start!

We can put on a pretty good show for those people who wish to visit . . . . .  just give us a call . . . . .