Saturday, 27 December 2008

What is it really like here . . . . Christmas?

I had no idea what to expect - Christmas in an Islamic Country.  It’s one thing coming on holiday here and having your Christmas on a beach in a five star hotel, but can Christmas be just like home here?

For the last 10 years or so, with the odd exception, we have had the traditional Christmas in the UK.  Running around like crazy doing the final food shopping, church on Christmas morning, followed by hours in the kitchen preparing the Christmas meal and then taking about a half hour to eat it. We would then inevitably watch the Queen and settle down in front of a movie and fall asleep!  Would this year be any different?

The UAE is a very tolerant country and enables us to celebrate Christmas freely.  There are wafi_mall at christmasChristmas trees and decorations up in the malls (see picture), occasional festive songs on the radio, Christmas trees in the shops, and mince pies imported (albeit the ones without alcohol and working out at 60p each) from the UK!  All of the hotels, without exception, offer a Christmas lunch/brunch menu, and you can even order a Christmas dinner (feeds 10 people for about £120) from the hotel which will be delivered directly to your door on the day itself.  How’s that for service?!

So, what did we do?

I decided to do things a little differently this year.  You may know that last year, Tim and I cooked for about 15 people for the final farewells before we left the UK.  We spent hours in the kitchen preparing all manner of food and had a great, but very busy, day.  We were kindly invited to party with friends, but we declined as we wanted the spend the day solely with the children.  DSC01246

So, after Tim got home from work on Christmas Eve, we tucked in to our roast dinner, with most of the trimmings, including home made pork, sage and onion stuffing, which you just can’t buy ready-made over here!  We had a lovely meal and then got into the mood by putting all of our presents under the Christmas Tree.  

We watched Santa DSC01247working his way around the world on the NASA website  (fabulous website where by satellite imagery, you can see exactly what part of the world Father Christmas and his reindeer are delivering presents at that precise moment – see picture).  After putting out the mince pie and reindeer food for the greedy man, we all went to bed, in preparation for the big day!

After a false start at 2am, when Oliver decided it was time to get up, but the children didn’t do too badly and made it until 6.30am before piling in on top of us!  We did a bit of present opening before breakfast and valiantly tried to save some presents for the afternoon. 

I had made the brave/stupid decision that I wasn’t going to cook on Christmas Day, so we had strawberries and croissants for breakfast and then for lunch, we got in the car and drove to the Marina for lunch, where there are piles of restaurants.  The weather was in the mid-20s under blue skies, so it was beautiful to sit outside.  We had our pick of eateries – most were 80% empty, so we had a relaxed lunch sitting out in the sunshine next to the boats and we all ate a slap up lunch for about £37.  Admittedly not turkey, but we’d had that the night before.  Perfect!  The children had a run around and it was then back for more presents!DSC01272

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The afternoon continued as it does all over the world – the Queen is available to view on You Tube from 3pm on Christmas Day (for us foreigners), so tradition can continue.  Then, the over indulged parents had a traditional snooze on the sofa, while the children watch a Disney movie.  We phoned the family back in Blighty and had fun talking to people.  Supper was a few baked sausage rolls (oh no, I COOKED!) and some Boursin on crusty bread.  Perfect!

Whilst we clearly missed our family and friends, we had a lovely time.  It was incredibly liberating not having to spend hours in the kitchen – for once, it was MY Christmas day too and I could join in with everyone!  I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone!

It felt just like being on holiday!!! 

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Nad-Al-Sheba Horse Racing

At the beginning of November the horse racing calendar starts in Dubai, with racing every Thursday evening and on other special occasions (such as Boxing Day and New Year's Day).  The season culminates with the Dubai World Cup in March (which is the world's richest horse race with an estimated $6m purse).

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Many of you will probably know this, but gambling is illegal here in the UAE, which does make the atmosphere at the horse racing a little flat . . . but interestingly enough, you can still make "guesses"!

 

 

On arrival at the racing club, you pass next to a desk, where you are handed a booklet with information on the night's racing - horses, owners, jockeys, previous form etc, and you are also handed a free "guessing" form, where you place your guesses for which horse will come first, second and third in each race that night.  You fill in the form and then hand it in, prior to the first race starting.

Of course, this is a little bit of fun in a non-gambling country, but for some it is BIG business.  The racing is free to enter and therefore hundreds of the poorer people come along, both for a social gathering, something to watch, and the chance to "guess" correctly.  For the lucky people who guess best, there is a pot of 15,000 Dirhams (£2,800) to be won.  For them, where the average monthly income is around 1500 Dirhams, if they win, they do get a chance to win a year's salary, which is amazing!DSC01024

With the exception of watching the horses, there is little else to do at ground level, but the grandstand is full of paying hospitality bars and restaurants for those who wish to partake in some drinking (yes, alcohol) and fine dining. DSC01209

We paid about £15 entry fee to get us into the Gainsborough lounge, which is set in the grandstand.  There, you can freely buy booze and snack food, in addition to getting into another "guessing game" for prizes. 

It was a great night - and I did very well with my "guessing" - which in my case it truly was!  I came in 7th place, with our friend John coming 5th.  Those who came first, second and third received a prize of about £1000, which would have been very nice indeed!  Sadly, it was not to be, but we had good fun!

This last Thursday night, we decided to return with the children as they had been badgering us to take them.  We had had a shamal that week and the temperatures had dropped.  It was freezing and we were all wearing fleeces and wearing scarves.  But the children had good fun, cheering on the horses and guessing which ones were going to win! 

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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Dubai Rugby 7s

We tried something new last weekend - taking the children to a "family day" at the Dubai Rugby 7s . . . . . we have both been to rugby matches in the past but had no idea how the children would fare - given that their attention spans regularly leave a lot to be desired!

We went with another family who have three children and settled ourselves in the family stand.  The "family stand" was part of the grandstand, which fortunately was in the shade for most of the day (a nice touch), where only families with children were allowed.  No alcohol was allowed in this section - there was a nice fun atmosphere too.  (Strangely enough, there was alcohol being sold everywhere and most of the hardened rugby followers were drinking heavily. Normally you can only buy alcohol where it is attached to an international hotel with a liquor license, but this event took place in a stadium a half hour into the desert, so I have no idea how alcohol was allowed . . . odd.)

I had gone prepared - colouring books for the children and Nintendo DS's on standby.  What I hadn't realised was that there was lots of fabulous music and dancingDSC00948 in between the matches.  Everyone was having a great time, including our little girl, who turned into a bit of a rocker, dancing the day away.

We were supporting Wales - or England, depending on who was playing.  Our friends were a mixture of Australian and Irish.  I don't think the children really knew who they were supporting after a while!  It was great fun though.

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We got there before lunch and left after a cracking match between New Zealand and Australia at 7pm.  Totally exhausted!

From an adult perspective, every time I have watched rugby in the UK, I have been wrapped up to the nines in coats, hats and scarves.  How great it was to be sitting on the sidelines in a t-shirt!

 

The kids are now asking whether they can now go to the World Rugby 7s, which Dubai is hosting in March.

Fantastic!