Sunday, 24 May 2009

School Fee Increases

I’m cross.  I really am.  Let’s think for a minute about the credit crunch, the huge global monetary meltdown, the crashing prices of pretty much everything, INCLUDING here in Dubai, pay rise freezes - - - and what do we get . . . ?

A 12% increase in school fees.

The school got graded this last term and as it did well, they decided to apply for 12% school fees – and they got authorisation from the KHDA.  I am furious. 

It is a GEMS school in Dubai, who already have one of the highest school fees in the country – and yet they seem to find it appropriate to set this price hike.  To justify it in the letter to parents, they said they would be giving us more science labs, extended art room and more classrooms (which in turn will generate more fees at 12% higher than this year).  My kids are in primary – what do they get?  Nada.

Every business that I know (and yes, the GEMS chain of school is a business and not a charity) is having to make-do and stretch their resources even further in times of financial hardship.  Now is not the time to build more science labs, especially as the school is only 3 years old and already has a wealth of facilities.  They can wait, like the rest of the world, until the worldwide economy picks up.

Right, I’ve said it!  Ranting over – now I need to find out how to pay for the 12% increase!!!

Afternoon Tea at the Burj-al-Arab

 

Despite driving past the Burj-al-Arab at least once a day for the last DSC0257418 months, we finally went inside!  You can’t just stroll in – you have to have either a hotel reservation, a restaurant booking or be invited!

We had family in town, including Great-Grannie, so really couldn’t think of anywhere more appropriate and more refined for such a lady.

We booked afternoon tea!

Why hadn’t we been in before?  Well, at 375Dhs a person (£70 per person), it has to be for something pretty special.  But fortunately, we had collected enough points through previous stays at its sister hotel, to get the whole lot for free!  That always makes me smile!

So, here are some photographs of the inside and some facts about the building itself.  Named Burj-al-Arab, meaning Tower of the Arabs in AraDSC02003bic, it stands on an artificial island 280m out from Jumeirah Beach.  It is connected to the mainland by a private curving bridge – you have to go through security before being allowed to cross the bridge.

Needless to say, it’s rather expensive to stay here – I think that rooms start at the US$1000 a night, which probably suits some people’s budget, but not mine!

DSC02004Inside, it’s all rather brash with a lot of gold and swirly patterns.  Not really very restful and tranquil in my view, although I’m sure some would disagree!  You can see here in the picture of the atrium looking towards the top, the garish decor.  Here is the fountain in the lobby.

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The tea itself was very nice.  7 courses in all, which includes a glass of champagne, sandwiches, salmon-en-croute, scones, sorbet, fruit, followed by French pastries and petits fours/chocolates.  Here’s where I get rather picky – I was looking forward to a French pastry, but I got a stick of shortbread that resembled the size of a Cadbury’s chocolate finger.  DSC02007Since when is shortbread a French pastry?  I was expecting an ├ęclair or a tartlet . . . . I was specifically served one piece of shortbread, by a delightful lady with a platter and serving tongs!  No more, just one!  When the chocolates arrived, there were four of them for four of us.  Shockingly tight.  Yes, we had eaten “enough” but at £70 a head, I want the DSC02011works – and if that means two French pastries, then I would like them.  Similarly, a plate of chocolates would have been appropriate, rather than the stingy four . . .  The service was good and attentive, but staff seem to have forgotten, or were never taught, the etiquette of serving from the left and taking away from the right.  Yes, I know this is really extreme, but in a self-awarded 7* hotel, I expect the very best.

After the tea, wDSC02020e took the glass lift right to the top of the hotel to look at the view.  On one side, there was the most amazing view of The Palm Jumeirah – we were so high up that it resembled more of a pop-up book!

Similarly, the marinaDSC02021 was pretty impressive from a distance.  Hard to believe that when we first came to Dubai 10 years ago for a holiday, the marina or The Palm didn’t even exist!

 

 

So, my afternoon at the Burj-al-Arab . . . . .  did I enjoy it?  Yes, very much so, but that was probably more for the company than the “exquisite culinary delights”.  I enjoyed being nosy and finally going in the place.  I’m especially more happy since I didn’t have to pay for it.  Had we parted with nearly £300 for the four of us, I suspect it might have stung a little . . . !!!!!

St George’s Day in Dubai

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I am very aware that the Patron Saint of England is St George, but when someone asked me when St George’s Day was, I am ashamed to say that I stumbled . . . . “April the something”, was about as far as I got.

It is, in fact, April 23rd.

So, why, as a fully fledged relatively patriotic Brit, do I not know this date? Probably because no-one I know actually celebrates the day. To my knowledge (and apologies to my parents if we used to celebrate it as a child) I do not ever remember celebrating St George’s Day. Why not? The Irish always celebrate St Patricks Day and the Aussie's have their ANZAC day.

However, my second year in Dubai provided something rather special to commemorate the day.

We were invited to attend a picnic in the grounds of the British Embassy, to watch and listen to the Royal Marines Band, and what a treat it was.

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We arrived, the staunch British, with passports in our hands, ready to go through the metal detectors which would allow us into the Embassy grounds. Temperatures were around 38 degrees that day, yet that did not deter us. We lugged our picnic hampers, coolers, chairs and picnic blankets onto the lawns and set up for the afternoon. How lovely it was – there were lots of sandwiches, strawberries, Pimms and ”tally-ho” British accents in attendance. Little girls called Arabella and boys called Tarquin ran around waving English flags having a fine time – happy to just run around in the grass, while their parents read The Times.

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The band struck up with their opening tune – the theme tune to Star Wars. Not quite so British, but Oliver loved it (Star Wars and Indiana Jones being the hot topics in our house). It wasn’t long before we were singing along to Land of Hope and Glory – I felt as though I were transported back 40 years into a scene of England past. The band started marching around the grounds, while the children revelled in it, following them and playing tambourines and pretending to be soldiers. Nothing relating to modern England existed in
this little pocket of Dubai for these three magical hours.

Click here for a little clip of the afternoon.

It was such a fantastic day – I was proud to be British!

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Friday, 8 May 2009

Fujairah – a weekend away!

I have neglected this blog of mine of late.  We have been supremely busy with me collapsing on the sofa at the end of each day.  I will do better!

We recently headed out of the Dubai Emirate for a weekend break.  Fujairah is one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE and is situated on the Eastern side of the peninsula overlooking the Gulf of Oman, rather than the Persian Gulf.

It takes nearly 2 hours to drive there, through the mountains and is a really very lovely drive.  Easy roads, once you negotiate the typical bad driving which is inevitable on the roads out here!

What was really interesting is the country when you get outside Dubai.  I don’t mean the scenery, I mean the way of life.  Everyone thinks that the UAE (with Dubai and Abu Dhabi) is this glitzy modern place, but that is so wrong – once you get outside the city, you find dusty little desert towns, with old men on bicycles and little markets selling – well, anything!

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This particular shop sold loads of inflatables (why and to whom?) and fruit!  Other sold carpets and this one had some beautiful plants in it (which I will remember when it’s time to plant things in the garden).  No glitzy stuff here.

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But for the most part, the countryside is just desolate and harsh and gets more mountainous the further north and east you go.

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We were heading for a place called Dibba, a coastal town and we spent a good hour surrounded by this beautiful scenery – the start of the Hajjar Mountains which continue into Oman.  (Hajjar Mountain means stone mountain in Arabic.)

 

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About 1 hour 45 minutes from Dubai, we arrived at our destination, the JAL Hotel.  Very nice indeed.  Rooms were nice and spacious with plenty of space for the 2 children’s beds, but why waste time indoors – the sun was shining so we hit the beach!

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We’d gone with some friends, so the children ran off to play in the freezing cold swimming pool.  Why they hadn’t heated it I really don’t know, but apparently in a month it will be beautifully warm (ironically before it gets far too warm to swim in, when summer hits)!

We had a great night – sitting around with a gorgeous barbecue – as always, we ate too much.  But with great weather, food and great company, it’s hard not to!  There was a band, which the kids jigged along to, up on stage!

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One of the fun things about this hotel is that they have inflatables in the sea – inflatable slides, trampolines – great fun.  Good old-fashioned pedalo’s were also available – the children loved those – but probably because the grown ups did all the hard work!

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There was enough for the children to do and frankly, if the children are happy, then so are we!  The children spent hours playing fooz-ball!  But even if you don’t have children, it’s a very nice place to go for a cheapish weekend out of Dubai!

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